Monthly Archives: November, 2004

Do Not Speak Evil Against One Another

James now puts into his own words that injunction of Jesus not to judge others:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

— James 4:11-12 (NRSV)

Jesus’ version — or rather the gospel according to Matthew’s take on Jesus’ injunction is:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

(Matthew 7:1-2)

It has been pointed out to me in a private email, that this injunction is a kind of corrective to the socialist interpretation I (and a few other social gospel types) tend to give this letter thus far.

James has accused rich folks of persecution. He has told us that God favours the poor and that his agenda is a radical redistribution of wealth and resources. In this he follows the Jesus of the gospels and also the prophetic voices of the Hebrew scriptures.

How do we reconcile these two voices?

Multiple options. One is to not bother. James is speaking from his context (which is fuzzy to us at best). Apply the preferential option for the poor in circumstances where wisdom and faith warrant and apply the do not judge injunctions in places appropriate to that.

How do we choose between them?

James is clear. The reason we do not judge is that judgment belongs to God alone. But still, faith, for people of wealth, is to look forward with hope to a day when they are no longer rich in the ways in which this world understands rich. James has already said to us:

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field.

(James 1:9-10)

However we reconcile these, or whether we do, leaving James in his 2000 year old context and muddling through on our own, what speaks to us (me) here is this: if you think the Christian gospel is about warm fuzzy feelings about God, or is about saving your soul (some metaphysical entity). Think again. The gospel is also political. It is about the kind of community (polis) we are to live together in.

And when we pray we pray this vision of a new and just and better world into this old and tired one.

Peace be with you Friends.

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Draw Near to God

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

— James 4:1-10 (NRSV)

History note: George Fox (the Quaker not the country-western singer) sites the doctrine of James in his original statement on the Peace Testimony. So Fox at least saw this as relevant. I believe this passage is what Fox had in mind when he said that Christ takes away the occasion of war.

We also see here more stuff on prayer. We ask for stuff so we can spend it on our pleasures so God doesn’t answer the prayer. That makes two reasons given thus far for unanswered prayer, a wavering mind, and selfishness of intention.

It echoes the Jesus of the gospels,

NRSV But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

NJB Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.(Matthew 6:33)

KJV But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.(Matthew 6:33)

NIV But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.(Matthew 6:33)

So the context of prayer is God’s will, God’s reign on earth, God’s righteousness, God’s saving-justice. Our prayers are measured against that standard. They are judged and found wanting.

Peace be with you all.

Marjorie’s Hypocrisy

This is the second time I’m writing this. I wrote one account and as I was proof-reading it we lost power. Its so awful to see something that was hard to write and with which I was pleased to vanish. Of course, I imagine that my neighbors cooking Thanksgiving dinner weren’t too pleased to lose their power either.

I put a teaser for this post in a comment a while back and feel its time to put up and shut up. This post isn’t as exciting as it might seem. My hypocrisy is that I’ve been spiritually arrogant, I’ve turned into part of what made me hate and fear the church to begin with — the smug, self-righteous individuals who judge who is and is not spiritual. My parents were judged as not having a Christian marriage because they were not interested in taking group Bible studies or in going on marriage encounters or taking part in other church activities (though they were active in the church in other ways). If I understand correctly, Larry has described such thinking as tribalism, you’re one of us or you’re not and consequently not worthy.

So, one aspect of my hypocrisy is turning into the sort of person whom I blamed for making church what it is — controversial, unwelcoming, judgmental.

Another aspect of my hypocrisy is my pride of having studied the Bible. Before I started taking Bible study three years ago I was a Biblical illiterate. I had been embarrassed about this for years before I finally took a Bible study or even tried reading the Bible. However, this did not stop me from judging those who don’t study the Bible. I didn’t grant them the patience I granted myself.

