Sunday, July 29, 2007

a brief bit on prayer

My prayer experiences are taking an interesting turn these days. And even as I write such a statement, I realize how difficult it is for me to write about prayer. I have been striving for a prayer experience that brings joy to God, and satisfies my thirst for relationship with God, yet I realized at some point last evening that too much was standing in the way of fulfillment. I have caught myself in a cycle of attributing to God those characteristics that suggest that God really is who I have always been told that God was. I have come to be involved with a god who exists solely to make my lifer easier, or if not easier, more navigable and stable than it has ever been. However, I have been reminded by the God who created me that I can only have a fulfilling prayer life if I am giving, instead of being solely intent upon receiving.
When faced with difficulties, I do in fact know that I will be taken care of. It is not a cliche to be reminded that others are indeed suffering, and often alone. Because I am in relationship with a loving God, and because I am in relationship with family and community, I have hope that some may not, I see a light at the end of the tunnel where others might not, and I choices that others might not have, or might not see, I am far from the bottom of life's experiences.
But what does this have to do with prayer. It means that I can finally stop filling my conversations with the Creator with wish lists, honorific titles, and invitations of blessing, and replace such prayer with that of honest discussions about who I am, what can I learn, and how should I continue forth in a manner discerning of God's plan for me.
Honesty in prayer is a big step for me. Not because I was full of lying to God, but because I was not taking inventory of my relationships with, and to, others in my life. I was praying for providence, without understanding why it is that I might be hurting, or why I might be expected to experience pain or difficulty. The fact is, life goes on in fits and starts, and God promises to be there for me, especially in prayer and in presence throughout the day, so that I might have clarity on living out a loving response to tragedy or suffering.
What I am truly thankful for is not that God solves my problems as I wander through life in obedience and faithfulness, but that God's presence is so real even when I am not obedient or faithful. I am finding that using prayer as a means of to an end of self-awareness and honesty is much more fulfilling than saying thanks for the many blessings, please pass some more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do miracles really matter?

It seems that a whole lot of people are insistent that miracles either really happened, or, just as equally, they insist that they really didn't. Or should I say, they couldn't happen. I really don't have much at stake in the fact or fiction of God's working against the grain of nature in order to shock the world into accepting that it is a truly strange universe. I'm not expecting any miracles beyond the one that, after years of narcotic and alcohol abuse and homelessness, I am still alive today. But I believe that statement may miss the point as badly as the insistence upon demanding proof for or against the veracity of miracle claims. I do find it interesting though, that many people who don't believe in miracles that subvert science, do intend to pray for healings and such. Some Friends apparently believe that the creator of the natural world can heal cancer or bring world peace, but can not be known truthfully in the context of resurrection.

For one, I have never believed that the world was created in six days, or that the sun revolved around the earth, or that millions of Hebrews marched across the desert for forty years. I am perfectly aware of scientific realities and the limitations of faith based upon the truth of miracles. I also have a faith in the idea that somehow, while God does not know the future, the Creator has a plan for creation and is constantly responding to human faithfulness, or human seeking, or prayer, in a manner that has real effect on our lives, and the world at large. If this is simply psychologically effective, I suggest it is no less integral to human wholeness than the same psychological effect of a sense of freedom, or liberty, or safety,; human conditions often facilitated by healthy spiritual experiences.

I also find it difficult to understand why people reject the Bible, or reject the possibility of the authority of Scripture, simply because it contains unhistorical and scientifically impossible events, or because it offends their 21st-century (or even 19th-century) social sensibilities. The truth of the Bible is not found in statements that wives must submit to their husbands, or that homosexuality is a doomed relational endeavor. The truth of the Bible is found in its revealing of a people's relationship with a God who has revealed the divine self to a people in a very specific way. That these people may have interpreted the message of the Creator in an unrealistic or seemingly immature manner is assuredly prototypical of our own contemporary relationship with any one of the many gods we experience relationship with.

Regardless of whether or not the Bible makes us feel good or bad, the Bible has been the text upon which much of the right and wrong- or the evil and compassionate - human actions are based upon. Much of our American privilege, much of the American empire, much of our American "rugged" individualism, is based upon readings of Scripture that have promoted violence and patriarchy and suffering. Many of us, especially Quakers, are particularly tuned in to the misery of such interpretations.

Yet, instead of interpreting the story in a manner that maintains the beauty of the Hebrew, Jewish, and early Christian experience, and the intensity of the creator-creation relationship that is revealed throughout, we tend to reject the text, and with it, the whole story of a God and a people who have chosen to experience the universe in covenant relationship, culminating in a reconciliation, a sense of Shalom, that will set human beings right with one another. If this is not the story of Jesus, the story that Quakers should interpret and live out, then not only those who engage in gay-bashing and patriarchy claim ownership of the text, they gain ownership of the only god most Americans have any relationship with at all.

