Monday, August 24, 2009

Only One Christ - A message in Meeting on August 23rd

The following message was given at 15th Street yesterday (in words pretty close to this, though I am writing now from memory).

Our minds sometimes trick us into thinking that we have to choose between two seemingly different and opposing things when in reality they are only two sides of the same thing. For instance, we may think that we need to choose between justice and peace, between contemplation and action, or between faith and works. We Friends, at various times in our history have been especially prone to fooling ourselves that we have to choose between an "inner" Christ or an "outer" Christ.

If we really did have to make this choice most of us would probably choose the "inner" Christ, if only because it is primarily within us that we are able to hear Him and feel His presence. The Jesus of history may seem far away and hard to be sure about. We like John's description of Christ as the Word that was with God from the Beginning, as the Life that wells up in us, as the Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world. But John also said of this same Word that at a particular time and place it "became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth". It is important to me to know that when I wait on the living Spirit of Christ in our meetings and feel his presence here that I am also touching at least the outer hem of the garment of that man who "dwelt among us" in the flesh, who got his feet dirty walking the dusty roads of Palestine, who touched people and let them touch him, who started out as a baby and had to "grow in wisdom and in stature" just as we do. Who knew about hunger and thirst and weariness. Who could be tempted. Who was moved by compassion. Who could rejoice with his friends at a wedding and who could endure suffering and even death when that was the price of faithfulness. In worshipping his living Spirit today I am also worshipping the man Jesus Christ, not choosing one over the other.

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16 Comments:

OpenID petersontoscano said...

You give me much to reflect upon. I have a strange and wonderful relationship with both the inner and the outer Christ (yes, I too am an innie and an outie) I get so moved by some of the Gospel accounts (Mark 5 for example). I understand how some have USED Jesus for an agenda, but I look past that to the documents we have and the extraordinary example/teaching/provocation of Jesus.

3:50 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Amen!

6:20 PM, August 24, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Friend. I would have been happy to be at meeting with you that day. I attended the Friday evening meeting with my boyfriend when we were in Manhattan a few weeks ago. We'd be happy to have you visit us down here!

9:25 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:05 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Peterson and Bill, thanks for your responses. I am a fan of each of your blogs (which are, of course, quite different from each other).

Anonymous, I'm sorry I wasn't there to meet you when you came to the Friday evening meeting (I assume you're speaking of the one in New York in the 15th Street Meetinghouse, which I no longer attend with any regularity). Though I seldom travel very much, I might well consider a visit to you as well. Could you let me know where you are located and what Meeting you normally attend, if any?
If you'd rather not give such details on a blog you could email me. If you remove the extraneous equal signs, inserted to foil webcrawling spam generators, you'll find my email address embedded in the following: ==r=i=c=h=a=c=c=e=t=t=a=e=v=a=n=s=@e=a=r=t=h=l=i=n=k=.=n=e=t==

12:08 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

in my previous comment, part of the disguised email addresss I attempted to leave was lost. The entire disguised email address is:
r=i=c=h=a=c=c=e=t=t=a=e=v=a=n=s=
@ =ea=r=t=h=l=i=n=k=.=n=e=t=

12:12 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Rich,

Thanks for sharing your message, one we in the Society of Friends need so much today. It brings to remembrance what Howard Brinton said in Friends for 300 Years about how Quakerism is a living balance.

I especially was moved by your last line.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

9:59 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Paul L said...

My thanks too, Rich. You've put your finger on an important truth.

1:52 PM, August 25, 2009  
Anonymous George Amoss Jr. said...

Rich, you inspire me to a kind of jazz riff on themes from George Fox's Great Mystery:

"Christ is come in the flesh," and this is the flesh he is in, which is alive in the light, which is Christ; the flesh of those who know his flesh, who eat his flesh, who are of his flesh and of his bone; the flesh of the saints, the body of Christ, the temples of God, who dwells in them as love; and they witness the flesh of Christ here and now, the substance, the end of jangling and war, the end of sin; the judgment, righteousness, and mercy, the power of God, the living gospel, whose name is Christ the light of the world, not distinct from his saints, come in the flesh to walk in them who have turned to the light in their hearts.

11:39 AM, August 26, 2009  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Considered in itself, it's not clear why this message needed to be said: Christ is Christ. But perhaps Rich perceived a need for it specifically in 15th Street Meeting? I know that there are liberal Quakers who talk about "the Spirit of Christ" and don't mean Christ. Are there people like that in 15th Street Meeting? The nature of that meeting remains a little obscure to me.

2:16 PM, August 26, 2009  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

To answer Licia's question:

There are many kinds of Quakers in 15th Street Meeting, including some who do not speak of Christ at all.

Some others speak of Christ and seem to have experiences of His presence but are not sure that He and the man Jesus (or "Yeshua" in his own language) are one and the same. I was in the same condition myself for many years.

I think this is a kind of confusion rather than a form of dishonesty. As the message implied, it may come from the misleading impression that Christ must be either "inward" or "outward" but cannot be both.

I felt strongly led to give this message. I have no special insight on who it may have been intended for.

3:35 PM, August 26, 2009  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

I call it "word magic."  People get attached to a word, but not to what it means, so they try to use the word while making it mean something else.

I've never entirely understood the psychology of this phenomenon.  If you want to say it's "confusion" rather than "dishonesty"--well, maybe it's some of both.

5:52 PM, August 26, 2009  
Anonymous George Amoss Jr. said...

Rich, I would say that "dishonest" and "confused" don't exhaust the possibilities. Could you agree that words, especially religious/theopoetic words, tend to be multivalent? That "X is X" assumes too much and accounts for too little, and that we don't know what people mean until they tell us? George Fox did real magic with religious words, angering good Christians left and right by showing them what words could mean. As promised, I've developed a serious post on my blog from that little improvisation on some of his comments related to "Christ has come in the flesh"; your comments are welcome.

5:40 PM, August 29, 2009  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Licia and George,

Your responses certainly come from different directions!

To Licia: I think that this is not just a question of being attached to a word but not its meaning. There really is something quite confusing to the rational mind about the incarnation of God's Word as a man of flesh and blood. Such questions arise as: "if Christ is eternal and was always present with His people, what changed when he became flesh and dwelt among us? And how do we know he did?" I can feel the presence of Christ today as a matter of direct experience, but the things he did and said in Palestine are known to me principally through writings of people I've never met and some of whom never met Him either, in the flesh. As I've progressed in my own spiritual journey I've come to recognize the Jesus of history and the Christ of experience as one person, and also to feel that his humanity is as important to me as His divinity. Nevertheless, I'm not prepared to say that a person still struggling with these questions hasn't really known Christ at all but is using His name to denote someone or something else.

George,
I will look at your blog later today to see the post you mention. Perhaps it will help me better understand what you are saying here. I think I would agree that "we don't know what people mean unti they tell us", though it raises the troubling prospect that we then won't know what they mean when they tell us what they mean until they tell us that, too, an so on ad infinitum. I think if we can be as clear and precise as possible in our use of words to begin with we can shorten the path to accurate understanding. (and yes, I acknowledge the irony of having expressed this thought in a pair of sentences that probably have to be read several times before they can be parsed).

I confess, too, to a certain discomfort with the idea of composing a "jazz riff" on the writings of George Fox.

At another time I might want to engage in dialog with you and other Friends who use the term "post-modern". I have little understanding of what it means and have a sneaking suspicion that there's not much of value in it. That said, I know I've been wrong before, so maybe I have something to learn. Stranger things have happened.

9:28 AM, August 31, 2009  
Anonymous George Amoss Jr. said...

Rich, given your discomfort, I thank you for publishing that "jazz." I'm pleased (after revision for readability) with the little essay/post it led to.

If I may say so, I'd be leery of sneaking suspicions: they're sneaky, after all. So I applaud your consideration of possible dialogue about postmodern thinking; you're welcome when you're ready. Of course, not all postmodern thinkers think the same thoughts, so you may want to start by looking at the material on my blog site: let me tell you what I mean.

Thanks for talking with me.

8:48 PM, August 31, 2009  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Rich, you write,

"There really is something quite confusing to the rational mind about the incarnation of God's Word as a man of flesh and blood."

I guess I don't have a rational mind by your standards, then, since it doesn't seem particularly confusing to me.  Not but what there are many people who don't think I have a rational mind. ;-)

"Such questions arise as: 'if Christ is eternal and was always present with His people, what changed when he became flesh and dwelt among us?'"

I don't think anything changed, since I think he created the world with Himself in it as an adult.  History prior to that is divinely inspired fiction.

"'And how do we know he did?'  I can feel the presence of Christ today as a matter of direct experience, but the things he did and said in Palestine are known to me principally through writings of people I've never met and some of whom never met Him either, in the flesh."

When you met him, did he identify himself as that person you had heard of, who once lived in Palestine?  If so, then that's how you know it.  If not, then why did you call him "Christ"?

"As I've progressed in my own spiritual journey I've come to recognize the Jesus of history and the Christ of experience as one person,"

Who did you think he was before you came to recognize this?  When I met Christ I knew immediately that he was Jesus.

"and also to feel that his humanity is as important to me as His divinity.  Nevertheless, I'm not prepared to say that a person still struggling with these questions hasn't really known Christ at all but is using His name to denote someone or something else."

Watch out for sidetracking questions of truth onto issues of whether you may be insulting somebody who has a different opinion. An awful lot of people (mostly liberals, I guess, but probably not exclusively) get these two questions so entangled they can never take a clear stand anywhere.

I think "Christ" always referred to Jesus until people living in a culture with Christian roots started trying to make the word mean something else.  Words acquire magic for some people in a cultural context.  They want the magic, but not the meaning that gave the word its power.  That's either confusion or dishonesty, or some of both.  But more importantly it just isn't valid.  Won't work.  A word without its meaning is just a sound or set of squiggles. People can keep it up for a while and think they are saying something, but eventually it degenerates into babble. The sad part of this is that sometimes as a result it becomes much more difficult to use the word with its true meaning and be understood.  C.S. Lewis calls this "verbicide."

9:29 AM, September 01, 2009  

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