Monday, July 27, 2015

Rocky roads and movements of the Spirit.

Chin up kids. Look how long it took for Woolman's message about slavery to bear fruit. (For those not familiar, as I had not been, with the history here in NWYM check

Yes, there is deep disappointment and loss of confidence in the leadership of the Board of Elders of Northwest Yearly Meeting. It's not new. We are all too human and that's what we get for dealing with humans. I have to wonder that the Board would continue in the most conservative reading of their mandate to resolve doctrinal issues after they acknowledge that there is some question as to the nature of that mandate and of the binding elements of our Faith and Practice. Clearly the nature of the difference between "Doctrine" and "Testimony" needs to be spelled out, as I have mentioned.

I have not seen rumored communications from Meetings that demand action to discipline Meetings which do not hold to Testimonies as written, but this is a parallel to what I understand happened to Western and Indiana Yearly Meetings and what is now happening to North Carolina Yearly Meeting. My reaction to such a communication would be to indicate that those people might be happier affiliated with say the Church of the Nazarene, but I have little patience with ultimatums in Quaker Business and consider such tactics far more "shattering" than published variance from stated "Testimony" under review. In the above referenced article the authors present what they have determined to be a pattern: "Given this long, recurring history, the pattern is easily recognizable: Several vocal pastors and other outspoken church members form a caucus, pick a target, based on issues which can be doctrinal, social or political, and insist that either those people go, or they will leave, and take their churches and donations with them."

It seems to be working.

And the difference seems to be that matter of tactics as no one has set up such a caucus to combat the openly sexist stance of Anthem (Now Anthem-Hayden Lake)Friends. As reported in the article: The issue of equity likewise looms large. In the 2011 Faith & Practice there are two statements condemning homosexuality. But there are also in it no less than seven declarations, dating back as far as 1887, specifying that the equality of the sexes, in church and out, is an integral part of the yearly meeting’s Quaker Christian testimony. (pp. 2, 10, 13, 20, 23, 81) Yet Anthem-Hayden Lake has been openly defying them for four decades, and still is, without consequence.Such widely disparate treatment brings to mind Leviticus 19:15: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”

In conclusion I would like to quote a recent letter from Camas Friends Church: "However, when we learned about the intervention of Yearly Meeting Elders into the discernment process that West Hills followed, Camas Friends Elders felt led to send a letter of concern. The entire meeting, as affirmed in a Business Meeting, wanted to be part of the letter as a sign of our meeting’s unity. For Camas Friends Church, what is most important is that our Yearly Meeting protect rather than police the discernment process of our local congregations.(bolding mine)

I don't see that happening.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Silly, Poor Gospel in a current application

So, I wrote for almost a year and it has only been almost 6 years since my last entry.....seems about right....for me.

Another crisis is on and it seems appropriate that I take up this means of expression again, so here goes.

My Monthly Meeting recently discussed the disciplinary action under way and I found out that it is about discipline of a Meeting for violation of the.....wait for it....Testimonies expressed in the Faith and Practice of the Yearly Meeting.

Yes, Testimony. Discipline. Blew me away.

So, I did a little research and find that what Margaret Fell called a "silly, poor gospel" is pervasive.

Her observation was about the "rules" that were being practiced about such things as the color of clothing Quakers should wear, the style of hat, the fact that buttons were pretentious and so on, but the main point here is that it is a very human tendency to take observations we believe and make them into rules for everybody.

Apply that to our Testimonies: The best explanation of the traditional Quaker perception on testimonies I found in The American Friends Service Committee's description:

"Quakers believe in living life in the spirit of love and truth and peace, reaching for the best in oneself and answering “that of God” in everyone. Quaker testimonies are expressions of the commitment to put those beliefs into practice.

The testimonies bear witness to the truth, as Friends in community perceive it— truth known through relationship with God. They do not exist in any rigid, written form; nor are they imposed in any way. Each Quaker searches for how the testimonies can best be expressed in his or her own life.

While attempting to live in concert with these teachings, Quakers are tender with themselves and with each other when they fall short, ready to recommit and try again."

I'm doen with that and it was my expectation, but then I looked at the description of Testimonies given on The Earlham School of Religion website and find that the idea that early Quakers were non credal is "belied, however, by the existence of the Quaker Testimonies, which set out several explicit principles for good living to which Friends consistently refer in ordering their lives."

"Belied" The expectation is that they were and are rules of behavior.

I have heard some people say that "Evangelical Quaker" is a contradiction in terms and the idea is surely supported by this mindset.

I really believe that the Evangelical Movement brought much of value to the Quietist Quaker world, but some of the baggage is destructive and it is this mindset and the recent application of it in Western Yearly Meeting that cause them to split.

We need to think about this.

One of the objections to any change to the published testimonies was that the other view would be imposed as a rule on the Yearly Meeting as a whole by the minority with that view; the tail wagging the dog as was said, but the point is not to wag the dog, but to allow the tail to wag. This can only happen if the testimonies are NOT viewed as rules for compliance, but a DEScription of what we have found to be true in our relationships, subject to change with new information

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bad Joke

Shawna, over at Mystics, Poets and Fools (a grouping to which I belong in one capacity or another) has embarked on a necessary course of action, one that will be long and painful, but eventually uplifting to her, her Meeting and many people who have lived in shadow for years. She is asking her Meeting to follow her discernment that same sex relationships are not sin. Tough parlay in a Conservative Meeting, though probably not as tough as in an Evengelical one.

Anyway, I was reminded of a recent exchange with a conservative Christian friend when we were talking about gay relationships and i expressed the view that we should really study what the precise meaning of the various words used in scriptural references, both literally and in social context. I expressed the idea that I have that God's proscriptions, when analyzed are about what is helpful to people in their relationships with others as well as within themselves, and that nothing is prohibited without specific such reasons. He expressed the idea that sometines God just says somethinbg is wrong, and that's the end of it.

I told him the old joke about the guy who had a really hard time his whole adult life. I mean, if it could go wrong for him it did and he suffered reverses that would drive some insane for years. Finally, after such a series, he looked at his life and decided to end it. As he was standing on the bridge railling, as people will, he looked up to the sky and said, "Why me, God? Why do these things always happen to me?"
The sky clouded over and the thunder rolled and a voice came out of the clouds, saying in slightly puzzled tones, "Something about your face just ticks_me_off."


My friend was not laughing.

After a moment, he said to me, "I think even indicating that God would act like that borders on blasphemy."

"Yes," I said, "Precisely."

I don't think he changed his mind.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labor-saving bloggers

I love the conversation in the blogosphere, and one of its aspects is really wonderful: sometimes somebody else says what is on your mind and you don't have to. The other day, Cat, from Quaker Pagan Reflections commented that I had written down what she had been struggling to express. That's great....mostly. I mean that it is good that the thought could be voiced and be a help in conversation, though In some ways I wish I had shut up and waited until Cat got it done as she does a much better job of writing.
I just had that experience form the other end, as I had in my notebook, the beginnings of a post that was waiting for me to find a way to express what I wanted to say. Then George Amoss at The Postmodern Quaker posted this:
Wow. WAY better than I could have said it.
But that's the nature of the conversation, and the movement of the Spirit that i believe is right in the middle of it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"New Covenant"

The establishment of Law as basis for relationship with God was a major shift in perception in the ancient world, which had largely viewed the gods in highly anthropomorphic perceptions, acting on whims and emotions having only to do with their personal desires. For a fascinating study of a primitive mind working out such a projection, I recommend Browning's Caliban upon Setebos. To say that these are the things that please or displease God put the relationship on a much more secure footing. It should be no surprise that there are two major threads to these "Laws:" those which made for an orderly society, and those which established the priveleges and practices of the priestly class, who by some coincidence were the ones teaching the "Law."

Hebrew thought before Jesus was tending in the direction that it was really those social perceptions that were important to God and not the system of sacrifices and minor ordinances so important to the priests. Jesus' ministry and teaching was simply an extension of that, and a paradign shift from the importance of law for responsibility and order to the idea that the spirit that animated the idea of law, the concern for others as members of a whole society, is what is important in relating to God: fulfilling "law" as opposed to abolishing it.

When we operate in love, there is, for instance, no requirement for a law against murder. And, as noted, the law's requirement not to murder is really superficial in comparison to love's requirement that we not maintain anger against our brother. Therefore there are no "laws" that are a requirement, though such things may be set up for easy reference, each is subject to review as to whether it promotes a Way of love within our society. As Paul said in 1 Cor 10:23, " All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." This is essentially the "New Covenant" prophesied by Jeremiah in which God's "laws" would be written on the hearts of those who operate in love. Our actions as well as our words will come from the abundance of our hearts.

Clearly the original disciples remained a part of the Jewish religion, and saw no conflict, though the attitude toward the priestly class and offices must have been quite different. That changed when Peter and Paul in particular started sharing the gospel with those who were not Jewish and the question arose as to whether those converts needed to convert to the Jewish faith, or only to the Way that Jesus taught, which was not confined to a faith tradition. The decision of the council was that they were not so required and their faith was able to operate outside of a religious tradition.

Unfortunately, the followers of the Way were not appreciated by orthodox Jews, particularly the leadership, and the whole group, Jew and gentile, began to have to operate outside a religious tradition until a new "clergy" or priesthood established itself and started constructing a religion around the Way taught and exemplified by Jesus. They didn't do so good.

One of the most interesting constructs has been the perception of "Atonement," and that perception is one of the cornerstones of the new "religion." The idea that Jesus somehow took away our culpability for failings when He was crucified is an essential part of the perception of Jesus as the founder and foundation of that system. How that worked is another problem entirely. There is a great (and short) review of some of the explanations that have been offered over the years, along with their attendant problems, in section II-the end of: and it is well worth a study.

My main point is that, with such a weak link as a foundational element, it has to be difficult to support the validity of the "religion" constructed with it. We have to wonder just how far past James' definition of "true religion" in James 1:27 we should depend on constructs and doctrines of men, and seriously examine the elements used in that construction.

However, for those who see beyond 2,000 years of that "religion" to the Way, it is indeed a "New Covenant" and consciousness concerning our relationship to God, our fellow humans and our world.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I'm walking again.

Sounds like a major breakthrough, huh? Well, all I mean is that protesting muscles have recovered enough that I felt like taking a substantial walk yesterday: about 3 miles round trip to the grocery store.

The family backpacking trip was a great success.... even better than the year before. This was largely because we were not quite so innocent as our first trip. I briefly mentioned our first trip based on my nephew Daron's nostalgia, but let me fill in a little detail: he remembered the trip from the standpoint of an early teen, and the hike was the least of his concerns.

A quarter of a century makes a difference. The fact is that there are three ratings for hiking in the guides: easy, moderate and difficult. They missed "brutal." Kids don't notice stuff like that.

Last year we set out early afternoon with light hearts and heavy packs (well, 40 pounds seems pretty hefty after awhile on the trail, and my sister's 28 was no slouch) early in the afternoon, expecting to have supper at our destination. Wrong. About 2/3 of the way up we pooped out and made camp in a nice little meadow not all that long before dark. The next day we ate lunch on the trail before our destination. NEVER trust childhood memories.

But we really did enjoy the trip (as well as the results of our cardio-vascular stress testing) SO, we planned a trip for this year. We chose a less difficult hike. My sister and I even checked it out earlier in the Summer with light packs for a day trip. Not too bad

THIS year we set out before lunch, ate on the trail and were at our destination in plenty of time for supper. Good planning, huh? The trail was a good mix, with a moderate start, a long easy section and three relatively short difficult sections spaced out with short easy sections. It was all we wanted to do for sure, but not a killer by any means. I will say that one of the teens asked what the last "difficult" section was like, and I told her that it was about like the previous section.
Her response was, "Good," and I didn't even hit her for that.

We spent about 5 days in all and had a ball. My only regret was that I only brought enough to make one breakfast of biscuits, but they were a hit. I did do one more climb on the way back with a light pack just so I could see a cirque we had not visited. It was great. We got back to where the rest of the family remained in a sort of base camp... tired, but happy.

"Base camp." NOT a good idea if your focus is "backpacking." You see, there are no lounge chairs on the mountain. You do NOT pack a six-pack of Bud UP the mountain.

NEXT year we are thinking Base Camp with day trips and maybe an overnighter or two.

