Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Flushing Remonstrance

Today is the anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance.

From the Bowne House Historical Society:

"On December 27, 1657, Edward Hart wrote a letter on behalf of his fellow townsmen. He was town clerk for Vlissengen [now known as Flushing], and with the authority vested in his office he spoke for all the inhabitants of the settlement. Though the law of New Netherlands [now known as New York] demanded otherwise, Hart wrote, Vlissengen would offer 'free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses,' to any who sought it, whether 'Jews, Turks... Egyptians... Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker.' 'Wee desire...not to judge least we be judged,' he explained, 'neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own Master...designed for the good of all ....' In accordance with the 'Outward state of Holland' and 'the patent and charter of our Towne...which we are not willing to infringe,' Vlissengen respectfully refused to obey the law. Their letter not only defied the laws of one of the most powerful, religious governors of the colonial age, it challenged the very idea of state-enforced religion. The belief that religion was an affair of state lay at the core of the bloody religious persecutions that had plagued Europe throughout the Reformation age. Even in the more lenient American colonies, the words of the Remonstrance expressed a concept of religious freedom that extended beyond the principles of any other contemporary document.

The Remonstrance presented a raw version of the radical ideals later solidified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is any among you without sin?

“Several years ago there was a well-known pastor who openly, publicly had a number of issues that he was against, both morally and spiritually and politically. He was loud and outspoken about these particular issues. It turns out that one of the issues he was most vocally opposed to was something that he himself had struggled with and been engaged in for a number of years. Upon this being revealed publicly, his church released him from his leadership position. Shortly after this a friend of mine happened to meet him while visiting the same city and when they began conversing this pastor-in-exile expressed a great deal of stored up venom for his former church that he had started, venting about how they had shot their wounded and they hadn't extended him grace and love and all that. He was shocked that they had treated him like they had.

Here's what I find so startling: he was complaining about how they dealt with him but he's the one who shaped and taught and molded them. He merely found himself on the receiving end of how he had trained them to be. He created and crafted the system to behave a particular way and then it behaved in that exact way.

It's easy to form a circle and pick up stones, taking turns quoting bible verses the whole time, ready to unleash those stones on the one who's guilty. It's another thing to be the person standing in the middle of that circle, desperate for one person, just one, to say ‘is any of you without sin?’

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”

Rob Bell
Farewell Epistle to Mars Hill

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Role of Women in the Church: 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 revisited

The Role of Women in the Church: 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 revisited
By Danny Coleman

A few years ago I embarked on in-depth research into the topic of women’s roles in the church. There were three reasons I undertook this study:

1. It occurred to me that the Body of Christ is about two-thirds female. What I mean by this is if you look at most church services you will find that there are more women than men. Yet, in most church services the women--who make up the majority—-are limited in how they can function as compared to men.

2. I kept encountering women who were gifted teachers, pastors and theologians but who were not able to fully function in those gifts. That struck me as a bit of a rip-off, not just to those women, but to the church which was being deprived of the blessing of being edified by their gifts. I now am part of a Quaker church which is pastored by a woman who is, as it turns out, the most gifted pastor I have ever known.

3. I was disturbed by the apparent contradiction in Paul’s writings in the New Testament: On the one hand, Paul worked closely with Priscilla and referred to her on equal terms. Priscilla was very clearly a teacher. One of her students was Apollos. In his letter to the Romans, Paul singled out Junia, a woman, and Andronicus, a man, and called them “outstanding among the Apostles”--in other words, Paul considered Junia and Andronicus to be Apostles of note. Also in Romans, Paul commends Phoebe to the churches. Many historians believe it was Phoebe whom Paul entrusted to deliver the letter to the Romans (see Michael Bird's excellent essay Fretting Over Phoebe for deeper look into the ramifications of this). In his letter to the Romans, Paul calls Phoebe a “diakonon”, which is the same word he uses elsewhere to describe himself and Timothy. In our English Bibles, diakonon is usually translated into English as “minister” or “servant” (of course, when applied to Phoebe it is “servant”). Paul also calls Phoebe a prostatis. Although it appears only here in noun form, the verb form proistemi, occurs eight times in the New Testament and is translated as “rule”, “lead” or "manage". The noun prostatis is used in Greek writings of Paul’s time period to describe a “leading officer” (our English equivalent would be a superintendant). A prostatis was someone who presided, in the sense of leading, governing, directing or conducting. When applied to Phoebe, however, prostatis has often been translated into English as “helper”. One wonders to what degree the presuppositions of the translators regarding women's roles was a factor in their word selection in this verse. There were other women that Paul pointed out: Euodia and Syntyche, whom Paul says “contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel”—-which I think means they did more than just serve coffee and donuts. Then there was Nympha, Chloe, and Lydia (also possibly Stephana); all of whom appear to have been house-church leaders.

Yet on the other hand, in 1 Timothy 2:11 and 1 Corinthians 14:34, Paul seems to be saying that women are forbidden such leadership and teaching roles.

There appears to be a contradiction in Paul’s thought and praxis. Many attempts have been made to explain or reconcile or downplay this apparent contradiction. Why did the man who wrote to the Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” later write to the Corinthians that “…women must remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak…”. Why did Paul speak highly of the teacher Priscilla and commend Phoebe as a leader, yet instruct Timothy to forbid women from teaching or having authority over men?

It is these two scriptures in particular--1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-40--which I want to look more closely at, because it is these two scriptures—more than any others—that have been used to limit and marginalize women in the church. We live in a day and age where women are police chiefs and pilots and neurosurgeons and corporate CEOs and leaders of nations, yet within the walls of many churches they are still told that it is God's will that their opportunities to minister or participate be limited.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

One of the most important lessons I ever learned about studying scripture is to ask this question: “What did it mean to the original hearers?” That simple question opens up a world of discovery. When Paul wrote 1 Timothy, he didn’t just sit down out of the blue one afternoon and say “Hmmm, I think I’ll write some holy scripture.” No, he was writing to a particular person at a particular place at a particular time for a particular reason. When we read 1 Timothy we are, quite literally, reading someone else’s mail. And so it behooves us to understand what was going on in Timothy’s world and what Paul’s letter would have meant to him.

