Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bad Joke

Shawna, over at Mystics, Poets and Fools (a grouping to which I belong in one capacity or another) http://mysticspoetsandfools.blogspot.com/ has embarked on a necessary course of action, one that will be long and painful, but eventually uplifting to her, her Meeting and many people who have lived in shadow for years. She is asking her Meeting to follow her discernment that same sex relationships are not sin. Tough parlay in a Conservative Meeting, though probably not as tough as in an Evengelical one.

Anyway, I was reminded of a recent exchange with a conservative Christian friend when we were talking about gay relationships and i expressed the view that we should really study what the precise meaning of the various words used in scriptural references, both literally and in social context. I expressed the idea that I have that God's proscriptions, when analyzed are about what is helpful to people in their relationships with others as well as within themselves, and that nothing is prohibited without specific such reasons. He expressed the idea that sometines God just says somethinbg is wrong, and that's the end of it.

I told him the old joke about the guy who had a really hard time his whole adult life. I mean, if it could go wrong for him it did and he suffered reverses that would drive some insane for years. Finally, after such a series, he looked at his life and decided to end it. As he was standing on the bridge railling, as people will, he looked up to the sky and said, "Why me, God? Why do these things always happen to me?"
The sky clouded over and the thunder rolled and a voice came out of the clouds, saying in slightly puzzled tones, "Something about your face just ticks_me_off."


My friend was not laughing.

After a moment, he said to me, "I think even indicating that God would act like that borders on blasphemy."

"Yes," I said, "Precisely."

I don't think he changed his mind.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labor-saving bloggers

I love the conversation in the blogosphere, and one of its aspects is really wonderful: sometimes somebody else says what is on your mind and you don't have to. The other day, Cat, from Quaker Pagan Reflections commented that I had written down what she had been struggling to express. That's great....mostly. I mean that it is good that the thought could be voiced and be a help in conversation, though In some ways I wish I had shut up and waited until Cat got it done as she does a much better job of writing.
I just had that experience form the other end, as I had in my notebook, the beginnings of a post that was waiting for me to find a way to express what I wanted to say. Then George Amoss at The Postmodern Quaker posted this:
Wow. WAY better than I could have said it.
But that's the nature of the conversation, and the movement of the Spirit that i believe is right in the middle of it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"New Covenant"

The establishment of Law as basis for relationship with God was a major shift in perception in the ancient world, which had largely viewed the gods in highly anthropomorphic perceptions, acting on whims and emotions having only to do with their personal desires. For a fascinating study of a primitive mind working out such a projection, I recommend Browning's Caliban upon Setebos. To say that these are the things that please or displease God put the relationship on a much more secure footing. It should be no surprise that there are two major threads to these "Laws:" those which made for an orderly society, and those which established the priveleges and practices of the priestly class, who by some coincidence were the ones teaching the "Law."

Hebrew thought before Jesus was tending in the direction that it was really those social perceptions that were important to God and not the system of sacrifices and minor ordinances so important to the priests. Jesus' ministry and teaching was simply an extension of that, and a paradign shift from the importance of law for responsibility and order to the idea that the spirit that animated the idea of law, the concern for others as members of a whole society, is what is important in relating to God: fulfilling "law" as opposed to abolishing it.

When we operate in love, there is, for instance, no requirement for a law against murder. And, as noted, the law's requirement not to murder is really superficial in comparison to love's requirement that we not maintain anger against our brother. Therefore there are no "laws" that are a requirement, though such things may be set up for easy reference, each is subject to review as to whether it promotes a Way of love within our society. As Paul said in 1 Cor 10:23, " All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." This is essentially the "New Covenant" prophesied by Jeremiah in which God's "laws" would be written on the hearts of those who operate in love. Our actions as well as our words will come from the abundance of our hearts.

Clearly the original disciples remained a part of the Jewish religion, and saw no conflict, though the attitude toward the priestly class and offices must have been quite different. That changed when Peter and Paul in particular started sharing the gospel with those who were not Jewish and the question arose as to whether those converts needed to convert to the Jewish faith, or only to the Way that Jesus taught, which was not confined to a faith tradition. The decision of the council was that they were not so required and their faith was able to operate outside of a religious tradition.

Unfortunately, the followers of the Way were not appreciated by orthodox Jews, particularly the leadership, and the whole group, Jew and gentile, began to have to operate outside a religious tradition until a new "clergy" or priesthood established itself and started constructing a religion around the Way taught and exemplified by Jesus. They didn't do so good.

One of the most interesting constructs has been the perception of "Atonement," and that perception is one of the cornerstones of the new "religion." The idea that Jesus somehow took away our culpability for failings when He was crucified is an essential part of the perception of Jesus as the founder and foundation of that system. How that worked is another problem entirely. There is a great (and short) review of some of the explanations that have been offered over the years, along with their attendant problems, in section II-the end of: http://www.quaker.org/quest/issue-9-gulley-01.htm and it is well worth a study.

My main point is that, with such a weak link as a foundational element, it has to be difficult to support the validity of the "religion" constructed with it. We have to wonder just how far past James' definition of "true religion" in James 1:27 we should depend on constructs and doctrines of men, and seriously examine the elements used in that construction.

However, for those who see beyond 2,000 years of that "religion" to the Way, it is indeed a "New Covenant" and consciousness concerning our relationship to God, our fellow humans and our world.