Thursday, September 23, 2010

How I Ended Up Leading a Semi-Programmed Worship

Atlanta Friends Meeting started a mid-week worship late last year, and as part of it, every month or so, we have a semi-programmed worship. When it was brought to the Ministry and Worship committee, I had some objections. I felt that we had some difficulties with unprogrammed worship, and I doubted that a semi-programmed worship would get the intentionality to the Spirit that it requires. And to be honest, I had some prejudices against it, as being inferior to unprogrammed worship.

While I didn't particularly approve of the semi-programmed worship, I didn't feel strongly enough to stand in the way. I decided instead just not to go. That didn't last, however. Ceal volunteered to do a reading for the first one, and since I was leaving for School of the Spirit the next day, I didn't want to be apart from her that evening, so I went. I didn't enjoy it. As I look back on it, I think my negative attitude towards it really colored my perception and got in the way. I brought this difficulty to my Koinoneia Group at School of the Spirit, and they helped me try looking at things a little more broadly.

Over the summer, I led the bible study at North Carolina Yearly Meeting - Conservative, and it was really wonderful. It felt very Spirit-led, in a deeper way than I have experienced in leading workshops.

I also found myself reading the bible much more often. I spent a lot of time reading Paul - over and over. I found many challenges - passages confronting ideas I held, and also finding the Spirit rising within me, and often filling me with a feeling of the need to preach the gospel (to bring the "power of God" to people).

I began to wrestle with my opinion of semi-programmed worship, in light of my experience with leading the bible study, and began to question my feelings that a semi-programmed worship was less Spirit-led. I eventually came to the point where I volunteered to actually lead one of the semi-programmed worships. I came to think of it as more of a talk followed by open worship. I still maintain the importance of unprogrammed worship, and our listening to God speak to and through us. But I am also seeing gifts I have in speaking and teaching that can be manifested outside of an unprogrammed worship.

At my fifth School of the Spirit residency, I managed to get some time to talk with Frank Massey, who is now a pastor for Jamestown Friends Meeting. I wanted to understand how he and his meeting work to follow the leadings of the Spirit. We had some discussion about preparation for speaking, and also some discussion about my thoughts on evangelism. Frank also recommended, wisely, that I not do an "altar call". (No, I wasn't considering it). When I asked about writing out the whole sermon ahead of time, Frank told me that because he has a lot to do when he gets to the meetinghouse, he typically needs to have it written down, although he still listens to what God wants him to do or say.

When it came to planning, I wanted to be open. I asked Ceal to help in the discernment of any music or readings. Nothing arose for us music-wise, but Ceal felt that the 23rd Psalm from the New Jerusalem Bible would be good. We opened with some period of silence, then Ceal read the psalm, then more silence, then I spoke, then we had about 30 minutes of open worship. No one spoke in the open worship and it felt very deep. I will continue to discern whether I am led to do another one.

Here is the text as I had it written out, I did add some bits as I spoke, but not much:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matt 11:28-30 (NRSV)

We often think of Jesus as a teacher, and we focus on his wise sayings and parables. But there are other times when he speaks for God, and tells us about our relationship with God, and I believe this is one of those passages.

Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens
I have read different interpretations about what burdens Jesus might have been referring to here. Some people think that it refers to the burden of the Law and the weight of keeping all the rules and commandments. Others think that it referred to the rule of the Roman government. That would also fit with the image of the yoke, which was often associated with governments.

There is a timelessness to this passage, though. It speaks to people in every age, because we are always carrying burdens.

So, what are our burdens today? What wearies us?

I find our modern culture to be a great source of weariness. Our senses are constantly bombarded by sights and sounds, by ideas, stories, tragedies, bickering. Even in those times when we can keep ourselves afloat in this stream of senses, we find burdens in the state of our world - with the great disparity between rich and poor, the way our planet is abused, the way others suffer while we live comfortably.

Of course we have everyday burdens, too, that are a part of living in a human community. Emotional burdens, physical burdens, obligations.

I will give you rest
God, speaking through Jesus here, is offering us rest from those burdens. One of the things that is most important to me about the Quaker life is that we are all about experiencing God every day, in practical ways. So, if we say "God will give you rest", it is something real that we can experience.

One afternoon this past summer, I found myself feeling worn down. I started to do what I usually do when I feel that way, which is to flop down on the couch, turn on the TV, and turn off my brain. But it occurred to me that day that I should try "resting in the Lord". Instead of turning on the TV, or surfing the Internet, I just sat quietly. I realized later that that this was a way of trusting God that I had not been willing to do before.

We can also find rest by entrusting our worries and burdens to God. For me, this feels almost like a physical process. It is as if I can feel myself releasing things that I am holding on to, and instead grasping towards God. One of the things we encounter in our silent waiting upon God is a welling up of love and peace, and it is something that can make our burdens feel lighter. It is as if, as the Spirit rises within us, our burdens begin to float. They don't necessarily float away, but we find they become lighter.

The burden of concern for our world, and the people in it, seems to be particularly heavy for Friends. I wonder, though, if we believe that God wants to heal the world, and will guide us in what needs to be done, can we not find some relief from these burdens by trusting in that guidance?

Take my yoke
Most of us being city folk, we don't have much experience these days with yokes, or farm animals. The yoke is something that is fitted around the necks of a pair of animals to allow them to share a load. Jesus is talking about sharing the load with us -- that God doesn't want us to work alone. I believe that being yoked with God means that we are constantly operating under the guidance of that Spirit within us.

Yokes are typically fitted, so that they don't chafe or injure the animal, and make it easier for the animal to do its work. I believe that for us, our yoke fits when we do the things that the Spirit is calling us to do. When we wear another's yoke, it may not fit us as well, it may chafe, it may wear us down. Paul writes about the Body of Christ, and how each member has a specific purpose. Not everyone can be the eye, or the ear. Everyone has a specific purpose, and none is more important than any other. I think this is another way of saying that each of us has a yoke fitted especially for us.

Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart
Part of taking on this yoke is to learn gentleness and humility. To work with our yoke, we must be sensitive to where God wants us to go, and not insist on our own way. We must also do our work in a gentle way, not trampling and pushing in a particular direction.

My yoke is easy and my burden light
It can be difficult living the life we are called to live in our present day. Many of us have had experiences of work that we felt was necessary, but felt extra burdensome. For me, one of those experiences was in doing prison visitation. In the last few months, I have realized that it was a burden I could no longer carry, that the yoke was not fitted properly. There are other things, though, that may require much work, but feel so natural that we might not notice how much work it is. Working with the teens for the past seven years has not seemed so burdensome. Yes, it can be tiring, but not wearying.

When we are properly yoked, God lays on us burdens that we can handle. And God, being yoked together with us, helps us carry that load.

Come to me
This passage started with the words "Come to me". When I was a teenager, our youth choir sang a song taken from this passage. The song started and ended with "Come to me".

This passage starts with us coming to God, to learn how to listen, and to become yoked to God with a yoke that is specially fitted for us. We come to God to do the work, and when the work is done, we come to God to rest.

No complications. Just a simple "Come to me".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Onward Christian Soldiers

As I mentioned before, I led the bible study at the NCYM-C annual sessions this year, on the topic of the spiritual armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20).

When I first brought this topic to my care committee, one member had some reservations. This person felt that the somewhat romanticized image of a soldier was no longer useful for comparison in an age of drones, smart bombs, and what Roger Waters calls "the bravery of being out of range". While I had it in my notes to invite Friends to consider whether the images Paul presents are still applicable, I never felt a time during the bible study where we should discuss it.

On my drive back from School of the Spirit, down I-85 from Durham to Atlanta, I noticed a billboard for the U.S. Marine Corps, featuring a picture of a soldier and the message "Dedicated to a Life of Honor." It came to me that I thought that it was an apt description of the Christian life, at least if by "honor" we mean "integrity". As I continued my drive, I saw two other variations on this billboard. One read "Devoted to a Life of Courage", and "Committed to Something Greater Than Themselves". These two reinforced the image I was getting of the Christian Soldier. Perhaps it isn't the hardware that makes the image work in our time, but rather the image of total devotion to that Spirit within us, calling us to a life of integrity, and to a life that confronts evil (spiritual forces, not flesh and blood) in ways that require great courage.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Politics and War

This is a subject I have written about before, but I recently had some more openings about the subject while listening again to Lloyd Lee Wilson's Pendle Hill talk on the subject "Who Do You Say I Am?"

In his talk, LLW says something about how the Kingdom of God is not the same as earthly governments, and that it is not realized by "giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the senate." In the questions that followed, LLW talked about "how easy it is for the Christian vision to be co-opted by political power", and he went on to caution Friends about not letting themselves get co-opted. As I heard this discussion, things arose for me about politics, especially the attitudes found in partisan politics and the attitudes in war.

