Plan C: World Repentance

July 19, 2014 by

Contingency planning for the end of the world

All life on earth is now threatened by man-made global warming. And the holders of the world’s political and economic power, as a whole, seem powerless or unwilling to stop it. Celebrated thinker Lester R. Brown published Plan B: Rescuing a Planet in Distress and a Civilization in Trouble in 2003 (now revised as Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, 2009); but instead of listening to Brown and adopting a plausible Plan B, the world continues with its suicidal Plan A, business as usual. Earthcare activists struggle valiantly to open the ears of willfully deaf policymakers while modeling low-impact life-ways themselves, but little is said by anyone about what we might do in case all these interventions prove too little and too late. This writing is to open that conversation. This writing is to suggest a Plan C – which perhaps our Creator may have had in mind all along for just such an occasion as this, a gradually-dawning man-made doomsday.

Plan C is World Repentance. It seems reasonable. An escapist drunken orgy is not reasonable. Genocide of all but a privileged few is not reasonable, though many who think God loves only the privileged may hope that a Rapture-event will achieve the genocide for them. Darkening the skies with megatons of charcoal to cool the earth’s surface is not reasonable, and even if it were, it would relieve only one of many environmental disorders we’ve caused. Scapegoating of designated “destroyers of the earth” is not reasonable, though I fear it may be widely resorted to. The problem is that we’re all among the destroyers of the earth.

Repentance: it’s not a popular word today, possibly because it’s so often used by religious bullies who want to make other people “repent,” that is – in their understanding of the word – grovel. Or perhaps because it’s confused with beating ourselves up. God never asks us to beat ourselves up; it hurts God’s child, and anyway, it does no good. Repentance is, rather, a God-initiated healing process that leaves the person wiser, more loving, and at peace. In the Hebrew Bible, repentance appears in forms of the verb nāḥám, literally “to sigh;” in the New Testament, of the verb metanoéō, literally “to change one’s mind or purpose.” First we exhale completely, letting go of all agendas, all defenses; then we let our purpose be changed. With purpose changed, everything changes. That’s why some speak of “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

Plan C will not be a program instituted by executive order or act of congress. The Pope, the Dalai Lama and a panel of Nobel laureates may come to endorse it, but it will not begin with them. It will begin in millions of contrite human hearts when the numbness of collective denial wears off. They will whisper words of contrition in hundreds of tongues, make prayers according to every world-view and religious tradition on earth, and perhaps weep and groan in the Holy Spirit. Not everyone will; the seer of the Apocalypse anticipated that some would “gnaw their tongues for pain, and blaspheme the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repent not of their deeds” (Revelation 16:10-11) – as some men and women do in every crisis that tries their conscience. But the more people that do repent of their wrongdoings, the easier they make it for their unrepentant neighbors to have the needed change of heart.

Plan C is not magic: it is not a technique to achieve a desired objective. Neither is it offered here as a remedy for fear: let’s face it, nightmares are scary. It’s simply offered as a right thing to do when we see that it’s too late to do all the other right things we might have done. We don’t know what God will do, and whether or not World Repentance would change God’s mind. (Can anything change God’s mind? The philosophers’ jury is still out on that one.) We can see that God didn’t let us suddenly destroy life on earth with nuclear weapons – at least, not yet – but God may still let us slowly destroy life on earth with our wasteful, overconsuming and selfish ways. Or, God may not! There is no second-guessing God.

Are you feeling a call to repentance? It can be followed from within whatever religious tradition you claim as your own. If you’re a Jew, repent as a Jew. If you’re a Muslim or a Hindu, repent as a Muslim or a Hindu. If you’re confused about what to believe, repent as a confused person. The point is to ask your Creator to show you how to repent, and empower you to do it. Maybe it’s not too late to save the earth after all, if the world’s leaders repent! But there will be no repentance of world leaders unless we world citizens take the initiative and go first.

Repentance, the Comforting Gospel, and the Dying Earth

July 11, 2014 by
A friend who read my recent posts encouraging repentance called them “terrifying.” I wrote back:
“I’m grateful to you for telling me that my writing was ‘terrifying,’ because I realize that my objective should not be to terrify but to comfort, and to inspire hope and trust in a God who wishes us no evil, no pain, but desires to rescue us from evil and pain. I heard a voice some years ago, which I believe to have been the Holy Spirit’s, telling me ‘comfort thou the ones that are still asleep.’ I take that as my commission: to be a comforter rather than a terrifier. But before I can comfort, I first need to know that the persons I’m talking to can admit that the world around us is sometimes terrifying. If they can’t, then the comforting conversation isn’t ready to start.
“I believe that we’re all God’s darlings. Really. God sees us the way God made us: innocent, beautiful, sweet, like newborn babies, like Adam and Eve before their Great Disobedience, making up clever names for the animals, eating blueberries right off the bush, and delighting in delighting each other. All the bad crap, guns and waterboarding and debt-slavery, is what we made for ourselves, individually and collectively. And not just the obviously man-made bad stuff, but sickness and danger and death itself also, with the hurricanes, tsunamis and epidemics that plague a fallen world. This is the bad dream we made for ourselves, because we’ve chosen ‘darkness’ over ‘light,’ as Jesus puts it in John 3:19, and we’ve come to prefer the sin-hiding darkness, because it seduces us with false promises of making us happier than the light can. This means that we’ve developed perverted tastes, which lock us into being invested in ignorance and a fallen world. Hence we need to repent of our perverted tastes and be healed of our addiction to what’s not good for us.
“Is it ugly, is it painful, is it disappointing? Then it’s not something God created for us, but something God allowed us to create for ourselves – because God did create us in His image: to be creators, with free will, which allows us to make mistakes. But God also created us to be capable of learning, repenting, outgrowing mistakes, choosing the good over the evil. I say all this just to make the point that God’s not to blame for anything unpleasant in our lives, and therefore, is not someone to fear, but to turn to and trust, crying for help!
“I believe that Jesus revealed the character of God for us, both by serving as one of God’s prophets and declaring God’s intentions, and also by modeling Godlike behavior: laying down his life for us, forgiving all his own betrayers and murderers even when his pain, and therefore his temptation to curse his enemies, must have been almost unbearable. But Jesus is not just a prophet of God and a model for good behavior who lived two thousand years ago and then disappeared from this world; He is a Present Friend. ‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,’ He said (Matthew 28:20). So when you say, ‘I could never be like Jesus,’ He’s there to answer, ‘Sure you can; I’ll help you.’ All you have to do is want it. I think that’s the Gospel in a nutshell. I think it’s a comforting Gospel, tidings of great joy to all people.”

Now repentance is a change of heart. It doesn’t make the thorns drop off roses as we pass by, or the cruel around us lose their cruelty. Life in this world still hurts, and we may even follow Jesus into martyrdom. But repentance allows certain things to happen: one is that we come to know, inwardly, that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39), who is making all things work together for good for us (Romans 8:28; this removes all cause for grief). Another is that, with a change of heart we become a new creature, and the new creature no longer hates itself – what a burden falls away then, and what works of love start streaming from us! A third thing is that we unlearn our deep-seated old habit of deciding what to do on the basis of its expected payoff for me, because the new question becomes “Is this what God is asking of me now?” – which immunizes us against the temptation to reason, “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Romans 3:8). This was the reasoning that got us into this present nasty situation.

This brings me to consider our present nasty situation. In addition to our having a world so militarized, so tyrannized, and so polarized between rich and poor, we are also killing life on earth. Our consumption habits, the political and economic choices we make to support them, and the perverted tastes behind them, are all hurtling us forward toward doomsday. At first we thought that the rising titer of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would simply raise temperatures and shift comfort- and growing-zones toward the earth’s poles. Then we realized that many species would become extinct in the process; island nations and coastal cities would go underwater as the icecaps melted; increased carbon dioxide in the water would turn the seas too sour to allow shelled creatures to form shells, sending famine up the marine food chain. Our horror mounted as we saw that the melting of polar ice and arctic permafrost would not only change ocean salinity patterns, killing the Gulf Stream and other vehicles of life, but would also be releasing megatons of methane into the upper atmosphere, turning up the flame under the cooking planet.

We’ve realized that the way we do things is unsustainable and called for a Plan B, and sensible Plan B’s have been rolled out. But now it’s evident that the rulers of the earth, both the visible ones and the invisible, lack the will, motivation and flexibility to implement any sort of Plan B. Of course we’ll join the march to the United Nations on September 21 to insist on it, but no doubt the heads of state assembled there will only be able to wring their hands and point fingers at one another. Great numbers of voluntary communities of urban and rural homesteaders may go off-grid and grow their own vegetables as the crisis worsens,  but I can’t believe that anyone will prove competent to make a general, global Plan B happen. So we’ll need a Plan C.

The only Plan C I can imagine saving life on earth is widespread repentance, a world epidemic of repentance – not merely a change of behaviors, though surely outward changes will accompany inward metamorphosis (the replacement of agribusiness and frankencrops with technologies like permaculture, the Wal-Mart trams-Pacific supply chain with a localized transition economy, global capitalism with its yet-unnamed successor).  I look with hope toward the only God,  the only Savior, the only Transformer of Hearts, for the only Plan C that can save life on earth.

Ramadan mubarak! a letter to a Muslim friend

June 30, 2014 by

This is the text of a letter I just sent to a Muslim friend on the first day of Ramadan, edited only slightly, and having sent it, I felt called to send it to all my Muslim friends, and to all, of any faith tradition, who can hear it, with my love. Those who call God “Her” rather than “Him” should substitute that pronoun; we refer to the same Holy One:

As-Salaam alaykum! I was very grateful to hear from you, and ever since then I’ve been wishing for an opportunity to sit and write a thoughtful letter back to you. Many days have passed, all with their pressures and problems, and on some days I’ve simply felt too stupid, or too caught up in superficial thinking, to gather myself together and give you a true picture of what my life is like now, or what I see when I look out on the world. Now it seems as though I needed the awful solemnity of Ramadan to frame an adequate picture of my situation, and what I see as our situation, all of us human creatures.

We are a race of exiles from Paradise. Our souls once knew our Creator intimately, and knew what He wanted of us: to love one another, to be thankful toward Him in our hearts, and to do only good. Somehow we came here, to a world where there is love, but also fear, which tempts us to be selfish and do evil; and these make us forget that we have a Creator. Worse: if we knew we had a Creator, we would hate Him and refuse His guidance, unless we could be convinced that He was just like us, and loved us and hated the ones that we hate, and asked nothing spiritually difficult of us, and smiled on our deceits and our violence. (And why would we hate Him? because turning back to Him from our rebellion would be briefly painful, and we naturally shun pain.)

And behold: a world full of religious leaders who are willing to tell us just such a great lie about God, and a world full of political leaders and institutions that embody that lie. These all say, “Let us do evil, so that good will come of it” – in the original Greek of the New Testament (Romans 3:8), it sounds like a children’s song: poiḗsōmen tà kaká, hína élthē tà agathá. This is the Devil’s song, and the whole human race sings it as it goes about its daily work, making the whole world into a great insane asylum. Those whose hearts remember the commandment “do only good, so that your conscience will stay clean and you’ll remain open to your Creator’s guidance,” are the ones struggling to stay sane among their mad brothers, sisters, parents, employers, children, husbands and wives. But how tempting it is to just say “yes” to what everyone else is saying, and help them go on doing what they’re doing – how else would we earn the money to support our families? – and this puts us back to sleep. So while we’re awake, we desperately need the company and encouragement of others who are awake, who’ll remind us of our calling to do only good, and repent of evil, and remember the all-forgiving God who loves to welcome back any and all who repent of evil they’ve thought, said, done, and approved of as if it were good.

So I pray for myself, and I pray for others, and try to do works of love as opportunities arise – my main work now. And I’m very, very grateful for every expression of love, and comfort, and warning, and encouragement I get back from others that I think are rightly guided, anything that tells me that I myself am walking the path of the rightly guided, the şirāţ al-mustaqīm, because I know how easy it is for us to be deceived by our own pride. May Allah protect you and your loved ones from such temptation always, and continue to lead you along the path of the rightly guided, now and forever, until we stand together in His glorious presence, no longer capable of falling away from Him in whom all good dwells.

Always feel free to ask for my prayers in times of temptation or suffering, and please know that I’m your friend forever.

As-salaam alaykum,

John

Priorities for the Religious Society of Friends

June 28, 2014 by

A story is told about John the Beloved Disciple, who, alone of the twelve disciples, lived to a very old age and died a natural death.  As Jerome recounts it, in his last years John had to be carried to the church in Ephesus in his disciples’ arms. At these meetings he’d say no more than “Little children, love one another!” After hearing the same message many times, his followers found it tiresome, and asked him why he always said it. He answered, “It’s the Lord’s command; and if this alone be done, it is enough!” (see William Steuart McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles (Living Books edition, 1983), pp. 187-188.)

“Love one another:” isn’t this the “new commandment” that Jesus gave the disciples at the Last Supper? Wasn’t this to be the criterion (John 13:34-35) by which all people might recognize followers of Jesus? That they love one another as Jesus loved them – therefore, wrote John, “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).  There is, of course, also the commandment to love our neighbors and our enemies (Matt. 22:40, 5:44), without which we can’t really love God: love is the fundamental thing; faith “worketh through love,” Galatians 5:6.  God loves us infinitely, but if we bite and devour one another, refuse to forgive one another, tell lies to one another, or use one another to gratify our own swollen egos, we shut the door on God also, and refuse God’s love.  In such a case, estrangement from God is our doing, not God’s.

Fast forward sixteen hundred years, to the founding of the Religious Society of Friends, whose rallying-cry was “Christ is come to teach His people Himself!”  This, said George Fox and others, was a truth known “experimentally,” that is, through direct experience of the “true Light, which lighteth every [person] that cometh into the world” (John 1:9).  It’s important to remember that this was no voluntary association of individuals formed around common values and purposes, but a people of God – “the people of God in scorn called Quakers,” they sometimes styled themselves – who knew themselves bound to God by a covenant, and called – called to be saints, called to grace, liberty, holiness, peace, and eternal life, called to the fellowship, kingdom, and glory of Christ: called no longer to live as separate individuals unto themselves, but to die to the old self and live as branches in the One Vine.  Three hundred and fifty years later, we Quakers may no longer remember that we’re a covenanted people, and we may no longer even agree that there is a God, let alone a Person titled Christ who calls us to a new life, but neither have we repudiated any of these foundational understandings.  So it’s to this covenanted people I address myself here:

New York Yearly Meeting, to which I belong, is in the midst of considering its priorities, having approved a process “to discern… what work God would have us do.” It’s appointed a working group of dedicated, seasoned Friends to meet with local and regional meetings and worship groups. These have done a great deal of deep listening over the past few years, and formulated a Statement of Leadings and Priorities, which is shortly to be presented to the Yearly Meeting for approval. Tomorrow there’s to be a called meeting, at my monthly meeting, to consider the document. I think it’s a pretty good document, and it makes sound, sensible suggestions – loving suggestions – for improving our corporate health.

But there are a couple of things that don’t sit well with me. The encouragement to bring new people into meeting, for example, so that we’ll enjoy an increase in membership. Frankly, I don’t want an increase in membership. 70% of our membership takes no part in our committee work; 10 to 15% come to business meeting; this tells me that membership as we know it is a rotten institution. I don’t even want to see an increase in attendance per se. I’d like to see an increase in love for one another, in mutual forgiveness, in readiness to die to the old self or to die one for another, even to sacrifice personal comfort for one another’s sake. Be more Christlike, Friends! Then, I think, new people would come to us like bees to the honeysuckle vine. And then we might see how to reinvent membership, to have more to do with that covenant with God than it now has.

Then there’s the expressed hope that the Yearly Meeting would “witness to the world on our behalf.” No, I don’t want it to witness to the world on our behalf, I want it to witness to the world on God’s behalf, on Christ’s behalf, on the Gospel’s behalf, or else be silent! I don’t want it to lobby public officials to do the right thing so that what we consider right policies are enacted and enforced, leaving those officials’ defiled consciences unchallenged, but to call those officials to repentance if that’s what their spiritual need is. What have we, a people disarmed of carnal weapons, to do with the apparatus of the state, which is all about domination, force, mass surveillance, and the deployment of carnal weapons? The world says, “let us do evil, that good may come of it” (Romans 3:8); we’re a people called out of the world, forbidden to reason in such a manner. What communion hath light with darkness!? Jesus was silent before Pilate: do we think ourselves any better equipped to negotiate with the world?

On the other hand, if we are a city on a hill that cannot be hid, there’s hope that the world will come to us for counsel when its own counsel fails.

 

Again, will you repent?

June 22, 2014 by

This is a sequel to my  posting of yesterday, “Will you repent?” This time I won’t merely write a comment on another Friend’s blog posting, but dip my pen, so to speak, into my own heart. (If this figure of speech is found disturbing, it was meant to be.)

I read in the Philokalia, years ago, that there is no salvation without repentance. At once I felt the truth of the statement, for it had already been made clear to me that the God of All Consciousness willed my salvation into everlasting peace, but my sense of myself as a sinner kept me from peace. What names of self-condemnation had I not called myself! Liar. Thief. Cheater. Hypocrite. Impostor. Betrayer of trust. Coward. Selfish. Moral weakling. Sex criminal. Adulterer. Pervert. Addict. Cruel. Loveless. Bully. Persecutor. Racist. Anti-Semite. Would-be rapist and murderer. Failure. Fool. If that person were to stand in a Light of Truth that exposed everything, I couldn’t bear it. I must, therefore, continue to keep certain memories of things I’d thought, said and done hidden and, as much as possible, forgotten. And I must defend the secrecy of my secrets until, mercifully, they died with me and could hurt me no more.

This sense of tainted self, which I sense afflicts most people here on earth, predated  my belief in an all-seeing God. But a Light of Truth that exposed everything could exist, theoretically, in the basement of a police station, the brain-decoder lab of a mad scientist, or the anal-probe room of a UFO. So long as our master strategy is to keep the shame of our tainted self hidden, we must mostly hope that no Light of Truth catches up with us anywhere, and that an all-seeing God does not exist – or, if one does, that He, She or It has no interest in turning souls inside-out to expose their interiors. I wonder whether this would explain the appeal, not only of atheist materialism and moral relativism, but also of religions of cheap grace (forgiveness of sins without having to name them), and spiritual disciplines promising cheap liberation, with a guaranteed destruction of the karmāśaya that requires no looking inside it.  Collectively, we have an enormous investment in keeping the darkness dark.

I like to call this state of consciousness I’ve just described “fallen,” having personally experienced glimmerings of another state that is “unfallen.” The fallen state is one of fear. I’ve seen how all the vices, anger, lust, greed, pride, envy and so on, can be traced back to fear, including that peculiar one that causes projection and scapegoating of all that we can’t bear to acknowledge in ourselves. It’s not yet known to me, at this stage in my life, whether death, danger, pain and evil result from our choice to dwell in a fallen spiritual state, or are independent God-established facts of life that justify our fear; but faith tells me that we may know this on the day that God “wipes away all tears from our eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

A society of humans in a fallen state is, not surprisingly, often cruel to its deviants, its outsiders, its scapegoats, and it typically institutes systems of domination and oppression to maintain itself, with myths and ideologies to justify the inequities of those systems, and payoffs of privilege to anesthetize those who enjoy what others lack. War, slavery, child abuse, violent entertainment, substance addiction, extremes of wealth and poverty, loan-sharking, prostitution, organized crime, and idolatrous exaltation of vain or evil things as “good” are all common features of fallen culture, now as in ancient Babylon. To what extent a society of fallen humans can be made kinder, gentler, and fairer without addressing  the root problem of fallenness is one of the great experimental questions of our time. I’ve seen marvelous improvements in child-rearing and race-relations in my day, but also very ugly developments in the technology of  torture and killing. Antibiotics have done wonders with bacterial diseases, but, as I write, medical equipment is being used to force-feed prisoners held without criminal charges by a government that promised their speedy release years ago. I look out the window and still see a fallen world, and fallen people that have a crying, screaming need for salvation from it. (I happen also to believe in hell: an after-death state in which the inner torment of fallen souls continues, but without the disguises and cushions that this world affords. But it’s not necessary to believe in hell to believe in a universal human need for salvation, for this world is hell enough: ask the man who’s falling forty storeys from an overturned platform.)

Now back to Theoliptus of Philadelphia, who wrote that there is no salvation without repentance. How will we be restored from our fallen state without a great transformation in our consciousness? And how will we allow such a transformation without a massive letting-go of hates, fears, grudges, prejudices, false beliefs, and  idolatrous attachments to things that can never save us? That is repentance. And it’s not something that we can do in our own power, like saying a polite “I’m sorry.” It must come to us as a gift from elsewhere or it will not happen at all,  for it requires something that we don’t have yet. We know when we’ve gotten it; it makes us feel good. We know we’ve been washed clean of all those former things.  The sinner, even the chief of sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Tim. 1:15), is no longer in bondage to sin (John 8:31-36).

“When they heard these things, they…  glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” Acts 11:18. I’m now ready to speak about the God who grants repentance and salvation. What can I know about God? I’m less than a worm next to the Creator of one hundred trillion trillion stars. However, I believe that I’ve been spoken to by the voice of God, not many times, but enough. And I’ve been shown that the character of  the all-forgiving Jesus of Nazareth, my Savior and the world’s, mirrors the character of God: God is love (1 John 4:8, 4:16) and it is not the will of God that a single one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14) or turn wicked and die in its sins (Ezekiel 33:11), but though its sins be as scarlet, they should be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18), and that soul should have everlasting life (John 3:16) in which it experiences righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). I believe that Jesus’ laying down His life for us made these gifts of repentance and salvation possible for us, though I don’t yet know how. But I expect to be taught, once I’m made capable of understanding it.

The reader will note that I quote the Bible a lot, and may wonder why I choose the passages that make God seem easy to love, and not, say, those more troubling ones that liken God to a man in a drunken rage (Psalm 78:65), have God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and then punishing him for it (Exodus 4:21 ff), or having people cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19-21). My answer is that these sweeter scriptures have been “opened” to me, and those that make God look capricious or cruel have not. The sheep of the Good Shepherd know their Shepherd’s voice from the voices of the hireling, the sheep-rustler and the wolf (John 10:1-14), and I recognize my Shepherd’s voice in Biblical passages that glorify the mercy and lovingkindness of God. I can believe in a Christ Jesus who freely lays down His life for me (John 10:15-17). I can’t believe in a God the Father who demands the torture-death of his innocent Son as payment for our sins; it can only be a lie invented by fallen theologians. God who planted the moral sense in me must have a far higher one than I do (Psalm 94:9).

Now it’s written in that Bible, “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful… and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavory” (2 Samuel 22:26-27, Psalm 18:26).  This suggests an important epistemological principle, that the unmerciful cannot experience God as merciful, not because of any sulkiness or wrathfulness on God’s part but because of a psychological incapacity in the unmerciful person that inevitably accompanies his refusal to show mercy. In that vein, Jesus notes “if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We are not to blame the Father for this, any more than we’re to blame the sun for appearing red when the atmosphere is heavily polluted. It is my conviction that all scriptures that put a fierce face on God represent the faith of fierce prophets or the experience of fierce times. The sun often appears red, and threatens soon to turn redder.

This brings me to the present situation of humankind, and the danger our overconsumption now presents to all life on earth. We have been bad stewards over the creatures, and it’s because we’ve been unrepentant fallen stewards.  Today there are people of faith who wish to shame, or bully, the most powerful-seeming of the bad stewards into changing their behavior.  But fear-based and adversarial actions are not appropriate behavior for people of faith,  whose every act should reflect the goodness of the God or dharma that they represent and serve as an advertisement to the evildoer to change his ways and enter into such a path of faith himself.  Until the CEOs of the fossil-fuel companies and their financiers are brought to repentance and a living relationship with God, the true mission of the environmental movement will remain unaccomplished. Until the earth itself is recognized not as a multi-use farm and recreation area for mortal creatures but as a staging-area for a life with God in eternity, our uses of it will continue to defile it. We who pray that God grant all creatures of the earth their daily bread, trustful that our Best of Fathers will not trick us by giving us a stone instead (Matt. 7:9), have a prophet’s assurance that God intends the earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). Ask your heart whether or not this is a message of God to you, and if it is, spread trust that God will turn the threatened dying of the earth around. While you are in communion with your heart, ask it whether or not your repentance is yet complete and perfect, and if it is not, whisper to God, “yes, perfect it.” God will do the rest.

 

 

Will you repent?

June 21, 2014 by

This morning, Steven Davison posted a blog posting entitled “The New Lamb’s War – the Language and Worldview of Quaker Prophetic Witness” (http://throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/the-new-lambs-war-the-language-and-worldview-of-quaker-prophetic-witness/#comment-1862). I think that Steve is my uncontestedly favorite blogger, now that Paul Hamell (http://entirelydifferent.net/) has left this world for the next, and some others, like “Brooklyn Quaker” Rich Accetta-Evans, have fallen silent in the blogosphere.  I revere Steve’s loving heart, brilliant mind, and wealth of knowledge; but we differ theologically. He’s put an immense amount of work into articulating a theology for Liberal Quakerism that stops short of declaring itself to be Christian Quakerism.  (See his http://throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/category/liberal-quakerism-an-exploration/.)  I, on the other hand, understand myself to be the property of Jesus Christ, a fact that makes moot the question of whether I’m a Christian or not.  I may be a valuable piece of property, a worthless piece of property, or something in between, but I’m bought with a price and live, no longer to myself but in Christ, under an everlasting covenant.

So Steve’s posting this morning pushed my “ignite me” button, and the first thing I did was post a response, which I reproduce here (with a few subsequent edits):

I eagerly await your presentation of the Lamb’s War, Steve. I’d like to think that while the Liberal Friends’ lambs are making their cavalry charge against the Man of Sin (whom James Nayler named as the enemy in this war; we’ll return to the question of who and what he is, but the impatient may want to look ahead to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, noting that the Greek anthrōpos tēs anomias could also be translated “Person of Lawlessness”), Conservative and Evangelical Friends’ lambs will be sending their infantry divisions in on the right and left flanks, trapping the Man of Sin in a valley of no escape and forcing his unconditional surrender to an engulfing sea of bleating lambs. What better cause to bring these natural allies together for! We’ll also be doing the Man of Sin a favor, too. It’s no fun parading around pretending to be God when you’re “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

What a sad reflection on the condition of Liberal Friends, though! “Today, Liberal Friends do not generally share this worldview [of early Friends]. Our God—when we have one—is not primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge. We are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” Your God, when you have one? — You mean you’re not a people of God any more? Some of you are sheep with a shepherd and some of you have no shepherd? How will you fight a Lamb’s War without your General?

I’d argue that the Christian God was never “primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge,” anyway, but a Lover and a Forgiver, a Savior and a Cherisher, who always wished all His darlings, or Her darlings, to be saved, awakened from their terrible dream of fallenness, and reunited with their Divine Source in an eternity of perfect bliss. (For “darlings” read “all souls,” or “all sentient beings.”) This is the God whom Jesus likened to the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15) and then modeled by forgiving His own murderers from the cross (Luke 23:34), having made plain to his followers (John 14:9) that whoever sees and knows Him, Jesus, also knows the character of God. This is also the character of God that was revealed to Paul, who, in a marvelous tour de force of rhetorical irony (Romans 1:20-2:4), ends his thundering denunciation of us sinners and our “abominable” sins with “but it’s God’s kindness and forbearance and patience that leads us to repentance.” Not God’s wrath or God’s scariness, but God’s kindness, yes, God’s heart-melting tenderness.

You note that Liberal Friends “are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” All the worse! Because then that means that the destruction and suffering we experience daily are meaningless! If you explain our sufferings as the workings of karma (a concept that pervades Christian scripture, as in “as ye sow, so shall ye reap,” though the term itself is a Hindu-Buddhist import) but divorce the law of karma from a lawgiving God who ordained it, you’re saying that God had nothing to do with it. What is God, anyway, just an observer? How can an observer be a Savior? (God does come across as an indifferent observer in the Yoga Sutras, though a righteous avenger in the Bhagavad-Gita, and a nonentity in the Buddhist literature, so Liberal Friends who look to the East for their theology can make God be whatever they want God to be.)

There is an explanation of the suffering we experience that is consistent with the Christian teaching that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 4:16), and that is that we chose to experience a world of suffering and death when we chose to have a will that diverged from God’s. This happens to be the central thesis of A Course in Miracles, for those Liberal Friends that follow that text, but it can also be found in John 3:19-20 and, in mythic form, in Genesis 3.

But with repentance, rightly understood, all that changes: suffering, death, the hapless victimhood of innocent creatures about to be cooked to death by the heedless, godless captains of a runaway industrial civilization. Once we’ve undergone the thorough change of consciousness that constitutes repentance, rightly understood (for the Greek metanoia means something far deeper than mere shame or regret over past deeds), it becomes an experienced fact that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Repentance is the almost-inevitable consequence of discovering that the Man of Sin, the Person of Lawlessness, is me, for from that discovery there is no other meaningful escape. (There’s suicide, of course; but is that meaningful?)  The question before Liberal Friends is, Will you repent? And the test of whether Liberal Friends’ theology is viable or not is, Does it invite repentance?

Weeping over the Lord’s Prayer: a First

May 31, 2014 by

My tears arose out of a sort of thought-experiment I did while saying the Lord’s Prayer this morning. Here’s the thought-experiment; you might want to try it yourself.
I’d been imagining people asking me why it was so important to me to be virtuous, like, was it a selfish ambition of mine disguised as its opposite? In many ways it may be, but there’s also the fact that I’m aware of so many people suffering, and wanting to be prayed for by someone that God would listen to, that just for their sakes I’d want to be someone that God would listen to. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person availeth much,” wrote James (5:16b).
Now from what I know about God, and please forgive the masculine pronoun, He’s the sort of person that would listen to anybody, righteous or unrighteous, because we’re all His darlings. If He gave us consciousness, then He sees with our eyes and feels with our heart, and His compassion abides with us forever. I know this about God because He gave me a heart to know it with. Scripture also tells me that He had compassion on Cain when Cain complained about the severity of his punishment. Scripture tells me that when I look on Jesus, I also see God, and that Jesus fed even Judas with the mystery of His body and blood, knelt to wash his feet, and forgave him from the cross.
But if I stand before God’s throne covered with the dung and vomit and slime of my own sins, and yes, they really have been that bad, I’ll be so distracted by the smell and feel of my own condition that I won’t be able to remember Who I’m talking to, or why, and my prayer won’t be able to be effectual or fervent.
So first I need a bath. (I imagine the Prodigal Son bathing and washing his garment in some deserted brook, by starlight, on his way back to his father’s house.) The bath is in the Lord’s forgiveness, which is infinite; but in order to receive it, I have to become forgiving, as infinitely as I can be. And of course I’ll need the Lord’s help with that.
So take your bath and drop your grudges and let’s get on with this thought-experiment.
Did I say, Drop your grudges? Your grudges and your shame, too. If it’s brought you this far, it’s served its purpose. If your shame tries to cling to you, and whispers that you’ll never be free of it, and that it’s bigger than God and that it owns you, tell it to go speak to your attorney, Jesus Christ, and not to return without His permission. It will slink away.
O.K. – now start saying the Lord’s Prayer, but as you do, think of what you look like from the vantage point of God on His throne. Don’t worry that this seems like Mickey-Mouse theology; it’s a symbol, it’s a metaphor! God already knows, and forgives, the fact that we can only think about Him, or Her, or Him-and-Her, using metaphors; so be as Mickey-Mouse as you have to be! The throne is high above the fluffy white clouds, and there, down on earth in a little patch of sunlight, is you, logging in to your connection with the Divine by saying “Hallowed be Thy name.”
If you really mean it, you continue to stand in the sunlight. If you don’t, then an ugly, oily, opaque cloud of colloidal dirt – of your own making – instantly blots you out of God’s sight and hearing, plunging you into a stupefying darkness, at least until you say something that you do mean. That’s the rules of this thought-experiment. Ready for the next phrase?
“Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God is watching you gesture to the earth all around you. Your patch of sunlight is widening. Yes! Now it includes the whole earth, and every creature on it. Do you really mean it? Is there any other kingdom you’re trying to advance, is there any other will that you’re trying to make prevail? Then beware – for in will roll that cloud of dirt, like the great dust-storm whose darkness ended the Jurassic!
But let’s say that you’re still standing in your patch of sunlight. Now comes “Give us this day our daily bread.” Who’s “us?” If you’re asking it on behalf of all creatures, spread your arms wide, and again the fluffy white clouds part, and your patch of sunlight widens to include all your human brothers and sisters, the cows and the earthworms, the alley cats, the roaches and the flies, the angels, the trees and the bacteria. Is there any class of creatures you’d deny their daily bread to? But why? In God’s kingdom, all are meant to live in harmony!
The next phrase is: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But this, I remind you, is your thought-experiment, and here I must leave you to finish it without me. Here, in my thought-experiment, my tears started, tears of gratitude that I was still standing in a patch of sunlight in the sight of my Creator, still being listened to because, by His grace, my motives had been so purified that I was not secretly trying to bullshit Him, or oppose His will in any matter I’m aware of, or thank Him that I am not as this publican standing next to me: anything, anything could have made that dreadful cloud of dirt roll in and blot me out; but it did not. I’d been permitted to stand in the presence of God, and stay standing. Hallelujah.
God is too good to be true; and yet He is true, even the only true reality there is. Hallelujah; amen.

On Solitary Confinement

May 24, 2014 by

To my State Senator and Assemblyman:

I urge you to co-sponsor the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A8588/S6466), currently in the NY State Assembly and Senate, to support it, and to vote for it.

You would do us all a great service, even those of us who run no personal risk of ever being put into solitary confinement, by making it your business to see this act signed into law, for when my neighbor gets put into the box, a part of you and me gets put into the box, and worse, our innocent Savior Jesus Christ gets put into the box. When not applied as a time-limited emergency measure to restrain actual violent behavior, solitary confinement is a form of torture. Scripture teaches us that God has no desire to torture; when the first murderer complained that his punishment was too hard to bear, his Creator mitigated it (Genesis 4:13-15). Do we want to set ourselves up as crueler than God? Is that an ambition we should be proud of?

Jesus told us that when we come to visit “the least of these” in prison, we’ve visited Him in prison (Matthew 25:36). He wasn’t joking, or indulging in a flight of poetic fancy: He was about to lay down His life — for you, for me, and for the men in solitary — and one does not waste time with idle jokes on the eve of one’s death. What could He have meant, then? Only this: that we are not separate people. His parable of the vine (John 15) is another way of saying that.

When one of His beloved children is tortured and broken by solitary confinement, He feels the torment, and you and I are further broken and deformed by the guilt we bear, as makers and upholders of our nation’s laws and as taxpayers whose dollars have paid for the bars on the cells. Please do your part to free us. You’ll feel good, and so will I – as though we’d just been let out of solitary.

I sent out a similar letter today to my Congressman, urging him to co-sponsor H.R.4618 – the Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014.

The vocal ministry I’d like to hear at meeting

April 13, 2014 by

Meeting began at 11 a.m. today, and the first message came at 11:08.  By the time the ten or twelve messages were over I was feeling quite alone, and even slightly sick, wishing I had a second community to pray with to prepare me for worship with this community, this big unruly family of Friends I love that I’ve been worshiping with for twenty-five years.  I couldn’t leave them unless God reassigned me – they’re my tribe.  But I’d looked for food, and gotten sawdust and sand.  I longed to hear something said among them that I wasn’t hearing, and the Holy Spirit was not opening my mouth to say it myself.

Late in the afternoon, after business meeting, after I’d parted from everyone, I seemed to feel the Lord urging me to write down what it was that I’d wanted to hear, so I spent most of my subway ride home writing a first draft of what became… this:

“The reign of God is at hand!  And Jesus Christ, who brought us this wonderful news, repeated it again and again, sealed it with His blood and witnessed to its truth by rising from the dead, has assured us that He is with us always, even to the end of the world; so that if the reign of God was at hand when He opened the eyes of the blind, fed the five thousand, and forgave harlots and publicans their sins, then so is the reign of God at hand today!  Brothers and sisters, do you know what this means, this reign of God?

“It means that the reign of self is over!  No more domination of the weak by the strong, the poor by the rich, no more ‘survival of the fittest’ where each has to fight to get his own way and some get trampled, because God loves everyone and can be trusted to provide what’s best for each!  That means that Love rules, and not fear, in the kingdom we inhabit – where, as God’s beloved children, no longer competing with one another for scarce goods, we ourselves reign with God!  What though there still be sword, hunger, plague and iron bars endangering the body in this world of suffering – God gives love, trust, courage, and guidance enough to sustain the soul through anything this world can inflict!  Which is to say that God gives us new eyes to see with, eyes that can see the ocean of light covering the ocean of darkness.

“How may we know that the reign of God is at hand?  By this: that as we ourselves forgive trespasses, we can feel the dirtiness, the shame, the guilt of our own past trespasses fall away, and the wellsprings of our own sin cease to flow.  And by this: that just as Jesus gave his disciples in ancient Galilee the authority to heal the sick, rebuke evil with power, and call the troubled to a thorough and effective repentance, so He gives us that authority today also, if only we will own our discipleship and devote ourselves to it!  Oh, my brothers and sisters! This is that new heart of flesh with the law graven on it that the Hebrew prophets promised us!  This is what it means to be born again as a new creature in Christ!  And it delights our Heavenly Parent to give this to us, if we will only open up our souls to accept it!  Hallelujah!  Brothers, sisters, open up your souls!”

A Personal Mission Statement

March 14, 2014 by

God is love, and calls us all to forgive all offenses and adopt God’s will as our own.

I’ve also discerned that God calls me to preach and exemplify this call to repentance of our selfish ways, and bear witness to the new life that follows on our being forgiven and healed from estrangement from God, which is this common fear-dominated condition called sin. I experience and understand this new life as a life in Jesus Christ, who lives both in God and among us, guiding, directing, warning, empowering, gathering, healing and perfecting all who will come to Him, whether they call Him by that name or some other.

I’ve discerned that I’m called to serve Jesus Christ, in His name and power, as a teacher of His gospel, persuader, comforter, hearer of confessions, and conveyer of His forgiveness and His healing. As I understand my calling, I’m to do this chiefly, but not exclusively, within the Religious Society of Friends.

I ask the help of a spiritual care committee to help me grow in this ministry, and to correct me if I should stray from it.


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