Archive for the ‘knowledge of God’ Category

“God’s Beloved Darlings” Means Everybody

May 8, 2016

In one of my classes at Earlham School of Religion I recently spoke of “God’s beloved darlings, which means everybody.” The words that had come out of my mouth both surprised me and didn’t surprise me at all:

For we all, Hitler and Stalin included, as well as dogs, cats, and earthworms, are the souls that God loved enough to create, and through their eyes He/She looks out on creation, and through their hearts He/She experiences their thoughts and feelings.

Even if we choose to damn ourselves by loving darkness rather than light (John 3:19), and putting the greatest possible separation between ourselves and God’s truth, fairness, mercy, goodness and beauty, that can’t stop the Omniscient One from experiencing our sufferings as we experience them, or the Most Compassionate One from extending the greatest possible compassion to us: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there,” Ps 139:8 KJV.

I wish that I might have no other heart than God’s to love with, no other wisdom than God’s to guide that love with, distant though that goal might seem to me now. But is it really so distant? All that’s necessary is the removal of the walls that partition off “me” from my infinitely good Creator. Anyway, what better thing is there to ask God for?

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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.

A Reason for the Hope that is in Me

November 11, 2015

In my student mailbox this morning I found an envelope containing a $100 bill and an unsigned note reading, “John, Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in you!”
These words echo 1 Peter 3:15, which in the King James Version reads, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
Well, nobody directly asked me for a reason of the hope that is in me, but this seems as good a time as any to give an account: I can start by telling you that God has spoken to me on several occasions, in clear words planted in my mind. I can tell you that I’ve despised myself and thought myself damnable, not for no good reason, but for truly despicable things I’ve said and done; but I’ve been assured that God has forgiven my sins; wishes the repentance, salvation, and perfection of every soul; and has assured me that henceforth I’ll be guarded against my own propensities to do evil. And that’s for starters.
Lest anyone conclude from this that I’m only concerned about saving my own ass, which I confess is a weakness of mine, God has also maneuvered me into a position where I’m trusted to pray for other people, and also to encourage other people to pray for one another, and to trust in the power of intercessory prayer. And not just pray for others, but do things for them, do real works of love that cost me something. As a result, I’m finding that I feel such a tenderness toward many people that I can imagine laying down my life for them. I hope I never have to, and I also hope that Jesus Christ would lend me His own courage, and His own love, enough to go through with it, if I ever did have to. But I trust that He would give me such strengths for the asking if I needed them. He said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20, KJV), and He’s there. I’ve experienced His presence.
Perhaps you’re wondering whether I’m going to mention the present state of the world, which looks very beautiful when I look at the trees and the river and the sky, but very horrible when I look at the newspaper. It seems to be a deeply fallen world. But I have hope there, too. God may allow dreadful, cruel, meaningless- and unfair-seeming things to happen by the millions, every day, but I know that God is too good to actually will them, and God mobilizes us who care about the sufferings of others to intervene for their relief. And we haven’t yet seen what relief and healing might await us, and those others, in the next world.
But ultimately I have hope because I believe that God wants me to, and would not trick me. And I hope that God will kindle the same kind of hope in your heart, too, Friend, if God hasn’t already.
About that hundred dollars: this has happened once before; I suspect it’s the same donor; but I have no idea who he or she is. I believe that he or she wants me to receive it as a gift from God; and so I do. Now it happened that just yesterday I spent $72.95 on Bibles to give away – not that I can really “afford” such an extravagance, but it just seemed the right thing to do. I’ve just gotten my money back, plus a little seed-money for future ministries. Thank You, Lord. Thank you, too, unseen friend.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p6EeA-ef

What Quakers Believe about… Repentance and Remission of Sins

September 20, 2014

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. – Luke 24:47 (AV)

What Quakers believe about anything is, for better or for worse, conditioned by what they’ll allow themselves to believe. Those of little faith may believe some of what they read in the newspaper, some of the time, while those of great faith may be working major “signs and wonders” to the glory of God. One thing Friends tend to agree on, though, is that we ought to speak from personal experience, and be able to answer affirmatively to the query, “Is it inwardly from God?” If it’s simply an opinion – early Friend George Fox wrote, “We own not opinions.” What follows, I believe, is inwardly from God.

