Monday, July 15, 2013

An Open Letter to My Christian Quaker Friends: Part 1 of 2

First, I want to say thank you for making me welcome among you.  You might not have, so I'm grateful--because I need to be here.  I didn't become a Quaker to prove a point, and I didn't become a Pagan because I love controversy.  Our shared culture often treats anyone who is not a Christian as a threat or a flake, and it has been a joy and a delight to be heard first, judged second (or even not at all).
The back story, for those of you who don't already know it: I became a Quaker, not because my clever monkey brain thought it was a fun idea, but because the Peace Testimony reached out one day and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and tossed me into Quaker meeting.  Once there, I discovered that Quaker process, and, most of all That Spirit That Gathers Us had become central to my life.  I fell in love with That Spirit.

La Conversion de Saint Paul (Odescalchi)
I became a member of the Religious Society of Friends the way an alcoholic becomes a member of AA.  It wasn't exactly a choice.  I was called, I was led, I had a Saul on the Road to Damascus moment, and from that time to this, I've needed to live a big piece of my life among Quakers, because Quakers are listening to Something I need to hear.  It's not that I was a bad person before becoming a Friend... But being a good one has become much easier, and I find myself continuing to grow in ways that are hard to explain if you haven't experienced them.  There is new real estate opening up in my heart: new sources of compassion and patience and hope, and I keep finding new ways to put that to use out in the world.

Plus, as I believe I have mentioned, I'm madly in love with That Spirit.

I'm grateful for the transformations happening within me in very much the same way I'm grateful for having been a mother: a whole part of my being would have been denied me if I hadn't had my child.  I can't even imagine who I would be without either of those experiences, and that I have been given a chance to have this spiritual birth is remarkable... because of who else I am besides a Quaker.

It hasn't always been easy for my Christian Friends, because the same spiritual integrity that made me show up and keep showing up for Quaker meetings--because I was called, and I knew it--has also kept me loyal to and part of the Pagan community that formed for me a soul capable of hearing a spiritual call in the first place.  That Spirit has been with me for a long, long time; I didn't first encounter It among Friends.  Furthermore, other spirits, of a different but still strong and good, have been with me for many years before I began attending Quaker meeting.  I love them, too.

My Saul on the Road moment not only did not include Jesus--at least, That Spirit never used that name with me--but it did not come with any sense of separation from what I had been before.  I was then and I am still a modern Pagan, a Wiccan, a worshiper of the Old Gods of forest and field.  And if being a Quaker seems as central to my being as having raised a child, respecting and embracing the gods of my Paganism seems as much a part of me as loving my husband or the family that raised me.

The thing about love is, it tends to last.  I love both my spiritual families, and I have no plans to leave anyone behind.  And that is a challenging thing, from a traditional, Christian, Quaker point of view.

I know that there are those, Pagan as well as Quaker, who see my insistence on straddling the divide between those two labels as a reflection of a "cafeteria religion," in which I pick and choose only my favorite bits of religion to practice.  I understand the fear, in a world in which the values of Friends and the values of Pagans (let's call them Peace and Balance, as shorthand) are under constant attack by a consumer society.  Who wants to see their religion turned into yet another consumer product?  Who wouldn't be wary of the possibility of that happening?  I get it.

And then there's Jesus himself.  Regardless of my sincerity or my integrity, my understanding of myself as a Friend-but-not-a-Christian is problematic to a lot of Quakers.  For though many liberal Quakers turn out to be ambivalent about the figure of Jesus, plenty of Quakers feel certain that it is Jesus that gives the entire Religious Society of Friends in all its branches its strength.

The church is called the Body of Christ for a reason, the logic goes, and if Jesus isn't the head of that Body, what is the point?  "Christ has come to teach his people himself," George Fox proclaimed.  Surely, then, Quakers who question the significance of Jesus are removing the Society of Friends from what it means to be a Quaker. Take Jesus out of the experience of the Religious Society of Friends, and what is left?  Do we become the Secular Society of Friends?  What, the question becomes, are liberal Friends listening to in all that silence?

Christian Friends can feel hard beset, given the diversity of our meetings.  Lots of us are not clear to name what we are listening for "Jesus," and, what's more, some of us actually don't seem to be listening to much outside of our own busy monkey thoughts.  I can say we are listening to Something, and that I'm pretty sure the Something is what you're calling Jesus (though I don't) but even I have to admit--some of us in the Religions Society of Friends seem to be mostly listening to our own egos.