The argument here is not whether or not Jesus walked on water. The struggle we face is one of which interpretation of the story of YHWH will give a people renewed hope for the wholeness that Abraham and Ruth, David and Mary, and Prisca and Paul all held onto as they stumbled through a similarly repressive world that was underwritten by popular religion. It is integral, however, that we reclaim the story, so as to be intelligible to the Church, to one another, and especially, to make the past intelligible to us.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What is the Quaker version of Truth?

I have been thinking about the comments made by Paul L. concerning Marcus Borg, and especially the tendency for contemporary FGC Friends to be particularly interested in those theological thinkers such as Borg, Spong, and the notorious Jesus Seminar. I have been present at tow of Borg's presentations, and read a number of his books. I think he has some very good things to say, and I also believe that he is not representative of the majority of Jesus Seminar entertainers who are vying for the public's theological dollar.

I have also witnessed John Spong (the bishop!) speak, and was amused by the number of folks willing to compare him to a modern day prophet (please insert ad-hominem attack). It is even more interesting that he wears the traditional clerical garments while delivering more a consumer savvy theology.

I have made the observation that some Friends have grown fond of such theology simply by browsing the available titles in the FGC Bookstore catalog. In seems to me that so many folks are trying to distance themselves from the unfortunate or violent interpretations of the Bible that they are willing to throw away the entire story. Because Jesus didn't really walk on water, because he didn't really stop any speeding bullets, every fantastic event in the Bible must be scorned, and Jesus must be demythologized. We must have a mystic, or a sage, or a shaman, or something more interesting, because this Jewish Messiah business doesn't really hold water. And, if the words attributed to Jesus in the don't qualify him as some sort of 20th-century liberal, then he must not have really said them.

In fact, Jesus may not have said much of anything attributed to him by the biblical authors. What matters more is what the community of folks who remembered this revolutionary peace-maker as the human expression of the one true God. Just because Jesus may not have said "blessed are the Peace-makers" (though I believe he did) or did not really make comments in favor of Torah (though I think he said, and meant, something like it) he was remembered by people faithful to the vision expressed through the life of Jesus as exemplifying just such a statement.

Martin Luther King Jr. made a number of statements about a number of things. Remembering them accurately really does no-one any good if they don't live a life that gives meaning to them. And if you don't think the story of Moses and the Exodus is true, then you have not looked very closely at the life of Dr. King. And if you don't think the story of Jesus as a man of sacrifice and non-violence, then you don't know the story of Keshia Thomas of Ann Arbor, MI. when a racist white man who was marching near the Klan one Saturday morning was attacked by leftist demonstrators (many of them probably called themselves Christians), this African -American woman did not jump in, but threw her body over the white man so that he would not be beaten any worse than he already was. The Jesus of the Bible is not a man of words, but a person of action, and through the lives of the faithful, he is not a sage or a really good guy, but a reflection of his one true God, whose life an ministry welcomes us into the story of a God of rescue and liberation.

It may be true that the resurrection did not happen, but only because the communities of Christ do not live the kind of lives that make it a reality. Truth is identified by the fruits that the story told on behalf of truth produces. Liberal democracy produces a truth of nuclear bombs and economic domination. Communism reflects the truth of its own story. As does Quakerism. The question I pose to FGC Friends is, what story do you want to represent the truth? That of the Biblical Jesus as represented by a community of non-violence, non-coercion, and faith, or that of John Shelby Spong and the Jesus Seminar, who only have room for a truth that has no meaning.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What covenant, and who's marriage...relationships and the Church

I am terribly sorry that I have to miss the exchange of marriage vows taking place under the care of my monthly meeting in Grand Rapids. I look forward to the public affirmation of covenant relationships, and find that such occasions bring forth feelings about my own marriage. And today, Jenn reminded me, is our 11th anniversary. I can't think of anything that reflects my own relationship with the Creator more than my covenant commitment to my partner. I forgot today was our anniversary, just like I forgot to pray this morning. We don't celebrate, but it appears I am as full of myself as others suggest, for I thought nothing of it.

However, my forgetfulness is but a reminder of the priorities that covenant relationships demand. Just one of those priorities, as suggested by my reading of the Bible, is submission to the greater good of the relationship. This is not a "wives submit to your husbands" thing. It is not a suggestion that relationships that are marred by domination and violence take a priority over the stability of an abused (or abusive) partner. It is a suggestion, however, that the health of covenant relationships are one of the most important aspects of faith and community. And, the very idea that we publicly affirm such relationships, under the care of the community, suggests to me that marriage, or any other covenant union, is not only expressive of the love between two people, but an expression of the importance of intimate relationships to the health of the community.

