Friday, 25 May 2007

How balanced is our spirtual thinking?

I just had a comment on my recent post from Zach who clearly is a resource and strength that Friends need to share their life's with while he shares his journey with us. Its his final point that got me thinking. I was just going to drop him a note thanking him but it grew! The Seed Lifting Up... Looked at in this way, Quakerism in the main does indeed have an imbalanced view of spirituality - emphasizing the ethical and social but IMHO often suffering from anti-aesthetic and anti-intellectual tendencies.

I agree with Zach but knowing why can help us offer support and challenge where this becomes a deadening influence. Quakers have their roots in a tradition that rebelled against medieval church art and looked for simplicity and plainness. This tended to elevate the importance of the word over visual art. Equally, it meant a rejection of church music and like wise popular music and dance as being distractions of the body. George Fox in his Journal for the year 1649 says, ‘I was moved to cry out against all sorts of music’ This did begin to change over time as the booklet Beyond Uneasy Tolerance: The Saga Of Quakers And The Arts In 100 Quotations shows. The link below shows how this became a "hot" 19th century issue and an expression of the modernization of British friends.

I would strongly support that Arts in all their forms as a powerful way of expressing life in its whole that God and theistic talk is often a metaphor or short hand expression. My wife is an actor and ex dancer and draws on both in her own journey as a devotee of the Hindu spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, lovingly called 'Amma', and known globally as India's "hugging saint mother ". I do story-telling performance and draw on this when moved to give Ministry.

Anti-intellectualism is more problematic. One of its roots in Quakerism is the influence of Pietism which preached the saving power of the gospel instead of dogmatic principles. This lead to a more personal faith and away from intellectualism. The positive effects of Pietism lead to Bible reading, prayer, outwardly speaking about one's faith, and a turn from worldly activities.

The roots of this, as argued in "Quaker Theology" was that Early Friends were often loudly sceptical about theology, which George Fox referred to scornfully as “windy notions.” Their critique had at least five major points:
  1. Intellectualizing about religion takes people away from experiencing God and the Spirit, and letting these change their lives, which is what they really need to do;
  2. The official theologies of various churches were the products of corrupt, faction-ridden, politically influenced church councils.
  3. Theological formulas were/are regularly used as instruments of oppression.
  4. Academic theology wraps its work in technical, in-group jargon, and thus hides God’s truth from ordinary people.
  5. Theological speculation is more likely to promote pride and lead to skepticism than to promote humility and faith.

Much of this is valid today, But as Pietism can weaken into a withdrawal from the world and narrowing of the mind as the Bible is increasingly defended as the inerrant word of God rather then a creation of humans seeking a meaning and understanding of the world. For a thoughtful reflection on the complexities of literalism and the Bible see:

Another reason is that many of us live in a pluralistic and open religious world and so need to prepare ourselves to take a fuller and more constructive part in the many opportunities for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue which are now available. Or put in a more negative way we have to show that Fundamentalism is not the only valid expression of any of the key monotheistic traditions.

To stop questioning what Quakerism means is to reject the growth that of self- examination and definition requires of any living faith community. After all, in Matthew 22:37, Jesus includes in the first Great Commandment the imperative to love the Lord “with all your mind” William Blake argues for what this means by celebrating the power of the imagination and how it must be used if we are to make difference.

Auguries of Innocence by William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.
Some ar Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro' the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

What does many paths to the divine really mean?

Just in from work and catching up with the World Wide Quaker Community when The Friend(A British Quaker weekly newsletter) feed flashed that a new post had arrived. It was a comment from a Friend who was a member of Mensa describing why and the issues this throws up of being a Quaker. Many Friends found the elitism of the organisation a challenge.

A view that I share because I feel the organisation is based on a false premise. of what being intelligent is. I prefer to use the ideas first developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. His theory of multiple intelligences suggests that traditional notions of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.These are

Groups like Mensa, and Education in general, see intelligence as word and number/reasoning smart. Hence, they tend to value these individual attributes or skills. I worked in Further Education and used these ideas linked to NLP methods. Part of this was helping the students assess their own learning style. Many of them were amazed to discover that they were not 'thick' but learned best by doing or by self-reflection.

