Welcome the King.
I’m really enjoying (and nearly through) the book “Holy Envy” by Barbara Brown Taylor. It’s challenging to any of us from Christian traditions who’ve grown comfortable with our own set of answers. And there are many quotable bits in it, but I’ll settle for sharing just this one I just recently read.
From her chapter: “The God You Didn’t Make Up”
…Maybe “spirituality” was another of those words we use without thinking very much about what we mean. So I started asking people what they meant by it, building a list of definitions that included everything from “Spirituality is an escape hatch for people who would rather live in heaven than on earth” to “Spirituality is anything that helps you feel closer to God.”
Finally I asked my friend Judy, who spent many years as a student of Sufism and who embodies fana - the self-annihilating love of God - as well as anyone I know. When I asked her to define spirituality for me, she thought for a moment and said, “Spirituality is the active pursuit of the God you didn’t make up.” I loved that. I also did not know what it meant.
That’s a mediocre quote from her book. There are lots of even better ones that I should have noted in chapters back when I ran across them. It will be worth re-reading later.
Has anyone metioned Bonhoeffer recently?
He addresses that, too
Sold. I’m putting it on hold.
Edited to add thank!
Edited again to share this quote which begins a review of the book I’ve just started reading.
The only clear line I draw these days is this: when my religion tries to come between me and my neighbor, I will choose my neighbor…Jesus never commanded me to love my religion.” —Barbara Brown Taylor
You won’t be disappointed with this one, Mark … I just now finished it.
And I know you are “sold” already - but I still can’t resist sharing this further excerpt from near the end (just pages away from the excellent quote you shared above). It is probablhy longer than I should properly copy … but given that this is likely helping sell her book, (and more than that, given what I feel I now know of the author’s heart) - I seriously doubt she would begrudge one of her fans sharing her work this way here.
When I first began teaching Religion 101, students would sometimes tell me they were scared to study other religions for fear of losing their faith. It was an odd concern, on the face of it. Would studying Spanish make them lose their English? Would traveling to Turkey cost them their US passport? I had a stock response to their concern: engaging the faith of others is the best way to grow your own. Now, years down the road, I have greater respect for their unease. To discover that your faith is one among many—that there are hundreds of others that have sustained millions of people for thousands of years, and that some of them make a great deal of sense—that can rock your boat, especially if you thought yours was the only one on the sea. If your faith depends on being God’s only child, then the discovery that there are others can lead you to decide that someone must be wrong—or that everyone belongs, which means that no religion, including yours, is the entire ocean. The next time I teach the course I will try to be more honest. “Engaging the faith of others will almost certainly cause you to lose faith in the old box you kept God in,” I will say. “The truths you glimpse in other religions are going to crowd up against some of your own. Holy envy may lead you to borrow some things, and you will need a place to put them. You may find spiritual guides outside your box whom you want to make room for, or some neighbors from other faiths who have stopped by for a visit. However it happens, your old box will turn out to be too small for who you have become. You will need a bigger one with more windows in it—something more like a home than a box, perhaps—where you can open the door to all kinds of people without fearing their faith will cancel yours out if you let them in.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Holy Envy (p. 210). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
In other parts of the book, the author speaks of the ‘holy envy’ she felt when a Muslim Imam reassured her visiting Christian class that he would not be trying to convert them, but that he hoped that their visit would help them become even better Christians, better Jews, … better people. Taylor then wondered why her own faith tradition did not often extend such extravagent hospitality - too often instead remaining in a closed box with the fearful conviction that the gain of anybody else must be a loss for the Christian faith. Her book is full of inspiring things God taught her and her students … through practitioners of other faiths or even no faith at all.
I also worry sometimes about sharing lengthy quotes but I relish the uplift I feel when I get to see the world from a more expansive perspective. When I was a kid I remember noticing that worldviews could vary between quite narrow to very large. There were times when I felt protective toward my current WV but then I realized that whenever a smaller one was eaten by a larger it was never simply destroyed; rather it would become integrated into a wider schema. Rather than be a defender of smaller views I’d rather be a defender of better understanding. None of it is really mine so may the more inclusive view win out!
That does sound familiar. Belated merry Christmas, Dale.
The discussion in the Bad things happen to good people thread reminds me of a book I read last year (Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths by Joseph Abraham) – parts of it were very bleak, but it made me think a lot, and part of its purpose was to dispel the myth of the “good king” and posit that most leaders in the history of the world were bullies of one kind or another. Anyway, @Mervin_Bitikofer’s points about how we forget how easy it is to become the oppressor reminded me of this quote:
The ancient Romans terrorized children with their version of the boogieman, 'Hannibal ad portas!" – ‘Hannibal is at the gates!’ Today we must constantly terrorize ourselves by repeating ‘Hitler ad portas.’ That, perhaps, is the highest purpose of Holocaust studies: to teach us that Hitler and a long line of would-be Hitlers are always at the gates. We are always one demagogue away, we are always one angry, jaded electorate away, from letting Hitler slip back inside the walls of civilization, assemble his brutalizers, and resume his slaughter.
