Sunday, 10 June 2007

A Quaker Doing Theology… first steps

How do I begin?

I don’t want to jump in the writings of the various strands of Quakerism or the wider Christian world. That’s for another and later time. I have now got Barclay’s Apology in modern English and have an order in the pipeline for The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology Since 1918. I may even get the companion volume of early modern Theologians to get sense of the religious ideas that George Fox and early Friends were reacting to or against.

Now Friends and other Christians reading this may well want to know why bother as it’s a waste of time: God doesn’t exist or thinking about God isn’t experiencing God; Jesus is either the resurrected Son of God or man striving to be a good Jew; and the Bible is a quaint historical bundle of various types of writings or the Word. And of course within these are a whole range of positions.

Earlier I posted some key questions that I argue that we as Friends need to always engage with to refresh on our journey. So let’s start with the simple one!
What's your experience, practice or views of God?
As a first step I am going to use a Roger von Oech creativity strategy to help me think though how to approach this. This draws 5 creative cards at random from a pack as a creativity oracle to answer these questions. The point is to surprise yourself and get thinking in unexpected ways

1 Environment: What other people and issues have a bearing on this question?

Card-Ask a fool

This suggests to my mind that I need to start with those that question all the key assumptions of what God is. I am reminded of a book that I read some 30 years ago where a Church of England Bishop faced up to the criticism of Marx, Freud and Durkheim and explored the implications for the church. Three books that spring to mind and which I have access to are God the Trickster edited by Ben Pink Dandelion, Godless for God’s Sake edited by David Boulton and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

2 Mirror: What inner resources should I be tapping into

Card-Get Support

I think this is the motive for doing my thinking and reflection in public. I want to be challenged and supported to appreciate what my own inner strengths are. If I really listen to you, will you really listen to me? If I have to face what I need to let go of, what will you let go of? But I also need to build on and link with Friends where I can to ensure a honest fellowship through the Blogs and comments engaged.

3 The shadow? What aren’t I seeing?

Card-Think like a kid

I have to avoid being over rational and intellectual about this. I need to offer the insights I gain say as stories or jokes that can hit the imagination of all rather then theoretical insights. Reminds me of one of my favourite Theological jokes albeit about Jesus.

And Jesus said unto them, "And whom do you say that I am?"
They replied,
"You are the totaliter aliter, the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christo-monism.”
"You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.”
"You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming roughness’ in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”
“You are my Oppressed One, my soul's shalom, the One who was, who is, and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom, and whose blackness is both literal and symbolic.”
And Jesus replied, "Huh?"
4 Caution: what should I look out for or beware of?

Card: Use your shield

I am going to get negative reactions from what I post. I must try and get into a dialogue as this is useful for learning but I must also not get blocked or distracted from this exploration. But I must also avoid blocking if the ideas I explore threaten me and my sense of what is “right”

5 Power Card: What do I have to do to make the task happen?

Card: Listen to your dreams

What dreams have I had that could inspire me to press on with this project? The sad answer is I rarely remember my dreams. But this is perhaps the strongest hint of all. One of my favorite creativity websites tells me this about dream incubation.

1. Before falling asleep, go over the following several times: ‘Tonight I dream; when I awake I will remember my dreams’

2. On awakening in the morning, lie quietly, do not open your eyes, and let you mind dwell on your initial thoughts. These initial thoughts could remind you of your last dream prior to awakening and with practice allow you to remember more and more of the dreams details.

3. A notebook is essential alongside your bed, to record a diary of your dreams. You could try sketching your dreams or use a tape-recorder to record middle of the night dreams. The following morning these tapes could be translated into the dream diary.

4. Essential, keep the daily diary, try not to miss days out.

The result

So after 30 minutes of reflection using a creativity game I have been lead to engage with what’s your experience, practice or views of God, using this approach.

Engage with thinkers and writers outside or on the margin of what the consensus is whilst building up a network of fellowship for mutual support and challenge. Keep the insights simple and use stories to communicate what learned and remain open even when attacked from the outside and promptings of self-doubt. Use dreams for clarity and for the understanding of any themes running through them and unconscious ideas.


Roger von Oech said...

What a thoughtful and moving post! I especially liked your humor. Best wishes to you on your journey.

Liz Opp said...


I "get" the helpfulness of the creativity game and how that can stretch your thinking.

So I am going to take a risk here, not knowing you very well, and getting the impression from you that you are verrrrry slowwwwllly re-engaging with Friends...

...and, as gently and tenderly as I can do in this electronic form, I am going to ask:

Will you lift up to the Light your summary statement to see and test further how you are led to hold/respond to the questions you are shouldering?

I don't ask that question easily--for fear of coming across as harsh or pushy--nor do I ask that question lightly. I ask it sincerely.

I fear I could not ignore what you have written here; and I could not ignore what had arisen within me as I read it, so I offer my question as tenderly as I can, as if you and I and a few other Friends were in worship, or in a clearness committee, and we were all seeking the way forward...

If you are not ready to receive or weigh the question I bring, I am easy with that. I simply felt the need to articulate the question, as it had arisen.

Thanks for your own faithfulness to understanding the next small step to which you are called.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Michael Krahn said...


I'm a Christian who is working on a series on Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" at my blog at:

There's already a good discussion underway. Join in!

A tenative Quaker said...

Thanks Liz,never a problem for me to let your yeas be yeas and nays be nays. Speaking plainly in love is one of those Quaker virtues that we have all too often lost in modern times.

I plan/hope to deal with each of the points I posed in what do I believe as Quaker. This post is me thinking aloud around the first one and setting out what I need to do to move my thinking and practice on. So it will be reflected and held to the light as I tackle the way forward. The first step is to read each chapter of the David Boulton book to tease out where I stand on being a nontheist.

But as I progress, I will reflect on the process as a whole and see if it is leading me to reapply for membership.

A tenative Quaker said...

@ Michael Krahn, thanks will follow the link up

Francis Drake said...

"Reminds me of one of my favourite Theological jokes albeit about Jesus."

Tee hee. Mine too now. Thanks for sharin'.