Friendly Paralogy

Yesterday’s post gave me unusual difficulty. I’m aware that my thinking in it, especially with regard to use of terms, is fuzzier than usual. What I’m trying to get to, through a paralogical (see link below), thinking-in-print kind of process, is the expression, in various models if need be, of what our situation looks like when we find ourselves and our world being deconstructed by internal contra­dictions, and of what the primitive Quaker tradition has to say to us about passing through that experience to a state of wholeness, peace, and spiritual power.

The writings of leading early Friends do speak to us in detail about that, but they speak in biblical terms, terms that put off many modern liberal Quakers. Yet those terms harbor an “event,” to borrow John D. Caputo’s words (from The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event), a living reality of practical love that calls to us with a silent but urgent voice. In postmodern paralogy, says Lois Shawver, we practice “generous listening” by trying to “step inside the speaker’s vocabulary.” Doing so as we read the primitive Quaker texts can open our minds and hearts to the transmission of that living reality from the first Friends.

Facilitating that process is one of my goals in writing. Sometimes, as when an epistle by George Fox lends itself readily to adaptation into more contem­porary terms, the goal seems attainable; at other times, such as while struggling with the previous post, I take comfort in knowing that others are doing the job more capably. I also hope for some discussion here in the future, some active Quaker paralogy to help the process along.

3 thoughts on “Friendly Paralogy

  1. One of the difficulties I’ve been having in explaining what we are doing at Seton Hill Friends (expect a name change if we move locations) is how to accurately describe what we are doing. When we say we are a Christ-centered meeting, people think all sorts of things. Mostly, people think conservative or Evangelical Christianity. I have found that by saying “well, honestly, ask each of us what ‘Christ-centered’ or ‘Christian’ means and you’ll get as much diversity as you would at any other liberal, unprogrammed meeting” diminishes what we do. We don’t have the religious diversity of many of those meetings; we don’t have atheists, Buddhists or solely neo-pagan Friends. None who currently attend have stated their belief that Christianity is the only acceptable religion. I’m currently reading Dandelion’s book of which George spoke, and we are studying the first generation faith before worship at SHWG. For us, the language is not a barrier, and it draws us deeply into the passion and power of which early Friends spoke. If Friends want to see our list of topics for the summer hit up the website.

    For me the word “Christian” has way too many problems in the West. Perhaps in other parts of the world, it may have better meaning. Surely, for those of us who are Christians, we may be torn, but we do find meaning in the religion, especially as interpreted through Quakerism. Quakerism makes Christianity liberating for me, rather than oppressive. It challenges me to the core, yet doesn’t bring a sense of shame and guilt that keeps me in a lowly state like some Christian faiths do. Quaker Christianity speaks of hope over despair, love over hate, perfection over sin, healing over illness, power over weakness, humility over pride, equality and community over separation and individualism. It says that the Truth can be found within, yet it is within the community where we see the “big picture.” Or, at least, a bigger picture. How, then, do we reclaim the power of the language, finding the rich treasures in the texts and traditions from which the language comes in a culture that has all but ruined all of that? To some, the word Christian can be as abrasive as a slur or perverted, harmful lifestyle. I believe, though, that this is at least in part due to several generations of people who have, for good reasons or not, abandoned the faith because of its sins, because it was tied up in all the evils of the West. It makes sense. And yet, this is counter to what early Friends were doing. In the corrupt Church rose Quakers challenging the destructive theologies and philosophies that led to the denigration of the Cross. They challenged priests and parliament on what their form of Christianity was doing and how it was truly Anti-Christ. It seems to me, that liberal and progressive Christians, and those who would otherwise consider themselves Christians if not for all the sins of the Church, have handed the faith over to the Right. I also think, that on some part, there is a particular laziness on the part of some who would rather not be bothered with religion, but who use the sins of Christianity as the reason. There is also the “Grass is always greener” philosophy, but whatever religious path we pick, we still have to mow the grass! Perhaps what’s done is done, and it doesn’t matter why so many turn their backs to their Christian heritage, and what’s most important is that they grow in the Spirit, however they do so. I lean that way. However, too many operate from a place of pain and instead of closing the door to Christianity they leave it open, and hurl criticisms and insults through it. They seek to disprove it as a false religion or as entirely corrupt with no redemption possible. I understand the pain of feeling forced out and the lashing out or even red-hot anger that fires up within after being rejected. However, it’s not healthy to fuel it. It must be resolved. For those who left the Christian faith, it is not their place to criticize the faith unless it affects their civil rights or the general good. If we remove ourselves from the family, we can’t tell the family how they should be. Quakerism, to me, was the prophet of the Christian faith. As a body, we reminded the Church of a power and reality that can be known, and of the Goodness that would come from a true Christian life. I think we lost that prophetic voice a long time ago, but it changed into our social witness. Now, I don’t believe that even that witness has the power it once had.

