19 September 2019

The hyphen within, part three

From The Guardian's review of David Brooks, The Second Mountain. Photo Paris Pierce, source.
One of our friends in Russia has a Russian Orthodox father and a Muslim mother. She herself was profoundly influenced by evangelical Christians who conducted public meetings in the early post-Soviet years. When she speaks on spiritual topics, she draws from both wells -- Islamic and Christian -- and also from her own long life of prayer and reflection. After years of conversations with her, I would not dare to assign just one religious label on her. And, as committed as I am to my own Christian identity, anchored in a specific relationship with Jesus, I cannot imagine being deprived of the company of this unclassifiable friend.

Even so, my Western mind protests. Doesn't religious identification involve discipleship -- a singleminded, unembarrassed, and unhedged followership of a specific teacher? Biblical phrases such as "unequally yoked" come to mind, and "you cannot serve two masters." I remember the admonition of Canadian Friend Hugh Campbell-Brown to "plow deeply in the furrow you've been given." (To give him justice, I don't think he would want this quotation to be used in the service of a narrow approach to faith.)

Of course you don't have to go to Russia to find hybrids. In his most recent book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about his own Jewish and Christian identity, its sources in his childhood, his growth in appreciation of the Christian element, and his understanding of the specific gifts that each element gives him. If I read him correctly, he simply cannot reject one of these sources of identity in favor of the other. I would love to know how you understand his choice. For example: are the attributes he especially links with Judaism objectively weaker in Christianity, and vice versa?

For that matter, what value is "objectivity" in such questions (or the stern judgments of the self-appointed guardians of each emphasis), when personal experience and the filters of culture actually govern how we become aware of these attributes?

(One sample of the conversation about David Brooks's "Confusionism," with some telling quotations from the book.)

On some glib level, one could point out that Christianity is sometimes described as a Jewish heresy, and Islam is sometimes described as a Christian heresy. But what satisfaction are such throwaway observations when looking at the experience of an actual human being trying to communicate how his spiritual identity is coming together in real time? I remember Martin Marty, years ago, talking about Chuck Colson in the context of the post-Watergate phenomenon of jailhouse conversions. You have to be careful how you apply analysis and skepticism, appropriate perhaps for a mass phenomenon, to an individual life such as Chuck Colson -- or David Brooks.

I understand that my own responsibility is to care for my relationship with God -- a relationship in which Jesus is in the center. I also yearn for the company of others who have the same priority. As the years have gone by, I am just as interested in that Center as I was in the white heat of my conversion 45 years ago, and I am just as dependent on the company of fellow disciples, but I'm less and less interested in patrolling the boundary zones. To put it another way, I am interested in those zones, where creativity and confusion are both realities, where there are risks and rewards, and where I recognize fertility without romanticizing it. I'm not interested in the vain project of asserting control.

One thought experiment I've been thinking about recently as I grapple with other people's certainty: Is Jesus the Messiah on these planets or their not-yet-discovered distant cousins? Are there analogues to the Bible? I have absolute confidence that there is no place in Creation where the Creator has not left breadcrumbs, but that's just about all I "know."

Related posts:
The hyphen within and the paradox of Quaker hospitality
More thoughts on the hyphen within (are Quakers a full-service church??)
Denomination and monopoly
Are Quakers Protestant?

More on The Second Mountain from Bill McGarvey: David Brooks, St. Augustine, and Dorothy Day.
Broken Vessels Quaker Ministries announces its Deeper Roots program is coming to California.
Beth Woolsey has been thinking a lot about kindness.
A missionary reflects on the exvangelical movement.
From the Pew Research Center: Israel's religiously divided society.
And from the United Nations: a needs assessment of the place where I am right now.
Where I might like to be: floating saunas in Oslo.

In view of the stakes involved, the lack of collective urgency among our elected stewards of national well-being -- our politicians -- concerning global warming is frightening. At least one age group in the USA, teens, might be modeling the intensity that the concern merits from all of us. The Washington Post's story.

Blues in the Kremlin ... that is, in the Kremlin of Kazan', Tatarstan.

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