Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I just came out to my Dad yesterday. He took it well, better than I hoped. I've now told everyone in my immediate family that I'm gay. This is a very interesting feeling to have. I don't know how to deal with it actually. I'm also pretty hungry right now, haven't eaten since Monday, so I'm feeling a bit off anyway.
I like to think that I'm not living a closeted life, just a bit more private and discreet then some. My Avatar on Google related blogs and a Marriage Equality sign. I've told many people I'm gay including some of my friends. But as I think about the extent to which I've compartmentalized and hid the fact that I'm gay at work, with my extended family, on facebook..........I realize I'm still in the closet. Letting my life be an open secret.
I don't know how to feel about this.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Mind and Nature in German Idealism" - Lecture 1: Metaphysics Before Kant

"Mind and Nature in German Idealism" - Lecture 1: Metaphysics Before Kant

Far-Right Forces are Influencing Russia's Actions in Crimea BY TIMOTHY SNYDER

Russian authorities claim that their invasion of Ukraine is justified by the fascist threat posed by the new authorities in Kiev. The Ukrainian government is led by a conservative technocrat called Arseniy Yatseniuk. The Ukrainian revolution involved people from all walks of life and all political orientations. The far right was overrepresented in the people who fought the riot police in its final weeks, as the Ukrainian regime resorted to kidnapping, torture, and mass shooting. Members of the right-wing party Svoboda hold a handful of portfolios in the new government, although far more are held by conventional political parties and people of different views. This spring, elections should demonstrate the limited popularity of the far right within Ukrainian society. In opinion polls held in anticipation of the presidential elections scheduled for May 25, the leaders of the Ukrainian far right receive the support of 2 percent to 3 percent of Ukrainian citizens. None of the leading candidates remotely resembles a nationalist. If elections are held, the winner will likely be a chocolate magnate or a former heavyweight boxer, neither of them remotely nationalist.
Of course, the point of Russian intervention is to make sure that these elections never happen. It is deeply strange for an openly right-wing authoritarian regime, such as that of Vladimir Putin, to treat the presence of right-wing politicians in a neighboring democracy as the reason for a military invasion. Putin's own social policy is, if anything, to the right of the Ukrainians whom he criticizes. The Russian attempt to control Ukraine is based upon Eurasian ideology, which explicitly rejects liberal democracy. The founder of the Eurasian movement is an actual fascist, Alexander Dugin, who calls for a revolution of values from Portugal to Siberia. The man responsible for Ukraine policy, Sergei Glayzev, used to run a far-right nationalist party that was banned for its racist electoral campaign. Putin has placed himself at the head of a worldwide campaign against homosexuality. This is politically useful, since opposition to Russia is now blamed on an international gay lobby which cannot by its nature understand the inherent spirituality of traditional Russian civilization.
The Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea was carried out in a spirit that recalled to many, including some Russian observers, that of the late 1930s. The argument used was that the Russian state had the right to protect fellow Russians. Making the case in this way places ethnicity, as imagined and proposed by Moscow, more important that international borders and international law. Indeed, Russian authorities have been quite explicit that this is their doctrine: Ukraine is no longer a state because they say so, and all that matters in the world of international relations is ethnicity and history as seen from Moscow. The only “right” that individuals have in this logic is to be defined as members of a Volk by the Kremlin, and then to be invaded or not as appropriate. That Russians in Ukraine in fact enjoy far broader freedoms than Russians in Russia is irrelevant, since in this scheme people are not individuals but simply numerical arguments for territorial expansion. This sort of dismissal of states and laws in favor of ethnicity and invasion is not evidence that today’s Russia opposes fascism.
Crimea under Ukrainian rule has been an autonomous province inhabited, alongside Russians and Ukrainians, by the Crimean Tatar minority. The Crimean Tatars were deported by the Soviet NKVD as a totality, every man, woman, and child, in May 1944. Those who live in Crimea are surviving deportees and their children and grandchildren, people who made their way back from murderous exile in Soviet Uzbekistan and reestablished themselves in what became independent Ukraine. Their return to their homeland was one of the precious cases of multicultural integration in post-Soviet Europe. As a result, the Crimean Tatars were quite pro-Ukrainian, in the sense of preferring Ukrainian law to any other alternative. The Russian invasion of their homeland immediately introduced a new sense of threat, recalling for many Tatars the experience of ethnic cleansing. Suddenly their houses were marked. The mutilated body of a Crimean Tatar man was discovered a few days ago. Crimean Tatar women and children were already being sent to the Ukrainian mainland before the “referendum.” What will follow now will likely be worse.
What happened on Sunday in Crimea was an electoral farce. Referenda cannot be held under military occupation. Referenda cannot have two options that have essentially the same meaning. Referenda cannot be held when all of the propaganda is generated by the state. Referenda cannot be held when the local television stations are closed and journalists are beaten and intimidated. Even in these conditions, the claim that 75 percent of the population took part and more than 96 percent voted for annexation to Russia is untenable. We know from years of surveys that a majority of Crimeans did not favor incorporation by Russia. One large survey showed 33 percent support for this idea in 2011, down to 23 percent in 2013. The Crimean Tatars boycotted the "referendum," as did many Ukrainians, since it was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Ukrainian government. The recorded electoral frequency in the city of Sevastopol was 123 percent.
Yet there were some people on hand to praise the "referendum." Moscow sent an invitation to parties of the European far right, and found politicians willing to serve as "observers." Enrique Ravello has belonged to the neo-Nazi CEDADE and now belongs to the extreme-right Plataforma per Catalunya. Luc Michel used to belong to the neo-Nazi Fédération d’action nationaliste et européenne and now supports a blend of fascism and Bolshevism that is also popular among Russia's Eurasianists. Béla Kovács is a member of the Hungarian extreme-right party Jobbik and the treasurer of the Alliance of European National Movements. That Alliance characterizes Russian intervention in Ukraine as a response to the global neoconservative conspiracy, portrayed as the latest attempt at Jewish world domination.
While invading and occupying Crimea, Russia has, according to eyewitness accounts, sent some of its own citizens to create unrest in east Ukrainian cities such as Kharkiv and Donetsk. In both places, in what was seemed like a planned scenario, someone took down the Ukrainian flag from a public building and replaced it with a Russian one. In Kharkiv the person who did this was a Russian citizen who allows himself to be photographed in Nazi uniforms. Perhaps this is simply a personal fashion choice. In Donetsk the flag-raiser was Pavel Gubarov, a Russian nationalist (and Ukrainian citizen) who declared himself to be the people’s governor. After he was arrested by Ukrainian authorities, he was presented as a hero and a martyr on Russian television. In Donetsk Gubarov was known as a neo-Nazi and as a member of the fascist organization Russian National Unity.
If there is still anyone on the Left who takes Putin seriously when he portrays the Russian occupation of Ukraine as anti-fascist, now might be the moment to reconsider. 
Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University and the author ofBloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Surprise.