    So, I’m not sure how much “stepping inside the speaker’s vocabulary” one can really do if one hasn’t resolved ones issues with the tradition and texts from which that vocabulary comes. And, if one isn’t grounded in Spirit, it becomes a mental exercise rather than a spiritual one, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s the same as reading the Bible. We can’t just step inside the vocabulary of the scripture and see what it can mean to us through our experience. I mean we could, but that’s why so many fight over the Bible, I think. We have to know much more about the context and history to understand some of it. The more spiritual parts of the Bible, we have to be in the Spirit in which the Bible was written to understand the truth of it. I would say the same for those trying to understand early Quaker or other Christian groups — we have to be grounded in the Divine, in Love, in Spirit, to understand the words.

    So, when we try to explain what we do at SHWG, it seems to fall short. We invite people to visit us, to help nurture our worship, but so many have a “ABC” mentality (anything but CHristian). As one Friend said at an anti-racism workshop to a black member of our worship group “I am not going there with all of that Jesus stuff.” To us, our worship is a good rich cup of Java, not watered down, not too strong. We are drawn deeply into Christ, the power often raised up in us, the Good rising up and the creature pushed back. We don’t philosophize too much, but we do talk of our journeys together. We don’t get into theology much, but we do talk of our Christian faith and what it means to be Christian for us as individuals. We hope that our multi-racial, multi-generational, etc. worship group will grow, that we can bring other non-churched people to the power that lies within them, and hopefully in so doing, God can reach people God’s self, and bring them into a loving heart where peace, equality for all, love of creation, self, God and neighbor are Living Realities. If we can help each other in that Life, and show others to that path, we will be satisfied. But it’s not to fellow Christians, or the already churched, that we necessarily are trying to reach. So, if the language we use, that is so meaningful to us will turn others away, we will have to pray and see what we are lead to DO that will give witness to the power within. I think that the actions will give meaning to the words, and that can open doors more than anything.

  2. Hi, Kevin-Douglas! Just one comment at this point, related to “stepping inside the speaker’s vocabulary”: primitive Quakerism, as I’ve just noted ( in another reply, is a unique language game. It is also a unified one, which the scriptures are not: in fact, I see it as a metanarrative that unifies the disparate narratives of the scriptures. So I think that it may be easier for us to “step inside” the first Friends’ vocabulary, and that doing so can provide us with a hermeneutical schema with which to begin to do something similar, allowing for the nature of scripture, with the scriptures themselves.

  3. Kevin-Douglas, I’m still thinking about your response; it offers much to think about.

    For one thing, I’m pondering your statement that “we have to be grounded in the Divine, in Love, in Spirit, to understand the words” of the first Friends. It makes sense, and yet I can’t help wondering if the intent of those Friends’ words isn’t to help produce that very grounding by directing our attention to our trampling of the Christ-seed, the pathetic little spark of light and life buried under the dead weight of self. If that’s the case, where does this leave those of us who are not willing to listen “generously” to them? How will we ever see what we are doing, and how ever find that spark, especially if we think we’ve “arrived” because we’re contemporary Quakers, believing that because the light shines in everyone, all are fundamentally good?

    That takes me back to the thought I expressed in the first response, that maybe it’s easier for us to “step inside” the first Friends’ vocabulary than simply to try to step inside the Bible. That’s probably not true if that vocabulary is left untranslated — although our continued use of the word “light” might offer a little hope. But I continue to hope that we can meet some success in reframing the primitive Quaker metanarrative in contemporary terms. Then, if we are so inclined, perhaps we could use reframed experience as a lens for reading scripture.

    That’s become my principal Quaker project. I know that it raises defenses on both the left and the right, but, on our present trajectory, the road looks equally bleak in either direction. It seems worth a try: at the least, it shouldn’t do any harm. I’m grateful for your advice as I proceed.

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