A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cats, Minds & Screwdrivers

There are many ways to describe religious truth.

Many are perfectly legitimate.

None of them are adequate.

Attempting to impose one on others --or even to impose another's on ourselves without our own genuine experience of it -- is a grievous error.

Words are divisive because that is their nature. They proceed from human thought, the very principle of which is to limit and separate. I can think of a cat, but I cannot think about the cat's respiratory system, its life history, its relationship with the family dog, and the precise pitch at which it purrs, all at once. Nor do I need to do that. If I could take all that in, I might be having a religious experience of some kind but wouldn't be able to ask the question, "is the cat in for the night?"

But knowing that the cat does have a history, relationships, biology, and all the rest, I see the artificiality of the mental images and descriptions I create to help me deal with the presence of a cat in my life. I know then that I cannot take in or describe "wholeness" or "allness" with my mind. My mind is not made for that. This is frustrating only if I expect my mind to do what it was not made to do, just as attempting to drive a nail with a screwdriver would be an exasperating experience.

That does not mean that either minds or screwdrivers should be discarded, or even trained, disciplined, shaped in some way. What they need to be is understood. I need to understand that my thinking mind can help figure out what size screws I need to buy or which flight to take on my next trip to California. I also need to understand that my thinking mind has created an image for, or of "me" but that this image is no more complete or accurate than anything else my mind cooks up.

I also notice that I am conscious of this thinking mind. This is proof that the "I" image is something smaller than the "I" that is conscious of it. That conscious "I" may be nothing less than the "I AM THAT I AM," the name God revealed to Moses.

John Woolman "died" to his "self will." He noted, however, that "John Woolman" didn't actually die, he was still there. What could he have died to? Often we take "self will" to mean "the bad little me who just won't listen to God and do what he commands." As long as we think this way, there will be struggle. In fact, we may never be able to do God's will out of this model, because we will always be artificially discarding God's messages -- or part of them -- when God's voice comes in the nature of a prompting that we identify as coming from "the bad little me." If I were the Devil, I'd derive supreme enjoyment from creating just this sort of confusion! Getting these frail humans to endlessly torture and judge themselves for their sins would be another delightful trick. Let them think they are capable of judging themselves! That, of course, would be an obvious conflict of interest in the judicial system: no one gets to be the judge of their own case. (Hence, Paul said, I don't judge myself -- God judges). But it gives us a great sense of power to be able to kick ourselves. Sure it hurts, but we also get the satisfaction of doing the kicking! And since we can say that we are only hurting ourselves, its completely legit -- even admirable! (When I've explored the source of pain in my own life, I've been able to ultimately trace it to my own hand, or foot -- figuratively speaking).

Of course it doesn't hurt only us. As within, so without. We cannot love others as ourselves when we don't know how to do the latter. So whatever those promptings from within, listen with patience and forbearance. If you want to be peaceful and kind with others, start practicing on yourself. When thoughts arise, as they always will, we might answer, "yes, possibly so -- is there more? Particularly 'where the words come from?"

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

You Might be a Slaker if....

Friends, I'm throwing in the towel. “Uncle,” I cry. Its time for me to admit I’ve made a mistake and to take appropriate action. What mistake did I make? I attached myself to a Religious Society in which it is either a) terribly unclear what it means to be a member or b) it is clear, but many of us, myself included, don’t share in that clarity. And one thing I crave is clarity, as hard as it is to come by.

So my solution is to simply admit that I cannot with any integrity claim to be one of those critters that goes by the appellation of “Quaker.” (And as you’ll soon find out “integrity” is one of those things I want to hang on to) There’s a lot to like about the way Quakers do things, but there is so much disagreement about the proper outer boundaries of inclusiveness that I think it best to simply stake out my own boundaries and invite others of like mind to join. I don't want to turn the Quakers into the Unitarians (see below for heart wrenching details). Howard Brinton once wrote that the world may need a “Quaker-like religion.” Don’t press me for the source, but I’m sure I read it somewhere. I am now ready to found such a religion. What I propose will share many of the characteristics of Quakerism, mostly in the “practice” department.

Now I’m not really proposing a schism here. Its just that I do have a decent respect for the opinions (as Tom Jefferson might have said) of those who want to preserve Quakerism As They Understand It. Whether that is truly possible or not is for them to work out. I can’t figure it out and my brain hurts from trying. So this isn’t a new branch of Quakerism. It’s a new religion altogether.

So welcome to the formational meeting of the Religious Society of Blends. We are also commonly known as the “Slakers.” The latter term refers to our desire and willingness to slake our spiritual thirst, and our belief that our practices can help us do that. We believe that if we show up and do the practices, God (or divine energy or the Tao) will take care of the rest. Some wags may wish to point out the similarity to the term “Slackers.” That's fine, as we are proudly slack in our devotion to theology. Oh, we may dabble in it, and perhaps even discuss – or when we are feeling particularly bold -- debate it! But we do so only in a spirit of fun, enjoying the many possible variations and points of view, much like jazz musicians seeking yet another possible improvisational riff.

You may have any sort of religious or non-religious point of view, although we do ask that you don’t take yourself too seriously. (You may take your religion as seriously as you like, its yourSELF we’re asking you not to get overly prepossessed with). Be prepared to respect others’ outlook. We are a religion, by the way, and if you can’t abide anyone using religious language, we understand, but perhaps you’d be happier in another society, the Spakers, perhaps...

What we do request is that you adhere to our practices as faithfully as possible (though we understand we will all often fall short, which will be an occasion for good-natured laughter). These practices are ones which we have borrowed from “the Quakers” (and a grateful nod of appreciation to them!) They include silent worship, meetings for business, and the like.

We do have a loosely defined notion about spiritual guidance. We ask that you not speak unless you feel led by something more exalted than your everyday chattering mind. We think you know what we mean by that, and as you progress in our society your understanding will grow deeper and you’ll get it even more. You can call that “something” whatever you like, as long as you understand that others may call it something else.

We also have testimonies, and they are the SPICE testimonies, dag nabbit. That’s right the SPICE testimonies. SPICE. Got that? (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality). We like acronyms. We borrowed this one from some Quakers, although not all....oh, never mind!

Now, as open-minded and tolerant as all of the foregoing may seem, we have some definite proscriptions. The following rules (yes, rules!) Must Be Observed among the Religious Society of Blends:

1. Wednesday is “Plain Dress Day.” This means you must forego wearing T-shirts bearing messages of any kind (particularly political ones) from sunup to sundown. Hey, one day isn’t gonna kill you!

2. Bumper stickers: you may have 2 on any one bumper. No more. Why? Because its just good to have a few boundaries, that’s all.

3. Thou shalt not string colored yarn formlessly about trees and bushes. Or anywhere else for that matter.

4. And you shall surely refrain from calling it a “tapestry” much less a “blessed” one. In fact, don’t ever even say the word “tapestry.” I believe it was the Unitarians that started this, or maybe the Wiccans – at any rate, it wasn’t us and we don’t wish to be guilty of cultural appropriation (except from Quakers!). (If you’re wondering what’s in my bonnet, I’m a recovering Unitarian, you see, and I have a lot of pain around this -- for reasons that are mostly inexplicable). You may use the word "blessed" however.

5. Violators of any of the foregoing rules shall be gleefully pelted with silken tofu.

Ah there, I’ve now established a religion for me -- just the way I like it. I’m ready for new members to come flooding in. Helloo? Anyone there? Hello?

No? OK, then, I’m willing to compromise a little. The yarn people can join. OK, OK, three bumper stickers and plain dress day ends at noon -- but that’s my final offer....

'What can I do?' - SiCKO