Sunday, September 11, 2016

"So What I Said Was..."

Just two quotations I shared this morning in Meeting for Worship at West Newton Friends Meeting as I offered some reflections on the anniversary of 9/11, the current political rhetoric, the spreading miasma of hatred across the world, and the ocean of Light and Love that covers the ocean of darkness and death.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." – Phillipians 4:8

"To me, being a Christian is a particular way of life... being the kind of person that Jesus wanted his followers to be and doing the things he told them to do…

Nor, it seems to me, can you live a Christian life unless, like Jesus, you believe in the power of goodness, of justice, of mercy and of love; unless you believe in these so strongly that you are prepared to put them to the acid test of experiment; unless these constitute the real meaning of life for you, more important than life itself, as they were for Jesus." -- Kathleen Lonsdale, 1967

"...think about such things."

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation"

"I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us." -- Oscar Romero

I read those words this first day of a new week. It's a new week that on last Tuesday I wasn't certain was in store for me. A series of medical events, resulting in a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and pneumonia. On last Tuesday afternoon I had such trouble breathing that I did think I might be near my end. Happily (for me at least) I am still around and mending.

As I've done some maturing in the Spirit these past years, I have endeavored to be a more generous and affirming man. It's not my nature -- I'm rather self-centered and opinionated. But I've been trying. I only wish I would have started earlier and succeeded more.

This political season -- and I don't care whose side you're on (okay, so I do -- I am opinionated) -- has been especially on this endeavor. There is too much rancor. Too much hatred. To much polarization. To much "anti". Too little love. Too little care for others -- especially toward those who are "other" than "we" are.

Today, as I sit here short of breath (and maybe breaths, who knows what time we're given?), I don't want to waste my time being "anti, against anybody." As a Quaker I believe there is that of God in every person. The "light that gives light to everyone" and can lead them to God as they respond to the work of that Light in their lives. For whatever time I have left in this world (and I hope for another 20 years or so at least!), may I live up more fully to Romero's words. May my life be one of affirmation. May my words bring encouragement. May my deeds create wholeness and beauty. "I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"So what I said was..." On Racism and Quakers

I just returned from FGC's summer Gathering. It's an experience I always find challenging (and I mean that in a good way). This year's was especially so. It was my first experience helping run the QuakerBooks store there. The wonky internet, not having enough copies of popular books, and other stuff was not fun. Chatting with Friends, serving their needs, and finding just that right book was.

But overlying it all was a great cloud of concern regarding race, white privilege, and all that goes with that in America and among Friends. Some Friends of Color at Gathering experienced things from micro-aggressions to harassment.  Then there was the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on Tuesday. Then the next day Philando Castile was shot and killed by police. Then the next day, Micah Johnson gunned down a number of Dallas police officers, killing four of them.

All of the above rocked the about 1,000 Friends attending Gathering -- which had the theme "be humble, Be Faithful, BE BOLD." As it should have. I won't report here on what happened at Gathering -- I'm certain lots of other bloggers who were more involved than I (tucked away in the bookstore as I was from early morning until late at night most days) will do so. Nor will I comment on what I think and hope FGC's response and actions might be, though I do have opinions on that as well. But it is an association of Friends and as such, needs the collective discernment of those Friends as it moves humbly, faithfully, and boldly forward in an area where it continues to do much good work -- from publishing titles such as Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans and the Myth of Racial Justice (which is keeping on sale at the reduced $5 price because we feel it's an important book that all Friends should read) to working on the White Privilege Conference to much more. And FGC, along with other Friends organizations has much work yet to do.

Instead, I want to talk about this 65 year-old, white male's troubled heart and soul and what I shared with Friends at West Newton Friends Meeting this morning. West Newton is my spiritual home. My spiritual family. Today it was my turn to, with Divine assistance, to lead worship.

I arrived with my heart deeply troubled by the things I've mentioned above. So what I said was... that I was grieved. Deeply grieved. And I realized it's not enough to be grieved. What am I called to do? What is our little meeting called to do?