According to the author of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus left his followers with a commission to preach, that is, to announce the availability of, a changed state of mind (metanoia or “repentance”) that would allow one to know oneself to be sinless: in other words, that one’s previously acknowledged sins had been dismissed, forgiven, and declared null and void. The original Greek reads metanoia eis aphesin hamartiōn, literally “repentance into remission of sins, so we know that Jesus didn’t intend us to think that “repentance” and “remission of sins” were two separate and independent gifts, but one thing that led directly into the other.

And yes, they are gifts: repentance isn’t something we can achieve by ourselves, any more than we can lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. As the first generation of Christians recognized (Acts 11:18), it comes to us as a gift from outside ourselves, or not at all. Otherwise there’d be a huge industry peddling repentance like a drug, and how-to-forgive-yourself books would be on every combat veteran’s Kindle. Churches would be fitness centers of the soul, where moms and dads would put in a half hour on the treadmill after work to sweat out the day’s lies, white-collar crimes and adulterous fantasies, then go home to the kids fresh as a daisy. Of course there are preachers who’ll exhort you to repent as if you could do it at will: but I, who had to “repent” of smoking seven times before I could stay quit, can tell them otherwise: it was granted me to quit smoking.

How would we know that we ourselves, or another person, are in a genuine state of repentance and not in a mere mood or delusion? For there are people that do dreadful things without feeling the least bit sinful about them; we call them psychopaths. But “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20). Jesus, in Luke 7:36-50, shows us the signs of a person who knows she’s been forgiven all her sins – she’s exuberant, loving, and generous, even to the point of letting herself look a little foolish: she weeps in public, she kisses Jesus’ feet. It’s a kind of behavior not easily counterfeited.

Moreover, repentant people who’ve experienced remission of sins should be able to describe how they know their sins were remitted. Since George Fox’s day, Quakers have been in the habit of asking claimants to religious truth, “What canst thou say?” I could answer you, for example, that I was sitting in meeting one day, obsessively berating myself for some past foolishness, when I heard an authoritative Voice in my mind say, “That sin is forgiven: put it away!” During another Quaker meeting I heard that Voice say “I will not let you fall into sin.” And there were other experiences, so that today I feel still temptable, but powerfully protected, and discouraged from worrying. But ask for your own convincing experience!

Luke records that remission of sins is to be preached in Jesus’ name, and it’s a fact that among North American Quakers today, some preach in Jesus’ name and some do not. Some might argue that, before Jesus’ time, the Buddha also taught a way to sinlessness that erases the karma and vāsanās of sin: of whether this way works I confess my ignorance, not having followed that path. I preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name for these reasons:

1. I’ve felt myself given “a mouth, and wisdom” (Luke 21:15) to do so by the Lord Jesus Himself, who has made me a member of Christ. In this work “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). This is a condition available to everyone, though it requires a kind of voluntary dying to one’s old ways.

2. Only in the ministry of Jesus, for the first time in known history, do we find an instruction to forgive everyone everything, modeled perfectly for us by the Teacher’s own behavior, coupled with a declaration that God our Creator is of the same all-forgiving spirit. It is extremely important for men and women to know this about God. But to know this about God, we must practice that all-forgiving spirit ourselves, and ask God’s help with it.

One thing Quakers are rightly known for is their truthfulness, and I would be less than truthful if I claimed or even implied that what I’ve written here is typical of contemporary Quaker thought. But I do hope to help make it so.

