Post below reposted and adapted from my comment to the discussion following Richard Gordon Zyne's recent post here about his translation of the Taoist scripture.

I'm interested by my reaction to people posting extensively or leaning heavily on from other holy books - not our own scripture - here on Quaker Quaker. I wanted to ask for more explanation of why that is relevant to in this space where we are attempting to be Quakers together, and I guess I didn't do that in a very skillful manner.

It's when we start talking about "how does this help us be Quaker" that's when this place gets interesting for me. If the Eternal Source is Universal, why not speak from the scriptures that have been entrusted to us? It's a model I'm finding useful at the moment that a deeper engagement with our own tradition can teach us as much, if not more, as importing other texts. When I find an inspiration from another faith, the obligation I feel is to come back to our own faith and find where it is. Even saying "I find the Tao speaks to me of xyz which I find it hard to hear in scripture" is an attempt to engage with the reality of the Quaker church, our root in Christ.

The promptings of love and truth in me invite me to stay close to the root, Christ Jesus amongst us. My queries about this come from a love of our rich spiritual heritage and a confidence in the possibility of finding that Life amongst us. I think words are important, to encourage and remind each other to return to the Word amongst us; without the words we can all get lost in an empty or nihilistic silence, rather than a pause immersing ourselves in the Living presence of the Risen Christ. The richness comes for me when we honestly engage our differences so we can change each other; I think it's too easy to lapse into quietism, dismiss the importance of the words we use and sit alongside each other in silence unchanged by each other, missing the possibility of communion in Christ.

I think we have an amazing rich heritage. If we don't love and use our own scriptures we risk abandoning them to those who use them for evil, distorting them for the oppression of the weak and the poor and the sick and the disenfranchised. We have been entrusted with a gift of our christian heritage, I don't think anyone else will look after it if we get busy curating the holy scriptures of other faiths? (I'd love to read your fresh Gospel translation or exposition?)

It matters to me that the Way of Jesus is alive. It matters to me that it is Jesus's Way, and I'm part of your community as well, I hope you can hear that I too am attempting to live from the source of Love and Truth. For me, the body of Christ includes all of us, none of us are unwelcome, all will be transformed when we touch the Eternal Source of his living presence.

I guess I don't see that transformation of touching the living source together as an automatic thing. I think we have to all be attempting to do that, and it helps me when I see words used as road signs or flags to indicate that is the attempt. I'm asking you to say more about how it fits in to being Quaker to broaden the stream, to get into the inclusive river where everyone in our church can be part of a conversation, not just those who are deeply involved in interfaith matters.

A big part of my spiritual journey at the moment is about trusting that I can speak from the truth I understand and that others can hear because you are also practicing to stay close to your guide.

Views: 265

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 15, 2009 at 3:49pm
By the way... I have been left with a former group blog, kwakerskripturestudy.blogspot.com, where either of you (& many others) would be more than welcome! If I'm not looking at this stuff with input from others, it tends to languish to me!
Comment by Nathan Scarborough on 5th mo. 16, 2009 at 5:37pm
I think it's important to remember how the biblical canon came to be in the first place. it is a list, compiled by mortal men, of all those books which were read most frequently in the various Christian churches of the 4th century. many of these books are radical departures from the tradition which the early Christians had been raised in. they borrowed from the Hellenistic and Roman world in a way that scandalized Jewish purists. The beautiful opening verses of the Gospel of John draw very, very heavily on Platonic, "pagan" philosophy...yet the early Christians were led by the spirit to include these writings in their liturgies.

if the same process of spirit-led sharing is occurring today, and is not relying exclusively on the same writings, I don't think that's an indication of a problem. If anything, I think it's an indication of health and vitality. as you point out, Christ's message is universal - therefore if we as a group fail to find the Light of Christ evident in other cultures as we come into contact with them, I have to call into question whether we are worshiping the Christ, or an image of ourselves.

everyone is spoken to in a different way, some are gifted with a deep and living understanding of the ancient Christian scriptures. This is beautiful, and can help all of us grow. likewise some are gifted with a vision of Christ in the experiences of our brothers and sisters from other nations, with other histories. This too is beautiful, and can help us reach out to others in a world that needs healing. He is the vine onto which branches from every nation and culture are grafted.

"I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness." Christ is our heritage, and he is alive, and has never been confined to one kingdom.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 17, 2009 at 10:38pm
The Bible is so extremely there in our civilization; to dismiss it as 'just another tradition' would virtually imply that God hasn't spoken to us at all except through other nations!--or that all God had to say to us was a few ethical platitudes that people and institutions routinely disregard and trample!

