The casual way that American Christians have of talking about God is not simply dispiriting, but is, for some sensibilities, actively destructive. There are times when silence is not only the highest, but the only possible, piety.
Posted here for obvious reasons. Pair with this advice from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative):
Prayer and thanksgiving are an important part of worship. May they be offered in spirit and in truth, with a right understanding, seasoned with grace. When engaged therein, avoid many words and repetitions, and be cautious of too often repeating the High and Holy Name of God. Neither let prayer be in a formal and customary way, nor without a reverent sense of Divine guidance.
I had been kicking around writing something on the uses and abuses of creeds in the Quaker tradition, but then I discovered that Ben Wood had written a fairly definitive version of that essay already. So read that instead.
THOMASINA: Oh, Septimus! — can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides — thousands of poems — Aristotle’s own library…. How can we sleep for grief?
SEPTIMUS: By counting our stock.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
Something has been lost, or is in the process of being lost, or is going to be lost if nothing is done. Every religion and every culture faces this reality when the question of its survival is raised. For Christians, it is especially disconcerting because of their relationship to the past. The gospel is not, we say, something that you would stumble upon in ordinary life or suss out through one’s own reason. Rather, it is rooted in particular events at specific points in history. Jesus of Nazareth, in the reign of the emperor Tiberius, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, etc. Part of the work of the church, then, is historic preservation: to show that those events of millennia ago make claims upon us living today, and for all time. This task is relatively easy when Christianity is the dominant culture, and thus the forces of cultural conservatism can be pressed into its service. But what happens when that dominance is gone?
I am at least as susceptible as anyone I know to self-deception and wishful thinking, to being untrue to myself and to God, and to looking outside myself, at the external aspects of thought and practice among people of faith, trying to distract myself from the work of the Spirit in my heart. But it is less easy to distract the Holy Spirit, and so I have been called back again and again to these uncomfortable, at times downright dangerous, places, out in the saltmarshes of the heart.
In the sacrifice of Jesus we have, as it were, a temporal transverse section of an eternal process, an emergence into time and space of the Heart of God, eternally pierced for His children. This sacrifice was not made simply to show men on Earth the way to reconciliation with God, though that was part of its meaning. It occurred also as an essential part of the eternal process itself.
This paper by Marika Rose (h/t The Magnificast) is really helpful in thinking through the issues of racism and queer-phobia in Christianity and Quakerism I discussed yesterday. In it, Rose shows how contradictions within Christianity itself gave rise to racism as we know it. Progressive Christians like to cite Galatians 3:28 (“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”) as a statement of inclusivity, but that statement leaves the question of what to do with those who are not in Christ Jesus unanswered. Or rather, as the history of Christians over the centuries shows, it was answered—by oppressing non-Christians, a category that over time took on racial connotations.
One other thing Rose’s paper shows, though she doesn’t discuss it, is the limits of relying on scripture as a guide for navigating the world we live in today. By this I mean not simply the usual anti-fundamentalist bromide that the Bible isn’t meant to be used as an instruction manual for life, but rather that the biblical narrative itself is incomplete without accounting for the 2,000 or so years that have passed since the last of the scriptures were written. Imagine a Bible that ends with the handing down of the Law in Deuteronomy, or that ends with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah to Babylon in 2 Kings; in both cases, they would offer very different pictures about who God was and what his purposes were than in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as we have them today. Similarly, to talk about the Christian faith as something derived from the Bible without talking about how it has been lived out in actual history, warts and all, leaves a dangerously distorted picture of what the faith is or should be. It’s almost as if the Bible is merely a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself.