Saturday, May 10, 2008

Theologically Queer

I have mixed feelings about the article Are the Quakers Going Pagan? that recently ran online. I've especially been challenged by the discussion which has followed the article, especially among Friends.

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

...simply

........refuse

..............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....

... 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)
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.

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.

29 comments:

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Immediately after posting this entry, I visited the new-to-me Quaker blog, Obedient to the Light, and found these words:
Jew or gentile, pagan or Christian, or from any other religion, I believe what Jesus wants is that we open the door and welcome these travelers in. Many Friends throughout history, and many theologians in all traditions have admitted that God is so much greater than anything we can imagine.

The Society of Friends is growing in our little corner of the world, not because we have found a new strategy for church growth, but because we are not afraid to invite those travelers to join us on our journey. The Light of God, that lives within us all, is far more influential than any one tradition. I trust that Light will guide us all.


If nothing else, Haven's post is a balm to my spirit today.

Anonymous said...

"I can't believe the Quakers are allowing these Pagan dogs to commune with them..."

"I can't believe that Rabbi from Nazareth communes with gentiles, tax collectors and whores..."

"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." And speaking of idolatry, I like how Abraham Joshua Heschel defines idol: “any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you.” And he goes on, “to act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart…”

Peace.

Sir Francis sirfr AT earthlink DOT net

Nina said...

Sir Francis got there ahead of me: if you are with the outcasts, you're with Jesus, because that's his crowd.

"He who is not for us is against us," is in the gospels, but so is "He who is not against us is for us." I think everyone who contemplates exclusion should have to spend a great deal of time praying with the second of those utterances.

As a straight woman, I learned long ago that when gay people are free to be themselves, we are all freer. I am convinced the same is true of faith.

dmiley said...

I'm sorry that its come to this for you. Certainly, I hope this does not reflect your own Meeting.

One of the things UU churches do is to go through a "welcoming congregation" process at which time the congregation votes. I formally joined my current church when we had it sufficiently together to complete that process and vote affirmatively.

The process opened up a lot of fears and misconceptions and drove a few people away. But in the end, it made the church considerably stronger and cleared the air of a lot of passive aggression. Perhaps a formal process could be helpful for Friends both in terms of alternative sexualities and alternative theologies.

david

Riverwolf said...

Cat, if you have found a group of Christians/Quakers that accept you, a group that guides you and supports you--don't let anyone take that away.

Almost 10 years ago, my partner and I found a wonderful Baptist church (it is possible!). Even though my path is no longer Christian, we remain a part of this church because it is our family. They accept us, we accept them and we want to see this community thrive.

Other Baptists think we're all heretics, of course. And that's perfectly fine. Don't let these narrow-minded sorts discourage you. If you are numbered among the "dogs," rejoice! I believe someone else posted that Jesus himself made the outcasts his friends.

Remember, not only do you need your Quaker community, but it needs you. That group has welcomed you, considers you family--don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

"God" can be found in surprising places and people, and very seldom in the places and people we expect.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

To be clear--there's Quakes and there's Quakes and there's Quakes...

My own monthly meeting is as comfortable with me as I am with it, and I hope that my relationship with that community only ripens and deepens over time. In fact, I've recently applied for a teaching job that, if they hired me, would allow me to live closer to my meeting; the motivation was entirely about living closer to my community. (Though that would include my local Pagan community, too, as we would also be closer to them.) I like the job I have now; but, though it would not be a sacrifice to teach in another district, my point is that I am willing to change my life to be more available to my community.

There's also the wider world of my yearly meeting, which is a combination of the very liberal Friends General Conference and the more conservative and definitely Christian Friends United Meetings. I benefit from my relationships with Christian Friends, both at my monthly meeting and the yearly meeting level. I'm actively grateful to be able to, as someone who (unlike most Pagans) was never Christian, connect with and be family with Christians in a religious context. I hate the feeling of being at war with an entire culture... and, having never been Christian, that is very much the way it feels: as if I've been under siege my whole life.

But among Quakers who know me, Christian or not, peace has broken out. And it feels wonderful.

However, I don't have to go very far or look very hard to find places where I am not welcome. And I don't have to work hard to find places where gays and lesbians aren't welcome, either.

I'm not walking out in a huff. I had some concerns, once I'd posted, that my somewhat rhetorical last paragraph implied I was.