Relationships are very much the business of the church. Indeed, if we are to see a reversal of the failure of so many covenant relationships in our generation, it might be said that the faith community need to take a more active role in nurturing, guiding, and eldering those couples who are falling in love. Relationships are the business of the church, because it is the church that some couples turn to as a legitimizing factor in their covenant with one another. Yet, if we are not caring for our peers while they are exploring the realm of covenant, it suggests that isolation is the norm for partnerships, and not active reflection of God's love to the world around us.

Relationships need to be public, or they are doomed to dysfunction. I remember when a woman at seminary asked me why my name alone was on the carton of eggs my partner sells, and not hers, though she does most of the work. While the reasons Jenn did this is not important. What is important is that a woman in the community expressed an interest in the health of our covenant because it appeared for an instant to be lacking in a commitment to the egalitarian values of Friends. How many of us would have simply felt sorry for Jenn that she was so dominated and has to wear that head covering.

I don't mean to be facetious by using this example. It is healthy for a community, when it feels uneasy about the power differences in relationships, or the ability of both partners to thrive, to bring concerns to the forefront, not only as a matter of love, but as a matter of integrity for the health of every relationship within the community.

And, I am not suggesting that we use proof texts from the Greek Testament to define appropriate marriage practices. Matthew 18 offers the proper narrative approach. Whatever a community lovingly approves of on earth (binds) will be met with the approval of the Creator. It also suggests that what is rejected as inappropriate or coercive (loosing) is rejected as a possible reflection of God's will for covenant relationships. Where two or three will be gathered, Jesus will be there in support of decisions reached in love. By this measure we offer guidance to newlyweds and 50 year veterans alike.

So, when committed partners approach our meetings with a request that they receive a public affirmation of their relationship, we are not providing a civil service. We are instead committing ourselves as a people to lift up such relationships as integral to the community's ability to love and care for one another, and celebrate through our commitments to our partners our own commitment to God.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Thinking of John Woolman

This song is written by a band called Temple of the Dog, and it is called Hunger Strike
For a variety of reasons, it brings to mind the integrity of John Woolman. While I am very aware that Woolman would never steal food from anyone, this song nevertheless captures the struggles of Friends trying to live lives of justice in the midst of unjust and exploitative economies. Whether we are products of the18th century, or 21st century, faithful living requires sacrifice.

I don't mind Stealing Bread From the mouths of decadence...
But I can't feed on the powerless When my cup's already overfilled
But it's on the table, The fire's cooking
And they're farming babies, and the slaves are all working...
Blood is on the table,the mouths are chokin'...

I'm goin' hungry...

I don't mind Stealing Bread From the mouths of decadence...
But I can't feed on the powerless When my cup's already overfilled
But it's on the table, The fire's cooking
And they're starving babies, And the slaves are all working...
And it's on the table,The mouths are choking...

I'm going hungry...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Warning: Ad-Hominem Attacks and Random Thoughts on Michael Moore

You gotta hand it to Michael Moore. He has found a gold mine in the mass-media market, using the same old tricks that right-wing media commentators have been using for years. Characterize your opponents as the evil enemy. Make use of extraordinary hyperbole and utilize emotion wrenching visual images, mixed with market-tested ad hominem attacks, and laugh all the way to the bank. The funny thing is, he is not only profiting handsomely from a medium that makes million in profits by exploiting tragedy and manipulating truth, he could be a poster boy for the mainstream myth of the "American Dream." Poor boy from Flint makes good, Viva la America!

The work of this fellow former Flint resident (folks in my family worked for Buick for years, and I have relatives who have stayed) shows that free speech is truly a profitable endeavor if marketed in a professional manner. We should all be thankful that Hollywood is witness to the fact of what a really astute person working within the existing market structures can accomplish politically. Because of Michael Moore, We are now better equipped to insist that the consumerism and decadence that drives us (especially me) to the very mental and emotional state of dysfunction that we currently disdain be cared for by corporate America for free. You made me this way, now treat me.

Yet, this is not a rant about the evils of socialized medicine. Every single citizen of the World is owed an equal opportunity to enjoy medical care regardless of income. However, we had better be working to prevent the diseases that are making all of us ill, such as free-market or state-sanctioned capitalism, and the demand that our lives be free from sacrifice or want.

Perhaps I should give up on watching movies, and stop listening to talk-radio or NPR, and give up the profit-driven life. We could survive together, and then we could invite the poor, and the sick, and the elderly to contribute to our community as we know they can. Jesus healed so that people who were ritually excluded from community could find covenant relationships again. We can reflect God's desire that people enjoy wholeness by offering relationships free of consumer driven priorities, schedules, and values. I wonder if anyone would make a movie about that? Perhaps Remember the Titans?