I think I see a pattern about energy expended emerging here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Modern Council of the Church

My spiritual language is "Christian." For me, the "Way of Life" is embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus and is stated in essence in the "new commandment" in which Jesus calls us to love one another just as He loved us. Ask any Christian what the heart of the Gospel is and most likely they will agree that it is "The Sermon on the Mount" as reported in Matthew 5-6. Ask them what the heart of that "sermon" is and they will be likely to say "The Beatitudes." I disagree

For me, the heart of the message is found in Matt 5:43 to the end of the chapter, which is essentially about loving our enemies, stating that God loves everyone and we should try to be more like God. To my mind Jesus was just picking the most glaring example of where to expand our consciousness of relationship, and the idea applies equally to anyone who is different from us in any way. I doubt that very many would disagree on that part.

That's it in a nutshell. Anything else is about how to acquire a heartfelt appreciation of that principle and then apply it, or it is about personal perceptions of our relationship to God.

It is clear that the first followers of the Way that Jesus embodied remained in the Jewish religion. They continued to meet in the Temple court and used Jewish practices such as water baptism. Until Peter and Paul expanded the horizons of the fellowship. Then a huge question arose as to what was required of a follower of Christ; was a convert required to convert to the Jewish religion?

The council of the Church at Jerusalem recounted in Acts is a fascinating study, but the result hinges on one perception: the report by Peter and Paul that the Spirit manifested in gentiles without the need for them to do what was necessary to come under the covenant with Abraham and with Moses as representative of the Hebrew nation. The Way is not dependent on at least that particular religion.

Within the diverse Society of Friends there is currently a question about whether a profession of faith in Jesus as the mediator between God and man is necessary for membership in that Society, an organization that has always professed to follow the Way embodied by Jesus. The more theologically liberal elements of the Society have pretty much decided for inclusiveness for any who wish to join and work together to make the basic element of the Way work in our lives and our relationship with others. The more theologically conservative are adamantly opposed to any but professed "Christians" becoming members.

"The Doctrine of the Light" was from near the beginning of the Society a foundational element of Quaker perception, though I understand some elements of the Society have relatively recently repudiated it. That doctrine states essentially that God speaks to everyone in the world and an appeal to "that of God" in a person may bear fruit in causing that person to come nearer into alignment with the Way. There have been various perceptions of how that works, but exposition of the doctrine by Barclay and expressions of the kinship of those who work for an increase of love as active principle in the world regardless of religion by such as William Penn indicate that the perception was that one need not know the name of Jesus to work in the Way.

I think we need to examine the direction perceptions were moving even before the Ministry of Jesus in such prophecies as that of Jeremiah in which he indicated that there would be a new covenant in which God's precepts would be "written on the heart" of the people. I think that means that actions would be the natural result of the attitude of love held by those who have come close to God AS love. The statement in Hosea 6:6, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings," seems to me to be a clear direction that love of God is to be practiced in relating to others as opposed to simply religious observances. And the same thing is true of Micah 6:8

What IS "The Religious Society of Friends?" That is the question we have to answer when we ask whether it is a community based on a religious perception of Jesus AS "the" Christ, or on following the Way that we have said God makes available to all men through the light Christians see as the light of Christ. This is the choice that faces the Society as some face it and others choose to ignore. I love Jesus for what I see Him as having done for us, and relating to the Divine in the Light of the message and the person of Jesus is a source of joy to me, but that love and joy in no way precludes fellowship with those who live in love and have different perceptions.

To me the question hinges on whether the Spirit can be seen to be operating (as at least some early Friends said it does) within the framework of other religious structures or philosophical perceptions which can be seen as vehicles for the Light insofar as they really do express the same way that Jesus said His disciples would be recognized: by their love. If the Spirit is to be our "guide" as stated by Jesus, can that Spirit be seen at work in members of the Society who do not share religious perceptions with the Christians who have historically made up the majority of the Society?

I have seen it working. End of question for me, it only remains to see how we can work out the details of living together in the Light.

So, if it's that simple, what's the problem?

Perhaps it's the weight of 2,000 years of catering to the propensity of humans to make a religion, a set of forms around the conduct of our life. Veneration of the messenger is a natural response, especially when the message is so much embodied in the ministry or life of the messenger, but is it appropriate to make that veneration a requirement for participation in a Society based on the message? Is our language to be restricted to one description of how the Spirit moves? Is "renewal" to be merely a matter of getting back to earlier forms rather than expanding our perceptions to see what the root of our faith rests in?
I hope not.