Did that never happen, though, in the days before there were non-Christian Friends?

There's more, however.  Some non-Christian Friends reject Quaker mysticism altogether, denying that the direct spiritual encounter is with anything but the individual conscience.  Other non-Christian Friends reject any and all ministry couched in Christian or Biblical language.

I've heard Christian Friends speak of being silenced or scolded in their meetings for using language that others found "too Christian."  This can happen around vocal ministry, or around any personal statement that uses explicitly Christian language; those of us who feel alienated from the figure of Jesus or the language of the Bible can behave as though these communications are acts of aggression against us, instead of the faithfulness to Truth those words most often represent to the Friends who are speaking.

Taken altogether, it can be hard to be a Christian within the liberal branch of the Religious Society of Friends.

It seems worth telling you, yes, I see that.  It's not your imagination.  Uneasiness around Christianity is epidemic among Friends, and it often gets focused as criticism of Christ-centered Friends in our midst.

Though I came into this religious body expecting there to be tension around my presence from Christians, I have come to see that I'm not alone in being viewed with unease.  Ironically or not, that is one of the things I have in common with Christ-centered Friends.

And yes, some among us  non-Christians have experienced intolerance and abuse in the name of Jesus, or bear scars from Christianist, dominionist persecution out in the world.  There's a whole lot of intolerance out there, masquerading in what my Christ-centered Quaker friends experience as a religion of compassion and love.

The victims of that intolerance do deserve tenderness and care.  There are many immigrants in the Religious Society of Friends, and some of those immigrants are refugees from religious war zones.  Accepting that with tenderness and love is one of the challenges that faces all the branches of the Religious Society of Friends; it's just particularly obvious within many liberal meetings.

I see that this can be constraining and difficult at times.  I hate to add another burden to what is already a challenge to our meetings' hospitality.

However, I agree with those who say that Christian Friends must be particularly careful when they speak of Jesus, or when they speak from the Bible.

This might seem harsh.  Weren't Christians here as Quakers first?  Hasn't the Religious Society of Friends long been understood to be "primitive Christianity revived?"  Why, then, should Christian Quakers take special pains around non-Christian Friends and religious refugees in what is, essentially, their spiritual home territory?

The answer is this: the territory of Spirit does not belong to any of us humans, regardless of what labels we use to describe our relationship with it, and the care to be taken is not--most emphatically not--a care to be inoffensive, to non-Christians or anybody else.  Bland niceness is not the goal.

Yes, Christian Friends need to be tender and faithful when they speak what is on their hearts--but the care is to be faithful to The Spirit That Gathers Us.  It is most certainly not a duty to speak to a lowest common denominator with non-Christian Friends, spiritual refugees or no.

What is required is is to stay low to the Truth, not to hide it or apologize for it.  Here's what I would ask: Do not share one syllable more of your Scriptures than the "Spirit that gave them forth" is speaking in you--but equally, do not share one syllable less.

When speaking from Spirit, use whatever language That Spirit lends you--and if that involves quoting from the Bible, speaking of your experiences of Christ, or sharing any other words that may be uncomfortable, for me or for you, do it! Do not be "nice" to anyone: be bold!  But do not speak beyond what is given you to say: be low.  Only be faithful in your speaking.

It's not enough to speak your truth, as you experienced it once, years ago.  You must speak from love, in the present moment, and from Spirit, also in the present moment.

Well, but what about me?  What about me, and other non-Christians among Friends?  What are we required to do, to give to this relationship?

It is our duty to be faithful, too: bold and low, just like you.

Luckily, it turns out that Spirit is a magnificent translator.  To those of us who are also staying low and open, also being courageous and present, She will grant the ability to listen in tongues.  (This I know experimentally.  I have lived this one many times... and "I love to listen where the words come from."  Trust the Spirit That Sent You.)

And we are equally called upon, we non-Christian Friends, to be faithful.  Even if we share no names for the Spirit that draws us all into fellowship in this body, many of us do share the experience of being gathered by it.  It is our job to be faithful to it, with or without matching vocabulary, and to speak out without apology when we are given words to speak.

You may hear words on my lips that you are uncomfortable with.
You may hear words on my lips that contradict your beliefs.
You may hear words on my lips that make no sense to you at all.

As I am obligated to stay low and faithful in my listening to you, you are equally obligated to stay low and faithful listening to me.