Smoke and fire and earthquakes on the mountain didn't do it for us. Having Moses come down with teachings-to-go didn't do it. All the subsequent human efforts to enforce good behavior via collective violence... haven't done it.

The Bible is full of various, often contradictory messages. Sometimes the explicit message of a passage is utterly problematical! The history is suspect, much of it obviously patriotic legend. But it looms over the secular history, insinuates a persistent, profound critique of all our dreams and all our ways, insists that these manifest only vanity & rebellion.

We could have been born with a sort of neurological l.e.d. display in our heads, giving us explicit instructions from the Boss. We weren't. Instead we get this still, small "voice" we are likely to miss entirely if we aren't attentive. Every time we hear a word or two from God, we engrave it on a plaque and forget it... The Bible gives us a long history of people relating to God in that manner, punctuated by a few people who really listen, really "get it" (within their personal limitations) but fail to infect their hearers with their implicit message: "Would that all God's people were prophets!"

As long as this collection sits on our shelves... it is dead. As long as we get it pre-interpreted, stuffed, mounted & used to beat us with... it is dead. If we bring to bear the collective attention of a group of interested people, mentally centered and open to whatever message the Spirit may have for us, on some specific occasion, then we can see God at work, using it in and among us!
Comment by Stephen Nakao on 5th mo. 18, 2009 at 2:40pm
This conversation has struck me, and I thank everyone for their words of wisdom. I used to be a sort of universalist. In high school, I, like many young Californians, delved into Buddhism and Taoism and other things for a while, and the scriptures and writings of those traditions were sources of great spiritual nourishment for me. But when I revisited the Christian tradition, especially the Bible, and really came to go deep, I began to see that what I had rediscovered was so powerful that I didn't really need anything else. I realized that I'd gone searching for nourishment elsewhere because I hadn't truly looked deeply into my own tradition first. When I did that, I discovered that all I had wanted was there already. But it was more than just "all I wanted." It also gave me things I didn't want, or at least hadn't planned for. It opened up a whole realm of challenges meant to hone my relationship to God.

What worries me is that universalism can easily become a pick-and-choose-whatever you-want sort of deal. (I'm not saying that that always has to be the case, and I know that there are probably some very centered universalists out there). I worry that universalism can be just another aspect of our consumerist mentality, in which the world's religions are so many dishes on a buffet or stores in a mall and we can dip in and out as we please. Where's the challenge? Where's the depth? Where's the rootedness and centeredness?

It may be replied that Quaker-style universalism is rooted in the Inner Light, what some would call Christ, and what others would call Spirit, and what still others would call any number of deities culled from the world's religions. But I think it's worth remembering that it can be difficult to really root ourselves in the Inner Light, and to figure out what stems from that Light and what stems from our own wishful thinking. So that's why we have the testimonies of our holy writings (from the Bible on) to help us. Severing ourselves from these holy writings would be severing ourselves from the root that has nourished our particular tradition for centuries. If anyone wants to turn to other scriptures and traditions, then of course they must follow their Inner Guide. But I wonder whether doing this can any longer be called Quaker. I guess I have much to learn from universalist Friends about this.

But I know that to me, Quakerism has to be deeply rooted in Christianity. I still believe that Quakerism is primitive Christianity revived, and that it's Christianity in its purest, simplest, most elemental form (even Christianity stripped of Platonism and other encrustations). I think that that's where it draws its power, not from a one-size-fits-all theology. I know that Christianity has unsavory connotations to many people. But that's the joy of Quakerism--we get to prove those connotations wrong! I have no trouble saying that my faith is rooted in the Living Christ, in the Christ of the Bible, the Christ who is God-With-Us, who is a constant source of light, life, love, power, healing, and pure clear freshness. And, actually, the Christ who came and sat down next to me in meeting yesterday morning. The Christ that teaches and challenges me directly, himself.

Someone once told me that the way to “salvation” (rightness with God?) is living according to the earthly ministry of Jesus (as revealed to us in the gospel accounts). The universal aspect of this is that people can do this without ever having heard of Jesus. But it’s our joy as Christians to know his example most simply and directly.
Comment by Alice M Yaxley on 5th mo. 18, 2009 at 7:46pm
Hystery - To which 'us' are you referring?

Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends, was what I had in mind. (Majority not Euro-North-Americans). Thanks for clarifying.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 20, 2009 at 1:14pm
Hey, one thing clear about our predecessors--is that their Christianity was universalist, and their universalism was Christian.