There's a movie called "Joyeux Noel", about the German, French, and British troops celebrating Christmas together during the first world war. At the beginning of the movie, they show school teachers in each country telling the children almost identical stories how evil the other side is, how they don't have the same value for human life. In times of war, we often hear such demonizing of the other side, often times using extreme examples to characterize the general population. The same thing happens quite frequently in political battles. People have in mind certain characteristics when they hear "right" and "left", and there often seems to be very little middle ground, much less compromise. People like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Al Franken become the caricatures by which others are judged.

When Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, I heard Friends refer to those who questioned the decision as "not getting it". During the health care debate, I heard talk about how the people who opposed the health care bill were just looking out for themselves and didn't care about other people, with little regard to the possibility that the disagreement was about the role of government. It seemed to be framed more as "we are in the right, they are in the wrong", which is also the core of any proposed justification for war.

I am often disappointed at the level of wheeling and dealing that takes place to get legislation passed, and the seeming lack of concern for that on the part of the victors. It seems like we are willing to put up with a lot of behavior that would be otherwise unacceptable as long as it results in the passage of some important piece of legislation. Similarly, in war we often find the people willing to suspend their previously-held standards in order to carry out the war. The PATRIOT act seems a good example of this. Look at the difference in Friends' attitudes with regard to disagreements in business meeting as compared to political issues. Is there a similar lowering of principles?

In his talk, Lloyd Lee said something to the effect of "Who am I to judge how you may be led by God?" I am not writing this with the intent of saying that anyone who engages in politics is wrong, but I think it is very important to be aware of what political battles do to us. The similarity between partisan politics and war with respect to attitudes and behaviors suggests to me that if nothing else, we can find the seeds of war within these political battles.

The final thing I would ask Friends to consider is what it means to experience the Unity of the Spirit. When we sit and commune with God, as we experience the Holy Spirit, do we not find that worldly concerns drop away? When we experience the perfect love that casts out fear, do we not reach a place in which we can commune with one another where our differences and disagreements fade into the background? Are our meetings unified by the experience of this Spirit - is that what we all come for? If so, then why are our meetings so politically homogenous?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Quaker Label

Johan Maurer wrote last month about Who Owns the Quaker Brand addressing some of the disagreements that come up with what we mean when we say "Quaker". Rather than looking at those differences, I think it is interesting to look at what we are trying to say about ourselves when we call ourselves Quaker.

In some of these struggles about what it means to be a Quaker, there are people who get quite upset when they feel like others are telling them they aren't a real Quaker. I think some of this could be based on a fear of losing a community that one has found precious, either through not belonging to the community, or by the community changing and becoming something that doesn't fit. Perhaps this fear is more easily realized in a community that avoids defining itself, so that there is less security in what the community is actually about.

The thing about the name "Quaker" I really want to look at, however, is the extent to which the name is important to us, and why. What if you were no longer allowed to call yourself Quaker, while still maintaining the same level of membership in your faith community? What would you feel you had lost? Is it important, for example, to be associated by name with other Quakers of the past and present? Would you feel like you had lost your connection to the Divine? Would you feel like you had lost some kind of moral authority?

These are questions I often ask myself. My feeling is that if I am holding on too tight to the word "Quaker", it becomes almost an idol for me, a substitute for the direct inward experience of Christ. It also seem to me that the less tightly I hold onto that word, the less I worry about whether other people use it differently. That doesn't mean that I give up my concern for my community and whether or not it is being faithful, but that I am less worried about how other communities use it.

There is a passage in Revelation in which the Spirit says "And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." This verse points me away from worldly words and names, and towards God. Whether anyone else knows that name doesn't matter, what matters is that I am faithful.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 8

This is the continuation of part 7 of my School of the Spirit research paper.


Although there are numerous aspects to Fox’s message, most of them having a parallel in the scriptures, it is important to remember that they all flow from one thing -- the light of Christ in the heart. If Friends dwell in this light, they find themselves purified, taught, brought into a peaceful unity, and both empowered and encouraged to bring that light, the gospel, to others. Without this indwelling presence, there is no spiritual basis for the rest. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:20, Christ is the chief cornerstone.

I have also made a printable version available.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 7

This is a continuation of part 6 of my School of the Spirit research paper.

Empowers to Fight the Lamb’s War

Fox often refers to victory because he believes that part of the life in the Spirit means engaging in a spiritual war against Satan. This battle is often referred to as the Lamb’s War, as described in Revelation 17:14, "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." Fox writes that "the lamb must have the victory", which seems to allude to this verse. Another favorite verse that refers to the Lamb’s War is Revelation 12:17, "And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." While he occasionally mentions the dragon, Fox usually quotes the latter part of this verse, emphasizing that Friends should keep the testimony of Jesus.

Epistle 55 is titled "Concerning the spiritual warfare" and illustrates what this spiritual war entails. For example, Fox writes "Arm yourselves like men of war, that ye may know, what to stand against. Spare not, pity not that which is for the sword (of the spirit,) plague, famine, and set up truth, and confound the deceit, which stains the earth and cumbers the ground." Setting up, or establishing truth, and confounding or trampling deceit is a major theme of Fox’s epistles, and is the way this spiritual war is fought. There are different aspects to this deceit. On one hand, it is simply the way Satan blinds you to the light of Christ in your own heart. It can also be the various false doctrines, practices, and organizations in the world that Fox and other early Friends were often critical of. In epistle 55, Fox also encourages Friends to "go on in the work of the Lord, that ye may trample on all deceit within and without," thus emphasizing that the spiritual warfare is not just fought by outward ministry, but by the inward work of waiting in the Light.

The sword of the spirit mentioned in epistle 55 is the word of God, according to Ephesians 6:17. Now, traditional Christianity refers to the bible as the "word of God". For example, the original King James Bible contains a message from the translators to the reader that says that the bible "containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God." For these Christians, then, the sword of the spirit is the bible. To this day, many Christian children in sunday school participate in "sword drills" in which they must look up verses in the bible as fast as they can. Friends, however, maintained that Christ is the word of God. In responding to an opponent who claimed that the scriptures are the word of God, Fox says that "the scriptures of truth are God’s words, which Christ, the word, fulfils. They are not the word of God, which thou has blasphemously affirmed, but Christ is the word of God." Thus, for Fox, it is Christ who is the sword of the spirit by which the spiritual war is fought -- the spirit of Christ in one’s heart that leads one to speak and act in various ways, is a sword against evil and deceit.

This usage of the "word of God" as the "sword of the spirit" is another variation of Christ as the seed who bruises the head of the serpent. In fact, the purifying and transforming action of the seed within the individual is at the center of the Lamb’s War. It is in turning people towards the light of Christ within themselves that evil is defeated. Fox often speaks of his mission the same way Paul does in Acts 26:18, in which he was "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." In epistle 216, Fox ties together the themes of turning people to the light, purification, and the defeat of evil: "Yet work ye and labour in the power of the Lord God ... to the renewing of people’s minds in the light and power of God, and knowledge of Christ Jesus, turning them from the enmity and the darkness, (the power of satan,) to the light, and to God, that they may be renewed into his image and likeness; that the image of the devil, and his likeness, may be defaced."

In addition to the "sword of the spirit", Fox also seems to like the metaphor of the word as a hammer or as a fire, as found in Jeremiah 23:29, "Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" In epistle 23 he writes that the word "saves the soul, and hammers down, and throws down, and burns up that which wars against it."

Fox is careful to distinguish spiritual warfare from worldly warfare, often referring negatively to carnal weapons as found in 2 Corinthians 10:4, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." For example, in epistle 205, he writes that "in the spirit ye will worship God, and have fellowship and spiritual weapons, and come to be spiritual men, and not as the carnal world that rule and wrestle with carnal weapons, and with flesh and blood." In addition to 2 Corinthians 10:4, this one sentence also brings in John 4:24 (that God is worshipped "in spirit and in truth"), and also Ephesians 6:12, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

Fox often emphasizes the importance of ministry and that it proceeds from the light and not from human reason. He also emphasizes not the words, but the spirit that gives them forth. This flows, to a large extent, from the understanding that the gospel is not simply a message, but is the power of God. This idea comes from Paul, who writes in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." In epistle 372, Fox equates the gospel with Christ, and emphasizes over and over that the gospel itself is power: "Now the gospel being preached to, or in, every creature under heaven; which gospel is the power of God to salvation, to every one that believes; so all that receive this gospel, the power of God unto salvation, in their hearts, receive Christ, (the power of God,) and his government and order in the power. And Christ reigns in their hearts in his power; and such come into the gospel order."[5, p. 207] Fox’s subtle insertion of "or in" to his quotation of Colossians 1:23 (“the gospel ... which was preached to every creature”) is very telling, in that it emphasizes the internal work of Christ on the heart, and not simply a message that one must accept.

