Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I am feeling frustrated with Christian Quakers in the liberal branches (and liberal meetings, wherever they are) within the Quaker world. I say these things as a crazy liberal myself...and I believe I am actually making a complaint here that is far bigger than Quakerism but is afflicting the Quakers as much as it is other people of faith.
I've been hearing a recent stream of examples (in a much longer-term stream of examples) of Christian Quakers who feel that there is no place for them to get their nourishment among the Quakers or among the liberal ones anyway, and they feel like a black sheep or feel vilified or lonely or...whatever it is in their case.
I feel for that, I really, really do. And I know what it's like to feel that. AND I also really believe that we need to get our spiritual needs met and not give that short-shrift.
But that said...this keeps feeling like something is wrong. Essentially: Christians aren't here to get their needs met. This is not the spiritual path for "getting my needs met." This is the spiritual path by which our lives of service to others, wherever God sends us, transcends whatever we thought we needed...and gives us a joyful and redemptive life in which epic experiences unfold by a power greater than ourselves.
I know that some people who crave more Christian expressions of their Quaker faith are seeking exactly this: "the life of service to others, transcending (personal needs)" etc. But others (probably most of us Christian human beings) would much rather go somewhere with enough other Christians around who say the same things we would say or believe... and that's not living the life Christ calls us to live.
Right? I mean...Isn't that the gist of it? Please tell me if I'm wrong.
If what I'm saying here is accurate, then when we feel an ache in our gut, or feel vulnerable, or experience a wave of loneliness (or a whole bunch of waves, persistent loneliness!) then I believe God is calling us to really sit and murk around in that and just feel it, just ache and tell God all about it and ache some more, just letting it all be known to us and wherever that ache leads us... and we're supposed to ache... But this doesn't mean that we're supposed to be relieved of duty.
Our society has taught many of us to be consumers, and even our Quaker upbringing or other experiences may not have been able to heal us of this consumer impulse entirely. One way this can show up of course is that we think we are to go to a church or meeting that meets our needs. This is (most likely) consumerism or a calling to be a hermit and replenish the self...but is not the Christian directive on the whole. It just may be that we are being led to go to a church or meeting that fails to meet our needs and makes us restless until it requires us to begin to meet our own needs there, among these people!
Perhaps our willingness to meet our own spiritual need among the people God has put us with will lead us to acts or activities that become our ministry to others.
OR perhaps our willingness to feel unsatisfied by other people will (as Mary Glenn Hadley suggests) lead us inward toward Christ who wants to be the only one to meet those needs anyway.
Perhaps we will be called, as Mike Shell alludes to in the beginning of his post on Christian Universalisms, to grapple with and gain insight about our "belief systems and their enforcers (that) may have reinterpreted (Jesus') ministry to suit their own theological or political notions."
We may have to learn to see God in people who call their faith something we are not comfortable with, such as "nontheism" perhaps. If we feel we "must go to a better church" we may be called instead to sit there, in this same exasperating community, hating it and hating it until it dawns on us one day the judgment that is in our own heart masquerading around as some sentiment like "YOU PEOPLE aren't of God and it's getting on my nerves!" Only after we wrestle that out of us might we find that Christ was in these people all along and we couldn't see it...
There are a zillion versions of this that could play out and I suspect that the majority of them involve what happens if we stay right where we are.
I'm not recommending stagnation. It's important that we come to know what is within us and let is rise up and slowly get cleared out to make room for God's new ideas. We should not assume that God has placed these irksome people with us due to some arbitrary mistake that we have a right to correct. You never know who may turn out to need to be set straight -- it may be us. In fact whomever else it is too, it IS most likely us that needs to be set straight.
Underneath all this need of processing our grief or coming to know our judgement or loneliness or fear... on the other side of that discovery... I feel very sure is what our ministry is actually supposed to be among this crowd.
This is what troubles me.
Because while we don't do the inner work and stay with the wider community and humble down... the wider community ultimately fails to get any benefit from our Christianity.
I don't mean to even hint that we are ever supposed to evangelize to others. But I see that we are called to be exactly who we are, in exactly this place, among exactly these people. We are called to be dissatisfied here, and to be fools here, and to be grace here. I believe that when this is done authentically and humbly, it has natural power to heal others or minister to them in some needed way.
If our own Spirit lacks power to minister to others....that is feedback then about the condition of our own Spirit. Perhaps Christ is not flowing through us as fully as intended, out into the world. No matter how clear we may be to the contrary, we may not be ripe yet, we may not be humble enough yet, we may not be transparent enough yet, or broken enough, to let the Light shine through and minister to others.
But what is achieved by skipping that whole journey and going in search of less exasperating people...an easier community that already believes what we believe, in the hope that we don't have to BE THAT to others?