--->snip!<--- a="">

Some of you--most of you--understand this very deeply.  For that especially, I am grateful.  You did not only let me through the door--you sat at the table with me, and we have shared that particular spiritual communion.

Is there more?  What else do I need from you?

I will tell you in the second half of this letter.

          *           *           *

NOTE: Since I penned these words, Ashley W., at A Passionate and Determined Quest for Adequacy has written her own post, on the surprising kinship between Quakers of very different apparent theologies.  Ashley cited this post as a partial inspiration for her thoughts, and I was quite excited by that, as I think she understood my point of view very well.

 Another, very different response has been posted to my open letter at Quaker Quaker, by blogger Jim Wilson.  I wouldn't want it thought that I was ignoring his words, when he put such care into crafting a response.  However, I am not a member of that community, as it is a quite explicitly Christ-centered Quaker community.  As a non-member, I cannot respond to his blog post. 

Luckily, Joanna Hoyt was able to post.  As Quakers are fond of saying, "That Friend speaks my mind."  Thank you, Joanna, for putting it into words for me.

A further response to Jim Wilson's post at Quaker Quaker has been posted by Susanne at Susanne's Quaker Musings. 


Finally, this discussion is also being carried at Quaker Universalist Conversations.


22 comments:

Rami said...

Thank you for this, Cat.

Joanna Hoyt said...

Thank you indeed. For this post, and for all the things you've written that have made me laugh or struggle or see more clearly.

I'm grateful for what you write about the rigorous discipline of staying low, keeping faith with the Spirit, in conjunction with a great openness about naming and defining that Spirit. This is something that seems essential to me, and I often struggle to find words for it. I also struggle tom practice it. Thank you for reminding me of it and helping me see it more clearly.

And, I am sorry to admit, before I knew you it is something I might not have expected to learn about from a member of the Wiccan community. I didn't know anyone from that group, didn't think very much about it, but I think my tendency would have been to lump it with some other New Age-ish groups that I'd had difficult interactions with where the focus seemed to be more on learning to control or use spiritual power in order to satisfy one's wants than on serving Spirit. Shoddy thinking on my part. I know my own religion has often been invoked to gloss over a using-not-serving frame of mind. Probably the use/serve distinction cuts through all religions. I know I want people not to judge mine based on our more self-serving behaviors, of which there have been so many...

I see the importance of letting go of such assumptions. I resonate with what you write about the importance of listening in tongues. I'm still learning to do that.

I'm still struggling a bit with this part: 'Here's what I would ask: Do not share one syllable more of your Scriptures than the "Spirit that gave them forth" is speaking in you--but equally, do not share one syllable less.'

In worship, clearly this is the standard for speaking from Scriptures or from anything else. In one-on-one conversations I try to be sensitive to the language that may have wounded the other person, and to speak in a way that they can hear and that doesn't hurt them. I'm pondering this in other contexts. What about singing before Meeting or at informal times during longer gatherings? What about Bible study at larger gatherings, or religious education in Meetings? I value the opportunity to wrestle with the sacred texts that have shaped me in the company of other Friends, and to sing music shaped by those texts with others. I am clear that it would be wrong for me to object to Friends story-wrestling or singing from another tradition. I'm not clear yet that it is wrong to wrestle and sing from my own unless strongly and immediately led… or, for that matter, to write Christian-y blog posts in a way that attempts to be thoughtful and courteous but that is not immediately led at the time of final editing and posting....

I think this reflects the fact that I do not always hold myself to a standard of speech and leading nearly as rigorous as that which I would apply in Meeting for Worship. I know some people--including the desert fathers and mothers in my tradition--who would see that double standard as a sin. I am not sure that it is not so. I find it hard even to imnagine giving up the freer use of words. Must think more about that.

Also, growing up steeped in the Bible, I tend to speak at times in its idioms unless I rigorously edit them out. Both when dealing with larger issues--the consumer-culture issue tends to come back in my mind to Isaiah's "Why do you spend your money on what is not bread, your wages on what does not satisfy?"--and in little turns of phrase: almost persuaded, lily of the field, waxed fat and kicked, verily I say unto you, comfort me with raisins… Constant self-editing can be tiring. If it's what's needed for true fellowship I can do it. I need to think more about this too.

Thanks for all the questions you raise. Sorry this is so long. Please feel free to unpost it if it is either too long or too Bible-y to be appropriate on your blog.