Actually, it's more of an acceptance that, among some Quakers, I would be tossed out the door... and a willingness to be so tossed; the company out on the doorstep would be to my liking.

I'm sticking around... but I think I'm also feeling some of what I felt once, when one particular Gardnerian HP told me my initiation was invalid. He told me I wasn't a Witch; I wasn't a Wiccan; I was a wiccazoid!

I've been Wiccazoid Cat ever since.
I think I'm saying that, if there are Friends out there who refuse to own me as kin, they are welcome to call me a Quakeroid. I will bear the name with pride. (Perhaps real progress would come with bearing it with humility and tenderness, but I don't think I've come that far yet!)

As for David's observation, that a welcoming vote would be helpful, it's actually something I believe in and trust that Friends do not vote on important matters of Spirit--nor even, as some Pagan groups do, seek consensus. Instead, Quakers take the longer, slower route of seeking unity with God: a corporately discerned understanding of what God's (for me, please read that word, "Spirit of ultimate Love and Peace") wills for the Society of Friends at this time. It is sometimes, as with the questions of the extent to which the Bible is authoritative among us, and the place of gays and lesbians among us, a slow, painful, and difficult process.

Given the strong support for gay rights found in New England, it is, for instance, perhaps surprising that my yearly meeting has yet to approve a minute affirming support for same-sex marriage. (Connecticut Valley Quarter, which my meeting belongs to, has.) Were we to put the matter to a mere vote, I'm pretty sure such a minute could be adopted tomorrow.

But Quakers don't do business by voting, but by discerning the will of God in collective listening worship. Meaning, when and if NEYM does adopt such a minute, we will have collectively found unity with the Spirit of Peace on the subject of same-sex marriage; hearts and souls will have been broken into and remade.

It's a pretty high standard. It can be frustrating when things aren't going "my way," but the laboring together is part of how we become a spiritual community in a deeper way than any other group I've ever belonged to knows how to manage. We are more deeply changed and united... It's wonderful when it works; painful when it works so damned slowly.

But it opens up the door to the possibility of change, not just that no one person could have imagined (because that is sometimes said of consensus work) but of divinely inspired change. And as someone who believes in the world of spirit, that is a very important distinction.

I may be lousy at it, but my intention, at least, is to stay and try to labor in love with Friends--of all branches--and to wait for the leadings of Spirit to help us all find our way.

This was a very hard post for me to write. It took me four hours, and I'm still dissatisfied. Though whether that is because I yielded to a temptation to vent a purely personal feeling, or because the message is incomplete, and must be carried now by someone else, I am truly not sure. I suspect that the "water tastes of the pipes" more than it should. But it did feel like something that I needed, much more than wanted, to say.

For my faults as a communicator, I apologize. Hopefully, the living heart of the message will be carried forward by those more skillful at hearing God--and tuning out the ego--than am I.

Hystery said...

Cat, your words resonate with me. I felt sorrow when reading the comments regarding Pagan Quakers. It is not a new sorrow but it was deepened just a little this past week. As one who has studied Christian and Neo-Pagan theo/alogy seriously for a number of years, I found those posts to demonstrate a shallow, bitter, narrow and sometimes mean-spirited understanding of both Christianity and Neo-Paganism. Both diverse spiritual traditions deserve better.

Perhaps it is time for me to speak my truth with greater conviction. I have something to offer whether or not others wish to hear me. It has been difficult when I feel the sting of rejection from those I have chosen to love. I feel chastised and hesitate to do anything that will cause offense.

My spiritual community guides and disciplines me. But I do not obey Friends who tell me to be quiet when the Divine Light urges me to speak.

Peace and love.
Hystery

Mama Kelly said...

Oh hun. I have to say that I thought of you when I came across these articles on the web. I would like to say that I am shocked at some of the hatred that wound up being spewed over the issue but unfortunately I have seen too much of it over the years.

I am sorry to read of how heart-sick this made you.

Mama Kelly

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi,
I do think it's important to note that the most hateful comments were made by those who were not Quakers. And I can hardly blame those Friends who identify primarily as Evangelical Christians with wanting to make clear that they, at least, are not Pagan.

But I need to add that, even when Evangelical Friends make me feel discouraged in some ways, I honor their attempts to be faithful; I am still struck by how deep and loving a listening Evangelical Friends can bring to dialog with those with whom they disagree.