I reminded myself and the other Friends of John Woolman's words that:

Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all his creatures. His tender mercies are over all his works; and so far as his love influences our minds, so far we become interested in his workmanship and feel a desire to take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, that to turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives…

Oppression in the extreme appears terrible: but oppression in more refined appearances remains to be oppression; and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive. To labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world.

Am I turning all I possess (not just things, but time, passions, energy) into the channel of universal love toward all people in this land? I admit to deep pain in my heart as I read those words. And a choke in my voice. Because my answer, sadly is "No."

Likewise, I may not extremely oppress or cooperate in oppression of African Americans, but I do have a "more refined appearance" which "remains ... oppression."

God help me. God help us.

"To labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world." As I read those words, I am challenged to consider what I am doing to work toward a redemption of this spirit of oppression. To proclaim and act out my beliefs in this regard. With real, helpful, and earnest action. Not just a "Peanuts" sort of wishing good things for or on the oppressed.

What am I called to do? What am I compelled to do? What is my yearly meeting, which convenes this week going to do?

That's what I said. And asked. And ponder in my heart.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

LBGTQ, Facebook, The Bible, And A Solution!

I got in trouble yesterday. That's not unusual. I seem to get in trouble quite often. Usually I feel bad about it. In this case, I don't.

Yesterday, while spending time in airports between flights back to Indiana, I looked at Facebook and Twitter a good bit. And I liked a good number of my friends and family's posts. And I saw some posts that I liked enough to share. Some of my friends and family didn't care for them. The one at the left was one of them.

Now I admit, that in the issue of LBGTQ rights, I'm a long way from where I used to be.  And I'm a long way from where some of my friends and family are.

If you would have talked to the 1970s and 80s Brent Bill, he probably would have echoed many of the things that some of these friends and family are saying.  But then I lived a pretty insular (rarely encountering Christians countering a specific Evangelical mindset (that one which grew out of what many in gospel songs call the "old time religion" -- the 19th century Holiness revivalist movement). That old time religion, invented in the 19th and early 20th century, was certainly not the "old time religion" of Jesus and the apostles though."

It is hard to say when the change in my thinking about LBGTQ rights began changing. It could be in the late 80s when a good friend of mine led the charge against LBGTQ people and meetings in our yearly meeting -- and then, a couple of years later was found to be gay.  By then I realized also that my family includes gay LBGTQ people. I was named for a gay man -- a good friend of my parents (and I still have his old MG!). I also began teaching and had students that were LGBTQ. And I some of the deepest, most faithful Christ-followers I know are LBGTQ. Their faithfulness to Jesus and devotion to personal and corporate Christian faith at times puts mine to shame.

And so I have changed. I read the Bible a bit differently than I used to.  Yes, I know the Bible verses that are used by those opposed to LBGTQ.  Both Old and New Testament verses. I also know that many of those same people completely ignore many Old and New Testaments verses when it serves their beliefs. I'm not going to go into examples of that now.  But let me say that when this post (and others like it appeared on my Facebook page, I began receiving corrective posts from some friends and family that

