Should this be harder? – Thoughts from a Convinced Quaker

At the bottom of this post is a link to a heartfelt post by a convinced Quaker. A convinced Quaker is one who has come from outside the sect. In this person’s case it evidently was from Catholicism. This post struck me deeply as I saw myself in much of Laura’s writing. For those not going to the original post here are a couple of quotes that I want to comment on:

“Hard” was life before I learned about Quakerism. “Hard” was wondering how to handle a violent situation in a compassionate manner and thinking I was the only person in the world who had grappled with such an issue. “Hard” was feeling completely alone amongst friends, unable to shake the conviction that something was wrong with spending hundreds of dollars on entertainment and thinking I was doomed to be a social outcast forever because I felt that way. “Hard” was taking every word that came out of my mouth seriously,  really thinking about speaking the truth and speaking kindness, and believing that I was peculiar and alone for being so serious about everything.

“Hard” was trying to live up to the light in me without even knowing that the light was there.  Without knowing that others were on the same path as me, that there was a meeting of people who sought the same things I sought, who could comfort and support me in my time of need. Without knowing there was a long, rich tradition of writing about the very questions I had. Without a weekly meeting to be enveloped and nourished in corporate worship. Those days were very hard indeed, and I don’t want to go back to them.

I, like this convinced Quaker, have struggled with some of my feelings about violence in all its forms, extravagant spending on “entertainment” , Christian organizations that spend almost all their resources on themselves, and other such things.  It seemed like the Christian organizations I was in for some time were more focused on a future life in heaven than one here or earth. So, to my total disappointment these types of matters did not come up very frequently.

One of the foundational concept of Quakerism is “living up to the light” this comes from the words of Jesus at Matt 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Quakers believe that everyone has light from God shining in their lives. Some never allow it to even get to the surface but it is there none the less. I have come to be very much aligned with the concept of the light within each of us. It should be our task everyday of our lives to let the Lord’s light shine in our lives so that others can realize what being a Christian is really all about. It is not about hunkering down in our churches waiting for the end.  It is about living day-to-day. Living my life in a Christian organization that did not follow through on that very basic concept was indeed a very hard thing.

Should this be harder? – QuakerQuaker.

Are We All Praying to the Same God???

canstockphoto2614821A question came up during a Bible class I attended some time ago about the differences between the different main religions of the world. Those include Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hindu,and Buddhism. Looking at Wikipedia there seems to be about a dozen other large ones but let’s concentrate on the five largest. The question was:

“Are we all praying to the same God?”

I mentioned that I thought we were and was very surprised to learn that the clergyman who was leading the study had a very different answer. His answer was he definitely knows that all the other religions besides Christianity are praying to pagan gods! But he did hedge on Judaism. I guess I should not have been surprised by this statement but I was.  I personally think we are all looking for the same creator. Some of us lean toward one version of Him and some to another but in the end we are all at least trying to find the “true” God.

I really don’t know if all Christian denominations feel the same as this clergyman let alone if other religions also believe that Christians are praying to a pagan god. But I guess I would not be surprise to learn even that. It saddens me that we so disrespect others who don’t toe the same line as we do. I guess this same certainty also applies to the question of who gets into heaven. Everyone wants to believe their version of God is the ONLY true one. I know that when I was a child in Catholic grade school I was taught that only us Catholics would be in heaven. Although I have not been a Catholic for many years that message still clings to me.  With these types of beliefs it is no wonder that the world’s history is literally filled with different religious wars. I think this truly saddens God!!

Being Estranged From Others….

It is, I have learned, far easier to ask forgiveness of a god we can’t see than from a person we can see. Perhaps this is why many religions are vertical in nature, focused on pleasing and placating God. That orientation has usually entailed sacrifice, the notion of giving God something—our time, our attention, our praise, our skill, our money—and, in extreme instances, our children, our virgins, an animal, our lives, or someone else’s life. But early in his public ministry, Jesus articulated a different understanding of sacrifice—the surrender of pride, the surrender of ego, the surrender of the privilege of being right, the surrender of everything that keeps us estranged from others, so we can be reconciled.

From a book entitle “If the Church Were Christian” by Philip Gulley

I make no apologies about quoting Philip Gulley so frequently on this blog. In my mind he seems to be one of the few Christian clergymen to have it more right than others now days. In my sixty odd years on being on the earth I have come across a myriad of different approaches to God. As Mr. Gulley says many seem to be in the business of either striking the fear of God in our hearts or asking forgiveness of sins we have committed or will commit in the future. Some also seem to be totally fixated on looking to our lives in heaven to almost the exclusion of what we do on this earth.  As was mentioned in the above quote I think Jesus had very different ideas. He meant for us to take care of each other as he showed us by his examples.

Jesus’ idea of sacrifice was not the same as the Old Testament of Abraham or today’s of giving up things for Lent. Jesus meant us to humble ourselves by giving up our pride, our inflated egos, and our insistence on only us being right. We must be reconciled with all of God’s children to be one of Jesus’ followers.  Pride and ego are very powerful parts of many of our lives.  They are also the most dreadful parts of our lives!

As Jesus said many times, if you want to be the best then you must humble yourselves into being the least.  That means taking care of your brothers. Even those smelly homeless ones we so increasingly see now days.

Quran burned at Rev. Terry Jones’ tiny church – Faith & Reason

What a sad day when one religious organization burns a copy of another’s holy documents. This supposedly Christian Reverend did a huge disservice to all of Christiandom. Where is the outrage among the mainline Christian denominations?

Do we really want to start a round of totally “dissing” each others views of God?  Sad, sad, sad.

Quran burned at Rev. Terry Jones’ tiny church – Faith & Reason.

Why Didn’t Jesus Write a Book??

A fellow blogger who happens to be a Quaker asked an interesting question recently. It was

“Why didn’t Jesus write a book while he was on earth and settle this thing once and for all?”

I know Jesus, like most of the twelve apostles was probably illiterate but I’m sure he could have written a book if he thought it was important.  Why didn’t he choose to do that? As my friend said a book directly from Jesus would, or at least should, have settled all the many  many current day differences among us Christians. I have wondered about this many times.

We currently rely on a book finally assembled four hundred years after the fact that was written mostly by the apostles or their representatives to tell us the things of Jesus. Of course there were also those like St. Paul who had no direct relationship with Jesus but was instead inspired by a miraculous act to write what he did.  Many of the early church fathers, meaning those in the first one hundred years, also recorded their opinions, inspired or otherwise, of what they thought Jesus meant for us to do. But most of those writing were not chosen by the council who put together our Bible to be included. It seems we have many second or third hand words about Jesus in the Bible and other documents but none directly from Jesus himself. Why didn’t Jesus write something himself?

My Quaker friend imagined God’s answer to his question to be this:

“I desire a direct spiritual relationship with all men… if my son had written a book… then all men would have a relationship with a book  and not God”

I can’t imagine a more apt response from God than what my friend proposed!  Jesus wants us to have a direct relationship with God. How much simpler could that be! It seems that today many put the book called the Bible above their relationship with God himself. While the book does give us valuable information about Jesus and God it should never be thought of on the same level as God. To do so would be to treat the book as an idol. And of course most of us know what God thinks of idolatry.  Enough said..

Does Jesus Conditionally Forgive Sins??

There are many places in the red letters where Jesus appears to conditionally forgive sins.  If you break certain rules your sins are not forgiven. The most obvious of these are sins against the Holy Spirit. I must admit that I don’t really understand that condition as much as I would like. But that is not the only place where Jesus appears to withhold forgiveness. There are many others. Several of them have to do with corrupting children. He in no uncertain terms says that if you cause a child to sin, faith or no faith,  you will not see the kingdom of God.

Withholding forgiveness is something that goes very contrary to many evangelical churches who latch totally onto Paul’s words in Ephesians to almost the exclusion of even the words of Jesus.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.

