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Quaker, Pagan, Quakerpagan or Paganquaker: Moving Beyond the Cool Kids' Table

Spiritual Identity and Membership Series:
Part 1: Quakerpagan or Paganquaker -
Part 2: Membership and Identity -
Part 3: Marshall Massey Replies
This week, I encountered an update to the link to this blog that Quaker blogger Marshall Massey posted recently. To begin with, let me say that I'm really honored to be listed under Kindred Souls at Earthwitness*. Beyond the Earthwitness itself--on its own an important reason to respect Marshall--I've noticed that he not only links to, but praises writers he has had important disagreements with. He is truly open to new perspectives, at the same time that he is rooted firmly in his own very traditional, very Christian Quakerism.

So. I take this guy seriously. And I like that he's linked to us here. And he says nice things.

Recently I revisited his page, and noticed that the blurb linking to this blog had been revised, partly to point to our post Waging Peace in All Things, discussing the ways Quakers are laboring with the FUM personnel policy. I read something in that update to our blurb there that made me unhappy. Not a put-down--indeed, it's worded within a complement: Marshall writes that "the impression [he gets] is that [our] first loyalty remains to [P]aganism — but [our] entries on Quakerism are often quite refreshing."

Refreshing is good. I like refreshing!

But the perception that my first loyalty is to Paganism... that feels bad, like a toothache. Hm...

Let's try it the other way around then, shall we? "My first loyalty is to Quakers."

No. That feels sad and cold too. Both phrasings chill me and leave me feeling empty and sad.

I do have a fear of finding myself cast out of both groups. And though I'm entirely sure there are both Quakers and Pagans who would see that as only reasonable, I've encountered very few of them. Still--the idea pains me. Why?

Well, to begin with, there's the matter of the cool kids' table--of wanting the sense of having arrived that comes with being "in" with a group you admire. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a factor in my feelings here. And it's not much of a motivator for identifying with a spiritual community, frankly.

In a recent post on The Good Raised Up, Liz Opp writes about the distinction between membership and identity with a spiritual community. And though my own understanding of the vocabulary (and maybe the concepts themselves) is different from hers, the distinction she makes is important. She writes:
I think of one's membership as one's participation in a group to which she or he has chosen to belong; and I think of identity as one's self-concept or self-identification in relation to a group that reflects that person's own self-understanding.

Now, my impression is that most Pagan groups--certainly most Wiccan covens--are looking for a strong combination of both active participation in a group and a self-understanding that is rooted in membership within it. Wiccans talk of something called a group wraith, a kind of communal spirit that a working group builds up over time, almost a shared group soul.

And because of the sense that membership in the intimate working group of a coven or grove involves the ability to participate in this communal spirit, one of the questions most high priestesses or priests ask themselves, when considering admitting a new member to a coven or grove, is whether the person is really, in a deep sense, already a member. In years past, it was common to speak of Witches as having been "born Witches," or having been a member of a coven in a past life--that's how important the notion of a self rooted in an identification with the group has been.

So it surprised me to find both Liz and, later, Marshall, speaking of this kind of identification with a group slightingly. In a comment on this post, Marshall wrote
...membership in a group gives the group permission to make demands of you, and even make changes in you, whereas self-identification with a tradition leaves the reins of your life in your own hands. Thus membership is communitarian, while identification is individualistic...

...You know, when I hear people claim that they are Quaker because they identify themselves as Quaker, regardless of their lack of formal membership, what distresses me above all else is the fact that they are claiming the power and right to alter what this community that they're attracted to is by the simple fact of their own presence, while granting the community no answering power and right to alter them. This is a power play on these individuals' part, even though they don't see it as such.

So there's the idea that self-identification is superficial and individualistic, but membership involves investment and give and take.

Pagans, I think, look to bestow membership where identity as a part of a group already exists. Quakers, at least to to judge by Liz and Marshall's discussion, look to develop identification with a group through the formal relations of membership. It's probably a chicken and the egg type of issue, really--membership shapes identity shapes membership.

Quakers, as a group, are better at doing spiritual life communally. I'm not saying that Quakers are better at community in general than Pagans are. But because Quaker worship is a corporate--group--communion with God, the willingness to move beyond one's individual indentity and understandings is built in to the experience in a way it is not among most Pagan groups. It is true that Pagans are indivdualistic, possibly to a fault.

But I'm not convinced that self-identification is rooted in the place of a merely individual self. And I'm not convinced that, even among Quakers, with their careful discernment processes, formal membership is what "gives the group permission to make demands of you, and even make changes in you."

I'll agree, though, that only to the extent that there is a level of mutuality and exchange at a level deep enough to shape the soul is one really a part of a spiritual community, Quaker or Pagan. Anything less, and you've got a nifty social club, but not a spiritual community, I think.

And here's where we move past simply a desire to sit at the cool kids' table--what Marshall would term a power play, perhaps.

To the extent that my spiritual community does not accept my membership, or discounts it as merely individualistic "self-identification", I will be cut off from exactly what Marshall sees self-identifiers as withholding from their communities: that interdependence, the right not so much to make demands on the group or to shape it to my liking, as to serve the group, offer it my gifts, and be transformed by the experience of that mutuality.

Concrete example:
Peter and I are teachers. A few years back, when I had just become a teacher, I realized that, between us, we're pretty much competent to teach a whole curriculum. He's got the math/science thing going on (and more certifications than a charm bracelet has charms), and I've got the humanities and social sciences. And the thing about teachers is that the whole world needs 'em. Did you know that there is a school, for instance, for the scientists' kids in Antarctica? Imagine what it would be like to teach in Antarctica for a year! What an amazing thing that would be.

I bet the Quakers out there already know where I'm going with this...

I'm thinking about that famous FUM project, the Ramallah Friends Schools.

For a brief, brief window in time, when I became a member at Mt. Toby--when I found that being an out Pagan as well as a Quaker in attendance at NEYM this past year did not seem to offend anyone within our dual affilated yearly meeting--it seemed possible, just possible, that one day Peter and I might find ourselves living, learning, and being transformed by teaching in Ramallah. Indeed, one Friend, discussing the idea with us over breakfast, was quite enthusiastic, and spoke of the difficulty there sometimes is in getting enough practicing Quaker teachers for the school.

Until he found out we were Pagan. And then the lights went out. No... that's not possible.

Watching what is going on worldwide with FUM and its positions on homosexuality, I can see quite clearly that Peter and I would be no more welcome than would an openly gay or lesbian teacher. Less, perhaps.

Is this right? Is this what should be?

Well, that depends on whether or not I'm really a Quaker, doesn't it? I say I am. Of course, I'm merely an individual. However, Mt. Toby says I am, too--has embraced me and has embraced Peter without reservation, and allowed us to serve and test our Quakerness in the life of the meeting.

But FUM and conservative-leaning Friends would probably say that I am not. (Probably--I admit to making a certain number of assumptions here.) Which is painful, but also not the point. Because it's not just about the cool kids' table anymore. It's about exactly that interdependence that spiritual community is about.

For the record, I'm not saying I'd be over there in Ramallah if matters stood differently--I would not call the flash of excitement and possiblity that I held briefly a leading, and I have made no move to test it. I haven't even written to anyone in Ramallah or FUM about the possiblity, because it is honestly not that concrete an idea. But the ironic thing is that, at a time when FUM and its dual-affiliated meetings seem to be bracing to tear the Quaker world apart, I'm finding myself more and more invested in building bridges. If I can...

For the record, I'm not pointing a finger at anyone in FUM or at Marshall or Liz Opp or anyone else out there for the fact that accepting as a Quaker a woman who recognizes and worships more than one god is controversial. It ought to be controversial, in fact.

Ass a bottom line, Quakers are unique in the world for the way we worship and the way we conduct business, seeking unity with God (a word I am still abashed to use) and because of the nature of that community with and through God, introducing new thealogies casually would be a mistake. (That's in contrast with Paganism, which seems almost infinately malleable--though partly, as I said before, at the cost of some degree of communal spiritual experience.)

Only that which does not interfere with the unique Quaker way of being together-in-God should be part of Quaker life. That's seems clear to me.

