Monday, December 31, 2007

The Practice of The Love of God

To quote the Wikipedia entry, "Kenneth Ewart Boulding was an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher." Ken Boulding has published some thirty books and numerous articles. His contribution to the Quaker literature includes There is a Spirit: The Nayler Sonnets where he envelops James Nayler's last words in stirring poetry.

An equally important essay is the lecture he gave to Young Friends in 1942: "The Practice of The Love of God" where he challenges Quakers of his time, and Quakers of our own.

"God is love. How do you respond to these three words?" With this provocative query, Kenneth Boulding begins an investigation into faith and practice in the midst of a world at war. "It is our duty to seek emotional truth, as it is to seek intellectual truth, and indeed as we seek them we shall find that they are not two truths, but one."
"Unveil the picture in your mind, if you dare of the massed sin and suffering of the world, past, present and future, this terrible ocean of tortured bodies and tormented minds, of suffering innocence and triumphant stupidity on which our middle-class ark floats so insecurely. See the way of God rejected, the laws of God flouted, the love of God perverted, the purpose of God thwarted."

The importance of the love of God, His love of me, and my love of Him, cannot be underestimated in a world at peace nor in a world at war. "Unless we rediscover the love of God itself whose expression is the reason and purpose of our Society, the very Society that we cherish dwindles into nothingness."
"The love of country without the love of God is a destructive emotion; it leads into selfishness, pride, arrogance, injustice, cruelty, domination and war.… Without the love of God the command to love our neighbor is a monstrous sarcasm, the imposition on mankind of impossible conflict between the moral sense and the will."

But this pamphlet is more than a lament. "I have a vision for the world," writes Boulding, who would like to share that vision with you.

View the complete William Penn Lecture of 1942:
The Practice of The Love of God

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Vital Cell

The William Penn Lectures addressed the youth of a Quaker Philadelphia, and it is to this audience that Rufus Jones particularly appeals in 1941: "The really important thing is the quality of freshness and elasticity in our spirits. There is no use talking to minds that have congealed and set, and whose windows are not open for new light to dawn, and expectant of it."
There is no use saying anything about the local Meeting as a vital cell unless the youth are to be in it and are to feel their share of responsibility for its life and its development. Much that I am saying today will call for courage and faith and adventure and newness of vision, which characteristically belong to youth.

As usual Rufus Jones does not skirt the issues: "What is it we were born to do; for what mission came we into the world as the bearers and exponents? As I see our mission, across the years behind us and in front of us, it is to demonstrate and exhibit a type of religion which reveals the life of God in the lives of men."
Our deepest significance as a people, and our major importance as a religious movement, lie in a sphere which eludes public appraisal and can hardly be taught and tabulated. In fact this central mission of ours – this heart and pulse of Quakerism – has not always been brought to consciousness even to Friends themselves, and is always in need of fresh interpretation at the home base where if at all the scoring is done.

Rufus Jones, philosopher, theologian, historian, and most of all, educator, is most concerned with the loss of vitality in Quaker meetings of the time. How, he asks, are we to restore the vitality at the center of Quakerism: our local meetings? And Dr. Jones is not without answers. Community vitality must be supported with "constructive and creative ministry," with "carefully planned intervisitation," and especially with "an alert group of Friends who feel a profound concern for the spiritual life of the meeting."

The community of the local meeting cannot however exist independent of the community in which it finds itself.
"These little Quaker islands of ours, which dot the length and breadth of our country, would stir with new life if they suddenly found themselves awake to the tasks of life which lie ready to hand just there where they live. This deeper responsibility to the community would bring new life and deepened interest to the monthly meetings which in many places have become dull and thin."

But the most important element Jones found lacking in some meetings was their focus on education: "One of the most important concerns of this vital cell ought to be for the spiritual nurture of the children and youth of the meeting." Read how important this role has been during the confusing times of war, and how important it is today.

View the complete William Penn Lecture of 1941:
The Vital Cell

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bethlehem Revisited

In this short pamphlet Douglas Steere revisits his understanding of Christmas and the mysteries surrounding the Christmas story.
Christmas is a time when we are invited to revisit Bethlehem and to reconsider its miracle. Bethlehem does not change and the miracle does not change, but we change, and the eyes with which we are able to see change. Hence what we see from year to year is not the same, which makes this annual visit an adventure rather than a routine pilgrimage.”

Relating stories of Christmas the author captures new interpretations of the meaning of those events which were reported so long ago. Those stories provide Steere a framework, a lattice, on which he can hang his well worked ecumenism as well as his understanding of his fellow men. With the star of Bethlehem is rediscovered reflecting in the depths of a well Steere concludes that “when in stubborn self-will you refuse direction and lose the star of rapture, you can recover your direction only by looking into the inward well of your own heart.”

That inward well reminds Steere of the words of the 17th century Angelus Silesius who declares:
Were Christ a thousand times
Reborn in Bethlehem’s stall
And not in thee,
Thou still art lost beyond recall.

Steere considers what Pascal in his Thoughts says that "all of the troubles of the world come from the fact that a man cannot remain in his own chamber."
When in stubborn self-will you refuse direction and lose the star of rapture, you can recover your direction only by looking into the inward well of your own heart. Only as you return to your chamber – the chamber that lies open to each of us if we dare to stop and enter into it – will you be restored to that which you most deeply long to find: One who can take away all fear; One who can restore you to living on the earth, sowing your life as a seed in those about you; One who can take away the haunting fear of death by using your life in His and your fellow man’s service.

For Douglas Steere, a fundamental message of Jesus is that "he has come to draw all men, and that no religion can ever again be exclusively concerned about either individual or denominational salvation but only about the lifting of all men into a community of loving interdependence."

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 144:
Bethlehem Revisited

Monday, December 10, 2007

Can Quakerism Speak To The Times?

John Hobart, born in England and active among Canadian Friends in the Thirties and Forties, served as the director of studies at Pendle Hill in the early Fifties. In Hobart we find both a birthright Friend and a Quaker by convincement who had been active in the Quaker movement for decades.

Given the admonition, "Oh, why don't Quakers preach what you practice?", John Hobart considers the content of Quakerism and, while recognizing that we have let the world know by our actions what Quakerism is, we have failed to tell our story.
"We recognize that Quakerism today lacks the force, power, and convincement, that carried it through its first century of oppressive and bitter persecution. What happened to the prophetic zeal and world vision of its founders?"
But Hobart does conclude that "a living Quakerism, expressed in modern concepts, can meet the almost universal need for a faith to fit the times." We cannot solely fall back on the accomplishments of the past:
"A Quakerism that is concerned only with the preservation of inherited testimonies and the recorded experiences of early Friends, is totally inadequate for the tasks which now confront our Society."
But the reinterpretation of Quakerism needs "earnest spiritual seeking for light, guidance, understanding, wisdom, and growth." Because of the experiential nature of Quakerism, words are insufficient: "Our task is not to rewrite their books in modern language, it is to relive their experience and, by so doing, make it our own. Let your lives speak, the words must come out of the life. There are grave perils in trying to modernize Quakerism by any other method."

While John Hobart's essay was written over fifty years ago it continues to be relevant to the questions we raise today. "Shall the Society restrict its activities or deepen its spiritual life? It may need to do both of these things."

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 78:
Can Quakerism Speak To The Times?

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Quaker Doctrine of Inward Peace

Howard Brinton had been a professor or lecturer at Guilford, Earlham, Mills, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr Colleges, and at Woodbrooke, one of the Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham in England. He has also worked in Europe for the American Friends Service Committee and in Japan. From 1936 to 1950 he, with his wife, were Directors of Pendle Hill and from 1950 to 1952 he was Director. This pamphlet is one of his seventeen published by Pendle Hill.

The lack of inward peace is everywhere in evidence. "Busyness, restlessness,
the desire for activity is a form of escapism; we are trying to escape from ourselves. Not being able to face our own inner lives with all their stresses and strains, their disorder and chaos, we occupy ourselves as much as possible with what is outward. We do not like our own company so we feverishly
seek the company of others. We compensate for inner weakness by seeking outward sources of strength. We are continuously in motion because we do not know what to do when we are still."

Comparing the pressures of today with those of Friends in the 17th and 18th centuries, Brinton gives us his analysis of how Quakers in the past dealt with internal conflicts. With sections on “The Attainability of Inner Peace,” “Perfection and Pacifism,” “The Place of Self-Surrender,” “The Habitation of Peace,” and “Inward Peace as a Test of Guidance,” Brinton illustrates a spiritual history with specific examples from the Journals of Friends.