Very insightful observations Jim!! Makes much sense to me. Gee, if only all Friends in our liberal meetings could have such discussions as we are having here! My liberal meeting is somewhat similar to this discussion; we often talk about these things in our adult spiritual discussion group that meets every Sunday morning, and then another more Quaker-oriented session once a month on the 3rd Sunday after worship that many participate in. My meeting is so very open to all perspectives; it's a blessing and probably the reason I say that sometimes I feel like a Christian, sometimes I feel like a Buddhist, sometimes I feel like a non-theist. But it all comes together in a beautiful Oneness that I can't help but think makes Jesus smile. There's so much unconditional love in that meeting that the meetinghouse literally reverberates with that love energy.
Jim Wilson said:
A few observations:
First, I want to correct what may be a misleading impression I have given. I love my liberal Quaker Meeting. I attend every First Day and eagerly look forward to it. I feel a need to say that in order to offer a balance to some of the other things I have posted.
Howard, I am not convinced that exclusivity is the issue here; it may be a piece of the puzzle, but I don't think the discomfort that is sometimes exhibited is reducible to this single factor. First, to take just one example, Paganism is a view that is just as significant as that of monotheism or Christianity in particular. Buddhism is also a view; it has its own metaphysics (well worked out over centuries) and ontology. It has a system of ethics, etc. It feels to me that referring to Paganism, as one example, as less exclusive than Christianity is a kind of dodge because Paganism entails, and is grounded on, a particular understanding of how the world, and how the divine, works. For example, generally speaking, Paganism takes the view that the divine is immanent in the world; deities in Paganism are representations of the immanent reality and/or the cause of that reality. In contrast, monotheism takes a transcendental view towards ultimacy. God is prior to creation and transcends all of existence. This difference may seem abstract; and on the level of ideas it is. But it has implications on the ground as they are worked out in every day life.
What I am getting at is that Paganism rests upon a view of the world that, when investigated, is just as restrictive, and singular, as that of Christianity or Buddhism (or any other religion). So the idea that Christians are somehow being exceptionally exclusive in their claims does not seem to me to be valid. As someone who studied and practiced Buddhism for decades, I can attest that Buddhism has a strongly held view of existence that is rooted in an understanding of causation. It is because of this view that Buddhism has no creation story, to pick one difference between Buddhism and Christianity.
My suspicion is that we think traditions like Buddhism and Paganism are less restrictive than Christianity because, by and large, we don't know enough about them. They are new to us westerners and so it takes some time and effort to become familiar with their world view and how that impacts their relationships to other traditions.
To pick one example of how restrictive these non-Christian traditions can be, I refer to you to Stephanie's post and her story about how a group in her Meeting wanted to remove the word 'God' from the Meeting's material. It has been my experience that non-Christians at Quaker Meetings are very sensitive to what I refer to as 'A Manner of Speaking'. Some Quaker Pagans openly advocate for restricting members speaking from the Bible. Non-Theists are uncomfortable with God-speak and seem to want to control the manner by which members express themselves by, again, restricting God-speak. What I am getting at is that there is nothing neutral, or open, or spacious, or even tolerant, about how some non-Christian Quakers seek to shape our speaking to their own preferences. Now, they get to do that; that's how liberal Meetings work. I'm not complaining. But I am suggesting that if you look at the behavior it isn't always open and accepting.
This is a good thread. Thanks, everyone, for the contributions.
The only assessment I have concerning you is that you are absolutely beautiful in every way, and so filled with Light that you are inspiring. Thank you for being you!!
Thanks for the framework to hang this on, Forrest. I think what I'm dealing with is that God, the Light, the Source of all possible religious views, calls me to be a grounded individual (this is not said as a reflection on anyone else! just a reflection of my own challenges in the past.) and as such, I keep being called more and more deeply into THIS faith. While simultaneously knowing that the truth is as big as simply Light and all its wavelengths. I don't feel myself reflected accurately by Howard's assessment.
So in this framework you mention... I think it is that I have a very high Christology (am called to see this man as a Messiah) and.... my own anthropology (where people fit in all this) feels kind of that that's irrelevant. Because when you are loved and when you are in the flow of love, it doesn't matter...no one's telling you to get in your place or stick with heirarchy of things... But that my ego -- a good way of saying this that you speak of, Howard -- worries about where I am in all this... and doesn't need to. It just needs to be a part of the flow. Just keep giving it up, all the things I believe and feel need to be true.
My Christianity doesn't reduce well to your views of it, though. It's pretty much kind of like what Jodie Foster encounters in Contact...only bigger. ha ha
(note to self: must later get back on topic to the call on Christians in liberal meetings, which does include being reduced by others all the time, yes...)