How I Got to Where I Am Now

August 7, 2014

Two days ago, I posted an alert about the upcoming Hiroshima Day anniversary on the Google Group unofficially and loosely connected with my home meeting:

The website http://www.doonething.org/calendar/nonukesday.htm urges us to do one thing to eliminate the threat of nuclear destruction — like, for example, “It’s the perfect time to urge your Mayor to declare your city a Nuclear Free Zone.” But I venture to add another suggestion:

If you believe that God is almighty and listens to your prayers, take time on Hiroshima Day to pray that the whole world become a nuclear-free zone. Don’t be half-hearted or tentative; you don’t want God to be half-hearted or tentative about listening to you. Do something radical: kneel to make your prayer. Prostrate yourself to make your prayer. Sing it. Shout it. Dance it. Call up a friend on the phone and ask, “will you pray out loud with me?” and this way you’ll have a witness to what you did. Get up in the morning and fast until you’ve made your prayer. Or even better, and more to the point: ask God how to make your prayer about nuclear weapons. God likes to be asked for advice on how to pray. God is the best expert on it there is, and God is already there in the room with you. Make your prayer an event you’ll remember.

The nine nuclear powers are: The US, the UK, France, Russia, and China; India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_with_nuclear_weapons).

There are also “peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” meaning, mostly, use of radioactive material for the generation of electrical energy. but you may feel led to pray that these be phased out also, so that there may be no more Three Mile Island meltdowns, no more Chernobyls, no more Fukushima Daiichi disasters. (There have probably been more meltdowns than you know about: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_meltdown.)

Don’t be discouraged by the amount of money, and state power, and corporate influence arrayed against your tiny little wish. The Ruler of the universe, the Inventor of the atomic nucleus, the Ultimate Comforter of every victim of nuclear warfare and nuclear bullying is on your side. Nothing is too hard for God.

In this posting, the reader will notice, I make some statements about God that invite the question, “How does the writer know these things?” And that’s just the question that a Friend asked in a private e-mail. (The statements about God that I see as most inviting that question are “God likes to be asked for advice on how to pray” and “The Ruler of the universe… is on your side. Nothing is too hard for God.”) Now I could have tried to answer the Friend with proof-texts and exegetical arguments, but if the Friend doesn’t accept scripture as authoritative, I’m out of luck, aren’t I? And anyway it would be disingenuous, because I got these statements not out of scripture but out of the knowledge of God that I believe God planted in my own heart. So I wrote a longish letter back to the Friend explaining how I got from being a child atheist to a born-again follower of Jesus who can dare to claim some knowledge of God’s character and intentions toward us. I think that some readers of this blog may find it interesting. The only thing in it I’d correct is that I referred to my father as a “bad-tempered alcoholic.” Well, he was, but not after he got sober, when I was turning eleven; and then he stayed sober till he died, thirty years later. And even before that, he was a faithful husband and father, a dedicated teacher, and a hard worker who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. I’m inserting a little pictorial tribute to him before I go on (yes, his hands were almost that huge):

Everything I Know about Drawing Moon Faces

Everything I Know about Drawing Moon Faces

My letter follows:

Thanks for asking. I’m really grateful for the question, and hope I can do the truth justice. I’ll do my best to speak simply from my own experience. As you can see from the headline of my announcement, “Thursday, August 6 is Hiroshima Day,” I’m very fallible; August 6 is today, Wednesday.

I was raised an atheist. My mother, a gentle soul who put flies out the window rather than swat them, an admirer of Gandhi, told me she believed in the power of Love, but didn’t go into details. My father, a bad-tempered alcoholic who’d been raised by a strict Irish Catholic mother who forbade little boys to “touch themselves” (clueless me! I had no idea what Grandma was talking about). He was in violent reaction against religion, and despised it all as a huge fraud foisted on the masses by the ruling class (“but don’t tell Grandma that you believe that”). When I was nine or ten, some time before my father turned to a Higher Power, sobered up and joined AA, I knelt and prayed to God, angrily, that if He wanted people to believe in Him He shouldn’t make Himself invisible! Oh, what a fool I felt like! How my father would shame me if he’d seen me on my knees! But how I wanted to know whether or not there was a God, because I’d been cursed with a philosophical mind that had to understand the basic principles of existence!