Not surprisingly, Fox also makes use of Ephesians 6:13-17, which identifies the equipment for spiritual warfare:

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

In addition to the sword of the spirit, Fox mentions both the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation numerous times. In epistle 206, Fox makes the interesting connection between salvation and Christ through the helmet metaphor, saying "Christ Jesus being your helmet and your head." In epistle 314 he suggests that "your heads [are] preserved by the helmet of salvation, and your hearts fenced with the breast-plate of righteousness." In epistle 377, Fox provides a variation on the spiritual armor theme that has a wonderfully gentle feel: "And therefore mind the Lord in all your sufferings, and keep all low, and in the humility of heart, and there you will feel that he that inhabits eternity, dwells with an humble heart, and he will be your shield and buckler, and defender in time of trouble."[5, p. 215]

In carrying on the Lamb’s War, Fox frequently urges Friends to be "valiant for the truth upon the earth." This is a variation on Jeremiah 9:3, "And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me." Because this verse describes those that are not valiant, the implication of “be valiant” is not just to be brave, but to be truthful and to know God.

This paper concludes in part 8.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 6

This is a continuation of part 5 of my School of the Spirit research paper.

Brings Into Unity

Fox emphasizes the importance of the spiritual community. While he often refers to the body in order to emphasize the headship of Christ, he also makes references to the body in terms of unity, as described in 1 Corinthians 12:13, "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one spirit." Fox seems to use this verse more often in his later epistles, perhaps reflecting the difficulties in dealing with the growth of Quakerism and maintaining more and more meetings.

Part of Friends’ witness to peace was in maintaining a peaceful community amongst themselves. Fox usually describes this as being in "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace", taking the phrase from Ephesians 4:3. In epistle 180 he tells Friends to keep in the power of the Lord, "that to the Lord ye may be a blessing in your generation, and a peculiar people in tenderness, and full of that faith which overcomes the world and all things in it; through which ye may come all up into the unity of the spirit which is the bond of peace." Fox tends to use the phrase in relation to meetings, as he does in epistle 18, urging Friends to "meet together every where, and keep the unity of the spirit, which is the bond of peace."

Fox also refers to the "unity of the faith" in various forms, quoting Ephesians 4:13 "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." He often couples this phrase with "in which ye have the victory", alluding to 1 John 5:4 "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." In other words, it is our faith that is the victory.

This paper continues in part 7.

Monday, August 9, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 5

This is a continuation of part 4 of my School of the Spirit research paper.

The Ultimate Ruler, Who Must Be Obeyed

It isn’t enough to say that Christ is known inwardly, he must also be obeyed. Fox refers to Christ using various terms denoting leadership. For example, he refers to Christ as the head, referring to Colossians 1:18, which says that "[Christ] is the head of the body, the church." Fox emphasizes not just that Christ is the head of the church, but that the church is defined as a community that recognizes Christ as its head. In epistle 230, he writes "there is no true church but where Christ exercised his offices in an amongst them." By offices, Fox is referring to the various roles Christ takes on as the head of the church -- prophet, shepherd, counsellor, commander, bishop, priest.[5, p. 54] In one of his doctrinal epistles, addressed to “all Kings, Princes, and Governors in the whole world”, Fox gives some examples of how Christ is known in various offices:

His office, as he is a counsellor; do you hear his voice from heaven, concerning your heavenly state: his office, as he is a leader to lead you out of sin and evil, and to rule in your hearts by faith, as a commander: his office, as he is a shepherd, are you his sheep? and do ye hear his voice?

Fox also draws numerous titles and images from Isaiah 9:6-7, which is familiar to fans of Handel’s "Messiah":

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The title "Prince of Peace" occurs quite frequently in Fox’s epistles, often accompanied with the title "Prince of Life." The kingdom and government of Christ also get mention from Fox. He often refers to the kingdom as the "everlasting kingdom", touching on Daniel 9:4, which says "How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation." Not surprisingly, Fox also refers to the "kingdom of God" that occurs throughout the New Testament.

As usual, Fox’s emphasis is not on giving Christ these titles, but in acting accordingly. For example, in epistle 49 Fox emphasizes that "the kingdom of God ye may all come to see, waiting in the light, taking heed to it, which calls to repentance, which informs your minds towards the kingdom of God, where there is no end, but love, joy, and peace for evermore." The kingdom, in this case, is realized through obedience to the light.

Fox often encourages this obedience through the phrase "walk in the light", which refers to 1 John 1:7: "But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."

The well-known Fox phrase "walk worthy of your calling" may come from Ephesians 4:1, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called", although it could also refer to 1 Thessalonians 2:12 "That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory."

Fox also warns against disobedience in various ways. He often warns Friends not to "grieve the spirit" or to "take heed of grieving the spirit", referring to Ephesians 4:30 "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." One Fox’s favorite terms for disobeying or ignoring the spirit is "quenching the spirit", which comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:19 "Quench not the spirit." Instead, Fox exhorted Friends to walk "as becometh the gospel" echoing Paul in Philippians 1:27 "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ." In Fox’s time, the word "conversation" didn’t just mean talking, it referred to one’s whole manner of being, the way one carried one’s self.

This paper continues in part 6.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 4

This is a continuation of part 3 of my School of the Spirit research paper.

Destroys Sin, Purifies Us

While the universality of the light, and the inward, spiritual knowledge of God are important aspects of Fox’s message, it is the transformation of the soul brought about by Christ that is the real core of his message. When Fox quotes Genesis 3:15, referring to the seed of the woman that bruises the serpent’s head, he is referring to Christ bruising the head of Satan by driving out deceit and sin from the heart. For example, in epistle 4, Fox writes that as the seed bruises the serpent’s head, it will "discover all deceit, and rend all veils and coverings, that the pure may come to life, which deceit hath trampled upon." That is, the seed discovers and drives out Satan (the cause of evil and deceit) from your heart, so that you may come to know the pureness of the Spirit.

Fox often describes this transformation as being "restored into the image of God", referring to Genesis 1:27 in which humans were created in the image of God. Fox also describes this process as becoming "a new man, renewed in the image of God", which echoes Colossians 3:10 ("renewed in knowledge after him that created him"), Ephesians 4:24 (the new man is "created in righteousness and holiness"), and 2 Corinthians 5:17 ("he is a new creature: old things are passed away").

One of the ways that Fox expresses this transformation is in the idea of doing everything for God’s glory. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Fox frequently uses the phrase "to the glory of God" in reference to transformation, and often in the form of being "ordered" (i.e. transformed, put into right order) to God’s glory. Most of the time, Fox speaks of this ordering as a result of waiting in the light, although occasionally he uses it in terms of being mindful of God. For example, in epistle 200 he expands on the idea of doing things to God’s glory by saying you should "have God’s praise and glory in your eye in all your speakings and doings, then ye will be preserved to his glory."

Fox makes frequent references to Titus 2:11-12, which says "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." This one verse contains elements of these first three parts of Fox’s message -- that the grace of God (Christ) has appeared to all people, that he teaches us directly, and that he brings us to live what Fox refers to in his journal as a "holy and sinless life." This transformation or purification is the salvation that this verse in Titus refers to. In contrast to the mainstream Christian view where salvation means being saved from the penalty for your sins (i.e. hell), this kind of salvation is being saved from sinning, in which one lives a truly holy life. Fox makes this clear in epistle 158 where he writes "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, to teach, season, and establish you, which brings your salvation."

This paper continues in part 5.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 3

This is a continuation of part 2 of my School of the Spirit research paper.

Known Inwardly and Spiritually

The inward knowing of Christ, the light, the seed, is such an integral part of Fox’s epistles that it is rare to encounter one that does not recommend that Friends walk, dwell, keep in the light. The prophet Jeremiah writes about a new covenant in which God says "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts," (Jeremiah 31:33) and Paul also writes about it in Romans 2:15 ("which shew the work of the law written in their hearts"). For Fox, this new covenant describes his experience of inward revelation and direct experience of Christ, and he frequently makes reference to the new covenant in terms the inward experience of God. He also writes of the covenant as a covenant of light, which echoes Isaiah 42:6, "I will give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles."

Like Jesus and Paul, Fox frequently emphasizes the inward work of the Spirit by contrasting it with the teachings and opinions of people. One of Paul’s statements that Fox uses is from Romans 2:29, "he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." In other words, it isn’t the external things that make one a Jew, but what is in one’s heart. Fox makes heavy use of not only the idea of the circumcision of the heart, but also in admonishing Friends not to seek human praise -- it is God that Friends should seek to please. In fact, most of the places where Fox uses the phrase "of men" he is contrasting worldly matters with spiritual ones.
Fox’s use of the phrase "led by the spirit", echoes Paul’s writing in Romans 8:14 that "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Of course, the idea of being led by the spirit is central to Fox’s writing and is expressed in a wide variety of ways.

Fox also makes numerous references to the "carnal mind" or just plain "carnal", which refers to being concerned about worldly things as opposed to spiritual ones. This concept appears in Romans 8:6, which says "to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." A typical example of this would be sentence in epistle 58: "The teachers without exalt the carnal mind, but the teacher within destroyeth it." He contrasts human teachers (often "without" means outward or external) with the inward teacher, Christ.