Marcella, EFM, NPYM said...

Joanna, I for one, appreciate your comment. I can see you considering Cat's post already, and opening to the wisdom therein.

I am also a Pagan Quaker in a liberal meeting, and although I'm not sure I agree with everything Cat wrote here, I point that out to illustrate my next thought. You, Joanna, wrote "Constant self-editing can be tiring." Yes. And constant "listening in tongues" can be tiring also -- even wearying when alone and surrounded by others' language. Could we meet half-way?

In the Light,
Marcella

Terra Maple Forester said...

Eloquent post!

Mary Hopkins said...

Thank you for this, Cat! It's easy to forget that the first speaking in tongues -- on Pentecost -- happened when everyone present understood what was said as being in their own language. That way is indeed open, and yes, it requires effort, and yes, it's absolutely worth it.

I'm not so sure it's about editing words, though that does matter. All branches and traditions of humanity and all of its organizations come with stereotypes hovering around them. I think of this as part of humans' monkey mind, one of our built-in pitfalls. Monkeys from the other band smell funny. We can get past it.

The deeper challenge, as you say, is to stay low. To be present in spirit. To listen under the words.

Steven Davison said...

Cat, I love this post so much. It says in a really clear way things I've been thinking and saying in my own blog for a long time. Thank you.

My own formative spiritual experience took place in a sweat lodge, not in a Quaker meeting, and I too have struggled with what it means to be a non-Quaker, even a pagan Quaker, in what I consider to be a Christian religious community. For that's what I believe Quakers to be, however "liberal" an individual meeting, or even yearly meeting, is.

Therefore, I consider myself a guest in the house that Christ built. A lot of non-Christian Friends have moved into the master bedroom and thrown Christ out onto the couch, if not into the trash bin. That feels wrong to me. I'm the one who should act with the kind of gratitude and respect that you describe so well, to have been welcomed this way.

Meanwhile, I think I agree with Joanna that Christian Friends—well, all Friends, really—should be themselves. We should talk the way we talk. I was a refugee myself and for years I harassed Christian Friends shamefully. I was wrong. It was my job to seek peace and understanding and self-discipline, and to look to the timber in my own eye.

This house was built by Christ. That's what our current demographics as a larger Quaker community mean. That's what our history is. That's what our founders have testified, and all our Quaker ancestors since, for hundreds of years. And no meeting I know of has ever gathered in the Spirit and discerned otherwise. Until we do, our traditional practice is that our tradition still holds: we are a Christian community. Just because I and a lot of other Liberal Friends have not felt that personal call from Jesus doesn't change any of this.

So the wounded deserve our compassion. But all Friends have a responsibility to protect and nurture our worship and our fellowship. And each Friend has a responsibility to be faithful to their own call. Perhaps, as you hint, there is really only one Caller, by whatever name. I don't know about that. I rather doubt it, actually. Multiplicity of form and differentiation are the way Earth has evolved for billions of years. But I do suspect that Christ does not always wear a nametag when he calls. Like you say, I'm not sure how much he cares about nametags.

John Madsen-Bibeau said...

First, I resonate with the whole Damascus Road " Yank". I have never fully grasped it and struggle with it frequently. Knowing what's me and what's God is always a struggle. I take comfort in knowing that St. Francis, when hearing "build my church" *literally* rebuilt a church nearby until he understood his actual call.
It seems to me that there are many things going on, but it boils down to this -- God can do anything God wants to. We don't want God to, because it seems comfusing to us, because if God -- our rock -- can change, nothing is stable.
And yet God is active in history and since history calls for different things, God has to act in different ways. The tension between stability and growth, core beliefs and diversity is the very stuff of the faith journey for a community.
Particularly re: religions with a Book, the challenge of change vs history is an issue.
Having said that, if ever there was a form of religion to take that challenge in hand, Quakerism is it.
In the same way they Pentecostal Christians scare liberals and anger fundamentalists, so I bet Friends do the same. This is because they listen to the "irrational" and the "ultimate Truth" and think they are the same thing. And they are. God -- the Ultimate Truth -- can do whatever it wants to.
The Church has always struggled with this -- Protestants have denominations, Catholics have orders. Muslims have Shiite and Sunni. Jews have Hasidim and reformed Judaism.
The only people who don't have wars over it are Friends. They must have something that others don't.
I don't think you overstepped your bounds when you said "no more but no less", as long as you know that it's difficult to do,perhaps impossible.
As a Christian, I aim to live as Christ said and I end up closer to that goal,but I believe I will never succeed. The tension between seeking perfection and recieving grace is the very nature of the faith journey .
The question of "who is doing the leading and why?" Is the crux of the matter. I once attended an Al Anon meeting where the leader was trying to change the wording of the 12 steps. I had to leave because-- after years of making it up as I went, I needed structure. In my own denomination, there are people I think are way, way off, yet I stay there.
The Spirit speaks to us where we are. What we get depends on what we need. That doesn't mean we have to get rid of the Old Ways. It means we have to wrestle with them. Your ability to ask for what you need, while respecting others is one of many gifts you have. The Community is better for it. You and they -- with all of their diversity AND stability -- are the perfect place to do that. Bless you all.
Peace,
John