As I grew up, I came to loathe Christianity, which, as I was exposed to it, considered everyone a damnable sinner unless they agreed with its notions, which, however, it could not prove by the ordinary rules of evidence I’d been raised to trust in. In fact it contained a wicked Catch-22 right near the end of its sacred text, The Bible: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8, King James Version). Can you beat that? First it makes me fearful as all hell, and then it throws me into the lake of fire for being fearful! To hell with that! And this Bible is supposed to be about a God who is Love?

But then came the sixties, and first the activist revolution (during which I almost converted to Marxism, but lacked faith in the right-mindedness of the working class) and then the psychedelic and “New Age” spiritual revolution. On an LSD trip I became convinced that there were invisible worlds inhabited by invisible intelligences. I wanted to know more. I read the literature of Zen, Yoga, Sufism, Theosophy, the occult, and the pseudo-shamanism of Carlos Castaneda. I wanted to open my chakras, raise my kundalini, encounter the nagual, and experience enlightenment, with a hunger that even seemed to out-burn my desire for sex and love. I dropped out of graduate school, left my first wife, and became a wandering hippie. During this time I read the Bible, having been tipped off by the occultists that it was full of hidden wisdom. I also remember telling my aunt that I felt so bad about walking out on my first wife that I’d rather die than do anything like that again.

One year after I left my wife (to the day!) I almost got my wish. My new girlfriend Deon, then three months pregnant by another man (this was the sixties, you’ll remember), asked me if I’d take her out to get a hamburger, because there were so many people standing around in our communal kitchen getting stoned that she couldn’t fix herself food there. I agreed. Two friends came along with us, John Butler and Michelle Silverman. It was night. It was the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco, on February 17, 1969. John Butler, black, and Michelle, white, were walking about twenty paces ahead of Deon and me. We’d almost gotten to the all-night diner when three bikers jumped out of a parked car, shouting the “N” word, and ran up behind John with obvious intent to do him violence. I squeezed Deon’s hand and sprinted forward, shouting “Hey, man, that’s my brother!” It would have been one of the last things John heard. The man called Crazy Mike, who’d been killing for thrills since age 12, stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife, piercing his heart. He died on the spot. The man called Moose whirled around, hitting me on the left cheekbone with a wine bottle, breaking the eyesocket and giving me the deep-set eyes I now have. As I reeled from the impact, Crazy Mike whirled around and stabbed me in the abdomen, punching through diaphragm, liver, kidney and intestines. “Come on,” one of the murderers said to his buddies, “let’s get out of here.” As I lay on the sidewalk, a strange calm came over me. I knew that I was bleeding internally, and was in shock, which was keeping the pain at a tolerable level, and might die within minutes or even seconds. I remembered the instructions from the Tibetan Book of the Dead: Pay attention. Deon ran up to me, sobbing. I urged her to be calm; “It’ll be all right.”

And then a well-groomed young man in a trenchcoat walked up to me, knelt beside me, and asked, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” I thought very fast. I knew that, whatever God’s theology might be, He didn’t approve of liars, and I might be meeting God very soon, so I’d have to give a truthful answer to this person. And I’d need to keep it simple. I knew, from the Biblical accounts, that Jesus had laid down his life of his own accord (John 10:15), surrendering so that others might be spared (John 18:8), and was not crucified because of any bad karma of his own earning that might make him “deserve” it: therefore His death on the cross was His gratuitous gift to me. This allowed me to truthfully call Him my Savior. It didn’t mean that the Buddha, Socrates, Marx and Gandhi couldn’t also be “saviors” to me, but I wasn’t being asked about them. So “Yes,” I said. “Yes, I do.”

“Good,” he answered. “That’s all that’s necessary.” And he got up and walked away. In a moment, the police arrived, and I got taken in an ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital. I woke up full of tubes and pain. I kept that encounter with the street-evangelist pretty much to myself over the coming years. Frankly, I was embarrassed to have called Jesus my personal Savior; it was like admitting I was bisexual, or weak and cowardly, or a failure and a fool.

Seventeen years later, when my first child was almost a year old, I felt the need of a faith community to raise my child in, and found my way to Fifteenth Street Meeting. It was very tolerant and welcoming, traits I still value. But if I am to call myself a Quaker, I wondered, am I to call myself a Christian also? My biggest quarrel was with Paul who, in Romans 1:24-32, showed that he despised homosexuals, and in 1 Corinthians 14:34, that he silenced women. If I can’t accept the New Testament, I reasoned, I can’t call myself a Christian. I re-read Romans 1:24-32, continuing on to Romans 2:4, where Paul describes God’s eagerness to forgive sinners as the very thing that makes sinners repent and fall in love with God. I saw that Paul may have had his own prejudices against gay people, but their arguable damnability was not the point of his writing, but God’s magnanimity. When I got home to my son’s mom, I quietly announced that I now considered myself a Christian. To my amazement, she didn’t even question it.

Then I started having auditions. The first one was “I give ear:” said in a majestic voice, as if from the other end of the universe, entirely within my mind. Some years later, when I was tempted to commit adultery and wondered what we might do if the door were closed behind her, I heard “NO!” I obeyed at once and put the thought away. A few years later than that, as I was at worship in the meeting house, obsessively berating myself for something foolish or hurtful I’d once said or done, I heard that same voice say “That sin is forgiven! Put it away!” – and soon after that, but on a different day, “I will not let you fall into sin.”

About ten years ago I was told by a respected elder that I carried a gift of healing, which she blessed and sealed in Christ’s name. Well, I thought, people do tell me that my touch relieves headache, but I’m not going to expect cancer cures. Then one morning I woke up with my palms buzzing and a voice in my mind – that voice again – saying “This anointing is for real: don’t abuse it.” And some years later: “I give you the gift of effective prayer.” Today I wouldn’t necessarily expect a cancer cure as a result of my prayer, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

This was not the only gift or calling I believe I was given to carry, but it illustrates my experience of growing in the new life in Christ. I agree that it could all be a delusion, and that reality doesn’t really work that way, and that I need to be deprogrammed or given lithium, but I invite any skeptic to consider the saying of Jesus, “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). If my inward experiences can be shown to be making me more arrogant, quarrelsome, and unforgiving, then maybe I should take lithium. But if not – if, rather, they’re seen to make me sweeter and more compassionate, then I’d say to the skeptic, let’s see where this new life in Christ leads, and if you can’t bless it, at least please tolerate it.

Recently I’ve had impressed on me the character of the God of all creation, as revealed by Jesus. Forget the questions of whether His mother was a virgin, whether He rose from the dead, and whether well-meaning people might have doctored the story to air-brush out all the warts and blemishes in the historical record. They are less important than this: Jesus said, and here I paraphrase, “Know my Heavenly Father, who is also your Heavenly Father. He is like what you see Me to be. I wish the liberation of all people from this bondage to oppressors, this fear of death, this endless ignorance and suffering. I am willing to pay for that liberation with My own suffering, even to death by crucifixion. I will forgive all, even My own betrayers and murderers, because God is Love and that’s what Love demands; so will God forgive everyone everything, if they will just come to God and be willing to receive it. Trust in God, who is eternally like this, and who has the power to give you courage, and patience, and wisdom, and kindness, beyond what you dreamed could be yours, so that even this world of fear and pain can be experienced as the outskirts of Paradise, soon put behind us like a bad dream. All that you have read in Scripture about God being vengeful or wrathful is not true. People fear God because they project their own bad consciences onto Him and flee into the darkness rather than face the Light that stands ready to heal and perfect them, now and always. So do not fear, but come and be healed by the God that always intended your perfection. If you are a Jew, come to God as a Jew. If you are a Muslim or a Hindu, come as a Muslim or Hindu; if you are confused about what to believe, come as a confused person.” I am now on fire with this Gospel, and I think that it’s the key to the world’s practical problems, from war and hunger to the ecological crisis that’s now threatening all life on earth.