But that's just what keeps me Quaker--we center down, and I can find you, Friend, in the shining place: you and the sea of limitless Light. And that's what keeps me Pagan--I go out into the woods, and the trees are not things but friends, and the moonlight makes what is sacred shine out all around me.

I can't prove love. I can't prove music. I can't prove I'm Quaker, or Pagan, or anything else I deeply care about: a good parent, a good teacher, a good friend...

But that isn't the point, really. No matter how the labels fit or don't fit, my job is to keep walking... just keep walking. Herne on my right hand, Jesus on my left (if the Spirit should so insist!). Just... keep going the way I'm led.

("But I wanna be in the Quaker club, too, dammit. Why don't I ever get to sit at the cool kids' table?" A small voice asks. Shut up, voice. This isn't about that. Keep walkin'.)

*For what it's worth, the sole reason Marshall is not listed in our blogroll is that his blogs have a slightly different focus than ours, and I've felt a need to trim and focus our blogroll recently, just to keep it manageable. But I truly do recommend both The Earthwitness Journal and The Quaker Magpie.


MartinK said…
Hi Cat,
In a way I think we're all outsiders and insiders and besides-siders in different ways. Identity and community, belongingless and alienation is an endlessly nuanced and perhaps impossible to ever quite truly grasp. Quakers are diverse enough to have lots of cool kids tables. Sometimes we're able to sit at a few but I don't know of anyone who feels entirely comfortable beyond that.

Ever since middle school I've been suspicious of anyone who's felt too comfortable at any table--what parts of themselves are they holding back on (aka what Light are they squelching) to keep on good terms with everyone else. Groups need challenging from within and without from those who would speak truth or ask uncomfortable questions. To push the metaphor, my work with QuakerQuaker has been sort of like squeezing in a new cool kid table in the middle of an already-crowded Quaker cafeteria. But part of the responsibility of that is making sure I always have enough empty chairs nearby that people feel comfortable taking up residence or just visiting for awhile. I'm not perfect, I forget I even have a blogroll and sometimes get ornery about something or another but that's my attempt at least.

An important quality of the internet is that there's no center yet everything connects in one way or another. We'll never all be on each other's blogrolls and maybe that's just okay. Perhaps this is a good model for how different Quaker communities can interact with one another. I for one am very appreciative of all of your thoughtful and tender posts.
Lorcan said…
Hi Cat:

Well, ... what is the coolest table... ? I am rather sure that God is not a mean spirited concept -- totality -- (what is the proper word for the sum total of being and the act of ongoing creation)? As a born again Christian science teacher said of teaching evolution, "Teaching evolution reminds me that God is bigger than the box I place Him in... ) I don't think that the God who intended so much diversity, did so in order that God might choose an elect from among all those who think they are the elect, in order that all others would be damned. Seems common sense to me that pluralism is the way of God or as thee sees it, Gods.

So ... the cool table, is the one in the middle with all of us odd three dollars bills siting next to the conservative types, and all the others who we might not get what they are up to ... rather than that table in the corner where one or two sit, facing the wall in order to convince themselves that they are the only ones in the room.

I suppose...

in frith and deep fFriendship
Martin, Lorcan... thank you for your kind words. It means a lot to me to mean something to each of you...

I hope I didn't lose my point, and dwell too much on the part of me that seeks to be "in." Yeah, I worry about rejection, and I want the approval of nifty people... and that does affect how I see questions like membership within "cool" groups (like Quakers).

But I think that it's important for me to move past those fears about being accepted or good enough, and not become too distracted by them.

A point comes to mind that Marshall Massey also made, in a long-ago comment on The Seed Lifting Up. There had been a discussion of how/if non-theist Friends could participate fully in Quaker meeting for business, rooted as it is in seeking unity, not just with a community, but with God with that community. Marshall made the point that whether or not someone is Quaker wasn't about questions of inclusivity or exclusivity at all. Instead, he asked, "do nontheists come down from the mountain shining with light, as Moses did, and as I have seen true waiting worshipers do? Maybe so, maybe so — but I haven’t yet witnessed it myself."

And though whether or not non-theists (or Pagans) can and do shine that way is something that's impossible to "prove" with words on a blog, I do think it's the right question... and that Marshall is right when he talks about a desire to be inclusive--good liberal concern though it is in other areas--as a kind of distraction from the main point.

I think this is part of the reason I delayed so long before I requested membership in my meeting. Yes, I had fears I'd be rejected--but much more importantly, having had an early snub from other Quakers, I had concerns that I was applying for the wrong reasons--to secure a seat at the cool kids' table.

This kind of question is only going to get more important, I think, if the Convergent Friends movement is going to continue to grow. Martin, I really like your point that, as with the Internet, "there's no center yet everything connects in one way or another.... Perhaps this is a good model for how different Quaker communities can interact with one another."

I think that's so. And, because online, there is really room for everyone, we get to set aside a lot of our fears and territoriality--if we try--and maybe find ways to be open to seeing it when someone we might not have predicted to does come down the mountain shining with light.
MartinK said…
Hi again Cat,
For what its worth I've met Friends with a lot of light shining from them who nonetheless insisted on called themselves non-theists. About this time last year I was visiting with a dear Philadelphia Friend who, knowing me well, decided to explain her non-theism to me. The explanation seemed long and overly-convoluted and in the end sounded a lot like theism. The practice of her spiritual discernment and her understanding of source and receivership were pretty much spot on to my own practice and understanding. If she ever found herself willing to drop her insistence on pure rationality then she could explain her spirituality a lot more clearly by using theist language. I'm not saying all non-theists are overly-convoluted theists but I've met enough who seem to me to have a personal relationship with Him who I call Jesus that I don't get too worked up about it. My concerns come up when Christian Friends are so quiet about our own understandings that we end up teaching a lowest-common denominator Quakerism to our kids and newcomers.
Liz Opp said…
Hi, Cat--

Other things have called for my attention, but I did want to carve out time tonight to begin a comment on this important post.

First of all, I appreciate how you make your own wrestling with all these sticky, chewy issues transparent. I do believe it's this sort of transparency that keeps all of us humble and gives a sort of "permission" for us to keep wrestling with the issues at hand and to keep laboring with one another lovingly.

Wrestling with the topic of membership and identity is certainly what I was doing in the post you reference on The Good Raised Up. So when I came across the excerpt from that post within your own post, I recognized that something didn't sit well with me, so I re-read my own words.

In no way did I intend to leave readers with the idea that membership is only about "participation in a group," and that identity is only about "self-concept in relation to a group." That distinction was intended to be a jumping-off point, since I go on to say:

"the concepts of membership and identity can be thought of as close cousins, or two sides of the same coin, especially when one's membership in a group stretches over a long period of time... to the extent that the person's identity may become intricately knit or wedded to being an active, long-time member of the group," among other things.

In fact, I have to take more time to consider if we aren't saying nearly the same thing, since you yourself write:

" impression is that most Pagan groups--certainly most Wiccan covens--are looking for a strong combination of both active participation in a group and a self-understanding that is rooted in membership within it" [emphasis mine in both quotes].

This is something for me to ponder and to hold tenderly over the next little while...

. . . . . .

Anyway, in at least the first half of your post, I see you as very much engaging actively in both sides of that coin--and it is not as easy as a "coin toss," if you know what I mean.

When our identity and our sense of belonging (membership) are so closely knit together, we cannot simply "pick sides" or have a "coin toss" decide for us. We must live into the blending of the two and trust that all will become clear over time and as we are ready to understand.

But there's no guarantee that others among us--or apart from us--will be comfortable with our "both-and" status; and there's no guarantee that someone we trust and admire won't ask us to wrestle a bit more, labor a while longer. It is, after all, how we hone one another and grow into our own understanding of who God asks us to be.

Does that make sense?

Personally, I love the way you describe your inward response to the statements "My first loyalty is to Paganism... My first loyalty is to Quakerism." I love it because the way you write that out, I feel like I connect with you more deeply, like I understand you a bit more fully as a result of your honesty and as a result of your searching for what is true and authentic for you.

All that said, if my post came across as "slighting" someone, I apologize. It was a difficult post for me to write because the concepts are so close together, and I concluded the post by acknowledging that I felt I was still "reaching" for something I could not quite put my finger on.

There is more for me to offer here, but the hour is late and I want to sit a while longer with what you've offered here, Cat. I'm still wrestling and still listening...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
Dear Cat, I was much astonished by your statement that you felt honored to have your blog listed on my site!

Honest, I find it hard to believe that being listed on that page is that big a deal. It's merely a list of the blogs that I think many of the readers of my own might be glad to find out about, if they don't know about them already. Kind of like, "If you enjoyed our mocha almond ice cream, I think our neighbors' crème brûlée might also be to your taste." The blogs that I don't mention, aren't omitted because they're not good enough, or because they're not "Quakerish" enough; they're omitted merely because I think they would not appeal as greatly to the sort of people who read mine. So it's not a value judgment, just a taste judgment.

But what you're telling me is that my sense of a kinship between your focus and interests and mine, is meaningful to you. Well, I guess that makes sense. If you felt enough kinship to list my site on your own blogroll, I'd feel quite similarly pleased, really.

You express unhappiness at my perception that your first loyalty remains to Paganism. But hey, Cat, I took that straight from a recent essay on your blog ("Lloyd Lee Wilson, Herne, and the Sea of Limitless Light", April 6, 2007), where you wrote: "Having devoted a very long post to my experience of Quaker Godhead, perhaps I should do the same for Herne one day soon. After all, I knew him first, loved him first. (He is, to the perception of my inner eye, both different from and brimming with that Light I'm describing here. Superficially, he is totally different: Lord of the Wild Hunt, rooted in mortality, the body, sex, sweat, and being. Only his eyes, which I can never meet, reveal his measure of Light--greater than mine, and perhaps darker.)

"For now, I'll close here with the flash of insight that came to me in meeting for worship last week: a sudden awareness that, if it ever were necessary to choose between the Lord of the Hunt and the Light I find in Quaker meeting, I can trust Herne not to guide me away from the path I'm meant for."

It was when I read those words that I modified my description of your blog. And does this seem unjustified?
Liz Opp said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hi, Liz, Hi Marshall,
Since posting this blog entry, the discussion has rolled forward within the context of Peter's related post, Membership and Identity. It's tough when the speed of the Internet and the speed of daily life leave so little time to respond thoughtfully to such rich dialog!

Liz, I need to clear something up about how my own post drew from yours. You write here that "In no way did I intend to leave readers with the idea that membership is only about 'participation in a group,' and that identity is only about 'self-concept in relation to a group'" That was actually clear to me by the end of reading your own post, and I'm sorry that I did not make that clear here. But, just as you used those ideas as a jumping off point in your own thinking, I wound up using them for the same thing in mine...I'd had a wish to write about these concepts for some time, but was having a hard time getting started. The surprise I felt, at the different visions of identity and membership at first glance between your writing and the ways of thought that are familiar to me, gave me the boost I needed to get started.

Thanks for that. And apologies for perhaps stressing our differences more than our similarities--I really didn't mean to distort your message, and I am sorry if I did. And your post did not in the least give me the sense that you had slighted me (or anyone else, that I could tell). But the issues here just matter to me a lot.

As you point out, both-ands need to be prepared to be asked to "wrestle a bit more, labor a while longer" by members of our community (communities?). Maybe that's one of the advantages of being a both-and? I know that the liminal zones in an ecosystem are often particularly fertile--the salt marsh, the riverene forest, the edge of a wood or a meadow. There's a constant interplay of life at the edges of things, and, in religious terms, being "hone[d by] one another [to] grow into our own understanding of who God asks us to be," seems like a good thing to go through.

Marshall, thank you for illluminating me a bit about how you read my words in an earlier post! It's so easy to become entrenched in my own view of the world, and not to understand how someone else will see the same sights (or read the same words) quite differently than I do!

I think that, as a polytheist, I see my relationship to the gods differently than monotheists see theirs with "big-G" God. With "big-G" God, there's only faithful=closer and unfaithful=farther away. But with Pagan gods, sometimes faithful is not the same thing as closer.

I'll probably explore these ideas at greater length in the near future, given the post that I know Peter is working on even now. So here I'll just say that I think it may not have been clear from my words that what I was feeling was the way that my Paganism will not put me at variance with my Quakerism. This is not because Herne is a Quaker, but because, as a god of integrity, he would not ask _me_ to stop being one in order to stand next to him. If the Light calls me forward, I'm pretty sure Herne will be there prodding me in the back, nudging me along. He's a pretty uncompromising guy: you follow your fate; you do what's right.

And since, for me, that's listening to the Light, that's what he'll tell me to do. There is no conflict--at least for me. If I'm meant to move on, and let go of his hand, he himself would insist upon it.
Cat, you conclude your latest comment by saying, "There is no conflict -- at least for me."

I don't believe my description of your blog site, on my own kindred souls page, said, or even implied, that there is a conflict. From where I stand, I cannot know whether there is one or not. My statement on that page was about loyalty, not about conflict.

I am curious to know if you ever read C. S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength. There is much I find objectionable in that book, and I have no doubt that, as practicing Pagans, you two would find those things even more objectionable than I do.

But I would draw your attention to two moments in that book that seem to echo what you are saying here. These two moments are two visitations from the ancient Græco-Roman deities (Ares/Mars, Aphrodite/Venus, etc.). The first visitation is alarming to the hero, because the deities are forces bigger than he is, and "wild" to boot. The second, though, is lovely, because at this point the hero has become a convert to Christ (albeit only half conscious of his own conversion -- Lewis believed firmly that one can be a Christian without realizing it) -- and Christ is the one who contains all things and reconciles all things to one another as well as to himself (viz. Colossians 1:19-20; cf. Romans 8:28). And so the hero experiences the Græco-Roman deities, the second time around, as being still the same, still real and powerful, but now on the same side as himself, and so no longer frightening at all.

I wonder if this isn't something at least distantly related to what you are saying here.
Marshall, this is fascinating to me... I have not read Lewis's books in the Perelandra series--just never got into them. (Peter has, and recommends them. Perhaps I should give them another try, now that I'm out of my 20's.)

I'm not surprised that Lewis found a way for his hero to relate to Pagan gods after becoming Christian. Lewis himself had such a strong love of classical mythology. (There's a wonderful essay about this tension between Lewis's Christian convictions and love of the classical world in Ronald Hutton's collection of articles, Witches, Druids, and King Arthur which I really recommend to any Tolkien or Lewis fans in either the Christian or Pagan world.)

My own experiences of the Pagan gods I know and love best have indeed included a dimension of alarm. They are bigger than I am, and it really can be unnerving, especially when dealing with a deity that has a fierce side--as does Herne.

I'm not so sure that's a difference with the Christian God, for what it's worth--or it would be hard to understand all the injunctions against being afraid that fill the pages of the Bible! But fear is not always a horrible thing; sometimes it's awe, and leaves a gladness in its wake, yes?

In any case, there absolutely was a time when I would have found objectionable the idea of being an "unconsious Christian." But I'm no longer concerned with the idea of being condescended to by those who might wish to label some, at least, of my spiritual experiences Christian.

If the definition of Christ is "the one who contains all things and reconciles all things to one another as well as to himself," then, whatever I may think about the historical Jesus, I don't think I could object to that label. What I call the Light, that which I experience in Quaker meeting for worship, does seem to me different in kind from what I experience in Pagan worship of Pagan gods. That Light seems to me to be outside, larger than, encompassing and suffusing those gods. Is that Christ? Well, it's never given me a postive ID, but then, how many gods do?

I once heard a message (one for me, not for vocal ministry at the time), which has since allowed me to soften and open to Christian language and expression... I seemed to hear a voice telling me, "It doesn't hurt the Light to call it Jesus." (I hope that does not sound condescending--that wasn't the tone I heard in it.)

Not that that settles the matter of who or what whatever it is that I'm feeling actually is. Not that it means I won't have an opening eventually that takes me farther from or closer to either Pagan or Christian beliefs. But I am at least trying to become"bi-lingual", and to learn the native "language" of my new home among Friends (to extend the metaphor from Liz's post From Spiritual Refugee to Spiritual Citizen a little farther.)