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I thought Friends might enjoy Jim Wison's response to Cat if you have not seen his post on  QuakerQuaker.org.

Cat C-B said...

First, thanks to everyone who has commented here. I apologize for the delay in responding; I wrote and published this from the campus where I was taking a course this week, and I had much less time than I had hoped I would to go online.

Joanna, you raise an important point when you say,

I'm still struggling a bit with this part: 'Here's what I would ask: Do not share one syllable more of your Scriptures than the "Spirit that gave them forth" is speaking in you--but equally, do not share one syllable less.'

In worship, clearly this is the standard for speaking from Scriptures or from anything else. In one-on-one conversations I try to be sensitive to the language that may have wounded the other person, and to speak in a way that they can hear and that doesn't hurt them. I'm pondering this in other contexts. What about singing before Meeting or at informal times during longer gatherings? What about Bible study at larger gatherings, or religious education in Meetings? I value the opportunity to wrestle with the sacred texts that have shaped me in the company of other Friends, and to sing music shaped by those texts with others. I am clear that it would be wrong for me to object to Friends story-wrestling or singing from another tradition. I'm not clear yet that it is wrong to wrestle and sing from my own unless strongly and immediately led… or, for that matter, to write Christian-y blog posts in a way that attempts to be thoughtful and courteous but that is not immediately led at the time of final editing and posting....


(Comment continues!)

Cat C-B said...

(Continuing the Comment to Joanna, immediately above)

You are right. I presented this part badly; although I think part of what "pray without ceasing" means is something like being able to be low and open enough toward Spirit in our daily lives that,when we have practiced long and faithfully enough, we are closer to this standard than we might normally imagine possible, most of us are not going to be in this place enough of the time to actually run the daily business of a large meeting this way.

We're never going to be able to respond to all social situations from that deeply centered and guided place, for instance. So there will always be awkward moments--as when over coffee in fellowship after meeting, one Christian Friend asked me to describe my theology, and was stunned into being quite abrupt when she heard it. "I can't even wrap my head around that! Um--I have to go away now!" were her exact words. And she spun on her heel and walked away.

I think this is where mutual forgiveness is important. I could have been offended, or she could have been, by the collision of our perspectives. We both get credit, I think, for working hard to keep that from happening. (We're friends in the lower case as well as upper case sense now, and we share as much mutual respect, including respect for how Spirit works in one another's hearts, as we do not share theology.

So for personal interactions, tenderness and open-heartedness, and a willingness to forgive and try again are probably as close as we're going to come to allowing Spirit to guide us.

But if that conversation had been, instead, a planned confrontation around, or even a planned exploration of my theology, I think the standard is higher. Maybe I was spoiled by the depth of worship and the prayerfulness with which the two members of my clearness for membership committee approached their task. But the tender, loving, and thorough searching of my heart by those two beloved (and deeply Christ-centered) Friends remains one of my peak spiritual experiences as a Quaker. And while it is more difficult, I know that the occasional need to confront a member of a meeting community over problematic behavior gets taken on very, very prayerfully, with lots of stops for careful discernment, by our Ministry and Worship Committee. (While I never had to be the one to have that difficult conversation, I am very glad I got to be present before and after others on the committee did so, so that I do understand just how lovingly and humbly, and carefully, that action was taken.)

(Comment Continues)

Cat C-B said...