Timothy was in Ephesus. It appears that Ephesus was a tough place to be a Christian. It was in Ephesus, remember, that the craftsmen who made shrines to the goddess Artemis caused a riot because of the Gospel that Paul was preaching (Acts 19). Paul later wrote about fighting “with beasts at Ephesus” (1 Cor 15:32), which probably refers to this riot. Of his time in the region where Ephesus was located, Paul would later write “…we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” (2 Cor 1:8).

And now a few years later Timothy, Paul’s young protégé, is in Ephesus and appears to be under a great deal of stress. Paul is trying to encourage Timothy and also give him some specific practical advice. Paul even tells Timothy to drink some wine because of his stomach and occasional illnesses, which makes one wonder if poor Timothy was getting ulcers from the stress.

What is it about Ephesus that would make it such a difficult place? In New Testament times Ephesus was considered a major city and trade center of the Roman Empire. It was located in the Western part of a region called Asia Minor (which is now Turkey). Ephesus was the gateway from the West to the East. The region of Asia Minor had previously been called Phrygia.

Phrygia was sometimes associated with the mythical Amazons—a nation of female warriors. Phrygia, and Ephesus in particular, had also been the center of worship of an ancient goddess name Cybele. Cybele was the great mother goddess—believed by Phrygians to be the mother of all the gods and of the earth. Another name for Cybele was Magna Mater – Great Mother. Long before the Greeks expanded into Phrygia, Cybele had been the primary deity, worshiped for thousands of years—perhaps all the way back to Neolithic times.

The story of Cybele centers upon her love for a beautiful young shepherd named Attis. Attis, being pure and chaste, resisted Cybele’s sexual advances. In a fit of rage, Cybele caused Attis to go insane. He ran screaming through the forest until he came to a great pine tree. At the foot of the pine tree he pulled out a knife, castrated himself, and bled to death. Where his blood touched the ground, beautiful violets sprouted up. Attis went to the underworld and Cybele mourned him, but after a short time she resurrected him and her mourning turned to joy. In the cult of Cybele the goddess was simultaneously the source of fertility, the Great Mother, a perpetual Virgin (she never consummated with Attis), Creator, Resurrector and sexual aggressor.

During rituals, pine trees would be decorated with flowers and taken into sacred caves (representing Cybele’s sexuality). Worship of Cybele was overseen by priestesses and priests. The priests, called Galli, were men who had castrated themselves in reenactment of Attis’ self-mutilation and surrendered their manhood to the goddess. Thereafter the priests dressed and acted as women. Worship of Cybele is said to have been a frenetic and orgiastic affair with drums and cymbals and flutes, wailing and chanting, whirling priests dancing before a statue of the goddess, devotees slashing their arms and splattering their blood on her statue, a bull being castrated and then sacrificed. As the ritual reached a frenzied climax, new initiates to the priesthood who had worked themselves into a state of religious ecstasy would take out razor sharp knives, emasculate themselves and caste their severed manhood to the goddess as a sacrifice. We can assume that some did not survive the ordeal. Cybele is usually depicted with two lions or leopards at her side. In later statues, a cluster of egg-shaped orbs protrude from her chest. Scholars argue about what these shapes represent. Some think they are breasts, symbolizing that Cybele was the universal mother; others think they are the scrotums of priests and bulls. Others think they’re just large beads. The priestesses of Cybele served as mid-wives to their communities and invoked the goddess’s protection during child-birth. Men engaged in ritual intercourse with priestesses or emasculated priests, thus enabling Cybele and Attis to vicariously consummate their love.

The cult of Cybele was powerful, pervasive and well-established in Phrygia by the time the Greeks took hold of the region.

When the Greeks expanded into Phrygia, they brought their gods and goddesses with them. The Greeks tended to take local deities and absorb them into the existing Greek pantheon. Thus, Cybele became Artemis. The Artemis worshipped in Phrygia was very different, however, from the Artemis worshipped in Athens. The Phrygian Artemis was really Cybele with a new name, a fresh coat of paint and another layer of mythology added on.

According to Greek mythology, Artemis was the moon goddess, the daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo, the sun god. As the story goes, Artemis was born first and then assisted her mother in delivering Apollo. As a result, Artemis was considered the protector of women during child-birth. Women in ancient times would make offerings to Artemis and ask her to protect them during pregnancy and labor. This probably accounts in part for the reason why little portable shrines to Artemis were a major industry in Ephesus. Artemis was also the goddess of healing and of hunting. She was believed to be a perpetual virgin, and would kill any man who approached her with wrong intentions. Artemis was a warrior. She was protective, capricious and dangerous.

When the Roman Empire arose and supplanted the Greeks, the Romans kept the Greek pantheon. Artemis became Diana. Same goddess, different name. During Paul’s time she was still commonly called Artemis. In Ephesus, Cybele became Artemis and Artemis became Diana. But the Artemis/Diana which was worshipped in Ephesus was very different from the Artemis/Diana worshiped elsewhere. In Ephesus, it was an amalgamation of Cybele and Artemis.

Ephesus was home to the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was not just a massive temple but also a repository of art and treasure. It was the largest bank in the region. It was run by a huge staff of priests and priestesses who directed the affairs of the temple, conducted sacrifices, engaged in ritual prostitution, etc. This was the largest and most complex temple of ancient times. There had actually been a series of temples to Artemis on that spot going back to 700 BC. They had been rebuilt and expanded over the years. The Ephesians believed that Artemis had been born nearby and had founded the city. One historian has written that “…the principal force of her cult was upon the interrelated components of the city’s urban life, e.g., the civic, economic, educational, patriotic, administrative and commercial facets… There was no other Graeco-Roman metropolis in the Empire whose ‘body, soul and spirit’ could so belong to a particular deity as did Ephesus to her patron goddess Artemis.” By the time Timothy got to Ephesus, Artemis worship had been entrenched for nearly 800 years and Cybele worship for thousands of years before that. Christianity was a strange new religion in Ephesus.

In light of this, you can imagine how Timothy might have been intimidated. But there’s more. Believe it or not, there was an even bigger threat to Timothy in Ephesus. It was a teaching that had wormed its way into the church and was creating all kinds of trouble. Trouble with a “T” and that rhymes with “G” and that stands for “Gnosticism”.

Ephesus was ground zero for Gnosticism. Gnosticism got its name from the Greek word gnosis which means knowledge. The roots of Gnosticism can be traced back at least to 400 BC and Plato. Plato taught that the cosmos had two aspects: The world we see and an unseen world of “forms” or “ideas”. Plato posited that the unseen forms were perfect and unchangeable but that what we see in our world are only crude imitations of the unseen forms. Thus, a tree is but a crude representation of the ideal tree. Plato’s thinking led to a type of dualism where the material world was seen as flawed and inferior while the unseen “spiritual” world was seen as perfect. This dualism led to Gnosticism, which viewed the material world as not just flawed but as evil. The goal of Gnosticism was to obtain secret knowledge which would enable one to escape the prison of the evil material world and be reunited with the perfect spiritual world.

Gnostic teaching can be likened to a parasite which attaches itself to a host and grows within that host. At the time of Paul and Timothy, Gnosticism had found its way into Judaism. Ephesus was second only to Alexandria as a center of Jewish Gnosticism. There are variations, but the Jewish Gnostic story basically went like this:

Outside of our cosmos is a greater realm called the Pleroma, or region of light. The Pleroma emanates from twelve beings called Aeons. The Aeons can be thought of like angels but are paired in male/female couples. Beyond the Aeons and the Pleroma is the Monad (also known as “The One”). An Aeon by the name of Sophia (which means “wisdom”) decided to create something on her own, apart from her partner Aeon. Because she was essentially rebelling against the order of things, her creation was deeply flawed. What she created was a being called The Demiurge. The Demiurge, according to Gnostics, is what we call God. However, Gnosticism taught that The Demiurge is not kind or just or loving but rather is a sadistic and ignorant monster. Sophia, ashamed of her mistake, isolated The Demiurge and surrounded him in a fog. The Demiurge does not know that he is the child of Sophia. He thinks he is God and is alone above all else. Since the Demiurge is the creation of Sophia, he has within him some of her powers. So he set about to create the world, as recorded in Genesis. But the world he created, like The Demiurge himself, is deeply flawed and evil.

The Demiurge created Adam, but could not give Adam life. Sophia saw the lifeless Adam and took pity. She sent her daughter Zoe (which means life) to bring Adam to life. Zoe gave Adam life and Adam called Zoe “Eve”. But now Adam and Eve were trapped inside of the evil Demiurge’s material world. They had within them the spark of life, from the Pleroma, but it was encased in crude bodies of flesh. The Demiurge sought to keep Adam and Eve, and the children they would eventually produce, as prisoners in his world. But a savior came, sent by Sophia. The savior was the serpent. He came to liberate Eve and Adam by telling them about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent explained that it was through secret knowledge—gnosis—that they and their offspring could escape from The Demiurge and his evil world and ascend to the Pleroma.

You can see how Gnosticism would have made Jewish and Christian leaders crazy. It essentially takes what the Bible teaches and flips it upside-down. Good becomes evil and evil becomes good. God is the bad guy. The serpent—Satan—is the good guy. Eve gave life to Adam and “original sin” is actually liberation. Christian leaders for the first few centuries contended vociferously against Gnosticism and it eventually died out. Some would say it was forcibly stamped out once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. In recent years Gnosticism has experienced a bit of a revival.

Repeatedly in his first letter to Timothy, Paul refers to “false teachings”, “myths”, “endless genealogies” and “controversies”. At the end of the letter Paul tells Timothy “Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called gnosis (knowledge), which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.”

This was the religious climate into which Paul had initially brought the Gospel and then into which Timothy had come to nurture the Ephesian church. The "church" in Ephesus was actually a collection of churches that met primarily in homes. One can only imagine what was going on in these house-church meetings as former priests and priestesses and worshipers of Artemis--now converts to the new religion of Christianity--were bringing their religious baggage in with them, while at the same time Gnostic teachings were infiltrating and competing with orthodox doctrine. We can begin to understand why Timothy was overwhelmed.

In light of all this background, let’s (finally) look at 1 Timothy 2, beginning at verse 11:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

What exactly is it that Paul is saying here?

The quote above came from the New International Version English Bible translation. If we look at the actual Greek text we find that the word translated “quietness” is hesuchia, which does mean quietness or harmony or agreement and the word translated “full submission” is hupotage which literally means “arrange under”—in other words, to voluntarily place oneself in subjection to someone or something. So Paul is saying that women should be in quiet agreement and place themselves under subjection. But to what? To men? Or to sound doctrine? I believe it is the latter.

Next Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man…” The Greek word Paul used here, which is translated as “to have authority over” is authentein. It is not the word normally used for authority in the New Testament. That word is exousia. The word authentein, in fact, is used nowhere else in the entire New Testament. When translators need to clarify what a writer meant when he/she used a certain word, they look at how that same writer used the word elsewhere. If that isn’t an option, they look at contemporaneous writings for how the word was used.

A remarkable thing has happened in the last 25 years or so. With the advent of computers, all of the extant ancient Greek writings have been gathered together into digital, searchable databases. This has opened new doors for researchers to see how particular words were used and how the meaning of words changed over time.

The word authentein, it turns out, was a somewhat unusual word even in Paul’s day. It was also a word which was rich with meaning and overtones. Paul seems to have carefully selected this word because of the meanings and overtones it would convey.

Just looking at the word authentein, and how it resembles certain words in our language gives us some clues: Authentic. Author. Authority. Authentein is a compound word made from the Greek word auto, meaning “self” and hentos, meaning “thrust”. Literally, it means “to thrust oneself forward”.

In the oldest examples we have, the word was used to describe someone who committed murder or suicide by planning the action and then carrying it out with their own hand (thrusting the dagger forward). The word came to be used to describe the mastermind of a diabolical scheme to overcome and murder someone. It was not just the action itself, but the authoring of the plan also. To authentein was to originate and perpetrate. By Paul’s day the word was also used to describe a tyrant. To authentein was to completely dominate someone. This reminds me of a popular phrase used today by video gamers when they defeat an opponent: “I owned you!”

So what is Paul really saying here? Here are two possibilities:

1. “I do not permit a woman to teach or act in a way that utterly dominates a man…” This is close to how the verse was translated in the Latin Vulgate up through the King James Version – a period covering about 1200 years. If we think back about Ephesus with its Amazon legends, Cybele, Artemis, Diana, castrated priests and powerful priestesses, suddenly Paul’s use of the word authentein makes a lot of sense. There had been a religious culture of emasculation and female domination entrenched in Ephesus for thousands of years. It is also interesting to note that a couple of sentences later, in verse 15, Paul says “But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” Here Paul is directly addressing the custom of pregnant women appealing to Artemis to save them during childbirth.

2. “I do not permit a woman to teach or claim to be the author of man…” This interpretation directly addresses the Gnostic teachings about Eve being the one who gave life to Adam and received saving knowledge from the serpent. This would explain why, immediately following in verse 13, Paul says “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” Paul is directly contradicting Gnostic teaching, which he rails against throughout the letter to Timothy.

Or perhaps Paul, inspired genius that he was, intentionally selected this obscure word authentein because it invoked a richness of meaning that would encompass both of these forms of aberrant teaching that the Ephesian church was wrestling with.

All the evidence put together strongly suggests that Paul’s statement to Timothy about women was very specific to the situation in Ephesus.

If we were to amplify 1 Timothy 2:11-15 with everything we’ve looked at in mind, it might say something like this:

“A woman should learn in agreement and submission to sound doctrine. I do not permit a woman to teach that they are the author of man or to tyrannize men. She must maintain harmony. For, despite what the Gnostics teach, Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. And women will be saved during childbirth, not by offering sacrifices to Artemis, but by continuing to follow Jesus in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

1 Corinthians 14:33-40

As in the case with 1 Timothy, this letter from Paul to the Corinthian church was prompted by some specific and troubling circumstances. Chloe, the leader of a house-church in Corinth, had sent messengers to Paul with a report about multiple problems in the Corinthian house-churches. The report seems to have been in the form of a letter which contained specific examples of things people had been doing and saying in Corinth, as well as a series of questions. Paul's response is the document we call 1 Corinthians. Since we don't know the contents of the letter that Paul was responding to, reading 1 Corinthians is a bit like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. We can read Paul's responses to the Corinthians, but we don’t have the letter from the Corinthians which would enable us to “hear” both sides of the conversation. However, Paul repeatedly brings up points or questions from their letter:

Now about the matter you wrote about…
Now about virgins…
Now about food sacrificed to idols…
Now about spiritual gifts…
Now about the collection for God’s people…
Now about our brother Apollos…

Sometimes Paul quotes back statements from the Corinthian’s letter and then responds:

“I follow Paul”; “I follow Apollos”; “I follow Cephas”; “I follow Christ”.
“Everything is permissible”
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”

The tricky part about this is that in Paul’s day correspondences were written in Koine Greek with no punctuation. The letters were all capitalized. Words and sentences were run together without spaces in between. There was no such thing as quotation marks. The Corinthians would have recognized which parts of Paul’s letter were their own words being quoted back to them, but we can only guess.

For example, in the NIV, 1 Corinthians 7:1,2 says:

Now for the matter you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

Some scholars believe that in verse 1 Paul was quoting the Corinthians and then in verse 2 offering his response:

Now for the matter you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

The difference is subtle. In other places, however, the difference could be dramatic. At chapter 12 (we know of course, that Paul didn’t write in chapters--they were added 1,000 years later) Paul launches into a lengthy discourse on the topic of spiritual gifts. He pays particular attention to vocal gifts; especially prophecy and speaking in tongues. This discourse goes from the beginning of chapter 12 to the end of chapter 14. At the end of chapter 14, just as he is about to conclude his discourse, Paul makes the following statement:

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

There are several difficulties with this portion of scripture. The first is the previously mentioned contradiction between this statement and Paul’s other statements and actions regarding women. Within the letter of 1 Corinthians itself, there is an apparent contradiction: In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul makes the point that women should wear a head covering when praying or prophesying in church (in order to adhere to cultural norms and not cause unnecessary scandal). Yet here, three chapters later, he seems to be saying that women cannot pray or prophesy in church at all! A second difficulty has to do with the placement of this statement in the overall discourse. It seems out of place. Some scholars have even suggested that this statement was pasted in awkwardly from another letter by Paul or written in later by someone other than Paul. A third difficulty is Paul’s strange and pointed questions in verse 36 “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” and then his return to the topic of prophecy and tongues. What prompted this odd outburst?

There is a solution to these difficulties which causes this portion of scripture to flow very naturally and eliminates the apparent contradiction: What if verses 33 and 34 are a quote from the Corinthian’s letter and verse 36 onward is Paul’s response?

It would read like this:

Quote from Corinthian’s letter: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Paul’s response: Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Someone in a Corinthian house-church has laid down a rule that women must remain silent. They have invoked the Old Testament Law to back it up (which is a clue that maybe the person is a Judaizer--someone trying to reincorporate the requirements of the Old Testament Law into the New Testament church). A modern paraphrase of Paul’s reaction might be:

“What?! Do you think you’re the only one who can speak the word of God?! If you think you are a prophet or spiritually gifted, you’d better listen to what I’m telling you, otherwise you should be ignored: Be eager for prophecy and do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. But do everything in a genuine and dignified way."

There is no way to prove this hypothesis, short of discovering the original letter to Paul from the Corinthians. But it should give us pause, especially in light of what we know about Paul’s radically supportive attitude towards women in leadership. If the hypothesis is true, suddenly 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 makes perfect sense. Paul is infuriated that someone is trying to use scripture to block women from functioning in their spiritual gifts within the church. I suspect that if Paul were alive today, his reaction would be very much the same.

What is abundantly clear is that Paul was not writing universal mandates intended to limit the roles that women could fulfill in all churches for all time. Rather, he was writing letters to very specific people and responding to very specific situations. It behooves us to be congnizant of these underlying contexts so that we stop marginalizing two-thirds of the Body of Christ.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


"Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?”

— Kim Phúc (The girl in the iconic photo from the Vietnam war who was severely burned by napalm. She was rescued by the photographer. She nearly died and spent 14 months in a Saigon hospital, enduring 17 surgical procedures. She now lives in Canada)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A war that never should have been, finally comes to an end.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sears has turned "joy" into a commodity...

Book Synopsis: Silence and Witness

My blogging output has slowed to a trickle in recent months, due to my school-work load at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. One of my courses this semester has been on Missional Ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the study of the church: What is the church? What makes church church? What are the various expressions of the church? The Missional part has to do with exploring what the mission of the church is and how that is interpreted and expressed within the various ecclesiologies. Here is a link to a more detailed definition of what Missional Ecclesiology (aka Missional Church) means: http://www.friendofmissional.org/).

As part of the course we were permitted to choose our own area of emphasis within the subject of Missional Ecclesiology to study. The assignment was to read something each week about our area of emphasis and then write a synopsis on what we read. The idea of a synopsis is to try to “echo back” the points that the author is making and express how we interpret those points. My area of emphasis was Quaker Missional Ecclesiology.

I thought I might share some of the synopses I wrote. The danger in doing so is, as I see it, twofold:

1. I may have misinterpreted and thus misstate what the author was trying to say. If I have done so, I apologize.

2. I may open myself up to accusations of plagiarism. Let me state very clearly: I am not claiming that the following are my ideas. I am paraphrasing and “echoing back” the thoughts and words of the author(s) in an attempt to express a synopsis of their work.

My intent in posting this is the hope that what I have done might be of value to someone else by exposing them to these ideas and authors. The topic of Quaker Missional Ecclesiology is a fascinating one; worthy of deeper consideration.

This week, I have been reading Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition by Michael L. Birkel. Birkel is a professor at the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker college. For this synopsis I am focusing on chapters 1 through 5.


The reason for the book’s title; Silence and Witness is that silence and witness are the two pillars of Quaker ecclesiology. Quaker worship is “inward” and contemplative in nature yet it seems to consistently result in an “outward” witness, which engages the world and testifies to God’s power to transform individual hearts and entire societies. What links these two “pillars” together is the belief in God’s leading presence. “Our witness grows out of God’s leading as encountered in contemplative worship. Faithfulness to leadings, in turn, enhances the experience of worship.” [1]

Chapter 1, Spiritual Ideals in Quaker History

Early Quakers saw their movement as both an apocalyptic and prophetic response to a perceived apostate church. They viewed their movement as a revival of “primitive Christianity.” George Fox is generally considered the founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He was a spiritually sensitive youth who was dissatisfied with what he saw around him in 17th century England, as people professed Christianity yet did not reflect it in their behavior. Fox traveled throughout England, meeting with Anglican priests and Puritan ministers, in search of guidance—but could not find what he was looking for. He had just about given up hope when, according to his journal, he had an encounter with God in which he was told “There is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition.” [2] Over a period of time, Fox had a series of what he called “great openings” (what we would call “revelations”) regarding the love of God and the accessibility of God to everyone, apart from human or institutional mediators. Fox’s message was embraced by a pre-existing multitude of disaffected Christians called “Seekers” and Quakerism (as it came to be known) grew exponentially.

Birkel points out a consistent pattern of three factors that mark the dynamics of Quaker spiritual life: Interior struggle, resolution and subsequent reaching outward to change the world.

Interior struggle: “Early Friends’ experience of the Inward Light [what we would call the Holy Spirit or “Christ-in-us”] was not as a cosy fire but rather a relentless search beam that showed them their sinfulness.” [3]

Resolution: “The Light at first exposed their capacity for evil but then led to the victory of good over evil within them. A sense of inward peace followed…and a deep sense of community with other Friends who had been through the same harrowing experience.” [4]

Reaching outward: "This sense of victory energized them to labour to transform the social order into a godly society." [5]

Early Quakers came to refer to this inner/outer struggle as “the Lamb’s War.”

Friends suffered considerable persecution for their beliefs and actions—including imprisonment and confiscation of property. The persecution grew particularly intense when the English monarchy was restored after Cromwell’s death. Because of the need to keep track of imprisoned Friends and provide support for their families the Quakers developed an organizational structure based on monthly meetings where Quakers within defined geographic areas would gather to exchange information, distribute relief and make collective decisions.

With the lessoning of persecution after the Act of Toleration in 1689, Quakers became more settled and lost some of their initial zeal and intensity. “The metaphor of the Lamb’s War declined in use, but the threefold scheme of interior struggle, resolution and social change continued.” [6]

In the early 19th century the rival Protestant religious trends of Evangelicalism and Rationalism had a profound impact on the Religious Society of Friends, ultimately resulting in a schism. Evangelical Friends gradually adopted patterns of Protestant (particularly Methodist) worship, such as hymn-singing, sermons and designated clergy. Liberal Friends, influenced by Rationalism, kept the traditional Quaker forms of worship but became uncoupled from the Christian basis of the faith. By the mid-20th century work was well underway to repair the schisms and this work continues to progress to this day. Missions work undertaken by Evangelical Friends has also resulted in large numbers of Quakers in Bolivia, Kenya and other two-thirds world nations. “…it may well be Friends whose first language is not English who will shape important new directions for the twenty first century. [7]

Chapter 2, Meeting for Worship

“Meeting for worship is the heart of Quaker spirituality. Everything else in the spiritual life flows into meeting for worship, and all of Quaker spirituality flows out of it. [italics mine]” [8]

Quakerism is an “experiential” faith. It is the worship experience, rather than doctrine or ritual, which forms the basis of Quaker spirituality.

Robert Barclay (an early Quaker theologian) described his experience this way: “...when I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart, and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me, and the good raised up, and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed. And indeed this is the surest way to become a Christian, to whom afterwards the knowledge and understanding will not be wanting, but will grow up so much as is needful, as the natural fruit of this good root.” [9]

The liturgy of a Quaker meeting is both simple and complex. It is based on gathering together in a waiting, expectant attitude of heart. Silence, in and of itself, is not the point; but rather the external manifestation of worship that is based upon inner listening. Anyone present may break the silence if they feel compelled by God to share a message. Such a message is called “vocal ministry” and is generally kept fairly short. After someone offers vocal ministry, the rest of the congregation will ponder the message in silence. It is not uncommon for three or four messages to be given by various individuals during the course of a meeting for worship. It is also not uncommon for these messages to coalesce into a remarkably cohesive and profound message from God. The complexities of this approach, according to Birkel, “are familiar ones to many spiritual traditions: arriving at stillness of body and mind, discernment, and the dimensions of community life in the body of Christ.” [10]

Inner stillness can pose a daunting challenge for some, and people have developed various techniques for arriving at it (while others seem to need no technique at all). Any techniques used by individuals, however, are means, not ends. They only serve a transitional purpose to help in “centering down.”

As this “centering down” occurs, two things tend to happen (according to Birkel):

First, worshippers feel led by the Spirit on where to focus. “It may be a wordless sense of divine presence, an effortless tranquility. Others may experience images of many sorts, possibly scenes from their lives that feel in need of attention…Some may feel insight into a matter. Others may find the events in their minds painful, perhaps a difficult truth to face about themselves, a troubling interior place that stands in need of redemption or healing.” [11]

Second, worshippers “become aware of the collective dimension of their worship.” [12] Rather than being alone in a crowd (as in, say Buddhist meditation), a heightened sense of connectedness tends to occur. Quakers believe that those who are particularly centered during a meeting can actually serve as “magnets” (Birkel’s analogy), silently drawing those around them into greater depths of worship. Thus, Friends believe that ministry one-to-another can occur in silence. Quaker worship is extremely communal in nature. The zenith of a Quaker worship meeting is if it becomes a “gathered meeting.” Thomas Kelly describes a “gathered meeting” in this way:

“In the Quaker practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when an electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshippers. A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, and a quickening Presence pervades us, breaking down some part of the special privacy and isolation of our individual lives and bonding our spirits within a super-individual Life and Power—an objective, dynamic Presence which enfolds us all, nourishes our souls, speaks glad, unutterable comfort within us, and quickens in us depths that had before been slumbering. The Burning Bush has been kindled in our midst, and we stand together on holy ground.” [13]

Because anyone can break the silence and offer vocal ministry, there is an element of risk involved in a Quaker meeting. Vocal ministry may consist of a prayer, an insight, a description of a vision, a word of exhortation, a passage of scripture (with or without commentary), etc. The goal is to only offer vocal ministry if one is strongly compelled by the Spirit to do so. Thus, when an individual receives an impulse to speak, they ought to run it through a series of internal discernment filters before acting upon it. This discernment process includes examining one’s motives for feeling led to share the message, engaging the question of whether the message is intended for just oneself rather than the whole community and considering if the message is to be shared at present or held for a future time. When giving vocal ministry, Quakers endeavor to not “outrun the Guide” or “go beyond the leading” but to be faithful to deliver the message in as pure a fashion as possible.

Because of the interior nature of Quaker worship, it can be difficult to describe what occurs. A good summary, however, is provided by Isaac Pennington, an influential 17th century Quaker:

"And this is the manner of their worship. They are to wait upon the Lord, to meet in the silence of flesh, and to watch for the stirrings of his life, and the breaking forth of his power amongst them. And in the breakings forth of that power they may pray, speak, exhort, rebuke sin, or mourn, and so on, according as the spirit teaches, requires, and gives utterance. But if the spirit do not require to speak, and give to utter, then everyone is to sit still in his place (in his heavenly place I mean) feeling his own measure, feeding there-upon, receiving there from (Into his spirit) what the Lord giveth. Now in this is edifying, pure edifying, precious edifying; his soul who thus waits is hereby particularly edified by the spirit of the Lord at every meeting. And then also there is the life of the whole felt in every vessel that is turned to its measure; insomuch as the warmth of life in each vessel doth not only warm the particular, but they are like an heap of fresh and living coals, warming one another, insomuch as a great strength, freshness, and vigor of life flows into all. And if any be burthened, tempted, buffeted by Satan, bowed down, overborne, languishing, afflicted, distressed, and so on, the estate of such is felt in spirit, and secret cries, or open (as the Lord pleaseth), ascend up to the Lord for them, and they many times find ease and relief, in a few words spoken, or without words, if it be the season of their help and relief with the Lord." [14]

Chapter 3, Discernment

Quakers believe that revelation is a continuing process—that God still leads people and reveals truths. There must be freedom for individuals to receive divine leadings. A leading might be a sense of calling to undertake a particular ministry, such as John Woolman’s leading to travel throughout the American colonies in the early 1700’s speaking against slavery, or Lucretia Mott’s leading in the early 1800’s to advocate for women’s rights. However, although leadings come to individuals, they are submitted to the community to discern whether or not they are genuine. The process of group discernment—sorting, careful listening, recognizing, clarifying, confirming--is taken very seriously by Friends. Quakers are somewhat unique in the practice of communal discernment and have developed a number of tests to apply to leadings. Quaker historian Hugh Barbour has identified four such tests: Integrity (Is the leading self-indulgent?), Patience (Has the leading “seasoned” for a time?), Self-Consistency (Is the leading consistent with scripture and with the values of the community?) and Unity (Does the leading bring unity or disunity?). [15]

Communal discernment also comes to the fore when Friends gather to conduct church business. It is sometimes wrongly assumed that Quakers make decisions by consensus. Rather, Friends seek to listen together and come to a place of corporate unity on discerning what the will of God is on a given matter. Thus, Quaker business meetings are often referred to as “Meeting for Worship for the Purpose of Attending to Business.” Friends will wait on moving ahead with a decision until they feel they have reached unity. This goes far beyond majority rule or acquiescence to the authority of leaders. It also requires considerably more patience. Quaker meetings for business typically begin with a time of silent listening. “As in meeting for worship, the silence is an opportunity to open oneself to the guiding hands of the Holy Spirit. It is not a time to organize one’s thoughts or to devise the strategy of an argument to persuade others.” [16] A meeting for business is facilitated by a member designated as “clerk.” The role of the clerk is to serve the meeting by prayerfully observing, encouraging the reticent, asking clarifying questions, gently admonishing those who over-speak, turning the group back to silent listening prayer if things become heated or stymied, and, most importantly, trying to discern the “sense of the meeting” and communicate what they perceive back to the group for their assent or dissent. When unity has been reached on a decision the clerk will articulate it back to the group in the form of a minute and ask if they approve.

Another form of group discernment is the “Clearness Committee,” where a person seeking clarification on a leading or a life decision (such as marriage or a job opportunity or relocation to another state) will gather with four to six Friends who will listen with them—sometimes asking out of the silence gently probing questions as they are led by the Spirit—with the goal of helping the individual receive a clearer sense of God’s will (as well as their own motives) in the matter.

Chapter 5, The Testimonies

“Quaker spirituality is both inward and outward. Friends have always expected the Holy Spirit to transform individuals and then guide then into ways to transform society…In worship together Friends have experienced not only wordless union with God but also practical leadings to engage in concrete actions.” [17] Because of the consistency of the Holy Spirit’s leading, over time Friends have discerned certain patterns or principles that affect their outward behavior. These patterns or principles are referred to as “testimonies.” These testimonies are typically expressed as Integrity, Simplicity, Equality and Peace.

The testimony of Integrity is manifested in many ways but all have at their core the conviction that truth-telling is essential. From the 17th century to the present, Quakers have refused to take oaths; feeling that an oath implies a double standard of truth-telling (to swear an oath that one is telling the truth implies that at other times one may not be telling the truth. Instead, Friends endeavor to speak at all times as if “under oath”). Early Quakers were persecuted and imprisoned for their refusal to swear oaths of loyalty to the monarchy. Another form of truth-telling is in the realm of commerce. Quakers were among the first merchants to set fixed prices on their goods—thus charging the same price to everyone. They felt it was dishonest to have customers pay varying prices for the same products based on the customer’s negotiating skills. Quakers quickly developed a reputation for integrity in business and achieved considerable success as a result. The testimony of Integrity also comes out in the Quaker imperative to “speak truth to power.” Quakers have often been outspoken critics of injustice and oppression.

The testimony of Equality has its roots in George Fox’s early revelations that everyone has direct access to God. In meeting for worship, for example, Friends believe that anyone—male or female, young or old, educated or unlearned, etc.—may be called upon by God to offer ministry. The Quaker view of the equality of women and acceptance of their role in leadership positions was scandalous in 17th century England—a time when it was debated whether women even had souls! [18] In the United States, Quakers were known for their respectful treatment of Native Americans.

Oftentimes the testimony of Equality is expressed in a “leveling down” fashion. Early Quakers refused to follow social customs of the time which elevated certain classes of people. Thus they refused to participate in practices such as “hat honor” (removing one’s hat in the presence of a social “superior”), using formal language or addressing people with titles and honorifics (“your Majesty”, “your Grace”). These acts of non-conformity were audaciously counter-cultural and resulted in persecution but also gradually brought about profound changes in English and American culture.

Perhaps most importantly, the testimony of Equality has manifested in direct action to confront societal injustice (including war). In 1947 the Quakers, via the Friends Service Council in London and the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for showing “…that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them…” [19]

The testimony of Simplicity “has to do with trust and with focus…A simple life is based in confidence in God’s faithful providence. In addition, a simple life enables one to keep God at the center.” [20] Early Friends eschewed luxury and waste; seeking to unencumber themselves from needless distractions. One of the clearest exemplars of the testimony of Simplicity is the 17th century American Quaker John Woolman. Woolman was a small businessman who discovered that he had a knack for business and, as a result, saw his business begin to grow and was soon receiving tempting offers to expand even more. Instead, he intentionally pared his business down to the minimum necessary to support his family, sending his customers to his competitors. He wrote in his journal:

“My mind through the power of Truth was in a good degree weaned from the desire of outward greatness, and I was learning to be content with real conveniences that were not costly; so that a way of life free from much entanglements appeared best for me, though the income was small. I had several offers of business that appeared profitable, but saw not my way clear to accept of them, as believing the business proposed would be attended with more outward care and cumber than was required of me to engage in. I saw that a humble man, with the Blessing of the Lord, might live on a little, and that where the heart was set on greatness, success in business did not satisfy the craving; but that commonly with an increase of wealth, the desire for wealth increased. There was a care on my mind so to pass my time, as to things outward, that nothing might hinder me from the most steady attention to the voice of the True Shepherd.” [21]

The testimony of Simplicity also accounts for the once distinctive Quaker practices of “plain dress” and “plain speech.” This intentional seeking of simplicity is the antithesis of modern day “Consumer Religion.”[22]

The Quakers are perhaps best known for the Peace testimony. During one of George Fox’s many imprisonments, he was offered release if he would agree to accept a captaincy in Cromwell’s army. He records in his journal what his response was: “But I told them that I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars, and I knew from whence all wars did rise, from the lust according to James’s doctrine…I told them that I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strives were.” [23] He was summarily beaten and remained in prison.

The Peace testimony manifests not just in the opposition to war but in active work at peacemaking. For example, William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) wrote in 1693 An Essay Toward a Present and Future Peace of Europe [24] in which he outlined something very similar to today’s European Union (and included Russia and Turkey). Quakers see justice and peace as inextricably linked, since injustice and oppression often lead to war. Injustice, oppression, marginalization and greed are really just alternate forms of violence—typically against the poor or powerless.

Closing Thoughts

My synopsis has traced the trajectory of Birkel’s book, which is neatly summarized by the book’s title: Silence and Witness. Birkel has effectively demonstrated how the silent, listening worship of the Quakers ultimately manifests in a counter-cultural lifestyle of external witness and has proven to be a form of ecclesiology that is resistant to commodifying influences which abstract belief from concrete practices. [25]

I have accumulated many books on Quakerism over the years and this is one of the best in terms of providing an accessible and well-rounded and inspiring overview of what Quakerism is all about. I think every Quaker and anyone interested in the Religious Society of Friends would benefit greatly from reading Silence and Witness.

[1] Birkel, Michael. Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition (Orbis, 2004) p. 15
[2] The Journal of George Fox, edited by John L. Nickalls (London: Religious Society of Friends, 1975) p. 11
[3] Birkel, Michael. Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition (Orbis, 2004) p. 22
[4] Ibid.,p. 22
[5] Ibid.,p. 22
[6] Ibid.,p. 27
[7] Ibid.,p. 38
[8] Ibid.,p. 38
[9] Barclay, Robert. Apology for the True Christian Divinity (George Amoss, Jr. translation, 1675)
[10] Birkel, Michael. Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition (Orbis, 2004) p. 40
[11] Birkel, Michael. Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition (Orbis, 2004) p. 44
[12] Ibid.,p. 44
[13] Kelly, Thomas. The Gathered Meeting. This essay has been widely distributed among Friends and appears in a collection of Kelly’s essays entitled The Eternal Promise (Friends United Press, 1966) p. 43
[14] Pennington, Isaac. Selections from the Works of Isaac Pennington (Darton and Harvey, 1658) p. 357
[15] Birkel, Michael. Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition (Orbis, 2004) p. 56-58
[16] Ibid. p. 69
[17] Ibid. p. 104
[18] George Fox wrote in his journal: “After this, I met with a sort of people that held, women have no souls, no more than a goose. But I reproved them, and told them that was not right; for Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” The Journal of George Fox, edited by John L. Nickalls (London: Religious Society of Friends, 1975) p. 54
[19] The full text of the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony speech can be read online at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1947/press.html
[20] Birkel, Michael. Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition (Orbis, 2004) p. 111
[21] Woolman, John. The Journal of John Woolman (1871 Edition, Houghton Mifflin) p. 68
[22] Clark, Jason. F2F presentation, George Fox Evangelical Seminary, Oct. 2011
[23] Fox, George. The Journal of George Fox, edited by John L. Nickalls (London: Religious Society of Friends, 1975) p. 65
[24] http://www.archive.org/stream/anessaytowardsp00penngoog#page/n2/mode/2up
[25] Clark, Jason. “Consumer Liturgies and Their Corrosive Effects on Christian Identity” in Church in the Present Tense (Brazos Press, 2011), p. 42

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Coincidence? Perhaps...

Quaker Wisdom

"The fundamental renewal which the Society of Friends needs today must arise out of a deeper reality in worship. Apart from this basic essential, various promotional programs will avail but little." -- Seth Hinshaw, Friend's Worship Today: Contemporary Concepts and Practices

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A very, very, very short mystical apologetic

(from http://frimmin.com/faith/mysticismintro.php)

To know God directly shows that mysticism is different from any passive or legalistic kind of Christianity. It means:

That while we honor the Scriptures, we want to know God directly, not just through Scripture.
While we respect our heritage of teachings about God, we want to know God directly, not through doctrines and teachings.
While we gather in communal worship, we want to know God directly, not just through the Church.

Some readers may find this unsettling. Maybe you believe it doesn't apply to you, because you "know" that your church is purer and more correct than others. Even if that were true, is it a substitute for knowing God directly? Or, you might also feel that trusting the Bible alone gives you knowledge of God directly from the Source. But it was written by mystics, listening to God speaking his Word in their hearts. Is it possible for you to read it directly, without the conceptions of your language, time, culture, and personal history? Are you sure you wouldn't understand it very differently if you were reading it, say, in third-century Damascus?

The religion we call "Christianity" changes, but God is eternal. Mystical faith wants to know this unchanging God to whom Christianity leads us, the One behind the beliefs and the words, the One whom beliefs and words cannot describe. We want to follow Jesus' example more closely, and go beyond the religion about Jesus, and take the religion of Jesus: the knowledge of the Father and unconditional love he had, and urged us to have.

Peace Through Pieces

My friend Patty runs a great ministry called Peace Through Pieces that facilitates trauma healing for women in central Africa through quilt making. She is raising funds for a ministry trip to Burundi in February to continue the work. You can read her latest newsletter and see pictures and videos here: http://www.northseattlefriends.org