Thursday, August 31, 2006

More Crossan: Universal v Particular

Here is another fascinating -- and to me enlightening -- quote from Crossan memoir. It comes near the end of chapter 4.

In context, he is explaining his idea that the Christian Trinity -- Father, Son, Holy Spirit -- correlates to comparative religion understanding of the "structure" of the Holy which includes the categories of metaphoric (God, or the Holy, can be comprehended only through metaphor -- God as Father is a metaphor), Locality (the Son places the Holy here on Earth, in history, among the People), and Particularity (the fact that the metaphor and locale are recognized by believers, but not by non-believers). He then writes:

That mystery of particularity closes the Trinitarian loop, and here the best analogy to divine faith is human love. You must experience faith or love as if it could not be otherwise. Imagine this. I wake up tomorrow morning next to my wife and say, "If I had not met you, fallen in love with you, and married you, I would probably have met someone else, fallen in love with her, married, her, an be waking up next to her this morning." That would be a very imprudent way to start my day, yet it is probably true. It is also unspeakably crude in its denial of human particularity. Or imagine this. A young couple have just lost their firstborn child and I tell them, "Don't worry. You can always have another one." That, too, is unspeakably cruel in its denial of human particularity. So also, then, with your religion: you must experience it as if no alternative were even possible. But at the back of your mind, you must also recognize that alternatives are always present. Particularity is not relativity, not the belief that anything goes or that everything is the same, but the acceptance that our humanity, at its deepest moments and profoundest depths, is individual and specific.

For individuals, groups, and communities this metaphoric and that locality, this seeing-as and that seeing-where, seem absolutely true, and all other possibilities seem but heresy, apostasy, infidelity -- mistake at best and treason at worst. Whether through genetic or ethnic occasions, personal or cultural drives, psychological or social forces, this metaphoric and this locality are experienced as choosing us rather than our choosing them. I do not say (although I know it is true): "I might have been a Muslim or a Hindu, but I was born in Ireland and so I'm a Roman Catholic Christian." Particularity, too, is part of the structure of the Holy, and it is only through it that metaphoric and locality act upon us.

pp 105-06

I've long had the sense that the relationship of a person to his or her church community is analogous to one's relationship with a spouse or partner, but haven't been able to put it into words as well as he has.

What fascinates me about this is the notion that "this metaphoric and this locality are experienced as [my emphasis] choosing us rather than our choosing them," as if it could not be otherwise, even while knowing at a different level that it might have been.

This certainly is what it feels like to me -- Christianity (or was it Christ?) chose me at birth through being born to my particular parents. (Would anyone say it was my "choice" of parents??) Though I experimented some with other religions while a youth, in my deepest soul I have always known that I belonged to the Christian (but not necessarily the Lutheran) community -- over time and space -- and so eventually stopped denying the alternative possibility and have since tried to learn how to be most useful and faithful to that community.

To the extent that I can say that I chose to be a Quaker kind of Christian (or a liberal member of that family), I can give lots of reasons, but in reality -- to me, in other words -- it feels that I was drawn inexorably to it, no more my "choice" than a fish "chooses" the bait that reels it from one world to another.

If this is true (and I think it is), then it seems impossible to be "religious" in a general sense (though one may have a predisposition to think about religious things), any more than one can be a "lover" in a general sense (though you may have an amorous temperament). You need a religious community --this one, not just any one -- just as you need a lover -- this one, not just any one.

The implication seems to be a variation on the "think globally, act locally" idea. If we believe it is worthwhile being Quakers, we must preach the Gospel as understood it as Friends -- with our words as well as our lives -- without apologizing for our evangelism. But at the same time we must remember that we are one of many ways, some of which may be equally authentic and effectual. (I'm not willing to say they all are, or even most.) We show that we know this latter to be true by the way in which we do the former, avoiding the twin traps of fundamentalism and pseudo-universalism.

(There's more in the Crossan book which I'm finding strangely captivating, including a discussion that I may summarize later of the distinction between "universal or functional" and "patronal or influential" societies.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reading John Dominac Crossan's memior

A Friend lent me her copy of John Dominic Crossan's memior, It's a Long Way from Tipperary thinking I might like it. I read some of his writing about the Holocaust many years ago but I haven't been very interested in the Jesus Seminar stuff, so I wasn't sure whether I'd like the book. But I am enjoying it quite a lot.

Here are two quotes that made me go "Aha!"

When I read, in the New Testament, that Jesus called God "Father" or when I hear, in a seminar, that my colleague can believe in God only as "Father," I recognize that my own early experiences filter that title into a very different consciousness. It is not, on the one hand, just a general distaste for patriarchal hierarchy and the delusion that God must be, literally or metaphorically, male rather than female, father rather than mother. If, in fact, you want a parent metaphor for God, I think father is much more appropriate than mother. It is the mother who is publicaly knowable, visibly provable, and legally certifiable. You do not need faith to know a mother. You need faith to know a father, because he is known only on the mother's word and sometimes not even that (at least in the days before DNA testing).

p. 37

Writing about his younger years studying for the priesthood and being taught that the vow meant "no personal possessions and that all things were held in common. What you were given was for your use (ad usum) and not for your possession":

The vow of poverty is not about poverty, but about community. It does not mean personal destitution, but communal possession. It is, actually, a subdivision of the vow of obedience.

p. 63

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Present Joys

I stayed up waaaay too long last night writing a comment on an Important Subject only to be foiled by an anti-spam password test that I think I solved correctly (9+9 does still equal 18, right?) but couldn't get past the Pixilated Guards. Alas, I'll mull it over a bit more and I'll post it someday soon, perhaps here.

But at this very moment, early in a perfect Minnesota evening, I just want to list some of the present joys of my life that I've experienced in the last 48 hours as an exercise in gratitude:

Listening to Youngest Daughter practice Vivaldi's Spring and Holst's Jupiter on the piano. Over and over again.

Hanging laundry in the backyard on a cool summer morning.

Bringing the laundry in at dusk, all stiff and fresh smelling.

A cold bottle of beer.

The way the big lilac tree looks after I've pruned it and how now I can see the neighbors' backyards.

Sitting in the passenger seat as Only Son drove the car to his friend's house on his learner's permit.

Listening to the Twins game on the radio, on the porch, in the dark.

Solving the Saturday New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

The first cup of coffee in the morning.

Finding my nametag hanging right where I left it at the meetinghouse so I can slip it on when I'm just in time for meeting.

Looking around the room at the 8:30 meeting for worship and seeing nine Friends who were in Quakerism 101 classes I've co-led, only one of whom did I know before the class. (That would be Lovely Wife.)

Folding laundry in the yard and hearing through an open window 15-year old Only Son shout good-naturedly "I'm a man I tell you!" as his explanation to his sister as to why acne treatment doesn't work on him.

A freshly picked -- still warm -- and sliced home-grown tomato on a slice of rye bread.

Walking in my new pair of Crocs shoes.


Practicing "Soldiers Joy" on my banjo.

The way Youngest Daughter rolled her eyes and smiled at me on the train today when she caught me telling a tall tale.

The pretty bouquet of flowers from our yard Youngest Daughter set on the table on the porch.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Second annual Ogema singing

What a weekend.

It was our second annual Ogema, Wisconsin, Sacred Harp Singing School and singing weekend at Nils' & Peg's place. There was a nice size crowd there, about twenty or so, of whom twelve to fourteen sang at any one time. There were seven of us from Twin Cities meeting (including 15-year old Dylan who was in our workshop at the Gathering and who came with his dad -- Dylan already has his favorites: Amsterdam, Russia, and Mear and knows them by number, too) and the rest from various points in Wisconsin. The mix of experienced and new or relativel new singers was good, too, and the parts were balanced as long as I sang as the third alto, which I did almost all weekend.

Doing so was a very instructive experience. I've noticed before that life looks different from the tenor section than it does with my fellow basses, but it looks really different from the alto bench. I think it's because they sing all those thirds that are usually sung as passing tones by the other parts, but the real thing was singing in the middle of the chord. I found it harder to tune properly -- perhaps as a bass I just do the best I can and expect the rest of the square to tune to us, but the altos are squeezed between the basses on the one hand and the trebles & tenors on the other without as much wiggle room. I did OK, I suppose. At least I sang the wrong notes boldly as I'd instructed the others to do.

I also noticed was how exhausting it was to be learning the part anew with each song -- I realized that half the time I sing bass on auto-pilot and only have to occasionally glance at the words to be sure I'm on the right verse. But I didn't know squat about the alto parts, and each time through was a trial -- I have much more sympathy with new singers whose noses are stuck in the books: they have to be until they learn the parts.

The quality of the singing in general was good. We sang again in the screened-in building between the two lakes, and it was surprisingly easy to sing in given the lack of solid walls. The ceiling and wood floor must have helped a lot. The volume was never overwhelming, but the sound was sweet.

The sonic and spiritual highlight was certainly singing David's Lamentation (sound file; words here), which we did in memory of our Friend Hibbard Thatcher of Nashville Monthly Meeting who died on August 5. Those of you who know the song know that there's an agonizing, three-note descending phrase sung to "Oh my son" followed by a full measure rest, reprised with "Oh my son" just a little more softly. For my money, these phrases are the best marriage of text to music in the Sacred Harp, or in all of Western music for that matter. (How's that for a bold statement?)

When we sang the words and came to the first rest, we could hear the echo "Oh my son" ringing from the hills. And then again. It gave each of us goosebumps as we heard it together and caught each other's eye. I'm sure Hibbard would have been pleased. (It's funny -- that was the only song where we produced that ringing echo -- even others that had brief rests after a phrase didn't resound so clearly and distinctly.)

