Three good books and a query: Is it SPIJE not SPICE?

I've recently read three interesting books in a row:
  1. A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren

  2. If the Church Were Christian, Phillip Gulley

  3. The Case for God, Karen Armstrong
I'd recommend reading all three of them, at least for my Quaker friends and anyone who identifies as "spiritual but not religious." All three authors are doing their best to come up with or describe religion that encompasses the spirituality of compassion, love, and grace as foremost.

The McLaren and Gulley books are about praxis, how to form a new kind of church that would actually embody the values of Jesus, instead of just talking about him. Armstrong's is about history—understanding how we got "here," a world where many people identify religion with fundamentalism and dismiss it altogether, and where many others identify their religious truth as the only true truth and dismiss everyone else.

I hope to take time to write more, especially about the praxis books. However, my nightstand now has on it Diana Butler Bass's A People's History of Christianity, and it's beckoning to me, more than three months after Robin M. gave it to me. (In between the food pantry debut, a baseball game, Quaker Heritage Day tomorrow, and meeting for business on Sunday, it's simply going to have to wait just a little bit longer for my attention.)

One brief note from Gulley's book: He lists the desirable testimonies of a congregation as being simplicity, peace, integrity, justice, and equality—which you can abbreviate as SPIJE. I like this as an alternative to the mnemonic of "the" Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, which are an extension of something Howard Brinton originally synthesized in Quakers for 300 Years. (Here's an old post I wrote in 2006 about doing a workshop on the "SPICES" testimonies—the extra S is for Stewardship.)


Marshall Massey said...

Very interesting indeed! Just when I thought that U.S. Quakerism couldn’t possibly get any more individualistic, Gulley eliminates the testimony of community.

Chris M. said...

Marshall: fair point. Bill Samuel made a similar comment on my blog. I was more interested in the fact that he added justice. Equality alone isn't necessarily sufficient. I believe it was Anatole Broyard who wrote, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor from sleeping under the bridge at night."

Marshall Massey said...

It was not Anatole Broyard but Anatole France, in Le Lys Rouge (“The Red Lily”), Chapter 7. The full quotation is: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids all men to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread — the rich as well as the poor.”

I understand your interest in justice, my friend. However, I myself am still of the (admittedly unpopular) opinion that the purpose of Quakerism is to be Primitive Christianity Restored. And if that is Quakerism’s purpose, then we Friends should bear in mind that, from the early Christian perspective, only God can actually ensure justice, because only God has the omniscience to see what true justice would be, and furthermore, only God has the power to make true justice happen.

When we mere humans try to take God’s place, and make true justice happen on our own, we fall into the very sort of error that Anatole France condemned: we establish a pseudo-justice that fails to be real justice because it is over-simplistic and administered by the corrupt.

Our actual calling as human beings, from a Primitive Christian perspective, is not to justice but to kindness: “my neighbor as myself”, the Second Great Commandment; “turn the other cheek” and “your coat as well as your cloak”; visiting the sick and the imprisoned, and aiding the widow and the orphan. Such kindness is both our way of melting one another’s hard hearts, and also our way of tiding one another over, materially, until the great Day of Judgment when justice is finally restored.

Chris M. said...


I've been mulling a reply for almost a week, and still feel unclear on how to respond to your comment about justice. I can see why you say your view is "admittedly unpopular"!

I do know, however, that I am grateful for your correction of the source of the quote by Anatole France! It was a silly mistake in this era when I could have easily found the right source online.

Regarding the rest of your comment, I guess my shorthand response is: Excellent exposition of the Second Great Commandment. And yet while you and I strive to follow our Guide in that way, you and I also speak up about systemic issues like health care or warfare. (You've certainly posted to Facebook about healthcare reform many times, for example.)

For me, the purpose of that work is to prevent greater unkindnesses and suffering from occurring. So that's more what I mean by "justice": organizing society to enable, invest in, and encourage the supply of "kindness" on an industrial scale, more so than "justice" as creating laws or legal systems per se.

Marshall Massey said...

Chris, I am grateful for that lucid clarification of your point of view.