I've skipped 2 days in my at least 100 words a day project. I'm going to try to be consistent in the future, but the events of recent days rattled me to such an extent, that I just couldn't bring myself to write about anything. But it's been 2 days, so I'm willing to write a little I guess.

Have you ever had something happen that changed your whole perception of reality? Something that changed your consideration of your place in the Universe? Well, one of those events happened to me. On Monday, March 17, St. Patrick's day, I found out for the first time that my Father, who has been separated from my mother for 16 years, had 2 children that I've never heard of, and has kept them a secret from my family for almost 10 years. I now know their names, their birthdays, the age of the youngest. I know what they look like. So beautiful.

The hardest thing is not that he hid this from us. As a gay kid, I can understand how hard it can be sometimes to tell someone your secret. Especially if you think that it will hurt them or they won't approve. The hardest thing is the idea that we would have probably found out only if he died or was seriously injured. Can you imagine the chaos?

I really don't feel like writing anything else about this right now. Perhaps I'll write more about what I feel later. This is the kind of thing people get therapists for.

St. Patrick's Shield.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A list of things for me to read.

Don't feel like writing very much today. So, I'm going to list the things that I'm reading about or thinking about right now:

Ukrainian Crisis: Russia is becoming an increasingly Autocratic state, will it succeed in forcing former Soviet countries to bow to its will, will it get away with annexing Crimea?

Gay people with Bipolar Disorder: More information on people with Bipolar Disorder and how to manage relationships with Bipolar people. Emphasis on Gay Men and their struggle with the disease.

William Stringfellow: Currently working my way through a "biographical theology" of William Stringfellow titled An Alien In A Strange Land, by Anglican theologian Anthony Dancer. Interested in the possible tie ins between his concept of the "powers" with Christian Quaker theology.

Here are some books I'll be reading in the near Future:

Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas. Been avoiding this book since my split with my old Church. Now that the pain isn't as raw, I'm not as opposed to reading conventional evangelical fare, even if I don't agree with a few things.

Love Wins, by Rob Bell. Another book I haven't read in a while. This because it advocates Universal Salvation, a concept I'm theologically opposed to. But I''m a big Rob Bell fan. And who knows, his insightful understandings may convince me of such a theology, though I don't think it answers the question of free will and coercion very well.

Hammarskjold: A Life, by Roger Lipsey. A great new Biography of one of my personal heroes: UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold.

Motherland, by Lesley Chamberlain. A book about the philosophical history of Russia, I bought it when trying to understand the Russian mind in light of the Anti-gay laws, but never got around to it. The invasion of Crimea by Putin and the Rhetoric surrounding it as well as its popularity in Russia has pushed the book back on my  to read list.

Portrait in Gray: A Short History of the Quakers and Reasons for Hope, by John Punshon.
As a new Quaker, I'm still trying to find the version of it that fits my understanding of what it means to be a Follower of the Way of Jesus Christ.  John Punshon's perspective seems to me to have much to commend it. So I'm reading his history of and vision for the future of Evangelical Quakerism to see to what extent our theological perspectives gel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Universal Salvation? Not the loving choice.

Hey again. Off to post some more.

Let's start today with my views on Universal Salvation. This view of  the Eschatological resolution of the sin problem has become more widespread in Evangelical circles in recent times. I recently read an article by one blogger that I'd found to be an amazing argument for this particular point of view. In it he basically said that, because Christ is Victor: because he was able to defeat death and sin by his resurrection, it would make sense if he were able to save everyone. What kind of victory would it be for God if he were only able to save a few people from sin? Universal salvation attests that God's victory over sin and death is absolute and therefore not one soul will be lost to the wiles of Satan.

This was the first argument for Universal Salvation that I've found to really be compelling. It's not a wishy washy, up with people version of Universalism, such as comes out of the mouths of too many in the Theistic world today. But I believe it still suffers from a significant oversight: the Love of God.
It doesn't seem obvious at first. What could be more loving for God to do then to save everyone out of his boundless love and unlimited grace? But it is precisely the love of God  that gave us free will, the ability to choose. Would a loving person respect the choices of someone who was free to choose? Even the wrong choices? Or would they force them through incessant, eternal appeals to succumb to what they considered the right choice?

    You might not agree with this characterization, but anyone who has had to skirt  the expectations and standards of their family, especially willful mothers, will know exactly what I mean. How painful it can be for loved ones not to respect your choices, but instead use that connection between the two of you to try to grind you into submission to their will through constant nagging. Is this the kind of thing that a loving God who believes in giving his children freedom to choose would do to them? I cannot imagine it. It seems to me that the greatest show of love God could ever make in light of his attributes and power is to respect our No when we make it.

But how, you  may ask, can we then consider God to truly be victorious over death and sin? How when so many are lost to its power? But I would argue there is great joy to be had when you realize that, because of his  choice to respect our freedom to choose, God could easily have lost every single one of us.

Now my idea for how the sin problem is solved would probably be considered  annihilationist. I believe that there will be some who are not saved because they choose not to be. I think that it might be harder to be lost than some surmise, but eventually our No will be accepted by God, and he will allow us to succumb to the wages of sin, which is death. A loving God would let us go if we chose it. That is what true love would do.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Noah Baker Merrill:....Where We Are Changed

In 1696, in the second generation of the Religious Society of Friends in England, a young woman named Anne Wilson rose in the power of the Spirit in meeting for worship.  Amidst the Friends present, she pointed directly at a young man whom she had never met.
And this is what she said:
“A typical Quaker, thou comest to meeting as thou went from it the last time, and goes from it as thou came to it, but art no better for thy coming – What wilt thou do in the end?”
Until that point, most of the young man’s time attending meeting for worship had been spent finding new ways to sleep. But now his heart was broken open.
Samuel Bownas left meeting for worship that day in tender tears, and his life began to change. He became one of the most active travelers in ministry among the Friends of his time. His lifetime of faithful service would anoint and inspire generations of Quaker ministers before his death, and his foundational book, “A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister”, would help encourage, guide, and instruct Friends for hundreds of years, connecting us in a living stream from that meeting for worship … to this one.
Something happened in that meeting for worship – something vital. Something that mattered. Anne Wilson’s ministry to Samuel Bownas opened a new channel in young Samuel’s heart, and the Holy Spirit flowed in. Through an encounter with the challenge of the living Word among us, Samuel Bownas’ life began to be changed. And through that encounter, our life as the People of God called Friends was transformed.
Is there an Anne Wilson with us this morning? Is there a Samuel Bownas here?
Moments like the one in this story are the heartbeat of the Body we are together – each one brings fresh nourishment that we deeply need. Without this rhythm of faithfulness helping the Spirit to work in one heart, and another, and another, our corporate life would wither.
God breaks into our lives with a challenging message. The faithfulness of the messenger helps free us to grow into Love’s invitation for our lives. Seeing clearly how we are not yet who God created us to be, we are broken open. The vulnerability we feel with this opening becomes the channel for new life. And we come more fully Alive to the Kingdom of God.
Now I want to share another story about a moment like this. This one is a little different, and a little more complex. Let’s listen together for the same heartbeat beneath the words.
And so the prophet Elijah falls to his knees under a tree in the desert. “It’s enough, Lord. Please, let it end here. Take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
But there’s no answer. And he falls asleep under the solitary tree, there at the edge of the Wilderness of Sinai, in the desert wasteland where there is no food or water, but so much salt and light. And as he dreams, he remembers how he came to this place.
When the Word of the Lord first called him to be a prophet, the work was clear. The People had placed their faith in power-hungry rulers who had no more wisdom than the empty idols they served. To a people held captive to a hollow way of living, the Giver of Life sent an invitation. Into this desolation, a message was given that would re-open the door to relationship with what is most deeply Real.
The prophet Elijah began calling the people back to God, to recognize the face of the living one at the heart of Creation. Living water began to flow in powerful ways.
The sick were healed. Women unable to conceive children bore sons and daughters. Those left for dead were revived. And though controversy, persecution, and resistance surrounded the prophet’s work, conflict made clear the choice that the People had to make – a choice between spiritual Life and Death – which meant life and death for the world.
There was a great gathering. Elijah called the People to draw closer to one another. If you’re willing, I invite you to rise, and take the hands of the Friends next to you. Elijah rose in the Spirit and prayed.
(As the message was spoken, I was led to pray aloud)
The gathered people felt living water flowing around them. They were opened to the Truth Who holds us all, the true Liberation and Love always available to each of us. They stood together in the power of an endless Life. Their hearts knew that God is Real.
Are you still with me?
Then Elijah outran his Guide. After helping the People see clearly the difference between what was Alive and what was not, he didn’t trust the Spirit to work. God had turned a corner, but the prophet kept running in another direction. Friends, what does it take in our lives, when we’re running fast toward what seems like so much good work, for us to remember to stop and wait, to stay deeply connected to our Guide? Where have we gone beyond what God asks of us, and continued in our own striving and pride?
Elijah ordered the people to take the false leaders captive, to bind them, and to murder them.
Far from that faithful moment when he and the People had felt the Living Stream flowing through them, when the rulers learned what Elijah had done, they swore to kill him. Now he was on the run, alone. He has isolated himself. Where, Friends, have we felt this?
At the edge of the wilderness, he came to what seemed the end of his life, under a twisted little tree surrounded by the desert. And there, he fell asleep.
Suddenly an angel touches him and says, “Get up and eat.” He looks, and there at his head is a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He eats and drinks, and lies down again. The angel of the LORD comes a second time, touches him, and says, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He gets up and eats, and then he goes in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights into the heart of the wilderness.
The angel sends him on a journey back to the Beginning, back to the place where the People of Israel became a people. Elijah travels to Mount Sinai, to the place where God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. Elijah takes refuge in a cave on the mountainside, and night falls.
And in the desperate sleepless night, the Word of the Lord, the Inward Guide comes to him with a challenge: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
And Elijah answers, “I have been zealous for the LORD.”
Friends, don’t we know his condition? We’ve been working so hard, we’ve done so much! But we’re not called to be “zealous”, to work hard for God. We’re called to be faithful to just who God created us to be.
- “I have been zealous for the LORD.”
And then the Word comes again, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Now there is a great wind that is breaking the rocks in pieces and shattering mountains before the LORD. But the LORD is not in the whirlwind. And after the wind there is an earthquake that shakes the foundations of the world. But the LORD is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, there is a fire that seems it will consume everything in its burning. But the LORD is not in the fire. And after the fire is the sound of sheer silence.
In that stillness, Elijah, wrapping his cloak over his eyes, exposed and vulnerable, goes to the mouth of the cave.
Then there comes a still, small Voice:  ”What are you doing here, Elijah?”
“I’ve been zealous for the LORD.”
- “Go home, Elijah. Return to the work I have for you.”
Elijah begins the long journey home. Something has happened. Something vital. Something that matters.
As he returns from the Wilderness, even though so much on the outside seems the same, Elijah has changed. Children can tell he’s been in the Wilderness. Others see his sunburned skin shining with the holy saltiness of the desert.
The message he’s been given to carry – calling the People home to the God who is most deeply Real and Alive – remains the same. But the whole way he carries the message has been transformed.
All this time, Elijah has believed he is working alone. But now, moving with a changed heart, Elijah recognizes that scattered among the wider people – seemingly everywhere he turns – are those who’ve also heard the call to the Living God.
On his way home, Elijah calls Elisha, who becomes his companion in ministry and his successor as a prophet. Elijah anoints the next generation. Together they set in motion a movement of Spirit-led prophets, some of whom practice very differently, some of whom he will never meet. Faithfulness and openness to new ways brings generations into the living prophetic stream, a stream that sustains the People no matter how far from home they find themselves, no matter how scattered they become, no matter how much they suffer.
Elijah’s story is the story of a moment. Like Samuel, like Anne. God breaks in with a challenge for the prophet to see his spiritual condition more clearly. Seeing opens the prophet’s heart to be changed and made new. And through the change in the prophet’s heart, all of us who choose to live in this same Living Stream are also changed.
As in the story of Anne & Samuel, in the wilderness Elijah is shown clearly how far he is from who God invites him to be. Seeing our spiritual condition clearly can be deeply painful. It can leave us angry, confused, despairing of hope. But this is what the Light does in moments like these. In describing the liberating work of the eternal Light she knew, our movement’s midwife Margaret Fell used these words: “It will rip you up, and lay you open…”
Maybe we can understand Samuel Bownas’ tears, Elijah’s crying out in the desert. Do we really want to invite this Light to work in us? Do we truly choose to become the Children of this Light? It is through being helped to see with eyes unclouded, through our hearts breaking open, that transformation happens.
In my life, I have been zealous for the LORD. I have outrun my Guide. I have isolated myself, thinking I was working alone. I have seen how far I am from who God invites me to be. My heart has been broken open. At my most tender and vulnerable, I have felt the Whisper Who waits below the whirlwind, on the other side of the earthquake, Who is not consumed by the fire. And I know from experience that we can be changed.
Can you recognize yourself in these stories?
Are you Anne Wilson, invited to liberate the Spirit in another through your own faithfulness? Are you Samuel Bownas, your heart waiting to be awakened, broken open, changed to free the gifts we deeply need? Are you Elijah, being zealous for the Lord through so much work, called back to simply being a faithful child of God, and recognizing you are not alone?
How do these stories speak to our condition as Friends here, today?
What if the Prophet in Elijah’s story wasn’t a person? What if, instead, the Prophet was aPeople? What if, instead of this life-giving Word coming to an individual, the animating message came to a great People to be gathered? Because the People of God called Friends has always been invited to be a prophetic People, to allow not just the words that one or two of us speak but the lives that all of us live to be a Sign of God in the world.
From the beginning, it was the witness of changed and liberated lives that shook the foundations of the established social, economic, and religious order of England. The Religious Society of Friends – the Friends Church – is about nothing if it’s not about transformation. Helping each other open to the Living Christ among us, allowing ourselves to be searched by the Light at work within us, humbling ourselves to be taught by the Inward Teacher, trusting that surrendering to the Refiner’s Fire, we can be given new hearts. And it is and always has been through these new hearts that we are made channels for the Motion of Universal Love.
In the beginning of our movement, in a time crying out for hope, Friends’ faithfulness offered an invitation for the world to turn back to what was most deeply Real and Alive, to be set free from the false idols of violence, ignorance and empty religion. Living water poured in. There were great meetings, and many were convinced. The prison cells of England became nurseries for a prophetic People. There were signs and healings, and those left for dead were not just revived, but were welcomed to a new society where all could be sons and daughters of God, where Christ Jesus has come to teach his People himself. And even though controversy, persecution, and resistance surrounded their work, Friends lived the truth of the Resurrection, the triumph of Love over Death. And a beautiful new part of the oldest and greatest Story of Love began to be told.
I do believe that the living Spirit has always been at work among Friends. The faithfulness of many who came before us kept the fires burning and brought us here. The transformed lives of our spiritual ancestors remain lighthouses for us. And they are a cloud of witnesses hovering around us here.
But especially in light of those transformed lives, we need to be honest that like Elijah, our prophetic People outran our Guide. Perhaps because we had felt the intoxicating power of being God’s instruments of Liberation and Love, we thought we didn’t need to keep listening. Maybe we thought if we were only zealous enough, we could do it on our own.
As in the story of Elijah, the work of the Spirit turned a corner, but we kept going in the directions we chose. Through pride, rancor, and schism, the unity of our corporate life was torn apart. We became a shell and a shadow of who God invites us to be. We forgot that it was the Pharisees, and not Jesus, who taught that purity was more important than living faithfully in Love.
Then we grew more zealous. We replaced reliance on the Holy Spirit with hollow gods of rigid doctrine or intellectual notions. But the still, small voice of the Living Christ is not found in either of these.
The scars of the separations among us are deep and lasting. In our confusion, we have murdered the Life we were invited to live in together. Our spiritual ancestors did this, and in places we repeat their sins today. Do we know one of these places? Very little stirs us up or holds our attention longer than our internal conflicts. The discordant, shattered body of Friends does not bear witness that we know the peace the world cannot give. What we do unto the least of these our brethren, we do unto the One whose Friends our ancestors call us to be.
While we challenge other false gods – powers of violence, greed, and prejudice – we’ve been taken captive by our own idols. We’ve begun worshipping our wounds, our dysfunctions, our Quaker process and styles of worship as if they were what define us. A huge portion of our God-given energy is wasted by focusing on where the Life is not, distracting us from living where the Life is.
In places, we have embraced an unspoken article of faith that because we call ourselves Quakers we have innate wisdom or power to heal, to save, to bring peace and justice in this wounded world. For a long time now, instead of allowing the Spirit to make us instruments of radical Love today, we have been living on the reputation of some in our past. With vital exceptions, the deep tradition of Friends’ Spirit-led service seems to a rising generation like another museum exhibit about who the Quakers were.
So while we can feel the Spirit has not been taken fully from us, and while there are reasons for hope, in my travels in the ministry I’ve met many among us – in North America and beyond – who feel like Elijah: alone, fleeing to the edge of all we know, wondering whether we might soon reach the end of the Story of the prophetic People called Friends.
But there is Good News. Brokenness is not the end of God’s Story – and it’s not the end of ours. But it is our moment to fall to our knees under that solitary tree in the desert, to meet with the angel, and to be given the bread and water we need to survive the journey into the Wilderness.
Are we willing to come into the Presence with all of our vulnerability and brokenness? How can we invite one another to the mountain where we are changed?
This week, may we find in the stories of Ann, Samuel and Elijah – in the testimony of Margaret, in the hospitality of the angel in the desert – a way to imagine our time together. This is our meetinghouse; this is our prison cell; this is our cave on the mountainside. May we let their stories read us, and may we be taught.
In our time together, there will be a lot of wind. May we each be given the patience we need to wait below it, and to know that the LORD is not in the whirlwind.
There may be earthquakes that seem to shake the foundations of our world – or of our deeply held beliefs. May we feel grounded in the pervasive power of prayer in which Friends worldwide are holding us, and may we know that the LORD is not in the earthquakes.
May there be fire – the fire of the Holy Spirit poured out among us. May the fire consume all that is not true and needed in what we hear and say and do. May we remember that the LORD is not in the fire, and may we trust that what is of the LORD in us will not be consumed, though the fires rage.
When all of these have passed, and the barely audible whisper of the Presence comes to us – whether in silent waiting worship, in a song of praise, in the queue at mealtime, in the work of a thread group, in a moment of pastoral care, in a quiet walk in the sunlight, or in our dreams at night – may we hear the challenge:
What are you doing here?”
I know some of us have simply come to learn. Some to share gifts given through us. Some to celebrate 350 years – and more – of God’s faithfulness in the Religious Society of Friends, to share the joy of being a Friend and follower of Jesus Christ. Some with the hope that Friends worldwide will be united to help humanity survive the effects of catastrophic climate change and build new ways of living that will sustain us and Creation. Some to witness to what the Teacher has taught us about the length and breadth and depth of God’s Love. Some have come yearning for rebirth, for reclaiming the full message of Friends for our time. Some, afraid of what may happen here. Some to bring back news. Some to watch and pray.
When we go out from here, may we hear: “A typical Quaker…What wilt thou do in the end?”
And may this challenge open us to see with eyes unclouded who God still calls us to be. Of course real change rarely comes all at once. Our tradition tells us that new growth begun in powerful moments like this conference needs tending with patience and prayer for the transformation to endure. Faithfulness isn’t a one-time sprint, it’s a long distance run. But may this be a new beginning.
We will seem very much the same on the outside as we return home. The sufferings and responsibilities; the loved ones and meetings we’ll return to, our appointments and employment will be largely unchanged.
I’ll go home to the northeastern United States, to the forested mountains and valleys that surround my monthly meeting, where the rivers flow fast and free. Last year, a great storm caused flooding worse than we’ve seen in a hundred years. Now the rivers have changed. The riverbeds are different – the heavy stones have been rolled away, the sand and soil reshaped. What lies beneath the surface has been transformed. And so the surface – the part that everyone sees – has changed as well. Like the rivers of my home, if we are inwardly changed in our time together, the nature of our witness, the testimony of our outward lives,will be different, and all we meet will know it, too.
If we are to serve the world’s need, the channels we are must be clear. If we are to carry living water, the channels we are must be clean. There are many heavy stones in us still to be rolled aside, much debris to be washed away, and many paths in us to be made straight. May we surrender to the Flood.
Like Ann, Samuel, and Margaret, like Elijah, sent home to the work God has for them, may we bring our transformed and transforming hearts home to our monthly meetings and churches. They live close to the ground, where new Life begins. While I know God has called many of us here to vital ministry in the wider world, it is at home – the place where our roots run deepest and we are most deeply known – where the witness of our changed and changing lives is most clearly felt. Whatever happens this week, whatever we say or do together here, it will be the living water we bring home that makes a difference. When we water the roots, we nourish the whole tree.
If ever the world needed the authentic, life-giving challenge that animated our spiritual ancestors, it needs it now. If ever people needed prophets to call us home to the humble, world-transforming power of the Love Who casts out Fear, and to this Love’s availability and liberating grace in every heart, we need it today.
But this Love can’t just be told about in stories. This Love needs to be lived in lives. There is no other Religious Society of Friends, no other Friends Church in which we can live the message for which this prophetic People is still being gathered. The work is for each of us, for all of us, together. And we have no time but this present time in which to be faithful.

Feelings and Stringfellow

I'm not feeling well at the moment. I feel a little discombobulated and a bit disappointed too. Democrats lost an election in Florida that I think they should have won. It was close, but we just couldn't get enough voters to come out. I know it doesn't necessarily mean anything for future elections one way or another. But that's the way it goes.

I also am still in a searching period,  trying to build a weltanschauung, a theological approach to life for myself. It's been a while since I had a coherent theology that meets the challenges and describes the world and our place in it, as well as our calling from God, in a way that makes sense to me. I feel sometimes like this process will never end. Like I'm stuck in a perpetual limbo that will only break in such a way as to make my life worse. I feel like its never enough, and I don't know how to break free and contribute to the development of my world in a meaningful and  positive way. Debt has me stuck in a limbo. Love and self-respect has me stuck in a theological rut.

Right now I'm reading about the theologian William Stringfellow. He is a notoriously difficult theologian to accept. His theology sounds to much like the rantings of an Old Testament prophet for it to be fully embraced by many. I frankly started reading about him because he was a gay (if closeted) theologian. I have been surprised to find that his interests reflect my own. His theological views as I've explored them so far seem to me archaic, naive and quaint, however. His approach to the Bible is based on the same rhetorical literalism that is the Hallmark of the theology of Karl Barth. It treats the Bible like a consistent whole whose lessons are simply to be learned and obeyed. This of course is not true. In fact Barth, Stringfellow and any other person who rhetorically expresses our relationship to the Bible in this way are only doing this in their rhetoric. In actual practice, they pick and choose which passages  scripture they feel are in harmony with the Gospel of Christ as they have come to experience and understand it. But I guess if you come from a religious background that has little use for the practical application of ANY part of the Bible, such rhetoric might feel accurate.

I will continue to persevere with his theology to see if his views develop into something more Biblically honest, if still troubling.

Monday, March 10, 2014

'F' is for Friends in the Truth, by Stuart Masters

'F' is for Friends in the Truth

What’s in a name? Well quite a lot it would seem when it comes to movements of religious reform and renewal. The Anabaptists called themselves ‘brethren’ or ‘children of light’, Quakers called themselves ‘children of light’ or ‘friends in the truth’ and the Methodists began as ‘the Holy Club’. In each case the best-known and most enduring name for these movements was first used as a term of abuse by their opponents:

Anabaptist - means re-baptiser (i.e. someone who is baptised as an adult after having been baptised as an infant). This was regarded as a capital offence throughout most of the history of Christendom.
Quaker – was a term used ‘in scorn’ for the physical shaking or quaking in the power of the Lord that marked the process of inward crucifixion and spiritual rebirth experienced by early Friends.
Methodist – was a pejorative reference to the rigorous and highly ordered system of spiritual disciplines practiced by members of the Holy Club that included Charles and John Wesley and other early Methodist leaders.
The names chosen by groups and those given to them ‘in scorn’ by opponents can tell us a great deal about their spirituality and theology and how they were perceived by the wider society out of which they emerged. Quakers actively chose to be known as ‘Friends in the Truth’ and so in this post I want to explore what this name has to say about the nature of Quakerism and the early Quaker movement.


The language of early Quakers was almost entirely drawn from the Bible and so, in trying to assess what the use of the name ‘Friends in the Truth’ has to say about their theology and spirituality, we need to look at a number of key passages from the scriptures that had particular resonance for the movement.

1. John 15:13-20 – The Foundational Text

It is commonly argued that ‘Friends’ as the official name for Quakers comes from this passage. So let’s have a look at it and consider what it tells us about the nature of this friendship:

13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. John 15:13-20

So based on this passage we can see that Jesus associates friendship with:

Those who have a direct and intimate relationship with God - friendship implies divine immanence; being in a relationship with God, involving communion, intimacy, love and commitment.
Those who are taught ‘the truth’ by Jesus – friendship implies a teacher-pupil relationship. Jesus teaches the way of God (the truth) to his disciples (those who follow Jesus as teacher).
Those who accept Jesus’ teachings and put them into practice – friendship implies not just receiving Jesus’ teaching but crucially also putting those teachings into practice. The teaching is worthless unless it is acted on.
Those whose loyalty is to the way of God rather than to the ways of the world – Friendship implies a relationship of loyalty. There is a stark choice to be made because it is not possible to serve both God and the world.
Those who are willing to face death out of love for God and neighbour – friendship implies being willing to follow Jesus in all things including facing the hatred and persecution of the world which may ultimately result in the loss of one’s life.

2. Abraham and Moses as Old Covenant Examples

The idea of being a ‘friend of God’ does not originate in the New Testament. We see it first in the Hebrew Scriptures where this status is applied to both Abraham and Moses:

              11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.                             Exodus 33:11

8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; Isaiah 41:8

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10

21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. James 2:21-24

In these passages, being a ‘friend of God’ implies four key characteristics:

a)    Being in a direct and intimate relationship with God.
b)    Being willing to listening to and hear what God is asking one to do.
c)    Being prepared to have faith and trust in God’s guidance.
d)    Being willing to put God’s commands into practice whatever the consequences.

3. The New Covenant – All Can Have a Direct Relationship with God

The divine intimacy associated with being a friend of God takes on a whole new dimension as a result of the incarnation and the establishment of the new covenant:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. Hebrews 1:1-2

16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:16-18

7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ John 14:7

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13

28Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:28

In the old covenant only a few chosen prophets enjoyed the kind of divine intimacy that made them ‘friends of God’. However, with the coming of Christ (the Word made flesh) and the establishment of the new covenant, it is possible for all people to become ‘friends of God’.

a)    God now speaks directly to people through the Spirit of Christ.
b)    At Pentecost the Spirit was poured out on all flesh.
c)    Through the Spirit of Christ all people can know God.
            d)    Therefore all people can now be ‘friends of God’ if they receive this Spirit.

5. The New Covenant – All can be Sons and Daughters of God

Similarly, as a result of the incarnation and the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, it is now possible for everyone to become sons and daughters of God by faith (i.e. through an intimate hearing and obeying relationship with God):

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he[a] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-4

This again points to a reciprocal relationship of intimacy, love, communication, guidance and obedience.

4. The Dangers of Friendship with the World

In the new covenant, by the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ, it is possible for all people to become ‘friends of God’. However, because the ways of the world are contrary to the ways of God, it is not possible to be both a friend of the world and a friend of God. This is a matter of loyalty and a choice has to be made between the two:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? James 4:1-5


Having considered the key biblical references, let’s now look at a number of passages of early Quaker writings from George Fox, Margaret Fell and William Penn.

1. Friends in the Truth

In this first passage, a letter written to Friends in 1553, George Fox emphasises the importance of following divine guidance leading to a faith that communicates itself to others through a visibly transformed life. He makes clear that Christ is a friend of their souls because Christ is the source of their inward spiritual transformation and changed outward life.

P. S.—Friends, a warning from the Lord to you all, in wisdom to walk, that ye may adorn every one, what ye profess [Tit 2:10], that the measure of God's spirit in every one ye may answer. And know the Lord to guide your understandings, and let his wisdom be justified by you all [Mat 11:19], and ye in the measure of the spirit of God in unity kept; that ye may see righteousness spring and flourish among you, and no deceit stand, nor nothing that is deceitful; but with the eternal judge it down, and keep it down, that nothing may live that is for the sword, which would defile the land [Num 35:34]. Therefore in that which is eternal, dwell, as a royal priesthood [1 Pet 2:9], in that which comes from him by whom the world was made; who to all your souls is a Friend [John 15:15], from whence the refreshing is received. So the Lord God Almighty preserve and keep you all, that in his life, dread, and power ye may be preserved.

George Fox – Epistle 33 (1653)

In this second passage another letter written to Friends, this time by Margaret Fell in 1658, a link is made between the inward transformative power of Christ within the new covenant with the faithfulness of Abraham. Being a Friend of God requires the faithfulness of Abraham who heard God’s call and was obedient to God’s command. So in the new covenant, to be a Friend is to hear the inward call of Christ, to dwell in his Light and follow his commands.

So Friends, here is your way, by which this you must enter, even by the spirit of God in your hearts, this is he that works the works of God in you, God is a spirit, and it is truth in the inward parts that he looks at, and it is the Law written in your hearts that is his Covenant, and it is Circumcision that is of the heart, that worships God in spirit, which is the seal of this Covenant, to which the promise of God remains, to Abraham and to his seed forever. Know ye therefore that they that are of the faith, the same as the Children of Abraham, and they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Abraham was the Friend of God (James 2:23) and ye are my Friends saith Christ, if you do whatsoever I command you (John 15:14), so dwelling in the Light, there is the Command of the Lord received, there is the will of the Lord done, and his work wrought, abiding in the Light, there is the unity of faith, which worketh by love, by which the just lives…

Margaret Fell – Epistle 77, To Brethren and Sisters (1658)

Our third passage is taken from a section of William Penn’s tract Sandy Foundation Shaken from 1669 in which he argues against the doctrine of imputed righteousness. Penn is rejecting the idea that ‘the elect’ are justified in sin without there being any real change in themselves because they benefit at second hand from what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection. Instead, using the passage about friendship from John’s Gospel, Penn argues that justification must always involve a real change in one’s life and relationship to God. In particular it requires us to hear Jesus’ teaching and keep his commands in this life. Rather than being an ‘imputed’ transaction, the relationship has to be genuine and meaningful. This is what early Quakers meant when they talked about the need for real ‘possession’ as well as mere ‘profession’.

6. Ye are my Friends if ye do whatsoever I command you (John 15:14). We have almost here the very words, but altogether the same matter , which affords us thus much, without being Christ’s Friend, there’s no being justified, but unless we keep his Commandments, it’s impossible we should be his Friends; it therefore necessarily follows, that except we keep his Commandments, there is no being justified: or in short thus, If the way to be a Friend is to keep the Commandments, then the way to be justified is to keep the commandments, because none can obtain the quality of a Friend, and remain justified, or be truly justified, whilst an enemy, which he certainly is, that keeps not his Commandments.

William Penn – Sandy Foundation Shaken (1669)

Finally, some thirty years later, George Fox again writes to Friends to communicate the same basic message.

And the apostle saith, ‘That Abraham was called a friend of God [Jas 2:23]. And Christ saith to his disciples, ‘Ye are my friends, if ye do whatever I command. Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doth. But I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you [John 15:14f]. Here Christ called his disciples sometimes friends, and sometimes brethren, as before; as in John 15:19 and Hebrews 2:11-12.
And as many as received Christ, to them he gave power to become the sons of God; even to them that believe on his name; ‘which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God [John 1:12f]. These are they that declared the generations of Christ.

George Fox – Epistle 402 (1685)
2. The Faith of Abraham

We can see the important example of the faith of Abraham in James Nayler’s description of his epiphany at the plough that led to his Quaker ministry. This demonstrates two points of key significance for early Friends:

a)    The need for an intimate hearing and obeying relation with God.
b)    The need to give absolute loyalty to the way of God over the ways of the world.

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:1-3

I was at the plow, meditating on the things of God, and suddenly I heard a voice saying unto me, "Get thee out from thy kindred and from thy father's house"—and I had a promise given in with it. Whereupon, I did exceedingly rejoice, that I had heard the voice of that God which I had professed from a child but had never known him.

James Nayler – Saul’s Errand to Damascus (1653)


Before finishing, I just want to mention briefly the use of ‘Children of Light’ which was perhaps the earliest name adopted by Quakers and one that connects them to the early Anabaptist movement that developed in Europe some 120 years earlier. The name is drawn from two passages within the Pauline epistles:

5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 1 Thessalonians 5:5

8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Ephesians 5:8-10

Again the name suggests an intimate relationship (being the child of a parent), connection to Christ who is the Light and obedience to divine teaching and commands. It is also clear that this name remained important to Friends throughout the 17th century. Here we have two of Fox’s epistles that make reference to being ‘children of Light’; one from the beginning of the movement in 1652 and the other from towards the end of Fox’s life in 1684.

But ye all, in whom the immortal seed is brought to light, who are raised up to sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus [Eph 2:6], and are become children of the day, walk as children of the day, and as children of the light [1 Th 5:5], and ‘let your light so shine before men, that they may glorify your Father, which is in heaven.’ [Mat 5:16] All loving the light, ye love the one thing, which gathers your hearts together to the fountain of light and life [Psa 36:9]; and walking in it, ye have unity one with another, and the ‘blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth you from all sin.’ [1 Jn 1:7].

            George Fox – Epistle 20 (1652)

Now, dear friends and brethren, if it doth please the Lord to try you, who are the believers in the light [John 12:36], and children of the light and the day [1 Th 5:5] of Christ: I say again, if it please the Lord, and it be his will, to try you in stinking prisons and dungeons, Bridewells, houses of correction, and suffer you to be put in such places, who are his sheep and lambs, plants and branches; I say, the Lord can sanctify all such places for his people, his children, his sons and daughters, and make all pleasant to them:

George Fox – Epistle 398 (1684)

It is interesting to note that the name ‘children of light’ was also used by early adherents of the other historic peace church tradition, the Anabaptists. Here is the opening letter to the Schleitheim Confession which is the earliest statement of faith of those individuals and groups that went on to form the Amish, the Mennonites and the Hutterites.

May joy, peace and mercy from our Father through the atonement of the blood of Christ Jesus, together with the gifts of the Spirit – Who is sent from the Father to all believers for their strength and comfort and for their perseverance in all tribulation until the end, Amen – be to all those who love God, who are the children of light, and who are scattered everywhere as it has been ordained of God our Father, where they are with one mind assembled together in one God and Father of us all: Grace and peace of heart be with you all, Amen.

Opening Letter to the Schleitheim Confession (1527)


Early Quakers did not choose the name ‘Friends in the Truth’ randomly or because it sounded good. It is clear that this name communicated something quite vital about their experience, their spirituality, their theology and their witness in the world. It spoke of a people who experienced a direct and intimate relationship with God, who felt that they were being taught ‘the truth’ by Christ in Spirit and who recognised the importance of putting Christ’s teachings into practice. This implied loyalty to the way of God rather than to the ways of the world and a willingness to face death at the hands of the world out of love for God and neighbour. This name therefore said quite a lot about the essentials of the Quaker way.

Francis is willing.

I'm giving myself the new task of writing at least 100 words today on a subject that pops into my head. I'm not much of a free writer or much into free writing. I'm not much into writing period actually, but I have to find a way to improve my writing skills, so writing 100 words a day at least should do wonders in improving it. So what should I write about?

I was thinking about adding a piece about my almost boyfriend. I have an almost boyfriend, a guy who is always on the brink of being in a relationship with me, but at the last minute withdraws. We've been playing this game for at least 3 years now. 5  if you count our initial encounter.  I don't really know why I want him so much. He's 2 years younger than me, has Bipolar Disorder, doesn't live near me, is taller than me (which is usually something I don't want), is hairy (another thing I didn't want), is essentially a cub/bear (not my type), drinks, smokes, is an almost amoral sexual libertine in his hypomanic and manic phases, and in his depressive phases thinks being gay is a sin which has him hell bound.

This is not the kind of baggage anyone needs, not least a person like myself. And based on the (5 ? 7 ? I've lost count) times when he's kicked the possibility of us to the curb, I shouldn't even want to be NEAR a guy like this. So what is the attraction? I don't know. He's cute, even with the scruff. And he has a beautiful voice, the sound of which drives me wild. His smile is beautiful, his face at rest is beautiful. And in my fantasy of what life would be like with him, he'd just be so warm, and I'd feel safe and secure, comfortable in his arms. He is also intelligent and loving, with a soft heart and an odd affection for children and play. I think that at his best, he is a reflection of things that are not part of myself. The Yin to my Yang as it were. I think that is what continues to draw me. And what is causing me to wait.

In David Copperfield, there is a character named Mr. Barkiss who was famed for waiting for the woman he wanted for years and years. His trademark phrase was always the same: Barkiss is willing.
I guess that would have to be MY trademark phrase, at least for now, in relation to the almost boyfriend.
Who knows? There are many fish in and I might find another to thrill my heart like he does. A safer person, more to my specified likings. But until that day comes I must say: Francis is willing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Queer Quaker: So You Want To Be a Pastor?

Queer Quaker: So You Want To Be a Pastor?

“Jesus Wept”- John 11:35

I remember when I was a really little kid, maybe 6 or 7, telling my mom after church that I wanted to be a minister.  Granted, I don’t think this fantasy was a long lived one, as the next couple things I dreamt about being was either a clown, a video game designer, a weapons designer, an astronaut, or a fighter pilot…oh lord I don’t which of those is more embarrassing for me to admit now!

In that small window of time though, I was enamored with the idea of being a minister.  I remember sitting in the sanctuary and waiting for the service to start, and when the giant organ would begin a song, a line of men in fancy suits would emerge from behind the alters.  There was usually about 6 or 7, and they would walk near the center of the stage before taking their seats in a semi-circle, facing the congregation.  After the choir and orchestra finished, 1 of them would get up and preach a sermon, and then the service would end with an alter call.

The sermons were energetic, charismatic, and convincing.  I was told that all of these men had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, just like the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and for that reason, they were qualified to preach.

The Holy Spirit had empowered them to share the words of God.

They were empowered to interpret the Scriptures.

It would not have been my place to question, much less contradict, what they said, as being anything less than divinely inspired and authoritative.

As I found out at 13 though, that same Holy Spirit empowered them, had also damned me, so kiss that thought of ministry goodbye!….or so I thought at the time.

As the title of the blog may have given away, at 23, I am beginning to look at seminaries to attend. So now I want to paint a few pictures of some of the reactions I’ve gotten when I’ve told people that.

There are a few people, generally Christians, who get very very excited when I say this. Their eyes get a little wide with anticipation, and they ask something like “Oh wow really! That is so awesome, tell me more about that!”

**Inner Dialogue begins** “Ok A.J., you got this! Now is your chance, say something intelligent, sincere, and grammatically correct!”

**What comes out of my mouth** “Well….errr… ummm… ya see, derp derp derpity derp derp!”
Toss in a couple stutters and you get the picture.

I don’t really have a lovely answer that I can wrap in a bow just yet, as wanting to go to seminary is still fairly new to me.  It was only about 3 months ago that I had finally decided that it was the path for me.

When I was just starting at Fox,  I remember thumbing through a book that had pictures of the civil rights movement in America, and scattered throughout the crowds of people mostly black people, I’d notice a couple white people that sometimes had the collar of a priest on.  Thats the kind of thing I want to do! Help be a voice for those on the margins for Christ’s sake…literally, for the sake of Christ.  They didn’t care if they had nothing to “gain” from being in those marches, or if they would get brutalized just as much as those around them.  They went there because its where Jesus would have been, and it was those people I’d see in the pictures interested me….generally not my peers who were positively sure that they wanted to be vocational ministers.  More often than naught, it was these students who were the most zealously homophobic, and would predictably chafe at the mention of Common Ground.

I know that was a bit of a rabbit trail, and I’ll write some more of those specific stories another time, but it transitions well into the another reaction I receive.

These strike me as a little more similar than not, at least in how they make me feel afterwards, so I’m just going to list a few together.

“Well, that sounds like a waste of time.”

**Inner Dialogue** “Ouch”

“Ohh……well thats interesting……..{changing topics}”

**Inner Dialogue** “Did a third arm just start growing out of my shoulder?”

“Organized religion has done awful things, do you think you’re more spiritual than other people or something?”

**Inner Facepalm**

Those conversations don’t really tend to go anywhere, but sometimes it triggers self doubt that I have so much of a problem with.  In order to re-center, I try to recall the memories of when other people who I greatly respect have affirmed me.  I remember when the first time someone said to me, “Its clear to me that you have gifts of ministry”.  I thought…well thats a nice compliment, but I want to be a public defender so…moving along! Haha…kinda funny how sometimes people can see things in you before you see them yourself.  I’m just glad enough people came into my life and repeated a message enough for it to get through my thick skull!

Another uniquely challenging response that I’ve gotten is from a couple unprogrammed Friends, which usually sounds something like…

“Well I don’t think that Quakers should be recording ministers anymore, it just seems like a way of giving someone more authority.  If everyone is equal and capable of giving ministry, than there shouldn’t be paid ministers”

…which usually ends in me sighing and not saying much else. Or if it sounds a little less accusatory, I’ll explain that the testimony of equality is extremely important to me.  I like the distinction of recorded minister (or another cool one is released minister), because all it it saying is that Friends themselves have recognized a particular gift in a particular person.  In my tradition, we don’t think that we (Evangelical Quakers) “ordain” anyone.  God ordains, we record it if we feel led to. It is beautiful to me because it implies that everyone, even a little child, can be a minister. I’ve heard some people say that George Fox abolished the clergy, but I prefer to think that he abolished the laity.

And the other part of some of these responses that drives me crazy, is that most of their criticisms of vocational ministers…I agree with one hundred percent!

I understand how damaging the wild abuse of spiritual “authority” can be, and I understand how shitty it feels to have those scars. I really REALLY want that to be clear.

I’ll tell you this though, most of the time, I’m fairly good at identifying leadings and saying yes to them.  This was not one of those times.

**Inner Teacher** Hey…you are called to ministry

**Inner Dialogue** OH HELL NO!!!

 Couple months later

**Inner Teacher** Still here, still calling you to ministry

**Inner Dialogue** Nope. No. No. No waaay Jośe.

 Couple months later

**Inner Teacher** ….ahem?

**Inner Dialogue** I really can’t do it…

 About three months ago

**Inner Teacher** A.J. … lets be real, you know this is literally as clear of a leading as you’ve ever had right? Why do you keep saying no?!

**Inner Dialogue** Why?! All cards on the table, I’m scarred as hell. I’m scared about being hurtful in any way.  I’m scared that Evangelical Friends aren’t ready for a gay pastor.  I’m scarred I would do a generally terrible job in that kind of a role!

**Inner Teacher** I hear that, and I’ll be with you.

Hehe…I’m kinda enjoying making these dramatic interpretations of my discernment process, but all of it is to say that I was pretty reluctant a-la-Jonah style.  As I said before though, different people came into my life and affirmed me, and a whole host of other tiny things. One that I want to point out is a story that I heard from George Fox’s journal.  My pastor told it during a sermon, and it was really important towards the end of my discernment.

Setting the stage a bit, George Fox is traveling around the country telling anyone who will listen to him about his revelation, and early Friends in England weren’t afraid of interrupting the Anglican program…so to speak.

I went into the steeple-house, and stayed till the priest had done. The words which he took for his text were these, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wait for it....
Then was I moved of the Lord God to say unto him, "Come down, thou deceiver; dost thou bid people come freely, and take of the water of life freely, and yet thou takest three hundred pounds a year of them for preaching the Scriptures to them. Mayest thou not blush for shame?

The priest, like a man amazed, hastened away. After he had left his flock, I had as much time as I could desire to speak to the people; and I directed them from the darkness to the Light, and to the grace of God, that would teach them, and bring them salvation; to the Spirit of God in their inward parts, which would be a free teacher unto them.

Oh George, what a gem! Can you imagine?! Well, besides my own appreciation of upsetting unjust systems, there is a part of this story near the end that really stuck out to me. I understood through this story that I was putting a lot more on my shoulders than was necessary.  I don’t need to be “responsible” for profound spiritual teachings, the always present and free Teacher would do that! All I needed to do as a minister was do my best to direct people toward that Light.

One of the last things that broke my reluctance, was when I turned to memory, which usually happens before I fall asleep. Memories of my time in Common Ground rise up often.  I remember the friends, faces, events, voices, laughter, courage, and so so much more.

More than anything in the world, when I was the President of CG, even though I had no idea what the hell I was doing…I wanted the students to know, really know, that they were loved.  Some days that meant having coffee with them and listening in the cafeteria or local shop.  Some days that looked like interrupting and addressing a homophobic or transphobic slur. Some days that looked like a late night facebook chat.  Some days that looked like holding people and just crying with them.

That, I’ve come to realize…was probably pastoral care.

I defy anyone to put to words how much I love the students in Common Ground…and yet I know… that my love doesn’t begin to compare to love of the One who made them.

So, as inarticulate as it sounds, I feel led to ministry because I want people to know they are loved.  That they were created beautiful…thats all.

I’m not a power hungry Quaker, or a self-righteous charlatan, and the thought of anyone deferring to my answers gives me the hebejebees … But if you need someone to walk with you, I will walk.

I don’t know what words I could possibly say to someone when they will experienced profound tragedy or hardship.  All I know, is that the place I would like to be when that happens, is right next to them.