I can now answer your question directly, which was, “How do you know all this?” How do I know, for example, that God is almighty and hears prayer, that “God likes to be asked for advice on how to pray,” or that nothing is too hard for God? And my answer is, because I’ve been granted a new kind of knowing, a knowing that’s not in the mind but in the heart. I don’t know how I know these things about God, and I would truly want God to rebuke and correct me if I overstep my measure of light and say things about God that are untrue. But when God said to me, “I give ear,” I believe that God not only assured me that He/She/It listens always, but also announced that He/She/It was giving me an ear to hear with. And what I hear with that ear, I must also speak.

God is the Elephant in the Room

July 28, 2014

God is the elephant in the room.

The “elephant in the room,” according to Wikipedia, is “an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_in_the_room). Although references to the elephant in the room go at least as far back as George Berkeley (1685-1753), my memory tells me that the twist currently given to the “elephant” trope may date back to Knots (1970) by R. D. Laing (1927-1989) – (can any reader confirm this for me?) – the point of which is: there is a rule against ever mentioning the elephant in the room, and there is also a second rule: namely, that the rule against mentioning the elephant, and this second rule itself, forbidding mention of the first rule, are both unmentionable.

Therapy

Therapy

There is a plausible reason for these truth-suppressing rules: if there is an almighty, ever-present God who guides our steps, thoughts and tongue, then God is a Reality that overshadows – nay, swallows up – all other realities :  for in him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28a). Again, the Lord abides in the heart of all beings, O Arjuna, causing them to turn round by His power as if they were mounted on a machine; he who sees Me everywhere and sees all in Me, I am not lost to him nor is he lost to Me (Bhagavad Gītā 18:61 and 6:30, Radhakrishnan translation). If, moreover, this God loves us, forgives us everything, and intends our perfection and our return to everlasting bliss in His-Her embrace, as our hearts tell us a good God ought to do, then what better thing to do than hasten fearlessly and unswervingly down the paths God has laid out from us, always welcoming God’s corrections, trying to love all creatures as ardently as God loves us, rejoicing that God’s will always intends what’s best for us, ever imploring God for a fuller revelation of God’s presence? But we don’t, because we don’t see things that way, and frankly, we don’t really want to. Now if to be insane is to be out of touch with reality, or to be in denial of it and walking in a fictitious reality instead, – then, if God is as all-good and all-encompassing as we suppose God to be, almost all of us are insane almost all of the time.

But clearly this won’t do: we can’t have lunatics jiggling our prime interest rate, doing brain surgery on our loved ones, or discerning who constitutes a terrorist threat! We therefore pronounce ourselves sane and banish God to a distant throne: if we can’t have no God at all, let’s at least have an indifferent god who doesn’t care what we worms do, or a sulking god who dropped off scriptures ages ago and now waits in silence for the day he can reward or punish us for what we’ve done with them. Whatever: for the moment, the god seems to be staying quiet and letting us get away with our don’t-mention-the-elephant game. We’re safe for now: our kingdom has come, and our will is being done on earth: national security, economic growth, better orgasms and entertainment, whatever exalts this life of the mortal body.

Could it be that there’s a second elephant in the room?

