Religion Didn’t Make Up God

This morning, I was struck by a major insight. “Religion didn’t make up God!”

You may be laughing, but it was a big deal to me.

This realization cleared away the little doubt I had left. Doubt I didn’t even know that I had until it was gone.

I’m not a person who believes what other people tell me. (Which is probably one reason I attend an unprogrammed Quaker meeting.) But that’s how I had learned about God…. I’d been told about God by people in religious authority.

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I’ve come to know God since then, but because I’d been told about God and had come to believe in God from being told by other people, I still had reservations.

My unconscious hang up was due to their not being spiritual in an open, intentional way. sweepingThey didn’t live like God mattered. They went to church services on Sunday morning but did not talk about God or pray except at pre-specified times or have a spiritual practice. At least no spiritual practice that they talked about. These experiences led me to be aware (although unconsciously) that they weren’t comfortable enough with God to talk about God.

I inherited the doubt of the people who had told me about God. I needed to clear it out.

God is hard to get to know. That kind of goes without saying, because it’s inherent in God’s nature, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there and wanting to be known.

I finally get it! I can now unreservedly say, God is real and is the most amazing thing (that’s not exactly a thing) that a person can know.

God, Empire and a Visit with Friends in Japan

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Prior to Empire. In the Midst of Empire. When there is Empire no Longer.

Our God is the God Who Remains – Who Is Steadfast In and Through All Things.

The Old Testament story of Abram and Sarai describes a time prior to empire. God blessed them, a faithful couple, with a baby to ensure that their people would no longer be aliens in the land God had chosen for them (see Genesis 17: 1-22 and Genesis 18:1-15).

In the New Testament, in the midst of empire, Zechariah and Elizabeth, another faithful couple, were promised and received a baby (Luke 1:5-24). That baby, John the Baptist, paved the way for Jesus and his message describing a God of love.

In early May,  in the midst of preparing to visit Friends in Japan, I prayed to know more about the people of Japan Yearly Meeting. I heard that they were rich in faithfulness, like Abram and Sarai and Zechariah and Elizabeth.

My husband and I, with our children, traveled to Japan on June 24th of this year. We visited the five Quaker Meetings there. While we were called to go, we didn’t know why. We didn’t have a message or goal; we went out of love.

We knew we were being led. While clearness committees, visits with seasoned Friends, and anchor committee meetings helped propel our way forward, a couple of chance encounters helped ensure that our trip was not delayed. The first occurred when two angels, a black man at a FedEx store and a white man in a pick up at a U.S. post office, helped us get our application to the Lyman Fund committee on time. The second occurred when a member of the Japan-America society and a congressional liaison at Rep. Brad Wenstrup’s office worked in tandem to ensure that our adopted son’s foreign birth did not delay our getting his passport and our ability to fly out of the country.

While in Japan, Japanese Friends brought to our attention the role that the United States was playing in Prime Minister Abe’s push to get permission to reinterpret Article 9 — the statement in their constitution that renounces war and prohibits Japan from maintaining their war potential. We sat with Friends as they publicly called for the pursuit of friendship between Japan and China. Also, we learned that 85 – 90% of all Japanese people have no interest in killing… ever, whether in response to murder, terrorist action, or international aggression. We shared about the militaristic nature of the United States and how the peace churches have attempted to respond in between and during times of war.

Given that this trip was 7 years in the making, I do not think it was coincidence that we traveled to Japan around the same time that President Obama and Prime Minister Abe were meeting together in Washington D.C. We reinvigorated ties among American and Japanese Friends just as an American president and a Japanese prime minister were reinvigorating ties between our countries.

While these world leaders were committing to an international alliance, we were being called into deeper community. While these powerful men were talking about how to ensure peace and prosperity in our countries and around the world, we, ordinary people, were praying, eating, worshiping, hiking, and talking together… seeking peace within ourselves, our Meetings, and our world.

Given our conversations with Japanese Friends, I am convinced that accumulated fear is propelling these changes. In Japan, fear of economic decay, foreign encroachment, and being viewed as insufficient or weak is paving the way for political leaders to take these steps.

Recently, the United States… “welcomed Japan’s enactment of new laws that ease restrictions on overseas activities of the Self-Defense Forces, including allowing them to help allies even if Japan is not directly attacked.” Why are we encouraging and welcoming Japan’s move to become more engaged in military action? What fears do we have? (Please share your comments.)

This past week, God led me to write this post. Friends and all people of faith need reminded that God is with us, Love is stronger than fear and death has no power over Life.

Might it be that our visit with Japanese Friends will do just as much or more than the alliance between our countries to help ensure that our world moves toward peace and prosperity? Or maybe our awareness and our commitment to God and each other is going to help ensure that this international agreement actually moves our countries toward peace and prosperity rather than just another fear-induced adjustment of military and economic policy?

While our countries (an empire and a country that was once an empire) pursue the ways of the world, we are pursuing the way of faith. Together, we are Quakers. Whether our religious roots are Shinto, Buddhist or Christian, we are Friends. Let us pursue peace together:  Praying that our countries don’t use our religious traditions to justify military action and urging our leaders to learn war no more.

As in ages past, God has given people of faith a baby to nurture… to help ensure the longevity of a God-inspired people.

We are not alone. God Remains. God is present with us.

Appreciating the Meeting

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A couple of weeks ago, I attended Miami Quarterly Meeting (of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting). In a minute that came to us for consideration, the word Meeting had been left out. The minute referred to the Quarter but not the Quarterly *Meeting*. That led me to ponder the importance of including that word. By comparing my experience of Meeting for Worship with my Centering Prayer group, I have come to a deeper appreciation of the meaning of the word Meeting.

At my Monthly Meeting (Community Friends Meeting), we gather together weekly for Meeting for Worship. We sit in silence listening with our inward ears, attempting to discern what God is saying to us. When we are open and still, at least one of us recognizes the voice of Christ and shares what they’ve heard. Through the speaker(s), the group hears what it needs to learn. Through this learning, we are transformed. Amongst other things, we come to love each other more, heal as a Meeting, understand our purpose in the world, and draw closer to God.

In fact, wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be there among them. (Matthew 18:20, SV)

Like Meeting for Worship, my Centering Prayer group meets together weekly. We sit in silent prayer together. However, we do not listen or intend to learn. We are consenting to the work of the Spirit and trust that Christ is present within and among us, but we have no expectation of hearing something. We are not there to learn. While we trust that we are being transformed, we do not anticipate that we need to learn something as a group or that we are being prepared as a body to help transform the world.

At Meeting for Worship during Quarterly Meeting, we listened together and Friends spoke. I could hear a golden thread running through the vocal ministry. I believe we were being called to reflect on the past and look to the future to see God’s desire for unity among the living beings on this planet.

I believe we were being called to reflect on the past and look to the future to see God’s desire for unity among the living beings on this planet.

During the program, we shared our state of society reports. We talked about how the state of the other Monthly Meetings spoke to the state of our own Monthly Meeting. Both the strengths and the needs of the other Meetings spoke to us, taught us, helped us to see how we might love each other better and to learn how to hear and respond to Spirit more keenly.

Through reflection and experience, I have come to conclude that our Quarter is a Meeting. We don’t just come together to see each other or even to sit in prayerful silence. We come together to be in the Presence of Christ, the Inward Teacher and Guide. We are a body that Meets so that we might draw close enough to Christ to hear the Word. We listen together to learn and grow – to be enabled to more fully participate in Christ’s ongoing redemption of the world.