I am aware that we have a lot of discussions going on right now. Sorry but one of them involving me still needs the air cleared a bit so please read at your leisure...
Thanks for the update. I had felt reduced and seen inaccurately by stuff like when you said "Just be aware that others can have a BIG faith that is as good and powerful as yours - just not dressed the same as yours. You don't need to understand this or even believe it is possible. Just keep a very little opening in your heart that this MAY be possible."
I need you to know that this God you assumed I was worshiping when you said these things sounds like a shit to me. (sorry for the language, people who care)
And it's kind of hard to have you -- who says so much stuff about how wonderful people are -- saying all that full load of mess about my views when it simultaneously felt to me like you were talking with some boogey-person, certainly not representing me and my views. Right now I have no confidence that you've had time or space to really clear that misunderstanding that led you to say those things, but I hope you will grab out whatever file you may have filed about me that led to that thought popping in, and TRASH THAT THING. ha
For your consideration -- nothing that I feel is exclusionary. I can believe that Jesus is the Son of God without believing that everyone else who feels differently has less Light than me. I can know that God is over all faiths and simultaneously have one specific faith of my own. I can hold both those things. I can be a mystic who also goes all in with Jesus as the Christ. And I can practice an understanding that Christ is "the Way, the Truth, and the Light" in a way that is not exclusionary at all and includes all that is -- and respects all that is. My views are filled with things that don't make sense in human terms because I aim in so many ways that they be big enough for God, actual God, to not get pinched out in the process.
Thank you for the times when you know this. I need that and it helps. I usually love to fight for the inclusion of the nontheist in the conversation, and the Buddhist, and the Muslim, etc. If in this post I have made a point of fighting for the full representation of and inclusion of the Christian too, please let your heart stay so open to even these. Thank you...
Thanks Olivia for posting this. I apologize for misunderstanding a few lines in your post that made me respond to you incorrectly. I have no excuse but my own ignorance and not being able to "read between the lines" sometimes.
As I once told you, "yes, I can be a scoundrel".
I really do appreciate your wonderful posts so much because of what they have given me!
Thanks Forrest for putting into words how I see it as well. In reality we are all the "son of God", but so woefully unaware.
Forrest Curo said:
This is reminding me of something I heard at Pendle Hill: "If you've got a 'low Christology' and a low anthropology" -- ie if you're seeing the situation as 'Jesus was just a man; and a man is just a form that meat takes sometimes' -- Then no matter how much you like Jesus' teachings, you won't understand the guy or how he came to those insights.
"If you've got a 'high Christology' and a low anthropology" -- The speaker thought this was okay; but I feel such views render Jesus' humanity as unimportant.
She also thought you could see the truth via 'a low Christology' and a high anthropology -- which I consider to be really How-It-Is: 'Jesus was just a man; and a man is an incarnation of God.' That's basically how I understand what I do like about 'John': that Jesus has come to recognize himself as 'a child of God' and knows that it's true of the rest of us, even though we have trouble growing into it.
Wait a minute, Forrest. Were you saying that in a "high Christology" if I believe that Christ/Jesus is the Son of God, I can't also believe that Jesus is really a man??
If so, that seems all wrong. I want to hold to high Christology without letting go of Jesus being fully human. That seems key to, well everything... It seems to me we should be able to see him as a Messiah (a profoundly helpful spiritual option when one wants to "cast out demons" aka see clearly) while also recognizing that we are called to be filled with that, to the brim....so it's kind of a high Christology high humanity quotient all wrapped up in that first part of the equation. And then the second part simply being "yes, I'm willing for this to flow."
I'm not entirely sure what 'a high Christology' looks like to its adherents; I expect it's like the beliefs of an old Japanese farmer I played go with. That is, in trying to describe his form of Buddhism he clearly meant what I mean by 'God' -- except that his name for that was 'Buddha.' Similarly there are Christians who say 'Jesus' to mean the same as I mean by 'God'.
"Son of God" could mean everything from 'de jure King of Israel' (something I do believe) to 'third component of The Trinity' -- which comes out metaphoric to me at best.
I might read 'The Trinity' as saying "There are three basic ways in which we meet God -- in his interventions within the physical Creation, in the works and words of Jesus, and in the Spirit who lives each human life."
Those last two clearly overlap; and many Friends in particular have tended to see them merged, as 'that influence working within Jesus vs that same influence working within anybody else'.
I myself don't see much point in making a distinction between 'God here' and 'God there'... while still agreeing that Jesus followed it to a level beyond what I know. And still feeling that he never became 'other than human.'
This discussion has gone wide and deep.
For me, the take away is that our areas of deepest discomfort are our edges of growth. If we truly want to grow spiritually, then at some point, we need to let go of old hurts and starting 'listening in tongues.'