  • Contained long discourses on the scripture references that proved that it was really fine to discrimate against LBGTQ folks because their sin is an abomination against the will of God. I appreciated those verses because, despite years of reading the Bible, studying scripture in institutions from the church, Young Life, Bible college, college, and two seminaries, I had never encountered the Bible before. At least that's what the writers seemed to assume. I must admit I was wee bit miffed to be Bible-hauled (the Evangelical version of keel-hauling in my mind) by people (even friends and family) who seem to think that all my study has been completely worthless and I have not learned a thing. Still, I guess I needed the correction.
  • Talked about church doctrine over the years. I guess, again despite my college and seminary degrees and years of study (and ministerial credentials), I had missed the boat again. I had always found church doctrine interesting -- but which church's is right. I was wondering why a good Evangelical friend of mine was quoting Catholic church doctrine. In the 50s did we Evangelicals think they were all going to Hell and the Roman Catholic Church was apostate?? When did the thinking change? Such thinking shouldn't be able to change, should it?
  • There was a big difference between serving pizza and saving a life.  Ah. That's a thought that had not occurred to me.  So, if I'm a doctor or nurse, my religious beliefs have to be put on hold but if I'm a pizza maker (or restroom monitor), they don't. I guess I missed the verse (but then, as I admit up above, I appear to have missed a lot of verses!), that where Jesus said  "Verily, if a gay man falleth into a ditch and breaketh his leg, thee must nurse him. But if a gay man falleth from hunger on thy doorstep, thee can turn him away and say, 'Depart from me, you sinner. I know thee not.'"
When I finally got home last night, all of this could have kept me up all night contemplating it. Except that I didn't get home until 1 a.m. and went directly to bed and fell asleep.

The interwebs didn't, though. They kept posting and I was awakened, on this Lord's day, to more discriminatory screeds in the name of religious purity and biblical adherence.

What's a Christian to do? And then in came to me. I need to turn the clock back. I need to go back to a time when I didn't know all that I know or think now and the people I know now. I need to go back to the old time religion when Jesus (and his sidekick Paul) said it, I believed it, and that settled it.  

I wondered if 1973 would be a good date -- pre-seminary, still attending the same church I grew up in.  Nope, Things were already in motion that made me question -- new translations of the Bible, Catholic friends, and that afore-mentioned gay man that I was named for (who I really liked).

After more pondering, I decided to land around 313 CE. That would miss the Roman persecution, be ahead of adoption of the Nicean creed, Christians were one big happy family then, sitting around reading the Bible (King James Version?). 

I invited all those who sent me corrective emails and posts to travel back there with me. Of course, the woman who sent me a long list of scriptural proofs of my error won't be able to do that -- no email of course and likewise, women were to keep silent in the church and not ever try to teach a man. But we won't have worry about serving pizza to LBGTQ, because according to one fellow who writes me every time I post on this subject, there weren't any back then. Not having been there myself, I guess I have to take his word for it. I am pretty sure there wasn't any pizza,though, so that solves that problem.

But, the more I think about it, I think I'll stay in this time. I'd rather wrestle with what the Bible says (and what people say the Bible says) than be a part of a same thinking bunch of people (sounds rather cultish to me). I'd also rather live in a time with safe food, good water, nice homes, means of traveling the world, instant communication, health services and more that Biblical times people could only marvel at, And try to make sense of the ways of God (and the ways God is calling me) in this day and time.

If you feel your faith calls you to deny pizza, genderless restrooms, marriage, et al to LBGTQ folks, well, that's between you and Jesus. As for me, "Ally, ally, in free. Straight. Gay. Democratic. Republican. Donald Trump. Bernie Saunders. Muslims. Jews. Evangelicals. Unitarians. In the name of Jesus whom I try to serve faithfully (and often fail), I welcome you. For health care, prayer, or pizza -- if there's any in the house.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

"Delivering the Truth" -- A Quaker Mystery

I admit it. I love a good mystery. And I love books with Quaker characters, if they're well written and not hokey like some of those... um ... genre sectarian "romances" ("Simple Love: A Mennonites Go Mad Book"). So when you put mystery and Quaker characters together, then I'm predisposed to like such a book.  As I did with Irene Allen's series of "Elizabeth Elliot" mysteries a few years back (Quaker Silence, Quaker Witness, Quaker Testimony, and Quaker Indictment). Those books are still favorites of mine.

So I was delighted to receive an advance review copy of Delivering the Truth: A Quaker Midwife Mystery (Midnight Ink, 2016) by Edith Maxwell (disclaimer: Edith is a Facebook friend of mine). I was especially intrigued to find out that Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier was going to make more than an occasional appearance throughout the book.  Poet as  a sorta sleuth?! Well, maybe that's not so far-fetched, I thought.