(Continuing the comment to Joanna, immediately above)

When it comes to matters like Bible study or work with other texts, setting aside time to sing (whether hymns or more recent songs that Quakers love), I think we already have, within our meetings, a good tool for discerning whether or not those practices are right for any particular time or meeting--and that is the Ministry and Counsel Committee, who are specifically charged with overseeing the quality of the worship and the spiritual health of the meeting. I remember well the depth of worship that proceeded and punctuated the meetings of our own committee, and the care that was taken to listen for God's wishes around each item of business. Of course such discernment is also fallible, which is why there needs to also be accountability to the meeting for business, and why all the members of a meeting community need to take pains to understand Quaker disciple and process.

It's the job of the committee to discern what is the best way to order the spiritual practices of a community; it is the job of the community to be low enough to trust the committee, but also bold enough to challenge it if concerns arise that are rooted in Spirit, and not simply in what each of us likes most as an individual.

All of this sounds really pat when I write it down, but I realized, reading your comment, that not only hadn't I written about any of it, I hadn't really integrated these ideas with them in my own head, either. So I'm grateful to you for raising them!

There's also the question of our writing, and this is something that has troubled me personally, actually. Our blog used to carry the subtitle, "Blogging in a Spirit of Worship," and it doesn't any more, because, while some of what I write here does in fact rise for me as a message to share here while I am in worship, an awful lot does not. It would be more true to say I mostly try to hold to blogging in a spirit akin to a worship-sharing process, writing from that deep, listening center, and reading and responding to comments from that same place. That's probably as close to that standard I was discussing in my post this week as I get here. I'm not exactly writing messages--sometimes far from it! But I hope I do write carefully enough and from an open enough place that, should Spirit put a Stop to my words, I would sense it and heed it.

Like you, I find it hard to give up a "freer use of words" even in writing, and I'm afraid in my casual conversations, not on the subject of religion, I generally do not even try. But when I am here, and writing, I mostly do.

I fail a lot. But I keep trying.

Does that make sense? Does it seem more reasonable to ask of one another, when the going gets rough, than what I'd written before, without the deeper explanation?

(If not, please do say so. This would be the "being bold" part of the equation! *laughing*)

Cat C-B said...

Marcella, thank you for your words; Mary Hopkins, Terra Maple Forester, you too.

Cat C-B said...

Steven, welcome, and thank you for your words, and especially for your story. "I was a refugee myself and for years I harassed Christian Friends shamefully. I was wrong. It was my job to seek peace and understanding and self-discipline, and to look to the timber in my own eye."

It is in some ways much, much easier for me than for many non-Christian Friends, in that I was never Christian, and so I have less (not no!) wounds from abuses done in the name of Jesus to heal from. It has given me some shortcuts in letting go of my defensiveness--so I have nothing but respect for those who have learned to take that timber from their own eye. It's been a hard enough process for me, and I know it's harder for some. But, yes, at the end of the day, I think you're completely right, that it's our job to seek peace.

As somebody has pointed out, Right of Way can only be yielded, never taken. In creating loving communities, it's learning to yield that helps us find a way to move forward together... but that doesn't mean it's easy!

And I completely agree with you that "Christian Friends—well, all Friends, really—should be themselves. We should talk the way we talk." However, I think we are among Friends because we want to learn how to be our truest selves--the selves that Spirit/God knows and is calling out of us all the time. And that self is both completely willing to learn new ways of speaking and talking--if they will help that self be truer and closer to Spirit--and completely stubborn and firm in holding to what Spirit is calling forth in us.

The difficulty, of course, is that our own monkey minds are always so willing to sub in for God's voice in our heads and our hearts. (What else is new, right?)

Cat C-B said...

John,
First,thank you for being who you are, and for sharing with me so much of your own faith journey. I think you might have been the first person to share a story of immediate, mystical religious experience with me of any kind, Pagan or Christian; certainly you were one of the first.

And sharing our journeys, both in religion and as counselors, has been one of the things that has meant the most to me along my way. So: thanks again, just for being there.

But thanks also for this comment, that "The Spirit speaks to us where we are. What we get depends on what we need. That doesn't mean we have to get rid of the Old Ways. It means we have to wrestle with them."

I think you managed to say succinctly what it took me so many words to say in my post: what I think Christians and non-Christians both owe to one another is just that wrestling--the willingness to keep testing our own faithfulness (not the other guy's: our own) with both courage and humility.

It's certainly challenging. But I think Your Guy is fond of it--that whole story about Jacob wrestling with the angel, and finally getting his new name, Israel. (Isr meaning struggle or wrestle, as I recall, and El meaning God. So struggling with God-stuff is built in to Your Guy's path, pretty much from the beginning, if I'm understanding the story right.)