Did Paul understand this differently than Jesus? If that is not the case then why did Jesus say your sins are not forgiven in certain circumstances therefore requiring works? If there is only faith required without any corresponding actions then not forgiving sin seems meaningless.

Maybe we need to consult a third voice in the matter and that is James, the brother of Jesus.  James obviously was around Jesus most of his life and unlike Paul was there during Jesus’ entire three year ministry. In his Epistle James basically said the faith without works is a dead faith and therefore worthless.  Enough said…. I am one to take Jesus at his word.

You are WRONG!!!

Many if not most Christian evangelical denominations insist that they are the only ones who 100% understand the nature of God.  They each believe everyone else is wrong to one degree or another. There sometimes seems to be more arguing with fellow Christians among themselves than there is any sharing of the Word with those outside their current brand of beliefs. In that regard it is nice to see at least one Christian organization that is not out to prove everyone else is wrong. click the following link to see an article by a Quaker author about being peacemakers.

The above article is from an August 2008 Friends Journal but is timeless in its advice. It covers 21 tips on personal peacemaking but could also be applied at the denominational level. To tweak your curiosity I will include a few of the tips here along with a brief personal perspective on what they might mean in regards to inter-denominational squabbles that occur regularly today.

  • Making fun of the person you are in conflict with, or engaging in sarcasm or ridicule, is poison.

Ridicule of our opponents on Christian issues seems to be almost the norm today as it is in our current political environments. Of course when we are ridiculed we immediately know that it is a poison to any rational debate. Even various theologians seem to use this vehicle against those who disagree with them.

  • Judging a person or deciding “who is wrong and who is right” is just another form of blaming.

Jesus had a lot to say about judgment and this is just another way to say what he said.

  • We are responsible at all times for choosing behavior that meets our highest moral/ethical standards

The Golden Rule should be how we treat everyone; even those who we disagree with.

  • Blame is not a helpful concept.

We should quit trying to prove everyone else is wrong and just go about our lives as Jesus taught us by treating each of our brothers, both Christian and non-Christian with respect.  Creating over 35,000 different versions of Christ is harmful to each of us and to the Body of Christ in general. These conflicts are definitely not in the instructions Jesus gave us.

Divorce–A Christian Perspective

Divorce is one of those things that gets very different treatment in different Christian denominations. The red letters are pretty clear as to what Jesus thought of it.

Matt 5:31-32

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matt 19:8-9

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Most Protestant denominations don’t put much weight behind these words of Jesus. Many seem to be almost flippant about this sin. Statistics show us that the rate of divorce among Christians is actually a little higher than the non-religious population so maybe there is a reason for minimizing these particular red letters.  Jesus made it pretty clear that for the most part once you are married you are married until death do you part. What Jesus said doesn’t mean you have to stay in a marriage no matter the conditions. But if you leave a marriage you can’t then go on to another one without committing the grievous sin of adultery.

Many say that Homosexuality is a grievous sin and if you stay in a homosexual relationship you are non-repentant and therefore your sin is not forgiven.  I question whether by those same standards remarrying after a divorce should also be  treated as a non-repentant and therefore a sin that is also not forgiven!  Is it up to us to pick and choose which sins are not forgiven?  But let’s stay on topic here.  I think only Catholics and maybe some of the Anabaptist denominations actually treat divorce in a serious manner.

But even Catholics “sneak” around this rule when it is convenient. I am very personally a witness to this fact. My mother’s eleven year marriage in a Catholic church to my father which resulted in the births of me and my younger brother was later voided by the the Catholic Church when she wanted to marry another Catholic twenty years later!  Declaring me and my brother bastards because the marriage “officially” didn’t happen was one of the reasons I left the Catholic church so many years ago. So in some ways the Catholic church is worse than its Protestant brothers in that they only appear to take Jesus’ word to heart.

It grieves me that this is by no means the only place where the current day Christians organizations don’t treat Jesus’ words  as “gospel” (pun intended). We seem to pick and choose where sins are forgiven or where they are not. I have more personal thoughts about that but will hold them for another post.