The second unmentionable elephant in the room is the Deceiver. I have no inside information on his – or its – nature or ontological status: has “he” a consciousness, a will-to-power, a hatred of all that God loves? Is he/it merely a life-defiling, truth-denying, soulless algorithm generated by the collective unconscious of fallen humanity? Could “it” be nothing more than a spiritual process of entropy inherent in a fallen creation, tending ever downward toward darkness and chaos? Only God knows, and for the purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter, but whether this Father of Lies is more properly called “he” or “it,” we are in bondage to him. He dominates every government that rules by force and fear rather than love – which is to say, every armed government in human history, every enterprise that holds the threat of financial ruin over its employees’ heads, every institution that gets its way by bullying. He rules every corporation that seeks advantage over its competitors, including religious bodies that compete for converts. He inspires every effort to seduce consumers into buying things they don’t need. He is the superintendent of every school that teaches children to compete with their fellows for the highest grades and the privileges that go with them. Wherever more value is claimed for self than for the common good, the Deceiver reigns; wherever well-intentioned liars and manipulators think “let us do and excuse this evil, that good may result,” they are among his slaves. We swim in his culture as fish swim in water, many of us scarcely aware that this Deceiver, whom scripture calls “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), is distinct from the God who created us and loves us.

It is this second elephant in the room that keeps the first elephant unmentionable.

Fortunately, almighty God has already defeated the Deceiver, and upholds all those who resist the Deceiver’s attempts to lure us back into bondage. But this good news needs to be spread, far and wide. The time is short.

Again, will you repent?

June 22, 2014

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.

 

 

Weeping over the Lord’s Prayer: a First

May 31, 2014

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.

The vocal ministry I’d like to hear at meeting

April 13, 2014

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!”

Help, help! My God-knower has fallen asleep…

December 6, 2013

Help, help! My God-knower has fallen asleep, and I’m trapped in a wasteland of awareness where I can’t feel my divine connection, can’t smell or taste God’s presence, can’t see my faithful Shepherd, hear my all-wise Creator’s voice, or even rightly understand my Source of All Good with this flickering and distractable mind! How long have I been this way? My Beloved has fled from me in the night – or was I the one that ran away? Should I call this nightmare feeling grief or guilt? I see that I can still write English, drink tea, look out at the rain and speak gently to the cat, but O, O, O, I’ve gone insane, and so have we all, because we’ve gone oblivious to Truth, and blind to the Greatest Reality There Is!

The One who is all and makes all and keeps it in being should be the first thing I awaken to and the last thing I kiss good-night – but where is He, where is She, where is It? If only I could see the flaming sword barring the way back to Paradise, the cloud that swallowed up the Savior, a little path that might lead out of the desert, or this dark prison’s main gate, so I’d know where to direct my longing! I know that I am, and so I know that Something am; this mind sees things go by in time and space, and so I know that Something gave it power to experience a world of change; this heart loves, hates, fears and suffers, and so I know that Something gave it feeling. Something, where are You? I know You must be here, because there can be no Here but where You are; but if I’m not awake to my knowledge of You, then where am I?

The Hebrew Bible speaks of the Day of the Lord, the Gospels of the Day of the Coming of the Son of Man: let the one on the housetop or at the plow not go back indoors! For if it’s as great an event as the reawakening of our sense of God, then it can be nothing less than the eclipsing of all time and space by the Fullness of Eternity, the reduction of a billion billion things to one changeless Singularity, the dissolving of our bordered and sin-stained selves into an all-forgiving Infinity of Love. Might we be frightened for a moment, as we tremble at the edge of the bridal bed or the grave? Maybe; or maybe a great stillness will come to steady us. No matter: on the other side is One who’s promised to wipe away all tears from our eyes. If it’s to come to us tomorrow, then it’s as if it were today. Let’s dress up for it in our best white robes of nakedness! Let’s comfort one another as best we can, so we can all go forth to meet our God with joy! And let’s forgive each other everything, every cruelty, every hardness of heart, the way we’d forgive our tormentors in a dream that’s past, because the sun is soon to rise on glory that can never fade away!