Joanna Hoyt said...

Cat, thank you for a very in-depth and thoughtful response! I feel much clearer now. And I like what you write about blogging from a place of worship-sharing, and listening for stops. I write things that I am not absolutely sure God requires me to write right this way, right now, but I do try to listen to whether the basic message has life in it, and to listen for stops. Most definitely before asking someone else who clearly differs from me about their theology--or anything else that touched them deeply--I would try to be sure of being in a place near the center. And yes, I keep remembering the teaching about prayer without ceasing...and sometimes I am almost there, and sometimes I am not.

I'm still wrestling with this thing about speaking--not, now, so much with you as internally. If we speak of Spirit beyond what we are clearly led to we can do a great deal of harm. If we speak freely of other things and very carefully of Spirit there may be a danger of the free-spoken things taking up more and more of our attention and leaving out the root. If we didn't speak at all beyond what we were led to say...that seems a strong thing and also a scary one.

But yes, now that I understand better what you ask does seem reasonable to me for us to ask of each other, especially when the going gets rough.

Thanks!

quakersusanne said...

Cat,
I have a lot of sympathy for your position, and I very much appreciate your care and concern and careful wording. You have made your point as graciously and kindly as I think anyone could. And you can probably tell that these words will be followed with a "but..."

To me - having grown up an atheist and come to Christianity in my 20s - Christianity is summed up in Galatians 5:1: "It is for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." The spirit of what you suggest seems to me to be one of great caution and concern for wording and speech - the opposite of what I think of in Galatians 5:1. To me, that speaks of gratitude, generosity, abundance.

Of course, Romans is equally clear that we cannot take our freedom at the expense of others and without concern for how our actions affect others. So I'm not suggesting that any of us has the freedom to do and say things that harm/offend/embarrass/confuse without regard for others. It's a balancing act.

The way I'd like to see us balance these two concerns - freedom/compassion is in being generous. I would like our attitude to be that, provided we all are mindful of the power of words to hurt, we generously encourage each other to speak about what we have experienced. In doing so, we recognize that each of us might at times be hurt. However, I should not ask you to be responsible to avoid hurting my feelings (and vice versa). Instead, I should take responsibility for my own feelings, with the freedom to speak to you about the effect of your words on me.

So I'm sorry, but my faith leads me in another direction than extreme caution when among Friends.

Looking forward to reading Part II. This is a fabulous discussion!

Susanne

Joanna Hoyt said...

Sorry, another afterthought: It seems to me that the same requirement for 'bold and low' speech, and for care in discerning faithfulness, that applies when we speak explicitly from a religious grounding should also apply when we speak of political and other charged ethical issues; because all of these--all the questions that matter--are likely to lie close to some peoples' wounds, and because our assumptions about them are very likely to differ. Does that seem true to you as well, Cat?

Cat C-B said...

Susanne, thank you for stopping by!

I think you have mistaken my meaning. The kind of extreme caution I am advocating is the kind Margaret Fell realized she had not been employing, when, upon hearing George Fox preach in her church, and he said,

"...What had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;' but what canst thou say? ...What thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?" This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, "We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves."

I think if you reread carefully, you will find that I am asking that Christian Friends (and non-Christian Friends also) use that kind of care: the care not to speak what we do not know in ourselves. And it is difficult, now as it was then. But also vital, if you want to bring into your community what I take to be the Quaker scripture--the one written on people's hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

This, at least, was my meaning when I wrote, "Yes, Christian Friends need to be tender and faithful when they speak what is on their hearts--but the care is to be faithful to The Spirit That Gathers Us. It is most certainly not a duty to speak to a lowest common denominator with non-Christian Friends, spiritual refugees or no.

"What is required is is to stay low to the Truth, not to hide it or apologize for it. Here's what I would ask: Do not share one syllable more of your Scriptures than the "Spirit that gave them forth" is speaking in you--but equally, do not share one syllable less."

I'm sorry if my writing was not sufficiently clear. Certainly, it is my sense that, Jim Wilson, whose written response to me is posted at Quaker Quaker, did not understand the point that I was making, taking it, as you seem to have done, as an injunction to be inoffensive.

Nothing could be further from my heart.

Niceness is not the standard. I appreciate your comments... but I need no sympathy. What I'm asking is a bit more difficult than that.

quakersusanne said...

