A “Quaking Muslim” is what Akel E. Bitaji, Senator for the upper house of the Jordanian Parliament, identified himself as during a dinner with the United Church Press Tour last week. Mr. Bitaji is a graduate of the Ramallah Friends School and a graduate of the teaching training program once run jointly by Earlham and Wilmington Colleges. Around a table made up by mostly evangelical Christians from the west coast, Mr Bitaji remarked about his time at the Ramallah Friends School: “We were all Quakers, 95% Muslims, 5% Christians but we were all Quaker. It was the Spirit that prevailed.”
With all of the questions floating around out in the blogosphere about Christianity, Universalism, Quakerism and the Divine Source, I’ve found myself dwelling deeply on the question: Can I be both a Christian and a Universalist? Are these terms paradoxical? What does it mean to live into and through that paradox?I’ve grown up among Friends, ignoring the verse in the Christian scriptures that reads “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” At best, I imagined Jesus as a kind of archway where regardless of whether the person knew what they were passing through; they still got to go through. And as Rob Bell said, I really didn’t believe that Gandhi was in hell.
Then again, do Quakers even believe in Hell? Our realized eschatology is so peculiar among Christians can we even compare our Christian Universalism to another’s? To deconstruct that question a bit, let me describe realized eschatology. I am under the impression that the first generation of Quakers believed that Jesus had already returned to earth and in the form of the Spirit of Christ he had come to teach his people himself. Thus, when we commune in waiting worship we are listening for the teaching and wisdom of that living Christ among us.
Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven has also arrived and we are responsible for living into that kingdom. The process of “living into” is perpetual for it is in the journey that we find our way not in the destination. In less cryptic language, we are responsible for making our world into the Kingdom of Heaven and although that perfection will never be achieved, we nonetheless must do our part to the greatest of our ability.
In thinking about this concept of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth now (also known as the Promised Land, Garden of Eden, or Paradise), I have found myself asking questions concerning my own vision of such. In my most recent entry of my work blogging for Friends Journal I wrote:
“While I do not know what the Promised Land looks like, I believe that it is within each of us. The Promised Land is not separated from us or others by border crossings, checkpoints, or gated entrances. It is open to all and we are challenged to live into it; to make our experience of the world a reflection of it.”
An thus but statements like these, I brand myself a Universalist… right? Yet by the very nature of having a realized eschatology I am Christian (not to mention my cultural background, mystical experiences, and sincere belief in the teachings of Jesus). Yet there are others in my faith community who would put up walls, checkpoints, and border crossings around the Kingdom of Heaven and subject others to the spiritual humiliation and violence found in physical form in places like the Middle East and on the US-Mexican Border.
So, as a Christian and as a Universalist (and as many other things like a compassionate flawed human being) I can only hope that in the mass chaos of this world of which understanding is elusive, we can all have faith that as Mr. Bitaji suggested, “The Spirit will prevail.”