Christian Love and Language

I'm always struck how easily other Quakers on the 'Net explicate their faith; I feel tongue-tied and strangely inarticulate in comparison. When I wrote a little about my discomfort with Christianity expressed a couple of posts ago, it was really a crude rendering of a subject that for me is exceedingly complex --- very apparent to me when I reread my posting.

Some of this, I think has to do with the process of internalizing everything I'm reading and learning about Quakerism and trying to formulate some means of expressing it fully and ably. I'm a bit abashed, too, by the breath and knowledge many people seem to have on other blogs, and I some times think my own poor contributions are either naive or simple-minded. I'm also becoming aware of some of the cross currents and divisions within Quakerism; again, I sometimes think I don't have the competence to comment on them, though in fact I do have formed some opinions.

One of things I have become aware of is the tension existing between Christ-centred Quakers and those that are more universalistic in their faith. I was a bit shocked, in fact, that this division is become acute in some meetings in the Canadian Yearly Meeting, though (fortunately) not in mine, as far as I can tell. Some Friends, in fact feel quite intimidated and unable to express their ministry in Christ-centred terms for fear of criticism or worse.

This actually distresses me a great deal. Though I'm probably would place myself somewhere on the universalist side of the equation (if in fact there are "sides" at all) for me, at least, Friends is a Christian faith tradition and its core practices and testimonies derive from Christian scripture. Christian expression, accordingly, should be honoured and respected. It seems to me without this witness, our collective testimony and witness would be all the poorer.

This seems to be part of a larger debate occurring within Quakerism, framed around notions of authenticity and defining the Quaker "core", a conversation of which I am just perceiving the edges. To me, as a new attender (but maybe not to a weighty Friend of twenty-five year's or a lifetime's standing) it seems rather obvious: a belief in listening for the Inner Light and seeing that Light in all; corporate mysticism and corporate discernment, the movement of the Divine in our lives so that our lives become the outward witness of the inner reality of God's will; the Testimonies: all grounded fundamentally in George Fox's insight that God is accessible to all, and all drawing from the rich language of Christian witness and scripture.

For I think in essence this debate is about language, or rather how language signifies the interior reality. I do recognize this Christian language has inflicted some grievous wounds on some --- myself included. My "inner cringe" usually arrives at that point where language begins to adopt the norms and rhetoric of the fundamentalist. Mostly I fear it: having found a home with the Friends, and a spirituality which I am starting to see as transformative,I am afraid of this language which I associate with hate and exclusion. Yet oddly, I am comfortable with the old language of Fox and Barclay, and the plain ministry of Christ-centred Friends in meeting. Language as signifier: does it include or exclude me? Does it speak to my condition? Does it speak of love? If this language is Christian and Christ-centred, so be it: my interior reality may be different from someone who views Jesus as Saviour, but I can recognize the Christ-language points to larger, inexpressible truths --- and at the end of the day, why reinvent the wheel? In the event, Christian expression within Friends is and authentic expression of faith, and should be treasured and nurtured, for we all should be united in what I think the early Quakers saw as perfect Christian love, which is God's love, in inward communion with each other and with the Light --- whether we see ourselves as Christian or not.



As I was writing today, my partner called out: a coyote was in the barn paddock! We ran outside. The chickens and ducks were in an uproar. The coyote loped into the barn and we managed to corner it inside an old manger. What to do? I hate killing anything. But rounding up a live trap of a Sunday afternoon wasn't likely, and there was also the practical matter of convincing the animal into the trap. In the event, trapping it and moving it elsewhere would only send the problem to someone else. Letting it go wasn't much better: we had seen this particular coyote around the barnyard, and it had already taken five turkey poults (and the hen), two half-gown ducklings and 17 chicks. Killing it seemed the most practical thing. So much for Quaker non-violence, I thought.

So we called our neighbour and asked him to bring his shotgun. He killed it. It was a young male, scabby, emaciated and nearly furless from mange. Young male coyotes this time of year break off from their home packs and establish their own territories. I guess this particular coyote made an unfortunate choice. I regret having to kill him, but in the larger sense of having to kill anything. I have lived in the country long enough not to sentimentalize any animal, and this particular animal was treating our livestock as its personal buffet.

The (small) irony is that I was writing about Canada and the war in Afganistan; supporters of the war, I suppose, would draw analogies between the necessity of killing this coyote and the war on terror. I don't accept the analogy: people have moral agency and that spark of the Divine. Coyotes don't, or aren't at least concious of it.

At least, I think, the episode called my attention in a small way to how supporters of the war see it, and made me think about how I integrate concepts of nonviolence and peace into my own life. It is probably too easy to pass judgment on those who support the war from my safe perch on the other side of the argument. I came home from Meeting today self-righteous, riding my high horse, feeling generally provoked. I had reflected all this week about how this conflict had gradually and subtly transformed over this past summer from a "reconstruction mission" to a war. And then there was this from an article buried on page A15 in the Globe and Mail yesterday:
Many of the fighters killed [in Operation Medusa] — perhaps half of them, by one estimate — were not Taliban stalwarts, but local farmers who reportedly revolted against corrupt policing and tribal persecution. It appears the Taliban did not choose the Panjwai district as a battleground merely because the irrigation trenches and dry canals provided good hiding places, but because many villagers were willing to give them food, shelter — even sons for the fight — in exchange for freedom from the local authorities. . . But there are troubling signs that the area may be sliding back toward the same conditions that sparked the violent revolt. [Italics mine.]

Evidently, the Canadian government is upholding unjust governance against what the Afgani peasantry perceives --- rightly or wrongly --- as a liberating force, the Taliban. It is hard to imagine a more compromising position for the Canadian government, waging war in notoriously difficult terrain.

And so I went to Meeting thinking of this. Someone gave ministry: which side are you on, he asked, on the side of Christ and peace, or on the side of war?

Killing the coyote made me think of the old story of William Penn's sword: wear it while you can, said George Fox. We all want to be on the side of Christ, Prince of Peace, but we all carry the sword --- a sword of violence --- in our hearts. The thought of this is humbling. As I carry the peace testimony with me, killing this coyote reminds me that I am human too, and so are those who carry war in their hearts. They aren't the enemy and deserve better from me than my petty judgments.


On the Mark

Torture is blasphemy: it's no-brainer. To which I would add: war, racism, poverty, environmental degradation, and maybe a few others. Or am I being harsh?


Thoughts on Being Christian

One of the (many) things I have grappled with since I started attending is the meaning of Christianity --- and the meaning of Christ. Do I still consider myself a Christian?

I am gay, you see. (Already I can hear my putative audience cry out, "So what'?) I don't want to belabour the point, but the edifices of Christianity, in all its flavours and denominations, has not been terribly kind to me or people like me. Large segments of very respectable denominations want me stripped of my civil rights, imprisoned, or in extreme cases, put to death. Against no other section of society does Christianity make this argument, and against no other section of society is this language tolerated.* Well, life is tough and I'm not complaining: I live in a tolerant region of a very tolerant province and country. Some people have it much worse.

But still, I take it personally. How can I not? I read recently that an Anglican bishop described homosexuals as being "lower than dogs", the implication being that homosexuals are subhuman. Hardly created in God's image, eh? The Roman Catholic Church demands that gays be treated with respect and love, yet labels me "intrinsically disordered" and "inclined to evil": hardly worthy, I suspect, in the eyes of some Vatican prelate, of the dignity and worth God gives me as human being. And so on: I don't want to even start with the fundamentalists. (An aside: this language is often couched in terms of "strong medicine for the sinner", which I suppose is both a rationalization and a justification: curious it's not used for more egregious sins. "What crawling villain" says Blake, "preaches abstinence & wraps himself/In fat of lambs? no more I follow, no more obedience pay!" )

It's violent language and violating. It's deliberately exclusionary. So fairly or unfairly, when I hear Christian language (Christianspeak?) --- the language of salvation and sin, of restoring the Bible, of creating the Gospel Order --- I have an internal cringe. It's almost reflexive. It's part of a rejection of Christianity itself. It's a wound that won't heal, a mote in my eye. Is my vision so obstructed I can't see the Jesus of the Gospel who did heal the blind? I don't know. It may be that I never know.

But I know this: to trust in the love of my friends and my new Friends, and to trust in the Light. I won't pray for healing but I will pray to do God's will. If this leads me to Christ, it will be, I think, joyfully and light of heart.

*"Love the sinner, hate the sin", arguments for "religious freedom" and other such nostrums, are, in my opinion, meretricious and a crock. But that's another post, probably for another place.


Last of the Summer Tomatoes

It's either feast or famine. In the winter we all pine for real tomatoes and eat pallid greenhouse versions that could really double as tennis balls, now I have hundreds, maybe thousands of perfect, bright red, fragrant, vine-ripened. . .

Well you get the picture. It's a glut. And the frost is coming sooner rather than later. So what do you do with bushels of tomatoes? Make sauce, of course. So I spent a rainy afternoon last week doing just that. The deal with making tomato sauce is it's mechanically boring. Especially the peeling part. It affords plenty of time for reflection. It was interesting to me at least, how such a simple activity could be virtuous in both in the doing and in its result. A trite observation, maybe, a truism, but still: how many of us really take advantage of the mundane? Working with your hands, even in a small way, listening for that Divine Voice has its own rewards, not the least of which is the humbling realization that the Light is speaking even with flecks of tomato guts on your face.


An Introduction of Sorts

I have spent a lot of time pondering this blog, my meanderings and half formed ideas, and what would I say? Finally a little push from the Light: speak truthfully, speak from the heart, speak with love, and here I am.

I am an attender at a tiny meeting in rural Ontario. When I first arrived I thought of myself as an exile from the Catholic Church, a church I loved, and left with real regret and sadness; now I am thinking myself more as a landed immigrant* working his way towards full citizenship. I also thought, when facing the silence the first time, that this is easy. I was wrong. The silence is profound, yes, but trying, difficult, testing, complicated. "Be silent," said someone or other,"so that the God who gave you speech may speak." Listening for the Light, sifting through the self-delusions and rationalizations is hard work, and I sometimes come from meeting happy, if exhausted. I haven't had any earth-shattering revelations, no insights except for the commonplace (as if these aren't hard enough!), no leadings, save perhaps, for this blog. Yet I have witnessed in a meaningful way Quaker mysticism at work, and a gathering of four Friends huddled around a wood stove on a cold January morning has moved me beyond the expression of mere words.

I hope to write a little about my journey and about my reflections on Quaker thought and practice, listening all the time for the Divine. I am amazed, franky, at the diversity of opinion and thought in Quaker blogdom. I offer this in the same spirit.

* Canadianism, i.e. legal alien