Monday, November 10, 2008

Quadrilaterals, Quakers, and errr.....something else that begins with Q?

Random Quotes of the day:

"I've never felt comfortable around alligators."
"Do Catholics pick up their socks?"

I'm back at the Hesychia School for my final 2 weeks of training.

This morning we discussed Key Principles in the Tradition of Discernment. I really enjoyed this presentation and I'm looking forward to the follow up on Quaker clearance committees. We examined various models of Discernment and we touched on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is basically a process for theological reflection and decision making. For anything you are evaluating you look at it from four angles:
1) Scripture, 2) Tradition, 3) Reason and 4) Experience.
The idea is that these four areas form 'four legs of a stool' you need all of them to sit comfortably.

I remember when I was first introduced to the Quadrilateral when I lived in Lubbock. I thought it was an incredible tool. I still think it is helpful, but I think it has some limitations that people don't always acknowledge. The first is that people tend to view the four areas as listed in descending order of importance. This means Scripture is pre-eminent and all 3 other areas are modified to conform to it. If your experience disagrees with Scripture then your experience must be faulty. This can create some series 'Religious Schizophrenia'- it did in my life. I refused to alter my view of scripture and denied my own experiences that spoke differently. I almost broke under the weight of the tension between the two.

The second problem is that the Quadrilateral is limited. Take for example Peter's Vision in Acts Ch 10. Peter has a vision asking him to eat foods that the Torah said were unclean. Three times he has the vision and three times he refuses to eat. As soon as it is over he receives messages from Cornelius' house. He goes to the house of a gentile Cornelius, preaches and then the Spirit descends on them.

This begins the movement of the church opening up to gentiles and becoming more than a Jewish sect. What would happen to the Quadrilateral here?

Scripture - The Jewish scriptures are definitely weighted towards separation from gentiles.
Tradition - Again definitely weighted towards separation and exclusion of anyone non-Jewish.
Reason - This is a tricky one, but I suspect conventional thinking would have reasoned that separation was a good thing to avoid 'contamination' from non-Jewish ways.
Experience - Peter's experience definitely points to the inclusion of Gentiles, but a) experience is often viewed as the weakest of the four areas and b) Peter's vision is in direct conflict to Scripture, and in the Quadrilateral scripture is pre-eminent.

As I reflected this morning I became comforted in the fact that God will use whatever is at his disposal to get our attention. I remember when I was trying to discern whether to go as an exchange student to Czechoslovakia. I fasted and prayed and told myself that I could '...determine God's will for my life by how much I didn't want to do it.' I seriously believed that. God wanted me to 'suffer' and 'carry my cross' for him and so if I really didn't want to do something it must be his will. (It's surprising I never carried that line of reasoning into house cleaning, I would have had the cleanest abode on the block!)

My reasoning and discernment was faulty, but God used whatever means in his disposal to get me to Czechoslovakia. That decision to go there was the start of a chain of events that led me to move to the U.S.

God works through faulty theology - he has too, it's the only sort available to him!

We also talked about Quaker Discernment, and we will be experiencing a Quaker Clearness Committee later this week.

The afternoon topic was on Spiritual Direction with Persons in Addiction Recovery. I was disappointed by this to be honest. It felt a little more like 'Addiction 101'. I don't feel anymore equipped to work with addicts. I want to know what it means to work with someone who has the concept of a 'Higher Power'. This could be as far removed from my concept of God as another religion. Are there any common experiences in the Spiritual Lives of Addicts? Are there any particular pitfalls when discussing spirituality with an Addict? I don't feel any closer to answers to those questions tonight, but fortunately I have resources in Houston who I know I can talk too.


rich said...

I've fallen behind on your blog so I am trying to catch up.

I love the line "God works through faulty theology - he has too, it's the only sort available to him!"
I'm totally stealing it.

Scott Endress said...

I hope you're well- sounds like it has been great for you so far! I enjoyed this post.

Because neither Scripture nor tradition speak with one voice on many things but rather represent many expressions of faith over two thousand years, discernment using Bible/Tradition needs to be checked with reason and experience. In my SDI class, the stress is on the Jesus story as the main Story in spiritual direction and discernment. That has been sort of new and helpful to me. Peace.