Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Doubting in the search for common ground

Sunday promises to be an interesting day. Some of us from our Quaker meeting are going to visit a Quaker church to experience how it conducts its services.

At our “unprogramed” meeting, we worship in silence. Our lack of doctrine and dogma makes us pretty much a theological blank slate.

The stirrings of spirit begin in inner stillness.

At “programed” or “pastoral” Friends churches, congregations have pastors and they worship, well,...we’ll see.

For decades, the divided Quakers have been trying to find common ground, or at least reach a better understanding of each other.

The Sunday visit, and a companion exchange visit to our meeting house in May, can be seen as part of that effort.

Those of us planning to make the trip Sunday, got a hint of what awaits us when we received a welcoming e-mail from the Church’s pastor.

He called the up-coming visit “exciting.”

To prepare us for pastoral, programed worship, he e-mailed the biblical text to be discussed Sunday.

As you might imagine, we “unprogramed” Friends are not prone to Biblical quotations or close reading of Biblical text. Our “text,” such as it is, is spoken out of the silence by those who are moved by the spirit to speak.

In silent worship, anyone has the potential of being a “minister.”

So what is the text the pastor forwarded?

It is John 20:19-29 and recounts how “Doubting Thomas,” on the day after the resurrection, came to believe that Christ was risen from the dead.

The passage begins with a stunner:

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Whoa! Hold it right there!

Wasn’t Jesus a Jew? Weren’t the disciples Jews?

Are we Quakers on the same page about that?

What’s with this “for fear of the Jews” business?

That’s a little like saying you lock your doors for fear of Americans, or Christians, or human beings.

No, Jews were on both sides of that locked door.

John is starting with a big credibility problem.

Talk about doubting!

This guy and/or his numerous translators and transcribers clearly have their own agenda. It’s called “enemy making.” Christ had some things to say about that.

Okay, with raised brow, let’s pick up on the passage:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Perhaps Jesus (or John) is saying that we should forgive the kind of prejudice we see in the first part of the passage. I’d like to think so. Could this be a candidate for common ground?

Most of what happens next in the passage focuses on Thomas, the infamous doubter. At this point, I’m with Thomas. I doubt too — not Jesus, but John.

As for the resurrection, my belief — and this could cast me into some kind of eternal damnation — is that the resurrection is no more and no less than one of history’s greatest metaphor.

In preparation for the excitement of our Sunday get together, the pastor has added “queries” for us to consider for discussion about John’s scripture:

One of them is: "What captures your attention from this passage?"

If the answers are anything like mine, they should clearly expose diversity and differences among Quakers.

Finding common ground will be exciting indeed. Not to prejudice the proceedings, but my guess is it resides beyond words, written or spoken.

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Anonymous B Hansen said...

Hi, I was moved by your struggle to stay open-minded, in contrast to the minister's assumption that after you see a statement in print in the bible, you will have to agree with him.

We have a branch of the family that believes every word of the bible is literally true, which inspired me to read the book The Year of Living Biblically, which I totally enjoyed.

10:03 AM  

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