Monday, May 26, 2008
When I began writing them, I didn't yet see the ways these posts dovetailed with the topic of my guest blog at The Wild Hunt. Now, though, they seem intimately connected: when we approach our spiritual lives as lived experiences, we necessarily open ourselves to the possibility of radical change--change at the root. That's unnerving, of course. But if we rise to the challenge, and allow our understandings to change in response to our experiences of God/the gods, I believe we will find ourselves living as we were meant to live, and growing as we were meant to grow.
If we have the courage to be willing to let go of what we believe our religious life ought to be about, and instead, accept it on our own terms, we might just learn a thing or two.
If you are interested in reading my plea for more Pagan writing that is rooted in experience rather than in the "merely notional", you might want to visit The Wild Hunt today. (And many thanks to Jason Pitzl-Waters for the chance to share what I had to say with a wider audience.)
Saturday, May 24, 2008
So, from the moment I felt the first stirrings of the Spirit of Peace within me, my easygoing relationship to polytheism was under threat.
It would all, from a Pagan point of view, have been so much easier if I had only been called by, say, Pugsley the Peace God. No problems accepting a Quaker Pagan whose god was one among the many! But it is not Pugsley I follow, and that does complicate matters.
Certain hills painted our feetColors of growing, colors of birth.Certain springs drank us into them,Watered our children and made them strong.Certain rivers asked us questionsWe answered according to season.Certain seasons taught us the songsWe sang to our little onesBare-painted by the hills at our feet.--------Penny Novack
Of course, Real Quakers don't worry about things like that. We're all about ministry and God, and have no secret, deep dark desires to be famous or the center of attention... If I were a good, Quakerly sort of Quaker, the fact that my hyphenated identity makes me stand out in a crowd would be a matter of perfect indifference to me.
Damn, I like the fact that Friends I think are really cool know who I am because of this blog! Damn, I like the sense of specialness that comes from standing out in a crowd!
A lived peace testimony may be compatible with membership in a community of polytheists; one to which I give lip service may not be, at least for me.
(To Be Continued.)
Monday, May 19, 2008
If, to strain a metaphor I used in my last post, the Quaker family had put me out on the street, it would be difficult to explain the many supportive comments I received.
I wrote that last post, "Theologically Queer," feeling braced against rejection by the Quaker community.
But almost as soon as the post went up, folks began trickling out of the house and sitting down next to me on the curb. Really kind, lovable folks. And nobody called me names, or even pointed out how silly I was being. Nope. They just came out to see how I was, and to wait patiently with me until I felt a bit better.
Peggy Senger Parsons--a woman I consider to be one of the spiritual grown-ups of the world--came out and sat next to me on the curb. Then Anj sat down next to me and held my hand. Haven reminded me of the lively interconnections between Quakers of different branches within the convergent Friends movement. Kent not only told me he was unhappy I was hurting, but let me know that my queer and heretical writing has sometimes moved and affected him despite our differences. And Friends whose views are evangelical also brought empathy for the experience of rejection, and affirmed that they could, as Quakerboy/Craig put it "still see the Light in...Pagan friends" whether believing we're mistaken in our beliefs or not.
Friends circled around. There were hugs. I think there may have been group hugs. I may have heard someone singing "Kumbaya." And if I extend the metaphor of being on the curb outside my (Quaker) family home, I think I'd have to say that the family meal was brought outside and passed around the crowd, picnic style. It was reassuring and warm, and a good reminder of why I care so much about this particular spiritual family.
This has been a good image to sit with this week.
At the same time, I believe that the issue of how Quakers hear or refuse to hear the voice of Spirit coming from those we see as Other is a true concern. We have not figured this one out yet. I'm a pretty brassy dame, and if I feel shouldered aside, then I do wonder, what voices may have left the meeting house already, silenced before they could begin to speak?
One voice that is silenced too often, I am told, is that of Christian Friends in liberal meetings. I have heard stories that concern me very much. I know that I will do what I can to prevent this, in any meeting I attend, and in my company, at least, universalist will not mean "anti-Christian."