What is important in Brinton's view is a balance between the urgency of the outward mission, and the call of the inward path.
"The Quaker way is so to order the inner life that outer pressures can be adequately met and dealt with. This is not the method of the ascetic who conquers his sensual desires by violence toward himself, nor of the hermit who avoids his fellow men, nor of the stoic who makes himself independent and indifferent to the world around him. It is rather an ordering of the inner life, so that there will be a proper balance of inner and outer..."

Learn what draws Howard Brinton to his conclusion:
“The Quaker meeting for worship and the Quaker meeting for business are unique institutions. It is their purpose to expose the soul to the Light from God so that peace is removed if it ought to be removed, or attained if it can be attained. If the soul becomes sensitive, if its vision is widened and deepened so that new areas of life come within its ken, then a new requirement may be laid upon it and peace removed until that requirement is met. If the soul is able to find in the silence union with the peace of God at the heart of existence, then inward peace is secured and new knowledge and power received. The soul, no longer exhausting its energy in conflict with itself, becomes integrated and unified. Hence arises new power and vision for tasks ahead.”

View the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet #44: The Quaker Doctrine of Inward Peace

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Holy Disobedience

Coming after an introduction to Holy Obedience written by a God- entranced Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly, it is fitting that we also consider the Holy Disobedience advocated by the sometime Communist, peripatetic Socialist and fellow traveler of many Quakers, A.J. Muste. It a Muste slogan which is quoted by Quakers when they proclaim "There is no way to peace - peace is the way."

Inspired by a recently published book by Georges Bernanos, Tradition of Freedom, Muste sets down his convictions regarding the peace-time draft. Written in 1952, after the conclusion of World War II when Muste was quite active in the peace movement, this pamphlet illustrates his continued commitment to resistance toward conscription.

Of the book by Bernanos, Muste says it “is a hymn to freedom, an impassioned warning against obedience and conformity, especially obedience to the modern State engaged in mechanized, total war.” This literature might still be appropriate reading today.
"Most believers in democracy and all pacifists begin, of course, with an area of agreement as to the moral necessity, the validity and the possible social value of No-saying or Holy Disobedience. Pacifists and/or conscientious objectors all draw the line at engaging in military combat..."
But more than refusing to bear arms, Muste argues, "To me it seems that submitting to conscription even for civilian service is permitting oneself thus to be branded by the State. It makes the work of the State in preparing for war and in securing the desired impression of unanimity much easier. It seems, therefore, that pacifists should refuse to be thus branded."

In this small volume Muste argues forcefully not only against the horrors of war and destruction, but also against the conformist attitude which allows the militaristic state to forge ahead with its totalitarian plans.
"Precisely in a day when the individual appears to be utterly helpless, to "have no choice," when the aim of the "system" is to convince him that he is helpless as an individual and that the only way to meet regimentation is by regimentation, there is absolutely no hope save in going back to the beginning....[It] is of crucial importance that we should understand that for the individual to pit himself in Holy Disobedience against the war-making and conscripting State, wherever it or he be located, is not an act of despair or defeatism. Rather, I think we may say that precisely this individual refusal to "go along" is now the beginning and the core of any realistic and practical movement against war and for a more peaceful and brotherly world."
The simple protest of non-conformity becomes a spiritual rebirth which has the potential to turn the tide of sentiment against the tyrannical urgings of the propagandists, the talking heads, the scripted orations of our nation’s fear-mongers.
Non-conformity, Holy Disobedience, becomes a virtue and indeed a necessary and indispensable measure of spiritual self-preservation, in a day when the impulse to conform, to acquiesce, to go along, is the instrument which is used to subject men to totalitarian rule and involve them in permanent war. …It does not seem wise or right to wait until this evil catches up with us, but rather to go out to meet it — to resist — before it has gone any further.
This is a foundational document in the peace movement; one which stands even today as a beacon of light in the totalitarian darkness of a State of War.

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet #64: Holy Obedience

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Holy Obedience

At the beginning of the holocaust, at the start of the devastation of World War II, Thomas Kelly returned from Europe with a message for Quakers. He returned from that visit shaken by the suffering he had witnessed in Germany but buttressed by new experiences of divine love able to meet that agony.
"Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history."
That journey prepared Kelly for his 1939 William Penn lecture to the Young Friends Association in Philadelphia. Entitled Holy Obedience, that lecture became a central theme to the posthumous collection "A Testament of Devotion." In that slim volume of five essays, Thomas Kelly calls all of us, Friends and others, to the internal life of obedience, of faithfulness. As noted by Jerry Flora "The mystical teaching of Quaker theologian Thomas Kelly continues to enrich and inspire a new generation of readers searching for a meaningful life in a world veering towards chaos."