Fox frequently uses the term "letter" in referring to ministers and teaching that is not from the Spirit, and this likely comes from 2 Corinthians 3:6, which says "Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." It has been a doctrine of Friends from the beginning that the Spirit is the primary authority and that the scriptures are secondary, and Fox’s references to "the letter" tend to take on a dualistic flavor, implying that those who teach "the letter" have no knowledge of the Spirit.

This paper continues in part 4.

Friday, August 6, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 2

This is a continuation to part 1 of my School of the Spirit research paper.

Christ, the Light and Seed, Enlightens All

George Fox uses a wide variety of terms to refer to Christ, sometimes with simple titles like "the light" or "the seed", sometimes with more formal titles such as "the Lord Jesus Christ", and still other times with descriptions such as "that which is pure" or "that which shows and discovers." Fox uses the title "the light" frequently, as does the Gospel of John (e.g. "I am the light of the world", John 8:121). Particularly, Fox makes many references to John 1:9, "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." [All scripture quotations in this paper are from the King James Version]

The idea that the light of Christ is available in every person was of central importance to Fox’s message, but it is not the whole message. In Fox’s teachings, the light of Christ is present in every person so that if they turn towards it, they might experience a transformation and be brought closer to God. For example, in epistle 366, Fox writes that the light enlightens every person so that "every one may believe in the light, and may become a child of the light, and have eternal life, and be saved." The phrase "be saved", as we shall see shortly, refers to the inward transformation that takes place. The universal presence of this light means that every person has this potential.

Fox also makes many references to Christ as "the seed", which typically refers to either of two promises. First, in Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent that "[the seed of the woman] shall bruise thy head." Typically, the references to this verse are in the context of destroying sin, and will be discussed in more detail shortly. The other common reference to "the seed" originates in Genesis 22:18, in which God tells Abraham "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." The Apostle Paul refers to this promise to Abraham several times, especially in chapter 3 of the epistle to the Galatians. In Galatians 3:16, Paul says that Christ is Abraham’s seed to which the promises had been made (with a similar statement in Romans 4:13). Fox echoes this idea frequently by referring to Christ as the seed "that is heir to the promise". In calling Christ the seed of Abraham, Fox is not just making a theological statement describing some aspect of God that needs to be believed. These references are frequently accompanied with exhortations to know the seed, or feel it, or dwell in it, implying that the important thing is in doing, not just believing.

This paper continues in part 3.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

George Fox's Message Via His Scripture Quotations - Part 1

This was my School of the Spirit research paper. I'm finally getting around to posting it, after investigating another avenue of publication. I didn't think the full title would fit in the blog, since it is: "The Message of that Eminent and Faithful Friend and Minister of Christ Jesus, George Fox, As Revealed by the Quotations of Scripture in his Epistles Unto Friends."


George Fox has always been famous for his knowledge of the bible. His writings are infused with scripture references, frequently containing only snippets of verses, and usually without providing the chapter and verse that he is quoting. Fortunately, Esther Mu ̈rer has endeavored to track down Fox’s scripture references, as well as those of other early Friends, and has made them available on the Quaker Bible Index (

In 2007, I used the Quaker Bible Index to compile a list of the bible verses that George Fox quoted most often. I was particularly looking for devotional or inspirational verses. After some online discussions with Kirk Wattles, I realized that my list included quotes used to defend Quaker doctrines and teaching. I compiled a new list using only those verses appearing in Fox’s epistles, reasoning that the epistles were more pastoral in nature and I wanted the verses that Fox would quote when writing to other Friends.

From this set of verses, and looking at the way Fox used them, I pieced together a description of Fox’s message that, while possibly incomplete, shows the major parts of that message and their scriptural foundation. Essentially, this message is:

Christ, the light or the seed, enlightens every one in the world, and is known inwardly and spiritually, not by the teachings of humans. He destroys sin, purifying those who obey him, and restoring them into the image of God in which they know peace and love. Those who obey Christ as the ultimate ruler become members of the body of Christ, and are brought into unity with him and with each other, and are called to fight a spiritual war against evil, for which they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This paper continues in part 2.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Fifth Trip To NCYM-C

I got back last night from my fifth visit to the annual sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) - the 313th annual gathering of that body. In one respect, you could say it was the same old thing - the same old deeply gathered, intentional, loving community that I continue to experience every time I visit. There were some differences, too.

We met on the campus of Guilford College, but stayed in a different dorm and met in different meeting rooms than in the past. This was the first time for me that these sessions weren't clerked by Sid Kitchens and Deborah Shaw. Richard Miller is now the clerk, and David Perry the recording clerk. I thought they both did a beautiful job, and I appreciated the way Richard conducted the sessions.

There were quite a few visitors. In fact, when the registrar announced the numbers during the last business session, we learned that visitors accounted for a little more than 20% of those in attendance. On one hand, this says that a lot of people are hungry for what NCYM-C has to offer, but on the other hand it suggests that many within the yearly meeting don't realize what a treasure they have.

One of the activities I really enjoy is "Morning Communion" which, while it does not involve the drinking of wine/juice or the eating of bread/wafers, does include the imbibing of coffee. It is just an informal gathering for conversation that occurs before breakfast. I woke up at 5:30 every morning so I would have time to shower and dress before morning communion - and it was well worth it every morning. Lloyd Lee and Susan Wilson, Janis and Charlie Ansell, and David Eley (of Keystone Fellowship, OYM) were there every morning, as were Ken Randall and Pat Bradbury of Britain Yearly Meeting. Ken and Pat were first-time visitors last year, and were obviously as taken with the yearly meeting as Ceal and I were four years ago.

The theme this year was "Spirituality and the Arts", and explored Friends' history with the arts from the rejection by early Friends' through the gradual softening of that stance, to discussions of what aspects of the arts do we hold dear, and what things might we still reject. On seventh day evening was an arts fair in which Friends displayed various creations. The young Friends (including all three of my grandkids) put on a shadow puppet show on Quaker testimonies which was a big hit. Oliver, a young Friend from Durham, also did his own shadow puppet show "Afghanistan: Land of Shadows" that was fantastic.

I had wonderful chats with Chuck Fager and Bill Geary (of Mullica Hill Friends Mtg). At lunch on first day I sat with Patricia Loring and had a fabulous chat about various topics. Ceal was incredibly patient with me for delaying our departure as long as I did. I could have stayed talking to Patricia all day.

I was invited to lead the bible study this year, and I chose the theme of spiritual warfare, using the title "Being Valiant for the Truth Upon the Earth", and exploring Ephesians 6:10-20 (which includes the spiritual armor of God). Earlier in the year, I had commented on Facebook that I thought "Christian Militia" was an oxymoron. Susan Jeffers replied that perhaps the abandonment of the language of spiritual warfare by the historic peace churches has left a void that is being filled by those who think of it as physical warfare. This is not an easy thing to discuss, even for those steeped in the bible, but it was a very enriching time. While I did a lot of preparation ahead of time, I knew that I could rely on Friends from the meeting to enrich the sessions far beyond what I could do, and my trust was well-placed. Friends shared deep insights, and touching stories, and for me the burden was light. I deeply appreciated being held in prayer by my wife and two members of my School of the Spirit k-group (while the others in the k-group held me from afar, as did my care committee).

The bible study was mentioned in the summary of exercises at the end of the sessions, and after they were read, Patty Levering asked if "and beloved friend of this yearly meeting" could be added after "Mark Wutka of Atlanta Friends Meeting (SAYMA)". I had tears in my eyes upon hearing that, and found that afterwards that I was so choked up I couldn't even get out a "thank you" to Patty. To Friends of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), I love you too! Here come the tears again..

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Epilogue

This post covers the gap between when I presented my spiritual journey in 2008 up to the present day. You can also read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

It feels like a lot has happened to me since I presented my spiritual journey to Atlanta Friends Meeting. There was one thing that was very significant to me that I left out of my spiritual journey, which happened in sixth month of 2008. When I attended the fourth month Representative Body meeting of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, I happened to talk with Lloyd Lee Wilson and I indicated some interest in traveling in the ministry - I can't remember exactly what I said, though. Lloyd Lee said that he thought I should come to this gathering of ministers that Charlie Ansell (then of Virginia Beach meeting) was organizing, that would be held in Woodland, NC in sixth month. Way opened for us to go, and it was a blessed time. The folks there were Lloyd Lee Wilson, Charlie Ansell, Deborah Fisch, Connie McPeak Green, Marty Grundy, David Eley, and me. Susan Wilson and Janice Ansell were also with us for a little while, but they were also taking care of the hospitality. We didn't have an agenda, we just sat in worship and waited for the Lord to lead us.

When I first saw who would be there, I felt quite intimidated, and it kinda felt like getting a chance to be the bat boy for the '27 Yankees. These Friends were all very kind to me and made me feel like I belonged there. It meant a tremendous amount to me. Towards the end of the meeting, we were reflecting on our experience there, and someone said that it was great that they weren't trying to "one-up" each other, and someone else said it was also great that they weren't trying to out-humble each other. I am very grateful to Lloyd Lee for arranging for me to be there, and to Charlie for following his leading.

Probably the biggest thing that has happened to me since I presented my journey is that I am now in the School of the Spirit "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer" program. It has been an incredible experience so far. In our first residency, Lloyd Lee Wilson came and spoke to us, as did his traveling companion Charlie Ansell. Charlie spoke about his role as an elder, and he had a lot of great things to say even though I don't think he knew ahead of time that he would be speaking. As Lloyd Lee spoke about his plain dress, it awakened something in me. It started with the beard, which he gave a name to - a tauferbard (believer's beard). There was something about naming it that was important to me. As a result, I decided to try growing one. Lloyd Lee, in talking about discernment, said "Don't stand there on the dock waiting to see if you're led to get on the boat to America. Get on the boat and see if you're led to get off." I took that to heart with my beard, first growing the beard out, then seeing if I still felt led to shave off the mustache (Ceal was skeptical but she actually likes the beard, as long as I let her trim it occasionally).

There were three reasons why this change in my appearance appealed to me. First, a tauferbard is a symbol of Christian pacifism. Second, I thought it would make me stand out a little more. It's not that I want to stand out in order to say to the world "hey, look at me", but rather to say to myself "hey, the world's looking at you, watch what you do." I thought it would help me be more aware of what I was doing and how it appeared to people. Third, I wanted to invite conversation.

Since then, I have been moving more in the direction of plain dress. In a way, it is like I have come full circle from my first day at meeting when I wore a white oxford shirt and black dockers. I am back to that, although I also have some gray oxford shirts. I have also started wearing suspenders. I think the look has helped me feel more separate than just the beard by itself. I can't bring myself to take the collars off the shirts, although if I could easily but the collarless ones I probably would. At first I was just dressing that way for work, but would still wear t-shirts and such on the weekends, but now I wear the same thing every day, and I feel really comfortable with it.

I did have some difficulties at School of the Spirit, that I think I attribute to not being comfortable with myself and expecting myself to change in certain ways. Certainly I have changed since I started, but I thought maybe I would become a more chatty person, that during breaks I would be standing around talking about various things with my classmates. But, that's just not me. I'm happy to talk with people, but unless there is something specific I want to talk about with someone, I don't generally go seeking conversation. I think there are probably times at meals when I don't say a thing, I just listen to what everyone else is saying. That bothered me for a while, but I have come to embrace it as part of who I am. I have also had a tendency to hold my call to ministry at arm's length, even though I get lots of encouragement from various sources. That is something I have been willing to embrace more firmly, and I feel it deepening.

At some point I plan to post my School of the Spirit research paper here. It has one of those old style long titles "The Message of the Eminent and Faithful Friend and Minister of Christ Jesus, George Fox, As Revealed by the Quotations of Scripture in his Epistles Unto Friends." I am in the middle of teaching the material during the Adult Ed classes at Atlanta Friends meeting, and also gave it as a workshop at SAYMA. I thought I'd have a chance to incorporate feedback before posting it here.

As I was typing this, I thought about the number of times the name Lloyd Lee Wilson has occurred in my spiritual journey, and how many of those encounters have resulted in significant events for me - my first visit to NCYM-C, the gathering of ministers in Woodland, my move towards plain dress. There are other things that I didn't mention in my spiritual journey, like his asking me to share some of my work with the meeting of Ministers, Elders and Overseers at NCYM-C, or asking me to find a good bible verse to kick off the discussion at the morning communion. When I sent him the PDF of the Joseph John Dymond letters, he responded with some words of encouragement. I don't think he reads blogs too often, so I'm going to have to mention this to him next month and thank him.

My Spiritual Journey, Part 3

This is the final part of my spiritual journey as presented to Atlanta Friends Meeting in 2008. You can also read part 1 and part 2.

So, the next year blogging started to get real popular and I started reading various Quaker blogs. This was around 2005, and I actually started my own blog, that I've slowed down on a bit, but it's called "The Ear of the Soul", that phrase comes from a quote from Meister Eckhart, a famous Christian mystic.. No! John of the Cross, another famous Christian mystic, or Juan de la Cruz he would be in Spanish. And it was very interesting. I can look at some of the things I said when I started and how I changed, and a lot of the people in the blogosphere had an effect on that. Having discussions with people, one of the nice things about blogging is actually people getting out and talking about their faith that we probably don't do here as much, and actually the blogging is a good way to do it, because everybody's on their own schedule. If you're busy this week, you come back to it next week. And plus, you've got a record of it, you can go back and read what somebody was saying two years ago.

And sometime, it was in 2006, I don't remember when the Gwinnett Worship Group started, but early on when it started, they only had a couple people going, didn't have any women attending, which can I guess be uncomfortable if a woman comes in and it's all guys. So, we started visiting occasionally, and the meeting started to grow. It was going pretty well, and Lloyd Lee Wilson, my plain Friend, came to visit, basically a traveling in the ministry kind of thing. He just came and sat in worship, and then would occasionally talk about things. And he talked about the yearly meeting, and the purpose of the yearly meeting, and he talked about how the worship at the end of the yearly meeting was sort of his liturgical.. the liturgical highpoint of his year, and he spoke very glowingly of his yearly meeting. So Ceal and I said "we really need to go there".

So, we went. They meet in July.. the second fourth day of seventh month is when they start. They're very big on numbering the days, the months. And I really felt at home there in a way that was different from our meeting, because.. let me explain one thing. For those of you who aren't familiar with conservative Friends, the word conservative doesn't have to do with political affiliation, and in fact North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative passed a torture minute the year before SAYMA did. It has to do with them feeling they are conserving the old Quaker traditions, so they are also unprogrammed like we are. They are more explicitly Christian than we are, they're very open in talking about that, but I think a lot more of their strength is not that, it's that they are much more.. they talk much more about how the Spirit works in us, and in the meeting, and maybe have a little more, they're a little more openly dedicated to that. One of the things I like, I'm the recording clerk for the Retreat Committee, and I'm starting to put "If consistent with Divine will" at the end, whenever they say "We purpose to meet on such-and-such a day.. if consistent with Divine will", you know, it's that acknowledgement that "yeah, this is where I want to go, but at some point I may be led to do something different." It's something they keep in mind a lot. But it's also that I felt that I could speak the language that I was most comfortable with and not have to worry so much about upsetting people. And, you know, I.. there's different ways to have a yearly meeting. The thing that I learned from the yearly meeting conservative is that it can be quite a benefit to have a shared faith tradition that people can speak to each other with. People can quote the bible and it means something to a lot of people and you understand where they're going, where when you have more of a mix that's a lot more difficult. But, don't necessarily get.. some people feel less comfortable with that. Having a meeting like this, and a yearly meeting like ours, is just a different way of approaching it, it has different strengths and weaknesses.

Also, while I was there, the Saturday night program was reading the book of Mark as sort of a dramatic presentation. There were 12 or 13 people, several people had different parts to read, and I volunteered. I said "Hey, I'll participate." And I think I had Peter, but the thing that I always laughed about was that there are several places in the book of Mark where evil spirits speak. They gave the guy from the liberal meeting all the evil spirits. Also, we had a little discussion about where the person reading God would sit. They wanted God way up at the top, and I said "I can understand that, God sitting up high, but on the other hand, if God can't get front row center, who can?" Lloyd Lee laughed and said "Thee has a future as a theologian."

So, Ceal and I like to visit meetings when we travel. If you're not familiar with it, is really great. If you're going somewhere just type it in. We've been to meetings in Dallas. Dover, New Hampshire was one of my favorites. The day we went there there was an old guy named Silas who.. he's written a book on meeting houses of New England. He's since died, but he had been very ill and been away from meeting for months and this was his first day back, and they were all just lined up to say "Hi" to him. It was wonderful, and he sat with us and talked a lot to us. But, as we visited, I noticed I was speaking a lot in meetings, but not here. And that always bothered me, and I wondered "why am I not speaking here?" Cause I never felt like I had a message, you know, it's not like I was "Oh, I can't say anything here." And I had a lot of discussions with Ceal about that.

While were visiting the North Carolina Yearly Meeting in 2007, there was an announcement about this consultation on Gospel Ministry that FGC Traveling Ministries was having, and I felt like I needed to be there. But to go, your meeting had to recommend you. And I thought "Why is my meeting going to recommend me? I never speak there." And I can't. I can't make myself speak. That's not the way ministry works. I can't fake it. I mean, I could fake it, I don't want to fake it. And so I remember sitting in meeting one day wrestling with this, and I'm pretty sure it was July 29, 2007. I went back and looked it up, because that was the day of the women's retreat and Ceal was there. And I was just wrestling with that and it seemed like a lot of things were falling away, and I don't even precisely know what. But then a message came to me, and I felt "I am going to stand and speak, and I'm not going to worry about what anybody may think." Like most of the things I say in meeting, I can't tell you what I said. I don't remember. But, it just felt like something.. you know, a block was removed, because since then I haven't had any problem. And the other difficulty I had with that was, I feel like it is important for a meeting to be able to look and identify gifts and call gifts out, and I didn't feel so comfortable with saying "hey! I want to go to this Traveling Ministries thing. Could somebody consider that?" But, I exchanged several e-mails with Mary Ann and said "Look, this is my situation. I hate to even say anything but if anybody is considering, could you consider me?" She ended up talking to SAYMA Ministry & Nurture and between SAYMA Ministry & Nurture and Atlanta, Atlanta set up a clearness committee for me which was really great, and they ended up recommending me to go. And it was great. The thing I mentioned about people having a shared tradition, there was a point during that consultation where somebody was talking about how difficult it was dealing with his own meeting, that his own meeting didn't give him any support. He felt really bad about this. Somebody else stood up and said "I feel led to read a verse from the bible." And it started out "Jesus went back to his hometown…" and all of a sudden you could feel everybody "Oh! I know where this is going!" and then we could all feel that we all felt that, and we laughed. It's like you don't even have to continue, cause it was the thing about "a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown." And I got to meet some.. one of the people I really wanted to meet was Brian Drayton, who wrote "On Living With a Concern for Gospel Ministry", and I ended up in his small group. And I had a really good time. I met a lot of people, but the thing.. I'm not sure that the conference itself was the most important thing as far as where I am today. I think the process I went through sitting in meeting and actually just being changed like that was part of it. The clearness committee helped me a lot, and as a result I have an anchor committee or care committee that Bill is.. Bill [Holland, Atlanta Friends] and Daphne [Clement, AFM] and Hannah MacDermott are all on. And that's the kind of committee you want, with those people on it. But they help me a lot, help me stay grounded and a lot of the meeting is like a clearness committee, and they're really good at helping me see things. So that was one of the best benefits.

And since then I've been spending a lot of time in early Quaker writings. I've done a lot with Fox's epistles. I was in the process of trying to make a version of Fox's epistles where all the bible references were in bold and all the actual scripture references were out on the right. Fox, when he used the bible, he didn't say "as it says in blah blah blah", he just used words and phrases from all over the bible, so it's very interesting to actually go and look up the context. And I ended up doing a workshop on that at SAYMA this year, which was very well attended. There were 46 people and SAYMA has about 200 adults attending. There were 5 young Friends, too, so it went really well. And I'm involved in a lot of things. I'm very involved with SAYF, we do prison visitation once a month, I'm on the retreat committee, I'm involved with SAYMA, I'm on the SAYMA nominating committee.. be careful.. but, it feels like there's something more I'm supposed to do and I don't know what it is yet, but I feel an urge to prepare myself. I spend a lot of time reading the bible. I'm kind of a geek. I got into Nascar in the mid-90's and to give you an example of what a geek I am, Ceal caught me reading a book on thermodynamics cause I was reading about engines, and she said "You know, a typical Nascar fan does not read books on thermodynamics." I've never heard any announcers on a Nascar race.. So.. being a geek, I started learning Greek, and part of my thought behind that was "I want to see what the bible really says", and you know over time, I've come to see that it mostly says what it says in English. Part of the thing with, you know, if you really want to understand it in Greek, you have to understand the culture, the thought, you have to put your whole mind back to two thousand years ago, because we've had a lot go on. In things I've read, the Enlightenment really affects our thought process. The idea that religion and politics are separate, that's not something that was in Jesus' time. So, I actually trust English translations more, and I'm more willing to wrestle with "they say what they say."

Also, early on I would just read the synoptic gospels, that's what I was comfortable with, occasionally ventured into John, and other than the love chapter, wouldn't touch Paul. What I've found over time is that if I am willing to let go of fear, or my desire to have it say what I want it to say, and just accept it for what it is, I learn a lot more. And, I can now.. I love reading Paul, especially because I feel a lot.. there's a lot of reading Paul..I can.. you know, from a Quaker standpoint I can see where he is. My favorite verse in the bible is Galatians 5:22-23, "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control." If I.. those to me are a touchstone, that if we are not feeling those things, we're not in touch with the Spirit.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was my understanding of Quakerism, and I want to do it in terms of the phrase "that of God in every person", and the reason is because from my standpoint, there are some contrasts with how we often use that phrase. And I think it will illustrate where I am. First of all, just saying "we believe there is that of God in every person", that's definitely original Quaker theology, you know, that was.. George Fox was all about that. But, to just say that doesn't, to me, go far enough. Because we're an experiential faith, and saying "we believe X" doesn't really speak to the experience itself. And, along the same lines, we say "we try to see that of God" in other people, and to me that is a noble idea, and a lot of times it's a good fallback. If I can't do anything else I'll try to do that, but I think what we miss when we say that as describing what Quakerism is, is that it doesn't talk about "that of God" in our own hearts. Because that is ultimately what transforms us. And it transforms us in a way that we love all of creation like God does. And it's really not just other people, that's all of creation. And I don't think everybody gets that with the looking. And then, also, "that of God" in every person means that everybody has the potential for that same transformation. And that, when Fox talked about answering that of God in other people, it was the idea that by what we say and what we do, we can awaken people to that of God in themselves, so that they also can be transformed. And looking back on my life, that's the one thing I know I can speak to, is that I have been, and I am still being transformed.

This ends the presentation I gave to Atlanta Friends Meeting, but there's a follow-up.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Part 2

This is a continuation of my spiritual journey as told to the Atlanta Friends Meeting in November of 2008. Part 1 was here.

So, now the fun starts. In February of 2001, I got a call from my grandfather. We had been there for Christmas, I spent every Christmas with my grandparents except one, in 1975 when we went to visit my uncle, and I had gotten a Christmas present, it was like a CD of Scrabble stuff, I was a competitive Scrabble player at the time. And it had gotten lost and it didn't make it back with us, and he had found it and he said "I can mail it to you, unless you want to come down here and get it." And I said something to Ceal about that, and we both had this feeling like we needed to go. Ceal said my grandfather wasn't usually the one to ask, it was usually my grandmother "when are you coming? when are you coming?" In fact, she still does that, and I tried to head it off recently. I was on the phone, and I had just gotten back from visiting her the day before, so I said "Grandma, it was great seeing you yesterday" and so she goes "when am I gonna see you again?". You know, she's right on top of it. But, Ceal and I, we had this strong feeling that we needed to go, and at the time I was a contractor. My entire career, I really don't have a lot to say about it, I've been a computer programmer, that's all.. from the age of 16, that's all the jobs I've ever had. But, I was a contractor, I had a little more leeway to take off, so we went down to Florida, and we spent several wonderful days there, and my grandfather told us stories I had never heard before, about his father getting stuck on Rockaway beach in New York, and everybody recognized him and it was like "Hey! It's Billy Brown! Let's go help him!" and they all.. people just gathered together and helped get his car out of a ditch. And he dug out his grandfather's birth certificate from Scotland, just stuff I hadn't seen before. So, we got back on a Sunday, and he died on Monday. And, I would have had difficulty acknowledging it, but I felt that God was behind us visiting.

And so, while we were still recovering from that, Ceal's dad died April 1st. So, we were in.. we were having a tough time in 2001. So, when September rolled around, we had already been struggling quite a bit, and when 9/11 happened, I felt that, you know, a military response was what we needed. I was still, I actually didn't vote for George W. Bush, but I voted Libertarian that year. And we had a group of friends that we'd know since Ceal and I knew each other, and we used to be on a bulletin board system, if you remember those - you dialed into a PC and you chat.. you don't chat live, you know, somebody leaves a message, so we'd get on, we'd read everybody's messages and we'd write one, you know, "to so-and so.. to so-and-so.." and it was a neat group. Well, by that time it had migrated onto the Internet into a mailing list, and we had a lot of discussion about 9/11 and the United States response, and a friend of mine posted this letter from the Dalai Lama, about being peaceful and all, and I had a very strong negative reaction to it, almost ridiculing it. And I remember thinking "what's.. how has this helped him? China's still in his country, he can't even live in his own country". But, the funny thing about it is that the letter stuck with me, and within a couple of weeks, I started kinda thinking maybe that's not that far off.

And so I started reading about Buddhism, and one of the early books I read was a book called "The Heart of Buddhism" by Thich Nhat Hanh, and I remember at one point reading it, saying "you know, this is how I always thought Christians were supposed to behave". And from Buddhism I also ended up reading a lot about Hinduism, and you know I liked a lot of the ideas in there, and I remember reading this thing about all these mystical experiences of yogis, like glowing, and just kind of fantastic stuff, and this voice in my heart said "if you can believe all this, how come you can't believe in God?" And so, there was sort of a release, you know. I wasn't as resistant to that idea. And around this time I also started reading, I read a lot, okay.. if I just listed all the books I read that would chew up the whole hour, but I read "The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living" by Eknath Easwaran, it's a big.. it's a three volume set, it's not just reading the Bhagavad Gita, it's a little piece of it and then a lot of how you apply it to your life. But, a lot of that was meditation. He has this program of "these are the things you should do" and meditation is one of them. And, part of his meditation to start with is actually memorizing a passage and slowly reciting it. So I memorized a couple of passages from the Bhagavad Gita, and I also.. I would meditate to the love chapter in 1 Corinthians, and the prayer of St. Francis. You know, I didn't notice.. Ceal was actually the one that pointed it out, that I had changed after a while. After several months of doing this, I didn't.. I was calmer.. when I was programming, I didn't bang the desk as often if something didn't work, even though I was using Windows.

Although I had an appreciation for Hinduism and Buddhism, I didn't really feel that they were for me. I never went to visit a Buddhist meditation center, a Hindu temple, and I also found my way to a book called "Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time" -- Marcus Borg. I like Marcus Borg. And, you heard me mention that I started in a pentecostal church, when Marcus Borg talks about the varieties of worship styles, he often uses pentecostals as one end, and Quakers as the other end, so I kind of feel like I've covered the whole spectrum. And so that started me actually trying to re-embrace Christianity from a point which I was comfortable with it, which of course changes over time.

So, in fall of 2002, I took this test online called the Belief-o-matic, and it asks you all these questions about what you believe, and for some of those it asks you to rank how important is this, cause for some people the bodily resurrection of Jesus - you have to believe that, and for other people.. there's just different varieties. And so, when I took the test it popped up "Liberal Quaker", number one. And I'm thinking "Quaker?!" I didn't know anything about Quakers.. nothing. So I started reading about it, and I said "Wow! This sounds exactly like me!" So, I screwed up my courage, and in November of 2002 - six years ago, I came to meeting. I don't remember the exact date, but I can tell you it was a date that you had an FGC book sale, so I did not get out of here empty-handed. The other thing, you know, I had read enough about Quakers to know that plain dress was part of the Quaker history, but I didn't know how much of the Quaker history it was now, so I decided to play it safe and I wore black pants and a white button down shirt, which to me is modern plain. I actually joked with Ceal about maybe I should wear that today, but to me that's dressing up, and this is what I'm comfortable in.

And, I am fairly introverted. I don't seek out conversation all that well, so I would come to meeting and then I would leave. And, finally I got Ceal to come to meeting. We were.. at the time we were gymnastics judges, and Ceal especially during that winter she was working a lot more than me, so she really wanted her Sundays to rest when she had them off, so it took a couple of months for her to come. And I finally got her to come to meeting, and to be honest I was lucky to get her to come back. It was right before the Iraq war, and it was like a political rally. It was a popcorn meeting, and the funny thing was, I sent a message on the Quaker-L mailing list saying "Hey, I just took my wife to this meeting and it was a popcorn meeting.." I described the whole thing and I said "Is this normal?" And someone else wrote back and said "You know, the same kind of thing just happened at my meeting. It's not always that way, but people are.. this is a tough time." That was Julia.. Julia Ewen [of Atlanta Friend Meeting].

So, I got Ceal to come back, and the funny thing was, you know, I had been coming a few more months than her. She went to the Gathered Meeting Retreat. I had to miss it because I was judging a state gymnastics meet, which was kind of a big thing, although it doesn't mean anything to me now. But, anyway, she got to meet all these people, and the next thing you know she's introducing me to all these other people in the meeting, which I wouldn't have done on my own. So this was 2003. We went to SAYMA that year. My first SAYMA. And, we got there at the time registration was supposed to start - imagine that - people are supposed to be on time? The registrar wasn't even there, it wasn't set up. There was.. there were two people there, however. Lloyd Lee Wilson and his traveling companion. Lloyd Lee is from North Carolina Yearly Meeting - Conservative and he was the keynote speaker that year. And Lloyd Lee and his traveling compassion were both plain Friends, you know, the straw hat, the suspenders and everything. So these are the first two people I saw at SAYMA, and I thought "Wow! This is going to be way different than I expected!"

So, in 2004, we went to our first FGC Gathering, and that was in Amherst, Massachusetts. And we took Richard Lee's workshop on "Meeting for Healing and Laughter". It was not our first choice. And you know, I really wasn't all that excited about it. The laughter part, yes, I like to laugh. So, the first couple days are a lot of lecture, talked about Quaker history, especially the healing.. there are a lot of incidents of healing, especially with George Fox in the early Quaker writings, that we probably don't talk about much. There's actually a book called "George Fox's Book of Miracles" that was never reprinted, and all we have now is.. Henry Cadbury found an index of what all the incidents in there were, and for the ones he could find in other places he put them together, so if it was something that was mentioned in the journal he could say "this is what this would have talked about", so it's not a book you can really read very easily, but it is quite interesting. And, I was sort of "ehh.. okay", I was somewhat skeptical. So that Wednesday we had our first meeting for healing, and if you haven't ever been to one, you know how we hold people in Light at the end of meeting, it's like an intense version of that. We would have somebody sit in the middle, and we would all hold that person in the Light for a pretty good period of time, five or ten minutes. And, Ceal was the last person that day. She was in the middle, and I just.. I felt myself going very deep, and my hands started to tingle. I didn't know what to do, I just sat there. And, I also kinda remember that it felt like there was a ring of .. I felt I could almost touch it with my hands. And at the end of the meeting, somebody had this little chime, and they rang it, and instead of snapping out, it felt like I was going over the top of a rollercoaster and plunging down, and I just went deeper. So everybody, they had gotten up and they were all shaking hands and talking, and I was just sitting there, because I was actually kinda freaked out by it. I had come in very skeptical and I was confronted with stuff I really didn't understand. And I went to every meeting for healing they had at FGC after that, because they would have them in the afternoon, and I experienced the same kind of thing, although later on in reading, it's important if you have physical sensations not to rely on them, because you don't always have them. But the one thing I have to say is that was the biggest turning point in my life, because I felt like at that point I could feel God. Not necessarily the tingling hands, I just could feel God. And since then, there are lots of times when I don't feel that, but now instead of saying "Well, maybe God's not really there", it's "I'm not listening hard enough, or maybe I'm doing things that are getting in between that". So I felt like it gave me a gift of faith.

Part 3 continues here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Part 1

Martin Fowler mentioned the BeliefNet Belief-O-Matic today on Facebook and he was surprised to learn that I found Quakers via the Belief-O-Matic. This made me think back again about my spiritual journey. The Atlanta Friends Meeting has been inviting members to share their spiritual journeys on the first first-day of the month during the Adult Ed class before meeting for worship. I shared mine in November of 2008. I recorded it at the time, and decided to make it available. At the time, I didn't know how to switch off the voice activation feature, when means it cuts off the beginning of some syllables, which makes some of them sound a little odd.

I have also transcribed it, and will post it in multiple parts since it is a little long. I hope it might inspire others to do the same. We have found it to be an enriching experience at Atlanta Friends Meeting.

Mark Wutka's Spiritual Journey

So, I'm Mark Wutka, and I'll just start from the beginning. I was born in 1965, May 11th, in Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and within a year of that my parents divorced, and since then I have not seen my father. We moved to live with my grandparents around the time I was a year old, and my uncle (my mom's younger brother) was still at home. This was in Jackson Heights, New York. And although in what I have to say I don't mention my family a lot, my family provided the foundation that underlies my spiritual journey. You know, you might think that not seeing my father that I might be lacking for something, but living with my grandparents for several years, and with my uncle there, I have probably more of a family than a lot of people have, and my mom.. I have a better parent in my mom than a lot of people have with two. Though a lot of what I have is because of them, and it's not necessarily any one thing I can point my finger to, it's just the way they always have been.

So, when we lived in New York, I left there when I was six, we attended Free Gospel Assembly of God church, which is pentecostal, so there were people speaking in tongues. I remember one particular, I'm sure this couldn't have been the first time, but there's this one where I can just see her and hear her in my head. I have no idea what she said, but I just remember it exactly. Of course, I learned a lot about the bible. I could recite about 2/3 of the books of the… list them.. of the Old Testament, by the time I was five. One of the sunday school teachers had made this set of books of the bible out of these little cereal boxes, and so I learned them. It's also kind of funny that the pastor of the church was this older guy, haircut like mine [I had a flat top when I recorded this], gray hair. I remember that that was always what I thought God looked like. And also, I didn't find this out until after I had become a Quaker, my mom remembered that around that time a lot of her friends were concerned because I played with their children and I would never hit back when they hit me. They kept telling my mom "he's got to learn to hit back!"

We moved to Raleigh in 1971 and we attended a Methodist church there, St. Mark's United Methodist, and the only thing I can really remember from there is learning a lot of bible stories. And the funny thing is when you're a kid you form mental images, and it's kind of fun to go back and especially read maybe 1 & 2 Samuel, some of those Old Testament bible stories, and suddenly those images will still come to me. Like the letting the guys down on the rope and that sort of thing.

And around 1973 my grandparents moved to Pinellas Park, Florida, and I would go spend the summers there for several years, and they still stayed in a pentecostal church. They were at Glad Tidings Assembly of God, and we went to church.. now, when it was open, we were there, so sunday morning, sunday evening, wednesday evening, and it was kind of interesting. I can't remember a lot of people speaking in tongues, but I can tell you one of the things we did in sunday school, I think Mary Ann [Downey, a Friend from Atlanta Friends meeting] has mentioned this before, is they used to do a thing called "sword drills". A lot of churches.. there's a thing in Ephesians that talks about the armor of God and it talks about the "sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God", and as Quakers, for us the "Word of God" is Christ, or speaking what the Spirit is leading us to say, and not the book, but for the pentecostal church, the sword was the book. So the sword drills would be that they would call out a bible verse and you had to go find it as fast as you could. It was always a competition between me and the preacher's kid. And they also.. they had something called being "slain in the Spirit", which is sort of, you put your hand on somebody and they just fall backwards. And I was never really comfortable with that, it happened to somebody right in front of me, and she was just laid out on the ground in front of me, and I just kept looking at her. It felt kinda weird. But, the people there were kind and sweet people that lived their faith, and even though there may have been things I might have been uncomfortable with, the people were good people and I can't really say I have bad memories of that.

Now, the other thing is, they were very big into the rapture. During the 70's that was a big thing, "The Late Great Planet Earth" came out, so it was always "oh, the Earth's gonna.. Jesus is coming back tomorrow, you better be ready." I saw movies about this, and it was just drilled into me. And a funny thing is that even into my teens.. one of the passages that the idea of the rapture came from talks about the blast of trumpets.. I would hear a train horn and wonder "Hey! Is it the rapture?"

Also, right around the time we moved to Atlanta in '74 we visited an Episcopal church, and the funny thing about that is, growing up in a protestant church, when you have communion, you get this little, little bitty cup of grape juice. We went to the Episcopal church, they were doing communion and they were passing this huge cup around, and I thought "Oh boy!" I took a huge gulp, and it was wine. And I think that may have contributed to the fact that I have really never liked alcohol.

So, when we moved to Atlanta, we attended Wieuca Road Baptist Church, a very large church, it's kind of a rich section of town, it's across the street from Phipps Plaza [fancy mall, has Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor, etc.]. I was baptized and joined the church in '75. Basically that was the earliest you could join. At the age of 10 you were qualified to make this life decision and be baptized. Looking back, I obviously.. I was not. And, in '77 I joined the youth choir, and it was a good community of teens. However, it was nothing like the open and loving place that the SAYF [Southern Appalachian Young Friends] program is. I certainly wish I had had something like that. And, the thing that sticks with me most about the choir was actually a lot of the songs we sang. There was one called "Peace Like a River" that's not the "Peace Like a River" you're familiar with. But, I just remember singing that one Sunday night and feeling this overwhelming sensation of peace, that was very rare. And, of course, it wasn't something we often talked about in the church. And some of the other favorites of mine, "Come to Me All Who Labor", and it's that whole verse, "I can do all things through Christ" another favorite verse, and incidentally if anybody watched the Georgia-Florida game yesterday, the Florida quarterback [Tim Tebow], on those little black things he had under his eyes had Philippians 4:13, which was that verse. And another one I liked, "And this is love, that a man lay down his life for his friend".

Another thing about me, I was always a big "Star Trek" fan, and the reason I bring this up, is 'cause as I was talking to Ceal [my wife] last night about.. trying to help me fill in any holes here, I remember that this one episode called "The Empath", that was about this woman, who, if somebody was hurt, she could touch them, and whatever was wrong with them would transfer from them to her, and then she would heal. So you'd see this person with like this scar, and she'd touch them and the scar would disappear from them, and then it would appear on her, and then you'd see it fade away. And I always wanted to be able to do that.

So, late into my teens, I started to doubt my faith. This was, this would have been early 80's, Reagan was in office, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were on TV, and I'm not sure.. it's kinda hard to read back into.. look at the events around and read that into what I was going through, but I'm reasonably sure that a lot of my problem was that the image of Christianity that was portrayed in the media was not something that I could accept. I had a lot of difficulty that I had to believe everything in the bible as it was there, and the funny thing is, I didn't talk to my mom about this, and I could talk to my mom about almost anything, and she probably could have helped me out, although in some sense I think I had to go through this. One of the things last weekend, some folks I was talking with, they talked about going away and coming back to have an adult relationship with God, with Jesus, that it is a different relationship than what you grown up with as a child. And I had tried talking to my youth minister, and he was really no help. He just said some generic things like "well, this happens sometimes", or "you just gotta believe", and it just didn't help me. George Fox would probably have phrases for that, "empty husk" or whatever.

So by the time I was 20, I stopped going to church. I picked up Bertrand Russel's book "Why I am not a Christian" and read it, and I found that it did not really speak to my condition. It really didn't speak to why I wasn't a Christian, why I didn't consider myself that. And I spent the next 15 years with basically no spiritual life. I was always interest in Taoism, I read Lao Tzu and Chang Tzu, and even on our honeymoon in Hawaii we visited this old Taoist temple on Maui, but I never really embraced it as a faith tradition. I liked the images, the ideas, but it just wasn't for me. And I was also somewhat influenced in the mid-90's by the revival of conservative politics. I listened to Rush Limbaugh and that sort of thing. I actually continued.. I have mostly had a losing streak in presidential elections. I voted for one winner, and that was Clinton in '92. But, part of that was, I eventually got to the point where I didn't like who I was. I didn't understand why, I just.. I felt like my attitude towards people was harsh, at least.. I wasn't always that way outwardly, but my internal attitude, and I guess a lot of the times at work it would be that way. I didn't like who I was, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Also during this period, in '92, Ceal and I were married. And, it was funny, we were talking about this, I considered myself agnostic, and I guess Ceal did too, but we both felt it was important to be married by a minister. This came to Ceal when we watched our wedding video over the weekend of our anniversary, and I'm not sure what to make of that, other than, you know, there was still something there that I just wouldn't admit to.

Part 2 continues here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some Thought on Joseph John Dymond's Thoughts on Gospel Ministry

I wasn't sure whether to comment on the individual letters I posted, or save them up for a single post. Since there hasn't really been any discussion on the individual letters, I decided to condense my comments into a single post. When I first started transcribing these letters I was also in the process of reading Ashley Wilcox's paper A Valiant Sixteen, in which she interviewed young Friends traveling in the ministry. I noticed some common themes, such as the need for financial support, and the desire for meetings where experienced ministers and those young in the ministry (whether young or old in age) can meet together. I hope Ashley's work will help us identify ways in which we can better support those in the ministry.

I am writing this from the annual gathering of SAYMA (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association), and in our evening sessions, we have talked much about discernment, but more so about community and our interaction with each other. There is often a reticence among liberal Friends to be more involved in each other's lives. I can understand the fear of living under a microscope, but when that fear is taken to an extreme, instead of living under a microscope, it feels like living in a cave. A Friend spoke of how no one in her meeting ever approached her about joining the meeting. Another spoke of some of his religious struggles and how no one in the meeting really knew about them because no one asked. These things all came to mind as I was looking over JJD's letter on elders. How can we encourage any form of elder, whether it is a recorded position or not, if we are afraid to talk deeply to one another? In your monthly meeting, if someone is spoken to about their ministry, how often is it a complaint? Is it rare to have one's gifts named, or to be encouraged to develop them?

In my time with Friends from North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, I have experienced eldering in a variety of ways, some so subtle that I didn't even notice until someone else pointed them out to me. They have encouraged me, invited me to participate in various ways, even sent me books. This year I was invited to lead the bible study. There are some in my monthly meeting that have also done things like this. What I think is important in JJD's writing on elders is not the issue of a lifetime appointment vs. a three-year one, but the importance that real Spirit-led eldering has in the naming and nurturing of spiritual gifts. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who lacks self-confidence and occasionally needs someone to affirm that I am doing the right thing.

There are times when I find JJD talking about things that have occurred to me, but which I wrestle with. The idea of a Quaker bible commentary is one of these. Since we have traditionally interpreted certain verses a little differently than mainstream Christianity, it would be nice to have a commentary that pointed these differences out. On the other hand, I worry that by codifying it in such a way, it would become the letter that kills the spirit, perhaps allowing us to just go look up the "right interpretation" without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

There was one particular section of letter 10 that I found particular jarring:

But where are our eminent preachers? To say nothing of the Spurgeons and the Moodys, where are the ministers amongst us so well-known and esteemed that their names placarded on the walls would draw together a public audience of a thousand persons?

When I read this, I immediately thought of Joseph Hoag's journal in which he sensed that the people in the meeting had come to hear him, rather than coming to hear what God might have to say, and he was given nothing to say. JJD also talks about people thinking that a minister can just preach or pray at will, rather than having to wait for Divine inspiration. I'm not sure this fits well with the idea of having a preacher's name posted outside that would draw a thousand people.