31 May 2012

Love and truth and religion addiction

End of the school year at the Institute. (2012 graduates
and their classmates gather for a "Last Bell" assembly.)
When I first joined Friends, Canadian Yearly Meeting's book of discipline included this Advice:
Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts, which are the leadings of God. Resist not [God's] strivings within you.
The high school foreign-language program also celebrates
its "Last Bell" with skits, songs, and diplomas.
For decades, I've treasured this advice and drawn strength from it. But I am beginning to realize that my reading habits placed piety above precision. I was "taking heed" to a rather vague quality, "love-and-truth," rather than noticing the powerful, important tension between those two elements, love and truth.

Love is itself truth--I don't deny that. The central truth of the Good News is that God loves me, whether or not I think I deserve that love. God loves you, too, believe it or not. Assured of that love, or even as we're just beginning to try it on for size, we can cast off the bonds of shame and victimhood and come out of the shadows we put ourselves in, or are put in by others (who may themselves be in equal or greater bondage). This wonderful news comes with an awkward twist--God loves our enemies, too.

Instead of shuffling towards God in shame (or, worse, avoiding even taking that first step), God wants us to approach with our backs straight--in repentance. Repentance has nothing to do with shame, but has everything to do with truth. All the ways we've spun and dodged to gain advantage or gratification at others' expense are already known to God--who is impossible to surprise or shock, so get over it! In repentance, we do our "searching and fearless moral inventory" (Alcoholics Anonymous step four) and ask humbly but confidently for the power to turn our lives God-wards.

So this is the "love and truth" we are advised not to resist. God is striving, not just to bathe us in beautiful feelings, enhanced by the wonderful resonance of centuries-old Quaker formulas, although those beautiful feelings are as potentially addictive as the ecstasies and dogmatic certainties of other Christian movements.  God is also prompting us over truth: are we in fact yielding? Are we repenting (without useless shame and self-abasement but with honesty?) Are we minding our own inventory, or are we busy taking the inventories of others' inadequacies?

All of this applies to every individual reader of the first Advice, but also to the church as a whole--the Quaker church and the whole Body of Christ. The world continues its sophisticated and organized resistance to the strivings of God:
  • huge corporations place profits before long-term sustainability, and politicians conspire to let them get away with it, though as individuals many of those businesspeople and politicians are actually decent people
  • in its eleventh year, the war in Afghanistan (just to pick on one war of many) creeps across the Pakistan border, killing people whose complaints against the forces hunting them may or may not be well-founded, as well as killing others who were just in the wrong place
  • war and national "security" expenditures threaten the USA with bankruptcy, leading to calls for slashing budgets for the "general welfare" (a constitutional term) while military budgets remain sacred
  • those who argue for indefinite detentions and coercive interrogations of their fellow human beings are protected from accountability, while "kill lists" are drawn up without due process
  • the powerful rhetoric of religion is mobilized to suppress minorities, nuns, dissidents, prophets
... and far too many churches are content to do as I did--bask in the warm glow of righteous feelings instead of risking God's demand to live in love and truth and to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.

Dear church! What do we need to do to wake up and rise up--not just as individual believers and churches but as a worldwide body determined to live in love and truth? The reality is that not all of us are ever going to be simultaneously ready to respond equally, all in the same way--we need a division of labor. We need a whole new alliance between those who emphasize love and those who emphasize truth; those who are steeped in tradition and the enthusiastic new convert; those who are rooted in their cherished homelands and home congregations, and those who are trying to be honest bridgebuilders across cultures. Probably we'll have even more conflicts as we gather courage in giving greater voice to the promptings of truth--that won't be the end of the world. Truth is insistent--but love is persistent.



"Why are Pussy Riot girls still in prison?"

"Federal judge orders Pentagon to turn over Guantanamo videos."

"We’re in the midst of Pentecost right now, and I can’t think of a better time to discuss the equality of women in God’s new Kingdom than the season in which we celebrate the boundary-breaking work of the Holy Spirit." (And almost simultaneously, "'Biblical Proofs' for the Feminine Face of God in Scripture.")

Missiological motherlode: Regnum Edinburgh 2010 series, with several free downloads. (Thanks to Darrell Jackson for the link.)

Flannery O'Connor reads from her own works.

John Huston's Let There Be Light (1946)... "so legendary for its censorship controversy that its sheer power as a film has been easy to miss."

"2012's Best Linux Desktop: Linux Mint 13."



"Sitting on Top of the World": I first heard this song in the early 1970's, as performed by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, in concert at Carleton University in Ottawa. This version is by the extraordinary Doc Watson, who died earlier this week. Listen to the wonderful story he tells before beginning the song.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Johan, for bringing the
great Doc Watson to the attention of Friends. He was 89 years old, and totally blind for his whole life, but he died only after a bad fall at his home. In southwestern Virginia and in western North Carolina, his death was on TV and in the front pages. He was not only a gifted guitarist and singer, but a deeply Christian gentleman; he played with many other musicians, including modern folk musicians like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, as well the stalwarts of folk music and bluegrass. Jeremy Mott

Johan said...

You're welcome. I'm proud to have lived on the same planet as people like Doc Watson!

'Mela said...

This is wonderful, Johan!

Johan said...

Thank you, Pamela! Best wishes for your preparations for July 4.