I know that many Pagans have experienced a very different kind of Christian--folks who seem more about recruiting for a kind of religious Amway cult than practicing any sort of love or forgiveness. And, just as surely as there are Pagans who do not properly care for and honor the earth, there are surely Quaker Christians who do not live up to the Light that has been given them.

But, for what it's worth, I still find much to love and admire in even those branches of the Quaker movement that have no use for me. (I suspect that's part of the pain, both for me and for gay and lesbian Quakers, at least some of whom are themselves evangelical Christians also.)

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Dear Cat,

I think the comments on the Christianity Today article were unsurprising. I fear that all this is fairly common among that subset of professing christians who focus on loyalty to Christ to the neglect of other parts of Christ's teachings. It saddens me as it saddens you.

Let me hasten to say that there are some pastoral, quite evangelical Christian Friends who are not like that at all — they would actually, knowing you were a professing pagan, still respond to you with a love you could feel and trust. I've gotten to know a few such Friends. I hope you get a chance to know them, too.

One of your commenters compared the situation to the way Christ himself hung out with gentiles, tax collectors and whores. One thing I guess we need to bear in mind is that, while Christ did hang out with tax collectors and whores, he also charged them to stop sinning. This is clearest in the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3-11); Christ's parting words to her were, "Go, and sin no more." It can also be seen in the ending of the story of Zacchæus the tax collector (Luke 19:2-9). And it is implicit in various other anecdotes. Christ's hanging out with people was plainly not an indication of unconditional acceptance; it was his ministry to challenge people to quit doing what is wrong.

Christ's treatment of non-Jews, such as the centurion whose servant he cured and the Samaritan woman at the well, ran parallel to his treatment of tax collectors and whores, but at the level of faith and worship rather than that of morality. The stories indicate that while Christ treated gentiles and Samaritans with the same kindness as Jews, he did not regard their non-Jewishness as a non-issue. He simply made it clear that, while non-Jewishness was indeed an issue, belief in him, and/or worship in Spirit and truth, totally overrode it. (Matthew 8:10-11,13; John 4:21-24.)

I do wish that evangelical pastor had risen to the same level of mingled kindness and clarity. The title of his blog essay makes it clear that he knew this was the standard. But it is a hard standard to rise to, and not just for Christians; anti-Christians have a hard time rising to it, too.

All the best,
Marshall

Peggy Senger Parsons said...

Aww, I kinda like it out here in the street.

Peggy Parsons
freedomfriends.org

anj said...

oh Cat -- I don't really have anything to add to the conversation, I just wanted you to know that this Christ-centered Friend has often found Spirit has spoken to my condition through your words.

haven said...

Cat, Thank you for your courage in joining the conversation at Christianity Today. I also have been struggling with remarks made at another bloggers site, which called the acceptance of pagans in Quaker meeting "a new strategy for Church growth." I think that what is most important is standing for what you believe.

If we are to have this discussion among Friends, we will all need to wait in the Light and speak what comes from that deepest part of us forward. That is where the comfort and direction for all of us will come from.

I think those of us who are "theologically queer," as you so wonderfully put it, need to turn toward convergent Friends and enter that conversation. We are as much a part of the Friends' tradition as any other member, and we are the part of that tradition that may be hardest to hold as part of the Whole.

Our strength as Friends lies in the manner in which all of life is Worship. I want to worship with Friends of all traditions and see what God bears forth among us. I am convinced that the Light can bring forth a way that we can understand each other and live together in wholeness.

My own meeting is a diverse mixture of Friends and attenders from many traditions. We have been approaching this using a visual tool from Patricia Loring: She asks in her book Listening Spirituality, that we imagine a deep pond in which we are tossing a small pebble, which is our beliefs. In silent worship sharing, as we are moved, we each toss a small pebble into the pond as we speak what we believe in. Then, in silence, we watch the ripples as they spread out over the pond.

In our meeting, in adult RE, this proved to be a moving and deeply spiritual exercise which united us rather than dividing us. We must seek that which we have in common, rather than focusing on the many ways we are all different from each other.

Thanks again, for your contribution to this important conversation.

cath said...

The comments on the Christianity Today article were not surprising to me. I'm not a Christian, but if I had time to waste (and I think it would be a waste) I could have supported everything I said in my own comment with a scripture passage.

