A good enough theology requires a balance of many perspectives.
Just as a good diet requires different food groups, healthy theology requires varied foods for the spirit. A healthy theological diet has what Bernard Loomer described as “size;” it embraces diversity around an evolving center.
While I believe that process theology provides the most holistic and inclusive basis for a healthy moderate and progressive theological perspective, I recognize that there are other perspectives that shape the theological journey.
For this column, I will reflect on the integration of silence, vision and action characteristic of the Quakers or Friends. My words will be evocative and practical rather than scholarly. I will relate how Quaker spirituality and theology have shaped my journey and belong in a good enough theological diet.
When someone from a liturgical church asks me what happens in a Quaker meeting, I often humorously reply, “nothing.” We sit around a circle in chairs, we listen for God’s voice, and now and again, someone stands up and shares words that they feel have emerged in the silence.
Quakers remind us that God speaks in a still, small voice – that God’s Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words. God’s Spirit intercedes and speaks within all of us, not an elect or chosen few. Within every life shines an inner light, the light that John’s gospel describes – the light that created the universe and enlivens each person. We live in a God-filled, God-inspired universe, in which the least likely – the vulnerable, outcast, youthful or physically or mentally challenged – reveal God’s presence.
Now, that’s a big vision: God is present in everyone’s life. There is a democracy of revelation that embraces both slave and master, outlaw and law-abiding citizen, alien and resident, poor and wealthy.
This big vision leads to big political and cultural consequences: If God is present in every life, then every life is precious and deserves justice and fairness. In early Quaker history, this affirmation included African slaves and the first Americans. Slavery and genocide are “heresies” because they deny God’s image in our brothers and sisters. (Later, Bishop Desmond Tutu would call apartheid a heresy for the same reason.) Deep down, we are “friends” of everyone, recognizing the divinity in others is at the heart of the Christian journey.
Vision leads to action, and so does contemplation. In many progressive and moderate churches, contemplation and action – as well as spirituality and justice – are placed in opposition. You can’t do both. Social action is combative and disturbs our spiritual equanimity; spirituality is navel-gazing that turns us away from justice and equality.
The Quakers saw contemplation and action as interdependent, complementary and requiring one another. Without contemplation, activism polarizes, repeats the sins of the oppressors and leads to personal burnout. Without action, contemplation becomes “so heavenly minded that it’s no earthly good.”
We need a spiritual vision – a vision of God’s omnipresent care, revealed in each creature. We discover that vision by taking time for silence that awakens us to the divine light in ourselves and others. We complete the circle by visionary action aimed at enabling all persons – indeed, all creatures – to have the opportunity to experience God’s inner light as their deepest reality.