Thursday, April 28, 2011

Messages from another world

When Hal was about 9 years old, his parents gave him several sets of encyclopedias, rejects from the Christian school to which they had been donated. Too out-dated for the school to use, they provided hours of fascinating reading for a young boy curious about all of life. We recently came across these volumes while sorting through the boxes in the old family home. They make even more fascinating reading today, almost seeming like messages from another world.

The five-volume American Educator Encyclopedia has the ambitious subtitle, “A Thoroughly Modern Work Designed to Meet the Needs of Every Age,” (1936. Wallsworth D. Foster, ed., Chicago: The United Educators, Inc.). The following come from the sections on commerce, religion and war and show a certain idealism that was just beginning to fade in the time of the rise of Hitler.

Commerce:  “In commerce there is an exchange of property, in which each party gains what he desires. But commerce is no longer the mere barter of savages. It is a vast system is which all the world shares. It helps to make prices and wages more equal. It also keeps them more fixed, for, if one group will not pay a fair price, the goods may be sent elsewhere….It brings people all over the world into greater sympathy with each other, and gives them more knowledge of each other” p. 433).

Religion: “All men are religious. No tribe has been found so low in savagery or barbarism that it did not acknowledge some relation to a supreme being and in a crude way try to give expression to that relationship” (p. 3046).

War: “…though an enemy may be starved into surrender, wounding, except in battle, mutilation and all cruel and wanton devastation are contrary to the rules of war, as are also bombarding an unprotected town, the use of poison and the employment of torture to extort information from an enemy. Works of art and the industries of peace are usually considered as exempt from destruction. The World War, however, showed that in actual conflict all these rules may be disregarded by a wanton adversary….The supreme problem before civilization at the present time is not the mitigation, but the abolition of war” (p. 3802).

Would that the results of commerce and globalization were greater sympathy, but it seems that the supreme problem before us is still the abolition of war.

Friday, April 22, 2011

More lenten poems from the book of John

Day 29, John 14:15-31

How can you make your home in me?
I’m too small. There’s no space
for infinite Trinity in here.
The rooms are crowded, and some
of the windows haven’t been opened
in years. The air is stale.
Cobwebs hang in the corners of the
ceiling. The whole thing needs
a spring cleaning and a new
paint job. With my current means
and energy level, I can’t possibly
get it ready for you, Lord, even if
you could find a way to fit. I guess
you’ll have to do it yourself.

Day 30, John 15:1-27

How can I abide in you,
my Lord? I go for hours
without even thinking of you.
Prayerless days are not
uncommon, and if I’m
not in crisis mode, I find
my joy in other pursuits.
I don’t naturally turn to you
in my open spaces. I don’t
gravitate to the center.
Some kind of centrifugal
force spins me away,
in spite of my longing
to abide. Please help me.
Pull me in to you.

Day 33, John 18:1-27

“I am he” is the seismic center.
It spreads in expanding rings.
The bodies fall outward,
circle a setting sun.
Torches, weapons,
a bloody face, arrest
and betrayals spin,
but the center holds.
Even so, night deepens.
Even so, this unbearable cold.

Day 34, John 18:28-40

“What is truth?”
the politician asks,
not sticking
around for an answer.
The question hangs
in the air while
the man born
to be king awaits
his coronation
in silence.

Day 35, John 19:1-27

“Dear woman, here is your son.”

Even from the cross
you attend to the details,
express affection,
provide for your own.
It’s from the cross
that you provide for all
your own, bring into line
the messy details of all
our lives, say your immense
and costly I-love-you.
From the cross.

Day 36, John 19:28-42

Out of the pierced side
of the God who died
flow all the terrors
of all the nights
the rapes the abductions
the children lost and
the mothers mourning
sirens and sleeplessness
thunder in far off places
the confusion of the archangels
and all my tears, all my sorrows
carried in the stream
that flows from his side.

Day 37, John 20:1-18

Missionary, apostle to the apostles,
beloved friend of Jesus,
tears still wet on your face,
it was love that thrust
you forth, joy that gave
your feet wings, wonder
that filled your voice
with gospel. Woman of God,
pure and trembling one,
you will remember always
his voice, “Mary,” forever
calling your name, “Mary,”
causing you to run
from the garden to the city,
from Jerusalem to Bombay,
to Barcelona and Cleveland,
to Cochabamba and Kigali,
telling us all,
“I have seen the Lord!”

Day 38, John 20:19-31

All doors being closed
you came and stood
among them. Even now you
defy our doors and doubts,
choose to stand
in our midst. Glory.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Down on the farm: toward a Quaker missiology

Yesterday in unprogrammed worship, the gathering word came from George Fox’s “Epistle to all who go to plant new farms in America:”

In all places where you do outwardly live and settle, invite all the Indians, and their Kings, and have meetings with them, or they with you; so that you may make inward plantations with the light and power of God and the grace, truth, and the spirit of Christ, and with it you may answer the light of truth, and the spirit of God, in the Indians, their Kings and their people, and so by it you may make heavenly plantations in their hearts for the Lord, and so beget them in God, that they may serve and worship him, and spread the truth abroad; and so that you may all be kept warm in God’s love, power, and zeal, for the honor of his name.

In certain circles of the contemporary Quaker movement, people are attempting to express a Quaker theology of mission (ie, a Quaker missiology), drawing from the writings and the history of Friends. (See, for example, Ron Stansell’s book, Missions by the Spirit: Learning from Quaker Examples, 2010.)
(Perhaps a brief definition would be helpful here. By “missiology” I refer to the theory or theology behind the participation of God’s people--the church--in God’s purposes in the world, purposes that encompass the whole of life.)

A hour’s reflection on George Fox’s advice to colonizing farmers in the 17th century, corroborated by many other documents, yields the following Quakerly missiological principles:

--This is mission for the lay person, not a called out  missionary band (although that is another way God works). These agents of mission were farmers going about the business of homesteading and cultivating the land, their first vocation.

--The field of service was wherever they happened to be. As they carried out their vocation, they were to partner with God in God’s work with the people around them.

--Although immigrants, they were not to remain strangers in the land. Fox admonished them to reach out to the original inhabitants. They were to enter into relationship with their neighbors, to “have meetings.”

--Mutual respect would characterize these relationships, with either party—farmers or Indians—initiating the meetings. Fox’s advice hints of hospitality and reciprocity.

--In the term “all the Indians and their Kings,” there seems to be some attempt to understand and respect the leadership structure, and perhaps other aspects of the culture as well, although we can’t read the insights of modern anthropology into Fox’s understandings. But at least we find here a seed of cultural respect.

--There is a consciousness that these Quaker Christian farmers had something of value to share, “the light and power of God and the grace, truth, and the spirit of Christ.”

--There is also a consciousness that God is already at work among the Indians, that “the light of truth and the spirit of God” in these people will answer to that of Christ in the immigrant farmer/missionaries. Not only do these farmers not start from ground zero as they share the light of Christ, they have something to learn from the Indians. Again, we see that note of reciprocity and respect.

--Fox focuses on the inward work that results in new life, the “begetting” of conversion that issues forth in worship and the further spreading of the light of Christ.

--There is no mention of the need for cultural change, for civilizing the Indians, winning them over to Western ways. This may be an illogical argument from absence, but it seems to accompany the focus on inward change.

--Fox has an expectation of ongoing mission, as the Indians themselves spread the light of Christ.

--Fox acknowledges the joy and satisfaction (being “kept warm”) of participation in the missional purposes of God in the world.

This is an ideal missiology, garnered from principles in Fox’s admonitions to these farmers. In understanding and expressing a Friends missiology, we also need to look at history, and history often falls short of the ideals of a group or its founders.

In our meeting, after a time of silence, Arthur Roberts cited the Apostle Paul in his observations that “we have this treasure [the gospel of the light of Christ] in jars of clay,” (2 Cor. 4:7). He pointed out that these very immigrating Quakers farmers were, perhaps unknowingly, participating in an unjust colonial system, and that in retrospect, some Quakers have felt the need to make reparation to the original inhabitants. Nevertheless, God worked through Quaker immigrants.

We need to weigh early Quaker ideals in a balance with history. I know very little about Friends relationships with the indigenous peoples of this land, other than the noteworthy experiment of William Penn and his just treaties, and the short term visit of John Woolman to a northern tribe. Were Friends involved, along with other Christians, in the extraction of Indians from their culture in order to “civilize” and “christianize” them?

Arthur Roberts himself has documented the story of Quaker mission among the indigenous people of Alaska, a story that illustrates many of the principles gleaned from Fox’s advice to immigrant farmers, and a story that has resulted in an indigenous Quaker church (Tomorrow Is Growing Old, 1978).

Hal and I have been involved in Quaker mission work all our lives, and we’re still learning. I think Quaker perspectives have much to offer contemporary missiology, ever more important in this age of globalization.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Forty days with the book of John: a poetic response.

As part of our meeting’s Lenten experience, we are reading through the book of John in 40 days. I’ve made a commitment to write a poem a day, something that rises up from my time of meditation on the passage for the day. It’s been a deepening, if somewhat uneven, experience. (I plan on taking a day’s writing retreat next week to write the poems for the days I’ve missed.) The poems are turning into prayers and I find myself being both challenged and stretched. And some mornings, moved to tears. That’s good.  Here are a few of the prayers/poems.

Day 1, John 1:1-18

You were there.
You called forth all things,
Maker and Namer and Poet.
And you come now and stand among us
call us daughters and sons,
out of your fullness
give grace upon grace.

Unspeakable glory,
give us strength to bear the joy.

Day 4, John 2:13-25

This harsh angry Jesus alarms me.
He makes a weapon,
lifts it against both men and beasts.
He even attacks the furniture.
He throws money about
in what looks like a first class
temper tantrum, the seeds of war.
He yells and commands, casts
people out. Apparent pride
and a complete lack of trust
in his fellow human beings
round out this ugly portrait
of a man who scares me.
His Father may have
“so loved the world”
but his son doesn’t appear
to even like it.

Day 6, John 3:22-36

Teach me to step down, my Lord,
to rejoice when I see your Spirit
poured without measure
on other writers, speakers, teachers,
on my children and grandchildren,
on those much younger than me.
Teach me the joy of praying
from the sidelines, “Thy kingdom
come. Thy will be done.”
Let me move with grace into
my changing role. Let it be
all joy.

Day 11, John 6:1-24

This reads more like a Marvel Comic
than the Bible. Multiplied food,
walking on water
through a storm, no less,
followed by laser travel
to a distant shore.
Who are you anyway?
Don’t you see why
people have trouble
swallowing more than
bread and fish?

Day 21, John 10:22-42

I’m not sure I like
being called a sheep
but I do want to be one
who recognizes your voice,
listens and follows you.
Work in my life, Good Shepherd,
Sweet Jesus. Do what it takes
to sharpen my sense of hearing.
Help me to live on tip toes,
alert, attentive, eager
to hear you tell me, “come.”

Day 23, John 11:38-57

Forgive me, Lord,
if the re-telling of this story
has made it so familiar
I lose the amazement.
I should gasp, scream,
cover my face, flee in fear.
Faint, at the very least.
Restore to me, my Lord,
the terror of resurrection.

Day 27, John 13:18-38

As night comes on
and Jesus knowingly faces betrayal,
crucifixion and death, he prepares
his disciples by giving them
two commands: serve one another,
love one another. As though
this is what is needed to face
the dark.
When light is gone,
when the wind howls and
the temperature drops, I’m to
wrap a towel about my waist,
bow down before my peers
and wash their feet
with love. Not the poor,
not out in the streets or
on the mission field. My peers,
my colleagues, my team members.
And after those, all the rest.
Lord Jesus, why is this sometimes
the hardest of all?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The active contemplative: another take on Martha

Yesterday in programmed worship, the sermon was from John 12 on the anointing of Jesus’ feet. One thing I like about the sermons at our church is that they frequently combine the preparation of the preacher, the active participation of the congregation, and times of dynamic silence where we are encouraged to listen to the Spirit. All of this happened yesterday. As the preacher, Cherice did a good job of leading us through the passage and helping us connect it to our own experience.

In one exercise, we were asked to imagine ourselves into the scene and identify with one of the characters. Am I at all like Mary with her extravagant, but appropriate, worship? Am I like the self-serving Judas? Or am I more like practical but critical Martha, frowning from the kitchen?

At the suggestion of the “practical but critical Martha,” my mind did one of those something’s-wrong-with-this-picture double-takes, like with those drawings in kids’ magazines where you have to find all the things that aren’t quite right—the upside-down clock, an ear where a nose should be, etc. The frowning Martha wasn’t quite right.

This suggested image harkens back to an earlier story, of course, where Martha does indeed frown and complain about her sister’s inconsideration in not helping with meal preparation (Luke 10:30-42). Jesus’ response both challenges and comforts: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered [here I can see him lightly touching her face], “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I love it that Jesus says her name twice. In so many of his conversations with women, Jesus addresses them simply as, “Woman.” This repetition of Martha’s name is full of affection and affirmation, even as he takes her attitude to task.

The story in Luke ends with Jesus’ rebuke to Martha, but Martha’s story continues. Here we have to read between the lines (or, better stated, between the stories). My educated imagination sees Martha as teachable. I think she took to heart what Jesus told her, helped along by how he said it. I see her mulling over the “one thing needed” that her sister had got right. I see her changing, perhaps not all at once, but ever more deeply, learning to find her own way of listening to Jesus and letting her service become worship.

One clue that this might be happening comes in a story that falls between the Luke 10 and the John 12 stories. In John 11, Jesus again comes to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This, of course, is the story of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, but much of the detail involves Jesus’ interactions with the two sisters. It’s interesting that John states, early in the chapter, that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” specifically naming Martha.

Martha, still the more practical, cerebral sister, is the one who comes out to meet Jesus, and their conversation reveals her growing faith and understanding of who Jesus is (although a few surprises await her). I see here a different Martha, one who has changed from the woman Jesus rebuked earlier.

Mary is still the more emotional, intuitive sister, the one who leads from the heart. Her beautiful costly sacrifice as she anoints Jesus' feet (John 12) continues to inspire and encourage those of us who would also be followers and lovers of Jesus.

But I can’t see Martha in this scene as the critical, resentful woman she once was. The only thing the text says about her in this story is simply that “Martha served.” Martha is still Martha, more prone to action than reflection, called to a life of practical service. But as she watches Mary pour out the perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipe those feet with her hair—strange behavior indeed—and as the fragrance begins to fill the room, perhaps something deep within Martha whispers, “Yes.” Perhaps she slowly begins to smile. Perhaps she, too, worships. Perhaps.

Anyway, a thank you to Cherice for opening the Scriptures to us in such a way that we enter the story. Or, better yet, that the story enters us. I take as my challenge this week the joining of my active and contemplative responses as I seek to follow Jesus…

--with both heart and head…
--in silence and in service…
--extravagantly and in simplicity…

Yes, Lord.