But I fear it would have fallen on deaf ears. As has already been pointed out, some people believe that loyalty to Jesus is more imporant that actually trying to be like Jesus.

And some people equate not being Christian with being Pagan, which shows ignorance of both a theistic non-Christianity and Paganism at the same time.

That being said, there is another issue in your post--that of Friends creating a sense of exile for other Friends in their midst. I think this speaks to a need some have to make one doorway the right one to go through (one with a "prize," perhaps?) and other doorways as leading nowhere. When we say "Way will open," I don't think there is a little asterisk with a footnote saying "only for those who meet the following humanly-constucted criteria."

As a non-Christian Friend (but not a Pagan), I know that I often feel a lukewarm welcome with some Friends, who seem to think I need correction. There is a difference between corporate discernment and corporate gate-keeping. No one of us has the answer for us all because we all have individual realtionships with God. Yes, we meet together in one great relationship with God, but God in God's wisdom also knows when to invite us into private conversation.

cath

kwix said...

Cat,

Although I know you only through this blog, which I have read off and on for the past year or two, I am so sad that you feel marginalized by the wider Quaker community. I find your words here inspiring, and your understanding of Quakerism seems only deepened by your Pagan background.

Let me explain: I am a Conservative Friend who is admittedly skeptical of "anything goes" Quakerism. I believe in taking the ideas and ways of the earliest Friends very seriously. And I am aware that they associated paganism with the bad, old pre-Christ days. Indeed, they were so opposed to anything pagan that they literally renamed the days of the week! So I am not naturally inclined to see Quakerism and Paganism combined.

But I can tell you this: through your intelligent, sensitive, and deeply reverent writing here, you have opened me up to the possibility of a Pagan-inflected Quakerism. What you say is so loving and spirit-based that I cannot help but see it as being of God. You have helped me see Quakerism and Paganism as two different yet related ways of doing the same thing -- of bringing together the human and the Divine, to live life more worshipfully in a holy universe.

You have helped me see new possibilities and achieve new understandings of the Divine, and I thank you for that. So please do not give up hope for the wider body of Friends.

Kent

quakerboy said...

Cat,

Just a footnote to your post...there are many of us who are gay and Christian who are fully accepted in our Conservative Quaker Meetings. Acceptance does not rise or fall on our particular theology. I have met pagans who are quite intolerant of gay and lesbian people.

In fact, it is because of the acceptance of Conservative Quakers that I came back to Jesus after wandering in the spiritual desert for a number of years.

Also, please understand that even though I believe Quakerism is a particularly Christ-based faith, I am no less tolerant of Paganism than I believe you are of Christianity. I just don't see the advantage of merging faiths so as to become a generic cafeteria style religion.

This reminds me of the controversy over the use of sweet lodges at the FGC Gathering. The issue, as I understand it, was not that sweat lodges are wrong in and of themselves. It is that the path of Native American spirituality becomes diluted when we mix them various other faith paths.

The same is true of Christians observing Passover in their churches. I cringe when one of the most sacred Jewish holidays is coopted by Christians to show how their (our) Messiah has fullfilled Jewish prophecy.

And I still see the Light in my Pagan friends. Seeing the Light in another person of another faith is not dependant upon unity of theology. And just because your beliefs diverge with another does not mean that you love them any less.

In peace,
Craig

Anonymous said...

"But it is a hard standard to rise to, and not just for Christians; anti-Christians have a hard time rising to it, too."

Maybe this speaks from a subliminal hypersensitivity on my part but could Friend Marshall consider that to say "anti-Christian" might be interpretable that non-Christians are necessarily adversaries of Christianity? (The image of matter/antimatter comes irresistibly to my mind.)

Also, in regards to my analogy of gentiles etc. My point was not that these categories were inherently more sinful than the human common lot (I suspect clearly good moral choices were not always available to marginalized, perhaps dispossessed, first-century Jewish peasants but I digress); the point I would have made more clearly in my first post had the words been given me then (though maybe they were and I was too much "in my head" to hear them) is that to my mind Christianity and Paganism are both inherently fertile, morally neutral soil, in which good and bad seed alike can germinate and grow. By the fruits, and the lives that speak or remain silent, will you know them.

My personal discernment is how best not to exclude those Christian Friends who do would exclude some of us in my MM based on gender orientation or non-Xtian beliefs and practices.