To these concerns, we must also add the worry that just as we all are potential Jews, we are all potential Nazis as well. … To protect ourselves and each other, we must become aware that we are all recovering alcoholics, we all have the potential to relapse into Nazism. The solution is that we recognize and constantly guard against the pitiless and the evil within ourselves as well as in others.
Reminds me of a discussion in my JC Women in Film class before I transferred to Cal. I no longer recall the movie but it must have involved an oppressive ruler because at one point someone asked aloud “why don’t we ever give the power to a woman?” My comment was that if power was the kind of thing we awarded on merit we might find a much better class of men to award it to as well, Gandhi for example. Unfortunately it is something that must usually be seized and those with scruples rarely try.
…because it holds no attraction?
Surely not for me. But I imagine for those who would welcome it for the opportunity to do for some real good, that inclination would rarely align with a willingness to do “whatever it takes”. That sort of conflict would probably only very rarely win out at the pig trough of politics.
@Kendel, looks like I have some more Taylor to quote, chapter and verse as it were. From the first chapter p 22, talking about what her students in world religions class will really be working on in the class.
Some may call it “ultimate reality” instead, but their questions will be the same. What is true and what is not? How did they come to believe what they believe? If the bottom falls out, how far will they fall? If there is only one God, why are there so many religions?
What I know and most of them do not yet is that even people who belong to the same religion do not agree about what they mean when they say “God”. Some mean a loving daddy, while others mean a cosmic judge. Some see Jesus on a cross and some see him on a white horse with a sharp sword in each hand. Some frankly admit they do not know what they mean, though they know they ought to - though they have prayed hard for some clear word from above on those nights when the sound of their own heart scares them to death.
In chapter two, p29 where she quotes Huston Smith, I learned I may be dispositionally a particular kind* of Hindu when it comes to the divine.
Hinduism is the great psychologist of the religions, he wrote. It knows that people are different and offers them different paths to union with the divine. Some choose a scholarly path and others a path of service. Some choose a path of meditation and others a path of devotion. Some devote themselves to Vishnu and some to the Divine Mother. Some shun the worship of deities altogether, striving to realize God in themselves with no decoys.* …
Yet this was precisely the problem for some Christians I knew - not just the part about realizing God in the self, but also the part about endorsing more than one way to God.
That gives me some insight into why I and my approach I describe rubs so many the wrong way. Hopefully some will find some use for the dissonance that causes. Really all should feel vindicated to follow their own way, though realizing that indicts me too for all the times I’ve opined here about what a shame it is that only those educated at a seminary seem to really tap into what is best in their religion. Maybe the Hindus have it right. Evolutionarily, since culture is its primary vessel for us now, it would probably be most advantageous to live in a community with diverse dispositions even with the challenges that entails for cohesion.
Krishna was not who gave Maggie, Rich Stearns and George Müller clear-cut and objective connected dots of evidence.
If it helps set your mind at ease, Dale, Taylor doesn’t try to deny, or cover over the fact that different religions can and do make incompatible claims … I.e. There are some claims you would not be able to accept without rejecting something claimed in the other religion. She isn’t denying that such things still exist.
What she challenges is the notion that everything from some other religion must be against or in tension with Christianity. The unfortunate mental model that “one religion’s gain” must equal “the other religion’s loss” contributes to a lot of unecessarily elevated blood pressure on the part of Christians.
I guess I’m still reacting…
Exactly how many real gods can we expect to find and how many of which we might “just happen to count on” be trustworthy?
Even here on this “clearest of issues” for the Christian, there is more complication than you are characteristically willing to admit (even setting aside the suspicion that outsiders have of the trinity being our way of sneaking three Gods in as one - to which Christians will impatiently reply with their historically hammered out - now stock responses) - but that aside: so we are to have one and only one God. Very good. Hindus in some sense can also be said to be monotheistic in that above their millions of gods, they too - have a highest God. We then carefully do not bestow that same label on anything or anyone else - but we get around it by having myriads of angels. Or saints. Protestants might not directly pray to any of these other beings, but they would have their own languages of veneration. An outside appraiser might rightfully be forgiven for seeing something of a mess if she was tasked with determining who the real monotheists are, outwardly claimed labels aside.
I am talking about the personal God for whom we have objective evidence as opposed to being denialist about it.
Joy and Strength for the Pilgrim's Day : Mary Wilder Tileston : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
I’m wondering if prayer is not more the attitude than it is the words.