Really, no other position makes much sense. A loving Father doesn't leave the bulk of his children clueless. & if religions are based on the Spiritual Universe's helpful hints to the various human 'nations', then Christianity must be addressed to us.

We don't have to like all the various developments of Christianity; I consider many of them to be manifestations of the very spiritual sickness that Jesus was sent to treat!

But some of what makes Christianity an inconvenient religion... is utterly medicinal. It's far too natural to forget the poor, even with all the emphasis the Bible has on remembering their need, considering it our own. Many Christians take such injunctions in legalistic or moralistic ways, so that we get token fulfillment--what we call "charity"!--and orgies of guilt, but we don't get justice, shalom, the Kingdom. Still, Christianity so far keeps us from building death camps for the poor, at least not the sort of efficient well-run death camps you'd expect from deliberate policy.

I think the "consumer religion" buggaboo has that much accuracy to it--and is otherwise quite fallacious. Why should we think that people don't pick & choose the elements that suit them when they confine themselves to one religion? Why should the aspects they don't choose be necessarily the most nourishing ones? An appetite may be corrupted by sugar addiction... but it's still the appetite someone actually possesses, not someone else's notion that they ought to be eating formaldehyde!

Oh well. It's like the traveling minister who arrived when the Meeting was about to disown some of their youth for "getting religion from the Methodists." He told them, "You probably shouldn't disown people for getting religion from anyone!" But thinking that this "religion" should mean "a religion", that's just another way to fall short of catching, or being caught by, the reality.
Comment by James Riemermann on 5th mo. 20, 2009 at 5:18pm
Cat,

I totally agree with most of what you say here (and also with most of what Forrest says, which is nice since we often disagree). But when you speak of "creeping secularism in our midst" I get my back up a little. What do you mean by secularism, the sort we apparently need to to watch out for?

My understanding of secular is basically "non-religious," which includes philosophy, psychology, grocery shopping, lovemaking, walking through the woods, clipping our toenails. I don't worry about any of those things; in fact I like most of them. What's more I would say that the ideally lived life would make no distinction whatsoever between the secular and the religious; would live constantly as if life mattered, as if our relationships with each other and the world around us were all that mattered. As, in fact, it is.

Beyond that, the most clearly non-secular sort of behavior seems to me the least valuable sort of religion. The part where we use special language reserved for religious context, language that mystifies and that few if any really understand. Piousness, religiosity. On the other hand, religion that consists of people coming together in good will to listen to whatever there is to be heard, and speak, if at all, in as close as possible to the direct language of their hearts.

But you may--probably do--mean something much more particular by secular, and perhaps our only disagreement is over what that word means.
Comment by James Riemermann on 5th mo. 21, 2009 at 9:31am
Rather than add my profoundly off-topic response to Cat's comment on a post called "scriptures and universalism" on a web site labeled "Primitive Christianity Revived, Again: A Convergent Friends Community," I decided to post my response here, on nontheistfriends.org. To be honest, since seeing that label recently posted at the top of this web site I'm wondering if I should engage on this site at all. In practice the site has been much broader than the label, but if the label reflects the intent of the site maybe I should respect that. If the label does not reflect the intent, perhaps Martin and Friends should think about the label.
Comment by Nathan Swift on 5th mo. 21, 2009 at 2:07pm
Speaking as a Christian universalist who grew up in and rejected a fundamentalist perception of Christianity, I would like to point out to BOTH Christians and non-Christians from their separate viewpoints that the Christian tradition has experienced in varying degrees about 1800 years or so of the unfortunate Roman drive for orthodoxy and codification of the Way into a religion as opposed to openness to different expressions of the Light. This element is simply going to crop up in various ways, some of them very subtle, in any conversation that deals honestly with perceptions of the Light. Therefore, my answer to Hystery and to James is that I welcome all such clarifications as we labor to refine what it means to be a Quaker, and even what it means to be a Christian (Cat already knows that I think she's terrific).

In His Love,
Nate
Comment by James Riemermann on 5th mo. 21, 2009 at 2:37pm
Thanks, Nate. My sense is that most of the people who participate here--like most people in my own meeting--are very open in their understanding of Quakerism. But I hear mixed messages as to whether this site is supposed to be truly pan-Quaker, or for certain kinds of Quakers. I am neither Christian nor convergent nor intentionally part of any revival. Quakerism was alive when I met it.

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