Go well, Cat. You can't please 'em all.

Sir Francis sirfr AT earthlink DOT net

Bob Ramsey said...

This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but I think an understanding of the context of the declaration that Bruce Butler cited might be helpful.

The best way I can put this is that the declaration was meant to be understood as one institution (Friends Church Southwest) speaking to other institutions (notably FUM and FGC) about matters of policy.

At the time, Friends Church Southwest was still part of FUM, there was an active discussion among the dually affiliated YM's about whether same-sex unions/marriages should be blessed/recognized/come under care of meetings, and whether workshops from self identified neo-pagans should be offered at YM sessions.

This minute was FCSW's way of saying as a Yearly Meeting to other Yearly Meetings what we thought about the issue. And I say "we" here because I was and am part of FCSW and was one of the authors of the statement.

If I were talking to an individual, I would certainly express myself differently, because each person's story and experiences demand it, and this is something that a generalized policy statement cannot take into account.

I am certainly aware that policy will always combine with people's experiences, but I guess all I can do at this point is ask people to try to read the minute through it's intended purposes. And I would also like to underline Marshall Massey's helpful perspective on Jesus' pattern of being with and addressing people.

That said, I really hate the way that some Christians, Friends or not, express themselves on these issues. And I will sadly admit that some (many?) of the people I worship with seem far more formed by their prejudices and hatred than the living and written Word.

Nevertheless, the living Christ and the Bible and counsel of his people over time continue to lead me to believe that paganism is a false path and sexual activity outside the marriage of one man to one woman is not a good thing. It troubles me to think that (what I think is) my careful attention to the living Chris and the Bible leads me to share some positions in common with hateful people, but hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

And for what it's worth, the first part of the above paragraph is rather easy for me to say, the second is not.

Anonymous said...

So, Auntie, how many cats DO you have?
I think you are what Peggy Parsons calls "invincible," but that doesn't mean you won't feel hurt.
I'm sorry for that hurt.

In His Love,
Nate Swift

Marshall Massey said...

"Sir Francis", is that "Sir" a part of your name, or a title? If it's a part of your name, I'm glad to use it. But we Friends don't hold with titles that lift some people up above others.

Anyway.

There's matter, and there's anti-matter — and then there's the so-called "dark matter", which seems to account for more than 90% of the mass of the Universe, and may be neither matter nor anti-matter. No one truly knows at present.

And then there's energy, a.k.a. light. It's neither matter, nor anti-matter, nor "dark matter". But it is "stuff", of the same sort as matter, anti-matter and "dark matter". And it is ubiquitous — there is hardly any place in the Universe where light is not passing through.

And similarly in the religious world: there are Christians, and there are anti-Christians, and then there is a vast body of people who are quite possibly neither the one nor the other. There are even a lot of self-styled Christians who may actually be neither the one nor the other: they are the mere churchgoers, the ones whom John of Patmos describes, in the opening chapters of his Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation), as "neither hot nor cold".

And there is Light —

Me, I was speaking specifically of anti-Christians, not of the vast body who may not be either Christian or anti-Christian. But, obviously, I do not deny the existence of that vast body, or else I would not be speaking of it here.

I must emphatically deny that Christianity is morally neutral. One of the important features that distinguish the so-called "Semitic religions", Christianity included, from the religions of India and China, is that the "Semitic religions" explicitly identify the Divine as moral. Yes, good and bad seed alike can germinate in Christianity. Good and bad seed alike can germinate anywhere. But that does not mean that Christianity itself is morally neutral.

While I'm at it, let me thank Bob Ramsey for his kind words. They mean a lot to me.

All the best,
Marshall

Lone Star Ma said...

I'm so sorry about all of the intolerance. You would be welcome in my Meeting and you seem like very wise Quaker to me. I like what Nina said about outcasts.

Will T said...

Hi Cat,
My heart is with you. I have felt only a little bit of that pain of not being heard, of being ignored and marginalized and that was still an awful lot of pain. And I know that this was the pain that Christ bore as well when he was executed.

One of the reasons I try to be faithful to the leadings of Christ is to rescue the name of Christ from the Christians. What do you do with salt when it has lost its savor? It is only good to be thrown out. What good is Christianity when it has lost the love that is the core of Christianity?

Will T

pitch313 said...

