Due to a recent discussion with Marshall, I was thinking about George Fox and how his witness relates to my life. Fox lived in a very different world than I do,and he was shaped by it as I have been shaped by my world.
As I thought about this, one of the things that struck me was that Fox lived in an almost exclusively Christian world. He might never have met a Jewish person, let alone someone who practices a non-Abrahamic faith. I, on the other hand, grew up in one of the more multi-cultural corners of the United States. As a child, I was exposed not only to many different flavors of Christianity, but also to Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. My friends practiced these faiths, and I was taught to respect diversity.
I was also taught to be humble about my own religion and cultural practices. Christian practices were not better or more right than Jewish or Buddhist practices; they were just different. Indeed, the assumption that Christianity was right and Judaism (or Islam) wrong had caused a whole lot of suffering and evil in the world.
I was raised Universalist, in the same way I was raised to be sensitive to social and economic injustice. Growing up in a racially and culturally diverse city was one of the more precious gifts I have received in life.
Fox received his messages in a Christian frame. An exclusively Christian frame, however, seems too small to me. When I read the writings of the early Quakers, I re-frame them in more Universalist terms. With my life experience, anything that excludes human beings of other faiths won't work. God would not be so short-sighted and cruel as to leave out Buddhists and Hindus. I cannot believe in a God who would play favorites that way; slipping the truth to children born in Christian households and denying it to children born in other households.
If I had grown up in another sort of community, in a lily-white town where everyone was Christian, I don't think I would have the same feelings about the exclusivity of Christianity. I wouldn't know Jewish and Moslem and Hindu and Buddhist people as friends and individuals. I wouldn't have learned how to sing "Happy Birthday" in Farsi (a much better and livelier song than our English "Happy Birthday"); I wouldn't have contemplated the meaning of Rosh Hashonah; I wouldn't have learned about the great Ramayana myth cycle; I wouldn't have thought of working a Ramadan-like fast into our celebration of Thanksgiving. I think I would be more sure that the way I and my friends and neighbors do things was the Right Way, and that people who do things differently are just plain wrong.
Continuing revelation is both a tremendous opportunity and a great challenge. We are asked to listen continually for revisions to the expression to the truth. What past expressions of the truth are still true and which ones were part of the fabric of time and place? I wonder whether there are things that are true for this time in Marshall's place but not true for this time in my place.
I am shaped and called to be a Universalist. Christianity is part of that Universalism, but not all of it. I am called to recognize truth wherever I see it, by whatever name it is called. I can accept that other people are called in other ways; they might be called to go deeply into Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism or Paganism. I think it's important to stay in fellowship with all of them, to recognize that truth goes far deeper than words and symbols.
Mostly, though, I think that what God really cares about is how we treat one another. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is a recipe for the kingdom of God here on Earth. Our greatest challenge as human beings is to learn how to live in harmony with one another.