In Holy Obedience Kelly takes his theme from an observation by Meister Eckhart in the 14th century:
Meister Eckhart wrote: "There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves." It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without my reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me - commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.

If you don't realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don't understand what I mean.
According to Thomas Kelly there are three gateways into this life of holy obedience. The first is one in which Kelly has intimate experience: the gateway of profound mystical experience.
"It is an overwhelming experience to fall into the hands of the living God, to be invaded to the depths of one's being by His presence, to be, without warning, wholly uprooted from all earth-born securities and assurances, and to be blown by a tempest of unbelievable power which leaves one's old proud self utterly, utterly defenseless..."
Kelly does not recommend retreating from the world in a trance of mysticism. Quite the contrary.
Do not mistake me. Our interest just now is in the life of complete obedience to God, not in amazing revelations of His glory graciously granted only to some. ... But holy and listening and alert obedience remains, as the core and kernel of a God-intoxicated life, as the abiding pattern of sober, workaday living.
A second important aspect of entering the gateway to holy obedience echoes the advice given in many Eastern religions:

Begin where you are. Obey now. Use what little obedience you are capable of, even if it be like a grain of mustard seed. Begin where you are. Live this present moment, this present hour as you now sit in your seats, in utter, utter submission and openness toward Him. Listen outwardly to these words, but within, behind the scenes, in the deeper levels of your lives where you are all alone with God the Loving Eternal One, keep up a silent prayer..."

Kelly is known to Quakers as a mystic, as one who has seen beyond the limits of personal greed and self-gratification. He is convinced not only that he has been given a message, but that he must deliver that message. This is the message of not only a Quaker mystical theologian; this is a message of a prophet in our midst.

Here is a slim essay that, like all substantial devotional writing, needs to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and repeatedly. View the complete 1939 William Penn Lecture: Holy Obedience

Monday, November 5, 2007

Rufus Jones

In the pamphlet Religion As Reality, Life and Power Rufus Jones makes an eloquent case for a mystical approach to religion. Familiar with the questions often raised by young college students, he addresses the Young Friends Association in Philadelphia in 1918 about truth, life, beauty and meaning.

Rufus Jones, professor of philosophy at Haverford College, is not one to mince his words, to couch his thoughts in vanilla-flavored jargon. Even in a small lecture like this Dr. Jones goes straight to the point without evasions. Here he addresses the essential question 'What is Religion?'
"I shall consider religion in this lecture as a way of realizing and fulfilling life, a way of finding the whole of oneself. Life is ... the discovery of infinite interior dimensions and possibilities, the finding of almost inexhaustible resources and supplies of power for the continual expansion of personal capacity and so the constant winning of unwon goals and the perennial acquisition of joy. … As the word implies, religion binds back the soul into union with realities which refresh it, restore it, vivify it, and integrate it and complete it; i.e., put it in possession of the whole of itself."
Religion is considered from the vantage point of Truth, where the context includes the Eternal, and Beauty, where "we suddenly become aware of free and spontaneous powers, of something unfathomable within ourselves.", and Service, where altruism is as essential to life as is an ever-present egoism. Yet considered by themselves none of these agencies of life are sufficient. "The most striking thing about the type of human life which I should suppose is normal is its infinite reach."

Jones is especially convinced of the enormous capabilities of the human self, especially concerned that youth has lost its way, has lost sight of the possibilities, has become separated from the potential fulfillment of life.
"Most of the tragedies of human life are these tragedies of separation and division. The divided self, sundered from its fellowship and companionship for which it was made, is always a sick and feeble soul. The way of health and healing is a way of union and correspondence with those necessary realities from which we have become isolated and we shall find that religion is one of the mightiest of all the constructive, unifying forces we know. As the word implies, religion binds back the soul into union with realities which refresh it, restore it, vivify it, and integrate it and complete it; i.e., put it in possession of the whole of itself."
Comparing his stunning vision of a nearby mountain being slowly revealed by the rising mist, Jones waxes poetic about the internal realities and the potential for true revelation:
"Sometimes - Oh joy! when the inward weather is just right; when selfish impulse has been hushed; when the clouds and shadows, which sin makes, are swept away and genuine love makes the whole inner atmosphere pure and free from haze, then I know that I find a beyond which before was nowhere in sight and might easily not have been suspected. I can not decide whether this extended range of sight is due to alterations in myself or whether it is due to some sudden increase of spiritual visibility in the great reality itself. I only know the fact. Before, I was occupied with things; now, I commune with God and am as sure of Him as I am of the mountains beyond my lake, which my skeptical visitor has not yet seen."
Do we remain Jones' skeptical visitors, or will we join him when the 'inward weather is just right' in the pursuit of his visions, his convictions, his mystical approach to the life and power of religion?

