Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

A Christian Pacifist’s Open Letter to a Christian Zionist

November 10, 2019

An open letter to a spokesman for Friends of Zion, Phoenix, AZ, sent 11/10/2019:

Dear brother in our Lord Jesus Christ:

Thank you for your choosing me to represent residents of Richmond, Indiana in your survey, and for appealing to me to “help raise a shield of protection over God’s chosen people,” which I indeed wish to do. But your survey asks me for knowledge or opinions I dare not pretend to have (for example, “Do you think recent events in the Middle East are a sign of the End Times?” – see Mark 13:32). Rather than fill out your survey, therefore, I prefer to speak to you from my heart.

Jesus Christ, in washing me clean of my sins and granting me membership in Himself, has also disarmed me of carnal weapons forever, even to the point of forbidding me to use my tongue or pen to hurt others. I may and do, however, rebuke many, in hopes of helping souls return to the God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but, being Love Itself, wishes for the repentance and salvation of all. Please consider this seriously, and if you doubt it, ask the Lord to reveal the truth of the matter to you. In cases where sinners persist in behaving foolishly enough to repeatedly choose evil over good, it must be by their own will, and not God’s, that they flee from the Light into the outer darkness (John 3:19-20). I say this with confidence because Jesus has commanded me to forgive others their trespasses against myself, *all* others and *all* their trespasses, if I want my Heavenly Father to forgive my own trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15). Think: would our Heavenly Father expect us to hold ourselves to a higher standard of forgiveness than He Himself keeps to? It’s written that Jesus Himself forgave His own murderers (Luke 23:34). Would He exhibit a more all-forgiving character than the One whose will He came to do (John 6:38)? It is this very kindness of God toward sinners, Paul notes, that is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

I do not vote. Because Christ has disarmed me of carnal weapons, and forbidden me to urge others to use them on my behalf, I can’t use the ballot box to put Caesar’s sword into one would-be commander-in-chief’s hand rather than another’s. Neither can I, in good conscience, help American Christians empower fear-driven bullies in Israel’s government and military to engage in cruel injustices to the Palestinians with whom they are obliged by international agreements to share territory and resources. Neither would I encourage Palestinians, however hurt and angry, to be vengeful. I would say to the people of Israel, with Balaam, “Blessed is everyone who blesses you” (Numbers 24:9). But I would say the same, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, to all the nations round about Israel. If and when the people of Israel behave themselves like a righteous people of a merciful God, I have no doubt that the prophecy of Micah 4:1-2 will be fulfilled, with neighboring peoples streaming uphill to a Mount Zion established in divine truth and justice. But there can be no streaming through the checkpoints and razor wire currently in place.

I believe that Jesus Christ rebukes the State of Israel for its militaristic and oppressive stance toward its non-Jewish neighbors that makes enemies of them and keeps them enemies. I would advise fellow Christians to show love for God’s people, the Jews, by serving as peacemakers in the Middle East and not arms suppliers. But as for those Christians who see things otherwise, I don’t presume to judge them. I merely warn them that we have a Judge to face, they and I alike, and may our Judge be merciful to us all. As for you, M. E., a brother in Christ to whom I owe nothing but love (Romans 13:8, John 13:34), I hope you are a wise man who, if you feel rebuked by me, love me for it (Proverbs 9:8b).

In Christ’s love and truth,

John Jeremiah Edminster

Gimme That Old-Time Religion: a Sermon for the First First Day of Seventh Month

July 6, 2019

It’s now well into summer, and getting that Master’s of Divinity degree this spring feels well behind me now. When we graduating seniors sat up on the dais and got to give brief speeches to the audience, mine was the briefest: “He must increase; I must decrease.” I felt sure that those were the words the Lord had given me to say, John the Baptist’s words from John 3:30. I was grateful for them. What’s the point of divinity school if we don’t leave it desiring Christ’s increase? And what did we learn there if we don’t realize that we can only make room for His increase by shrinking self, subduing self-will, and hushing every flicker of the heart that’s at odds with being servants of the One who came “not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me?” (John 6:36 AV.) For, once we lambs have had the first glimmers of experience that our Shepherd dwells in us (2 Cor 3:5) and we in Him (1 Cor 12:27), which I’d hope every seminarian might get along the way, then what more natural response can we make than to make room for Him in us? This means to cultivate, and dwell in, what the old Quietist Quakers called “nothingness of self.” [1]

This nothingness, as I understand it, is compatible with Buddhist, Advaitin and modern philosophers’ ideas of the illusoriness of selfhood, but does not require them, because it is not itself a philosophical idea but a discipline of the heart, a habitual “casting down of imaginations” in the poetic words of the King James Bible. [2] Are we attached to dreams of winning in competition or combat? Take your time if you must, but out they must go, along with fantasies of anything illicit. Nothingness of self in this sense does not mean neglect of self-care, refusal of pleasure, or erasure of any harmless personal quirks that your loved ones love in you, for, if you think about it, you’re commanded to love yourself as you love your neighbor (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:31, etc.), and it’s not loving, to starve your neighbor away in a dungeon. But it does mean listening for the Shepherd’s voice and obeying His always wise and loving directions. Christ’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matt 11:30), but it is a yoke. I find it sweeter to wear my yoke not out of duty or fear, but out of the love for Him that He plants in my heart.

One of my seminary professors, who called my scriptural references “proof-texting,” commented that I’d shown that I could write like a seventeenth-century Quaker, but not yet like a twenty-first century religious thinker. What a high compliment, to be likened to those early Quakers! But this sets me on a quest for the twenty-first century religious thinkers who, enriched by the cultural advances of these past few centuries, are also exploring nothingness of self.

Footnotes:
[1] A search in Earlham School of Religion’s Digital Quaker Collection (esr.earlham.edu/dqc/) yields ten citations for the phrase “nothingness of self.” The earliest attestation is dated “27th of Fifth Month, 1754,” in Memoirs of Catherine Phillips (Philadelphia, 1798), 381.
[2] 2 Cor 10:5 AV=λογισμοὺς καθαιροῦντες in Paul’s original Greek. I find “casting down imaginations” close in spirit to Patanjali’s pratipakṣa-bhāvanam, a corrective “encouragement of the opposite [sentiment],” in Yoga Sūtras 2:33, 34.

The Prayer from the Cross

March 4, 2019

A Sermon Delivered at Earlham School of Religion, Third Day, 2/26/2019

Friends: I invite you all to join me, during this hour, in a guided meditation on what might have been going through the mind of Jesus as He was hanging on the cross, waiting to die. Whether or not you accept Him as your personal Savior, a Divine Incarnation, or just a very good man who may or may not have risen from the dead, you are attached to a Christian theological seminary, and the world will expect you to have given this subject some thought. So I’m here today to help with that, though I claim no special knowledge.. Because of the solemnity of the topic, I’ve scheduled no hymn-singing. I will not be dwelling on the cruelty and injustice of the crucifixion, but if you think that discussing the subject at all may be harmful to your peace of mind or mental health, you may leave at any time, with my blessing.

We’ve been trained here to identify the social location we think from, and mine is one you can all see: multiply-privileged white-looking, straight-seeming, well-educated American male. But I pray that, during this gathering, the Holy Spirit, speaking though me, might transcend the limitations of our social locations so that I speak to the condition of everyone here. But I also discern a need to disclose my theological location in giving a talk like this, so here it is: I self-identify as a follower of Jesus Christ, whom I call Lord and Savior, in whom I now live, and who lives in me. I was raised a nonbeliever, and I’m only where I am now theologically because I believe I’ve heard Christ’s voice and felt His guidance. For data about the Crucifixion I rely on the Bible. I recognize that the four canonical gospels disagree among themselves about many details, and include some stories I find unbelievable, like the pericope about bandaged zombies coming out of their tombs at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matt 27:51-53). The part about the darkness at midday (Luke 23:44-45) may be a distorted memory of the lunar eclipse of 4/3/33 CE (not a solar eclipse, impossible during a full-moon festival like Passover).

I believe the gospels reveal a clear and consistent picture of Jesus to anyone who studies them. I have no use for alternate theories I’ve heard, that Jesus was “really” a political revolutionary, or the son of a human father other than Joseph, or a mistaken believer in an imminent apocalypse, or an India- trained disciple of yoga masters. It’s not that I want to quash such speculations, but any truth that there may be in them would add nothing to Jesus’ value to me. I do believe in His miracles, which is to say, in what we call “paranormal” powers over the natural world. I do believe in His bodily resurrection. Finally: if you don’t agree with my theology, that’s fine with me; I don’t think your salvation depends on it. Anyway, Christ may not want you to agree with me.

In any case, there was something about Jesus – His purity of intention, clarity of vision, integrity if not outright divinity – that made Him so different from the rest of us that it’s hard for us to imagine “being” Him, walking in His shoes and thinking His thoughts. But if we must, let’s start by asking His help: Lord Jesus, purify our hearts and enlighten our minds to fit us for this work, so that we might, if only for this hour, love in accord with Your heart and know in accord with Your mind. Amen.

I believe that what He was doing on the cross was praying for the salvation of the world. Yes, also suffering; yes, also dying; but surely His intention was to be praying, with all the concentration He could muster, for He was not one to waste time on futile activities. You and I might just go to pieces when nails went into our hands and feet, but Jesus would not, if He knew in His heart that being crucified was an essential work-assignment that He had to do right if He wanted the world saved. Now some writers have conjectured that crucifixion spelled the failure of His mission, but that simply cannot be, if His mission was to model the way of all-forgiving God. If your mission is to model the way of an all-forgiving God, you do it by being forgiving unto death (Luke 23:34), and a public death like Jesus’s, or like Stephen’s in the Book of Acts, gives you the chance to show the world that you mean it. That God is all-forgiving is surely good enough news to die for!

An all-forgiving God? Look at the Lord’s Prayer with me: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After He teaches that prayer, He comments, “forgive all trespasses and yours will be forgiven; but withhold forgiveness and yours won’t be” (my paraphrase of Matt 6:14-15). Now would God ask us to be all-forgiving if God weren’t all-forgiving? (If God had predestined most sinners to eternal damnation and Jesus knew it, Jesus couldn’t and wouldn’t have taught this!. Take that, John Calvin!) The only barriers to forgiveness by God seem to be ones that we put up, (1) by trying to hide our sins from God, often by denial of needing forgiveness, or (2) by refusing to extend forgiveness by holding on to grudges. This is what the Fourth Gospel must mean by describing [all] condemnation as self-condemnation, a fleeing from the truth-revealing Light into all-hiding darkness (John 3:19-20), where God’s forgiveness, by our own decision, cannot reach. But to know that we can be freely forgiven all those things we’ve loathed ourselves for is a kindness of God that, as Paul notes (Rom 2:4), should make us want to repent them! Jesus illustrates the wild joy and generosity of the much-forgiven by pointing to the uninhibited exuberance of the sinner-woman at Simon the Leper’s banquet (Luke 7:36-50).

Now I framed this digression about Jesus’ gospel of an all-forgiving God within a speculation that Jesus was praying from the Cross for the salvation of the world, a prayer that presupposes an all-forgiving God. The whole creation yearns for salvation! The whole creation groans (Rom 8:22), all sentient beings groan along with humankind, groan from ignorance, impermanence, fear, pain, danger, and mortality, things we all long to be saved from whether we can express that longing or not. Jesus is twice hailed as the “Savior of the world” in the writings of John, and I believe that Jesus felt that love, repentance, and forgiveness, practiced universally enough among humanity, might indeed undo our ancient fall from Paradise and work the “reconciliation of all things” (Col 1:20). Love “hopes all things,” Paul wrote (1 Cor 13:7), and if the crucified Jesus saw Himself as called to a ministry of saving the world through love, then He would have been praying with all His heart for it. “One-pointed” as any adept of yoga ever was, Jesus would have been supremely accomplished at focusing His attention on one single point and keeping it there.

Imagine Him focusing it on His own heart as a radiating source of love. Is He distracted by the pain in His hands and feet? Then He is willing them to be radiating outlets of the love in His heart: He’s experienced, as we know, at willing through His hands, which have touched and healed many, and willing through His feet, which have walked on water. Is He distracted by irrelevant thoughts? He’s experienced at silencing them: “Peace; be still,” He’d said to the wind and the waves (Mark 4:39). “Get thee behind me, Satan,” He’d said to His tempters (Luke 4:8, Mark 8:33). Pain does not break His resolve! According to the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, He breaks His silence only for essential things: to pronounce forgiveness of His killers (Luke 23:34), to bless the repentant thief (Luke 23:43), to put His mother under the protection of the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26), and to beg relief from thirst (John 19:28). He cries out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), signaling those “with ears to hear” that He is “fulfilling the scripture” of Psalm 22. He is also, perhaps, crying out as the Voice of All Creation to its Creator: “Restore us to the condition of Paradise!”

Jesus’ body may be in a state of shock as death approaches, with reduced blood pressure and possible hypothermia, so that He weaves in and out of consciousness, but I imagine that His will remains firm. Unprogrammed Friends are no doubt familiar with silences so deep that we seem to be fast asleep, except for the glimmering awareness that our abiding intention is to be at worship. Imagine, then, Jesus’ awareness thus reduced to just a bare, naked intention for the world’s salvation, before the final moment when He comes to, heaves a final sigh – “It is finished” – and gives up the ghost (John 19:30).

It is possible that His consciousness, during His hours on the cross, has expanded so far beyond the confines of His physical body, as egoless minds are said to be able to do, that He has allowed Himself to suffer the sufferings of all creation. This would allow Him to cry out the prayer of every suffering creature to God as with its own voice; – but of such a mystery I can have no knowledge, unless He reveals it to me and grants me a mind that can take it in. I only sense, by faith, that His is the perfect love that casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18); and that His prayer for us is one with the eternal blessing of the Creator, who pronounces the creation “very good” at its completion (Gen 1:31).

All Humans Are in Me, and I in Them

January 2, 2019

Friends, I had been intending to stay out of the recent discussion [on the Quakers Facebook page, around the turn of the year 2019] about Friends’ alleged racism, white privilege, and white fragility, feeling that I had no healing wisdom to add to it. I’ve come to see myself as a racist-in-recovery, one aspect of my being a sinner-in-recovery. If the Lord sees a way to use me to help heal the spiritual disease that is North American racism, few things would please me more (perhaps only the abolition of war, the reversal of global warming, or the universal repentance of selfishness). But if I speak in self-will, I may impress some other old privileged white males with my eloquence, but I’m unlikely to cause any of the needed changes of heart. So I’ve kept silent.

But then today it struck me that we humans are, as Paul wrote, “one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:5 KJV), a thought developed further in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:25 and 5:30, — but also in Hindu tradition where the Universal Human is called Hiranyagarbha Prajapati, in Qabalistic tradition where He/She is called Adam Qadmon. The theme of our membership in a larger being recurs in the thought of Swedenborg, in the Gaia Hypothesis, and in A Course in Miracles, among others: we are not merely separate individuals. If Christ my Savior lives in me, and I in Him; and if the fallen Adam/Eve also lives in me, and I in Him/Her, then I “contain” every nasty racist, and also every oppressed person of color, and also the Savior who is one with the God whose name is Love. How can I hear their voices if I don’t listen for them? How can I hope to understand Hitler, Stalin, or Cain if I refuse to see how something in me is like them? How can I break its evil power over me without first recognizing it, then calling on a Higher Power to vanquish it? So much for the lie, “I am not a racist.”

And yet I am limited by this body-identity, and dare not claim to know what a man or woman of color feels like — I, who have never been born and raised in the United States in a black or Native American skin. I can’t even know what my sisters, wife, mother, or daughter feel like, having wombs and female hormones in their blood, and histories of being treated as men’s inferiors. I can only listen with respect when they speak.

Who Dares Treat Human Souls as Things without Feelings or Value?

June 29, 2018

God loves us all. God wants us, God’s children, to learn to love everyone also.

Jesus, who taught “Love your enemies” and even forgave His own murderers, claimed to be of one will and character with God. Who could understand God’s heart better than Jesus? So when Jesus assures us that God will forgive us our sins if we forgive others their sins against us, we may be confident that God, who wishes to save every soul, wants us also to be kind, merciful, and all-forgiving. In this way we are made fit to inherit God’s own eternal peace and joy.

One of Jesus’ apostles put it simply: God is Love.

But there are some who, as yet, cannot see God this way. These can only imagine a Supreme Deity – if they believe in one at all – who loves a few and rejects the rest. This belief allows some such people to treat their own designated scapegoats cruelly. These seem unable to take to heart the warning that we must reap what we sow – until or unless a sick conscience, now at last coming to be recognized as “moral injury,” leads them to repent and renounce cruelty. But this is to learn the hard way.

Such people need our prayers. If they have taken pleasure in tormenting others, or even given assent in their hearts to a sadistic government policy that kidnaps a nursing infant away from its mother, that pleasure, or complacency, must turn to pain as their souls flee from the light that exposes the evil. This is not divine punishment , but self-punishment, as the Bible itself attests.

We must not wish such pain on them, or on anyone. Wishing others ill only keeps the cycle of vengeance going. Nor may we take satisfaction in the thought of their coming humiliation when they are corrected. They are our brothers and sisters, God’s beloved children, like ourselves. They are ourselves. We are entitled to rebuke and resist them, to warn them, to do all we can to stop them, without resorting to violence. Only by remembering that we wish their repentance and redemption, and not their suffering, can we obey the divine advice to overcome evil with good.

– A tract written for distribution at the Families Belong Together public event in Richmond, Indiana, Seventh Day, 6/30/2018. The printed version has footnotes giving biblical references.

Sheep Having No Shepherd: a sermon

February 28, 2018

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. – Matthew 9:36, King James Version

I don’t usually wake up in panic. I did last Wednesday, having the idea that it was already Tuesday, March 6th, and I’d completely forgotten that I was supposed to come to Friends Fellowship Community on March 4th to lead worship. – What? it’s still February? . . . then I’m safe! Within a few minutes I was wondering why I might have dreamed that dream, about forgetting an obligation, letting a lot of people down, and going in a split-second from a normal state of mind to a horrified one. And then I thought: . . . They’ve all lived a long time. They’ll understand. And so I knew what it was I’d talk about today: that helpless feeling of being a sheep without a shepherd.

Actually, the whole world knows that feeling. It’s the feeling of the child separated from her mother in a strange city, the feeling of the flood victim, the refugee, and every person dying. Jesus came to be our Shepherd at such times of helplessness, and if we accept Him then, we’ll be shown that He’s available to guide and protect us at all times: both when we’re feeling strong and happy, and also when we’re feeling sick and confused and weak. Now when I say this, I’m not saying you have to have a certain type of belief about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not about theology. It’s about crying out in times of desperate need, “Creator, if You exist, hear me and help me!” And about surrendering yourself, asking God’s forgiveness for all the selfish things you’ve said and done, and being willing to be given a new heart, a loving heart, in place of the old, selfish one.

And then you may come to realize that the Ancient Maker of quintillions of suns and planets has listened to you, tiny as you are, and answered you in love. God knows what it’s like to be human like you, because He lives in you and knows your every thought, and He has a way for you to go forward. Always.

Now what does Jesus have to do with all this? As I understand it, Jesus, the Man, experienced oneness with God, and having lived and walked in that oneness, has an eternal existence, as Christ, in which He can help other humans grow toward, and into, that same oneness. The apostle Paul describes Him as the head of a great human Organism, the body of Christ, of which we can function as members (hands, eyes, feet, voice) – if we can put aside living for self and live, instead, for the good of the whole creation. The Head of the body, the Shepherd of the sheep, the Vine from which we branches draw life – Scripture is full of metaphors for Jesus Christ’s relationship to us, His willing followers. Drawn into His life and enjoying the peace of clean consciences, we no longer have meaningless moments, no matter how empty, idle or fruitless they may look from outside, for we are participants in His life, as something inside us always knows.

I’m thinking, for example, of Jesus’ long walk to the cross, commemorated each year during Lent: up the long ascent from Jericho, into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, into the Garden where He was taken into custody by men whose fear-driven hearts were closed to His truth. Two crucifixion stories (Matt 27:51, Mark 15:38) tell of His crying out to God, “Why have You forsaken me?” before dying. But had God really forsaken Him? Were His six hours on the cross meaningless, did He die a failure? Did He and His way of loving enemies and forgiving His persecutors lose, while Caesar’s way of crushing all resistance to a cruel Empire won? Let your own heart tell you the answer. All glory be to Him, and to God His Father, and to the Holy Spirit which teaches our hearts the truth. Amen.

The Everlasting Gospel

January 13, 2018

Notes for a sermon to be delivered 1/14/2018

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people…. – Revelation 14:6, KJV

“The everlasting gospel” – the Greek original reads evangélion aiōnion. This could be translated an everlasting gospel, or “good news that always was and always will be.” Early Quakers often spoke of “the everlasting gospel” as the gospel they’d been sent out to preach to the world, not a mere story about Jesus that people might believe or not believe, the way you and I might believe or not believe in global warming or the theory of relativity, but a word from the Savior himself with the power to “abolish death and bring life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:10).¹ Think of it as the sound of an alarm clock, which you start to hear in a dream, but it has the power to pull you right out of that dream and into the waking state. This may be what birth was like, and it may be what death will be like: what can you say but “Wow” when what you thought was reality fades away and you find yourself in an all-new reality? “Behold,” says the One on the heavenly throne, “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). This is the good news; this is what Paul must have meant when he wrote that “the gospel… is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16).

Now I’ve only had a little foretaste of this salvation from fear, sorrow, shame, remorse, and the threats of pain and annihilation; I know about it only by faith. I did sit on God’s throne in a dream once, and saw everything become transparent, so that the interior of every created thing and being was revealed – but that was only in a dream. I’ve seen Jesus in dreams, but those could just be figments of my dream-generator. I don’t believe I’ve yet heard the ringing of that gospel alarm-clock I mentioned, that wakes us up into eternity and the presence of our beloved Creator. If I’ve ever consciously stood before God before, I’ve forgotten it, maybe because I chose to love something else, and my “foolish heart was darkened” (Rom 1:19-21).

But this I do know by personal experience: that Christ lives in me. He sees through my eyes, hears through my ears, feels through my heart. He must; otherwise He wouldn’t be able to comment on my experience in words audible in my mind, to give me courage and firmness when I need them, to hear my prayers, to direct my walk to people who need to meet me and then to put good words into my mouth. “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” asks Paul (2 Cor 13:5). Of course there are people who will tell me that I must be insane, because I’ve heard a voice; and there are people who’ll tell you that I must be hearing the voice of the Devil, because my theology or politics don’t agree with theirs: well, they said that about Jesus, too (Mark 3:22). The point is, once you know that Christ lives in you, your sense of who you are changes forever.

At that point, you’ve heard the Everlasting Gospel. If you’re a Jew or a Muslim or from some other tradition that’s been persecuted by Christians, He may identify Himself by a name more congenial to you, and appear as a “She” or an “It” if that works better for you. He may tell you that your sins are forgiven, He may warn you against a temptation, or reassure you that He won’t let you fall into sin – who can say? – but you won’t forget that voice you heard in your mind, not ever, and you’ll never forget the evidences that He lives in you – and that you live in Him. He’ll remind you (John 14:26).

Now if this hasn’t yet happened to you, and you want it to happen to you, I suggest that you tell Him so. Tell Him you’re willing to give up everything that might stand in the way of it. You may be surprised by how much He lets you keep, even though you now know that it’s all His property, including your own self. If you’re not ready to offer up everything, on the other hand, don’t worry; He has ways of persuading you that it’s a good idea, and a right time in mind to convince you. I’ve found Him very patient. In the end, if you come to Him, you’ll know that it’s only because God’s first drawn you to Him (John 6:44).

¹ George Fox (1624-1691), who associated the everlasting gospel with God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 22:18), wrote that “the Lord God and his son, Jesus Christ, did send me forth into the world, to preach his everlasting gospel and kingdom” (Journal, Nickalls ed., 34-35). Isaac Penington (1616-1679) wrote that “the gospel that was preached to the nations [in earlier times] was not the everlasting gospel; that gospel did not bring life and immortality to light… and men had only a sound of words instead of the thing…. an outward knowledge, a perishing knowledge in the perishing part… which… had no union and fellowship with that which is everlasting” (The Way of Life and Death (1658) in Works, 1:51). Robert Barclay (1648-1690) identifies the everlasting gospel with the commandment to all people to “love [God] in our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves,” commending the “faithful witnesses and evangelists” in “this our age” who direct all people “to come to mind the Light in them, and know Christ in them… so as they… may come to walk in his Light and be saved” (Apology (1678), 167).

A Christmastime Reflection

December 21, 2017

The story of Jesus begins and ends with forgiveness: Mark’s gospel begins with John the Baptist’s “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Luke’s ends with Christ’s parting words “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Christ’s commission to Paul is to open the eyes of the Gentiles “so that they may turn from darkness to light… [and] receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18).We humans need forgiveness of sins terribly, not just of the “sins” that can be named and counted, but forgiveness and healing of anything that causes self-loathing in us and sends us looking for a scapegoat, because until then our self-unforgiveness and unforgiveness of others – however masked by denial – are toxic and infectious and keep the world mired in evil, false solutions, and consequent despair. Without real repentance and forgiveness, I believe, social and political action are but a band-aid, and religious programs off the mark; but with repentance and forgiveness, one finds the Pearl of Great Price and can help all come to repentance, which I believe is God’s own desire (2 Pet 3:9).

But cheap repentance and cheap forgiveness are dangerous counterfeits to be shunned. If one looks deeply enough into oneself, one may find an “I” so damaged by being sinned against (especially while the “I” was forming) that it cannot truly say either “I forgive” or “I repent.” Or a guilty soul may find such an overwhelming fear of exposure that self-confrontation is blocked and guilt must go unacknowledged. In such cases the only cure may be God’s intervention. One must invite and welcome it as best one can, however frightening or painful it may prove to be. It may help to reflect that it will probably be no more painful to ourselves than the pain suffered by the One who bore our sins on the Cross. He lives, and is will lend courage and endurance to any who lack it, I believe, as generously as He has lent them to me.

Welcome, Christ, through whom, in whom, and as whom only, I believe, can we recovering sinners discover how infinitely we are loved by our Creator. Amen.

Earlham Students Support the Standing Rock Witness

September 5, 2016

Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion students will be staging a prayer witness and teach-in, beginning at noon on Wednesday, 9/7 and continuing at least until the end of the week, at “the Heart” at the center of the Earlham campus in Richmond, Indiana. These actions will be in support of the Camp of the Sacred Stone, an encampment of over 4,000 Native Americans and their supporters at the Northern tip of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where the Cannonball River joins the Missouri near Cannon Ball, ND.

The Camp, whose spokespersons have asked for prayer support as well as material support from elsewhere, is engaged in a peaceful witness against further work on the 1,168-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, which was to cross the Missouri River just a half-mile upstream from the reservation. In spite of the encampment’s non-violent nature and location on the Dakota/Lakota nation’s sovereign territory, the local sheriff and the pipeline company have both called the protest “unlawful,” North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has declared a state of emergency, and Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley has threatened to use his power to end the encampment. Private security forces have used attack dogs and mace on unarmed protestors.

The Earlham students’ witness aims to increase public awareness of the confrontation taking place, of the underlying issues, and of the Camp of the Sacred Stone’s expressed need for ongoing material and spiritual support. Some among the students also ask prayers for the repentance of the camp’s opponents.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council has objected to the pipeline’s threat to the tribe’s drinking water supply, which is drawn almost exclusively from the river, as well as to the tribe’s air, sacred sites, culturally important landscapes, and its very future. Opponents of the pipeline, noting the frequency of pipeline ruptures, say “It’s not that an oil spill might pollute the river, but that eventually it will.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a sovereign nation occupying 2.3 million acres of land in North and South Dakota, with legal aid from the nonprofit Earthjustice, sued in Federal Court on 7/27/2016 for a preliminary injunction against further construction on the pipeline, which is to carry almost 500,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota’s oil fields to Patoka, Illinois. In 1958, without tribal consent, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had taken the Dakota ancestral land that the pipeline is now scheduled to cross for a damming project on the Missouri River. The Army Corps of Engineers, bypassing its obligation to consult with the tribe, fast-tracked the Dakota Access Pipeline by invoking the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which grants exemption from environmental-impact reviews mandated by the Clean Water and National Environmental Policy Acts by treating the pipeline as a series of small, unrelated construction projects. The tribe’s suit was heard by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on 8/24/2016. Judge James E. Boasberg declined to make a decision on that day, but promised one by Friday, 9/9/16.

A letter to Friends back home

December 15, 2015

Dear Friends back in New York City and in New York Yearly Meeting:

During these three weeks between school terms at Earlham School of Religion, I want to seize the opportunity to greet you, bless you, and thank you, first for making a Quaker of me and helping me raise my children as Quakers, second for helping me find and marry such a wonderful Quaker wife, thirdly for loving us, helping us grow in our faith, and acknowledging and supporting our spiritual gifts, and lastly for helping us relocate to Richmond, Indiana to study for Masters’ of Ministry degrees at Earlham School of Religion. Going to study at ESR was a dream of mine, since the early 1990s, that I never thought I’d have fulfilled in this lifetime. And we love being here. Hallelujah!

But I would never have been ready to come here to study until I was ready to commit to living, no longer for myself, but for God – which is to say, for others, who are all, without exception, God’s beloved children, whom God both wants and intends, I firmly believe, to save from this fallen life of mortality, ignorance, and suffering. (Living for others also means that I’m not just pursuing my own academic success here, but also Elizabeth’s and all my classmates’ as well; Elizabeth and I are clearly being prepared for some mission as a team.)

Living for others means that I’m living and studying for all the world’s oppressed, disadvantaged, and hurting, both humans and other creatures; I’m living and studying for all the oppressors, who are full of suffering they haven’t started to feel yet, and desperately need repentance and healing of their brokenness; I’m living and studying for all the world’s exemplars of kindness and wisdom, that they might be lifted up high, so that their light might shine far and wide; and I’m living and studying for all of you that might want an ESR education for yourselves, but have children to raise, jobs to do, health and debt problems to cope with, and all those ties keeping you where you are. So let me try to give back some of the bounty I’ve been given, and share with you some of what I’ve been learning since I got here four and a half months ago.

I’d say that the main thing I’ve been learning is the art of self-emptying, or what theologians call kenosis. One of the courses I just finished taking was Introduction to New Testament Studies. I decided (or was led) to call my term paper “Christ’s Kenosis and Ours: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Philippians 2:5.” I thought I was going to sound very smart and scholarly. Nope. I gathered all these books and articles, planning to cook them into a delicious intellectual stew, and then I sat there, and sat, and sat, unable to do anything with my material until it told me what wanted to be written. And what wanted to be written boiled down to: “Take Philippians 2:5 seriously. Don’t think you can act like Christ by trying to. Get out of the way and let Christ act through you.” I had to throw out over half of my intended bibliography. It was a little like trying to drive to Boston in a dream, only to find that the car insisted on driving to Philadelphia and wouldn’t hear of Boston.

Actually, that Philadelphia-bound car showed itself during my first week here, back at the beginning of August. I was taking a two-week intensive course in Spiritual Formation and not managing to keep up with the work. Some of my required readings were still in U-haul boxes in New York, and I couldn’t get replacements for them here in time. “I’m failing,” I thought. “I’m halfway through Week One and I’m failing.”

I immediately got the message, loud and clear: “I didn’t bring you here to fail. Now stop thinking like that.”

Kenosis. One aspect of it is not-doing, a concept that will be familiar (as wu-wei) to readers of the Tao Te Ching. In Introduction to Pastoral Care we got a lot of instruction on listening. Many of the “helpful” things I was saying in my caregiving encounters were turning out not to be helpful at all: they were putting words into the careseeker’s mouth, they were getting in the way of her self-discovery, they were imposing my assumptions on her process. I’ve had to learn to treat the pastoral-care interview like a meeting for worship with a concern for clearness: center down, and center down, and center down again. Be empty and wait for the person seeking clearness to name her own clearness.

This seems to be a lesson for me also with regard to “political” action in the world, in the widest sense of the word. “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth,” boasted Archimedes, explaining the physics of the lever. But what leverage for good can Johnny have on the world if Johnny weighs nothing? (And what weight can even Archimedes bring to bear on his earth-moving lever if he’s so high in space as to be weightless?) So I wait on the Holy Spirit to show me what to do, and the impact my action has, my “weight,” will be whatever the Holy Spirit intends. I continue not to vote, since I regard the ballot box as a carnal weapon, intended to defeat and silence opponents, not to make them better. Moreover, to participate in the choosing of a Commander-in-Chief (or Governor, Senator, etc.) is to help put control of lethal weaponry into the hands of one fallible candidate or the other, a form of killing-by-proxy that my membership in Christ disallows. If called for jury duty, I’m prepared to tell the judge, “I have no faith in this criminal justice system to do criminal justice, nor in this correctional system to correct.” But then, my citizenship is not really in any state that rules by violence and the threat of violence, but in a monarchy that isn’t of this fallen world, whose Ruler, Love Itself, is almighty. I pledge my allegiance to it every time I say “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.” I think we serve it with every act of rightly motivated kindness, whatever our faith tradition or our theology.

I’ve taken a fascinating class called “The Creation of Modern Quaker Diversity.” I think I’ve come to understand, much better than I ever did, why people became partisans of Fox or of Nayler, Quietist Friends or Hicksite Friends, Wilburite or Gurneyite Friends, Holiness or Modernist Friends, Liberal, Conservative, Evangelical Friends, or any kind you can name. (I’m still not sure which local meeting to ask to transfer my membership to; Elizabeth and I feel close to clearness, but the discernment process isn’t over till it’s over.) One of the fruits of that course was some intensive study of Isaac Penington. I came away from it awed by my sense of his spiritual stature: he had to be up there on a level with the great saints of all time. George Fox had his Lewis Benson to interpret him for the modern world; I think Penington is still waiting for his.

My reading of the New Testament has undergone major shifts as I’ve come to see how much agenda-driven editing, interpreting, and “correcting” has gone into the texts. Matthew’s Jesus is clearly out to revolutionize His hearers’ understanding of the Torah: love your enemies, forgive your persecutors; adultery in your heart is as real a sin as an overt act; it is lawful to take reasonable liberties on the Sabbath. Yet Matthew has Jesus say that not one letter of the Law shall ever change: that, I think, has to have been Matthew’s defensive editorial addition, to argue for Jesus’ “orthodoxy” to a mostly Jewish audience. Or look at the tenderness Paul shows in Philippians and First Thessalonians, and his clear joy in the kindness and mercy of God. I think the vengeful thundering of 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 can’t have come out of the same heart; neither can the contemptuous words about the Cretans in Titus 1:10-16. I hope that a clearer picture of who Jesus and Paul really were is emerging for me. Friends, please pray that I be rightly guided here.

Last year I wrote a tract for distribution at the Climate March called “Plan C – World Repentance.” I’m still praying for world repentance. I believe in its possibility.