Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Through flaming sword

I have been writing this blog for 2 ½ years. I have enjoyed the writing and the exchanges in the comments. Every once and a while, it brings me a surprise. This fall I received one of these in my inbox. It was a query from the good folks at Barclay Press as to whether I would be interested in receiving a copy of their reissue of Through Flaming Sword which is Arthur Roberts biography of George Fox. They assured me that I would be under no obligation to review the book. Judging from the mentions of this book that I have seen on other blogs, I would hazard a guess that I am not the only person to have received such a query. Apparently this is how viral marketing is done among Friends.

I am glad that I accepted the offer because I enjoyed reading the book. The biography was a useful, easily read introduction to the life of Fox. The part that grabbed my interest was the section on the legacy of George Fox where Roberts discusses the holiness tradition among early Friends. Growing up as I did among liberal Friends I had tended to view holiness as something that had swept over 19'th century Friends and somehow subverted the Quaker movement. Roberts made Quaker holiness understandable to me. He also showed me that it has been at the heart of Quakerism from the beginning.

As Roberts explains it, holiness is the idea that justification and sanctification are heart of the religious life. It is the work of Christ within us that actually makes us holy. This may happen over time, but eventually we are made perfect and holy by God. This was the part of Barclay that made my heart sing. It is the part of Quakerism that I would like to see liberal Friends recover. It is just that I had never known to put the name of Holiness on that doctrine. So I was a bit gobsmacked to see an Evangelical friend declaring this to be the heart of Quakerism and something that had been preserved in their branch of Quakerism. This confirmed my belief that Friends need to spend more time talking with each other. The different strains of Quakerism are holding on to different pieces of what had been a unified whole. I think that silent worship is a unique gift of Friends to Christianity. But it loses some of its transformative power without the idea of holiness. With holiness, Meeting for Worship becomes more than just a quiet hour of reflection, it becomes a tool whereby the Spirit of God can work in us to bring us along the road to perfection or holiness. I understand how Hannah Whitehall Smith could have heard holiness preached and thought that it was just Quakerism in clearer language.

Reading this got me to start reading Carole Dale Spencer's more thorough and scholarly study of holiness, Holiness: the Soul of Quakerism. Before I would have thought that title a bit of a stretch. Now I am not so sure. I will at least have to finish her book before I can say.

Blessings to all,

Will T

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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Messiah No One Expected

In the days of Herod the Great, the people waited expectantly for the Messiah, the person who would liberate their country from imperial rule and bring about a new state of justice and peace. Nobody except Joseph and Mary and their immediate family was waiting expectantly for the birth of Jesus. No one expected a Messiah to be born in a stable to temporarily homeless people. No one expected a Messiah whose kingdom was not of this world. No one expected a Messiah who said that the Kingdom of God is within and among you already. No one expected a Messiah who said that the way to the Kingdom is to give up yourself. No one expected a Messiah who said that you must give up your ego, the false self, the one you have created, as if from fig leaves, to hide those parts you are ashamed of. Certainly no one expected a Messiah who would give himself up to be killed by the powers and principalities of that world of falsehood.

When the world, that world built on the basis of all those false selves, realized what this prophet was teaching, they rejected him, and finally killed him. No one expected a Messiah that would be reborn. The false self fears its death and does not realize that its death is a rebirth into wholeness whereby we accept in ourselves everything, even those parts we are ashamed of. It is a rebirth into a place where we can acknowledge our imperfections and make amends, when needed, for the times when our imperfections have hurt others. We are reborn into a place of honesty and integrity about ourselves and our place in the world. In that place we come to know the love of God but the world that is based on lies and deception hates us. It hates us because our integrity holds up a mirror to the false self, and the false self cannot stand what it sees. It is through meekness, humility and the death of this false self that we come into God's kingdom.

So the Messiah that no one expected, who was born in a stable and died on a cross and was reborn, is now standing outside and knocking on the doors of our hearts, asking us to let him in so that we too can be reborn. Asking that we might cease to be servants of God and become friends.

The world hasn't changed so much since the days of Herod. This advent season we are waiting the new president who will lead us into a world of justice and peace and prosperity while the Messiah is standing outside our door knocking.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Community, Safety and God

Our meeting had a retreat recently. For the first hour we shared about what we would need to feel safe during the retreat. People shared about needing to feel heard and respected. They needed to have their responses taken seriously and not judged. People shared about needing to be able to speak passionately without it being taking as anger or judgment. People spoke of needed to be able to speak up if they felt hurt by something someone said. At one point I found myself getting a little impatient. When were we going to get past this and on to the real business of the retreat. Then I realized that this was the real business. The purpose of the retreat was to explore our vision for the meeting community. I realized that all of these needs that we were expressing for the session also described what kind of community we wanted our meeting to be. We want a place where we feel respected. We need to hear each others voices. We need to express our vulnerabilities. We need to be able to express our passions. We need to recognize that we are all imperfect and sometimes we will hurt each other. When that happens we need to be able to name the hurt, reconcile and heal, and go on.

I was struck by the paradox of what we were doing. We were trying to create a community where we would all feel safe. But the purpose of the community is to be a place where we can find God. But encountering God is an inherently dangerous activity. “It is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” [Hebrews 10:31] Moses asked if any mortal could look on the face of God and live. It is because of the inherent danger of what we are about that the safety of the community is so important. You would not go rock climbing without a companion and a rope. The community provides the safe place to do a dangerous thing. It provides the support and encouragement that allows us to go on.

The other irony is that the encounter with God is not dangerous to our souls. It is only dangerous to our egos, our personas, the false self we project to the world. It is dangerous to our illusions about ourselves because the encounter with God shows us as we really are. God is dangerous to the defenses we have built over the years to protect ourselves from the hurts we have encountered. But God strips all of that away from us. God will be as the refiners fire and burn away from us all that is not of God. Ultimately this is healing. In fact it is a source of great joy. It allows us to grow into who God would have us be. But it is awesome in prospect and sometimes painful in the process. And so we need safe and supportive companions as we embark on such a perilous journey. This is why community is so vital to Quakerism.

Blessings to all,
Will T