One cost of our theological diversity

02/10/2019 § 23 Comments

The theme of the December 2018 issue of Friends Journal was “Quakers and Christianity.” I enjoyed it very much, and I can tell from subsequent letters columns that it was carefully read by Friends of many theologies — so I suspect it has made many good conversations possible.

In reflecting on my experience as a Friend who is Christian, I became aware of one aspect of the experience of being a Christian Quaker that was not addressed, and that is, the ways in which the diversity in our meetings can inhibit spiritual growth.

This reflection arose, I think, because of the principle emphasis, in the articles, on individual belief.  This is, of course, an important part of the picture — but it’s not the whole picture.  Now, Elizabeth Boardman (page 31) does place herself (as a post-Christian, post-theist Friend) in the kaleidescope of her meeting’s diversity:

Almost everyone looks for a community to belong to. Some will adhere to a group that hates and hurts other people, and they should be urged to change their ways. My own tribe, the unprogrammed Quakers, lets others go their own ways, respected and unharmed. Operating primarily in an “adult” mode, Quakers even let me follow my own path as a post-Christian and post-theist. I am grateful.

In this passage, the meeting’s gift to Elizabeth Boardman is spiritual hospitality, in the form of an unpressing acceptance.  I know that she speaks for many, and this hospitality has allowed many to seek, grow, and change over the years.

I have to say, however,  that being a Christian in a liberal, hospitable meeting can feel lonely sometimes.  Since Christianity has occupied a position of cultural power in Western civilization, it is no wonder that people who feel no connection to it could be irritated, disturbed,  or otherwise bothered by Christian Quakers, and I have known times when it was clear that speaking as a Christian was “not done.”  I have known others who have been put down for doing so, though I have mostly not experienced that.

But this is not the point I want to make.  Rather I am aware that a certain level of fellowship or companionship is missing.  It can take a lifetime, I find, to explore the implications and meaning of the gospel life, to experience such a renewing of the mind that one can grow into the life of Christ, see and learn to honor the Sophia of God, the Logos in its appearing in humans, and in creation, and  in ourselves in our measure.  Fellowship with others who are following that same path ( a path “traditionally held by Friends”) is nourishing, stimulating, and educative in, well, particular ways.  Fellowship with earnest seekers who understand their paths differently is also precious, and indeed necessary — but not the same.

Now,  I love where the life of God is springing up in my Friends and anyone else in which  I am graced to feel it, and give thanks for their faithfulness and clarity, which often exceeds mine (“Not everyone that says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those that do the will of my Father that is in Heaven”).  I am grateful, and not surprised,  when I feel us gathered into the Presence that is beyond words and names.

Yet when I find myself with a friend or in a meeting where there is a common acceptance of Jesus’ invitation (“Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.”), so that we can explore together our experience as learners in the school of Christ, I feel a sense of relief, and opening, which is strengthening, refreshing, and instructive, and I think, What if my meeting were such a community?  It would not be a utopia, surely;  not without conflict, or confusion, or even sin. There would, however, be possibilities for mutual comfort, encouragement, and challenge that come from having a shared language.

When I have been in a situation where English not the principal language spoken, I have been able (in my degree) to communicate in the other idiom, and there is deep pleasure in doing so, but it can be hard work.  It is also notoriously true that there are some things which come very close to the heart that are difficult to share across language boundaries — some kinds of humor, for example; or poetry.

Advertisements

§ 23 Responses to One cost of our theological diversity

  • Thank you so much for this, Brian. It speaks to my condition. You’ve described well my own experience in unprogrammed Friends’ meetings that don’t describe themselves as at least wanting, or intending, or hoping to be gathered by Jesus Christ — and in those that explicitly invite and welcome Him. I was once quite happy with what I later came to see as a spiritual umbrella group, but then grew increasingly unhappy there, because — as I now understand it — I was feeling hungry for a kind of nourishment I wasn’t getting there, and my suffering was as real as if I’d been eating a diet without amino acids or calcium or iron. I can’t recommend highly enough the formation of midweek Christ-centered worship groups for Christ-centered Friends whose monthly meetings are not themselves Christ-centered.

    Liked by 2 people

    • briandrayton says:

      Thanks for this. Your comparison with an “essential nutrient” resonates with me, and it’s one that I have made to myself, in fact. Luckily, our YM includes people all along the spectrum, from quite liberal to more towards the Conservative end of things, so there is certainly some fellowship. Plus there are a lot of “Christian curious” people out there!
      My Christian community tends to be by correspondence, most of the time — and reading, of course.
      And I am confident he is at work in all tender people, regardless of label, who are listening to that voice.

