This morning when I sat down at my computer to finish preparing my thoughts, my computer gave me a blank gray screen. It was time for a reboot. Its little computer brain had been muddled by all of the information coming in; yesterday’s update had been the last straw.
I feel that way sometimes, the need to reboot. Start over. Start clean. But it’s not that easy for us to do that sort of cleanse because it requires some sort of a complete stop, almost a death. I much prefer the making necessary changes gradually — giving myself time to adjust to a new diet or an exercise regimen.
Surprisingly often, life does not allow for those gentle changes, and we find ourselves in a new town, a new job, welcoming a new baby (or two), starkly facing the loss of an old friend, a relationship, or a needed support. You can fill in the blank on the sudden changes you have had.
It seems that Jesus proposed that sort of clean sweep to individuals who wanted to know how to best serve God. Jesus was born into a culture and a religion that had been developing its relationship with God for centuries. They had writings and traditions. They had learned scholars. They had correct ways of doing things. All of these systems and beliefs were likely based on the best thinking and intent. They were based on their understanding of what God had told them to do. It was the best they could do.
Jesus called his followers to a different sort of relationship with God and with each other. A relationship not based on their culture, laws or traditions, but based on having a new heart. Obedience to cultural norms and expectations can be done thoughtlessly – or mindfully – by individuals who can conform to the specific cultural requirements. One down side of obedience is that it is an external conformity. In other words, “I may be sitting on the outside but I am standing on the inside.”
Obedience can come from habit, respect, or fear. It can also come from love. But obedience is basically a servant’s or child’s approach to life, while the follower of Jesus is invited to grow up into Christ (Eph 4:15), to be friends of Jesus (John 15:15). Rules and standards are crucial for children to learn. Rules like “stay out of the street” keep children alive. But adults need to know how to safely and effectively go into the street and interact with the challenges the street presents.
Richar Rohr, Franciscan priest and teacher writes in a recent meditation:
…there is no reason to be religious or to “serve” God except “to love greatly the One who has loved us greatly,” as Saint Francis said.  Religion is not about heroic will power or winning or being right. This has been a counterfeit for holiness in much of Christian history. True growth in holiness is a growth in willingness to love and be loved and a surrendering of willfulness, even holy willfulness (which is still “all about me”).
Obedience to the Ten Commandments does give us the necessary impulse control and containment we need to get started, which is foundational to the first half of life. “I have kept all these from my youth,” the rich young man says, before he then refuses to go further (Mark 10:22). https://cac.org/a-spirituality-of-the-beatitudes-2017-06-22/
In a recent email our Johan Mauer, reviews Brian Zahnd’s book, A Farewell to Mars. Here are a few selections he provided as teasers…
Isn’t it time we abandoned our de facto agreement with Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and their worn-out, death-dealing ideas? Isn’t it time we took seriously the revolutionary, life-giving ideas of Jesus — the one whom God raised from the dead and declared to be Lord by the power of an indestructible life? Isn’t it time we were converted and became as children, having the capacity to imagine the radical otherness of the kingdom of God? … At the very least, we ought to take a fresh look and evaluate with new eyes what Jesus of Nazareth actually taught about the dark foundations of human civilization and the alternative he offers in the kingdom of God. (from Chapter 1, “That Preacher of Peace.”)
Far too many American Christians embrace a faulty, half-baked, doom-oriented, hyperviolent eschatology, popularized in Christian fiction (of all things!), that envisions God as saving parts of people for a nonspatial, nontemporal existence in a Platonic “heaven” while kicking his own good creation into the garbage can! Framed by this kind of world-despairing eschatology, evangelism comes to resemble something like trying to push people onto the last chopper out of Saigon. But this is an evangelism that bears no resemblance to the apostolic gospel proclaimed in the book of Acts. Christianity’s first apostles evangelized, not by trying to sign people up for an apocalyptic evacuation, but by announcing the arrival of a new world order. The apostles understood the kingdom of God as a new arrangement of human society where Jesus is the world’s true King. (from Chapter 2, Repairing the World.)
We believe in Jesus theologically, religiously, spiritually, sentimentally … but not politically. We believe Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, but we don’t really believe he was a competent political theologian. If we were tasked with framing a political theology drawn only from Jesus’s words, what would it look like? Why? Because when it comes to political models for running the world, we find it hard to believe in Jesus. (Chapter 4, It’s Hard to Believe in Jesus.)
The road of nonviolent peacemaking is not an easy road, it’s not a popular road, and it’s certainly not a road for cowards. The road of “God is on our side, and he shall surely smite our enemies” is a wide road. A lot of parades have gone down that road. It doesn’t take much courage to travel that road; just fall in step and follow the crowd. A marching band is usually playing. But it’s also the road that leads to burned villages, bombed cities, and solemn processions of flag-draped coffins. Until the self-professed followers of Jesus are willing to forsake the wide road for the narrow way, the popular sentiment for the unpopular conviction, the easy assumptions for the hard alternatives — Jesus will continue to weep while his disciples shout hosanna. (Chapter 6, The Things that Make for Peace.)
Before we appeal to Hitler as the ultimate argument against Christian nonviolence, we first have to ask how Hitler was able to amass a following of Christians in the first place. (Chapter 7, Clouds, Christ, and Kingdom Come.)
What lessons and priorities might Friends take from Brian Zahnd’s message? There’s theoretically great congruity between what he says and what we Quakers believe.
We do know what it’s like to be treated as admirable eccentrics, nice but marginal. We also have our own ways to avoid implementing the implications of our faith:
- drawing on the vast resources of Friends piety to satisfy our emotional and intellectual needs while avoiding the surrender and self-abandonment of full conversion
- making it hard for seekers and newcomers to access our community (folkways, in-group language) so we can keep feeling both modest and special
- marginalizing Jesus by making him a figurehead or metaphor (some liberals) or a tribal chieftain in charge of our camp (some evangelicals) instead of seeing him at the very center of our meetings
- trivializing our peace testimony by leaching out its cross-shaped spiritual power in favor of “the cult of middle-class pacifism“
- weakening our fellowship with doctrinal controversies and bibliolatry (often with the stern language of pseudo-heroism), undermining each other rather than conducting our conflicts based on a prior commitment to each other’s well-being.
Happily, none of these flaws are fatal; they can all be addressed. Let’s do it, let’s be a laboratory of love for the whole Christian world and beyond.
When I wandered into an elders meeting a week ago and was asked to bring a message this Sunday, I asked what I should talk about and was told to share what was on my heart. I have a lot on my heart these days related to personal and political changes, but it seemed that the most relevant subject for me to address was related to the decision by Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) to release several churches to form a new yearly meeting.
When the administrative board decided to release the five, now six meetings from NWYM, that was a sort of death — a death that as a representative of Spokane Friends to the Yearly Meetings, I felt many were hoping to avoid. Many representatives expressed hopes that NWYM could gradually change to be more open and inclusive. I suspect others in the Yearly Meeting were afraid of any such gradual change and felt the need to draw a line releasing any meeting that did not agree with the Faith and Practice of the NWYM. There are currently six meetings that have been formally recognized as released, and participants from many more meetings are exploring together with these six meetings what sort of way forward there might be. Perhaps this group will find the “reboot” to be a positive thing as they move into their calling.
I encourage you to sign up for the email distribution list of this group currently identified as “Our New Thing.” (www.ournewthing.com) Minutes are available from the past meetings of representatives, as is a tentative agenda for Our New Thing sessions at Yearly Meeting this summer.