Another sometimes marginalized voice among us--though, gratefully, not always or everywhere among Quakers--is that of gays and lesbians. And while not all Christian or evangelical Friends reject gays and lesbians as members of the family, some do. They base that rejection on the Bible; and so a concern over how Quakers use that book seems merited to me.
I'm tempted to try to refute Biblical authority for condemning homosexuality on Biblical terms: to point out that the eating of shrimp or the wearing of mixed-fiber garments is likewise condemned, and yet I don't see picketers outside of Red Lobster... And Yada yada ya.
It's not just that I'm not much of a Bible scholar, but more importantly, I know that the Bible is, to me, a closed book--and ought to remain so, rather than be used in a dry, dead way. I might play games with logic and reason, but that has nothing to do with waiting on Truth. As Fox asked, speaking of the apostles, "What had any to do with the scriptures but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth?" I've seen Friends draw living Spirit from the pages of that book, and I know the difference between that and rhetoric. Without a living connection to those passages, I know they are not mine to read.
So I'll leave the examination of Bible passages to those who can read them in the Light of Spirit-- to handle those serpents without harm, to quote my friend David Miley on that same topic.
But it seems to me that far too many of us are thieves, as Margaret Fell once put it, reading the Bible without waiting for the "Spirit that gave them forth." I strongly suspect that it is not Spirit-led scriptural authority that leads some Friends to condemn gays and lesbians. I strongly suspect that only those who know a love as strong as rivers for our GLBT friends, sons, sisters, brothers and daughters can wrestle properly with a true discernment around those passages. Perhaps the only Quakers who can hear God in those passages will be GLBT Friends themselves.
Likewise, I suspect that whatever is inspired by the Spirit I know from living among Friends will not seek to turn us away from one another over our differences of theology and belief. While we are waiting patiently on that Spirit, I do not think I need to be too worried about being kicked to the curb. And if there are those who are deaf to me or to the ways that I find help, well, so am I deaf to some of the sources of Light that others know. Happily, what limits us does not limit God.
I will trust that the Spirit that speaks to me speaks also to those whose theology is vastly different than my own, and that, when we are all united with that Spirit, we "will know one another though the divers liveries [we] wear here make [us] strangers."
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Evangelical Quaker Bruce Butler's blog post A Firm and Loving "No" is probably the best example of what I mean. Cause, I gotta say, while I'm hearing the Friend's "firm," I'm not really feelin' the "love."
I think I harbored some secret, painful wishes that, however heretical and perhaps flat-out wrong I might seem to the more conservative branches of Quakers, I would still be seen as a member of the family tree. Maybe in the place of the crazy elderly aunt or second-cousin who has too many cats, but still, part of the family.
I mean, maybe I even knew better, but I could not help but hope. Having lived my entire life in a Christian culture that disowned me, I've found more acceptance and welcome among Friends than I'd ever imagined possible. And, you know, I'm a family-centered kind of a gal. I really like not feeling like an outsider every minute of every day.
Too bad for me.
Yes, it was predictable that Quakers from Evangelical Friends International would want to make it clear that Pagans would not be welcome in their branch of Friends. Even among more liberal groups of Quakers, my presence and my identification as a Quaker is controversial. I know that. Really, I do.
Still, the heaviness that has been with me all week has been hard to shake off. My shoulders are inclined to slump, and I do feel cast down.
I've also had a recurring thought this week, that what I am feeling now is just the shadow of what my GLBT friends have long felt, even among Liberal Quakers. What I am finding so hard to bear is just a ghost of what it is to be queer in Quaker culture: to know that, however often Spirit touches you, however faithful is your ministry, however clearly your life speaks, there will be those among us who will
..............to hear you.
They will not look up, from the dead pages of a Book, to see the Light of God if it shines out through your eyes.
Pardon me. I've been wrestling with how to say this all week. I'm sure I'm offending Christ-centered Friends whose use of the Bible is not dead, and I am sorry for it. I have learned to trust my Christian Friends who are guided by that book, and that a Spirit of Love and Peace can indeed speak through its pages.