      Like

  • TPWard says:

    I am not myself Christ-centered, but it saddens me that invoking the names of Jesus and Yahweh is unwelcome at some meetings. It’s terribly important to recognize the roots of tradition, even if its evolution has expanded beyond that initial scope.

    Your main point resonates with me because there is a lot of discussion in my yearly meeting about how community does not get fostered simply by showing up on Sunday. Perhaps when everyone in attendance is reading from the same hymnal, that’s not an issue. Come what may, finding a way to gel as community is going to be important in keeping meeting house doors open.

    Like

    • briandrayton says:

      yes — I was definitely not complaining about experiencing prejudice myself (whatever others have encountered), but rather just registering that tolerance (community fostered by just showing up on Sunday, as you say) is not enough. We’ve got to put in the time, and quality time at that!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Gerard Guiton says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. I personally think that the Kingdom of God, which I call “The Way” to avoid sexist and elitist connotations, can be our shared language. This is the theme of an upcoming essay I’ve recently penned to be published in “The Friends Quarterly” in August, and in another essay, too, submitted as a possible Pendle Hill pamphlet. In this particular essay, I examine “The Way” as our common language in relation to the planet; such is The Way’s versatility as a common language of peace, justice and compassion.

    Like

    • briandrayton says:

      Gerard,
      Thanks for this — I don’t usually see the FQ, but I will hope somehow to see your essay. I think I see the value of “The Way,” that good old term, as a meeting place — but is it not liable to the same “evacuation” of meaning as the currently-popular “Spirit” (as in “I try to listen to Spirit.”)? I expect you’ve grappled with that question.

      Like

      • Gerard Guiton says:

        Hello Brian, Yes indeed, I’ve tried a lot of alternative monikers such as “the Rule of Love”, the “Commonwealth of Love” etc. And I’ve counted about 40 alternatives to the “Kingdom of God” in early Quaker works (see my “The Early Quakers and the ‘Kingdom of God'”). I like “The Way” because of the early Christian reference, but also because to me at least it has that sense of a pathway throughout our lives in service to its spread. But really, the “Kingdom of God” has all the right theological resonances; it’s such a pity that many in today’s Society of Friends take offence to the term and cannot or won’t look beyond the word to its Spirit.
        Thanks so for your comment: many blessings, Gerard.

        Like

  • gilgamesh1947 says:

    I studied, and still study theology,
    but I cannot defend a single word of it
    even if it is totally true
    and not because I am not a friend of language –
    indeed I will defend language more than most –
    but because the truth of the Living Christ
    is in a life, not in any declaration of metaphysical order
    implied by any particular language….
    so! I am willing to say whatever I need to say
    in whatever language I deem most true to my experience,
    and for me it is Christ, not “centered” but at the core
    (to use the mystical spaceless, timeless term, “within”)
    and inexpressible except as I possess it,
    which will mean what I do and do not do at any particular time…

    I have felt the human consoling meeting of fellow travelers,
    knowing our language is close as well,
    so close their physical distance is a physical suffering,
    but the life I have is a sacrifice,
    and if I cannot survive my own weird fragmented meeting
    then I deserve nothing.
    OK, it can be depressing and the thirst for community
    is felt in the cells, but if we have community
    from within, we will offer that to everyone we are with
    over and over until we are done.
    That is a freedom that cannot be acquired from the world…
    Come on, let’s be tough…
    (Eric, as Gilgamesh1947)

    Like

    • briandrayton says:

      Thanks for this, Eric, and for keeping so thoughtful a message so close to the heart.
      My little cri de coeur in a way expresses the challenge of the Christ-mystic view of things. On the one hand, the Logos doctrine means that the spirit that one strand of humanity calls “Christ” has been, is, at work always and all-wheres, and therefore will be named (when named at all) in many ways.
      On the other hand, God is one, and so the Logos doctrine does not untether us from the Gospel story. Somehow, the Jesus event is part of the big picture, and a distinctive and clarifying one. One of the key understandings is that we can participate in the work of the Lord of Life— as Nayler says, not debating the meaning of Christ, but knowing and living with him/her/it — Christ is not a meaning.
      This also helps in discernment — not all insights are rooted in the nature of the One; real worship should move us towards coherence and unity however ineffable (given that the Wisdom of God is expressed in this crazily diverse world). “Jesus never said, ‘Blessed are they who have everything figured out’.”
      And I agree, also, that my meeting is the gift I am given. Just because it sets me problems that are hard for me in my finitude to understand, doesn’t contradict that.
      Perhaps therefore my blog post represents a inward-weather report, and puzzles a bit about the atmospheric conditions that it hints at.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Margaret Katranides says:

    Some speak of an astral plane, on which the particularities of our life on the material plane disappear. I feel that our gathered meetings are a Quaker variety of meeting each other on that plane. We can be melted together in seamless love, and yet when we return to the material plane we also return to the particularities, which include the particularities of belief, and language used to report our beliefs. What is the Way, the Path, the Tao, but our gradual oiling of the hinges of the door to that plane, led by an unnameable Power? Jewish tradition says that we must never speak the name JHWH out loud. Muslim tradition says that Allah has one hundred names, of which we know only 99. Perhaps we would do well to focus less on the names, and more on oiling the hinges, by whatever practice helps us do that.

    Like

    • briandrayton says:

      Thanks for your comment, Margaret — I am glad you’ve posted!
      Though we are in bodies, embodied — which adds complications (or “richness”). One of the things in the Gospels that means most to me, as I have gotten older, is the incarnation. I mean, Quakers (and others) place a lot of emphasis on the lessons and experience of crucifixion (of the “Old Man”) and resurrection — but we all share incarnation with Jesus, too., and the longer we live and the more we seek, and live into, the life of the spirit, the more does our embodiment feel like a mystery sometimes delightful, sometimes painful.
      And in the same way, since language is woven deep into our beings, naming is inevitable — naming, and calling out, praising and praying and singing… so the spiritul gets incarnated in words, just as the Word was incarnated in flesh.

      Like

  • Lucy Davenport says:

    Brian.
    For me the condition of being a Christian is not optional– it is a response to a Voice that calls me to hear and obey a living Guide. The EXPERIENCE of hearing and obeying–not just the language or vocabulary of “Christian theology”– is what becomes important. To have this experience with others– the listening together, obeying together and suffering together– is what defines being a Christian.
    It is not a solo enterprise, but a coming into a common experience of what defines us as “human”. I reject the biological descriptions of being human for the reason that I have ASSENTED to the understanding that Christ Jesus is who He says he is– one with the Creator. My existence as “creature”, and therefore “created” requires a relationship with the Creator– a relationship defined by voluntary obedience to the Creator’s will and intention — for me and for all humankind. To be “in the image of the Creator” is to be in a relationship that is ordered by the Gospel– the truth that all of our human experience has been RE-ORDERED by Christ to recover the Creator’s intention for us.
    THIS is the good news– that we are able to come into this Life and Power– that we are called in fact to live in this “new” ordering.
    The experience of worshiping where Christ is the Head for all present is the most precious experience of being human and discovering our shared Life, under our loving and all powerful Creator.

    Like

    • briandrayton says:

      hi Lucy,
      I understand — I could also say that being a Christian is not an option for me, and your way of describing the good news is moving.
      The curious thing is that when I came among Friends, it seemed to me that I had found the community in which I could get closer to figuring out the gospel than in any other, precisely because the worship was direct and led by the Spirit of Christ. It sometimes makes me weary to know that many or most of those I worship with, most places, don’t see it that way — but I also find that Christ is still about his work of healing and reconciliation, and can be known (if not by name) when people are gathered in real openness. I imagine that many of those Jesus healed did not know his name.

      Like

  • jp says:

    So many languages, so little time. I have a good grasp of English, and while I’m decent at Spanish it is too late now to become fluent — so I’ll muddle on being something of an advanced-intermediate speaker. My point here (my metaphor) is this: as I cannot go deep into many different languages neither can I go deep into many different religious traditions. I have chosen one, though I would honestly try to convince anyone that it chose me. [My, that is reminiscent of something Jesus said, isn’t it? Just “heard” that after typing the sentence.]

    My best sense is that I have been called to go deep into the Quaker tradition, which calls me to an understanding of Christianity that the early Friends possessed, an understanding of the message of the gospel and of the Bible generally that is very different from American Evangelicalism of the early 21st Century.

    When I’m with my Liberal-Unprogrammed buddies, I enjoy their welcome and seeking after the unity that underlies (I think Margaret K talked about an astral plane that lies ABOVE) all knowledge and systematic theologies. But they aren’t usually seeking the *experience* of the earliest Christians and early Friends, and have little interest in the Bible as a useful source of experience or story or teaching. When I’m with my Christian Quaker buddies, they aren’t usually interested in reading Isaac Penington, and many have never spent as much as an hour in “unprogrammed worship” nor are they terribly interested in trying it.

    There is no awareness/feeling that I am called to leave my current meeting; and there is something precious in my local community. But there is also a loneliness that lures/pushes me to be with others. [Maybe THAT is the point of *not* having My Perfect Faith Community?]

    Thanks, Brian and the commenters, for giving me good words to help puzzle this through.

    Like

    • briandrayton says:

      Thanks for this, JP, I liked it very much.
      I have always felt it safest to assume that my being in this meeting or that was not a matter of my shopping, but of my being led (or a way opening for me), and that therefore I should seek to stay put in gratitude. I don’t always succeed (in the gratitude part).
      I do very much value what the Benedictines call “stability” as a discipline — and it’s not the inertness of a stone (I hope!), it takes some work and (I suppose) creativity.
      Though I do fantasize sometimes, and joke that the yearly meeting I would love to belong to is the New England Yearly Meeting (Wilburite), that merged in our lovely, messy unification in 1945.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Maurine Pyle says:

    My own experience as a follower of Jesus attending two Post-Christian Liberal meetings has been very troubling. I am easily able to accept the individual theologies of others yet they have been resistant to accepting my Christian path and language. In fact, I am often seen as a problem because I am a practicing Christian. Nevertheless, I persevere and do not relent even when ordered to move aside. Brian’s point about the loss of the language of the heart between me and other Quakers is very real. I stubbornly keep a place open for Christians and hope someday that my Friends will unpack their past wounds and allow us to sit with them.

    Like

    • briandrayton says:

      Thanks for this, Maurine, I appreciate your sharing of your story. It brings to mind many times in NEYM when someone would say, Why is it that Friends are so open to all the World Religions *except* Christianity?!! But then I think, what kind of Christianity have they met, and what kind of an apostle am I? So there is work to do– Alleluia!

      Like

  • Margaret Katranides says:

    Above, beneath, perhaps these are misleading words. (Is there any other kind?) Penington and Fox both wrote about going down deep; in those depths when I experience them there is a freedom which unites with all creation. However we express this, in whatever language or creed, there is a Source which underlies that experience. I try to avoid names for this Source which would seem to limit the awareness to people of any particular religious orientation, not for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings, but to be more inviting to all. Awareness of the depth is not reserved for Christians or Buddhists or any other group of people.

    Liked by 1 person

  • briandrayton says:

    The closer people penetrate to the living Christ, the more they come to suspect that “perhaps the spirit of Christ pours itself out more widely than we conceive.” (Erasmus, The Godly Feast)

    fortasse latius se fundit spiritus Christi, quam nos interpretamur.

    Like

  • Bill Samuel says:

    The dilemma is real. I think we who seek to follow Jesus Christ explicitly need to meet together with fellow believers for strength and mutual encouragement. Whether this means leaving a liberal Quaker meeting for some expression of faith that does not define itself as Quaker, as it has for me and many others, or staying but also finding a regular opportunity to meet with others as fellow believers (whether or not they identify with Quakerism), I think that is important.

    Like

  • Forrest Curo says:

    What Zalman Schachter-Shalomi said about the Earth’s religions as ‘an ecosystem’ looks like a pretty loose metaphor — but it has its essential consequence, that the health of our religion, whatever it may be, depends on the health of the others.

    We can learn from each other because we are ‘others’ to each other. We can try to stifle those ‘others’ instead, which works to defeat God’s purpose in creating all this variety — but temporarily protects us from having to learn from each other. That’s a shame in one sense; in another it’s just a way of maintaining differences for us to unify.

    Implicit in all that: Christianity too must have some contribution the others don’t sufficiently address — as well as features that might well be improved by a little syncrasy.

    Where? “Test all things and hold fast to that which is good.” In this case, to read the Bible with an eye to what’s human misunderstanding and what’s intended Message. Because contemporary Friends have generally not done this, our sense of How It Be is sadly weakened.

    What will it take to reawaken a live and open curiosity about that material? God knows; meanwhile we can hope, pray, make our efforts but put our faith in the One who brings them forth, not in ourselves.

    Like

  • briandrayton says:

    Just so! Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God gives the increase, and raises up workers for the harvest.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading One cost of our theological diversity at Amor vincat.

meta

%d bloggers like this: