The Spirituality of Eric Clapton, Part II

Good morning

Humbling ourselves before an omnipresent God is central to the Christian experience.  We have faith that God will show us mercy, protect and guide us.  But when do we typically ask for God’s guidance?   Usually it is after we have made a real mess of things.

This is the second in a series of sermons on the spirituality of Eric Clapton’s music and today I want to share is a song written from the depths of despair,  a cry for divine intervention, and a demonstration of the faith of Eric Clapton.  Faith,  that if he humbled himself before God, confessed his pride and arrogance that God would provide not only comfort, and direction in this life, but life everlasting in the presence of God.

hose of you in attendance last time might remember that I was drawn to Eric’s music because in it,  he is able honestly to share his deepest struggles. The lyrics we shared describe both the highs and lows of cocaine abuse and a beautiful love song written about the wife of Eric’s close friend, whom Clapton had become obsessed with.  Both of those songs are classic rock and roll songs but neither of those songs are particularly spiritual.  But they served to demonstrate Eric’s worldliness and his ability to record music that is honest and from the soul.

Today I want to share with you the first song that made me realize that Eric had spiritual depth, a song entitled “Holy Mother”.   It is Eric’s cry for help from the depths of despair.  But before I can share the song with you I need to show you the depth of despair Clapton got himself into.

As mentioned in the last sermon Clapton was addicted to heroin for 2 years.  He was able to recover from this addiction but in many ways simply traded one addiction, heroin, for another addiction, alcohol.    In a 60 minutes interview with Ed Bradley, Clapton recalls regularly drinking more than 2 bottles of vodka a day.

I would wake up and look out the window and not know if it was morning or late afternoon and if it was dark,  it was evening or morning?  I didn’t know.  Sometimes I didn’t even know where I was sometime even when I woke up at home.

Home for Eric, during this period was Hurtwood, a country mansion in middle England.  Clapton lived there with his now wife, Patty Boyd.  As we reenter Eric’s life, He has just returned home from a concert tour to find that Patty was having an affair and wanted out of their marriage.

Among the many songs he wrote about the break up “Miss You” may be the most insightful. Eric was writing what he felt about the relationship.  However, Alcoholics often have a sense of helplessness regarding their lives as though they are not   in control and therefore victims of the actions of others.

According to rehab.com addicts

. . .underestimate what they can do. This diminishes their self-esteem and sense of efficacy. They look at every mistake or setback as confirmation of their powerlessness. They see themselves as failures. This, then, further diminishes their self-esteem and further confirms their sense of powerlessness. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Lyrics from “Miss You” tell a story of Eric being strong and proud in the face of this breakup but powerless to stop it. Notice in the lyrics that he is not the actor,  she is, and therefore she is at fault for the broken relationship.

Miss You by Eric Clapton

Don’t change your mind,
I ain’t got the time to sit and wonder.
I’m doing fine.
If you decide to leave, I won’t go under.

You know I’ve come this far without you
It won’t be too hard to be alone.
I’ve got choices all around me,
So I won’t be spending too much time at home.

In these first 2 stanzas he establishes that he doesn’t need her to change her mind, that he will be fine if she leaves and that he has other romantic options to take her place.

In the third stanza he silences her, blaming her mental state for not wanting to hear her side.

No, don’t say a word.
I already heard that you don’t love me.
In your state of mind,
I don’t need to hear your side of the story.

It is a very condescending statement.   Certainly not inviting any dialogue about the problems in their marriage.

In the 4th stanza he uses both his and her acquaintances against her, in an effort to hurt her.

Your friends all said we had a future
And I don’t think I really want to know.
My friends keep telling me to lose you
nd how glad they’ll be when you decide to go.

Note the powerlessness in the last line he isn’t deciding, she is ,  it is her fault, her decision.

In the 5th stanza he describes how hard he worked to make the marriage work and how much he cared and how hard it might be in the “dirty world” without him.   As though he has served, as her protector and now she will be on her own.

I broke my back to make you happy.
Sometime, somehow, someone’s got to care.
If you think you’re better off without me,
just remember, it’s a dirty world out there.

In the last stanza he betrays his position of not caring by evoking language that indicates how deeply he does care.

I’m gonna miss the ground you walk on,
Gonna miss the air you breathe.
I’m just not quite happy, baby,
’bout your crazy plans to leave.

The words he uses approach worship language he is her telling her that no one else will “care” like he does?   {USE AIR QUOTES}  I use quotes around “care” for later reference.

These verses indicate a great deal of anger and resentment.  He is very hurt that she has cheated on him and now plans to leave.   All but the last stanza are juxtaposed to the chorus where he openly states that he will miss her but then ads that he can’t forgive her.  Notice his use of the term “can’t” instead of  “won’t”  further indicates that he is helpless and is not the actor here.

Girl, I’m gonna miss you.
I’m gonna miss you, baby.
I can’t forgive you,
Still I’m gonna miss you, baby.

Eric sings solo on this song and it also contains a very memorable guitar solo.  Listen for the anger, resentment and powerlessness in “Miss you”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbmcT1fSXLA

Roll Miss You by Eric Clapton

The lyrics contained in “Miss You” are pretty misleading when compared to the reality of Eric and Patty’s marriage hence the quotes around ‘care’ in the earlier section.  At this point in time Eric is a full-blown alcoholic.  He has become emotionally abusive to Patty and repeatedly unfaithful.  The band has a rule not allowing women to come on tour,  Eric in his autobiography explains that the “No Women” rule allowed him to be unfaithful.  Out of what seems to be alcohol induced logic, Eric felt that as long as he told Patty about the women he enjoyed on tour it was not cheating.  Many I believe would call this abuse rather than honesty but drug additions can evoke bizarre behavior with equally bizarre reasoning.

Clapton wrote in his autobiography that

“however much I thought I loved Patty at the time, the only thing that I couldn’t live without was alcohol.  This made my need or ability to commit to anything, even marriage pretty inconsequential.

Another song written about the break up “She’s Waiting”  is perhaps a more honest look at the relationship.  Notice the song is written in 3rd person with Clapton essentially talking to himself.  The distance this creates in the song is in keeping with the sense of helplessness contained in “Miss you”.  He begins the song with the chorus

She’s waiting for another love.
She’s waiting for another love.

She’s been waiting for another love,

Someone that she can show into her heart.
And when she finally finds a stronger love,
Your whole world’s gonna fall apart

Unlike “Miss You“ here Eric realizes that she is going to leave him and the result will be very hard for him.

You’ve been abusing her for far too long;
Think you’re a king and she’s your pawn.
Get ready now, ’cause pretty soon
She’ll be gone and you’ll be on your own.

A more honest look at what he has put her through but still he is powerless to stop what is happening.

I see the hunger burning in her eye;
Any fool could see there’s something wrong.
You keep pretending not to care,
But I will hear you sing a different song.

It is clear that this 3rd person honesty he shares in the song does not extend to Patty he continues to show indifference to her about her leaving.

Roll She’s Waiting by Eric Clapton

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av9JFpk_A3s

The third stanza of She’s Waiting”  includes the line “I will hear you sing a different song”. I believe that “Behind the Sun”  is the song that Eric is referring to.  I invite you to read the lyrics as I play it for you.

Roll Behind the Sun

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av9JFpk_A3s

My love has gone behind the sun;
Since she left, the darkness has begun.
The smile that used to shine on me
Is nothing more than a memory.

I see her face, I hear her voice.
She made her move, I had no choice
But walk and cry, wipe tears with my hand,
The one that carries a wedding band.

And the clouds hang low
And the flowers that used to grow
In my heart
Are dying now, dying now.

Dying now.

That is a pretty bleak view.   Life has gotten bad for Eric.

Some details in his autobiography illustrate just how bad it had become.

Early in 1981 Clapton set out on a 57-date tour in the US.  He hurt his back and began taking a codeine based sedative for the pain.  As his pain increased so did his use of the drug until he was taking nearly 30 painkillers a day on top of his 2 bottles of vodka.  He ended up in the hospital with an ulcer.  He later would write that the hospital cured him physically but did nothing for his mental health and soon he was back to 2 bottles of vodka a day.

Eric claims to have lost his last vestige of dignity when he fell over drunk on a stream bank while being observed by two master fishermen from across the stream.  Their impression of his skill as a fisherman really mattered to Eric. He claimed that the drunken fall, which broke his rod, stripped him of his last shred of self-respect.

I fell over and I broke one of the rods in half and something in me just died because these guys on the other bank just looked away it embarrassed them and that was the last little piece of dignity and self respect I had going for me. . . .  I had to gather up this stuff and put it back in the truck and I think I was pretty near to tears if I wasn’t actually crying

He called a friend and admitted to having a problem and entered an alcohol treatment center for the first time.  He would enter several more times before he could remain sober.  It was on one of those relapses that he wrote “Holy Mother”.

Clapton had been angry for most of his life.  He felt he had been eclipsed in his guitar playing by Stevie Ray Vaughn, his marriage was over and he had recently learned that close friend, and musician he greatly admired had committed suicide. Further his record label rejected an album he had created saying it didn’t contain enough “hits” and insisted on the band recording three different songs.  His life was spiraling out of control.

Eric was touring in Toronto Canada and was drinking heavily.   He went to a showing of the movie Purple Rain by Prince The movie had a profound impact on Eric He would later write on his Facebook page:

I was out on the road in a massive downward spiral with drink and drugs, I saw Purple Rain in a cinema in Canada, I had no idea who he (Prince) was, it was like a bolt of lightning!”

He returned to his hotel room cluttered with beer cans and wrote “Holy Mother”

The song consists of 7 stanzas. And an amazing guitar solo.

The lyrics:

Holy Mother, where are you?

Tonight I feel broken in two.

I’ve seen the stars fall from the sky.

Holy mother, can’t keep from crying.

Clapton has reached rock bottom and is crying out for help from the Holy Mother.  While nothing in his autobiography would indicate that he was a regular church attender the cry for divine intervention is clear.

Oh I need your help this time,

Get me through this lonely night.

Tell me please which way to turn

To find myself again.

Note that he is the actor deciding which way to turn,  He is taking responsibility for his actions unlike the earlier songs I played.

Holy mother, hear my prayer,

Somehow I know you’re still there.

Send me please some peace of mind;

Take away this pain.

Here he expresses faith that she will hear him and that she can help with the pain he is experiencing.

I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait any longer.

I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait for you.

The chorus breaks from the structure in repetition of his desire to be rid of the pain he is feeling.  These lyrics leave open 2 possibilities for ending the pain.  Which are contained in later stanzas.  We are only impatient for arrival if we know that either we will be arriving or someone will be arriving.

Holy mother, hear my cry,

I’ve cursed your name a thousand times.

I’ve felt the anger running through my soul;

All I need is a hand to hold.

I find this stanza particularly interesting and deep.  He is honest in confessing his shortcomings, his anger even toward God and yet he has faith that God will comfort him, and comfort him in this life thus lessening his pain.

Oh I feel the end has come,

No longer my legs will run.

You know I would rather be

In your arms tonight.

The last 2 lines in this stanza is a clear reference to suicide.  The second of the two ways out of the pain he is feeling.  Eric later claimed that during this period of his life suicide was a constant temptation. He indicates that he would rather be in the Holy Mother’s arms tonight rather than feel the pain he is feeling.

When my hands no longer play,

My voice is still, I fade away.

Holy mother, then I’ll be

Lying in, safe within your arms.

Here he accepts that death is still in the future but expects when his death comes to lying safe within God’s arms, life everlasting in the presence of God.

What might be the most moving part of this song is the waling guitar solo, which comes after the lyrics.  And by wailing I mean that it represents Eric’s grief.  I hear him crying uncontrollably and at one point his guitar catches the same note again and again and again and it truly sound like someone who cannot stop crying, deep remorseful contortions of anguish.  Listen for it as the lyrics conclude and Eric breaks into his solo.

Roll Holy mother

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5YEKO04RDI

In Holy Mother Eric humbles himself before an omnipresent God.  He has faith that God will show him mercy, protect and guide him and when his time comes he will rest in the arms everlasting.

For someone who has been angry and in pain, it is hard to imagine any vision of Heaven that would be superior to being held and comforted by a  loving and understanding mother.   His apparent faith in the grace of God is powerful in this song and for me it is an inspiration.

Some might see Eric as an addict, abusive, and unfaithful to his wife and write him off.   God sees Eric as God sees all of us, as children who need forgiveness, comfort and direction.  All we need to do is ask for a hand to hold.

Benediction

Psalms 73: 21-24

  1. . . . my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Message delivered by Dr. Jonas Cox at Spokane Friends on 11 February 2018

 

 

 

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We Are Enough! by Lorraine Watson

Scripture is full of amazing stories…

Genesis 12-21—Abraham, the Father of Many

  • At age 75 God calls Abraham to go to a land that God will show him and make him a great nation
  • As years pass and while Abraham has no children, God promises as many descendents as stars
  • When Abraham is 99, God makes a covenant with Abraham and his many descendents
  • God promises to give his wife Sarah a child—Sarah is 90 years old and beyond child bearing age
  • When Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, their son Isaac was born—25 years after the promise

Numbers 13—Twelve Spies go into Canaan

  • 10 said the land is wonderful, but full of giants and impossible for us to take
  • 2 said “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
  • But the people were afraid and chose to follow the 10 to God’s great displeasure

Judges 7-8—Gideon and the Midianites

  • 32,000 soldiers gather in Gideon’s army
  • God says Gideon has too many soldiers and sends away 10,000
  • God says there are still too many and all but 300 left
  • With 300, they didn’t even look like an army, but they defeated the Midianites by God’s power

2 Kings 4—Elisha and the Widow’s Oil

  • A widow with 2 small boys is losing her children to slavery and comes to Elisha for help
  • Elisha asks her, “Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She tells him she only has a jar of oil
  • Elisha tells her to gather many jars and poor oil into them, which she did until all were full
  • Elisha said to sell the oil and pay the debts, then live on the rest

Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6—Feeding a Large Crowd—5,000 men plus women and children

  • When the disciples say it is late and to send the people away so they can buy food
  • Jesus tells them to give the people something to eat—What do you have? How much bread?
  • The disciples search the crowd and all they have are 5 loaves and 2 fish
  • Jesus blessed what they did have and there was more than enough for everyone—12 baskets left

Matthew 15, Mark 7—Feeding a Large Crowd—4,000 men plus women and children

  • This time Jesus wants to feed the crowd that has been with him for 3 days and asks the disciples
  • They ask Jesus where they can get enough food to feed this large a crowd
  • Jesus asks how much bread they have and they answer 7 loaves and a few small fish
  • Jesus blessed what they did have and there was more than enough for everyone—7 baskets left

John 11—Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead

  • Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that Lazarus is very ill, but Jesus waits 2 days before going
  • Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory…” John 11:4
  • When Jesus and the disciples finally arrive, Lazarus is dead
  • Even though he has been in the tomb 4 days, Jesus calls him to come forth and live
  • He came out bound in death cloths, which the people removed

2 Corinthians 12—God’s Strength and Our Weakness

  • Paul has a “thorn in his flesh” which he asks God to remove—3 times he asked
  • God said no… “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Cor. 12:9

Clearly God is not bound by our human understanding of what is required to move forward

  • Rarely does God match our expectation
  • It often takes longer and is done with less!
  • Yet when we TRUST God—God is glorified and it is done God’s way

We look around and say we aren’t enough—and humanly that’s true

  • But in God—we are enough!
  • God isn’t dependent on the world system of bigger and better

Start by telling the truth!!  The truth about how we feel, the truth about the situation, the full truth

  • God cannot work unless we are honest and tell the truth about what is going on
  • “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32
    • I used to think this was just about knowing truth about God and eternity
    • But I have come to recognize that God can only work in truth
    • So, unless we tell the truth, we limit God’s ability to act in any given situation

What does it take for us to live this way?

  • TRUST
  • Willingness to wait
  • Courage to follow
  • Noticing and letting God use what is in your hand… What is in your hand?
    • Abraham—he was not asked to do anything special—it was all God
    • Moses and the burning bush—When Moses doubted, God asked “what is in your hand?”
    • Moses said it was a staff and God used his staff to lead the people—Exodus 4:2
    • Widow—Elisha blessed the only thing she had, a jar of oil
    • Feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000—Jesus blesses a few loaves of bread and fish
    • Peter and John heal the beggar—”I have no money, but what I have I give you” Acts 3:6
  • What do you have in your hand?
    • NOT—what do you need? which is our usual question
    • We so easily focus on our need and what we lack that we miss what we have

What do we have? Now? As a community gathered in Spokane?

  • The full presence of God
  • Faithful community
  • Quaker
  • We can Listen and know God and know way forward!

Often we are so aware of our lack that we don’t see what we do have

Pause and take time to look at what you do have

First some reminders…

  • Relax—being a non-anxious presence makes space for people
  • The Kingdom of God is never at risk and as Kingdom people we’re not at risk—even if we die
  • Be real and authentic—God can only work in truth
  • We can’t use a weakness—we can only use a strength so don’t worry about our
  • We come as we are and let God fill in our gaps, because that’s God’s part

We are enough!

 

Message to Spokane Friends by Lorraine Watson on 4 February 2017

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Inner Guide Versus Inner Critic

 Today we celebrate Epiphany, the Wise Men coming to find the baby Jesus lying in a manger and bringing the precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Lately, here at Spokane Friends we have been focusing our attention on giving wherein Bob Wiese offered that the greatest gifts we have to give are expressions of our own creativity. What I want to focus on today in part is what keeps us from more often and more freely giving our gifts to a world that is starving for them.

Christine Wolff, a long time Quaker, a Psychologist and a student of the Diamond Approach which incorporates spirituality and psychology, of which I am also a student, has written a Pendle Hill pamphlet on this topic called “The Inner Guide vs. The inner critic.  I read from her first paragraph:

“I feel caught, like a deer in the headlights.  There is a strong leading to take my light out into the world, met with an equally strong fear of exposure.  The Guide says, ‘Be my voice in the world—stand up and speak!’  The critic says, “Sit down.  No one wants to hear what you think.’  The Guide pushes me to my feet.  There is a sense of joy at having lived into more truth, but also a rush of fear.  Later, the critic comes up with a slightly paranoid scenario of the consequences that will befall me for having spoken.”

My inner critic is alive and well as I begin to write this homily.  Right now she is projecting onto an outer event that does not suit her liking.  She is taking up way more energy on this topic than it deserves.  She is saying, “This is not the way it should be done.”

The inner critic often gets in the way of the Inner Guide.  Spirit is calling us forth to share and to serve and the inner critic is shouting at us to sit down and shut up!  We are caught in a gargantuan struggle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light; all within our own psyche.

I have been coached in dealing with the inner critic since my days of studying with the Diamond Approach in 2008.  Founded by the Ridhwan School, this teaching incorporates psychology and spirituality as parts of a unified whole.  Byron Brown, an advanced teacher in that school, wrote a seminal book on dealing with the inner critic, called Soul without Shame.  It is an apt title.

How do I deal with the inner critic as she is so forcefully making her presence known this morning as I sit down to write this homily?  First of all, I simply feel the emotion.  I let it wash through me as just pushing it down only strengthens it.  I sit in a bubble of awareness, and just acknowledge what is present.  I use all my senses.  I listen, I taste, I touch, I breathe. I feel.  This brings me a bit out of my head.  Then I sit down and write.  And when I’ve emptied of all my spite, I ask for guidance, and guidance comes, and I soften, and though the inner critic is still active, she is not now the only voice I hear and I can go on to do constructive work.

What is the origin of the inner critic?  She is an accumulated voice of all the authorities in our lives who at one time or another, called us down.  These voices could have been very critical, or they have just grown bigger in our child consciousness.  You see, many of the past moments of our history are still stuck in our energy field.  Only by visiting them in one way or another, can these frozen time conglomerates lessen in their intensity and in their impact in our present day life.  These are the places we react from; the places where our advanced consciousness has not yet visited.  When we recognize a trigger from our past, such as recalling a memory, we can bring it to light, spend time with it, and watch it from an adult point of view.  Reviewing the emotion of a child’s way of looking at the event, can empower us to reframe it in adult terms for in the review, we can also sense the feelings and motivations of all those involved which we were not privy to as a child.  The next time that trigger is called forth, we are often amazed that it no longer holds the charge for us that it once did.

Our inner critic, often called the inner judge, can also come forth to judge others outside of ourselves.  This is our lower self projected outward.  Perhaps it feels less harmful to ourselves if we move it out of ourselves in voices that say, “She is too fat, she is too loud, instead of I am too fat, I am too loud.  Everything we direct outside ourselves, we most often could point inward as the hostile ways we often treat ourselves.  However, with awareness, this questioning, “Is this also true of me?” is often a fruitful exercise in self awareness.  It may turn up a thought about self that has so far not seen the light of day.

So, we have ascertained that the inner critic is alive and well, and the more we venture to show up as our spirit selves, the more it will raise its head.  Especially if we dare to speak out where others choose to be silent, and we know that truth must be spoken, even or especially when no one else is doing it.

One of the ways the inner critic shows up is as a silent inner dirge, dragging us down, tamping down our energy.  Sometimes we are hardly able to get out of bed.  We feel that our best efforts have been thwarted, we have failed.  We are failures.  Nothing we try succeeds.  But as our intercession, what if we realize that this is the work of the inner critic on speed?  We can treat it as the abhorrent energy it is and take forceful action to get rid of it.  We can literally tell it to “get the —- out of here,” which is enormously helpful.  My favorite way currently is to see it as a deflated soccer ball.  I kick it forcefully into kingdom come, and it disintegrates into tiny sparks of light, cascading all around me.  Then I know that the Light has returned.

Hameed Ali, the Founder of the Diamond Approach talks about working to release the inner critic in the book, Soul without Shame.  In this passage, he refers to the inner critic as the superego.  “Every time the individual succeeds in defending against the superego, a certain amount of aggressive energy is liberated and can manifest as anger.  This is why anger is frequently experienced simultaneously with the process of defending oneself.  In other words, the anger that was directed by the superego toward the ego is now in the possession of the ego, to use for whatever purpose it chooses.  We have observed that when a person is engaged in the process of disengaging from the superego, she is strengthened and endowed with more energy.  In fact, one is strengthened not only by reowning one’s anger, but also, and more fundamentally, by integrating the essential aspect of Strength, which is the energetic basis of the emotion of anger.”

Now, let us turn to the Inner Guide.  How do we invite her in?  How do we create a space for her where she is most welcome?  Where is she unafraid?  What is it like?

Here I read again from Christine Wolff:

In my experience, a leading is a persistent desire to do something that may not make much sense.  It is beyond reason.  It keep asking for your attention; it doesn’t go away.  It may be inconvenient.  It may be misunderstood by people you love.  When you finally act on it, it is like stepping into a river and letting it carry you.  Your fear doesn’t go away, your confusion doesn’t go away, you’re not suddenly happy all the time.  But you feel relief.  There is a kind of knowing that comforts you.

Thomas Kelly describes it this way:  “There is an experience of the eternal breaking into time, which transforms all life into a miracle of faith and action.  Unspeakable, profound and full of glory as an inward experience, it is the root of concern for all creation, the true ground of social endeavor.”

I now turn to a book I’ve recently been reading called “The Unbelievable Happiness of What Is” by Jon Bernie.  I’ll read from this passage called, “A moment of awareness”:

“Take a moment, right now, to check in with yourself.  First, notice your surroundings—the shapes and colors of the objects around you.  Notice the brightness or dimness of the light, and the shadows it casts.  Notice also the sounds in your environment.  Even in very quiet places, there are still sounds.  Observe how those sounds come and go, shift and change, as you quietly give them your attention.

Now bring your awareness in closer, and let your attention settle into your body.  Are you warm or cold?  Comfortable or uncomfortable?  Feel the chair beneath you.  Feel your feet on the ground.  Feel the temperature of the air where it touches your skin.  Take a slow, deep breath, then just as slowly let it out again.  Take another breath, and as you breathe out a second time, allow any tension in your body to flow out with it.

Now, if you can, let go of the breath, and see if you can let it happen on its own, without your effort or intervention.  Let breathing happen by itself—let the breath breathe you.  And as each breath moves in and out, allow your mind to relax a bit; allow your focus to loosen and settle.  Allow yourself to become very, very still.

Now notice that all of this—your surrounds, the feelings in your body, the movement of your breath—all that you experience, appears within the field of your awareness.  Before anything else, you are aware.  So as the breath continues moving in and out, bring your attention now to this awareness itself—the space within which all of your experience arises.  Allow yourself to relax into this awareness—to rest as this awareness.

In this open space of awareness, you’ll find an aliveness, a brightening of experience, a vibrancy of being that may feel like a rediscovery of something you’d forgotten.  This is the essence of the spiritual path—the opportunity to reconnect to this aliveness, and to allow everything that’s in your way to evaporate from your system.  Now your mind quiets down, your body relaxes, your heart opens, and your spirit shines, and life is an amazing, wonderful miracle—right now!”

Now I invite us to tune in.  As we experience this stillness, the emptiness that comes from being totally present, know that all our judgements, all our fears, and all the beliefs we’ve garnered from life’s defining moments are gone too.  For this moment, all is stillness.  We, as Quakers, know this place.  It is the place through which God speaks to us. In this place, we can have our own epiphanies.  In this stillness we can just be, and as we are called to share, we can fill this space with our own Inner Guides and share what comes through.  In this way, we will all be blessed.  Thank you for your enduring presence.  Namaste.

Message by Anya Lawrence to Spokane Friends Meeting on 7 January 2005

Posted in Pastor's Page

Spirituality of Eric Clapton Part I by Jonas Cox

Good Morning

It is important that I start with a definition and two disclaimers.  First the definition, sin is a powerful word that gets thrown around a lot.  It is one of those words we believe communicates yet our definitions might very a great deal.   Most reference to sin involves destructive behavior.  Which can take of form of self-harm or harm to others.  For the purpose of this sermon I have used that definition, destructive behavior to self or others.

Now the disclaimers, First, I can’t stand commemoratory Christian music and second that this will not be your normal sermon.  These 2 disclosures come with some risk.   Carl Jung a famous psychologist claims that we see who we want to see in people.   We project aspects of our own personality onto people so they better can serve our needs.   You may have projected some aspects of Christianity onto me as your Clerk that don’t really apply.  This sermon may challenge your projection of me and through that you might know me better, that may be good or bad.  I feel called to take that risk.

Contemporary Christian music does not inspire me to be a better Christian.  I may be stereotyping too much here but I often feel that those artists are using Christianity as a marketing tool.   They seem to be saying of themselves  “look at me, I am safe and in the club so buy my records and you can be safe too and secure membership in the Christian club.  But I am not looking for safe and I don’t like the aspect of Christianity being a club. Further I feel I have little to learn from those who do not write about real experiences or perhaps have few real experiences to write about.

There is a movie staring Steve Martin called Leap of Faith.  In it Martin plays a itinerant preacher, Jonas Nightingale,  who is really a con-artist working to bilk the towns people out of their hard earned money in exchange for a miracle,  namely to deliver rain for their parched crops.   When the local sheriff played by Liam Neeson exposes the preacher’s sorted past including felony arrests, Jonas starts to leave the stage in shame, and then he suddenly, regains his composure and argues that it is better to learn about sin and the evils of sin from a sinner than from a “pasty white virgin priest”.  This speaks to my condition.

I wouldn’t listen to a travelogue written by someone who has not traveled.  I wouldn’t ask directions from someone who have never been to the region I want to know about.  Though my reason for asking may be to avoid the region altogether or certainly to avoid its pitfalls, it is useless to speak with someone who has no experience or refuses to communicate about those experiences.  That is why I find contemporary Christian music so loathsome.  But Rock and Roll tends to be very different.  Our mother’s were right in warning us,  it is sinful!!  That is, it is full of references to self-destructive behavior but it is here that I find inspiration.  But not in the way my mother feared it would happen.

I look to rock and roll for inspiration about spiritual life.  But not just any rock and rollers, only those who recognize sin for what it is, powerful  tempting and destructive and write honestly about their experiences of its power.

Genesis 4:7    If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

So I am not typically inspired by many of the bad boys of rock and roll because they continue to wallow in their self-indigent lifestyles.

Luke 6:45  And man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

While some of these rock and rollers may have overcome their demons they don’t share the depth of those struggles in their music but I am inspired by Eric Clapton  He is someone who has been there,  wrestled with his demons and as suggested in Genesis “ruled over them”  Clapton uses his music as a tool to subtly show the depth of his soul.   I find inspiration in his struggles.   So this sermon series, assuming the Elders allow me to continue, after today,  will show you what I find inspiriting in Clapton’s immense body of work and how  his interactions in the world have deepened his spirituality but that is for later in the series. The purpose of today’s sermon is to establish his credentials as someone who chose to behave in self-destructive ways and then moved beyond them.   Which then gives me reason to want to hear his struggles.

Eric Patrick Clapton was born in 1945 to a 16-year-old single mother in Ridley England.  His father was a 25-year-old solder from Canada, whom Eric never met.  Given the taboo of being a single mother in that era, His grandparents raised him as their own child.  He was 9 years old, when he learned that Patricia whom he believed was his older sister was in fact his mother.  He would later describe that experience and the impact it had on him by saying:   It seemed like everyone was lying to me.  I was doing well at school and suddenly I was at the bottom of the class.

This proved to be quite a blow for a young man already showing signs of addiction. Eric continues,  I couldn’t get through a day without doing something to alter my conscience.   It started with sugar when I was 5 or 6 years old.  I became addicted to sugar because it changed the way I felt

Later his addition moved to alcohol, cocaine and eventually a heroin.  I started drinking as soon as I could lie about my age and get onto a pub. . . The first time I got drunk I woke up 2 days later and couldn’t wait to do it again . . . then it was speed and then I got into the heavy stuff into my 20s.

 I knew for quite a long time that it had me.

In his 30s Eric recorded the song Cocaine, written by JJ Cale,  A classic rack and roll song about a very commonly used drug.  In a minute I want to play you that song but first.  Lets talk about the lyrics and why the song is an honest look at the power of self-destructive behavior or sin.

The song opens with the line “If you wanna hang out you’ve got to take her out Cocaine.”  This line speaks to the powerful social influences of the rock and roll world especially in the 70s.  Drug abuse was very common and it is easy to imagine tremendous social pressures within the rock and roll community to take illicit drugs.   This line is followed with another social reference If you want to get down, down on the ground cocaine”  Here the social reference, “Get down”,  using the parlance of the period,  common in pop music of that era,  to set up the potential bad effects of drug use “Down on the ground”  is a powerful way to contrast the delight and horrors of drug use.  The lyrics again juxtapose them selves in the last stanza. But the middle stanza speaks only of the power of the drug to over come bad feelings and fatigue.  Cocaine is a stimulant that gives its user an intense feeling of happiness according to Wikipedia.

If you got bad news you wanna kick them blues cocaine                                                   When your day is done and wanna run,  cocaine. 

Finally the last stanza is back to a contrast

If your thing is gone and you wanna ride on cocaine                                                      Don’t forget this fact you can’t get it back cocaine.

While the reference is juxtaposed, it is unclear what he is referencing.  But, whatever the proposed benefit of use (thing) is, it is clear that something valued is being forever lost in the last line.

So the verses of the song send a very mixed message,  speaking honestly about the reasons for using cocaine but also about the dark side of cocaine use.

The chorus is the same line repeated over and over “She don’t Lie”  a total of 12 times in groups of three.  What is this over use, of one phrase communicating?  Is it   how dependable this drug is to the addict abusing it.  “She don’t lie”, but instead she consistently delivers the effect of euphoria and stimulation as promised?  Or is the repetition part of the denial of addiction.  Repeating 12 times might serve the purpose of allowing the user to live in the fantasy that every thing is OK “she don’t lie” meaning you can trust the world you have created around yourself.

When Clapton admitted to a friend that he was an addict and needed help he soon found himself thinking.  What have I done? I have let the cat out of the bag. Because for years I had said I’m fine.

In an interview with Ed Bradley, Clapton would later describe his move away from addiction like this:  That thing about denial, The ability to lie to ourselves as Human beings was very strong in me

While the lyrics of the song display a mix message about drug use, the message  it’s lyrics convey is honest and straight forward.

The music , as played by Clapton, is easily the most powerful part of the recording.  I can feel the power of this addiction in steady beat of his guitar.   As stated in Genesis:  sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you,  and for a time it had rule over Eric’s life.  Listen for the power of addiction as this song is played.   Cocaine by Eric Clapton  (Roll music)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heR59UoQWbY

Eric was hooked on Heroin for about 2 years.   His abuse of alcohol and cocaine would last for several decades before he gained sobriety.

Next I want to describe another addiction or as Eric would later describe it an obsession with a woman.

Arguably one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time,  Layla was released in November of 1970 it’s contrasting movements were composed separately by Clapton and Jim Gordon The song was inspired by a 7th century Persian love story The Story of Layla and Majnun.   In the story Majnun falls hopelessly in love with the beautiful young Layla but is forbidden to marry her by her father.  The young man goes insane with desire.

As this song is played listen to the power of his obsession with this beautiful young woman.  As I mentioned before the song has contrasting movements first a rock and roll movement where he declares his love for her and explains the risk of insanity if his love goes unrequited. The second is a melodic love song where it seems he might be imagining that he is holding her in his arms.  (Roll Layla)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX5USg8_1gA

Layla is a powerful song of love, with a beautiful melodic second movement so  how could this be evidence of destructive behavior?   Many of you already know the answer to that question.  This song for Eric is not about a 7th century Persian beauty.  And it isn’t her father who is denying the suitor’s love for her.  Eric has fallen in love with Patty Boyd, the wife of his close friend and Beatle, George Harrison.  He is asking for her to “find a way”  to love him instead of Harrison.   Clapton would later say of the relationship:  I was obsessed with this woman so I don’t know if I loved her . . .  I don’t know . . if I was capable of knowing what love was then . . . as a practicing drunk I just wanted something very badly.

So two of the greatest roll and roll songs in Clapton’s repertoire were born of addiction and obsession, Cocaine and Layla.  While it may be common for celebrities to be addicted to a drug and have relationships based more on obsession than love,  it is rare the they chose to so eloquently display them for the world.  Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone Magazine describes the work like this:  “there are few moments in the repertoire of recorded rock where a singer or writer has reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing them is akin to witnessing a murder or a suicide… to me ‘Layla’ is the greatest of them.” 

 For years Eric Clapton was a practicing addict.  Out of those experiences he performed and shared works of art. He writes from the depth of those experiences.

He was a sinner.  He knows that sin is powerful, tempting and destructive.  He shares the pitfalls of those experiences with us as a listening audience.

As you will hear in later segments of this sermon series he was able to turn his life around because as he put it:  ( I had to ) Let it go and acknowledge,  that I am not the master.   It ain’t about what I want,  it is about what I can give

The depth of Clapton’s experiences and his more recent insights, inspire me as a Christian.  He has been through the valley of darkness and survived the experience. Hearing his music inspires me to learn from his life.  In the next part of the series we will explore references in his work that I interpret to indicate a deep relationship with God.

Both of these songs were popular in my youth.  I had Christian friends who rejected Eric Clapton because the song contained the word Cocaine. They saw it as evil and put Eric outside the Christian club.  Thankfully God kept him. We as Christians need to be careful in our rejection of others.  When we draw boundaries based on what we see as self-destructive behavior we exclude a population of people that God includes.   We are called by Christ to be inclusive.

Benediction:

Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.

Psalms 25:6-7

 

Message by Jonas Cox given at Spokane Friends Meeting, 26 November 2017

 

Posted in Pastor's Page

The Lamb’s War

I’ve always had trouble with the idea of original sin – I used to think that Pride was the original sin — that Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God what would be good for them to eat and they chose not to obey God – they could have eaten of any tree in the garden, except one tree they were not to eat from.  And they decided to eat from it – they decided to disobey God, that was the wrong choice.

But that forbidden tree was “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” , and if they do not yet know the difference between good and evil, then how could they make a “wrong” choice.  – because if they had not yet eaten of that tree, they would not yet have known that it was “wrong” or “evil” for them to disobey God.  How can the choice of what to eat be “wrong” if they do not yet have the knowledge of good and evil.

If a cat kills and eats a bird, we may think that is wrong, but we don’t consider that the cat knew the difference between right and wrong and that it deliberately made a wrong choice.  The cat has not eaten of the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil – we do not think of animals as being motivated by the concepts of right and wrong.

If the original sin was to choose wrong over right, it must come AFTER eating of the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”.  We would need to understand that what we contemplated doing was “wrong”.

So I think that what we traditionally call “the Fall” is actually a fall UPWARD – of reaching the point in our development when we understand the difference between right and wrong   We become capable of making moral choices.  And that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image – to be able to choose between right and wrong.

I also think the development of our species as a whole might be something akin to the development of an individual human.  Babies are not born with a sense of “right” or “wrong” – or the ability to choose between them.  They may feel hungry, tired, bored, insecure, hot, cold, and so forth, and they know when they are satisfied with their surroundings, but we do not hold them morally responsible for their behavior.  That comes later and they grow into the knowledge of right and wrong as they learn there are other people in the world.  We learn what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves when we understand that we are a self with definite ideas about how we want to be treated.

So if I was pressed to say what the “original sin” of human beings is, I think I would have to say VIOLENCE.   We have murder committed in the very first family, and it goes on from there.  We have Abraham throwing out his first son Ishmael and his mother because Sarah is jealous.  We have Abraham later trying to kill his second son Isaac as an offering to God.   We have Joseph’s brothers planning to kill him, and later settling for throwing him in a pit.  We have battle after battle described in the books of Joshua and Judges.  We have David sending the husband of the woman he commits adultery with to the front lines of the battle to be killed – we have one of David’s sons raping his sister, we have people put into fiery furnaces and lion’s dens.  And so it goes on, century after century, right up through our own history of slaughtering Native Americans, lynchings, to the  present day, when we see acts of violence on the large scale with our wars, and on a smaller scale with domestic violence and individual acts of terrorism, not to mention abuse of children and trafficking of human beings as sex slaves.  Yes, it seems to me that if there is something we seem to have an innate capacity for, it is violence.

There is a study done in the 1960’s which showed that more evangelical Christians than non-Christians supported the war in Vietnam and opposed Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement for women’s equality.  That is stunning.  Can that be true?  Evangelical Christians worship the Jesus who asks up to love our enemies, accept all people with loving respect, and honor women as much as men.

If George Fox lived among us today, he would be as thoroughly disgusted with the unchristlike Christianity as he was in the 1600’s.  He said that Jesus can speak to our condition.  And so he listened to Jesus.  He  learned that Jesus actually did tell his disciples to renounce the sword.  Jesus did tell us to love everyone and treat them respectfully.  And early Friends learned that women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and making prisons less horrible really were part of Jesus’ will.

I had three cousins who went to war in the 1960’s.  I honor them for doing what they thought they should for their country, often sacrificing a great deal.  They deserve to be recognized as heroes.  But I also understand that our enemies felt they were serving God.  Almost everyone believers that “my” country is on God’s side and the enemy is on Satan’s.  (In the middle east, the United States is called “the great Satan”.)

Jesus teaches us a message of peace, forgiveness and love.  Interestingly, the Bible uses war imagery because we ARE involved in a war, but it is a spiritual war – against the forces of evil, the principalities and powers, as we are told in Ephesians, chapter 6.  Our defense is in wearing “the whole armor of God:” belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit.  Carry the Gospel of Peace.

The Quakers have language for this – it is called “The Lamb’s War”.  This seems like a paradox.  An innocent lamb at war?  But our weapons are peace, forgiveness, and hope, which can overcome hate, violence, and fear.

James Nayler, George Fox, and early Quakers taught that

The Lamb’s war is an eschatological vision in which all obedient followers of Christ the King, who is at once the suffering and all-conquering Lamb, enlist in a total and unending struggle against evil in all of its forms in this present world until the Lamb and his army win victory, and history comes to an end with the triumph of good over evil and the coming of God to dwell with his people.       T. Canby Jones

The Lamb’s War begins with an inner transformation of our being, in which sin loses power over us and the kingdom of God is realized within.  Then the new life must be lived outwardly as we follow the leading of Christ.  For early Quakers, it meant not removing their hats, refusing to swear oaths, inventing fair trade prices, fair treatment for the insane, just treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, speaking truth to power.

None of this is about  physical  punishment and killing or physical force – it is all about the victory of faith and following the mind of Christ.  The universal mission of the Lamb’s War is to bring everyone to an inward knowledge of Christ and his power.  The victory of the Lamb will bring in the reign of virtue, love and peace.  It is belief in this final victory that allowed early Quakers to suffer imprisonment and persecution.  They believed, and we believe today, that God’s kingdom is already coming into being and we are privileged to be a part of it.  What might it mean for us to fight in the Lamb’s War – to live out love for our enemies.  What if we lived in such a way that the vulnerable among us had no need to fear?  Imagine our world if every Christian did what Jesus told his disciples to do.

 

I’ve always had trouble with the idea of original sin – I used to think that Pride was the original sin — that Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God what would be good for them to eat and they chose not to obey God – they could have eaten of any tree in the garden, except one tree they were not to eat from.  And they decided to eat from it – they decided to disobey God, that was the wrong choice.

But that forbidden tree was “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” , and if they do not yet know the difference between good and evil, then how could they make a “wrong” choice.  – because if they had not yet eaten of that tree, they would not yet have known that it was “wrong” or “evil” for them to disobey God.  How can the choice of what to eat be “wrong” if they do not yet have the knowledge of good and evil.

If a cat kills and eats a bird, we may think that is wrong, but we don’t consider that the cat knew the difference between right and wrong and that it deliberately made a wrong choice.  The cat has not eaten of the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil – we do not think of animals as being motivated by the concepts of right and wrong.

If the original sin was to choose wrong over right, it must come AFTER eating of the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”.  We would need to understand that what we contemplated doing was “wrong”.

So I think that what we traditionally call “the Fall” is actually a fall UPWARD – of reaching the point in our development when we understand the difference between right and wrong   We become capable of making moral choices.  And that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image – to be able to choose between right and wrong.

I also think the development of our species as a whole might be something akin to the development of an individual human.  Babies are not born with a sense of “right” or “wrong” – or the ability to choose between them.  They may feel hungry, tired, bored, insecure, hot, cold, and so forth, and they know when they are satisfied with their surroundings, but we do not hold them morally responsible for their behavior.  That comes later and they grow into the knowledge of right and wrong as they learn there are other people in the world.  We learn what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves when we understand that we are a self with definite ideas about how we want to be treated.

So if I was pressed to say what the “original sin” of human beings is, I think I would have to say VIOLENCE.   We have murder committed in the very first family, and it goes on from there.  We have Abraham throwing out his first son Ishmael and his mother because Sarah is jealous.  We have Abraham later trying to kill his second son Isaac as an offering to God.   We have Joseph’s brothers planning to kill him, and later settling for throwing him in a pit.  We have battle after battle described in the books of Joshua and Judges.  We have David sending the husband of the woman he commits adultery with to the front lines of the battle to be killed – we have one of David’s sons raping his sister, we have people put into fiery furnaces and lion’s dens.  And so it goes on, century after century, right up through our own history of slaughtering Native Americans, lynchings, to the  present day, when we see acts of violence on the large scale with our wars, and on a smaller scale with domestic violence and individual acts of terrorism, not to mention abuse of children and trafficking of human beings as sex slaves.  Yes, it seems to me that if there is something we seem to have an innate capacity for, it is violence.

There is a study done in the 1960’s which showed that more evangelical Christians than non-Christians supported the war in Vietnam and opposed Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement for women’s equality.  That is stunning.  Can that be true?  Evangelical Christians worship the Jesus who asks up to love our enemies, accept all people with loving respect, and honor women as much as men.

If George Fox lived among us today, he would be as thoroughly disgusted with the unchristlike Christianity as he was in the 1600’s.  He said that Jesus can speak to our condition.  And so he listened to Jesus.  He  learned that Jesus actually did tell his disciples to renounce the sword.  Jesus did tell us to love everyone and treat them respectfully.  And early Friends learned that women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and making prisons less horrible really were part of Jesus’ will.

I had three cousins who went to war in the 1960’s.  I honor them for doing what they thought they should for their country, often sacrificing a great deal.  They deserve to be recognized as heroes.  But I also understand that our enemies felt they were serving God.  Almost everyone believers that “my” country is on God’s side and the enemy is on Satan’s.  (In the middle east, the United States is called “the great Satan”.)

Jesus teaches us a message of peace, forgiveness and love.  Interestingly, the Bible uses war imagery because we ARE involved in a war, but it is a spiritual war – against the forces of evil, the principalities and powers, as we are told in Ephesians, chapter 6.  Our defense is in wearing “the whole armor of God:” belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit.  Carry the Gospel of Peace.

The Quakers have language for this – it is called “The Lamb’s War”.  This seems like a paradox.  An innocent lamb at war?  But our weapons are peace, forgiveness, and hope, which can overcome hate, violence, and fear.

James Nayler, George Fox, and early Quakers taught that

The Lamb’s war is an eschatological vision in which all obedient followers of Christ the King, who is at once the suffering and all-conquering Lamb, enlist in a total and unending struggle against evil in all of its forms in this present world until the Lamb and his army win victory, and history comes to an end with the triumph of good over evil and the coming of God to dwell with his people.       T. Canby Jones

The Lamb’s War begins with an inner transformation of our being, in which sin loses power over us and the kingdom of God is realized within.  Then the new life must be lived outwardly as we follow the leading of Christ.  For early Quakers, it meant not removing their hats, refusing to swear oaths, inventing fair trade prices, fair treatment for the insane, just treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, speaking truth to power.

None of this is about  physical  punishment and killing or physical force – it is all about the victory of faith and following the mind of Christ.  The universal mission of the Lamb’s War is to bring everyone to an inward knowledge of Christ and his power.  The victory of the Lamb will bring in the reign of virtue, love and peace.  It is belief in this final victory that allowed early Quakers to suffer imprisonment and persecution.  They believed, and we believe today, that God’s kingdom is already coming into being and we are privileged to be a part of it.  What might it mean for us to fight in the Lamb’s War – to live out love for our enemies.  What if we lived in such a way that the vulnerable among us had no need to fear?  Imagine our world if every Christian did what Jesus told his disciples to do.

 

I’ve always had trouble with the idea of original sin – I used to think that Pride was the original sin — that Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God what would be good for them to eat and they chose not to obey God – they could have eaten of any tree in the garden, except one tree they were not to eat from.  And they decided to eat from it – they decided to disobey God, that was the wrong choice.

But that forbidden tree was “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” , and if they do not yet know the difference between good and evil, then how could they make a “wrong” choice.  – because if they had not yet eaten of that tree, they would not yet have known that it was “wrong” or “evil” for them to disobey God.  How can the choice of what to eat be “wrong” if they do not yet have the knowledge of good and evil.

If a cat kills and eats a bird, we may think that is wrong, but we don’t consider that the cat knew the difference between right and wrong and that it deliberately made a wrong choice.  The cat has not eaten of the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil – we do not think of animals as being motivated by the concepts of right and wrong.

If the original sin was to choose wrong over right, it must come AFTER eating of the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”.  We would need to understand that what we contemplated doing was “wrong”.

So I think that what we traditionally call “the Fall” is actually a fall UPWARD – of reaching the point in our development when we understand the difference between right and wrong   We become capable of making moral choices.  And that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image – to be able to choose between right and wrong.

I also think the development of our species as a whole might be something akin to the development of an individual human.  Babies are not born with a sense of “right” or “wrong” – or the ability to choose between them.  They may feel hungry, tired, bored, insecure, hot, cold, and so forth, and they know when they are satisfied with their surroundings, but we do not hold them morally responsible for their behavior.  That comes later and they grow into the knowledge of right and wrong as they learn there are other people in the world.  We learn what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves when we understand that we are a self with definite ideas about how we want to be treated.

So if I was pressed to say what the “original sin” of human beings is, I think I would have to say VIOLENCE.   We have murder committed in the very first family, and it goes on from there.  We have Abraham throwing out his first son Ishmael and his mother because Sarah is jealous.  We have Abraham later trying to kill his second son Isaac as an offering to God.   We have Joseph’s brothers planning to kill him, and later settling for throwing him in a pit.  We have battle after battle described in the books of Joshua and Judges.  We have David sending the husband of the woman he commits adultery with to the front lines of the battle to be killed – we have one of David’s sons raping his sister, we have people put into fiery furnaces and lion’s dens.  And so it goes on, century after century, right up through our own history of slaughtering Native Americans, lynchings, to the  present day, when we see acts of violence on the large scale with our wars, and on a smaller scale with domestic violence and individual acts of terrorism, not to mention abuse of children and trafficking of human beings as sex slaves.  Yes, it seems to me that if there is something we seem to have an innate capacity for, it is violence.

There is a study done in the 1960’s which showed that more evangelical Christians than non-Christians supported the war in Vietnam and opposed Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement for women’s equality.  That is stunning.  Can that be true?  Evangelical Christians worship the Jesus who asks up to love our enemies, accept all people with loving respect, and honor women as much as men.

If George Fox lived among us today, he would be as thoroughly disgusted with the unchristlike Christianity as he was in the 1600’s.  He said that Jesus can speak to our condition.  And so he listened to Jesus.  He  learned that Jesus actually did tell his disciples to renounce the sword.  Jesus did tell us to love everyone and treat them respectfully.  And early Friends learned that women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and making prisons less horrible really were part of Jesus’ will.

I had three cousins who went to war in the 1960’s.  I honor them for doing what they thought they should for their country, often sacrificing a great deal.  They deserve to be recognized as heroes.  But I also understand that our enemies felt they were serving God.  Almost everyone believers that “my” country is on God’s side and the enemy is on Satan’s.  (In the middle east, the United States is called “the great Satan”.)

Jesus teaches us a message of peace, forgiveness and love.  Interestingly, the Bible uses war imagery because we ARE involved in a war, but it is a spiritual war – against the forces of evil, the principalities and powers, as we are told in Ephesians, chapter 6.  Our defense is in wearing “the whole armor of God:” belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit.  Carry the Gospel of Peace.

The Quakers have language for this – it is called “The Lamb’s War”.  This seems like a paradox.  An innocent lamb at war?  But our weapons are peace, forgiveness, and hope, which can overcome hate, violence, and fear.

James Nayler, George Fox, and early Quakers taught that

The Lamb’s war is an eschatological vision in which all obedient followers of Christ the King, who is at once the suffering and all-conquering Lamb, enlist in a total and unending struggle against evil in all of its forms in this present world until the Lamb and his army win victory, and history comes to an end with the triumph of good over evil and the coming of God to dwell with his people.       T. Canby Jones

The Lamb’s War begins with an inner transformation of our being, in which sin loses power over us and the kingdom of God is realized within.  Then the new life must be lived outwardly as we follow the leading of Christ.  For early Quakers, it meant not removing their hats, refusing to swear oaths, inventing fair trade prices, fair treatment for the insane, just treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, speaking truth to power.

None of this is about  physical  punishment and killing or physical force – it is all about the victory of faith and following the mind of Christ.  The universal mission of the Lamb’s War is to bring everyone to an inward knowledge of Christ and his power.  The victory of the Lamb will bring in the reign of virtue, love and peace.  It is belief in this final victory that allowed early Quakers to suffer imprisonment and persecution.  They believed, and we believe today, that God’s kingdom is already coming into being and we are privileged to be a part of it.  What might it mean for us to fight in the Lamb’s War – to live out love for our enemies.  What if we lived in such a way that the vulnerable among us had no need to fear?  Imagine our world if every Christian did what Jesus told his disciples to do.

 

I’ve always had trouble with the idea of original sin – I used to think that Pride was the original sin — that Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God what would be good for them to eat and they chose not to obey God – they could have eaten of any tree in the garden, except one tree they were not to eat from.  And they decided to eat from it – they decided to disobey God, that was the wrong choice.

But that forbidden tree was “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” , and if they do not yet know the difference between good and evil, then how could they make a “wrong” choice.  – because if they had not yet eaten of that tree, they would not yet have known that it was “wrong” or “evil” for them to disobey God.  How can the choice of what to eat be “wrong” if they do not yet have the knowledge of good and evil.

If a cat kills and eats a bird, we may think that is wrong, but we don’t consider that the cat knew the difference between right and wrong and that it deliberately made a wrong choice.  The cat has not eaten of the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil – we do not think of animals as being motivated by the concepts of right and wrong.

If the original sin was to choose wrong over right, it must come AFTER eating of the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”.  We would need to understand that what we contemplated doing was “wrong”.

So I think that what we traditionally call “the Fall” is actually a fall UPWARD – of reaching the point in our development when we understand the difference between right and wrong   We become capable of making moral choices.  And that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image – to be able to choose between right and wrong.

I also think the development of our species as a whole might be something akin to the development of an individual human.  Babies are not born with a sense of “right” or “wrong” – or the ability to choose between them.  They may feel hungry, tired, bored, insecure, hot, cold, and so forth, and they know when they are satisfied with their surroundings, but we do not hold them morally responsible for their behavior.  That comes later and they grow into the knowledge of right and wrong as they learn there are other people in the world.  We learn what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves when we understand that we are a self with definite ideas about how we want to be treated.

So if I was pressed to say what the “original sin” of human beings is, I think I would have to say VIOLENCE.   We have murder committed in the very first family, and it goes on from there.  We have Abraham throwing out his first son Ishmael and his mother because Sarah is jealous.  We have Abraham later trying to kill his second son Isaac as an offering to God.   We have Joseph’s brothers planning to kill him, and later settling for throwing him in a pit.  We have battle after battle described in the books of Joshua and Judges.  We have David sending the husband of the woman he commits adultery with to the front lines of the battle to be killed – we have one of David’s sons raping his sister, we have people put into fiery furnaces and lion’s dens.  And so it goes on, century after century, right up through our own history of slaughtering Native Americans, lynchings, to the  present day, when we see acts of violence on the large scale with our wars, and on a smaller scale with domestic violence and individual acts of terrorism, not to mention abuse of children and trafficking of human beings as sex slaves.  Yes, it seems to me that if there is something we seem to have an innate capacity for, it is violence.

There is a study done in the 1960’s which showed that more evangelical Christians than non-Christians supported the war in Vietnam and opposed Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement for women’s equality.  That is stunning.  Can that be true?  Evangelical Christians worship the Jesus who asks up to love our enemies, accept all people with loving respect, and honor women as much as men.

If George Fox lived among us today, he would be as thoroughly disgusted with the unchristlike Christianity as he was in the 1600’s.  He said that Jesus can speak to our condition.  And so he listened to Jesus.  He  learned that Jesus actually did tell his disciples to renounce the sword.  Jesus did tell us to love everyone and treat them respectfully.  And early Friends learned that women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and making prisons less horrible really were part of Jesus’ will.

I had three cousins who went to war in the 1960’s.  I honor them for doing what they thought they should for their country, often sacrificing a great deal.  They deserve to be recognized as heroes.  But I also understand that our enemies felt they were serving God.  Almost everyone believers that “my” country is on God’s side and the enemy is on Satan’s.  (In the middle east, the United States is called “the great Satan”.)

Jesus teaches us a message of peace, forgiveness and love.  Interestingly, the Bible uses war imagery because we ARE involved in a war, but it is a spiritual war – against the forces of evil, the principalities and powers, as we are told in Ephesians, chapter 6.  Our defense is in wearing “the whole armor of God:” belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit.  Carry the Gospel of Peace.

The Quakers have language for this – it is called “The Lamb’s War”.  This seems like a paradox.  An innocent lamb at war?  But our weapons are peace, forgiveness, and hope, which can overcome hate, violence, and fear.

James Nayler, George Fox, and early Quakers taught that

The Lamb’s war is an eschatological vision in which all obedient followers of Christ the King, who is at once the suffering and all-conquering Lamb, enlist in a total and unending struggle against evil in all of its forms in this present world until the Lamb and his army win victory, and history comes to an end with the triumph of good over evil and the coming of God to dwell with his people.       T. Canby Jones

The Lamb’s War begins with an inner transformation of our being, in which sin loses power over us and the kingdom of God is realized within.  Then the new life must be lived outwardly as we follow the leading of Christ.  For early Quakers, it meant not removing their hats, refusing to swear oaths, inventing fair trade prices, fair treatment for the insane, just treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, speaking truth to power.

None of this is about  physical  punishment and killing or physical force – it is all about the victory of faith and following the mind of Christ.  The universal mission of the Lamb’s War is to bring everyone to an inward knowledge of Christ and his power.  The victory of the Lamb will bring in the reign of virtue, love and peace.  It is belief in this final victory that allowed early Quakers to suffer imprisonment and persecution.  They believed, and we believe today, that God’s kingdom is already coming into being and we are privileged to be a part of it.  What might it mean for us to fight in the Lamb’s War – to live out love for our enemies.  What if we lived in such a way that the vulnerable among us had no need to fear?  Imagine our world if every Christian did what Jesus told his disciples to do.

 

I’ve always had trouble with the idea of original sin – I used to think that Pride was the original sin — that Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God what would be good for them to eat and they chose not to obey God – they could have eaten of any tree in the garden, except one tree they were not to eat from.  And they decided to eat from it – they decided to disobey God, that was the wrong choice.

But that forbidden tree was “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” , and if they do not yet know the difference between good and evil, then how could they make a “wrong” choice.  – because if they had not yet eaten of that tree, they would not yet have known that it was “wrong” or “evil” for them to disobey God.  How can the choice of what to eat be “wrong” if they do not yet have the knowledge of good and evil.

If a cat kills and eats a bird, we may think that is wrong, but we don’t consider that the cat knew the difference between right and wrong and that it deliberately made a wrong choice.  The cat has not eaten of the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil – we do not think of animals as being motivated by the concepts of right and wrong.

If the original sin was to choose wrong over right, it must come AFTER eating of the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”.  We would need to understand that what we contemplated doing was “wrong”.

So I think that what we traditionally call “the Fall” is actually a fall UPWARD – of reaching the point in our development when we understand the difference between right and wrong   We become capable of making moral choices.  And that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image – to be able to choose between right and wrong.

I also think the development of our species as a whole might be something akin to the development of an individual human.  Babies are not born with a sense of “right” or “wrong” – or the ability to choose between them.  They may feel hungry, tired, bored, insecure, hot, cold, and so forth, and they know when they are satisfied with their surroundings, but we do not hold them morally responsible for their behavior.  That comes later and they grow into the knowledge of right and wrong as they learn there are other people in the world.  We learn what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves when we understand that we are a self with definite ideas about how we want to be treated.

So if I was pressed to say what the “original sin” of human beings is, I think I would have to say VIOLENCE.   We have murder committed in the very first family, and it goes on from there.  We have Abraham throwing out his first son Ishmael and his mother because Sarah is jealous.  We have Abraham later trying to kill his second son Isaac as an offering to God.   We have Joseph’s brothers planning to kill him, and later settling for throwing him in a pit.  We have battle after battle described in the books of Joshua and Judges.  We have David sending the husband of the woman he commits adultery with to the front lines of the battle to be killed – we have one of David’s sons raping his sister, we have people put into fiery furnaces and lion’s dens.  And so it goes on, century after century, right up through our own history of slaughtering Native Americans, lynchings, to the  present day, when we see acts of violence on the large scale with our wars, and on a smaller scale with domestic violence and individual acts of terrorism, not to mention abuse of children and trafficking of human beings as sex slaves.  Yes, it seems to me that if there is something we seem to have an innate capacity for, it is violence.

There is a study done in the 1960’s which showed that more evangelical Christians than non-Christians supported the war in Vietnam and opposed Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement for women’s equality.  That is stunning.  Can that be true?  Evangelical Christians worship the Jesus who asks up to love our enemies, accept all people with loving respect, and honor women as much as men.

If George Fox lived among us today, he would be as thoroughly disgusted with the unchristlike Christianity as he was in the 1600’s.  He said that Jesus can speak to our condition.  And so he listened to Jesus.  He  learned that Jesus actually did tell his disciples to renounce the sword.  Jesus did tell us to love everyone and treat them respectfully.  And early Friends learned that women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and making prisons less horrible really were part of Jesus’ will.

I had three cousins who went to war in the 1960’s.  I honor them for doing what they thought they should for their country, often sacrificing a great deal.  They deserve to be recognized as heroes.  But I also understand that our enemies felt they were serving God.  Almost everyone believers that “my” country is on God’s side and the enemy is on Satan’s.  (In the middle east, the United States is called “the great Satan”.)

Jesus teaches us a message of peace, forgiveness and love.  Interestingly, the Bible uses war imagery because we ARE involved in a war, but it is a spiritual war – against the forces of evil, the principalities and powers, as we are told in Ephesians, chapter 6.  Our defense is in wearing “the whole armor of God:” belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit.  Carry the Gospel of Peace.

The Quakers have language for this – it is called “The Lamb’s War”.  This seems like a paradox.  An innocent lamb at war?  But our weapons are peace, forgiveness, and hope, which can overcome hate, violence, and fear.

James Nayler, George Fox, and early Quakers taught that

The Lamb’s war is an eschatological vision in which all obedient followers of Christ the King, who is at once the suffering and all-conquering Lamb, enlist in a total and unending struggle against evil in all of its forms in this present world until the Lamb and his army win victory, and history comes to an end with the triumph of good over evil and the coming of God to dwell with his people.       T. Canby Jones

The Lamb’s War begins with an inner transformation of our being, in which sin loses power over us and the kingdom of God is realized within.  Then the new life must be lived outwardly as we follow the leading of Christ.  For early Quakers, it meant not removing their hats, refusing to swear oaths, inventing fair trade prices, fair treatment for the insane, just treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, speaking truth to power.

None of this is about  physical  punishment and killing or physical force – it is all about the victory of faith and following the mind of Christ.  The universal mission of the Lamb’s War is to bring everyone to an inward knowledge of Christ and his power.  The victory of the Lamb will bring in the reign of virtue, love and peace.  It is belief in this final victory that allowed early Quakers to suffer imprisonment and persecution.  They believed, and we believe today, that God’s kingdom is already coming into being and we are privileged to be a part of it.  What might it mean for us to fight in the Lamb’s War – to live out love for our enemies.  What if we lived in such a way that the vulnerable among us had no need to fear?  Imagine our world if every Christian did what Jesus told his disciples to do.

This message was delivered to Spokane Friends on 12 November 2017

Posted in Pastor's Page

Who is Philemon? by Mary Anne Vigil

Who is Philemon?        

I read this text imaginatively, putting myself in their shoes. I researched the cultural, political and religious scenes of the time. I came across more than I expected. Philemon is not just a simple letter to a friend asking forgiveness for a slave, it goes much deeper than that. It took a tremendous amount of courage for these 3 men to survive in an age of persecution for loving the Lord Jesus.

The three main people in the letter:

Paul: In 60AD Paul is in Rome under house arrest. It appears that he can have visitors. Rome had reached the extremes of moral corruption and spiritual tranny. It had over 1 million people and no less than 420 temples dedicated to their superstitious idolatry. Nero was the emperor at this time. Nero led one of the most barbaric pogroms of history. He was a sinister man who was given credit for the beheading of Paul.

Onesimus: A slave. Only the citizen class was considered human. Slaves were merely property, taken for granted. They were not allowed personhood or a legal personality. Over one third of the population in Rome were slaves. Usually punished harshly but not put to death as they were bought and paid for, valuable. Some were even branded with hot irons if they tried to run away. Anyone harboring a runaway slave would have faced horrible penalties. Death. Onesimus was converted by Paul.

Philemon: A close friend of Paul’s. The letter he received was written by Paul himself, an unusual thing for him to do, as he had friends who would write down his words for him. It was written with grace, tact and affection. Straight forward, informal and personal, it suggests a close friendship between the two men. It’s a wonderful example of Christian love as Paul pleads Onesimus’ case, as if Paul has done wrong.

In the Christian community there was a growing sentiment to common humanity.  Cruelty was condemned. Slavery was becoming meaningless. Paul did not pressure owners to free their slaves as slavery was already becoming a thing of the past.

While Paul was in Rome, Philemon and Onesimus were in Turkey. Onesimus, who was just a boy/teenager, apparently steals from Philemon and is on the run, ending up in Rome. As a slave he had nothing, no donkey to ride, no food or money. Most likely he was on foot; he may have stowed away on a boat to get across the Mediterranean Sea. Alone, broke and a runaway, he probably would have changed his name.  Onesimus was a common slave name. When he reached Rome, he sought out Paul looking for help, a runaway slave in the home of a Roman prisoner, under constant guard. Both men could have been executed right then. God’s hand was evident.

Philemon was presumably a fair man. He was very well to do, a nobleman. He was a convert of Paul’s. His home became a church for other Christians. He traveled to other areas starting new home churches. The bible gives no hint that Philemon forgave Onesimus or sent Onesimus back to Paul.  Now let us hear the letter Paul wrote Philemon:

Philemon

New International Version (NIV)

 

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus, our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus  Christ.  I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.   I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.  Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do,  yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—  10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.   11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.  15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.

19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Summary: The forgiveness of brothers in Christ, regardless of their station in life.                         (followed by a very interesting discussion among Friends present)

 

Message delivered by Mary Anne Vigil at Spokane Friends on 8 October 2017

Posted in Pastor's Page

From Clay Tablets to Social Media

The quest for information about events within and surrounding one’s community has been part of humanities history.  Packaged within a wider desire for knowledge about the world that surrounds us is the desire for power on one hand and survival on the other, meaning basic food and shelter and the competition between parties who will raid one another’s tribes, taking what is needed to survive.  This will require Ogg to knock Smooog on the noggin to be on top of the heap to supply the meat.  Simply stated it goes like this; What’s mine? What can be taken from me?  What do I need to protect?

As civilization grew and such behavior became unacceptable, the need for certain expectations limiting bad behavior and learning to respect civilized boundaries, gave us the Rule of Law as we understand it today. Examples include the Rule of Hammurabi who ruled from 1792 BC to 1750 BC, his influence outliving him, and Mosaic Law that we are familiar with today.

Competition remained, with or without the boundaries of law and order.  Tribal and political disagreement often resulted in conflict.  Add to this, natural disaster, often resulting in famine, information was not widely known unless you were Smoog or his kin and such things happened in your valley or settlement.  Move forward a few millennia and the advancement of technology, including the Industrial Revolution, changed how wide spread and how quickly information could be acquired. The news grew legs.

The late 19th and early 20th century and the growing Electronic Age brought us to where we are now in the 21st century. We have moved from news, politics, and other localized information in the agrarian and manufacturing age to being surrounded by information today.

It intrudes moment by moment and with it comes fun, fear, frustration, aw and anxiety.  Sadly, there are also outburst of desperation, resulting in harm to others. Such often happens when people feel out of control, hopeless, un-heard, frightened of the uncertainty surrounding them, bringing the potential to lash out, locked and loaded, be it nation upon nation or person upon person.  We seek ways to remedy this with many potential solutions and ideas from many viewpoints but often with limited success.  We must not give up, yet with so many lenses and filters guiding so many opinions, the whirlpool spins faster and faster.

Humanity has tried many methods to maintain civility from religious and philosophical views to unbridled authoritarianism.  We find ourselves relying on a single philosophy or a religious viewpoint, often of human origin with a form of godliness but lacking any substance thereof, with punitive and often confusing doctrines, dogmas, and rules. This has not proven all that helpful.  Reference the Crusades or the Inquisition.

Politics, often merely a game where a toss of the dice to change the rules in mid -play, offers more confusion through lack of consistent leadership resulting in deepening polarization.  Could this be what happens when we rely on others to solve our problems? After all, humankind needs stability. When things fall apart it’s hard not to believe we are the victims.

Please do not think I devalue our deeply held faith in the Living Christ, nor our nations Rule of Law.  I am simply synthesizing my somewhat limited understanding, un-sophisticated as it may be, and trying to make sense of the white noise.

Could it be that the stability we long for, may begin within ourselves through God’s leading and the experience of our shared faith in Christ?  It is my hope for our meeting that we not give place to the outward polarization and division that has defined our world, in recent times in particular. I believe we desire a safe place where diverse followers of Christ’s teachings, showing love to one another, laying down the sword of needing to be “right” and listening, learning to hear each other, without judgement is what we long for.

St Paul is recorded as writing in  Php 2:12 and 13  “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” What I personally receive from this passage is Unity does not require loss of individuality.

True as it was nearly 400 years ago, it is still true today through George Fox’s words; “that Christ was come to teach people Himself, by His power and Spirit in their hearts, and to bring people off from all the world’s ways and teachers, to His own free teaching, who had bought them, and was the Savior of all them that believed in Him.”  We need open hearts, not gate keepers. *1

For me, finding Spokane Friends Church in 1992 helped my spiritual growth along more than any other worshiping community I had been engaged in up to that point. This meeting has had an impact in many areas of my faith and I began to welcome challenges rather than shrink from them, to recognize and stop when I judge others and to not be afraid of my world but trust God. I learned the difference between fear and caution, and I enjoyed reaching out and trying new experiences, confident that if I am still uncomfortable in some way I can quietly withdraw for a while, seeking a firmer foundation, before I engage again. I also learned I can assuage some of this stress with a sense of humor, setting myself at ease and hopefully other as well.  I am still growing in that way.  It is a life-long process.

 

This brings me to ask this question; “What informs us?

Anxiety, fear, stress, worry, and conflict are the new everyday experience now.  It can be witnessed in many ways; social media is up there with the ever-present downward glance, thumbs flipping, fingers zing-taping and swooshing.  If there were an app for lips, they would be fully engaged.  Let us not allow walking, eating, driving, or applying makeup to distract us from those vital Friend updates.

Even the competitive news media is available on tiny screens, or that new “60” wide screen” to better see the action in our world.  Most news outlets are seeking ever larger market share through various methods of competition. Editorializing through sensationalism and “the teaser” keeps us glued to our devices and screens so we must view the “rest of the story” in the next half hour segment or at the 11:00 pod-broad- cast, but we must first view all the dinnertime medical miracles and magic pill adds three times so we don’t forget.

This “But Wait, There’s More” mentality slices and dices our sense of security and well-being, even our faith in humanity, and may influence our spirituality. Is this addiction to Likes, Un-likes and Unfriended suffering, trauma and over marketed fear keeping us glued to our devices at the cost of being in face to face community?

As I child I remember adults having discussions about troubling event of our world in the 50s and 60s.  But if those aunties and uncles could spend a day or evening with us now, somehow gliding past the embarrassment, and jaw – drop shock and aw of what is seen today and is our normal viewing habit, they very well may long for those “good ole days” and with a nervous chuckle, excuse themselves abruptly and transport back to the safety Walter Cronkite and simpler days, happy just to Leave it to Beaver.

This has not gone un-noticed by behavioral health professionals. Pundits on TV and radio, (thank you NPR, for less shouting), even friends sitting at a common table or around a camp fire, are asking if all this stuff is healthy. Truly, much of the “stuff” isn’t but Dialog is.

What may dialog look like?

1 Be Informed but chose your sources.  Think of our youth and their world view!

Being informed and balanced is important.  For a good examination on how current trends are affecting the iGen or teenage population see Jean M Tweng’s article in The Augusts Atlantic Monthly; HAVE SMART PHONES DESTROYED A GENERATION suggesting;

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/ *2

This article is not so much about current world events as it is about what Jean Tweng calls the iGen and what they are not “plugged into” as much as what they are “plugged into” and how this may reflect on their views of the world they live in later.  As this generation grows into adulthood, the habits that are formed now will to some degree inform their view of events they will encounter later.

Getting back to the wider screen that includes all generations, thoughtful questions for consideration may be “what do I hear or see daily that informs me?  Is it truthful?  Does it promote critical thinking?  How do I feel when I watch or listen or participate per my usual habits?  How do I feel when I am done?”  This is as important for the iGen as it is for us.

 

2 Set some ground truths to rely on.

I believe the best way to seek understanding and balance in our response to our culture is to stop Judging others before we learn what life looks like through their experiences.  Let’s create safe and healthy environments for people to be who they are. Let’s learn to laugh and always pray for one another.

3 Learn to not only listen but to truly hear.

It begins to make sense when we can hear the insight and experiences of others and learning what has worked for them and exploring what may work personally or in a worshiping community and knowing a faith community has each-others backs through prayer and support. People of my age may not experience isolation in the same way the iGen may but it is still worthy of consideration and conversation. This is what it means to be fully engaged.

4 Are we doing this now and is there support and encouragement that is needed to continue this mission?

I believe we at Spokane Friends are and will continue to do so. The more we practice open affirming and honest dialog the healthier we become.

Individual results may vary.  Over the years I have known people who simply will not follow current events through the news on TV or the radio and cringe if current affairs are mentioned.  For them it’s taboo.  It’s better to avoid than engage.  Yet I believe what is happening in our time is difficult to ignore and impossible to deny. Events happen and I cannot express enough the need to be informed and consider this in the light of the Living Christs example and perhaps provide ways to examine them without falling into the way of our culture, but rather seeking a way of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves and as Christ loves us so we may be a Light within our neighborhood and community.

This message was given to Spokane Friends by Robert L Wiese on 20 August 2017

Acknowledgements

*1  http://www.strecorsoc.org/gfox/ch06.html

*2  https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/

 

Posted in Pastor's Page

The City of God

I stopped watching news on television about a decade ago; actually it was probably about the time we were being told that we had to go to war against Iraq because Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

This was because it seemed to me like such a disconnect between the chit-chat of our local news programs as they introduced or concluded some cute or unusual story and the sudden serious faces when reporting some local or national tragedy of the worst kind.  And the national news was worse, because there was always some “breaking” news story and the message was usually “be afraid” or “be very afraid”, or “be very, very afraid”.

I’m sure we are all aware that we become most “patriotic” when something really bad happens.  We hear lots of talk about how we must “stand together” to face some kind of disaster or potential disaster.  As a people, we are much easier to control when we are frightened.   And usually the problems are so big, and so far removed from the sphere of our day-to-day life that there is nothing we can personally do to solve the problems.  This leads to a great sense of frustration, or . . . for me, anger.

I don’t like being angry; it’s as if my stomach is tied in knots, and if anyone tries to talk about the situation causing all the fear and anxiety, I was quite capable of going off into a rant.  I’m not aware that these rants changed anyone else’s mind about anything at all, and after I cooled down, I had to apologize and hope I still had some friends left.  I do get a daily newspaper, so I know what is going on, but I don’t have to hear the shrill voices and what seems to me sometimes like the feeding frenzy of a bunch of sharks whenever anyone says something stupid. And the more controversial it is, the better for the news media, who can gets days and days worth of self-righteous indignation out of stupidity or lying and they always give the worst possible interpretation of any speech or event.

That’s when the idea of the city of God is a comfort to me.  It’s a concept that originated with St. Augustine, a fourth-century Christian bishop who wrote a book called The Two Cities.  Rome had just fallen to the Vandals, which eventually led to the collapse of the Roman Empire.   The Christians were blamed.  After all, Rome was called the  “eternal city”, which could never fall, but the  Christian God had failed to protect Rome, as he should have done, since Constantine had declared him to be the one true God.  So Augustine attempted to defend the Christians against this charge.

His argument was very similar to what we would now call the separation of church and state. He said that the church and the state both tried to make a good society and were visible to all.  But there were also two invisible cities, the city of the secular world and the city of God.  But they were not in two different locations.  Rather, the city of God resided within the city of the world, sort of like a secret society, and its purpose was the proper sharing of those things necessary for life, just as God freely distributes air, water, and light. Humankind must therefore pursue the City of Heaven to maintain a proper sense of order, which in turn leads to true peace.   This city of God is what today we would call the Kingdom of God, which is present among those who are followers of Jesus and seekers of God’s heart.

There were two psalms my Mother used to quote to me when the politics of my childhood days  threatened the peace of God’s Kingdom.  One was “Fret not because of evildoers” and the other was “Put not your trust in princes”.  So as an adult, I searched out which Psalms those were, and I brought them to you this morning.  I think they contain very good advice for those of us who are citizens of the City of God, who are working “underground”, as it were, to help the Kingdoms of this earth become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ, as that Hallelujah Chorus tells us.  We are here to live out the peace of God’s Kingdom.  That is our mission and that is where our attentions and energies should be concentrated.

The first is Psalm 37, and I’ll read part of it to you.  The second is Psalm 146, and I’ll read part of it also.  I’d like to think of these as our instructions to help us preserve our mental sanity when things get bad.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” That’s us.  We refuse to give in to the mindset of fear that some of our leaders are trying to instill in us.

Ready for your instructions?

Psalm 146  English Standard Version (ESV)

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
7  who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Praise the Lord!

 

Psalm 37     English Standard Version (ESV)

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.[b]
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.. . .

10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

. . .23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he stumble, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds them with his hand.  . . .

27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.   . . .

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

So let’s keep reminding ourselves which city we live in.  The city of the world is always out there trying to get our attention  – Hey, hey, look over here, look what’s going on over here. . . .

Remember that worry and fear are unproductive and numbing – what good does our fear and anger do?  They do not solve the problems.

So let us work on the problems we can solve, the contributions that DO make a difference.  Here are some things we can do that align us with the City of God.  I hope you will think of other things and share them with us in the time that follows:

Plan a surprise for someone you love – bake a pie, pick a flower, make a small gift, find something at the thrift shop – when you do it, tell them you love them and thank God for them being present in your life.

That person who talks on and on – find a free moment and give them a call, with nothing in mind but to listen. . And listen . . and listen.

Smile at people in the grocery store or the office building, especially someone wearing a scarf that covers their hair, or has a different skin color than yours.  Say good morning to a perfect stranger on the street.

Spend some time outdoors in a park or your own backyard, and marvel at the beauty of nature

Say five hopeful optimistic or encouraging things for each pessimistic or discouraging thing you say,

Write a note to a family member, say I was thinking about you today and hope you are OK and finding small things in life to enjoy.

I’ll stop talking now, and maybe you will share with us what you do – or say some encouraging words to all of us

DO NOT BE AFRAID == Jesus

This message was delivered to Spokane Friends by Lois Kieffaber during 2017

 

 

 

Posted in Pastor's Page, Uncategorized

Eighteenth Century Quaker Testimonies

Whenever Randy visits England, he visits as many second-hand bookstores as he can find in search of early Quaker literature.  On one such trip he found a small book whose cover was so worn the title was not visible.  The title page was also missing, so the only information we have is that it was published in “London, the 8th of the Fifth Month 1774” and the author’s initials “T. W.” at the end of the Preface.  It appears to be the eighth volume of Memorials to persons who had “finished their course well” in the hopes that “others might be excited and encouraged to follow them as they followed Christ.”  Randy picked out five such testimonies to share with us.  Although some “weighty Quakers” are included in this volume (e.g., John Woolman), Randy chose the Memorials of more ordinary Quakers, such as those we might find in our own Meetings today.

[The transcript belows follows the book’s custom of of capitalizing nouns and retains the old spellings, grammar, abbreviations, and punctuation therein, in hopes of sharing some of the charm of the original.]

John Butcher, of the City of London, was born of religious Parents in the Seventh Month 1666, about two Weeks after the dreadful Conflagration; his Father lived to a great Age, dying about his eighty-eighth Year, and his Mother about her sixty-eighth Year; both leaving a sweet Memorial behind them.

He, the said John, was by them religiously educated in the Way of Truth, and through the Grace of God, early receiving it in the Love thereof, it pleased the Lord to endue him with a Degree of the Gospel Ministry, and to open his Mouth about the fifteenth Year of his Age, in a publick Testimony to the true Light Christ Jesus, not only in his outward, but also and more especially, in his inward Appearance by his Grace and Holy Spirit; and he gradually grew therein, and became an able Minister, not of the Letter, but of the Spirit.

He travelled into diverse Parts of this Nation, being well accepted therein, laboring for the Prosperity of Truth, a Love of Peace, Unity and  Concord; and being endued with a large Portion of Wisdom and Understanding in the Things of God, was enabled to speak to the States and Conditions of many.  He was a Peace-maker, endeavouring to heal Breaches and reconcile Differences among Brethren.

He retained unfeigned Love to his Brethren to the End of his Days, altho’ afflicted with great Weakness for some Time before his Death, which impaired his Memory; yet that True Love continued in him, was evident by his cheerful Countenance, friendly and courteous Deportment.  In a Visit of some Friends about a Year before his Decease, he expressed himself very sensibly, with respect to the Lord’s tender Dealings with him all along, and the Hope he had of Happiness through Christ.

George Whitehead and Gilbert Molleson, visiting him, he expressed his kind Acceptance thereof, and took it as a Token of the Love and Mercy of God to him; and signify’d the Lord’s tender Dealing with him, and helping him since he visited him in his young Years, and that the Lord was now with him; and after remembering his dear Love to Friends, as apprehensive his End drew near, he said, His Way was bright and clear before him, and that he was truly resigned to the Will of the Lord.