Now what does this mean for Quakers? How do our practices meet the needs of these diverse ways of engaging with the world? Do we in practice value and attract a high percentage of individuals who have

Linguistic intelligence ("word smart" +
Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
and so favour spoken ministry based on deep reflection and repel many who have

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")+
Musical intelligence ("music smart")+
Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")
who would prefer dancing in the woods under the full moon?

Is this a bad thing or what the many paths to the divine really mean? In Friends we may have 57 variety of opinion but from afar are we more similar in the path we tread then we think?

Sunday, 20 May 2007

If not prepared for can we live?

I decided that the deafening silence last week to my personal journey was down to poor presentation and confused titles (well my life may just be ordinary but not got to that level of humility yet!) So let’s hope this post's title makes more sense and has less technical problems. Also as will be shown I have not rejected all God or Theistic language.

This train of thought was started by Ministry in today's Meeting. The announcement of allowing stem cell research based on mixing animal and human cells was discussed in an early morning religious BBC radio programme. What caught the speaker's imagination was the fact that the cells could be linked so demonstrating the unity of life. (I have read that most living creatures share a common pool of genes but how they get switched on and off is what creates the complexity of apparent differences). Towards the end of the Meeting, more Ministry explored the hidden exploitation of animals in the process as well as the plain fact that if we tackled world poverty then this would increase the well-being of the many rather then the few.

The meeting closed and in the after words session, a whoosh of conversations opened up exploring the notions of when human life is said to begin or what the benefits of research would be for relatives that are in the living death of senile dementia.

I remained silent as my thoughts had gone off in two different directions. One was that the whole issues under discussion call into question traditional Theistic notions of God. In that the idea of man being in the image of God is a key Christian notion as well as having dominion over all that fly and crawl. Both link to the image of the Emperor God creator. If humans are not unique and part of a continuum of life as has been traditional in many Eastern religions then the light is in all creation and not just in humanity. What does this mean for our relationship to the planet and life? To be fair what I have just written applies to the notion of a Transcendent God but it is compatible with Panentheism (not pantheism which is God as nature but everything in God, and God in everything). As illustrated by this old Welsh poem.
I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave on the ocean,
I am the murmur of leaves rustling,
I am the rays of the sun,
I am the beam of the moon and stars,
I am the power of trees growing, I am the bud breaking into blossom,
I am the movement of the salmon swimming,
I am the courage of the wild boar fighting,
I am the speed of the stag running,
I am the strength of the ox pulling the plough,
I am the size of the mighty oak tree,
I am the thoughts of all the people
Who praise my beauty and grace.
My other train of thought, lead me to a concern that the research is driven by a medical profession and public demand that refuses to engage with ageing, dying and death. We urge bodies on to live as that are tired and weary of life. In part this had been set off by reading The year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion where she discusses the gradual change from where grief had a clear public timetable and ritual stretching over years to one now where grief is seen as an embarrassing private affair.

But it also been set into motion by a contradictory approach to the first set of thoughts. This are the ideas of Don Cupitt. In his writings, Cupitt sometimes describes himself an Christian non-realist This means that he follows certain spiritual practices and attempts to live by ethical standards traditionally associated with Christianity, without believing the actual existence of the underlying metaphysical entities. One of his arguments, explores the experiences of early Christian who believed in the second coming and end times. He and many other commentators argue that this what shaped and opened the cult to pagans and took a more equal view of women etc. He extends this today and asks how you would live your life if each day was your last. Dr. Bernie Siegel is a physician who has cared for and counselled innumerable patients echoes this notion as this quote shows.
In many cases people who've become aware of their mortality fine that they've gain the freedom to live. they are sized with an appreciation for the present: every day is my best day; this is my life; I am not going to have this moment again. They spend more time with the people they love and less time on people and pastimes that don't offer love or joy. this seems like such a simple thought-shouldn't we all spend our lives that way? But we tend not to make those kind of choices until someone says, " you have 12 months to live."
They can be reconciled as they both ask me to value life and to live positively but we can chose to express that as helping God's love of the world or seeking to live in a just way. Who cares as long as we
show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world