Quakers & Capitalism — The Protestant (Quaker) Ethic & the Capitalist Spirit (via Through the Flaming Sword)

The interior of an old meeting house in the Un...

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Here’s the next installment in the book I’ve been writing on Quakers and Capitalism: The Protestant (Quaker) Ethic and the Capitalist Spirit The early, groundbreaking sociologist Max Weber, in his most famous book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904), offers a useful framework for approaching the relationship between the religious culture of early Friends and the social culture necessary (or at least optimal) for the rise of c … Read More

via Through the Flaming Sword

For some reason, this paragraph from the article fascinates me:

When you cannot achieve grace through sacraments, good works or confession, the only proof of grace is a way of life that is unmistakably different from that of others. This requires a certain withdrawal from the world. It requires the individual to supervise her own state of grace in her conduct—that is, it permeates the life with asceticism, forcing the “rationalization of conduct within the world for the sake of the world beyond,” as Weber put it. The requisite “rational” planning of one’s life in accord with God’s will forces you to reengage the world with a plan—or, more accurately, with a discipline (discipleship); that is, a self-conscious deliberateness that includes robust structures and processes for drafting the plan (discerning God’s will) and correcting mistakes through negative feedback (gospel order).

This description of the believers need for discipline describes the usual “Baptist” form of conversion and post-conversion interaction with the world. When we are converted, we are supposedly called to be “not of this world” yet we are simultaneously asked to have an impact upon it. Baptists haven’t given much thought to how this is done as a spiritual discipline. Sure, reading the bible is high on that scale of disciplinary measures, but there is no real advice about how to “supervise” our own states of grace.  This dichotomy leads to Protestant Christianity being seen as a culture so intermingled with the world that we have Christian pop culture as a result, which mimics culture, so that we have an excuse to interact with it. What I find about Quakerism that’s appealing is their discipline of silence. It’s a withdrawal with a view toward “a plan.” I don’t believe Baptists are taught to have a “plan” of interaction with the world. If they are it’s merely to bring as many Baptists into the fold as possible. So insistent is that plan that there isn’t much of a desire to follow up on all those conversions (discipleship).

Isn’t this just like capitalism? It may be a simplistic comparison, but think for a moment. There is a need for a product. People buy the product. Others want it. More product is made until finally the market is saturated. Product still gets made but there is no outlet for surplus and no plan to deal with the surplus. There is no thought of any kind taken of the ramifications of mass production, be it spiritual or material. There is no follow through or discipline, only production.

Hmmm. I had not heard of this article before and I’m glad I found it at QuakerQuaker.org. Good food for thought.


A Sermon in Books on Sunday Morning

This weekend, I had every intention of going to church. After a lonnnnnng weekend of 4th of July activities, fried Walleye fish sandwiches and cheese fries (did I say I’ve been off my “heart healthy” diet?), and rearranging the bedroom, I was ready for a leisurely Sunday. Being both Catholic and Baptist (no it’s not redundant or an oxymoron) I intended to go to Mass on Saturday and Baptist worship on Sunday. Well, we got lazy and watched a movie on Saturday instead. Ooops. If I were more scrupulous, I’d write that down for confession next weekend, but I’ve outgrown the scrupulosity I had when I first became Catholic. Still, I felt a small twinge of guilt.

Yesterday my husband and I rearranged our bedroom. It’s a long room and rearranging is not easy. I can’t help very much either since I have a bad back. But I gave it a go and was aching all over by day’s end on Saturday. We also had gotten a new mattress last week (an ordinary Bemco) because I could no longer sleep on the $1500 mistake of a latex foam mattress we bought last year. I would arise every morning since we bought the thing with what felt like severe arthritis. I could barely move around. It was so odd. This mattress was always billed as great for your back. Uh-no!! But this morning, after a day of heavy lifting and an Aleve cocktail, I got up freshly feng shue-d and rested in our rearranged bedroom and new mattress and got ready for church. Sunday school is always first up for Baptists who only have one worship service on Sunday. In this church, Sunday school was at 9:00 a.m. so, off I went with my bible and lesson book. I got there just in time for pre-Sunday school announcements. I chit-chatted with the ladies for a while and then sat through a good 25 minutes of prayer requests, which is really nothing but the women sitting around trading stories about who was sick and who was sicker. I’m all for prayer concerns, but this was silly. It’s akin to gossip and playing catch-up for the week. After that we finally got to the lesson about hospitality or something. The “proof” text was Job 31. The American Baptist curriculum we use is ok, but it’s by no means in-depth bible study. Most of it is lecture in written form. Of recent years the curriculum is spouting “ermergent-ese.” You know what I mean; where every word discussing the “new church model” ends in “al:” missional, intentional, relational, etc. Ugh.