Dear Cat,
It may well be that I am misunderstanding your purpose, and if so, I apologize. I confess to being confused by a couple of things. And perhaps you have misunderstood me - maybe I was less than clear as I tried to sort out my responses. I didn't read your blog as a request to be inoffensive, and I did read it in the sense of Margaret Fell's call for what I think of as authenticity. My response was that spiritually, at this time, I fear that such a request will add to the current atmosphere of excessive caution and trying to take care of other people's feelings. I'd like to see a bolder spirit, and a more carefree exuberance when speaking about our Divine experiences, in whatever form they come.

I wrote a blog post over at quakersusanne.wordpress.com, which allows me to lay it out with more words and images than I feel I can do on another person's blog.

I am curious about something: It seems that your request arose in regard to Christian Quakers in particular, although you say that this authenticity should be practiced by everyone. Is your experience that Christian Quakers tend to be less authentic? Or do Christian Quakers have a particular burden (historical/power differential/other?) that causes you to address this especially to Christians? If so, it would be helpful if you could say more about it. At this point, I don't understand why we Christians are being singled out for attention.

Thanks,
Susanne

Jim714 said...

Thanks, Cat, for linking to my post over at QuakerQuaker. That was thoughtful and appreciated. Looking forward to Part 2 of your post.

Thy Friend Jim

Cat C-B said...

Joanna, you're making me think again!

"I'm still wrestling with this thing about speaking--not, now, so much with you as internally. If we speak of Spirit beyond what we are clearly led to we can do a great deal of harm."

I'll just comment that I've seen at least one Quaker minister I admire break off his message in mid-sentence, as he sensed he had begun to outrun his Guide... and then apologized for it right in that moment, owning his error and his hope that his words did not cause him to cause harm to any of his hearers.

And then he centered again, and went on with a spiritual authority that rang in me like a bell. So I've come to admire that ability, wherever I see it, and I do want to cultivate it.

You then observe, from your own wrestling,
"If we speak freely of other things and very carefully of Spirit there may be a danger of the free-spoken things taking up more and more of our attention and leaving out the root. If we didn't speak at all beyond what we were led to say...that seems a strong thing and also a scary one."

And I hear you, and I see the virtue in what you are saying. But not only does it go against my grain--because it does! I'm nothing if not chatty--but I think it makes us less approachable to do that. It can be easy for people to project idealized wishes for saints and gurus on us, if we never share our more superficial and stumbling selves with the world. And I don't think that's such a good idea.

For me, at least, and most of the time. But it may be that this is one of the disciplines of Early Friends that is worth bringing back at least for some of us, or some of the time. I know that it has been important to me, when I want to get closer to someone I have connected with in a spiritual context, that we begin our time together with an Opportunity... that old-fashioned Quaker practice of beginning our time together with private silent worship and prayer.

Conversations that follow tend to be deeper and more real... and often, just what I've been craving.

Some people can perhaps pursue this as a life rule. Some settings may be good for working with it for a time (like at a retreat).

I don't know, Joanna. Now I'm having to think about it, too. I do get caught up in "light speech" at times, and that distracts me from better things... but I also use humor and lightness to be more real. It's confusing to know how to find my way between those two goalposts...

Cat C-B said...

A couple of quick responses: Joanna, as to being both bold and low in working with politically or ethically charged conversations: Yes! I think that this is a great stance to bring into difficult communication of all sorts. (Is it part of what is meant by speaking Truth in Love?)

Susanne, I'm not sure we're speaking without misunderstanding one another even yet, but I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your perspective.

I hope it is of some use, though, to say that I, too, hope for greater boldness and exuberance in our conversations as Quakers--though to my mind, the contradiction between being bold in expressing what we are Given, and low enough to receive it, are not nearly so great as they sound. But I may never be able to find the words for what the resolution of this tension feels like--for that, I might have to be a Good Writer... or perhaps, directly inspired in a ministry in a way that I have not been.

Thanks for persisting.

And as to the question of why I've singled out Christians... There are currently 400 posts on this blog. Some of them deal with Christians and Christianity. A lot of them don't... this was simply what was in my heart when I wrote it.

Jim, I'm so glad you found your way back here to see the link back to Quaker Quaker. I feel like I've commented maybe to excess at this point, so I'll let my other comments be the reply to your post there, if that's OK with you.

Without an account there, a more direct conversation was just a bit awkward, but I'm glad you know I was not dismissing you.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

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