02 August 2007

Julie Prescott: A matter of conscience

This is my second post today, but I couldn't wait for another week to present this essay, originally posted by Julie Prescott of Whitney Friends Church, Northwest Yearly Meeting, on the nwym-peace listserv. I don't intend to get in the way with my own comments--Julie's piece speaks for itself--but I asked for her permission to republish it here because I thought she made an important point concerning appeals to conscience, a rhetorical device (even assuming total sincerity) that can cut both ways.

A Matter of Conscience

A few weeks ago I was discussing the Quaker peace testimony with one of the ladies I most respect at my church, Laura McIntosh. Laura has been a member of Whitney Friends Church for nearly seventy years and I consider her to be not only a true Quaker, but a true Christian.

She mentioned something that I know has long been of importance to Quakers - following their conscience. She said that some Quakers have been part of the military because that is where their conscience led them.

I got to thinking about this, which led to prayer, which led to conviction. I believe that we have to be very careful about following our conscience. After all, it is not the Holy Spirit. Our conscience is formed by our culture, by the way we are raised. But as Christians we are called to transcend our culture in order to transform it.

I have often been guilty of following my conscience when it was at odds with the Holy Spirit. Over time I have discovered that you can actually tell when this is happening since there are physical manifestations in your body that should act as a warning.
  • You begin to feel defensive; like your ‘feathers are ruffled.”
  • You find that your hands have formed into fists, or are making motions like that want to.
  • Your breathing becomes fast and shallow and you may begin to quake (but not in fear of the Lord).
  • There is a fluttering or queasiness that starts in your stomach and slowly works its way up into your chest and on into your head where it finally vents. Often as derisive words coming out of your mouth. Or if you try to keep it in you could look like the cartoon we have all seen of the guy who has steam coming out his ears.
At this point about the only thing you can do is repent. Throw yourself on the mercy of the Lord and the person you may have just decked. Our conscience is actually a kind of self-righteous, bullying, strong arm guy when it comes up against the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. If you are experiencing the symptoms above and can distance yourself from them long enough to listen you will hear that small voice saying things like, “Don’t go there,” “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” “You’re going to say (or do) something you will regret later.”

So the next time you begin to feel defensive about something, make an effort to listen to that small, still voice first in order to deflect the remaining symptoms and hear what the Lord may be trying to tell you through the situation.

--Julie Prescott

Johan's righteous links: I've piled up a number of excellent links from the Christianity Today family of Web sites. For example: Two side-dishes of food for thought from Books & Culture: "The Devil We Know: Get Ready for the Postsecular University." And John Stackhouse examines the methods and data behind Ron Sider's arguments in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. The lesson for me: Those of us who express skepticism about categories need to employ that same skepticism when we experience a righteous temptation to make a particular category (supposedly self-righteous evangelicals?) squirm with discomfort!

For those who are serious about learning more about evangelicalism, David Bebbington comments on five recent books.

Deaths in public have been on my mind this year for some reason--perhaps because of Saddam Hussein opening the New Year, and among more recent and more innocent victims, the recent helicopter accident in Phoenix and the collapsed bridge between Minneapolis and St Paul. And in Iraq a very public agony continues daily. So I read with special interest another Christianity Today item, Rob Moll on "Resurrecting the public death: Tammy Faye reminded us how to die." Most of us will not have quite as scripted and public a death as Tammy Faye (not intending to be unkind, but who of us can command a chance to be interviewed by Larry King on the very threshold of death?). But we too can apply our faith to penetrate the fog of cultural denial.

Finally, one item from a different source, the New York Times: "Kenya farmers' fate caught up in U.S. aid rules."

Susan Tedeschi, "Evidence"--the bluesiest video clip I could find from the songs on her album, Hope and Desire.


Bill Samuel said...

Something disturbing happened when I went to your blog today. A notice popped up from Firefox noting that it had stopped an effort by the page to install software on my computer. What's going on with this?

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Bill. I checked this blog on another computer using Firefox and got no complaints. However, when I installed the latest Firefox itself I ran into problems completing the install. After being persistent, it installed okay.

Then I tried MS Internet Explorer, and found that the page asked permission to download an ActiveX program. So maybe the request you saw had something to do with the Flash video. (Or maybe it had to do with the previous aolmusic.com video, a couple of weeks ago, which on my computer seems to require the Windows Media Player.)

So, my conclusion is that if you don't want to see the aol videos, you can ignore the request to download a program.

Thanks for asking me to check. Otherwise, aside from this download issue, I might not have noticed that Internet Explorer doesn't render Tom Hamm's essay well. (Looks fine on Firefox.) I'll go in and edit the html to fix that.


Anonymous said...

I found Julie's list of symptoms quite insightful.

And I've been thinking: Just as other things in the conscience can masquerade as the Holy Spirit, so can other things, not of the conscience, but of the sense of truth, or of the generous passions, masquerade as divine urgings, likewise. I wonder whether we ought to extend Julie's approach, and create lists of diagnostic symptoms for recognizing some of those other things, too. It might be worth an experiment.