Well, after the bell was rung for church (literally a little bell like those kept on hotel concierge desks), I started to go into the sanctuary with everyone else, but I fell back. I just couldn’t sit through another bland, Baptist worship service where the same hymns were sung and the same sermons preached. I felt a longing for something deeper, something more true; something to connect with that great Undercurrent of Life. It was communion Sunday (the first Sunday of the month) and I couldn’t face that either. Little bits of bread and little cups of grape juice passed around the pews did not in any way signify to me the deepest mysteries of the Eucharist. I felt that to take it would be a betrayal somehow. So, I packed up my gear (purse, book bag, bag of lettuce from Helen’s garden) and left while everyone filed into the sanctuary. I drove home and found my husband cleaning out the garage. There was a light summer breeze blowing through the trees and after dropping my bags on the kitchen chair, I headed out to our patio with a book. I opened up Brother Odd by Dean Koontz. Odd Thomas, the character of this series of Koontz’s, sees dead people. These dead people usually want him to solve their murders. In this novel, Odd is taking a long-needed retreat in a monastery in the mountains of California after having prevented a larger massacre at a shopping mall. His purpose is to retreat from his ordinary duties to the dead and heal his own soul. As I read partway into the chapter, I found this:

The world beyond this mountain retreat was largely barbarian, a condition it had been striving toward for perhaps a century and a half. A once glorious civilization was now only a pretense; a mask allowing barbarians to commit ever greater cruelties in the name of virtues that a truly civilized world would have recognized as evils. Having fled that barbaric disorder I was reluctant to admit that no place was safe, no retreat beyond the reach of anarchy… (page 64-65)

That’s how I feel most of the time right now. I feel that barbarians have been allowed to take charge of the hen-house and our only hope is a “chicken-run.” Many people, I’m sure, feel this way nowadays. Each thinks they are right in feeling this way and want to blame others, but regardless of who is “right” or who should be blamed, I feel as if the world has hurtled toward some barbarism much faster than anticipated and that words no longer mean the same things any longer. We’ve come to a war of ideas and dogmas. It’s the era of Big Brother speak in which the signifiers no longer signify long held beliefs but are being used against the definers of traditions in ways that bring confusion and anarchy. I also feel today, that I had learned far more sitting in my breezeway reading fiction than I could have listening to one sermon in a long line of spiritless sermons.

My retreat lately feels just like Odd Thomas’ retreat. It’s a falling back; a regrouping. It is a choice to choose non-action in a world that does nothing but mindlessly act merely because it feels good to our self-esteem to act. At what point is our character development more important than activism for activism’s sake? I wonder if anyone really knows why they argue endlessly for the beliefs that they do? I wonder what is solid and real and what is mere show and bluster; bread and circuses? I am also beginning to think that I’m an unfortunate product of my time (70s), my education (university) and my lack or conscience formation. I can soak up vast amounts of knowledge and “education” but I cannot honestly come up with a consistent ethic of my own. I have simply bought into the empty rhetoric of poststructuralism where there are no norms and where consistency is lacking. I had given up trying. I fall back on the argument that there is no use trying because there is no foundation on which to base concrete beliefs.

Increasingly, in my self imposed exile from belief, I’ve found that despite what Emerson said about consistency, there is a deep, deep truth to foundational thinking. Emerson did not say that consistency was the problem; foolish consistency was. We are living in an age, I think, of foolish consistency. One of the books that set me permanently on the road to Roman Catholicism is John A. Hardon’s The Catholic Catechism. It is beautifully written and far easier to read than the modern Catechism the church put out in recent years. Hardon writes at the beginning of the book about the age in which we live,

The world in which one lives keeps asking for evidence, it wants to be shown that what the believer believes is not mere illusion but objectively true. This same world protests that all human knowledge is unstable, that what people know today others will know better and more accurately tomorrow. So the man of faith must defend himself against the charge of dogmatism, as though what he believes now has always been true and will remain essentially unchanged in a universe whose only apparent constant is change. It would be tempting to try to respond immediately to both levels of criticism in our day. More effective is to look at ourselves and ask what too many Christians have taken for granted: What do we believe, and why? This will lead us into pastures that few Catholics, who may be severely orthodox, have ever visited. We are discovering that orthodoxy is no guarantee of perseverance and still less of living up to what the faith demands. Self knowledge as believers will deepen our loyalty and help evoke generosity, and in the process the commonplace objections will also be satisfactorily answered. (pages 29-30)

