26 January 2012

Trust, the first testimony

Evening without
electricity

A flood of water from an empty
third-floor apartment cascaded on
an electrical panel in the entryway
and shut off our electricity for
twelve hours.
Four candles heated my dinner
Took about half an hour for the
food to start sizzling
Reading my first paper book in
months; the battery on my
e-book was low
When I became a Christian, part of the context was a personal crisis of trust, as I've said before. It's not surprising therefore that trust and betrayal are crucial issues for me, and I tend to interpret Quaker spirituality through that screen.

Many people come to Friends because they've been hurt or their faith betrayed in some authoritarian part of the church, and they expect that we will not hurt them this way. I hope we live up to this expectation--without, however, our living in fear that our own Christian testimony might be irritating and must therefore be hidden or weakened. I hope we can offer those who have been wounded by religious abuse the love and healing they (we!) have every right to expect, just as I received love and healing from Friends for the injuries inflicted by my own family's completely anti-Christian cult of obedience, with its toxic mixture of fascism, racism, and violence.

(An aside: I still would like to ask Christianity's critics, as justified as they often are, to "meet Jesus halfway.")

I'm thinking about the importance of trust and healing for two reasons. First, I just heard today that the writer Keith Miller died a few days ago. Keith Miller was one of Earlham School of Religion's very first graduates--in fact the first to be awarded the degree that is now known as Master of Ministry. He was drawn to ESR by Elton Trueblood, who argued for a faith that was both "rooted" and "incendiary," and a lot of Trueblood's and ESR's inspiration was evident in Miller's writings. Miller was passionate about healing and honesty in the church, and is credited with helping ignite the small-group movement, at least in North American Christianity. Little cells of honesty and vulnerability have played a huge role in strengthening the church's ability to offer healing from betrayal.

The second reason this stuff about trust came up this evening was Joseph Stalnaker's post on quakerquaker.org, "The SPICE of Life." I've seen several descriptions of Friends discipleship that use the SPICE acronym, and Joseph's is among the best and most succinct I've seen recently.

Opinions vary on whether the SPICE formula is either accurate or adequate. For example, see Martin Kelley's important analysis of the reinvention of Quaker testimonies under the influence of modern individualism. Also, it would be a mistake to confuse the testimonies with the fundamental reality on which they rest, our relationship with God. The testimonies are secondary; they're our collective attempts to understand what it means for us as individuals and communities to live in that relationship. So, Jim Healton is right to say that believing Jesus is the Christ is "the one testimony that binds them all together." And R.W. Tucker is right to say, "In very practical ways, the Cross is the most revolutionary fact in history." (My emphasis.)

Given all that, I still defend SPICE as a simple, memorable way to communicate something quite awesome: the new life in Christ. Whatever commentary we might want to add, each of the SPICE-y ingredients says something about our values, culture, and ideals; and the more we do to make those things accessible to the world and our own children, the better.

What do trust and healing have to do with SPICE? To me, trust is SPICE's missing ingredient, namely the crucial link between faith (or conversion) and discipleship. Without trust, SPICE remains theoretical. Without trust, how can we unbind ourselves from greed, violence, intrigue, autonomy, and elitism? In the absence of real trust, the church drifts back into functional atheism (Parker Palmer's term, I believe) and into the dishonesty that Keith Miller protested against with such passion. When we trust God and each other, miracles are possible. When that trust is gone, we have no high expectations, no vision, we just focus on paying the rent and doing whatever it takes to keep the show going. If we're worrying about what those others are holding behind their back, how can we truly and cheerfully answer that of God in them? If we don't let go and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide our worship, how can we avoid ecclesiastical theatrics, exhibitionism, or (equally deadly) simply hiding in the seamless perfection of dead silence?

Evil, ignorance, and the sheer complexity of life will still have their way, so we are going to continue to betray each other for the foreseeable future. In other words, the church will continue to be populated and led by wounded and wounding people. This is why I'm so concerned that churches care about ministries of healing, both for long-timers and for newcomers. It's why I like the idea of "bills of rights" in churches. Trust is such a precious ingredient in any mixture of SPICE that it deserves unstinting attention in the way we design and lead our church. Any time we see trust confirmed and honored, it reflects that first, essential movement of trust in the life of any believer: the moment we realized that God really does love us, and that with this love we can build a worthy life.

Trust, the first testimony, part two: Now it gets personal.



Friday PS: I wondered whether my words about worship without trust could be interpreted as a slam against liturgy. Although I have my controversies with liturgy, this time I was referring to Friends, not to liturgical churches. Liturgy, reverently conducted, can happen with or without trust, and sometimes can even be a bridge of tradition, stability, and sacred message, when trust is entirely absent for a season.



Martha of Ireland is back! "How to earn your salvation in 14 E-Z steps," part one.

You can prepare for the World Conference of Friends ... whether or not you're attending. Information and registration for the Salt and Light online study course (in English, French, Spanish, and Russian) are here.

The varieties of religious heartbreak.... Christopher Priest's variant: "I was ordained to speak the truth and invite my brothers and sisters to find Jesus instead of Pastor, to discover Truth instead of Tradition, Revelation instead of Religion, and to pull the plug on the fruitless deception of a mythologized Christianity."

Adam Gopnik, "Mass Incarceration and Criminal Justice in America." "How did we get here? How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disembowelling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane sanction?"

Trust But Verify Dept.: Mavrodi is back!! (This link eventually goes behind a paywall.)

"The story of Ann Lee, a female messiah" (book review).

Friend Ken Haase on community evolution: individuality, diversity, and compound intelligence. (And why corporations aren't necessarily good examples of this new species.)

Sunday alert: How Reedwood Friends are marking the end of Peace Month. Guest: Bill Jolliff.

Ubuntu's "Head-Up Display"--first reactions and a preview.



Scientist and guitarist Jean-Rene Ella, once again:

5 comments:

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Long before Friends had “SPICE” as a way to encapsulate the several branches of their testimony — in fact, way back in the mid-1660s — George Fox gave us “Gospel order” as a way to do so. And this worked, very well, for a longer time than the “SPICE” formula has so far been in existence.

I think Gospel order is still worth learning about, and trying out in one’s own life. Don’t you?

Johan said...

Hi, Marshall. Absolutely right, SPICE is just a small, portable list of features, opening the way for a discussion of Gospel Order.

There's no guarantee that a conversation about Friends based on lists of distinctives will actually lead to a fuller discussion of Gospel Order, of course. There needs to be a commitment to accessibility and communication and teaching, or nobody will say anything beyond platitudes. Even "Gospel Order"--that is, literally those two words--is not self-explanatory.

Aaron Levitt said...

Trust, or trustworthiness?

Johan said...

Aaron--excellent question!! Chicken or egg? I think that when I first made the decision to trust, I was not myself very trustworthy. The decision to become trustworthy took longer to reach and even longer to implement. (Not that my trust has been unwavering!) I honor those who worked on being trustworthy before they were able to trust--that may be the more difficult order.

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