Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Voice of Radically Liberal, Radically Inclusive, and Radically Christian Christianity!

Whether or not you happen to like 'The G Word', or "believe in" whatever you think it means, it points to "something" real--to something intrinsically real, real in a more absolute sense than anything we may think of as the "real" world.

That's what we need to learn from, quite literally. Our lives are our message--not a message to other people about how good we are or how good they ought to become, but a message directed specifically to us. In the course of "hearing" the word that is our life... we are teachers of those we meet, and they are teachers to us--and all of this urgently depends on us remaining attentive students.

Last week I made a mistake that led to me having to drive more places than I'd intended, and in the course of that the car took a pleasant long-cut, which brought me so close to a certain library branch that I stopped--finding a fantasy sequel I didn't know was out yet (but had been looking for hopefully.) Back home a few minutes later, several books were expiring so I naturally returned them to another branch. There I found _Take This Bread_ by Sara Miles. It wanted me to read it!

Miles is a fellow former atheist who got "Zapped"; in her case it was a communion service that got to her. Not a routine service, but a service performed by a group making free with the liturgy, trying to break loose from the deadly churchliness that people expect of such things. I don't think this is a matter of finding "better" "forms of worship"; church is not for God's needs but for ours, and I doubt God cares about it for any other purpose. This worship worked because certain people were letting God lead them into doing something more free, so that Miles found herself unexpectedly moved. What moved her was the bread; it was full of Jesus.

Now that's weird! I don't know what it means either! (but here's what I think):

John D. Crossan believes that the meals Jesus ate with people were, in fact, a significant part of his practice. No wafers or sips, but a full Jewish dinner with the customary ritual blessings--and absolutely everyone welcome.

The food is important, and the welcome is important. We don't do that; virtually nobody does; Crossan speaks of the idea as "frightening." If Foul Ole Ron shows up with his thinking-mind dog, you make them welcome. If Dick Cheney shows up, you do your best.

Miles eventually started a "food pantry", a food distribution service for poor people. Her new-found church fought like hell against the idea; you can read the book to find how that turned out, but my point is that it was frightening to everyone involved, no matter how "innovative" or "welcoming" they'd wanted to be!

But when you actually do things like that, you learn that The Poor are us! You learn that The Wicked are us!

Okay, you've probably been brought up respectable; and probably you haven't done any war crimes, or even wanted to... Why am I lumping you with the Unworthy Poor and the Doers of Evil? Bear with me, please! I'm not trying to be pejorative... or saying that it doesn't matter whether we smell bad or hurt people.

What I'm trying to say is that if it's a human being, what's good about it is what's good about you; what's bad about it is what's bad about you; that person is God Incognito and this ain't just some theoretical notion--It's what you see if you look at people the right way, even if you'd want to take a person's knife or its smart bombs away to feel quite safe around it.

We all eat and we can all feed each other. We all bleed and we can all ask for healing. It isn't just literal bread that feeds us; and that may not be the particular form of service anyone is called to give. But you might think of it as a valuable remedial practice, something well worth a try! Many people are hungry, for literal food as well as other kinds...

What Early Friends had was not some particular practice, not even silence, but a radical, in-your-face demonstration of This-Is-What-The-Gospel-Looks-Like. It scared people! It threatened to subvert all "order." Their radically spiritual understandings of the Bible have since been taken up by Christians of many denominations, even taken further by people like Dorothy Day. But The Gospel is still radically upsetting to everything people (us, for example) normally take for granted.

No, I haven't quite found my way to practice this. But this is where we're being led.


Anonymous said...

God bless you as you walk with Him today.

david said...

Whether or not you happen to like 'The G Word', or "believe in" whatever you think it means, it points to "something" real--to something intrinsically real, real in a more absolute sense than anything we may think of as the "real" world

This is a notion I have always quibbled with. If by "real" we mean the opposite of "imaginary" -- then God is NOT more real that the rest of us(though if the opposite of real is "unreal/inauthentic" I might agree with you). There is not "absolute reality" more real than everyday any more than it makes sense to argue whether Clark Kent is "more imaginary" than manticora and unicorns.

Over the last month I've found myself engaged in a set of more intensive personal piety practices. While I hope the will continue to some extent I also recognize they are there not as ends in themselves but to undergird what you've been talking about here -- a communal spirituality. Shared meals, prayer and/or spirituality groups.

I seem to be wrestling with angels. And like Joseph (or was it Jacob?) I will not let go until they bless me.

But this intensified spiritual life is not more real in an ontological sense but in the ethical. My hope is it will lead to a growth in faithfulness (knowing full well I may not know for sure if I'm being faithful) and also a richer and more helpful participation in my faith community and in the world and work around me.

But in the end it is a hope. A hope rooted in my reading of promises made through scripture, through traditions in Christianity and in Quakerism.

Despite Fox's claim to know things experimentally, this ain't science (rocket or otherwise).

forrest said...

Well, look, you might say that Moses was more real than 100 Egyptian chariots. Or that, for the Titanic, an iceberg was more real than the ideas of some pretty competent nautical designers.

To make an absolute distinction between God and everyday reality would certainly be mistaken--but so is our concept of what we call "everyday reality." So far as our conception of "everyday reality" is limited, God is more real than that. (Our various ideas of God may well be another matter.)

Practical Theology isn't necessarily a complex science, a mathematical science, or a formal science... We do experiments on the Teacher, following the Teacher's ongoing instructions. We don't do this out of idle curiosity, but because the subject matter is the Subject we are and the Life which is living our life (which makes it difficult to imagine anything of more personal importance.)

Promises are nice, but which promises should one believe? Why? How can we even be sure we've understood the substance of some ancient promise as someone else once understood and articulated it? Isn't it the reality of the One making these promises, which gives them what solidity they have?

david said...

I was trying to make two rather arcane points. First, the term "real" (i.e., the word itself) can have multiple uses -- I referred to two -- the ontological (real versus imaginary) and the ethical (real versus inauthentic/hypocritical). It is helpful (IMO) to distinguish them. Second, the concept of "real" - as in reality (the fits use mentioned above) is a binary concept. That is it does not designate a continuum but a binary set. Things are real or not real, not more real or less real.

So, no, I don't think the iceberg was more real than the engineering concepts behind the Titanic. The concepts were real concepts -- whether or not they were based upon mistaken assumptions, or were adequate to the task of protecting the Titanic from iceberg collisions.

As for promises. True. They are not a very good place to start for the very reasons you provide. But they are all we got. Those experiments with our Teacher you mention, they are in part our attempts to apply those old promises in new territories and evaluate their fit.

Alice said...

Amen, amen! Now I am hearing other Quakers talking my language. :)