I suppose Hardon is saying that in discovering the reasons for our own belief we will answer the questions of our age. Ours is a time of surface thinking and surface solutions. We want change for change’s sake as if we are going to come up with anything new. There is nothing new under the sun, yet no one born form the 60s onward wants to believe that. Our churches, especially Protestant ones, are not asking us to deeply examine our beliefs. They are only asking us to enforce a prideful dogmatism and certainty about doctrine. They are only asking us to accept change just as the world wants to accept change. There is no substance in it. We are not asked to examine, test, and practice. I’m tired of wasting time on ineffective methods or theories that are merely the pet projects of mega-pastors and gospel shills. I want to get to the kernel, the very heart of ethics, the tried and true, the deep foundations, not just learn to spout what others have said because it sounds pleasant. I feel like I’m close to discovering something…. I’m still striving for I’m not sure what, but I’ll let you know if I get there.


Middle Aged Spread

No, I’m not talking about weight. I’m talking about existing within the vast middle of society. The Golden Mean. The Middle Road. You know, the one that most everyone lives in but which the extremes of left and right think doesn’t exist. Political and religious right and left-wingers believe that existing in the middle is somehow “copping out” of making any kind of decision. I say it’s enjoying the fruits of and avoiding the worst of both worlds. Let me explain. I’m of the middle in practically every area, but the two that occupy most of my thoughts and time are religion and politics. Everyone has an opinion about these two topics. The most vociferous are those who live on the extreme edges of both. Both of the extremes miss out on the more reasonable, chewy nougat center. Let’s take say…..church architecture.

Church architecture has really, really gone downhill. Instead of wonderfully airy cathedrals, we now have stadiums resembling (and sometimes actually being) sports arenas. What does this say about the religion that dwells within it? LOADS! As I’ve said before I work in a large, urban Protestant church. The denomination can be, but is not necessarily, wedded to liturgy. In other words, there is a set pattern to worship every Sunday. It’s not the denomination that I go to so I have nothing invested in its polity. I just work there. Anyway, due to the stress I’ve been under, I decided to go to the sanctuary and meditate twice last week. It’s done wonders! The sanctuary seats about 500. It has wooden pews with cushions on the seat. It has a high, Gothic ceiling, an organ and choir balcony in the BACK, a raised chancel with seatingtourchancel_big.jpg stalls for elders and an alter of sorts for Communion elements (done by intinction but only once a month and at a specific service). The pulpit must be stepped up to and is higher than everyone else. There is a lectern for reading scripture. You get the idea. There is a baptismal font and a small room for the Handbell choir. There is also stained glass all around. And I mean STAINED GLASS; beautiful depictions of Christ, the apostles, the various Marys of the bible and other people. The church itself was designed by none other than Ralph Adams Cram and his firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. The windows, especially behind the pulpit, are all blues, reds, yellows, oranges, etc. Beautiful when back lit by the sun in the afternoon. So walking into this cavernous place on a weekday instantly implies, darkness, silence, mystery, and peace. I’d sit behind a column and just soak up the sights and the lack of sound. It did more for my stress than pills and sleep ever did.

Now think on some Protestant churches like the one I had been attending in my small, rural town. It is small, seating perhaps 100 squeezed tightly, with blue carpeting and pine walls all around. The pews are padded and the backs of the pews have little ledges with holes in which to put your once monthly communion cups. The room is bright and airy and the stained glass has depictions of Jesus only in the classic “knock and door shall be opened” pose or some shepherding scene. Behind the pulpit is a large, adult sized baptism “tub,” big enough for immersion. The scene behind it is a painting of the river Jordan. The pulpit is directly in front of a few chairs for the choir on a “stage.” The communion table is on the floor in front of the stage. Off to the side is a hallway leading back to the fellowship hall. If one came into that sanctuary during the day, one would hear many things. Light would be everywhere. The church office is right behind the sanctuary. The door to the street is not sectioned off, as it is in my workplace church which boasts a separate narthex. No, in the church where I worship you enter and boom, you are in the church. There is no room to separate talking, laughing, and visiting from the worship experience itself.

The point I’m making is that modern church architecture, for me, implies a paucity of mystical worship. The focus is not God but on the preacher. Rather than draw your eye upward to the heavens, as “high church” settings do, or at least to stained glass of Jesus emerging from the Divine Womb, you are immediately directed in “low church” settings to see the pastor. The teacher is everything. On the “low church” side, you can’t beat the teachings and the sermons. Part of my job is to type sermons the pastor writes out longhand. (YAWN). In order to never rock the boat of this well to do congregation, the pastor manages to say very little in a sermon. There is no mention of “blood” “salvation” “the Holy Spirit” or how to become a Christian. It’s very generic. So what one does very well, the other lacks completely. The “low church” paucity is in worship. The “high church” paucity is in theology. I guess you can’t have it both ways, can you?

This same “high brow/low brow” classism is behind every social phenomenon you could care to name. You see it in academia, politics, religion, and social welfare programs. Applying this to religion leads to freedom of worship on one side and legalism on the other. In academia it’s the difference between literature and popular fiction. In politics is the extremes of Republican and Democrat. The problem I see in either extreme is that in “high church” churches the building is almost worshiped as much as God is. Rich people tend to flock to the church where I work. In “low church” churches working class folks place no emphasis on the building, but there is a lot of infighting personally. Where I work, infighting is virtually non-existent. Trust me, I would know. We Administrative Assistants almost become the confidants of everyone, from the pastor to the parishioner! So why is there no infighting and personal backstabbing going on? Because, worship is not about them or the pastor or the sunday school teacher. It’s very curious.

The effect of dividing our lives into either/or extremes leaves the rest of us scratching our heads. We can see the wisdom in both, but choose not to throw all our eggs into one basket. Why does it have to be that way? Why is compromise such a dirty word? Why can’t both worlds agree to disagree or meet in the middle? The refusal to compromise or learn from each other is why I will always be Catholic/Baptist or politically Democrat/Republican (Libertarian is not an option. It is not moderate in its complete divorcement of government control over some social programs). I will be both. I am a moderate. I will always be a moderate. There are good and bad ideas and doctrines on both sides of the political and religious fences, but I am going to mix it up and choose neither exclusively. I’ve got my religious and political fence stile built and will continue to use it.

January, Stress, and Stents

I work in a large, urban church and January is a killer month to get through. There are year-end letters and beginning year routines that have to get done. There is a new cycle of church officers to rotate off and on. There are annual statistics to report to the “head” office. And then….there is the bane of my existence….the Annual Report. In this congregation, they have a yearly annual meeting and for this meeting I have to make a 70 page, multi-colored document with card stock covers. Multiply that by 400 and voila, I have an annual report!. Yeesh! It takes over two weeks to compile and proof and a whole week to run on the copier. When I first started working here, over six years ago, this task alone filled me with terror, considering that the previous assistant never told me how it was accomplished. She had been here 27 years before I came along and let’s just say she left out a LOT of my training. What was routine for her, was mountainous to me. But I got through it and it’s gotten easier each year. However, it still fills me with dread and I usually can’t sleep and have nightmares about balancing a stack of china plates while running up the stairs. 😀

Yesterday (and for a couple days prior), I worked myself up into a tizzy about a perceived grievance I had against one of the custodians that works here. I assumed that he threw away over 250 booklets that I created and had put in the sanctuary pews. I wanted to take them all out and when I came in Monday morning, they were all gone. I immediately assumed he took them out and threw them away. Turns out, he knew nothing about it and I spent two days re-enacting how I was going to confront him without losing my cool. I was very angry. Then yesterday, I asked calmly where they went and he calmly said he had no idea. Punched the air out of that balloon. Still, as I always do in a crisis, it got me praying on the way to work which always has the good effect of calming me down beforehand. It’s a good thing I did before I made an ass of myself (again). As with all things we worry and stew about, it came to nothing.

I worry and stew needlessly about medical procedures as well. It has been one year since I had an artery unblocked and a stent put in! ONE YEAR! It seems like just yesterday that I went in complaining of nothing more than heart palpitations and a slight burning in my left arm. But, before that procedure, I stewed and worried and filled myself with fear and dread. The procedure (a heart catheterization) was a piece of cake compared to other procedures I’ve had. I barely knew it happened. In fact, I’d recommend everyone get a heart catheterization when they hit 50 to get their arteries checked out.. if only it weren’t so damned expensive! It saved my life though. My front major artery was 99% blocked but with no heart muscle damage. The doctor wondered why I was still alive. I’m not surprised I’m still here though. The most stubborn, irascible and contentious people seem to stay alive and the nicest, sweetest, most giving people seem to die early. It’s one of those mysteries of the universe that no one will ever figure out. I’ve modified my diet somewhat, but as my doctor told me when he gave me the news about how high my triglycerides were even though all other numbers were normal: “You just have a crappy immune system!” Thanks doc!

