Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Long before I came into the light I was steeped in science. BS in physical science at Duke, a year at medical school.

When I got to seminary, the language was so imprecise. I soon realized that religious talk is not proper language, which has a precision--one specific meaning to each word, understood by all in that discipline. The Bible was nothing like that.

I eventually decided it was poetry; for years I've gone around telling people that the Bible is poetry--every word of it, and that poetry is the highest form of truth. (That has shock value anyway.)

Ellie and I have had extended conversations with friends who object to religion as such, and want to "talk philosophy" - actually religion. One friend said to us "why do you keep talking about metaphors?" Poor boy; he really didn't know what a metaphor is.

I try to explain to folks like him. God is a metaphor: you cannot speak properly of God; you cannot define God; God is totally other. Nothing we can say about God can possibly be anything other than a finger pointing to the Indescribable.

I've eventually come to see that many fundamentalists just live in a different thought world; they're radical materialists. They tell us they've been born again, but 'born of the spirit?'; like Nicodemus they don't know what that means.

That is the great divide among religious folks: those who see everything literally, materially, and those interested in spirit.

The only hope for our society is for a spiritual revolution!!!


kiznath said...

Hi Larry - I have a couple of questions/comments for you:
First, what is the difference between a Quaker and a Protestant (I guess that's what I am)? I love to read your comments, and I'm not big into labels, I'm just wondering out of curiosity. I grew up CRC and now attend a very large non-denom church.

Second, I think we've forgotten how big God really is. And I know we won't ever understand the extent of who he is. But sometimes it frustrates me that we're made in his image, wired to pursue knowledge, only to find that he is impossible to understand.

Larry said...

This is really good stuff, Kiz; you're gonna stretch my mind.

First, Quaker and Protestant. You may get a different answer from every Quaker you ask, or every Protestant for that matter. But for me a Quaker is a radical Protestant. I call myself an evangelical, Methodist, Quaker, Universalist, which no doubt shocks some people; but there is no inherent contradiction.

Quakers came out of the radical Protestant culture that more or less departed from Anglicanism. In colonial America (VA for example) they were called by some of the establishment the 'nonconforming brethren'. That included Puritans, Presbyterians, and Quakers.

The Quakers were on the radical left wing, and they basically differ from other Protestants in having no external authorities; the only authority is the individual conscience, that of God in you and/or in me.

They never perceived the Bible as the final authority like Protestants in general were said to, although they found guidance in it. They had no clergy.

Re your frustration that we can't understand God. We're finite, made in God's image, yes, but also made of clay. However I think we can understand God, at least his will for us-- uncertainly, falteringly, but truly.

This verse in 1st John expresses best my own feeling about me and God:

"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."

And then Paul said something similar in 1st Corinthians, what I call the Great Love Poem:

13:12 "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

Ask me some more questions; I love it-- and hope this helps you.

Marjorie said...

You shocking? I don't believe it! ;-)

I would be cautious in suggesting that those who view the Bible literally get it wrong -- it seems too similar to those who would say that the Bible should only be read literally and that those who read it metaphorically are wrong. The Bible, like God, is too big and too complex to be contained with simple descriptions, mere words. Of course, I understand your frustrations at the warped interpretations that are often narrow-mindedly applied to many of its passages. I just am cautious about falling into the same trap that we see others have fallen into.

To Kiznath, I would add that I am a Protestant and another difference between Quakerism and Protestantism is the form worship takes. Quakerism is Christianity stripped bare (I read that somewhere) and the worship involves waiting worship, sitting quietly waiting for the Spirit to speak and that those who feel so moved will stand and say something. From what I understand (and I rest easy knowing Larry will correct my errors), there are no hymns, prayers, readings, sermons, etc. during the Quaker meeting generally. As a personal matter, I have to get myself to one of these meetings to experience it for myself.

Larry said...

Marjorie and Kiznath:
Kiz, Marjorie's description of Quaker worship is essentially accurate for unprogrammed Quakers, although prayers, hymns, and even sermons are by no means completely absent. I tend to preach every Sunday, but rarely over 3 minutes.
At my first visit to a silent worship meeting I was dumbfounded. "Is it possible that these folks are sitting here waiting on the Holy Spirit?". Yes, I had to admit after being there a while, that's exactly what happened.
Basically there's no distinction between layman and clergy; there are no clergy, and whatever oral ministry God brings forth is through the mouths of ordinary people.

Marjorie, I agree that those who view the Bible only literally don't necessarily get it wrong. They may miss a lot of the value of a passage, but I know thousands of good honest, sincere, active Christians whose understanding appears to be primarily limited to the literal. They are at a different place. Actually the faith is much more a matter of feeling and will than of intellect.

What frustrates and depresses me are those among the 'hireling clergy' who have a broader grasp but seem to make little or no effort to impart it to their constituents; they don't want to "rock the boat". Jesus didn't mind rocking the boat.

Thanks to both of you for stirring up my old brain cells to the point of writing these words.

david said...

Great posting here Larry. Though I'm inclined to think most other human language is imprecise as well -- its just that nobody notices it. For example, how many Quakers do you know who quake? And most Protestants I know don't protest.

Larry said...

I agree about 'imprecise', Kwak, except that the first principle of scientific discourse is to use precise language.

Re quaking: I never understood it and never did it.

Re protesting: You should know me well enough now to realize that I violently protest against almost everything. In particular I protest emphatically about the general degradation that English is undergoing in our generation. It appears that what we knew as good English is being inexorably replaced by the 'TV-speak' of the situation comedies. But I suppose Shakespeare felt the same way in his days.

Blessings and thanks to all.

Marjorie said...

following Larry's thought about that degradation of English...I hate the temporary road signs I see near construction -- Highway workers, give'em a brake. Do they think this is a cute pun? I don't, I think its scary.

I saw a rubber stamp in a craft supplies store in December. The stamp had a picture of a duck wearing a Santa hat and the words "Christmas Quaker." I kept staring at it, I think it was missing a 'c', it should have been Quacker for the duck. Unless it was some sort 'in joke' for Friends. I should have bought it.

Amanda said...

I am so eating up this blog, and so glad I found it.

And that's my big profound comment.


Larry said...

Thank you, Amanda.