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

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

An INS raid in the Bible Belt

Having lived in Arkansas for a good 25 years or so, I have come to appreciate this place and its people in many ways. They have taught me valuable lessons about honesty, humility, humor, and a livable pace. Nevertheless, I sometimes have to cringe at news stories from elsewhere about my adopted state. Old stereotypes, some partly deserved, others not, linger in the national imagination. But the story told in this article from the L.A. Times is one that I think any locale should be proud to claim. Having lived and worked here for decades, the story is not that surprising to me. But I will say I was very moved by it. The humanity of "Arkansas people" shines through and I'm glad this story has been told. Hopefully it will help to dispel a sterotype or two.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Why I Ask Part II

A little more on why I invited Friends to share on the topic of Jesus' "aliveness." A great deal of my spiritual formation has occurred prior to taking much interest in Christianity (a thing that our Quaker forbears declared was eminently possible). So there are two additional reasons that I'd like to add to my previous explanation of "why I asked."

One has to do with "correspondence." I'm interested in sussing out the extent to which Christian language and thought might correspond to whatever light has come my way through "non-Christian" sources and my own experience. I put "non-Christian" in quotes, because I'm willing to view Christ's teaching as more than simply "corresponding" to those sources but perhaps sharing an identity with them -- although I can already hear the sound of eyeballs rolling (I think there's a Zen Koan about that....)

The other has to do with vocabulary. The English language is largely devoid of language to express spiritual matters, outside of the Christian context and putting aside imported terms from Hinduism & Buddhism such as karma, nirvana, and the like.
For example, JT's answer to my question -- to which I immediately experienced a momentary sense of aversion -- ended up sweeping into my consciousness with its breadth, universality and possibly even ecstatic qualities. This doesn't mean that I intellectually accepted her answer as "literally true," but that I recognized and connected to her statement on a spiritual level.

Enough talking. Friends, may we have some silence?

I Learn Even More About the Varieties of Q'ism...

OK, this is getting hard, but I'm trying to keep up. So far then, I've determined that I am an unprogrammed, vaguely Hicksite, Christo-interested-but-not-centric, liberal-but-conservative-friendly, possibly-convergent-but-we'll-have-to-see-how-that-shakes out, [and as of today I realize:] non-nametag-wearing* (by custom but not conviction, necessarily) Quaker.

Now if YOU are one of those, please stand on the left side of the room....


*See Martin Kelly's comment to Linda's post on Boundless Stores of Grace - to which I have linked.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why I Ask

In my previous post, "An Online Worship Sharing Opportunity" I invite Friends to share what it means to them to say that Jesus was/is alive prior to and after his human existence on earth. AJ responded and also queried: "Might I ask what is prodding your interest?" I replied that what had I initially intended as a quick answer turned into a "main-entry" length post -- and here it is:

What prompts my interest? I posted a lengthy post answering that the other day but took it down as I was dissatisfied with what I had written. I'll try again here:

First, I have no experience with membership or close associations in a Christian context. Becoming Quaker has exposed me to a tradition that, whatever else one might think about it, undeniably has Christian underpinnings. (I'll leave aside the question for the moment of whether being a Christian is necessary to being Quaker today.) Reading 21st Century Penn (see review elsewhere on this blog) provided a sort of "opening" in which the Bible became for the first time comprehensible to me as a source of spiritual understanding.

In addition, I encounter Friends online and occasionally in person for whom Christianity is central. I want to (1) at least be able to communicate respectfully with them and (2) to put it crudely, find out what may be "in it for me."

And beyond the Quaker world, I live in the Bible belt and indeed a nation in which the majority of people probably identify as Christian in one of the many ways in which that might be understood. I've always felt somewhat at sea in the good old USA, and perhaps am searching for clues to my identity and place in the Judeo-Christian heritage from which we all sprang (and have undoubtedly strayed in important respects).

Comprehensibility can be a barrier when one seeks to understand Christianity "cold," i.e., without having been raised in it. Of the various religions I've studied, this one seems -- to me -- the hardest to understand. I say that intending no disrespect, and hope no one is offended by it. From the rather copious amount of reading I've done, it would seem to me that Christians themselves often find this to be true as well.

Another factor might be one of reconciliation or at least anxiety reduction. I've long viewed Christianity as something vaguely threatening (I have Jewish forbears from Germany which might play a part in that - I grew up hearing that 10 family members perished during WWII) and life-alienating. I'd rather not go through life being fearful of a large part of the population on the one hand -- nor would I like to harbor prejudices based on my own ignorance.

My inquiry in yesterday's entry had its germination in an exchange I had with Rich in Brooklyn on his blog on what it means that Christ "exists" (his answer: the same thing as it means to say that Dave Carl exists, and I think he threw in something about the Clinton Clause) and another post recently by Cherice of Quaker Oats Live (or so I thought, can't find it at the moment...) discussing a closely related question. (I apologize for the lack of links -- my blogging time is rather limited).

Now, the "being," "aliveness" or "reality" of Jesus seems rather foundational to the faith of many if not most or all Christians. I suppose it may seem like bad form to question this too closely. To "question" often may be taken as the equivalent of "disagree with" or "look askance upon." However, my question here is sincere, and as I've already claimed, non-argumentative. I am aware from my own experience that spiritual experience is hard (if not impossible) to put into concrete terms. So I am not trying to put anyone's faith under a microscope. I guess, at bottom, I am simply seeking light on an what to me is an intriguing but often obscure topic.

Much more could be said, and what I have said is probably indaquately expressed. Its the closest I can get at the moment and will hopefully serve.

In Friendship,


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An Online Worship Sharing Opportunity

I am genuinely (not merely argumentatively) interested in what it means to Friends when they say that Jesus might have been "alive" either prior to or subsequent to his existence as a human being on earth. Are we talking about a spirit of love and compassion, which we are all capable of feeling within our hearts? Or is Jesus a discrete "entity" who exists in a spiritual dimension and interacts with us from there? (Or are there other alternatives?) I favor the former interpretation, but again I am genuinely interested in how others view this and am willing to listen with an open mind and heart. I will not argue with any responses, although I might post followup questions for the sake of achieving clarity. I view this as a sort of online worship-sharing opportunity rather than a debate.

Having said that, I would like to ask that any responders address this specific question without rambling too far afield into other matters of religious faith or doctrine. Thanks.

'What can I do?' - SiCKO