The story is set in 1880's Amesbury, MA where Quaker Rose Carroll is a midwife. As such, she is privy to many of the goings on around town. Plus she is an inquisitive sort who's feeling a bit restricted by society's expectations around women and the Society of Friend's expectations of dress, behavior, and more.  The conventions of her time and religion are a bit more than stifling -- and she often breaks out of the molds that society and the Society set for her.

For one, she falls in love with a non-Friend.  Yikes. That could get a Quaker kicked out of meeting -- especially if marriage loomed.  

For another, her inquisitive nature leads her into nosing around a series of mysterious deaths that come as a result of an arson at a carriage factory and ensuing events.  A modern Quaker woman like Elizabeth Elliot playing detective is not so unusual perhaps, but a 19th century Friends woman? This leads her into all sorts of situations -- which also result in her becoming one of the prime suspects in the murders!  Now that's my kind "bad Quaker." 

The mystery is mysterious (I had suspicions about what was going on, but couldn't exactly figure things out), the characters (even the "baddies") are well drawn (perhaps that comes from the Quaker belief that "there is that of God in everyone -- and Maxwell has drawn it out!), and the writing is spot on.  I pretty much read it straight through.  And had a hard time putting it down when Quaker midnight (10 pm) drew near. I stayed up late just to finish it.  And I never stay up late (as my friends/Friends know).

If you like mysteries (whether or not you like Quakers), you'll enjoy this tale well told. If you enjoy stories with Quaker characters, you'll like this honest portrayal of Quaker faith and life in the 19th century. And if you're fond of Quaker mysteries, then Delivering the Truth will be just your cup of Friendly fiction. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

So What I Said Was: "He Has Risen, He Is Not Here -- Or Is He?"

It’s hard to imagine the despair they felt that morning as they made their way to the tomb in pre-dawn darkness. Their hearts were breaking. The one they loved was dead. Worse than dead – murdered, murdered by those who couldn’t accept him and his message. Executed on a cross as an outlaw, he died between two outlaws. Most of his followers went into hiding, figuring they might be next.

They came out in that blackest hour before daybreak. Their grief was tearing them apart, yet love compelled them to go on.

When they get there they see that the stone has been rolled away from the front of the tomb. What now? Tentatively they enter the open tomb. There they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting there. The Bible, with its typical understatement says “and they were alarmed.”

Well, who wouldn’t be? The events of those past few days would overwhelm most of us. Imagine having someone you loved unjustly accused, summarily executed and you go to the cemetery to find the grave opened, the casket lid removed and a young man in white sitting on edge of the open grave, feet dangling into the abyss. Who among us wouldn’t be alarmed?

The young man says “Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

They don’t find this pronouncement all that comforting. “Trembling and bewildered,” the gospel writer relates, “the women went out and fled from the tomb.”

The story of Easter and the trip to the empty tomb is a familiar one. It has become so familiar and we cease to be moved by the wonder of it all. After all, Christians have been telling and re-telling this story for around two thousand years.

But the Easter event is more than a tale, full of pathos and high drama. The Easter event is the basis for our faith. Paul says “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … in that case we had better cast off this unreal Christianity as soon as possible and go back to those who have chosen the watchword, which seems so openly cheerful and yet is so full of hopeless resignation: ‘Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.’”

In those words, Paul lays it out. Either the man in white’s statement that “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified … has risen! He is not here.” is true or Christianity is false. If it is not true, then we might as well all leave and go home to our families and dinners and find more fruitful pursuits than this with which to fill our Sunday mornings.

But if it is true, then what? Then we live, too. Not just later, when this mortal life is ended, but here and now with purpose and meaning that we’ll not have if there was no resurrection.

You see, the story of the crucified God who did not stay dead and came to the garden to be with his friends that morning, is for us today. It is a message of eternal hope. I cannot explain the resurrection to you – how it happened in terms of scientific knowledge or historical documentation. For the Easter event is not about science or history. It is about faith and promise. Jurgen Moltmann, in his book The Crucified God, says “The resurrection of Jesus from the dead by God does not speak the “language of facts,” but only the language of faith and hope, that is, the “language of promise.” Easter is about “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.”

“He has risen! He is not here.” is true about that rock hewn tomb in which he was laid. But, at another level, “He is not here” is not true – for he is here – in this room this morning. In our hearts and in the very air. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” He is the presence in our midst. Because “He has risen! He is here and here (point to heart)” He lives today. He lives so that we might have purpose, meaning and hope in our lives. He lives to bring us back to the right place, our place in the family of God.

The poet Carolyn Keefe writes:

A woman with shoulders bowed only since Friday
steps deep into death’s lair.
Stupified by guilt or sorrow or not caring,
the town had been silent as she passed.
Behind the hedges insensible cyclamen
and violets drink life from the dawn,
giving their moisture back to the sky.
They too should have perished with Him,
blasted to very root hairs
tenacious in the ground. Gather
some for Him and with the aloes
make an ointment for His bloodied brow.

Oh joy! Her bitter myrrh
had become obsolete at daybreak.
Through ground and rock,
sky, sea, and stars,
He bursts His putrid casing
and confronts the universe!

She folds the linen, taking it home
to wash from it the stench of death,
joyfully she shakes it out in the forever sunshine.

“He has risen! He is not here.” Let us this Easter day, remember that One who brings us life by refusing to be bound by death, that One who stepped out of the grave and lives in and among us. Step into that forever sunshine He makes possible. “He has risen! He is not there – He is here.”

An Easter meditation I gave at West Newton Friends Meeting this morning (3/27/16)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"...He wasn't talking to the Roman soldiers who were Christian..."

When I wandered down from my office to have lunch today, I heard something on CNN which was news to me.  Jerry Falwell, Jr was on that station responding to Pope Francis' questioning of whether Donald Trump was a Christian or not.  According to CNN:

Asked whether American Catholics should vote for Trump, Francis demurred.

"As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that."

The Pope appeared somewhat unaware of Trump's exact stance on illegal immigration, though, saying that he would give him "the benefit of the doubt" until he had heard exactly what the billionaire businessman had said.

"I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that." 

Jerry Falwell, Jr took exception to those remarks.  That's his right. I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is what he said later in the interview.  He was trying to explain why Candidate Trump could be a Christian and have views the Pope considered departing from the teaching of Jesus.  My ears perked up when he explained, "When Jesus told his listeners to 'turn the other cheek,' he was not talking to the Roman soldiers who were Christian."

What???!!!  My mind was blown.  Now I get that I write books about being a bad Quaker ("Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker") but I'm a better historian and biblical scholar than that.  I mean, technically Falwell, Jr was right -- Jesus was not talking to the Roman soldiers who were Christian.

That's because there weren't any!! On two counts.  One, when Jesus was talking there weren't any Christians period. Christianity began at the resurrection. Not before.  Ergo, he was not talking to the Roman soldiers who were Christian.  There weren't any.

Second, according to reputable historical sources, there weren't any Roman soldiers who were Christian for almost 300 years after the resurrection. Christians were enemies of the state. You couldn't serve as a soldier and be a known traitor. And besides, since the Church then practiced the way of peace in the midst of terrible persecution, the Church elders didn't look kindly upon any of their members who wanted to be a Roman soldier.

But, to the casual viewer, Falwell dumped a load of unbiblical ... um... dung that sounded true. Especially to the viewer who assumes Jesus came and Christian kings and shepherds greeted him in his manger. Maybe accompanied by a few Christian Roman soldiers who were there only as gentle guardians and far from the imperialistic militarists there to crush an insubordinate people that I always perceived them as.

I fear for the 90,000 students at Liberty University who are getting a biblical education under the guidance of such a man. I fear even more for people who heard Falwell's words and understand them to be gospel truth.