I’ve had two strong conversations about theology and its place in our midst in the last two days. We have touched on topics of “Gospel Ministry” and “Gospel Order” but what has been stirred in me are thoughts about naming “my christ.”
I Name my cars and my computers. It works for me. Not sure why. If pressed, I’d say it’s easier for me to see them in their systemic wholeness, easier for me to attune to their patterns of quirks. If I name them, as Adam and Eve are said to have attached names to the different parts of their ecosystem, it allows me to relate to them better, I more easily recognize a certain slowness under some circumstances, and a bit of odd noise under other circumstances. With a name it is easier for me to re-cognize the information I am getting from them.
I have friends who think it’s odd to name non-living things. For myself they are animate objects.
I am an animist. I experience a sense of presence — a sense of entity, of place– as I enter the valley of the Glacial River Warren. I know many feel that way about the Grand Canyon.
So it is with “my christ.” I am a speck in the vat of life. To me, everything looks connected. I see patterns everywhere, “meaningful” patterns,
whatever that means.
I experience the world to be filled with divine energy. To me, it’s not just a clock that got wound up by God (or the Big Bang) and is slowly, mechanically, running down.
I sense a kind of divine aliveness, a “specialness” in the entity of the Grand Canyon… And in a similar, if smaller, degree, in my computer.
So it is in my nature to personify.
I consider that to be an individual trait rather than a personal virtue. I have not named Betsy’s computer and I have not suggested that she should name it. (Personally, I think when she gets frustrated with it, that it would help her if it had a name, but I call this my personal prejudice, rather than a great truth.)
Likewise with my inner life. I see patterns, a certain slowness under some circumstances, etc. I find meaning in my life at almost every turn. It seems to me that I have “been somewhere” and that I am “going somewhere.”
And that where I am “going” unfolds out of where I have “been” in ways astonishing, ways that at times fill me with awe.
My adventure of the fall of 2007 is:
What if I personalize this?
What if I allow myself to see the trend-lines of my life’s unfolding as a response to a ‘call’?
A call coming from an entity beyond my full comprehension?
And if I do?
And if I did?
If I came to have a sense of an entity and a name,
drawing me toward my “meant to be”
And if I called this guiding entity “my christ,” would that make me better than someone who didn’t name her computers?
Does saying “my christ” or “gospel order” give me a higher status among Friends, compared with Friends who don’t personalize? Friends who make choices, just as I do, but don’t experience it as “responding to a call from god?”
I think I have found the root of a great danger here, and I am going to do my best to expose it, in hopes that Friends will see it for what it is, and we will work together to root it out.
I’m talking theism and non-theism here.
In Western Civilization, rising out of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic theology, the divine is often personalized (despite a strong current of doubt, over the centuries.) In many Eastern philosophies the sense of the transcendent is not personalized. I do not believe there is a “right” and a “wrong” here. And I think there is a great danger lurking in the natural human tendency to believe “the way I do it is better.”
Likewise, in our Friends Meeting, dear friends, if I open myself to experiencing the movement of the divine within me as “my christ,” does that make me better, “closer to God,” than my non-theist family members who make choices –prayerful choices– without calling it “guidance?”
I think not.
This is where Ralph is such a treasure, to my mind. He talks about “what Jesus said” as a clear guideline for his own actions without “lording it over” the rest of us, who do not use that language, who do not have the same relationship to the Christian scriptures he does.
We are talking POWER here, social power, not divine power.
If I start using “christ” in my vocabulary, or “gospel order” is this a power grab?
Do I think that, if I can talk like that, I am better than a non-theist?
A better Quaker?
Dear Friends, some of the non-theists among us are worried, and rightly so.
The track record of those who go around proclaiming “the gospel” is filled with tales of arrogance, intolerance and legitimized murder. If I start letting the power of an animating “my christ” into my life, some of my friends will naturally be worried.
I must be very cautious here.
We all must be cautious.