Monday, February 18, 2008

The life in your God

What follows is my recollection of ministry I delivered yesterday at meeting, but it includes a report on ministry I gave a week earlier.

Last week, I was in Philadelphia on Friends-related business. As I was getting dressed on Saturday morning, I turned on the TV in the hotel because, from past experience, I knew there would be some old black-and-white classic movie of some sort on. Sure enough, there was an old Mae West comedy on. (I since have learned it was I'm no Angel). It was funny and sexy in Mae West's way, and I enjoyed especially the courtroom scene near the end. After the trial, very near the end of the movie, someone asks her, "What is it that keeps you so young? Is the the men in your life?"

Mae answers, "Honey, it isn't the men in your life that matters, it's the life in your men."

Being in a long dry spiritual season, I was grateful for any bit of insight I could find, and at meeting later that morning I shared what I had seen. In the context of the meeting I was in and the query that guided our worship, I went on: What matters isn't really the Quakerism in your life, but the life in your Quakerism."

Almost immediately, I regreted putting it the way I did, and the reason why came up a few minutes later when another Friend, a noted Quaker historian and writer, admitted to sometimes making an idol out his Quakerism instead of worshiping the Living God. I am guilty of this same sin, and I appreciated his shedding light on it for me.

What I now wish I had said last week, and what I say to you today is this: It isn't the amount of God in your life that matters. It's the life in your God.

This way of putting it is particularly meaningful to me at the moment as I find myself more immersed than usual in secondary (and in some cases tertiary) sources about what it was that animated the Quaker movement in the 17th centrury and try to draw lessons on how it can animate us today. The irony, of course, is that everyone I'm reading and listening to is saying, "Don't rely on us; go to the Source yourself."


MartinK said...

It's a hard habit to break, confusing Quakerism for God. Liberal Quakerism is particularly susceptible to this amnesia. Back when I worked at FGC and was occasionally invited to consultations, I developed this insight into something of a parlour game. Whenever someone would write some self-focused query ("What should my Meeting give to ME"), I'd just rewrite it with God in there. Half the Friends would think it's some amazing a-ha moment and the other half would be annoyed that this ass was doing the God thing AGAIN.

Maybe someday we can remember that the first of Jesus's commandments to his "friends" was to love God and the second was to love our neighbors. Nothing there about any denominational body. I was just reading one of the references this morning on the train, Matthew 22:40: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" to which I'd amend "and all of the monthly meetings and denominations."

Somehow though I wonder if we need to rewrite this more still. It's not God that does or doesn't have life, it's us having the life inasmuch as we're with God. I'm not sure I can work that in a pithy Mae West variation but maybe someone else can. Of course a few months before "I'm no Angel" Mae West and Cary Grant first teamed up for "She Done Him Wrong" where we have the classic "Why don't you come up and see me sometime," a great line that could easily be woven into ministry by those inclined to cheek!

Paul L said...

No, nothing in the great commandments about denominational body. But there is plenty of instruction about the necessity of and how to live together as a people, as a church -- as a concrete, historical body of believers.

So I think you have to read the great commandments as implying loving God and each other in community with others, and that's where the rub comes: We begin to love the community more than the One who created and animates it. (I think it's similar to the present-day tendency to worship creation rather than the creator.)

And Mae West used that line in I'm No Angel, too -- to the judge! (And he did!!)

Anonymous said...

We are Quakers, I believe, when we live and love in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps Holy Spirit believes
in us far more than many
of us believe in her.
This direct experience of the
Holy Spirit is open to all…
With the Holy Spirit and
our living tradition we have been given two great gifts
to guide us as a people of faith.
The Greek word for tradition (paradosis) "means a transmission from one party to another, an exchange of some sort, implying living subjects."
The living subjects are the stories of are foremothers and fathers
( Jewish Christian Quaker)that helps us to make sense of are experiences with God
My prayer is that Quakers particularly, unprogrammed Friends will find new and create ways re-connected with the stories of are foremothers and fathers.
Thus expanding our understanding
of the work of the Holy Spiritin our Meetings and in the World today.Paul Ricketts

Robin M. said...

Another try:
What keeps you young and vital isn't really the Quakerism in your life, but the God in your Quakerism."

Phil Grove said...

Or in a more universalist tongue: It doesn't matter how you conceptualize Truth; what matters is the degree to which Truth animates your living.