The attitude, the dissing is in Neo-Paganism, too. You know, that "you're so FLUFFY!", "My Trad's so deep and dark and occult!" thing.

I'm not sure whether we start out as a community of ONE and grow into a multitude, or start out as a community of many and grow into ONE. But ALL is, I have learned, a difficult practice, far, far more difficult than US vs. THEM.

By the way, as a ZOID fan, I find
"Wiccazoid" delightful. It never occured to me that it was supposed to be somehow disparaging of "real" Paganity and "valid" initiations.

Hystery said...

Pitch comments about the dissing that Neo-Pagans dish out to each other. I was once infuriated by someone's comment that non-Wiccan Pagans were really just Wiccans who didn't know it yet. As a non-Wiccan Goddess-woman I thought that statement was arrogant at best.

There are some really distinct and powerful thealogical and practical differences among Pagans. There are also some distinct theological and practical differences among Christian-- even among Christian Friends! This a good reason to hear each other carefully before saying who is "in" and who is "out." We may not know what the heck we are talking about.

Bill Samuel said...

There is a difference between believing that a path is wrong and hating those on that path. Some people don't recognize that there should be such a difference, and wind up being hateful.

Marshall Massey did a good job of pointing out that Jesus dearly loved those he felt were on the wrong path. And I believe Bob Ramsey seeks to live in that same spirit.

I was on the Board of FUM at the time Southwest Friends approved that minute. It was a very difficult time, and many Friends misunderstood each other - and I must say often didn't seem to even try to understand each other.

I came from a YM on the opposite of the spectrum as Southwest. My initial reaction to the call for realignment, which only Southwest formally approved as a YM, was extremely negative. But I felt a need to understand it, and I visited their YM as a part of that quest.

I came to understand and appreciate the call. Southwest's minute did not read Friends with a different perspective out of Quakerism. It rather suggested that there were such different perspectives in the Friends movement that this should be recognized, and align ourselves according to our perspective.

So there would be two bodies of Quakerism representing very different perspectives. They wouldn't deny that each other were Friends, but the realignment would keep them from frittering away their time arguing with each other all the time. They would work within their own group according to their perspective, which wouldn't exclude some measure of communication or even joint activity, but with each standing with integrity on their own faith understanding.

I realize that not all Friends would fit neatly in either group, and this fact certainly contributed to the general rejection of realignment. But I still feel there was some wisdom behind the suggestion.

What sometimes Friends on the side of the spectrum that accepts paganism, Buddhism, nontheism, etc. as equally valid as Christianity is that there are many of us who are Christian who have no problem loving those Friends from different perspectives but we can not really be at home in a primary faith fellowship where Christ is not at the center. For me, that resulted in resigning my Meeting membership and joining a Christian fellowship.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

My very sincere thanks to everyone who commented on this post. The words you left here--some of encouragement, some of solidarity, some challenging me to think more deeply--meant a lot to me.

Too much, in fact, for me to reply in any adequate way in a comment. I've done my best to reflect at least on the Quaker side of the discussion in a whole new post; of course, I'd be happy to hear any comments you might have on that, too.

Thanks again for reading, and for sharing your thoughts.

Yvonne said...

You know what I really like about Quakers?

It's this. Even when you disagree with each other, you're still listening carefully to what the other side is saying.

I'm also putting myself in the position of the other point of view here - I would get uncomfortable if certain theological positions (i.e. exclusivism - the "we're the only ones who are right" discourse) were expressed in a Unitarian or a Pagan context, where I expect to hear respect for other paths. But then if I was a conservative Christian Friend, maybe I would be uncomfortable with non-Christian perspectives. But then this seems incompatible with the Quaker saying, "Be open to new light, wherever it might come from".

Perhaps a potential solution might be for Friends to have affinity groups (Christ-centred and non-theist) where each group can draw from the sources that most speak to them, whilst remaining in community with those from different theological perspectives.

As a 19th century Unitarian once said, he drew a circle that excluded me, so I drew a bigger circle that included him.

Pastor Bruce Butler said...

Cat Chapin-Bishop--

Thank you for your post and thoughtful commentary on my post.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, Bruce!
Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment here.

However painful some of your opinions may be to me, your kindness in stopping by with gentle words is something that has become quite familiar to me among Friends. (I have noticed a similar gentleness in many of the comments you have made in the thread following your original post at your own blog.)

Blessed be, Friend.

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