Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Divine Role Within Personal Expression and Social Reform

What follows is something that has been weighing on me heavily this morning. Discussing the act of vocal ministry, a Friend noted that, while in the act of sharing a message, we aren't just God's mouthpiece, we are God. This makes me uncomfortable to contemplate. I would never wish to even come close to hinting that my mortal self was anything near to the Divine. While I do seek that which is God in others, I am far more comfortable emphasizing my own mortal self. Due to lots of soul-searching I know where my place is in the cosmos, and I would never grasp for a mantle that is not mine to embrace. Moreover, I would not take it on if I could, because I do not possess the human strength to bear the burden.

This is how I have always perceived of what the desired intent for vocal ministry should be.

Even so, if unbelievers or people who don't understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy. But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don't understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, "God is truly here among you."

I welcome the times that God is among myself and those with whom I worship, but I'm still troubled by the thought that I might be God, even for five minutes a week. Until one is capable of accepting the imperfect within oneself, it's difficult to see past flawed humanity in others. If I ever reach that point, I would think differently, but it is too easy to adopt a prideful attitude otherwise. The moving messages I and others am blessed to give are Divinely-inspired, but I see only the mark of a supernatural Higher Power, not the actual physical manifestation. The Bible is full of pronouncements and judgments warning us to avoid putting our ways in the place of God.

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

While participating in my first programmed (roughly, a more traditionally Western, Protestant style of worship that often also incorporates elements of unprogrammed worship. For more about unprogrammed worship, see link below) Quaker service ever, the pews in front of me contained pamphlets explaining silent worship to those unfamiliar with the concept. Dispersed within the instructions were references to specific scriptural passages. One of them very nearly jumped out at me and I've never forgotten it.

"Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine."

This is Jesus agonizing with pain, belief, and his role in the proceedings while on the cross. Yet, even as I read that particular passage waiting for worship to begin, I smiled in spite of myself. That verse had been beneficial long before I discovered that someone had recognized that it might be helpful to others in similar circumstances. The passage returns to mind ever time I know I must give a message that may not be received well or is likely to be misunderstood. Though I may not be undergoing excruciating suffering as was Jesus, I do feel anxious and uneasy, knowing I might very well endure more of both going forward. If I am honestly about to be the Father, I must say I don't feel the part.

Pleading and bargaining with God for more favorable outcomes is not especially pleasurable. I know that his ways will never destroy me or cause me undo harm, but they do force me to believe in the unknown and in the unable to be easily grasped. In my life, I like to be perfectly sure of all potential pitfalls and outcomes before I make a decision, any decision. I'm sure that's far from unusual. What happens after I stand, speak, and take my seat is similarly mysterious, much as the future itself is often perplexing. I've since stopped trying to make predictions, since they are almost always wrong.

Quaker unprogrammed worship
was an active rebellion against the convention of the time. Even today it is unmatched in its uniqueness. To be a follower of Jesus in any era requires sacrifice and a willingness to think beyond the present day. Christ was an anarchic, apocalyptic figure in his time and continues to speak to us today in that capacity. Recall his words. "So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last." This is a radical idea that contradicts all that society deems important.

Aleksandr Herzen, speaking a century ago to a group of anarchists about how to overthrow the czar, reminded his listeners that it was not their job to save a dying system but to replace it:

We think we are the doctors. We are the disease.

We should stop wasting energy trying to reform or appeal to it. This does not mean the end of resistance, but it does mean very different forms of resistance. It means turning our energies toward building sustainable communities to weather the coming crisis, since we will be unable to survive and resist without a cooperative effort.

We will have to continue to battle the mechanisms of the dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity. We will have to resist the temptation to fold in on ourselves and to ignore the cruelty outside our door. Hope endures in these often imperceptible acts of defiance. This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what the psychopathic forces in control of our power systems seek to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces we remain alive. And for now this is the only victory possible.

Our common humanity shines through through tiny acts like sharing a message during worship. What is said is led by the Spirit, but our human sides show through, too. Every minister receives guidance in a different way, and our unique experiences enrich everyone in attendance. God's words have many vessels. As for the passage above, I'm torn on whether I completely agree with it. I have seen God at work in my own life and of those around me, but I make no pronouncements beyond that which I am given. He is just as able of being a doom-laden prophet of the End Times as he is a sunny optimist. Any resistance movement, particularly in the First Century A.D. has a tendency to believe in a bunker, fortress mentality and it is into that environment where Jesus was born.

Once again, when times are uncertain and people are vulnerable, an ancient message resonates with many. We have had many such epochs in human history and we may well have many others. These will give rise to movements currently being birthed and persist beyond the current days. Some will flourish and some will wither on the vine. But the blessed irony of these troubled times is that something beneficial will be created, I firmly believe. It is only through these circumstances that anything ever does. Conditions will improve, people will feel more secure, and the need will diminish, but one always hopes that the movements, faiths, and organizations will push forward. After a time, they will grow stale and redundant, and will need to be replaced. Thus is the changing of the seasons, a work of art never finished, a canvass always in need of new brushstrokes.

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