Hey, if my old friend Maureen can learn ancient Athenian Greek in order to serve Aphrodite better, the least I can do is be open to the language in which Quakers have understood the Light of Truth for lo these many years...
Laurie Kruczek said…
Friend Cat,

Outside, inside, inside-out! It's the story of all Quakers :)

I'm not cool at all. I'm not even on the MMassey list. If you don't mind an uncool Christian, you can hang out with me anytime.

Have I said I like your blog? Cuz I do.

Marshall Massey said…
Dear Cat, you write, "My own experiences of the Pagan gods I know and love best have indeed included a dimension of alarm. They are bigger than I am, and it really can be unnerving, especially when dealing with a deity that has a fierce side--as does Herne.

"I'm not so sure that's a difference with the Christian God, for what it's worth--or it would be hard to understand all the injunctions against being afraid that fill the pages of the Bible!"

Actually -- as I suspect you may already know -- Christ was very much engaged in teaching his disciples to see a new face of God, one they'd never dared let themselves see before, and to enter a new relationship with God, in which fear is no longer even conceivable. The face of God that Christ pointed to was characterized by the fact that this God could be addressed as "Abba," "Dad". (To be fair, there was precedent for this in the ministry of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, who predicted that when the faithful were finally reconciled to God, they would cease addressing him as "Boss" and begin addressing him as "Husband".)

So the process of bringing his followers to this new, intimate, not-scary face of God was the reason underlying all those injunctions to "be not afraid". And that too is why we find such reassurances in Christ's recorded teachings as (from the Sermon on the Mount) "...if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matthew 6:14); "look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them (6:26); and "if [even] you, who are corrupt, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven [and who is not corrupt] give good things to those who ask Him!" (7:11)

Now to a second point. You write, "If the definition of Christ is 'the one who contains all things and reconciles all things to one another as well as to himself,' then, whatever I may think about the historical Jesus, I don't think I could object to that label."

From what I understand, "Christ" in ancient Greek was a title, not a personal name like "Jesus". It literally meant "one who is anointed"; in religious usage, it was an identifier for a person that a unique, cosmic charisma appeared to have fallen upon -- a charisma far exceeding that of saints.

The statements made about Jesus the Christ in Colossians 1:19-20, then, are not a definition of what "Christ" means as distinct from the historical Jesus. Rather, they go beyond the simple definition of what "Christ" means, to say something out of the early Christians' own experience about the specific Christ, Jesus. (I would hasten to add here that modern scholars do not believe these are Paul's own words; they say this was an early Christian song or hymn that Paul was quoting. So the words describe an experience shared widely enough among early Christians that whole groups of them were comfortable declaring it in song; it was not just Paul's personal experience.)

On a final note: I very much appreciate your efforts to become religiously bilingual. I've made similar efforts in my own life -- going off as a young adult to learn the languages of Buddhism and guruistic Hinduism and to put what those languages describe into practice, and then returning to Christianity and Quakerism and making the same effort there. So I have some direct experience of how helpful, and empowering, such a polylingual background can be.
Yvonne said…
Given that some of the diners at the Pagan tables in the giant restaurant of religion are definitely turning their faces to the wall, I think the idea of shuffling tables occasionally is helpful. I have a dear friend who is a Quaker and we have some really fascinating conversations - alas, not long enough.

I am interested in the question of membership and identity, it's something I am struggling with at the moment. I feel I have a Pagan identity, but my sense of membership in the Pagan community is being severely undermined, owing to the large number of Pagans who fail to live their values (and in some cases, even know what their values are). Then, just when I'm about to throw up my hands and walk away, some other Pagans appear out of nowhere to offer a helping hand. It's all very mysterious.
Allison said…
Yes! I also am struggling with the whole idea of "the cool table." I DO NOT WANT TO BE A MEMBER OF THE COOL TABLE! That's why my biggest question about membership is, "Is there a difference between a Friend and a friend?" That big F there already speaks to me and strikes me as somewhat exclusive. Maybe I'm reading too much into this? After all, I am a big fan of E.E. Cumming's poetry...

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