Last week we had the privilege of hosting Peggy Senger Morrison (more on her coming) and Peterson Toscano, a comedian, biblical scholar, performer and LGBTQ advocate, at Guilford College this past week. Peterson became a Quaker after spending 17 years “conversion therapy trying to de-gay himself.” When he tells the story he often ends with talking about how wonderous a failure all of that was and how surviving all of that as a gay man has changed his life and ministry forever.
Because of his Evangelical background, Peterson knows his bible very well. And even though he experienced a lot of pain through the ex-gay movement and how the Bible was used against him, he has retained a love for Scripture. It is this love for Scripture that felt important to draw your attention to today. Peterson’s work around the Bible is inspiring, intellectually rigourous, and creative.
On Friday, I invited Peterson to come speak to my contextual theology class about gender roles in the Bible. Not only did he engage the students through very active “bibliodrama” as he calls it, having the class act out parts of the Bible to help them “get into the story,” but he talked positively about different people in the Bible who transcended or transgressed gender norms in their time and context. His main focus for our class was on the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8, a story about a person who transcended both gender and class norms and who is a central character in the life of the early Church. It was clear to me that Peterson’s approach of reenactmenting Scripture and reading it off-center is what T. Vail Palmer, Jr. calls, an “Empathetic” reading of the Bible, two tactics that really open up possibilities for experiencing the story in new and really powerful ways.
We may picture God as weaving a pattern with the lives of men and women. We can glimpse but small fragments of the whole design; in moments of inspiration we can see more clearly, while the saints see most of all. Through it there runs a Quaker strand. It may be only a single thread but it is not insignificant, for without it the pattern would be marred. Yet that thread of itself does not make the whole design. The Society of Friends is but a part of the Christian church, and the measure of truth which it possesses may only rightly be considered in relation to the whole. The work of the Church in the world today is surely not something to be carried out in miniature by each part, but it is a mighty whole to which each should contribute according to its special gifts and strengths.
Over the next little while, I want to reflect in short statements about what is often called, Quaker Values or testimonies. I prefer the singular “testimony,” but that is for another day. For today, here is a brief though on integrity.
The practice of Integrity is about both self-awareness and wholeness. It is born out of a community of practice committed to living integrated lives. Practices and language develop out of that commitment that gives tools for understanding the self, my relationship to God and other people, the natural world, and material objects. A practice of integrity provides a kind of self-reflective mirror upon which I am invited to look at myself and my community and reflect upon whether my “Yes is yes,” and my “No is no.” A practice of Integrity requires me to participate in honest assessment of all areas of life consistent with our practice of worship and understanding of what God calls us to. This consistency is about having the inside and outside line up. I do not believe that we should use integrity as a claim upon another human being if I am not in constant practice of investigating my own life under the same searching light. To do otherwise would itself lack integrity. Integrity is about truthfulness. It is something we constantly strive for and yet never fully arrive at. Thus, I believe that to strive for wholeness is to be vulnerable; there is a confessional quality to integrity. I claim my own integrity with great trepidation as I recognize that there is often a gap between my reality and that which I strive for but if I undertake it within a caring community, I can trust that together we shall be under this work of love together.
Awhile back I was studying at a well-stocked Quaker library, doing some writing for my dissertation. As I looked through the shelves I began to notice something, the overwhelming majority of the books I could find were books about the history of Quakerism, biographies of Quakers long past, journals, and pamphlets of Quaker ancestors, genealogies, and spirituality books written largely by people dead and gone. I stood in the aisle between bookshelves and wondered, “Is Quakerism already dead?” Why is there such an emphasis on the past and so little theology being written in dialogue with the questions and challenges of today?
One approach to recapturing “truth” within faith traditions is what we could call the “golden age” approach. I have witnessed this within my own tradition, but I know it happens elsewhere. The idea is that the truth embedded within one’s tradition was the most-pure at the very beginning of that tradition’s history. Every subsequent change or adaptation that following generations make pale in comparison. They are at best a simulacrum of the original vision. One way this is evident is all of the writings and conferences based around topics such as: “the original vision of ________” or “the future of the ________ church.” While I certainly see a need for these kinds of conversations, I think they betray a sense of failure embedded within how we view ourselves in relationship to our tradition: we have already lost the original vision, we are currently not taking into account thinking about the future, etc. Continue reading Truth And The Golden Age
I am busting at the seams wanting to share this message from Mike Huber, the pastor of West Hills Friends in Portland, Oregon, who preached a really important and timely message on Quaker conflict with authority and love. I am a regular listener of their Sunday morning podcast (iTunes), but this has to be one of the most powerful messages I have heard on this topic. It’s worth listening to multiple times as I have done myself.
Here are some key excerpts that I have transcribed myself from the audio, please forgive any errors in that process.
Quakers Challenging Outward Authority
This is what it feels like being a Quaker to us when we get to use our inward authority to challenge some outward authority. We love it! We want to challenge the outward authority of earthly powers…you know who I am talking about. We feel like Quakers when we confront polluters, corporate criminals, and bullies of every kind. We want to take them down. Not using violence but using the power of our inward authority, we want to confront them and we want to shatter their sense of complacency in their own authority by revealing on a deeper authority that undermines the very things that they are saying. We love this as Quakers. This is the script we want to follow.
And it is a pretty good script. We’ve done some pretty good things with it.
But the danger is because we love this script so much we can decide to use it on one another.
I was asked to speak at Quakers United in Publications earlier this month at the beautiful Penn Center on St. Helena’s Island in South Carolina. It was a lovely road-trip south and a nice time seeing friendly faces. I was glad for the opportunity to spend some time thinking and writing on the question they posed:
Are Quakers Still Publishers of Truth?
I took the challenge because I have been thinking about this subject since Peggy Morrison, Kathy Hyzy and I put on a weekend retreat we called “The Nursery of Truth” a few years back.
Initially, the question brought up more questions:
What is an obligation to publish truth when others are disinterested or don’t care?
What does it mean to publish truth when we do not lay claim to another’s theological tradition or practice?
And of course, what does it mean to speak of truth? How is it anchored in a community of practice? How is truth experienced? What does it look like? Who gets to decide what truth is?
How does truth get understood in today’s political and cultural climate where we easily turn a blind-eye to “alternative facts,” and outright lies from leaders in every arena?
Are there ways in which we might apprentice people within our faith tradition(s) to the truth? Are there ways in which we can learn from the past in rebuilding some kind of “nursery of truth?”
Finally – What role does our understanding of truthplay in the ongoing disagreements and fracturing of our faith communities?
I am certainly a sucker for productivity blogs, podcasts, and books. I’m sure it feeds into all kinds of aspects of my identity and anxieties, not to mention being a 3 on the Enneagram. While I think that it can be good to set goals and be organized enough to get the key things done you are responsible for, I see the underside of this tendency as well, which can be very much about feeling inadequate, like a failure or that you never measure up. When a life is shaped primarily by what it can produce, then it is bound to get caught in a cycle of scarcity. Inasmuch as productivity is primarily about achieving something outside myself, something I don’t yet have, then getting the carrot at the end of the stick will never be enough.
Instead, how can I begin with my identity, my true self and I am in God outside of how I am shaped by capitalist desires. Thus, I have wondered if, in late capitalism, where it seems like everything is built around personal brands, entrepreneurship, and an achievement mentality, there is any alternative way of thinking about productivity as the highest goal?