So, while I stew and stress in January, I need to remember that it’s not doing my health any good to go ballistic over perceived slights and misconstrued wrongs. All it does is get my blood pressure up. I need to remember some wise words I read somewhere:

Proverbs 15:18
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

Proverbs 19:11
Good sense makes one slow to anger,and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 22:24
Make no friendship with a man given to anger,nor go with a wrathful man,

Whew, that about covers it! Maybe I can get through January without biting someone’s head off, but I DO need to learn to de-stress. I confess that I am no good at prayer except in emergencies. I can’t sit for long periods of time “praying.” Partly, because I seem to have better results praying on the go at any time and at any minute of the day. To me, there’s no right or wrong way, regardless what all the christian gurus say. Whatever works to unclog the old spiritual arteries is good enough. And that’s the closest I’m getting to making one of those nasty resolutions that everyone breaks before January is out. Blessings!

Conversion Rules or Freedom From Evangelization?

Wildhunt Blog has a good article on traditional religions and their coming together to form a set of “conversion rules” so that religions won’t step on the toes of other religions when fighting over the souls of those in other countries. In fact, Jason writes,

One should also consider the fact that a growing number of Christian groups are discussing (and implementing) a “re-evangelization” of Europe and America. This isn’t merely a struggle against secularism, but against modern Paganism and other new religious movements. Will these guidelines apply to those in the West as well as the East?

This “re-evangelization” idea is a gross violation of personal freedom. If religion and its purveyors truly respected the individual’s ability to reason for herself and the inherent right to believe in whatever she wanted to believe in without categorizing her spiritual choice as “wrong,” these “rules” wouldn’t be necessary. They would be moot points. In fact, to protect the individual’s right to learn and choose for himself, I believe every country should protect its citizenry by formulating its own set of “no evangelizing” rules and refrain from calling itself a “Christian” nation or a “Muslim” nation or even a “Hindu” nation if the majority of its citizens object. In other words, I think evangelization should be outlawed, categorized as a crime against individual intellectual autonomy, and I also think missionaries should be taxed as merchants selling a product. Radical? Perhaps, but someone has to protect the individual’s right NOT to be evangelized if they don’t want to be. Especially in need of protecting are those who don’t have access to other means of informing themselves, such as those in third world or the poorest countries. How else can they compare what certain missionaries with an agenda tell them to reality?

Of course all of this is predicated on the Utopian notion that religion does not already have a stranglehold on a country or that said country is a democracy where its citizens are allowed to vote and choose its representatives and where citizens are free to dissent from popular opinion without being thrown in jail. Hey, I can dream can’t I?

The Gospel Coalition

Update: Interesting take on the formation of the Gospel Coalition by an Emerging Woman blogger. I don’t even confess to know what the emerging church is doing differently than any other churches down through the centuries except maybe to re-market the gospel (kind of like rebinding the bible in various formats to appeal to younger generations). But the blogger above is not necessarily pleased.

original post:

Finally! If you’re going to make a statement about your religion and if you’re going to make it broad, yet simple to understand, AND if you are going to give God pre-eminence rather than the bible (which always comes first in other churches’ creeds) then this is the Confession for you! I’m serious. It’s about time Protestant creeds took the bible out of the first place spot (see here and here) and put God back where He belongs–at the top. Because I mean really, if you’re going to have faith in a Savior, at least put Him above the Scriptures! This may seem picky, but it’s always bothered me that putting the bible first in a creed just smacks of bibliolatry.

However, I do take issue with this statement, “We confess that both our finitude and our sinfulness preclude the possibility of knowing God’s truth exhaustively, but we affirm that, enlightened by the Spirit of God, we can know God’s revealed truth truly.” And who decides that the interpretation of God’s words in the bible are known “truly?” I don’t believe that we can ever know this and even if we could, many, many faithful Christians differ on the interpretation of this truth, but overall, it’s a pretty good statement of beliefs.

Of course the confession leaves out any mention of men and women working together in ministry in any egalitarian fashion, “neither male nor female, etc,” but hey, these men didn’t ask us and DON’T EVEN get me started about women in the church!

No, I’m not being facetious!

Church Detox

Emerging Grace’s blog has an interesting post about detoxing from church. Obviously she is writing for those who are still Christian. She writes:

The Penguins Formerly Known as the Waddle

I have news for you. Many of us are headed down a path where we will no longer fit in with church as usual.

There is a path of detox and deconstruction that leads to an understanding of the underlying problems in the system of church that Christianity has functioned in for many years. Most who follow this path still have an appreciation for the traditional church although they can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the packaged religious experience.

To be honest, I tire of the assumption that those who come to this place are simply bitter and critical. The reason that Bill’s post, The People Formerly Known as the Congregation, hit the blogosphere with such a splash is because there are so many people who sense the validity of the issues he addresses in his post…

Read the rest here.