November 18, 2004

No Free Speech in the Church?

Without wanting to disrupt the ongoing sharing of our faith stories, I also felt the structure of on-going scripture study has been helpful to this discussion. So I'm returning to James. Others can freely post on other matters of course.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

-- James 3:1-5 (NRSV)

I'm not sure what I can say about this passage. Its sense is so transparent that the words speak for themselves.

The notes to the NRSV look at how James speaks of teachers. He implies he is one of them. He also seems to imply that the office of teacher is a voluntary one. That is to say, it neither appointed nor required. Any are free to do it. But most should choose not to.

James wants teachers to have matured sufficiently to be living blameless lives before they set out to teach. That suggests to me that there were troubles in the Christian faith with teachers living less than blameless lives. And maybe teachers who got themselves into trouble by being too quick to speak.

This seems in accord with early Quaker practice. There is a lovely little book by an early (second generation -- I think) Friend named Samuel Bownas. The book is called A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister It provides much good advice.

It is also contrary to the spirit of most Quaker Meetings I'm familiar with. The freedom of the meeting seems to dominate modern Quaker culture. We place ourselves at the mercy of folks who want to talk about their cat, or the colour of rain on autumn leaves. We do so as we trust that sometimes one Friend's cat or the colour of rain on autumn leaves may speak to the condition of the meeting. We also do so as we believe earlier generations were too quick to silence divergent voices.

Somewhere I think there is a middle ground. And for those who take the work of speaking in the gathered assemblies of the faithful, the advices and considerations of both Samuel Bownas and James the Just may offer much help.


At 10:49 a.m., Blogger Larry said...

I wish everyone could experience the Langley Hill Friends Meeting in Northern Virgina; they are the soul of patience. Old man Larouche (the facist's father) used to come every Sunday and present them with a diatribe. When he passed there was a lot of glory involved that would not have been there otherwise.

Another man used the meeting for therapy--for months; one lady started walking out whenever he rose. But guess what? Ellie and I went back after several years absence, and he is one of the most creative and mature Friends there.

Everyone is at a different place-- on a different time schedule: we meet rough, unvarnished, immature, vulgar friends, and through the years they turn into weighty Friends. And we had a part in their growth.

One creative approach may be to get to know that person better. You may help facilitate their growth (and I'm not denying that you may feel led to talk to them about messages; if you have a relationship and speak in love, you will be heard gladly.)

Praise the Lord.

At 1:29 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

I didn't know that about Quakers - that anyone of the assembly could speak. Obviously not so in the Catholic church ... at most, a member of the congregation might be the one who reads the scriptural "reading" for that day but only the deacons and/or priests preside. But this is changing somewhat as we run out of priests ... hey David, you were looking for a job, right? :-)

At 2:19 p.m., Blogger david said...

Sorry Crystal. Last I heard being in a monogamous relationship was a barrier to the Catholic priesthood. That and I don't do too well in pyramids.

At 4:33 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

There's an interesting topic - vows of celibacy. Perhaps a priest in the Eastern Orthodox church or an Episcopal priest, then? You'd make a good preacher :-)

At 7:13 a.m., Blogger Marjorie said...

I think its possible to become a Catholic priest who is married if you were married before you became a priest. So there's still hope for you, David. At least you've got a better shot at it than I do.

At 7:39 a.m., Blogger david said...

My understanding is that a person already married cannot become a priest per se. A Catholic who is married to a non-Catholic may get an annulment and tehn becoem a priest. A married priest from the Episcopal or Lutheran traditions could convert to cathlocism and enhter teh catholic priesthood with wife in tow.

I doubt the Pope would recognize my work as a Quaker as the equivalent to priestly office for that purpose.


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