View the complete 1918 William Penn Lecture:Religion As Reality, Life and Power

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Quakerism and Politics

Frederick Tolles, a noted historian and professor of Quaker History and Research at Swarthmore College, presented the seventh Ward Lecture: "Quakerism and Politics" in 1956. In that lecture he quotes a passage written by Rufus Jones:
There has always been in the Society of Friends a group of persons pledged unswervingly to the ideal. To those who form this inner group compromise is under no circumstance allowable. If there comes a collision between allegiance to the ideal and the holding of public office, then the office must be deserted. If obedience to the soul's vision involves eye or hand, houses or lands or life, they must be immediately surrendered.

But there has always been as well another group who have held it to be equally imperative to work out their principles of life in the complex affairs of the community and the state, where to gain an end one must yield something; where to get on one must submit to existing conditions; and where to achieve ultimate triumph one must risk his ideals to the tender mercies of a world not yet ripe for them.
These are the two poles that Tolles discusses in this pamphlet. He views the history of Quakerism as an oscillation between extremes, and the main purpose of his lecture "is to trace historically the path of that oscillation, to underline some of the dilemmas in which Friends have found themselves in relation to politics, and, if possible, to draw from the record some conclusions which may have contemporary relevance."

From the very earliest appearance of the Quaker movement there were those, including George Fox, who were immersed in the political movement of the times. As Frederick Tolles muses:
We are accustomed to think that the early Friends stood aloof from politics, and we find it hard to see how men who had renounced force could justify administering the militia. Yet given the apocalyptic atmosphere of the time, it is not impossible to understand how Friends could have agreed to accept public office, even to take up the magistrate's sword, in the interests of establishing the Rule of the Saints.
In fact George Fox himself is a representative of the oscillations to which Tolles calls our attention. The effort to establish the 'Rule of the Saints' clearly fizzled when Charles II took the throne, and Fox had some 'sober second thoughts', ultimately recommending that Friends "keep out of the powers of the earth that run into wars and fightings" and to "take heed of joining with this or the other, or meddling with any, or being busy with other men's matters; but mind the Lord, and his power and his service."

But Fox's involvement doesn't at all end there. As Tolles notes,
lobbying was for Friends a more congenial method of influencing politics than electioneering. Quakers had been engaged in lobbying - that is to say, in seeking to influence legislators by personal visits - ever since 1659, when a hundred and sixty-five Friends went to Westminster Hall and sent into the House of Commons a paper offering to lie "body for body" in jail in place of their imprisoned and suffering fellow Quakers.
Putting it bluntly Tolles notes that if "anyone thinks the techniques of the FCNL are a modern innovation, he knows little of Quaker history."

The pamphlet continues with fine examples of British Quaker involvement in the political scene of the day: Joseph Pease, and in particular a noted Quaker statesman, John Bright.

The American experience of Quakers in political history is discussed as well, with a focus on William Penn's "Holy Experiment" in colonial Pennsylvania. As Tolles notes the experiment was fraught with contradiction.
As a concerned Friend William Penn gave his allegiance to the fundamental principle of Christian pacifism. So, as individual Friends, did most of his associates and successors who dominated Pennsylvania politics for three quarters of a century. But as responsible legislators and administrators governing a constituent part of the British Empire, they found it impossible in practice to maintain that principle without abatement or compromise.
The compromises and contradictions are still with us. However Tolles sees a particular Quaker role in the political sphere.
[There is a] prophetic mission to the rulers of men [which] is a distinctively Quaker approach to politics. When carried out under a deep religious concern by a person whose own life speaks of a genuine commitment to a spiritual vision, such an approach can be a way of avoiding the dilemma of isolation on the one hand and compromise on the other, a way of combining consistency of life with relevance to history.