Besides excellent singing, the food was magnificent and abundant. And the fellowship joyful and rich.


I came home and was relieved that the house hadn't burned down, as usual. But I woke up this morning with a splitting headache so I took a sick day and did household chores. The headache was gone by supper time, so I rode my bike to Loring Park to join my friend Anne and other friends for a music & movie in the park night. The music, buy a band named "Vicious Vicious" I missed, but I had a great fun time watching the movie. The best line: "Lawyers shouldn't marry each other; it's in-breeding and makes idiot children who become lawyers."

Then I rode home along the almost-completed and surprisingly busy (for 11 pm) Midtown Greenway and saw a 3/4 moon rise orange and gigantic from the east looking like one of those orange candies in the sky. At one point, the moon was in line with the red lights of the KSTP towers and it looked like a light sculpture. I love riding my bike at night on a cool summer night.

And now to bed.

Tomorrow is Second Daughter's 26th birthday, and the Feast of the Assumption.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Reading Stringfellow

Reminded by Kwakersauer (scroll down to July 21 or so) of William Stringfellow, I went to our new library and checked out three of his books. (I'm indifferent to the new building in general, but I'm delighted that upwards of 90% of its collection is now on the open stacks for browsing; previously only about 60% was, that made browsing a drag.)

I first heard of Stringfellow when I edited a story in my college newspaper about his visit to campus. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him. He is usually described as a lay Episcopal theologian, and it is also usually mentioned that he was a Harvard-trained lawyer who practiced for ten years or so in East Harlem. He is of the generation of my teachers, and now 30 years later I finally am getting a clue as to what they were talking about, trying to get us to learn.

I've found his writing to be at once provocative, challenging, chillingly contemporary and yet in a language and writing style that is so quintessentially 60's that he takes me back in time. A brief excerpt illustrates both the style and substance of Stringfellow's writing:

According to the biblical witness, death is not the decisive moral power in history, but it is the only moral power the State (or any other principalities) can invoke as a sanction against human beings and against human life as such. That is, also, plainly to be seen now in this nation: death is the moral power upon which the State relies when it removes citizens from society for preventive detention or other political imprisonment, or when it estops free speech, or when it militarizes the police, or when it drives youth into exile, or when it confines millions in black ghettos and consigns millions more to malnutrition and illiteracy, or when it manipulates inflation and credit to preoccupy, demoralize, and thereby conform the middle classes, or when it purchases grapes of lettuce to covertly break a strike, or when it collusively abets a governor's defiance of the courts, or when it hunts priests as fugitives.

No wonder, in the earlier circumstances, when the State confronted Christ the king -- Christ the free human being -- that it should find him a criminal and send Him to the cross.

And no wonder, at this moment, in this country, where the power of death is so militant in the universities, in the corporate structures, in the churches, in the labor movement, in the political institutions, in the Pentagon, in the business of science, in the technological order, in the environment itself, in the realms of ideology, in the State, that, as with Jesus, the Christian, living as a free man, living in transcendence of death's power, living, thus, as an implacable, insatiable, unappeasable, tireless, and resilient revolutionary, would be regarded by all authorities as a criminal.

As in the time of the trial of Jesus Christ, so in this day and place, to be truly a free man is to be a criminal.
(from Suspect Tenderness: The Ethics of the Berrigan Witness, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (1971) (written with Anthony Towne).

The quote is from a sermon Stringfellow gave in 1969 at Cornell University, prior to Daniel and Phillip Berrigan's failure to show up for prison after exhausting their appeals of their conviction for obstructing conscription by (with seven others) burning draft records in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1968. Eventually, after an amazing time in the underground, where he surfaced to give sermons in several prominent churches only to slip away again, Dan Berrigan was arrested by the FBI at Stringfellow's and Towne's home (called "Eschaton") on Block Island, RI. Stringfellow and Towne were later indicted for harboring a fugitive, but the charges were dismissed by the federal judge.

I just love his long, precise, digressive, parenthetical-filled sentences, a writing style that is long out of fashion but which I love. Kwakersauer complained mildly that Stringfellow is hard to read, and it's an accurate criticism, but only in the same way that it's hard to eat a sandwich made with thick slabs of 7-grain bread: you've got to chew a lot, and it takes a while, but when you're done you feel like you've accomplished something worthwhile.

But more important, I am captivated by his message which is largely captured by the quote above. I may write a little more about my responses to his writing later, but here is (free registration with Sojourners required) an essay that summarizes what he was about. One thing I'm mulling over is how his theology, which is radically Gospel, resurrection, and biblically based and focuses on how Christians engage a fallen world jibes with Quaker understandings of the nature of the world.

Revised 8-5-06 to try to fix the Sojourner's link and to insert paragraph spaces in quote.