Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

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.

 

 

Will you repent?

June 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Personal Mission Statement

March 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

Jesus Calls Us to Die to Self

March 4, 2014

At a recent gathering of Friends, I was given approximately this message to share with the gathered body: “The inwardly known Christ, whatever we may each call Him, Her, or It, calls us to die to self. This sounds dreadful and forbidding, but it is not. Jesus said ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matt. 11:30), and He has ways of making it so, amazing ways, as I can testify from experience. Whatever Jesus calls us to do, He gives us the courage, wisdom, love, forgiveness, humility, words to speak, whatever it is that we needed to do what we have to do and didn’t think we could ever do.

“A Friend earlier expressed the concern that we might decline or die out as the Religious Society of Friends, lose our meeting houses and all the trappings of our group identity; but if this were to happen, the Holy Spirit would still call us to worship and witness together, because the call to die to self will sound so long as there are selves to die, and souls called to die to self will always need one another’s company and encouragement, and as we die to self we are gathered into a larger body, which functions through us as a vine through its branches (John 15:5).

“As we die to self, we become transparent vehicles for Christ, and that makes us attractive to anyone looking for Christ, who said ‘I will draw all people to me’ (John 12:32). As embodiments of the living Christ, we draw them from what is false, and transitory, and unsatisfying, to what is true, and eternal, and satisfying forever.”

At the next break, a Friend asked me where the call to die to self is found in the words of Christ. Evidently fatigued from a day of note-taking, I drew an utter blank and had to tell him so; but then a bystander came to my aid and said, “Perhaps you can find it in ‘If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me'” (Luke 9:23-24). That helped me remember “He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he who hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25; cf. Matt. 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). But I resolved at that time to search for more evidences of that teaching in Scripture, for I was sure they were there to be found.

And here’s what I’ve come up with over the intervening days – not an exhaustive list of proof-texts, but rather a set of general impressions:

1. Hidden in plain sight is Jesus’ model prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), which begins “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.” We can’t say these words and truly mean them until we’re ready to relinquish all our own claims to our own kingdom and our own will. Our own agenda, our own efforts to control things, our own self-promoting schemes and little self-gratifications, all must be laid on God’s altar and only taken back up again if and as God permits.

2. The twin commandments, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut. 6:5), and to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18), on which, Jesus said, “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40), are not really possible to fulfill without such a “dying to self” that you will never again put your wants ahead of God’s wants, or someone else’s wants. Every scheme to import pleasure and export pain must be abandoned; every competition that pits “my interest” against “your interest” must pass the test of compatibility with love of God and love of neighbor.

3. This, of course, requires as thorough a change of heart as Adam and Eve underwent (in the other direction) when they turned from unity with the will of God to defiance of the will of God.  God promises us such a change of heart, from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33 promises a new covenant, in which God’s law will be put in our inward parts and written in our hearts, and we shall have “one heart” (Jer. 32:39).

4. Can we do this by our own efforts? No more than we can perform heart-surgery and be the patient at the same time. Therefore the New Testament is rich in metaphors of death and rebirth into a God-given new life: Jesus tells Nicodemus that “a man must be born again” (John 3:3), and Philip and Andrew, that a corn of wheat must die in order to bring forth fruit (John 12:24). In Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells a would-be disciple, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22; cf. Luke 9:60). Paul writes repeatedly about our being “baptized” into Christ’s death, so that we might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4), risen with Christ and forgiven our sins (Col. 2:12-13), “quickened with Christ when we were dead in sins” (Eph. 2:5) – “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

5. In such cases we have put off or “mortified” the sin-addicted “old man” (Rom. 6:6, Eph. 4:22, Col. 3:9) and become a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). Effort, of course, is still needed; we are still tempted. But we now live in Christ, and He in us (John 17:20-26); and “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

6. Lest anyone think that these death-and-rebirth tropes are all theological inventions of Paul’s, or John’s, not rooted in the teachings of the “real” Jesus of the synoptic gospels, consider what the Jesus of the synoptics might have meant when He called on people to “repent.”  One could, of course, “repent” a minor offense. But repentance in its larger sense, metanoia, was not merely feeling sorry about the sins one had committed; neither would weeping, fasting, or doing violence to oneself  count as repentance (Heb. 12:17). John the Baptist insisted (Matt. 3:8, Luke 3:8) that sinners “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance:” one had to show that one had repented by changed behavior.  In fact repentance was not something one could “do” by oneself, but had to be granted as a divine gift (Acts 5:31, 11:18). It brought forgiveness of sins in its train (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38, 3:19); without it, one might die a meaningless death, like the hapless victims of the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13:3, 5), or the  fool that built his house on a foundation of sand (Matt. 7:26-27).

I am persuaded that many of the sayings and parables of Jesus are rightly read as calls to die to self; but whether I’m right or wrong in this, I urge my readers to consider whether the living Christ that knocks at the door of their heart (Rev. 3:20) calls them to die to self, so that they can move on to a life in which God provides for them like the lilies of the field (Matt. 6:28), and those who have left house and family for Christ’s sake, and the gospel’s, may receive them back a hundredfold (Mark 10:29). His yoke is easy, and His burden light; but first we must come under it by dying to the unyoked life.

The Glorious Gospel and the Friends’ Meeting in the Shadow

February 12, 2014

I just came back from an “Eldering in the 21st Century” workshop at Powell House, feeling both a heightened sense of responsibility for my meeting’s condition and an increased competence to help it, so long as I remain faithful to the Lord’s guidance. At the heart of my renewed hopefulness is renewed joy in the goodness of God, whose intent, I believe, is the restoration of all His (Her, Its) beloved children to innocence and bliss. (This particular view of God’s intent didn’t come up during the workshop, but a theme was “Ministry is anything that makes God’s love more visible.”) It doesn’t matter that many of my fellow Quakers may not share my trust in a God with personhood and a will, or my notions about a Savior, Jesus Christ, carrying out that will. Neither does it matter that many of my fellow Quakers seem wiser than I, more dedicated to eradicating evil and relieving suffering. My job is to love them, support them, pray for them, and do my best to live by the Lord’s glorious gospel, trusting Jesus to do the rest.

Let’s talk a little about that glorious gospel. Lately I’ve been struck by its central paradox: on the one hand, it’s “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10), from a God who is Love Itself (1 John 4:8), and we don’t need to have the “right” theology in order to benefit from it. Hallelujah! But on the other hand, it requires us to walk a path that’s hard to find and leads through a narrow gate, “for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13-14). No, it’s not bad-cop Paul who makes heaven sound hard for us sinners to get into while good-cop Jesus gathers little children to His bosom and welcomes everybody. It’s Jesus Himself who warns us that we have to repent, take up our cross, forgive everyone everything, and be ready to lose our life for the truth’s sake, or else risk being cast into an outer darkness where there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth, (In Matthew’s gospel, we’re ejected into it; in John’s, we choose it freely because we’ve come to love darkness rather than light.) Now, these demands are just plain scary. And yet what better news could we hear than that we needn’t fear death, or any of this world’s threats and dangers, but can have the everlasting support of an all-forgiving and almighty Creator who will wipe away all tears from our eyes? That’s the paradox: the gospel is wonderful beyond words, and yet it asks so much of us that we’re not sure we can do it – nor even that we want to.

The natural reaction seems to be to reach for the science textbook or the newspaper and remind ourselves that there’s no general agreement that God exists. OK, we won’t go that far. But let’s spend our Sunday mornings at a house of worship where folks all hold the right values, but where we won’t be called sinners and told to repent. Here’s one: Anytown Monthly Meeting! We can go deep into silence together here, come out refreshed, and then collaborate together in doing good works: no creeds, no doctrines, no study of scripture unless we choose it.

The problem is that we bring our shadow with us wherever we go, so no sooner do we start to sink into that delicious silence than we’re distracted by our own frivolous inner chattering, or troubled over some bad thing we did, or worse, jarred out of the stillness by someone whose self-important babbling is spoiling our worship! Once again we’ve come to meeting hoping for a taste of paradise, and instead got a taste of the darkness that makes us gnash our teeth. Why can’t our meeting go deep in worship, why can’t we come away feeling that we’ve met God and been blessed, baptized, transformed by the encounter? What’s wrong?

The first thing I’d warn against is the thought that a failed meeting for worship is “no big deal; these things just happen.” What? If our elderly mother had promised to make a special trip to meet us at the airport and we didn’t find her there, wouldn’t we panic? How much more should we be concerned if our Heavenly Parent failed to show up for a rendezvous! And the second thing I’d warn against is blaming the failure on the spiritual condition of the others in the meeting. Jesus had something to say about finding the mote in our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). If the voice of ego is driving out the voice of God all around us in the meeting room, what is it that’s happening in our own heart? Third, it should go without saying that if we haven’t been practicing daily during the week, we have no business going on stage at Carnegie Hall on Sunday: finally, I notice, more Friends are starting to query one another about daily spiritual practices. This is a good thing.

But I haven’t yet been hearing Friends query one another about coming to meeting with unclean consciences. Perhaps the dirtiest thing we bring in the meeting house door with us is unforgiveness, grudges, eagerness to hear gossip that will allow us to despise our scapegoat all the more. We also, many of us, bring in a recent history of complicity with evil – the things we’ve done for our employers, and our employers’ clients, during the week; the things we’ve let our government do, in our name, without protesting them; the waste of the earth’s resources we’ve been party to; the profits our retirement funds have made from evil investments. In these things we may feel helpless, because we have rent to pay and children to raise and see no alternative to living as we do, but have we prayed to God for deliverance from these things, this devilish economy of importing pleasure and exporting pain? Have we asked God’s forgiveness for these things that we know are contrary to the common good? Then there are the lies we may have told – oh, perhaps not to our family members, but what about the ones on our income tax returns? Or the cruel things we may have said in jest?

The subject of lying leads directly to its twin, the secrets we keep. What is it that we would not like anyone to know about our inner life – anyone, ever? If there’s anything like that festering in there, then we’re one of the poor, mad self-damned who “love darkness rather than light, and avoid the light to avoid exposure” (John 3:19-20). This attitude puts us in bondage to the enemy of God, for God is the one who wants to liberate us from all such toxic separateness. Are we walking in the meeting house door with such an attitude? Then how can we worship God?

Finally, if we’re still wondering why we find our unprogrammed meetings so full of junk ministry, let’s ask ourselves what junk we’ve put into our own minds over the past week. Have we masturbated to the accompaniment of fantasies that would be sinful if acted out in reality? (By “sinful” I don’t mean just “forbidden in the Bible” but really sinful, in a way our own heart can recognize: adulterous, predatory, degrading.) Are we quite sure that we’re not secretly praying to be allowed to act them out in reality? Have we asked God to heal our sexuality so that we’re not torn by yearnings for what would not be good for us or others? If we feel enchanted by an erotic attraction, have we prayed for the spiritual good of the attractive one and so purged our preoccupation of some of its selfish element?

Then there’s the junk we fill our minds with by watching television and reading the newspaper. “But it’s the true news,” we may protest. “We have a duty to inform ourselves.” The unfortunate thing is that it’s the “true news” unsanctified by compassion, thrown at us by commercial media interests who know that what most excites our baser passions is what best sells newsprint and air time. Among “baser passions” must be included the desire to be thought the most knowledgeable among the present company, and the lust (if we read the financial pages) to be the investor with the best competitive advantage over others. The news reports are always full of villains: do we bring the villains before Christ in our prayers, asking Him to help us love them?

When we enter the meeting house on Sunday morning, we put the self-serving world and its transitory goods behind us in order to enter into the presence of the Holy. In other faith traditions, we might be expected to remove our shoes, prostrate ourselves, genuflect or make the sign of the cross in order to cross this threshold properly. We Quakers, however, traditionally do without such outward forms because we’re resolved to hold to the substance behind the form. But the time has come for us to ask ourselves: have we abandoned both form and substance together?