The Gathered Meeting—Good News!

June 21, 2013 § 5 Comments

Friend John Edminster has been a very faithful reader and supporter of this blog. A while ago he shared with me a draft of a little piece of his that has reoriented me in this project of exploring a theology for Liberal Friends. One of his points is this:

We do not need a new theology; we need good news!

I agree. This has made me rethink how I approach this project.

In an earlier post, I defined “theology” as a way of talking about our religious experience. A “theology” can be thrilling, energizing, even transforming for a person like me, for whom the life of the mind and the life of the spirit are inseparable. But for most people, theology is just ideas, interesting at best, boring at least, and at worst, destructive and divisive.

“Good news”, on the other hand—a gospel—is a way to transform the world we live in and the lives we touch. Real “good news” won’t speak to everyone, either, necessarily. But for those it does reach, nothing will ever be the same.

For centuries the gospel of Christianity has been that Jesus the Christ has saved us from our sins. I’ve already said that, based on my own reading of Scripture, the gospel of salvation is mostly Paul’s good news, and that the gospel of Jesus is much more focused on ministry to the poor. But what is my good news?

I suspect that many Friends may find the question presumptuous and impertinent. Christian Friends, who deify Christ, may rankle at a mere mortal claiming an authority that they feel rests only in the Christ himself (or maybe in the Bible, though Quakers have traditionally held that, since Christ is a living presence to us all, he remains the ultimate authority, not the Bible).

Liberal Friends, on the other hand, may rankle at the idea of gospel itself: “gospel” smacks  strongly of evangelism, and even of evangelicalism, of proclaiming a message you think people should not just hear, but accept—or else. I myself am unafraid of evangelism. For I do believe we have something transforming to proclaim.

That is, I believe that I have good news to proclaim—not just some ideas I think are cool or that might be useful to Friends. It actually does feel presumptuous to me to say this, yes, but that is how I feel.

By comparison, my “good news” is not as profound or transformative as the “good news for the poor” that Jesus proclaimed in Luke 4—an answer to their poverty, relief from their suffering, and deliverance from their oppression. My “good news” is much more modest. Perhaps I should just say that I can testify to the joy I have found among Friends in the gathered meeting for worship. This my good news:

  • that each one of us is capable of direct, unmediated communion with G*d*—we know G*d directly through the  joy and transformation we experience in the gathered meeting;
  • that, even more astoundingly, our religious community—our Quaker meetings—are also capable of direct, unmediated communion with G*d; we know G*d directly through the collective healing and love and unity and joy and transformation we experience in the gathered meeting;
  • that G*d’s revelation continues unbroken from the beginning of creation until now—we experience G*d’s revelation personally in the form of leadings to ministry, and in other ways, and collectively in the guidance and healing and love and unity and joy and transformation we experience in the gathered meeting, especially in the gathered meeting for business in worship and our other gatherings for discernment; and
  • that G*d’s love inspires us and strengthens us to live outward lives that testify to the truths G*d has inwardly revealed to us individually and collectively—individually, we are called to live our lives as testimony to the Truth, while collectively, we have been gathered into unity on a gradually evolving and expanding set of testimonies.

My good news is that, in the gathered meeting, we have directly experienced wholeness of spirit, both as individuals and as worshipping communities. For hundreds of years we have seen the promise of direct communion with the divine fulfilled in the gathered meeting.

The world is hungry for this experience. It has come to doubt the promise of such a thing. We can testify to its ongoing reality.

 

*  Every once in a while, I remind my readers that by “G*d” I mean the Mystery Reality behind our spiritual/religious experience—whatever that experience is. I am using an asterisk instead of an “o” in order to wrest the word from the habitual responses we often give it when we read it.

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§ 5 Responses to The Gathered Meeting—Good News!

  • Thank you, Steve! I’ve said it before, but I’m profoundly grateful for your laborings to frame a theology for today’s Liberal Friends, based on worshippers’ actual experience. I’ve lately been studying the First Epistle of John (the source, for those unfamiliar with it, of “God is Love” and “Perfect love casts out fear”), and noting how its writer repeatedly (1) articulates a teaching, (2) explains its purpose for the reader or the community, (3) appeals to the reader’s own experience or commonsense in support of the teaching, and (4) reinforces the teaching by adding “if this were not so, such and such consequences would follow.” The appeal to experience is so important!

    For anyone interested in reading more of what Friend John Edminster had to say about his point “We do not need a new theology; we need good news!”, I refer you to his whole blog posting (dated 5/14/2013, at the blog “among Friends”) at http://wp.me/p6EeA-9i

    If that “shortlink” doesn’t work, try the long link: http://among.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/we-need-a-gospel-not-a-theology/

    All that said, I happen to know that Friend John Edminster loves good theology the way he loves good poetry, music, art and food. It feeds him, and he tries to remember always to give God thanks for it. But the good news he’s experienced, which not only feeds us but heals and metamorphoses us, is so much greater!

    I confess that my reading of the four gospels shows that Jesus seemed to spend as much of His time healing people as He spent in teaching; and He ended Matthew’s gospel by saying “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” This tells me to expect Him to be continuing to heal the sick, and I’ve witnessed and experienced the continuing healing work that I take (on faith) to be His and not just the good plant spirits’. This is part of the good news I want to help spread, particularly in these days of “civilization’s unmistakable signs of catastrophic breakdown,” where we have a sick planet and a sick world population to minister to!

    I’m grateful to Treegestalt not only for mentioning that breakdown, but also for noting Friends’ depressing tendency to turn away, at rise of a good meeting, from the God that just taught, mended and kissed them: “most of that…[depth of worship] has dissipated at the close of Meeting, as though the participants were acutely disturbed by the very idea of what they’d experienced and did not want to continue their ‘secular’ lives in that sort of intensity, nor look too closely at what they had known so intimately, moments ago.” It’s like turning on the eleven o’clock news after having had tender and passionate sex with our beloved: how could we do such a thing!? And yet we do. One solution to that is to rush to a quiet corner of the meeting house, or a nearby park, and return to worship before anyone can hijack us.

  • don51249@aol.com says:

    Steve,

    Wonderful.

    The attached advertises my opportunity to share this good news with the wider community. We are in unity. Have you read Bishop Spong?

    In faith,

    Don

  • treegestalt says:

    I agree that ‘What gospel do we have to share?’ is indeed the prime question we all need to explore.

    But I feel you’ve somewhat wimped-out our true Message, which (as Jesus proclaimed it) is about Heaven and Earth and the nature of the Power we live under, if it’s about anything at all.

    The sorta-good-news-maybe about ~ We feel inspired and guided by whatever-it-is-that-inspires-and-guides-us-in-our-Meetings — That’s neither news to anybody nor very informative to as to ‘Why should I go sit around feeling inspired & guided by something these people are afraid to call “God”?’

    • Well, I wasn’t trying to make a claim about THE gospel, only about what I do feel is genuine good news, that direct communion with God is a reality among us Friends, and that it is not just personal, but also collective. So it’s not “sorta-good-news”, it’s very good news, but it’s not the only good news. I did not even claim it was the most important good news we can proclaim.

      As for G*d, I’m not afraid to call God God. I just want my readers to know that I am committed to respecting what they call God as, indeed, God; that I’m not going to try to cram their knowledge and experience of God into my mold.

      My God is not a whatever-inspires-me God at all, though, in fact, I can’t specifically ascribe all my inner promptings of the Spirit to some GOD. I can ascribe some of them, though, and these somewhat variously. So even my own experience requires of me some flexibility in semantics. Hence an asterisk as an experiment in providing a placeholder for all these variables.

      As to why you (or someone) should sit among us (and I hope they are not just “sitting around”, but actively reaching inward toward their Guide), I would answer: our Quaker way makes room for you and it really does help you find the God you are looking for and to connect with the God you may already have found.

      As for Jesus, I suspect we may disagree about what he proclaimed, about Heaven and Earth, and about the Power we live under. Just about everybody else does. Even those who police a monolithic theology with some of the power they think the Power they live under has granted them don’t agree with each other about that message. So let’s not get into that.

      My little bit of good news is simply that you (whoever you may be) are welcome among us, unless you (not you, personally, Treegestalt) start throwing your power around. We can even absorb a fair amount of that. But there is a Well here in the midst of us and we have found through centuries of experience that laying down your power and taking up your bucket and lowering your bucket into that Well brings up true refreshment.

      Every bucket has its own shape and was crafted by a Bucketwright whom I would never presume to define for you. But we know the Well is there for you and we know our way of lowering it works. On this we have the testimony of Scripture, the testimony of our Quaker predecessors, and the testimony of our own experience in the gathered meeting.

      • treegestalt says:

        My own experience has been that the bulk of my spiritual interactions have not resulted from Meetings, gathered or otherwise… and while I have known many individuals within my Meeting who have truly lived and served as inspirations, these have died over the years. The practice of attending Meeting seems to be fruitful where the participants are ‘live’ folks, stulifying when they are not. Furthermore, where I have found particular sessions going very deep, most of that (outside of the daily Meetings at Pendle Hill) has dissipated at the close of Meeting, as though the participants were acutely disturbed by the very idea of what they’d experienced and did not want to continue their ‘secular’ lives in that sort of intensity, nor look too closely at what they had known so intimately, moments ago.

        I agree that trying to force acceptance of a theology is inappropriate & (so far as it succeeds) unilluminating. In theology, it truly isn’t what you know as much as Who you know — and in that, “What’shisname” is as good as any set of names or titles. Unwillingness to own what you know is not.

        Communion with God is a reality among a great many people, some of whom get together to sing hymns & proclaim dubious dogmas, some of whom simply stay home. I haven’t found it particularly ‘prevalent’ among Friends so much as ‘sometimes present.’ If I were advising a seeker, I would suggest he ‘let the dead bury the dead’ and find himself a bunch of live ones (of any personally-sympatico variety) rather than fall asleep among Friends as such.

        Meanwhile, we are all living real lives in a civilization showing unmistakable signs of catastrophic breakdown, surrounded by all the ongoing and looming miseries which that implies. Unless your communion has somehow addressed that fact, found a context for it where hope is truly justified, dared to rip the mask off that ‘Mystery Reality’ (or rather, been interested enough to ask ‘It’) it doesn’t seem sufficiently nourishing.

        (May we peacefully continue to clobber one another in mutually-illuminating ways….)

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