Thursday, January 11, 2007

A glimmer of gold in the night

Up late. Mind racing. Plumbing and carpentry projects. Committee meetings that need to be called. A sudden influx of work at the office. A suprising and hopeful upcoming trip to New York. Beginning of Quakerism 101 next week. My beloved's snoring. Everything but sleep.

I turn on the light and pick up the Stringfellow anthology on the nightstand I've been dipping into now and then (mostly then, recently), open it up at random, and find the following:

The Christian faith is distingished, diametrically, from mere religion in that religion begins with the proposition that some god exists; Christianity, meanwhile, is rejoicing in God's manifest presence among us. Religion describes human beings, mind you, usually sincere and honorable and intelligent ones, searching for God or, more characteristically, searching for some substitute for God -- that is, some idea of what God may be like -- or would be like -- and then worshiping that idea and surrounding that subsitution with dogma and discipline. But the gospel tells us when and how and why and where God has sought us and found us and offered to take us into God's life. . . .

In short, religion supposes that God is yet to be discovered; Christianity knows that God has already come among us. Religious speculation suspects there is God, somewhere, sometime; the gospel reports God's presence and action in this world even in those circumstances of which we are unaware. Religion suppresses the truth because the truth obviates religion.
From: William Stringfellow, Private and Public Faith, 1962, pp 14-17, reprinted in A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow, ed. Bill Wylie Kellermann, Erdmans, 1994, pp 120-21.

1 comment:

forrest said...

Funny, I'd just happily found that booklet (not available in my city libary) at a used bookstore, and like what he's saying through such passages--but not what they actually say.

We want to be able to distinguish religion as a 'belief system' (even a 'Christian' belief system) from religion as information about the love, power, and active presence of God. Stringfellow calls this presence "Jesus Christ" (presumably because God approached him in this form), but not everyone does; neither does everyone talking about "Jesus Christ" know the reality Stringfellow is pointing to.

Later: "But to imply all religion is the same... is tantamount to atheism. It is quite the same thing as saying that there is no God--at least no God who may be known, no living God..." and in his context, of people saying "It doesn't matter what you believe," Stringfellow is saying something important & true. But we're dealing with paradoxical stuff here. It matters intensely, but also not at all. If I believe something incorrect about Mr. Jones down the street--that you can only find him in his office, or in church, or in his living room (wherever I may have met him)--the important fact is that Mr. Jones is available to set me straight. So long as the belief doesn't close me off from him ("You're dead, Mr. Jones! I can't be talking to dead people!--or "I hear you do awful things to people. Why should I believe a word you say, you awful man?!")it is unimportant what I think compared to Whom I know... (and Who knows me!)

Very Quakerish experience, his, but coming to us through a more formal theological language. (Sometimes I too like it very much!)