He died at Palmer’s Green near Edmondton, in Middlefox, the 16th of the Ninth Month 1721, and was buried on the 21st of the same in Friends Burial-ground near Bunhill-fields, after a Meeting at the Bull and Mouth Meeting-house, attended by a numerous Company of Friends and friendly People.  Aged about fifty-five Years.

 

Alice Hall, Wife of Isaac Hall, of Little Broughton in Cumberland, was born the 30th of the Eleventh Month 1708, at Blackhouse in Allendale in Northumberland, and Daughter of John and Isabella Fetherstone, who being religious Friends, carefully educated their Children in the Principles of Truth; she was early favoured with divine Visitations, and being obedient thereto, grew in religious Experience to a good Degree of Stability and Settlement therein; and having received a Gift in the Ministry, through an humble Attention to the Leading of the good Shepherd, she became skilful and serviceable in the Church, and freely gave up to that Service as she found her Mind engaged and drawn thereto.

In her unmarried State she was concerned to visit Friends twice in Ireland, most Parts of England, Wales and Scotland; was both a good Example in private Life, and in her publick Ministry, abiding under the seasoning Virtue, which rendred her Conversation edifying and agreeable.  After her Marriage, which was in the Year 1743, she remained zealous for the Cause of Truth, and was often concerned to travel in the Service thereof, visiting several Parts of her native Land, and Ireland a third Time.

In the Year 1760 she found an Engagement to visit the Churches in America, which proved a very close Trial, in parting from her Husband and Children; but after recommending them to the Protection of that Hand which is for ever sufficient, she proceeded on her Voyage, and landed in America in the Tenth Month 1761, and diligently set about her Services, visiting the Provinces generally, altho’ weak in Body, in Company of a Friend of Pennsylvania, named Ann Newland; and her Labours of Love through the different Provinces were to the general Satisfaction of Friends, as appears by divers Certificates transmitted from thence.

She was also enabled to visit many meetings in the Provinces of Pennsylvania and the Jerseys, altho’ under great bodily Weakness and great Exercise of Spirit; yet her meek, lowly and innocent Deportment, together with her lively and edifying Ministry, made lasting Impressions on many Minds, and rendred her Company very acceptable.

In the Course of her Visit, she was an Example of great Patience and Humility, steady in Attention to her own Business, and prudent in Conversation, discharging her Duty faithfully in her weighty Undertaking.

A little before she was confined by Illness, she expressed to some Friends after the last publick Meeting she was able to attend, which was at Chester in New Jersey, That she was clear; and altho’ the Yearly-meeting at Philadelphia was then to be held in a few Days, she said, She could not see she should be at it.

She got to her Lodging at Isaac Zane’s in Philadelphia, the 22 of the Ninth Month 1762, and her Distemper increasing, not withstanding all the tender Care Affection could dictate, she expired the 5th of the Tenth Month following.  She endured her last Illness, which was very sharp, without any Signs of murmuring, but in Lamb-like Patience expressed an entire Resignation in the divine Will, whether to live or die.

Her Body was carried to one of the Meeting-houses in Philadelphia, and after a large and solemn Meeting was decently interred in Friends Burial ground in that City, the 8th of the Tenth Month 1762.

 

Sarah Marsden, Wife of Caleb Marsden, of Highflatts, within the Compass of Pontefract Monthly-meeting, was born in the Year 1706, and being favoured with a religious Education, and the Visitations of Truth in her young Years, by yielding Obedience thereto she become a sober, grave, discreet young Woman, a diligent Attender of Meetings, and honestly labouring to improve her Time therein.

About the Year 1749, it pleased the Lord to call her into the Work of the Ministry, which she in great Fear and Tenderness gave up to, and altho’ never large in Testimony, yet she was plain, sound and edifying, rather backward in her publick Appearances, and afraid (as she said) to awake her Beloved till he pleased; but when she felt the holy Fire burn, then she offered her Gift, and was careful when that abated to sit down in Meetings, where too many are intent on Words; she was a diligent Labourer in Spirit, her very Countenance being awful and affecting, and like the worthy Elders and Nobles of the People, Numb. xxi.18, digging as with the Staff the Lord had given her, and sometimes broke forth in solemn Supplication to the great Law-giver, that the Well of Life might spring up, which at Times she was the happy Instrument of effecting to the Consolation of the Right-minded.

She was naturally of an affable, peaceable Disposition, an affectionate Wife, a tender Mother, and weightily concerned to train up her Children in the Nurture and Admonition of the Lord; kind to her Friends, charitable to the Poor, and an Example of Humility, Self-denial and Resignation to the divine Will, and also of Industry and a prudent Management of the Affairs of this Life.

Her last Illness was long and tedious, which she enduring with much Patience and Resignation; saying, My Body is full of Pain, yea, more than I can well bear; O the sad State of those in my weak Condition, who want Peace of Mind! But for ever blessed be my God, who now on my sick Bed answers the Desire of my Mind, in giving me an Evidence of my Peace with him, having nothing to do but to bear with Patience the painful Afflictions that are permitted to attend me…

At another Time, being very weak, she said to her Husband and Children, At the Time of my Departure be as still as you can, and feel for yourselves, and do not mourn to excess, for all will be well; Do not mourn for me; but rather rejoice when I am delivered from these Pains, for my Change will be a happy one.

One Evening lying very still, those that attended her thought she had been going to depart; but after some Time she opened her Eyes, and seeing her Relations standing by her, she raised her Voice in a surprizing Manner, and said, I am entirely sensible, and behold you every one, and glad I am to depart in Peace; and took her solemn Farewel of all present, in a very loving, affecting and cheerful Manner …

She died the 9th of the Eighth Month 1762, and was interred in Friends Burial-ground in High-flatts, the 11th of the same.  Aged fifty-six Years.

Joseph Milthrop, a Member of Parliament of Pontefract Monthly-meeting in Yorkshire, was educated in the Principles of the Church of England; but as he advanced towards Man’s Estate, being of a thoughtful Disposition, and unsatisfied with the Principles of his Education, he, after various Researches among the different Modes of Profession, join’d himself to the Romish Church, and for divers Years constantly attended their Worship, and strictly observed their ceremonial Institutions, for some Time firmly believing Christ Jesus to be the Author thereof; tho’ at Times he was led to believe there was a subduing of the Passions and a Renovation of Heart, which the truly Righteous experienced; also a Fruition of inward Peace, which they at Times possessed:  To all which he found himself, in great measure, a Stranger, which caused him many Times secretly to mourn and pour forth earnest Prayers to the Father of Mercies, that he might become a Partaker of the same happy Experience.

While he was thus exercised it came to his Mind to go to a Meeting of the People called Quakers, for an Account of which take his own Words, in a Letter, viz.

“I sat at Ease a long Time, yet earnestly desired that if the Lord had any particular Regard to that People, or approved of their Manner of Worship, that he would make me sensible of it; and being thus set and grown weary of silent Waiting, divine Power seized upon my Body, Soul and Spirit, which caused me to break out into abundance of Tears, and my Body greatly to tremble, then said I, O Lord! Why am I thus?  To which inward Cry of mine, something which till then I knew not (tho’ I had often felt a Measure of the same Power, tho’ never to that Degree) answer’d,  If thou did but Love the Lord thy God with all thy Heart, Mind and Soul, that Love would be so prevalent over thee, that it would teach thee what to do and what to eschew:  O the surprising State I then found myself in!  How was my Heart then filled with Love, Peace and Joy unspeakable and full of Glory!  Soon after an honest Friend stood up in Tears and much Trembling, and said, It is an excellent Thing, if we can say of a Truth, Jesus Christ lives in us:  These Words reached my State, I then bowed in my Mind, adoring the divine Power that then influenced me, and said, Dear Lord! if thou art be that I have long fought and mourn’d for, tell me, O thou that has ravished my Heart! what I should do to be saved, or to continue in thy Favour?  Upon which the humble Jesus, the divine Bridegroom of my Soul, affectionately answered, I require no Rite or ceremonial Worship of thee, but that thou give up thy Heart; it’s there I would reign, it’s there I would rule, and there, I would be worship’d in Spirit and Truth”

 

It was some Time before he could get from under the Prejudices he had in Favour of the Roman Church, but continued to frequent both the Mass House and Friends Meetings, until through a further Visitation by an instrumental Means, he was effectually reach’d, became a valuable and useful Member, exemplary in Conduct, careful to have the Discipline maintained, and at Times was concern’d in a short Testimony, which was very acceptable; a peaceable Neighbor, and being of extensive Knowledge, was capable of advising in many Cases, which he was always ready to do, demonstrating that the living divine Principle he had embraced, let him to the Exercise of every Christian Virtue.
For divers Years before his Death he was, at Times, sorely afflicted with the Stone and Gravel, the Acuteness of which he bore with exemplary Patience.  His last Ilness was short, and apparently attended with no Symptoms of Death till near the Time of his Departure, and though he was suddenly called, yet not unprepared, for being asked, a little before his Death, how he was, he expressed himself thus:  I am pretty easy, tho’ not without some bodily Pain, yet inward Comfort helps greatly: and added, I am weary, weary, of the World, if it would please Providence to take me to himself, O how acceptable it would be!

He departed this Life the 3d, and was interred the 5th of the Seventh Month 1766, in Friends Burial-ground at Burton.  Aged about fifty Years.

 

 

Elizabeth Atkinson, of Milden-Hall in Suffolk, was the Daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Peachy, of the same Place, Friends well esteemed, who gave this their Daughter a religious Education; and while very young she was favoured with a divine Visitation, and yielding Obedience to the heavenly Vision, she became qualified for her Master’s Use, and received a Gift in the Ministry about the twenty-second Year of her Age.  She was faithfully concerned to yield Obedience to the Manifestations of Duty, in which she experienced Peace.

 

When about thirty she joined in Marriage with Samuel Atkinson, a Friend of the same Meeting, and some few Years after it pleased the Lord to try her in a close Manner, by dissolving this very near and dear Connexion:  Thus being left a Widow with six young Children and in low Circumstances:  This Dispensation of Heaven was attended with Baptisms and Exercises on many Accounts, her Situation being such that she found it necessary to use unwearied Diligence for the Support of her Family, not willing to be burdensome, but having a few Things, was therewith content. It does not seem her Family, whose Necessity she ever appeared to have due Regard to, hindred her in her Gospel-Labours; but she was obedient to the Requirings and Manifestations of Duty, faithfully giving up to go on the Lord’s Errands.

 

At the awful Approach of the undeniable Messenger of Death, she possessed a quiet Composure of Soul, often wishing To be dissolved, to be with Christ; yet humbly waiting the Lord’s Time for the Accomplishment of his Will, and being full of Days and full of Peace, she was greatly favoured to very near the End of her Time, sensible and lively, and was frequently engaged to express, The Lord’s Goodness to her had been great and wonderful; earnestly recommending to those who visited her, To serve him faithfully, and in an especial Manner to the Youth, To dedicate the Bud and Blossom of their Days to him, for that they could not serve a better Master.

 

A short Time before her Death, finding her Mind very low, was fearful she had offended; earnest were her Cries unto the Lord, That she might not depart under a Cloud, which he graciously answered by the renewing of his Love, and lifting up of his glorious Countenance, so that she broke forth in the following Words, Glory, Honour and high Renown be given to him who wears the heavenly Crown.  The Lord is my Reward, and at his Right-hand are Rivers of Pleasure, and that for evermore.

She departed this Life the 3d of the Seventh Month 1770, and was buried in Friends Burial-ground at Milden Hall the 8th of the same.  Aged eighty-eight, a Minister sixty-six Years.

Message by Randy Vigil to Spokane Friends Meeting on 2 July 20

Posted in Pastor's Page

Rebooting

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. [1] 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.

 

Message by Amber Joplin to Spokane Friends Church, 25 June 2017

Posted in Pastor's Page