View the complete 1956 Ward Lecture:Quakerism and Politics

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Hubble Quaker Posters

Deployed April 25, 1990 from the space shuttle Discovery, the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the largest and most complex satellites ever built. Hubble's deployment culminated more than 30 years of research by NASA and other scientists. The telescope is named for American astronomer Edwin P. Hubble, who first discovered that countless island cities of stars and galaxies dwell far beyond our Milky Way.

The Hubble Space Telescope is our window seat to the universe. Hubble has provided us with front row seats to fragments of a comet slamming into Jupiter and stars being born in huge craggy towers of cold dark gas.

The importance of those discoveries parallels the significance of messages which have been at the core, and at the periphery of Quaker thinking. Where the Hubble explores the depth of our physical universe, so do these messages open a way to our spiritual universe.

Jim Rose, the Hubble Quaker, has worked for over twenty years with the Space Telescope Science Institute which operates the Hubble telescope for NASA. Stunned by the beauty of the Hubble images, he was led to combine those graphic statements with messages which express Quaker concerns.

Images sized up to 16x24 inches can be found at:

Each of the images has an accompanying quotation:
Teilhard de Chardin:
Starting from an inherited spark of light,
the world during all my life
and by means of my life
has gradually become
entirely luminous from within.

George Fox:
I saw, also, that there was an ocean
of darkness and death; but an infinite
ocean of light and love, which flowed
over the ocean of darkness. In that
also I saw the infinite love of God
and I had great openings.

George Fox:
Be patterns, be examples in all countries,
places, islands, nations, wherever you come,
that your carriage and life may preach among
all sorts of people, and to them;

then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world,
answering that of God in everyone.
Rufus Jones:
What we are, and what we experience,
vastly transcends our knowledge about it:
reality overflows at every point
our categories of description.

Our full self, our real self, radiates out
from a central pulse of consciousness,
which is in the focus of attention,
and the part of the self that gets focalized
and reduced to conceptual knowledge
is only a very tiny fragment.
George Fox:
Stand still in that which shows and discovers
and then doth strength immediately come.
And stand still in the light, and submit to it,
and the other will be hush'd and gone;
and then content comes.
Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear
is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness,
that most frightens us.
George Fox, 1668
Live in the light, which was before darkness was,
and the power of it; in which light is also your
everlasting fellowship; and in this you will know
God's dwelling, which is in the light
Carl Jung:
One does not become enlightened
by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious.
George Fox:
You will say, Christ saith this,
and the apostles say that,
but what canst thou say? 
Art thou a child of the Light
and has walked in the light,
and what thou speakest,
is it inwardly from God

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quaker Universalism

Dan Seeger has been an advocate of universalism for more than a quarter of a century. He has written widely, not only for the Quaker Universalist Fellowship, but also in Friends Journal and other venues. Dan continues to 'speechify', giving voice to his heartfelt concern about the polarizing influence of dogmatically insular worldviews.

Perhaps his best known pamphlet is "The Place of Universalism in the Religious Society of Friends: Is Coexistence Possible?" (Nice to end with a query). This short address has been used in Quaker 101 classes for a good while and informs modern Friends about the universalist issues.

What Dan Seeger has written in 1984 continues to be relevant today.

[T]he problem is for us all to learn to live together with our different traditions and to live not only without bloodshed, but in genuine peace, which implies some sort of mutual trust and active sympathy. It is of no use to talk about loving our neighbor while at the same time dismissing as inferior or mistaken his most cherished possession, his religious faith. Indeed, it is the transforming power of religious faith which offers the only hope out of our present impasse, and so a significant aspect of the great task before us is to come increasingly to discover how the world’s faiths can nourish each other and how we can collaborate with all people of faith in the challenge we face together.
Dan's emphasis is not a relativistic position where all religions are equal and the choice is arbitrary. No, he sees Christianity as he understands it as central to contemporary Quakerism.
Contemporary Quakerism will not realize its true destiny if it retreats from its traditional reconciliation of Christianity and universalism and resorts to a narrow, Christian sectarianism; or if it fails to attract, to admit into membership and to cherish non-Christians. But neither will it survive, I think, if there develops within Quakerism a climate which permits only such theological discourse among ourselves as might be admissible in a public school classroom. Quakerism’s extraordinary vocation in the common human task of structuring the new age which is struggling to come to birth lies precisely in its traditional capacity to be both Christian and universalist, and not merely one or the other.

I feel uneasy about a tendency among some to gnaw away at the specifically Christian content of Quakerism, as if seeking gradually to reduce it to a form of ethical culture, as I do about Christocentric Friends who seem to seek to import into Quakerism the sort of dogmatism and chauvinism which has plagued so much of the rest of Christian history.
His view of universalism is centered not on dogma or creed, but on the fundamental capability of all persons to comprehend, in their own fashion, spiritual truth.
The unity which universalism sees in the various religious faiths is not one of doctrine, nor of manner of worship, even though many similarities in these areas can be identified; rather the essential point of convergence is in the quality of the human person, the quality of spirit, which the sincere and selfless devotion to any of these different spiritual paths can produce.

For spiritual wisdom is not something we know, but it is something we are, it is a quality of being. Our minds cannot contain or comprehend knowledge of God; for we cannot contain what contains us nor comprehend what comprehends us. We can embody spiritual truth, but we cannot adequately articulate it. Indeed, the longer the radius of our vision, the wider the circumference of mystery. Those who have a grasp of this never engage in debates about doctrine. They know that the Truth is to be lived, not merely to be pronounced by mouth and they know that by their so living, that which is unutterable will be rendered visible.
People everywhere, if they are at all on a spiritual journey, if they pay attention to the numinous, are on a common journey. Dan Seeger feels that the recognition of this commonality speaks specially to Friends.
People of faith everywhere are engaged in a common journey, a pilgrimage, to discover within themselves this Word and its revelation of the universal and eternal things upon which all right living and true peace is based. There are many
paths possible on this journey of search and one of them always opens up to those who selflessly seek after it. For it is one of the characteristics of Truth that those who thirst after it eventually come to partake of it and to express it, as if the price at which Truth is bought is the sincere and pure longing for It itself. This is why we are promised that those who seek will surely find.

Let us, as Friends, then, share with all other people of faith the confidence that, having already found something that is supremely good, there is something more of inexhaustible measure which, together with them, we have yet to achieve.

View the complete Quaker Universalist pamphlet:
The Place of Universalism in the Religious Society of Friends

Monday, October 22, 2007

Temptations and Service / Politics and Religion

Newton Garver in his pamphlet Jesus, Jefferson and the Task of Friends juxtaposes two passages from the Gospels: the temptations in the desert and the final message of Jesus before his trials and eventual death. On the one hand we are presented with a refusal of power, power to heal, power to provide for all, power to ensure justice:

"The first temptation was the power to turn stone into bread; with this power Jesus would have been able to prevent hunger and starvation. The second temptation was the power to avoid bodily injury; with this power he would have been able to prevent the woes which stem from human frailty and mortality — at least for himself, and perhaps for others too. The third temptation was ultimate political power, with which Jesus would have been able to prevent all oppression, all injustice, and all war.
"Overcome want — overcome injury and death — overcome injustice and brutality! Since these are the sources of nearly all human misery, it is not easy to resist such temptations. I do not fully understand how rejecting these temptations opens the way, but I accept that it does; and I find that deeply moving."

On the other hand Garver presents Christ's recognition of service, even of the most humble kind:

“You have my Father’s blessing; come, enter and possess the kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me; when I was ill you came to my help, when in prison you visited me.” Then the righteous will reply, “Lord, when was it that we saw you and fed you, or thirsty and gave you drink, a stranger and took you home, or naked and clothed you? When did we see you ill or in prison and come to visit you?” And the king will answer, “I tell you this: anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:31-40).

"The more I think about this passage the more difficult it seems. For one thing there doesn’t seem to be any room for provisos — for focusing on the “deserving” poor or the “unjustly” imprisoned. So here the mere fact of human misery and suffering overrides all the notions about justice and merit we normally live by.
"But I remain deeply moved by the simplicity and straightforwardness of the message, and this insistence on loving service to those in need seems one of the keys to the enduring power of the gospel. I have found the truth of this message confirmed by a depth of loving fellowship that, in my experience, flourishes uniquely and a bit mysteriously in workcamps, service projects, and other Quaker activities. Without fully understanding, I accept that such service is the primary requirement for walking in the steps of Jesus.
"If each of these passages is puzzling in itself, they are all the more so when considered together. This is for the simple reason that the sufferings of those we are called on to serve are the result of precisely those brute facts which the tempter proposed to give Jesus the power to eradicate: human need, human frailty, and institutional oppression. It must occur to everyone to ask why Jesus did not simply accept the power to overcome the sources of these human miseries so that there would be no more want, no more sickness or death, no more murderous or oppressive institutions. Surely the best way to address human ills is to eliminate their source rather than to attend to their symptoms. And yet this seemingly simple and sensible question must be brushed aside: the way opens by refusing to attack the sources of human suffering, and the way is followed by loving attention to the sufferers.

