Friday, May 30, 2008

The Christian Faith of Friends/Signs of Salvation

I found an excellent article by Ben Richmond entitled The Christian Faith of Friends (requires Adobe Acrobat to read).

Richmond is the author of a book I'm currently reading entitled Signs of Salvation, which explores the meaning of the atonement from a Quaker perspective. I think it would be valuable for any Christian, Quaker and non-Quaker alike, to consider the concepts that Richmond's book addresses. It is an incredibly detailed book, filled with scripture. As such, it is one to read slowly and carefully, taking time to ponder the points it raises. You can read the Introduction chapter of the book here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On being a "Quasi" Quaker

I was talking on the phone a few days ago to a friend whom I haven't seen in a couple of years. She and her husband used to be part of a house-church with Carla and I. Prior to that, her husband and I were in leadership together at the same Vineyard church.

When I told her that Carla and I have been attending a Quaker church, she was shocked. As we discussed it more, it became evident that she was equating Quakers to Amish or other ultra-conservative Mennonite sects. "I used to have the same misconception.", I said, and explained to her that Quakers generally don't dress anachronistically and have actually tended to be very progressive in many ways. I recounted how I had discovered that many of the values and practices which we had been pursuing together in our house-church were things that the Quakers had been doing for 350 years. It just seemed to fit for us.

The next day, while rummaging around in a pile of pamphlets at church, I came across a piece written by Gregg Koskela entitled The Top Ten Reasons I’m a Quaker (click to read).

Koskela followed that list up with another: The Top Ten Ways Quakers Make Me Crazy.

Although my own Top Ten lists would be slightly different, I can relate to both the pros and cons that Gregg enumerates (although, regarding #5 on the "Make Me Crazy" list, we have been blessed to find a group of Quakers who embrace the Charismatic gifts--albeit quietly).

I have not quite crossed the line of referring to myself as a Quaker. I am a "Quasi-Quaker" and by Quasi I mean almost. At some point I'm sure I will cross that line and begin to think of myself simply as a Quaker but I'm content to let that happen naturally. The self-description that I hope always over-arches every other is follower of Jesus.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Random thoughts about books

Books. I've always loved books and loved to read. I consider myself an autodidact and books are my primary means of education. I once had a pastor criticize me for reading too many books about theology. He thought it was worldly and unspiritual! He didn't like to read, except maybe the Bible, and felt that others should follow his example. I realized then and there that we were probably going to have difficulties ministering and fellowshipping together.

As much as I love to read in my spare time, I struggle with distractions and can too easily flip on the boob tube and lose hours to channel surfing. Carla and I have agreed to put away the TV for the Summer (our TV is a little portable with a 13" screen that we bought at Monkey Wards 20 years ago). Maybe I'll make some headway this Summer on the little stacks of books that are scattered like monuments to procrastination throughout our home.

The church we've been attending seems to be full of readers. They even have a library where books can be checked out. I'm just beginning a book that I check out on the pastor's recommendation and the pastor is now reading a book that I recommended to her. Last Sunday, during the discussion at the "Meeting for Learning" one of the participants, a 90 year old woman, mentioned that she is reading Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change. How cool is that! This is one more reason why Carla and I are feeling more and more at home there.

P.S. I just read The Shack cover-to-cover in one sitting while on a cross-country flight. It is a fantastic book! Much more astute and theologically profound than I was expecting. I believe this book could become the Pilgrim's Progress of the 21st century.

Monday, May 26, 2008

For what?

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I didn't realize that pie charts and bar graphs could be so funny! Many of them make references to popular songs; albeit in rather obscure ways. Here are three of my favorites. See if you can identify the songs that the first two are referencing:

song chart memes

song chart memes

Saturday, May 24, 2008


It was only a matter of time. We have iPods and iPhones, now someone has invented iGod. iGod is a web-based "chat" with the Big Guy. Or, rather, with a sarcastic AI interface pretending to be God. It's pretty funny and a bit creepy.


Thursday, May 22, 2008


During the course of our 90 minute Bible study at the jail last Tuesday, one of the participants began repeating the oft-heard fundamentalist litany that America's founding fathers were Christians and this once great Christian nation has veered into wickedness and will be punished like Israel of old. "One the other hand", I said, "those founding fathers also owned slaves. Maybe they, like all of us, were a mix of good and bad; capable of great goodness and great evil."

At that point we let it drop and moved on with our discussion and study, but the exchange came back to me tonight while watching, of all things, National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It's a dumb movie, but entertaining. The climax of the film takes places at Mt. Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. For some reason it suddenly struck me that, in a certain sense, the monument at Mount Rushmore is very ugly. In fact, I realized, it's an abomination. Oh, it's not an abomination if you're white and Christian. But if you are a native Lakota it must be.

Think about it: The Black Hills were sacred land to the Lakotas. And right in the middle of their sacred land, on the side of a sacred mountain, we carved out a massive image of their conquerors. It's like graffiti for the ages.

Sure enough, a quick Google turned up a fascinating article in the Smithsonian Magazine about Native American attitudes towards Mt. Rushmore. One Lakota put it this way: “We all hate Mount Rushmore. It’s a sacred mountain that has been desecrated. It’s like a slap in the face to us—salt in the wounds—as if a statue of Adolf Hitler was put up in the middle of Jerusalem.”


America is a great nation. But we also have a dark history. Why is it that Evangelical Christians, in particular, don't want to see that or teach their children about it? To question the "Godliness" of America messes with the "myth of a Christian nation" (as Gregory Boyd calls it).

I saw a news story recently about a Baptist pastor who began receiving death threats after he removed the American flag from his church's sanctuary. The pastor felt that the focus during church should be on the cross of Christ, rather than on a national symbol. Many members of his church were upset by the removal of the flag; some to the point of threatening to kill him.

The great sin of many of the Jews in the Old and New Testaments was ethnic pride. They saw themselves as God's chosen people; blessed by God simply by being descended from Abraham. Many could not handle Jesus' and the Apostle's inclusion of Gentiles into the family of God. It strikes me as ironic that so many American Evangelicals make the same mistake. To see oneself or one's race or one's nation as especially favored by God is, essentially, to worship oneself/one's race/one's nation alongside God. It is idolatry.

And that is an abomination.

Quaker resources

I found a very concise and well written FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) about Quakerism. Here's the link:

Where I found this FAQ was on a site called New Quaker, which has a lot of great resources and links related to Quakerism:

I have also been finding a lot of great books at Quaker Books:

Lastly, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, a site provided by Calvin College, has tons of great literature that you can read online or download for free. This is not a Quaker site, but they do have some classic Quaker works including Barclay's "Apology", Hannah Whitall Smith's books, George Fox's Journal, etc. Additionally the site has writings by Early Church Fathers and lots of other cool stuff:

Monday, May 19, 2008


Over the last few months Dave has sporadically appeared at our Tuesday night Bible studies in the jail. Dave is one of those people who's age is difficult to guess. He could be anywhere from a beat-up 45 to an energetic 65. My best guess is somewhere right in the middle. His back and shoulders are bent from years working as a construction laborer. Dave's shoulder length white hair is combed straight back. He has piercing blue-green eyes and all of his teeth. Dave talks in fits and starts. He seems to expend great internal effort to assemble his fragmented thoughts into a coherent shape and then spits the words out machine-gun style. Then he pauses for another regrouping. A lifetime of alcoholism and drug use have wracked his body and addled his mind. Worse, Dave is sentient enough (especially after these incarcerated months of sobriety) to know that he has fried his own brain.

Dave alternates at the drop of a hat between personas: The tough life-long criminal ("This jail ain't nuthin'! I spent time in the downtown Los Angeles jail. That's a tough place!"); The holy man who mixes Christianity with Native American spirituality; The AA veteran who imparts words of wisdom to other struggling addicts; The angry victim of injustice; The burned out refugee of countless losing battles with substance abuse.

Dave prays beautiful heartfelt prayers, so I intentionally leave space at the beginning and end of our Bible studies for him to give an invocation and benediction. He never cracks a Bible during our studies, since he can barely read.

These last two weeks Dave was particularly talkative. We let him talk through most of our allotted time. He was about to be released from jail. For the first time I saw real fear in his eyes. No..., terror. Dave told us, in his halting, staccato delivery, that there is no reason why he won't exit the jail and walk 200 feet to the nearest bar and get drunk. He knows his addiction well. He knows the prescribed path before him which leads to a downward spiral of drinking, sleeping on the streets, pissing himself and dying alone. He is fatalistic and resigned. We talked a lot about hope these last two weeks. Dave at first says he has no hope, but then begins to get excited about the possibility that God might still be able to use him. "Maybe my mission", he says, "is to help other alcoholics."

Dave is out on the streets now. He was released from jail sometime in the last few days. I have no way to reach him. He is fully and completely in the hands of God and his addiction.

Please pray for Dave.

Sex and Espresso

Highway 99 is not really a highway but a major business thoroughfare that runs through the city of Seattle and it's adjacent communities to the North and South. Sprinkled all along Highway 99 are a Seattle trademark: Drive-thru espresso huts.

Yesterday, while driving down Highway 99 from Everett towards Seattle, I had quite a shock. I glanced over to see a naked young woman walking across a parking lot carrying a plastic garbage bag in each hand. "That's something you don't see everyday", I thought to myself. Almost immediately after the initial shock I realized she wasn't actually naked. At least, not quite. She was wearing panties on the bottom and pasties on the top. I didn't look long enough to get any further detail (and did manage to keep the car on the road). The explanation for this exhibition? She was an employee of a drive-thru espresso hut and was taking the garbage from the hut across the parking lot to a dumpster.

This is the latest trend in the Seattle area: Drive-thru espresso huts staffed by provocatively dressed young women. Apparently the more traditional (as in, non-exploitative) drive-thrus have suffered a severe loss of business to this new approach. Many owners are having to decide whether to jump on the sleazy bandwagon or go out of business. The Everett Herald recently ran an article about the problem.

For myself, I've never been a big fan of drive-thru espresso huts, preferring the consistency of product I get from Starbucks. I certainly won't go to a hut in order to ogle a scantily clad teenage girl. I wish they'd respect those of us who choose not to see this type of thing by putting on a robe or something when they take out the trash.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Concerned Pastor

A gentleman left the following message on a church's voicemail, expressing his concern about the movements of a woman in the worship band: Concerned Pastor

Apparently the worship leader got a hold of the voicemail and remixed it: Concerned Pastor Remix

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Quaker Wisdom: Science and Seeking

In its early days our Society [The Religious Society of Friends; aka Quakers] owed much to a people who called themselves Seekers; they joined us in great numbers and were prominent in the spread of Quakerism. It is a name which must appeal strongly to the scientific temperament. The name has died out, but I think that the spirit of seeking is still the prevailing one in our faith, which for that reason is not embodied in any creed or formula. It is perhaps difficult sufficiently to emphasize Seeking without disparaging its correlative Finding. But I must risk this, for Finding has a clamorous voice that proclaims its own importance; it is definite and assured, something that we can take hold of--that is what we all want, or think we want. Yet how transitory it proves. The finding of one generation will not serve for the next. It tarnishes rapidly except it be preserved with an ever-renewed spirit of seeking. It is the same too in science. How easy in a popular lecture to tell of the findings, the new discoveries which will be amended, contradicted, superseded in the next fifty years! How difficult to convey the scientific spirit of seeking which fulfills itself in this tortuous course of progress towards truth! You will understand the true spirit neither of science nor of religion unless seeking is placed in the forefront.
- Arthur Stanley Eddington (from Science and the Unseen World)

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Whole of the Moon

One of my favorite songs from the '80's is The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys (aka Mike Scott). Supposedly the song was written about C.S. Lewis.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The War Prayer

The photograph above is one of ten never-before-published pictures illustrating the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The ten photos comprise the Robert L. Capp collection at the Hoover Institution Archives. These photographs, taken by an unknown Japanese photographer, were found in 1945 among rolls of undeveloped film in a cave outside Hiroshima by U.S. serviceman Robert L. Capp, who was attached to the occupation forces. Unlike most photos of the Hiroshima bombing, these dramatically convey the human as well as material destruction unleashed by the atomic bomb. Mr. Capp donated them to the Hoover Archives in 1998 with the provision that they not be reproduced until 2008.

The entire collection can be viewed here.

There are many websites which show (in living color) even more horrific and graphic pictures of the human cost of the Iraq war. They are not for the faint of heart (or stomach).

Maybe our opinion about war would be different if we had to look at pictures like these on the evening news. Maybe when politicians, pundits and patriots speak in abstract terms about the necessity of war; and in glowing euphemisms about the glory of war; pictures like these should be shown in the background.

In 1916 Mark Twain published an essay entitled The War Prayer, which seems even more relevant today. Here it is in its entirety:

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams – visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory –

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne – bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor – and also you in your hearts – fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

I think we're becoming Quakers

Last night at jail Carla did most of the teaching. This was not by premeditated design; it was just obvious that the Holy Spirit was on her. I felt a clear leading to just shut up and get out of the way. We were ministering to two inmates who are struggling with severe addiction issues. Carla was inspired (and by that, I mean God was breathing through her). She spoke words and gave scripture which moved both men deeply. Particularly she shared from Ephesians 5 about waking up and walking in the Light.

Afterwards, as we got in the car, I remarked how much like a Quaker she had sounded. She chuckled and told me that while supervising a study period at a high school yesterday (Carla works as a substitute teacher), she noticed a group of Russian students in the back of the classroom with their desks pulled together, furtively conducting an ad hoc Bible study. Apparently, they feel they cannot openly have a Bible study during school hours. Carla walked over and told them, "It gives me great joy to see you doing this." Relieved, they pulled their Bibles out from under their desks. They asked her what church she goes to. Without even thinking about it she said "I'm a Quaker.", which drew their approval.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Only in God

When it comes to singing monks, John Michael Talbot is hard to beat...

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Canoe

I became a Christian in my early twenties as the result of an encounter with God (see My Story). Since then, I have never doubted the existence of God. The question for me, since that event, has always been "What does it mean?", or, to paraphrase Francis Schaeffer, "How should I then live?"

Immediately upon conversion, I entered into the Evangelical world and adopted the doctrinal framework I was presented with. These were years of addition, as I filled in the blanks of my theology using the paint-by-number colors given me by pastors, teachers, radio ministers and televangelists.

At some point, 18 or so years in, an internal shift occurred which I barely noticed. Like climbing to the crest of a hill and transitioning to the downward side, I entered into (and remain in) a time of subtraction. Pieces of Evangelicalism have been falling off ever since, yet my belief and trust in God and Christ has never wavered. In fact, it seems the lighter my load gets, the more aware I am of the Presence of God all around.

One of the first things to go was the eschatology I had been taught. The only "end-times" viewpoint I had ever heard was Dispensationalism (ala "Late, Great Planet Earth" and "Left Behind"). Eschatology never really captivated me as it does some (who chart out the progression of events and speculate about political alliances, red heifers, a rebuilt temple and the identity of the Anti-Christ), so I was surprised a few years back when the Holy Spirit clearly urged me to begin studying the Book of Revelation. I ended up spending a couple of years digging deeply into Revelation and eschatology in general and finally emerged a Preterist (and a nearly Full Preterist at that!). Oftentimes eschatology is viewed as a discrete component of one's theology, but in reality one's eschatology has a profound effect on one's perception of everything. Eschatology asks, "Where is this all heading?", and so casts it's hue upon all one sees.

Other tectonic shifts occurred. I learned (thanks to the likes of Gordon Fee, Douglas Stuart, Winn Griffin and N.T. Wright) to read the Bible using a Historical-Grammatical hermeneutic. This changed the Bible from a flat book of equally weighted literal pronouncements into a living, colorful library filled with nuance and depth. No longer can I resolve a theological question by simplistically saying, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it."

Other shifts followed, many of which have been chronicled on this blog. My understanding of what "church" means was completely deconstructed, as were my views on leadership. Recently a friend emailed me asking what my views on women in ministry are. I replied that I don't believe women should be limited within the church in any way, shape or form--a women should be able to do anything a man does. My gentle amusement at such a silly question quickly turned into gentle embarrassment as I remembered that it hasn't been that long since I was earnestly wrestling with this same question.

Probably the most profound shift though has been the dawning realization of the steady, encompassing, unending and invincible power of God's love; which reduces all our dogmatic frameworks to the scale of popsicle stick structures made by children.

A pastor friend and I were talking once (over Guinness) about the softening and blurring of the hard lines in our theologies that occur as we mature in Christ. He likened it to a journey in a canoe. At first, one is riding their canoe through a narrow ditch where one can easily reach out and touch the earthen banks with one's hands. One is certain about everything. Gradually, the ditch widens into a stream, but one can still touch the edges with the tips of the oars. The stream becomes a river; ever widening. There is gradually less certainty and more trust. The solid assurance of the edges begin to fade into the distance and be obscured by the mist. Eventually one finds oneself at sea, with only occasional glimpses of land. Yet one is at peace; having learned to trust the canoe. The canoe is Jesus.

This metaphor came back to my remembrance the other night when I read remarkably similar words written by Hannah Whithall Smith in a letter to a close friend:

I hold all sorts of heresies, and feel myself to have got out into a limitless ocean of the love of God that overflows all things. My theology is complete; if you but grant me an omnipotent and just Creator I need nothing more. All the tempests in the various religious teapots around me do seem so far off, so young, so green, so petty! I know I was there once, it must have been ages ago, and it seems impossible. "God is love," comprises my whole system of ethics. And, as thou says, it seems to take in all. There is certainly a very grave defect in any doctrine that universally makes its holders narrow and uncharitable, and this is always the case with strict so-called orthodoxy. Whereas, as soon as Christian love comes in, the bounds widen infinitely. I find that every soul that has traveled on this highway of holiness for any length of time, has invariably cut loose from its old moorings. I bring out my heresies to such, expecting reproof, when lo! I find sympathy. We are "out on the ocean sailing," that is certain. And if it is the ocean of God's love, as I believe, it is grand.