I took part in a small discussion group through my church last year. This was a mistake and I think the only thing I contributed was negative energy. I joined the group at the request of a priest who was looking for people to join it. I thought maybe I could help him and also learn something myself. What I learned about myself I didn’t like. I was smug and judging and dissatisfied because most of the other women had more money than I did, different priorities than mine and thought differently from me. The only one I felt really connected to had been taking a similar Bible study for years.

The nadir of my group experience came from one discussion we had about the difficulty of knowing what was the right thing to do in a certain situation — I can’t remember any of the details. One woman said, “well, didn’t Jesus say ‘what is truth?'” I was flabbergasted (I don’t have a poker face). I said, “that was Pontius Pilate.” Of course, in addition to my shock, I felt very self-righteous that I was able to spot this error. The irony is that a little more than a year before this conversation I would have shrugged off the comment and not known the answer. I was either feeling relieved and superior or perhaps unconsciously afraid that I was capable of such a perversion. I haven’t even read all the gospels and I’m feeling superior? Upon reflection, I really think my overreaction is my awareness of how little I know and that I will likely make (or have already made) similar mistakes. Perhaps recognizing my hypocrisy and the true feelings that underlie it will teach me humility and meekness.

I’ve given up taking this particular Bible study. I had a niggling (David’s term) that it wasn’t good for me and this was crystallized when I met Larry on-line. This is not to lay any responsibility for my decision at Larry’s feet (he actually discouraged me from quitting the study), but to thank him for his part in opening my mind. You see, based on the theology underlying that Bible study, I would have to shut out Larry for his low Christology view which would be deemed blasphemy. How can a man who loves Jesus so much that he posts an on-line Bible and commentary be seen this way? It doesn’t make sense to me and it was the sign that I couldn’t move forward with this Bible study. Since then, I’ve met wonderful people on-line and my heart has opened to those I meet in person at my church.

Funny thing about the effect that Bible study had on me — while it taught me so much about the Bible and Jesus and God it also closed me off to those who believed differently than I. I am now coming to the understanding that we are all on our paths and that others are as deserving of respect as I am — before I felt that the path had to be the certain, prescribed journey approved by a particular dogma.

I am very thankful to the wonderful friends I have here and especially thankful to kwakersaur, David, for bringing us together on this blog to discuss the Bible and spiritual matters. You have filled a void for me. Finally, after months of avoiding it, I’ve had the desire to start reading the Bible again, I didn’t know if the desire would return. It has, though in a different way. I don’t study the Bible to know more than the many who don’t (which was probably an unconscious motivator before), I read it because it is Life. I’d love to be able to inspire others to read it, but I can accept that it might not be part of their path, now or ever.

Blessings to you all.

Happy Thanksgiving Folks

I’m a Canuck so I’ve already had my Thanksgiving turkey a month ago. So now its the Uh-murican’s turn. Chow down on the turkey and the green bean casserole.

For those of you who want to get reflective about the world and the ways it could be better, here’s a link to an article on consumerism at Thanksgiving and through the Christmas season.

Click here.

A Harvest of Righteousness Sown in Peace

Well I’ve stumbled back from a conference for employment counsellor’s — I’m still not sure I’ve fully recovered. And I find you folks have clammed right up without me.

So here goes:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

— James 3:13-18 (NRSV)

Many spiritual writers speak of the two wisdoms. Earthly prudence and spiritual discernment. Here we see the distinction made and the fruits of them compared. And then comes the last line: And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Does that sentence jar you? It doesn’t seem to follow from the rest. At least immediately so. I can in my own mind make them follow. But it does seem a jump. Let’s look at it in multiple translations. Maybe we have a translation issue:

New Jerusalem. James 3:18 The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice.

King Jimmy. James 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

New International. James 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Doesn’t solve me trouble.

What if, for James, peacemaking is that list he gives: pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy? Does that work?

Well first off, that doesn’t sound much like the peace keeping troops our governments send to places like Iraq or Somalia or Bosnia or Viet Nam or Korea. But hey, I’m a Quaker, you didn’t really think I’d be on the side of dropping bombs on people to show them how much we love them.

But then again, this doesn’t sound much like the placard waving peaceniks who go on marches and protest government actions in those same countries either. pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

So just what would scriptural peacemaking look like then? What canst thou say?

No One Can Tame the Tongue

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

— James 3:5b-12

(NRSV)

In a way its kind of consoling to know that all the church politics, the gossip, the pettiness, the stupid vicious cruel things that go on in churches and Quaker meetings today were also happening in the earliest days of the Christian faith.

Its also sad we haven’t changed much in 2000 years. But at least its evidence we haven’t fallen too far from the tree. Yep, we’re still Christian: we crucify our ministers. And we are all ministers.

Can we place ourselves in the sandals of those who bless the Lord and Father, and curse those who are made in the likeness of God? Notice James uses the first person plural: we. He includes himself in that injunction.

What is the payoff for blessing the creator and cursing the creation? Power. Control over the community, its direction, the interpretive agenda. Its the old self-will, the me and the mine, in guise of guidance and wisdom.

We do this. We are this. Its we who love our church congregations, love our Quaker meetings, want it to be all it can become, want it to look a lot like us. We want to shape it in our own image. The biblical word for that is idolatry, by the way.

No Free Speech in the Church?

Without wanting to disrupt the ongoing sharing of our faith stories, I also felt the structure of on-going scripture study has been helpful to this discussion. So I’m returning to James. Others can freely post on other matters of course.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

— James 3:1-5 (NRSV)

I’m not sure what I can say about this passage. Its sense is so transparent that the words speak for themselves.

The notes to the NRSV look at how James speaks of teachers. He implies he is one of them. He also seems to imply that the office of teacher is a voluntary one. That is to say, it neither appointed nor required. Any are free to do it. But most should choose not to.

James wants teachers to have matured sufficiently to be living blameless lives before they set out to teach. That suggests to me that there were troubles in the Christian faith with teachers living less than blameless lives. And maybe teachers who got themselves into trouble by being too quick to speak.

This seems in accord with early Quaker practice. There is a lovely little book by an early (second generation — I think) Friend named Samuel Bownas. The book is called A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister It provides much good advice.

It is also contrary to the spirit of most Quaker Meetings I’m familiar with. The freedom of the meeting seems to dominate modern Quaker culture. We place ourselves at the mercy of folks who want to talk about their cat, or the colour of rain on autumn leaves. We do so as we trust that sometimes one Friend’s cat or the colour of rain on autumn leaves may speak to the condition of the meeting. We also do so as we believe earlier generations were too quick to silence divergent voices.

Somewhere I think there is a middle ground. And for those who take the work of speaking in the gathered assemblies of the faithful, the advices and considerations of both Samuel Bownas and James the Just may offer much help.

Books of the Head and Heart

In reviewing the books I listed I’ve found it difficult to distinguish. Many or all of them seemed to speak equally to both organs; let’s say the intellect and the spirit.

The first and preeminent one for me must be the door to spiritual life– N.V.Peale; it was simplistic, but a little child doesn’t have a highly developed intellect or critical faculty.

In midlife I think George MacDonald: he had an incisive intellect, but what does most for me is the spiritual nurture- the manna that sustains me through the journey.

In later years there was C.G.Jung: he had special gifts for the many professional religionists who had lost much of the theological underpining for their vocation.

He continually spoke of God as a psychic fact, which no one can really deny. His Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, published posthumously, confirmed my suspicion that he was one of the few outstanding prophets of our age; he looked at religion in the way scientists do, open to whatever truth unfolds.

