13 April 2007

Friday PS: The hyphen within

Fryazevo Station

A Poor Wayfaring Stranger, with his post on "A Quaker Path?", set up a train of thoughts that can't wait until next Thursday to depart the station. Briefly:

In his post, Craig considers the phenomenon of hyphenated Quakers who also identify with communities or draw inspiration from sources outside Friends, often outside the Christian family. I thought about my experience with dual affiliations. Most of the people I've known with dual memberships or identities integrate them internally rather than asking that the communities change to suit them. I wonder if a Buddhist Catholic (and it does happen!) would ask the Catholic church to stop talking about Jesus and Mary and the Bible.

I remembered the Ailanthus nonviolence Bible study that I was involved with years ago in Boston, meeting weekly at Beacon Hill Friends House. Most of the participants were Catholic or Quaker; I think there was one Lutheran. While the Buddhist monk Mamoru Kato was living with us at the house, during the period he was conducting his daily prayer walks to Lexington, he also attended our Bible study. Someone suggested that he might prefer that we not have the Bible at the center of our meetings. Not at all, he replied--he wanted us to be who we were.

That's what I yearn for--that we know who we are and that we be who we are, changeable by the Holy Spirit, even changeable by the discernments of newcomers, but not made vulnerable by a false anxiety to please everyone who brings in allergies or grievances or fascinations from outside Friends that have no connection with our roots.

Paradoxically, who we are is a people of hospitality and tender ears. This is precisely why some of our meetings and churches receive people who have allergies and grievances, or who are by nature skeptical. Those people are precious! Among other things, they keep us honest, they keep us from getting stagnant, and they deserve our attention. If we don't exercise a stewardship of our testimonies and learnings, obtained over the course of centuries, we have nothing to offer them but secondhand cliches (whether liberal or evangelical) delivered in a sort of quaint, antiquarian container. Our guests deserve generous hospitality, but they also deserve stable hosts--hosts who provide loving access, but who maintain that stewardship, while not forgetting that the process of going from guest status to host status must be available and transparent.

That transition may happen quickly for some, and it may never happen for others. In fact, some might choose to remain hyphenated for a lifetime--they may be flourishing in that overlap of spiritual communities. They may even invite others into that experience. And some may find healing in that overlap, and with healing it may become more possible to choose one or the other community as a primary home. I remember a British Friend who told me that his growth in Christian experience was made possible by the fact that his meeting didn't require him to use Christian language. In my interpretation, living as a guest in a hospitable and tender meeting gave him the space he needed to grow into a more recognizably Quaker Christian identity. However, if in the service of not cramping him, his meeting had concealed the Christian dimension of its life, that would have been a betrayal of its stewardship as host.

(Of course I realize that some British meetings, and some elsewhere in Atlantic-culture Quakerism, have actually committed that betrayal. This ought to remain a point of conflict--or realignment--although that conflict must must must be carried out with love and courtesy and eager attempts at mutual understanding and joint efforts where values coincide.)

Update: More thoughts on the hyphen within.

Fryazevo StationThanks to Simon Barrow's weblog, I found and read with great interest this Observer article on Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose communion is struggling with disunity around sexual identities. One phrase leapt out at me as being one of my own central experiences in my attempts to be a conscientious steward within FUM: All his sympathies are with gay and lesbian people, and he is an old friend of Jeffrey [a candidate he refused to make a bishop]. But he has a very high regard for the doctrine of the church and, as archbishop, it is his responsibility to safeguard its unity. Beyond the specific controversy, the article lays open the dilemmas and difficulties of nuanced communication in a culture that expects soundbites and binary options.

Fryazevo StationAndrew Sullivan makes a distinction between Christians (with whom he identifies) and Christianists (who want to remake society along theocratic lines). He uses these distinctions in a New Republic review-essay of The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 by Dinesh D'Souza. Sullivan correctly rejects the vision of a society "with the absence of any space between the individual and the community's religious faith."

The challenge for Christians, and especially for politically progressive evangelicals: What relationship between faith and public life best serves both the imperatives of evangelism and the imperatives of democracy? One of the fatal flaws of the theoconservative vision is that God actually does not honor man-made (gender-loaded intentionally) structures that claim a monopoly on both theology and politics. As Sullivan points out, look at the institutions of radical Islam and right-wing Christianity. They're all heavily male-dominated. Can anyone argue that in either case the public outcomes glow with Divine blessing? Someone said that revolutions always eat their young; this goes for top-down authoritarian revolutions as well as revolutions from below.

As soon as you tell me what I must say and do to gain God's approval, as certified by the religiopolitical authorities, you're either coercing me into a false relationship with God, or you're exposing yourself as a fraud, or both. But if you're presenting me with access to a loving community whose expectations (testimonies, discipleship) potentially unite my spirituality and my "secular" behavior, I might voluntarily enter into disciplines that are every bit as comprehensive as those the theocrats want to propose, but I can still breathe!


Bill Samuel said...

I think there's often an assumption that if you maintain a corporate Christian identity then you automatically become rigid and unwelcoming to those that are not there yet.

This assumption is not valid. Where I worship now our revisioning process made us realize that one of our highest values is inclusivity. Yet we clearly are centered on Jesus Christ.

People who aren't sure about the Christian thing are welcome and we do get them. So really we are appealing to much of the same audience that Quakers are (I'm no longer Quaker basically due to this issue - meetings in my area do not have a clear corporate center in Jesus Christ). And we're friendlier, more welcoming and a whole lot more joyful than most Quaker meetings I've experienced.

cubbie said...

i think it is a dilemma found in mayny progressive things... but the more you try and please everybody, the less anyone will be pleased. i am still figuring out this christianity thing out for myself but i hugely appreciate it when people are honest and authentic about their faith & experiences.