But who can deny that, too often, it is not God who speaks, but all-too human prejudices, fears, and superstitions? How can anyone deny that hate, not love, turns the pages of that book in far too many hands?
To be clear: I'm not accusing Pastor Butler of doing that. I don't know Pastor Butler; I have no idea how the Spirit may work through his life, nor guide his reading of scripture.
I am, however, quite unable to read some of the comments on the article in Christianity Today in any other way. The most hostile--clearly, not from a Quaker, of any stripe--reads, "I can't believe the Quakers are allowing these Pagan dogs to commune with them... Throw these Heathen dogs out on the street! We should never allow these servants of the devil to come into our church to bring in all sorts of ghastly doctrines from the pit of hell." (Do you kiss your mama with that mouth, friend?)
It is hard for me to escape the similarities in content, though, if not in tone, between those comments and the minute Butler quotes from his yearly meeting. And I think it is no coincidence that the minute condemns both Friends who accept gays and lesbians and those who tolerate non-Christians:
There are two particular issues which have occasioned this minute: the affirmation and encouragement of non-Christian religious beliefs and practices; and the affirmation and encouragement of homosexual and extramarital sexual activity....Now, I'm really not sure what to do with the fact that who I am at my core--a Pagan, a woman who hears and honors the voice of the life within the woods, the rocks, the sky, and the tides of her own body--is flat out unacceptable to some Friends. I'd guess that gay and lesbian Quakers have similar feelings. Here are these people who would be family to us... if we were anyone but who we are. They are willing to disown our entire branch of our family tree, in fact, if that branch does not disown us--because it's so clear to them that who we are is evil and corrupting.
... To our sorrow, we find idolatry revived and encouraged today under various names, including goddess worship, "New Age" practices, Wicca and neo-paganism. We reject and disown all non-Christian practices and spiritualities as contrary to true Christianity. We urge everyone, and particularly any who profess the name of Friends, to avoid with absolute vigilance any form of idolatry, no matter how subtle or innocent it may be made to appear.
We declare that our sexuality is God's gift, and that sexual intercourse is to be enjoyed, as the Scriptures teach, only within the marriage of one man and one woman. We reject and utterly oppose homosexual activity, especially the "blessing" of same sex unions, as sinful and displeasing to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Right reason, Holy Scripture and the Spirit of Christ within us unitedly testify that homosexual practice is contrary to God's will. We also observe that homosexual practice is portrayed in the Scriptures as one of the awful consequences of humanity's pursuit of idolatry. (Romans 1:18-32)
I'm drawn to the words Pam Marguerite wrote, in a comment on a post at the Nontheist Friends blog two years ago:
I am frustrated and baffled when I hear people saying (whether or not it’s what they said, or meant to say) that we can achieve that unity, that depth of experience by focusing our spirit life around the word “christ”
Mostly I am hurt because it excludes me. To me it pretty much directly translates into “I can have a moving, deep spiritual experience without you, and I can’t with you;” it is pretty much the antithesis of responding to that of god in me.
(Am I a Christian? I give no allegiance to the name "Jesus." But I am increasingly clear that the Light which other Friends call by that name, and the Light which touches me, are the same. I seek to follow it faithfully, as do they. If your Christ is indeed the Spirit of Peace, how is it that you do not know Him when he speaks through me, Friend?)
But more than this: I know with every fiber of my being, as deeply as I know that I love, as deeply as I know anything at all, that gays and lesbians are simply people, and that no God of Love would ever condemn them for loving one another. And I know that any leading, wherever it purports to come from, that rejects gays and lesbians who engage in loving sexual relationships is false, is not of God, is not just, is not right.
I can't convince Bruce Butler of this, because, as a non-Christian, I have no voice that he will hear. That I must leave to Christian Quakers, I think.
But in the meantime, if you are looking for me, I'll be right here, waiting on the steps, waiting in the street, with the rest of the excommunicates, Heathens, and dogs. Come to think of it, if the gays and the lesbians are to be tossed out the meeting house door, there's no place I'd rather be.