But much bigger than Jung was William Blake (Frye was my door to him). Blake’s art is fraught with spiritual truth with a depth that perhaps no one else has achieved in our age. He is still waiting on us reaching a level of consciousness when we can comprehend. Just read The Little Black Boy, and tell me if that doesn’t tug at your heart strings. Or the Monk of Charlemayne, or the “Quaker sacrament”, where Blake speaks of his relationship to God:

Throughout Eternity I forgive you,

You forgive me.

As the dear Redeemer said,

This the wine and this the bread.

My (un)Faith Walk

[by David (?)]

When I was a child a picture hung on my wall. A young black boy and his pet cocker-spaniel kneeling at the foot of his bed praying. The caption read Lead Us.

I hated that picture. Mostly I hated it because it was cute. But increasingly I hated it because my connections to religion as an organized human construct was coming a part at the seams.

I remember somewhere around the age 8 or 9 saying if God was real he’s show up in my room to prove it. I would then hide under the covers just in case. Slowly I would realize the Big Kahuna was not going to take me up on the challenge.

Two of us filled out our application forms for Boy Scouts. Under “religion” one of us put Druid and the other put Atheist. I can’t for the life of me recall which was which. But I do recall getting a dressing down from the scout leader. Scouting is a Christian organization. Could have fooled me. One the lousiest bullies in my grade was in the troop. And since then my old neighbourhood has formed a Raja Cub Pack for Hindi boy scouts.

Somewhere around the same time — or maybe a tad later I made a pact with God. This Christianity thing wasn’t doing it for me. I wasn’t even certain God existed — in fact I was getting increasingly convinced he didn’t. So I was going to try and figure things out for myself. Only thing I asked, was that if I got it wrong, then when the time of judgment came — show me what I did wrong. Show me what I missed.

I read a lot of occult, philosophy and religious stuff through my teen years and into my 20s. If there had been a Goth movement I likely would have been a part of it. But there wasn’t so I wore blue jeans and T-shirts like everyone else in the 70s/80s. And I was alone with my searchings.

November 10th of 1982. Matters came to a head. I was suddenly weighed down with the realization I could not live up to my own ideals and principles. The issue was harboring anger towards someone who had disappointed me. Add to this mix that I had recently been to my first Quaker meeting and felt like God has spoken to me — so I was also wrestling with my metaphysics. I turned my life over to God.

You have to appreciate that the Quaker Meeting I was attending was not one to encourage born-again religion. My wrestling was not going to stop nor was it going to get easier. It was just going to move in a slightly new direction.

From this you will see that the gonna-go-to-heaven notion of salvation wasn’t on my agenda. The salvation I sought and continue to seek was the wisdom to know the morally right path and the empowerment to walk it. That’s all I have really ever wanted from God and faith. Sometimes I pray for other stuff — like an end to a migraine or healing of cancer for a friend or a new job (yes God!). But at its heart — my faith is about right action — knowing what to do and then doing it.

I often mess up.

My faith history

[by Crystal]

Hi. I hope nobody minds if I take a leaf from Marjorie’s book and post this – I already did a couple of days ago, but deleted it … if you’ve already read it, please ignore this 🙂

I wasn’t raised in any religion, didn’t go to church as a child except for a couple of visits.

In high school my sister and I got interested in eastern religions, took yoga classes. She still really likes the Dalai Lama and Tich Nat Han (sp?).

In college, I majored in art and later added philosophy – Socrates and the existentialists were my favorites. I thought religion was for those rationally challenged 🙂

Things in my life started going badly – was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, got married and then divorced just a couple of years later. Money problems. I joined the Catholic church, not because I believed in God, but because I was lonely and hoped to make friends. Spent 3 years there and learned a lot about church but nothing really about Jesus/God.

Took up writing. When writing a story with a Jesuit character, I did research and met a Jesuit priest online. His website had his posted homilies and they were amazing to me – showed a possibility of relationship with Jesus/God I had never imagined. He was reluctant to talk to me about this stuff so I decided to take the online retreat at Creighton U. and asked him to help me. He agreed and the rest is history 🙂

Sorry this was so long.