Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who are we and what are we doing here?

I wrote this back at the end of December, and I'm not sure why I never posted it. But here you are...

I'm not sure this is ready for prime time, but I feel compelled to post.

An interesting thread on Facebook earlier this week began with the posit that the writer could not see a "place in the modern Pagan movement for spiritual values that do not embrace values of feminism, environmentalism, and the deepening of genuine, engaged community."

Now, I'm all over those values, but played devil's advocate, imagining a neo-pagan with strong patriarchal values, a sense of human entitlement to lord it over the earth, and a desire to live alone in the woods away from other homo sapiens.

And it went back and forth and was interesting, but what I wanted to get to in this post I'm writing was near the end of the thread, when the original poster, who is also a Quaker, talked about her experience of discernment, as an invaluable process to not just "believe whatever you want," but to hold your understandings up against a standard, to measure them and allow them to be tested. It's something she wishes she saw more of in the Pagan world.

And here's what rose for me: the difference between coming to an understanding of what we are, as individuals or as a group, vs. coming to answer the old question Tolstoy asked of Russian poverty, echoing Luke: "What then must we do?" That terrible, burning question, which I first ran into as the crux of the movie The Year of Living Dangerously, reminds me of friend Marshall Massey's description of early Friends as expectant courtiers, waiting for instructions by their Lord. It's a yank-your-life-around kind of question for people who try to address it fully.

But I think it often then overwhelms that first question, one I've been wrestling with in various ways in this blog: what is this "we" we talk so much about? and what about this other "we" I belong to over here? How does that work? And even deeper, what is this "I" thing I'm so attached to?

Maybe the balance between the two questions is like the urgent vs important dichotomy Scott Covey talks about. Or maybe (this is my take), the question of identity is not one the universe really cares about, but that we as homo sapiens find essential, like food and water and fiction. Whereas the universe actually does care about what then we must do.

OK, so as a professed non-Christian, I'm going to take a leap here: the distinction between these two questions is like the distinction between worshiping the person of Jesus and following his teachings. On one hand, some people get so caught up in the identity of being a Christian, and of following Jesus as a person who lived and breathed and died and was resurrected and saves and sits at the right hand of God and is part of the three-is-one, no he isn't, there's only one godhead and your mother wears army boots if you believe that and his divinity is reflective of universal light and no it's not it's light itself and your mama wears army boots and you're not a real Christian and and and and.

And so the nice reasonable people come along and say, let's just drop this whole worshiping Jesus thing and just be nice and reasonable and follow his teachings... well, the ones that are reasonable anyway, not the ones where he goes all I-am-the-way-and-my-way-or-the-highway and then we'll sing a nice song and and and... why aren't you paying attention to me?

My point is this: the hard questions need to be asked by a person who embodies them (or we need to understand them as being so embodied; stories about embodiment work almost as well for human beings as physical presence to that embodiment). Otherwise, we don't pay attention, and in particular we can't be a group united in approaching that embodiment. Without the identity, without the personhood, we hominids just plain lose interest. On the other hand, with an identity in hand, we tend to start paying more attention to the person than to the questions. It's a tough balance, and lots of groups (my own included) claim to have found the mechanism that makes it work. But it is always hard work.

No comments: