: personal beliefs and issues:
As you read this, please understand that I came to my beliefs through a significant series of personal experiences and evaluation. I didn't just adopt these beliefs one day- they have evolved over time. And I'm sure that they will continue to evolve and I will always change what I feel strongly about.

I do believe that there is a God. A God that is kind and accessible; one that is gentle and wise. Maybe this sounds sort of new age, but I don't care. Several years ago, I finally decided I could not believe and/or worship a God that was cruel, or would "smite" people if he felt like it or was having a particularly bad day. The God that I believed in would not want me to worship him, but would prefer a "relationship" with me, a relationship that allowed me to be openly angry or confused, and would encourage ask a lot of hard questions without worrying about the consequences.

In my opinion, God *does not* belong to one religion. It's always angered me that certain religions have claimed exclusive access to God, and claim to know just who and what he is, and what makes him tick. It doesn't work like that. The concept of "God" has been around for thousands of years, in all cultures. The truth is- we all believe in the same idea of a God, we just worship and/or acknowledge him/her in different ways that are appropriate to our history, traditions, and culture. To claim that someone is having a relationship with God in "the wrong way" is such an incredibly egotistical thing to say. (Unless, of course, that person is using the idea of God or spirituality as an excuse to be cruel and do incredibly stupid things. Even the most tolerant people have no room for animal/human sacrifice, etc. Good intentions are everything.)

I do believe in prayer. Not just as a way to ask God for favors, but as a form of meditation and a way to access the entire Universe and our own souls. I do believe there are many forces at work out there. Often, gifts will come when we just open ourselves to them.

I don't believe that God performs "miracles", at least in the traditional sense. I don't believe he can instantly bring the dead to life or magically allow people to walk on water. Well, perhaps he can, but he *won't*. I don't believe in praying for something that has already happened or for going back in time and changing past events, even though I frequently pray for Max and Sam (pets who have passed away) to return, etc.

As Tori Amos sings: "Can't stop what's coming, can't stop what is on its way." I realized this one day when I found myself "praying to the pool gods" that the pool wouldn't be full as I went for my daily swim. I realized that if there were kids already in the pool, the only way my prayer would possibly work is if a giant hand came down from the sky and plucked out the kids one by one. And as I wasn't seeing kids fly over the building, I came to terms with the fact that prayer doesn't work that way.

Instead, God does what he can. He can put things in motion, but he can't change the entire structure of the world and alter a past chain of events. I have a major pet peeve with people who do a lot of nothing, but sit back and say "God will take care of me". It just doesn't work that way. You have to be *willing* to work hard to get what you want. If you are sick, you have to go to the doctor. If you are broke, you have to get a job.

I truly believe that the way God works is through the interactions of people. I've been proven this in a very significant way, when someone happened to pass on crucial information at a crucial time. I learned "being at the right place at the right time" was not just a popular cliche, but the very way in which God works in the world. Every word that comes out of our mouths and every decision we make can have a profound influence on not only ourselves and those close to us, but people we never even know exist. It's so important to be conscious of this, and to try and share what we have and what we know with the world.

I believe strongly in other faiths and religions. EVERYONE should have the ability to worship God in their own way, and follow the path that feels most comfortable to him/her. This could be through Judaism, Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Wicca and Earth religions, etc. There is no "right" way to be spiritual. As long as its done with compassion, grace, and love, it's all "right".

: why I'm writing this :
I have been struggling with issues of spirituality, religion, and God my entire life. I was raised a very "casual" Catholic, attending church only to get christened, take first communion, and become confirmed. I attended a Christian high school and could not make peace with any of the theories I was being taught on a daily basis. A significant amount of what I was told is that if you don't accept the Bible as "the truth" and Jesus Christ as "the savior", you go to hell. I just couldn't accept that.

It was only when I began studying religion in college that I realized that the world is full of religion and spirit. I realized that God does not belong to the Christian faith alone. That Jesus spoke volumes of messages about tolerance and inclusion that are *not* to be found in the Bible. That the words "prayer", "grace", and "spirituality" were not owned by certain religious groups. For the last ten years I have been researching different belief systems and trying to find one that suited me. I've researched Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, and various other systems. In Fall of 2003, I officially became a Unitarian Universalist. Like many UU's, I realized that I have been a Unitarian my entire life and just didn't know it. It was a huge turning point for me because I finally came to terms with the fact that being "religious" or "spiritual" was a big part of who I am.

I have my own relationship and ideas of God and religion. In Anne Lamott's book (which I highly recommend if you are interested in religion) "Traveling Mercies" , she writes:
"Mine was a patchwork God, sewn together from bits of rag and ribbon, Eastern and Western, pagan and Hebrew, everything but the kitchen sink and Jesus."
And I plan to keep exploring all the "rag and ribbon"- I'm always exploring traditions, faiths, and history to find out what's right for me. I'm fascinated by ritual and cultural anthropology related to faith and tradition. I'm not limiting myself to what I know or feel right now.

Why am I writing this? Because I want to be part of the movement that takes back God, takes back spirituality, takes back prayer, and takes back all aspects of religion so that it belongs to anyone who seeks it. I want to be able to talk about my spirituality and beliefs without having people assume I am part of a roving revival and will try to convert them.

Don't get me wrong- I have a VERY deep respect for those who have faith and have chosen specific religious paths to follow. I am in awe of those who have committed their lives to their faith. They don't talk it- they *live* it. I love talking to people of other religions and beliefs and finding out what their opinions are and how they celebrate their faith. The thing that gives me pause is the amount of people who are NOT committed to their religion, and use it instead as an excuse to be judgmental.

When I lived in Atlanta, I swam at a local health club inside a hotel. The concierge was an incredibly kind man who I always enjoyed speaking with. Two years after I met him, we happened to go outside together during a miserable, stormy day. When I commented on the terrible weather, he answered "Oh, Michele, I'm grateful for every day that God gives me to be alive." That was a beautiful statement to me. That was not an attempt to convert me or "show off" his faith, it was an honest statement from his heart. I aspire to be as honest about my own beliefs and the way in which they change my life.

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