Sunday, October 21, 2012

Meeting for Worship

After awhile,
after settling down.
in the deep quiet time.
We are embraced
by the silence
that was there,
expecting us,
when we entered.

- Helen Morgan Brooks

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My Vote

I have a confession to make. I am an undecided voter. I realize that my vote is a drop in the ocean, but I also consider it a solemn civic responsibility. I've been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about how to best use my tiny little vote. If I lived in a state where the Presidential race was close, I would certainly vote for Obama--as I consider him a far superior candidate to Romney. But Obama is ahead by 20 points here in Washington. I consider it a moral imperative to vote against Romney, yet there are policies of Obama's that I strongly dislike (such as his use of drone strikes and indefinite detention). Since Washington state will easily go to Obama, I've actually been pondering whether I should cast my vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. She has absolutely no chance of winning, but I find that the Green Party comes closest to reflecting my own civic values on a whole range of topics. So perhaps my miniscule vote--aggregated with others-- can be a message of encouragement to the Greens and a message of rejection to the Republicans and message of dissent to the Democrats and a message in favor of getting beyond the hegemony of the two party system.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Discerning the Spirits

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God..." - 1 John 4:1

"I was raised in a tradition in which we were taught to welcome the gifts of the Spirit. ... As much as we were taught to welcome the gifts of the Spirit, we were also taught to discern the Spirits. My uncle taught me that one can recognize that a Spirit is to be welcomed if it leads us to feel more love for other people. The first marker of the Spirit's presence ... was a profound sense of the inestimable worth, beauty, and wonder of other people. Filled with the Spirit, we saw other people as luminous gifts to life, infinitely precious and unique. We learned to question people who claimed to be led by the Spirit but used that power to denounce others or to distance themselves from others self-righteously. We questioned the Spirits who brought fear and established fear-based hierarchies.

'By their fruits you shall know them'--this community found it possible that the Spirit could lead one to stand against injustice but in so doing to stand with love and in love, not in judgment or hate. To stand for justice was to offer a gift of hope to oppressed and oppressor. Testimonies were frequent in which people described ways in which the Spirit led them to see the prior limits of their love and the need to expand it, learning to open their hearts to people they had formerly feared and condemned. I saw people raised in homophobic communities compelled by the Spirit to relinquish those prejudices and embrace, with love and gratitude, lesbian, gay and bisexual [and transgender - DC] people and to work for justice with them within the church and within society.

...There is a heady power in self-righteous judgment, an intoxication in transgression and disruption. Many people did and do find these to be compelling and overwhelming. It was tempting to use the Spirit to control others, to mold them into a community that felt superior becasue of its gifts, and disdainful of the rest of the world.

And the fruits of the Spirit are these--love, wonder, joy, courage, peace, and resilience--the ability to see our complicity with injustice and, equally important, the ability to change, to move into new horizons of love, of service and of understanding."

- Sharon Welch, Discerning Spirit: An Interrelational Communal Perspective

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Misusing Scripture for Political Purposes

Maybe you've seen it. It started circulating immediately after the Vice Presidential debate and has been appearing on blogs and websites and Twitter and Facebook in the days since. It is a verse of scripture from the Biblical book of Proverbs, chapter 29, verse 9: "When a wise person debates with a fool, the fool rages and laughs, and there is no peace and quiet." The quote is accompanied by a photo of or reference to Joe Biden, a professed devout Catholic and the Vice President of the United States. Clearly the intended message is that Biden is the fool who rages and laughs while Paul Ryan is the wise person.

As a Christian who seriously studies the Bible, my reaction to this Proverb-posting trend is one of disappointment. The folks using this verse of scripture to take a political cheap-shot are people who claim to hold the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God and the final authority in matters of faith and practice. These are texts that martyrs died for and that missionaries smuggled into Communist nations. The Apostle Paul urged his disciple Timothy to do his best to correctly handle the word of truth. I don't think correctly handling the word of truth includes prostituting it out to make partisan political potshots.

To make matters worse, what is often posted is not even an accurate quote of the scripture. In the 17 translations I checked (told you I was a serious student), including the most popular translations (King James, New King James, NIV, NRSV, NASB), Proverbs 29:9 does not say what the quote I have seen most posted says (perhaps someone can find me the translation that is being used in the quote, which is given above). For example, none of the 17 translations I checked use the word "debates"--most refer instead to going to court to litigate a matter (the key being the Hebrew word shaphat). In fairness, I have seen a few posts which don't use the bogus "debates" translation but quote accurately from a common translation (such as the NASB which uses the phrase "has a controversy" rather than the word "debates"), but they still misapply it to the 2012 Vice Presidential debate. It would be a dreadful thing if conservative Christians were publically misquoting and misapplying scripture (perhaps because they didn't check first?) in such a crass way in order to insult a politician.

The net result (and the reason I've taken the time to write something about this) is that misusing scripture for such a tawdry purpose discredits Christians, denigrates the Bible and, ultimately, disparages Christ. What I think those posting this text don't realize is that outside the circle of their own feedback loop they are coming across as smug and immature and not very knowledgeable of their own scripture. All for making a statement which isn't going to change anyone's mind about the debate or the upcoming election.

Of course, these are some of the same folks who thought they were striking a blow for religious freedom by consuming a chicken sandwich.

Here is an example of the Biden/Proverbs meme:


The past no longer exists, except as memories; it is like the vapor trail of a jet,
And the future doesn't yet exist, except as possibilities and probabilities.
The only thing that exists is now; we exist continuously on the knife-edge of the present,
And at each moment in the present we are taking the materials of the past and using them to create our future,
And God--knowing all possibilities and probabilities--is speaking to us in the present; about the choices we make that will form our future.
As God journeys with us through time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Quaker Wisdom: From The Autobiography of Allen Jay (1831-1910)

Isaac Brown was a dear Friend [Quaker] whom I had met in Ireland during Dublin Yearly Meeting, who manifested a great deal of kindness... He was a man of deep spiritual experience. He had been a teacher for fifty years, and told me that he had never been late to classes during that time. He was for many years head of the Flounders Institute, which was established near Ackworth, and where many went to complete their higher education and to prepare themselves as teachers and for other useful occupations. He had a large library, and had given much attention to biblical study and research, and had spent much time in writing commentaries on the Bible--withal a very modest and unassuming man. He deeply impressed me with his humility. Especially was this manifest in his public ministry, there being nothing dogmatic or dictatorial in his communications.

I was sitting one day in his library reading when he came in and sat down. At once I felt it would be a good time for me to find out the meaning of a certain portion of Scripture that I had heard explained different ways, so, turning to the passage, I said, "Isaac Brown, what is the meaning of this passage of Scripture?" With a smile he said: "If thou hadst asked me that question forty years ago, I would have given thee an answer in a minute, but after forty years' investigation I do not know what it means."

How different from many I have met, who cannot read it in more than one language, yet I have heard them explain it without any hestitation, asserting revelation, while others assuming the same high authority would give a different meaning to it, each declaring that he was right! It is altogether probable that Isaac Brown knew as much about the meaning of the Spirit as any of them. My observation is that it is not very safe to follow those who can explain everything and tell you just what you must believe and what you must not believe. It may be safer sometimes to listen to that man who is able to say: "I do not know."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Quaker Wisdom

"Christ is God humanly revealed. As soon as we realize that personality is always a revelation of the ultimate reality of the universe there are no metaphysical difficulties in the way of an actual incarnation of God. It is rather what one would expect. There is no other conceivable way in which God could be revealed to man. If He is a personal being; if He is love and tenderness and sympathy, and not mere force, only Person can show Him." - Rufus Jones, The Double Search

Friday, October 05, 2012

Quaker Wisdom

"It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ. Were this sentiment generally admitted we should not see such tenacious adherence to what men deem the opinions and doctrines of Christ while at the same time in every day practice is exhibited anything but a likeness to Christ." - Lucretia Mott, Quaker minister, 1849

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

This Land is Mine

This is brilliant. The history of the Levant/Canaan/Judea/Palestine/Israel. See if you can recognize the epochs. (Warning: contains cartoon violence)

The filmmaker has provided a viewer's guide to describe the players:

Monday, October 01, 2012

Grace and a haircut

I regret that I don't remember his name, but it was 25 years ago. We worked together in the customer service department at MCI and sometimes on breaks had really great conversations. We were about the same age and might have become good friends except for the fact that he was a gay man and I was a zealous fundamentalist Christian intent on converting everyone to Jesus. Stereotypically, he moonlighted as a hair stylist and he invited me to visit the salon where he worked on Capital Hill for a discounted haircut. Being poor, and in the interest of evangelism, I took him up on the offer. This was my chance to save him, so--while he snipped and combed and buzzed and gave me a great haircut--I explained to him that he was going to go to Hell if he did not repent from his "lifestyle." Amazingly, after essentially telling him he was an abomination, I did not walk out with a reverse mohawk. It took me a long time to realize the extent of the grace he had given to me and that it was he who had been the more Christ-like.