"All that seems clear is that there must be these two domains, because Jesus turns from the one and insists on the other. To deny that religion and politics lie in separate domains therefore seems to involve a denial of the example of Jesus."

What is clear to me is that the 'tempter' really didn't get it. The parable of the temptations is a portrayal of what Jesus was -not- about, what the life and message of Jesus, our inward teacher, does -not- address.

What Jesus was about, in addition to the beautifully expressed Sermon on the Mount (Matthiew 5-7), is put to us directly in Newton Garver's second example: service. Service to the poor, the afflicted, the emprisoned, the suffering.

In my mind this leads to particular queries. Have I heard the tempter lately? Have I met recently with those who still don't 'get it'? Is it really better to treat the symptoms rather than address the causes?

Newton Garver not only addresses these questions, but is led to conclude what these lessons from Jesus might mean to Friends.

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 250:
Jesus, Jefferson and the Task of Friends

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Jesus, Jefferson and the Tasks of Friends" by Newton Garver

Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Newton Garver has given flesh to the peace testimony over the years by burning his draft card, refusing to register for the draft, and clerking the NYYM Peace and Social Action Program.

Newton takes the fundamental message of Christianity from the Temptations of Jesus, "I want you to consider that it does not matter by whom Jesus is tempted, and that he must overcome the temptations just because of what is offered to him...We might then say that it is the integrity of the soul and its relations with other souls that belongs to God, and that the skills to change the world in which we live - politics, economics, law, engineering, medicine, social work, education and so on - are among what belongs to Caesar and should be rendered to Caesar...To deny that religion and politics lie in separate domains therefore seems to involve a denial of the example of Jesus."

From an analysis of Thomas Jefferson's writings, Newton observes that "Optimism suppresses creativity because the redoubled energy it contributes to the project at hand detracts from the search for alternative solutions...Jefferson's hope is based not on knowledge, not on scientifically proven facts, but on insight or something akin to faith."

Those interpretations lead Newton to consider the tasks of Friends: "Our tasks are founded on vision and faith rather than documentation. Our tasks are founded on hope, not fear. Our tasks are founded not on hate - and not even on justice or reform but on love. Our tasks are founded on conscience, not authorization or approval. Finally, our tasks are founded on witness, not results."

"Our first task is to love one another, to be valiant for the truth upon the earth, and to remain attentive to the true spirit in all that we do. The second task is to minister to the suffering: the hungry, the poor, the lonely, the naked, the bruised and battered victims of all sorts of violence. A third task is that of listening to others. A fourth task is to delimit the domain of politics. A fifth task is to nurture hope in these times of darkness."

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 250:
Jesus, Jefferson and the Task of Friends


My topic is the work of Friends in the world. My theme is that this work must be in the world but not of the world. Let me elaborate a bit. Friends are concerned to realize the kingdom of heaven of which Jesus spoke. We hold that that kingdom is in the world – maybe not entirely within this world, but assuredly there are and can be bits of it in the world, and it is those bits we mean to make manifest through our work. The kingdom is a special sort of community of souls. It differs from a worldly community in that within it there are no conflicting interests at all. That is why I am inclined to speak of souls rather than persons: as persons we all carry a great baggage of material interests that must be left at the door when we enter the kingdom.

One must either suffer or work in order to enter this kingdom, or so it has seemed from what I have read or experienced. This work or suffering must take place as part of a relationship to other persons, and in a certain special spirit; so that although the work is in the world it is not of the world. One might argue about some details in each case, but I take it that the principal activity of such groups as the American Friends Service Committee, A Quaker Action Group, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the Quaker United Nations Organization is in the world but not of it. Politics and economics, on the other hand, clearly belong to the worldly realm. This does not mean that such activities are evil, nor that we should avoid them at all costs: only that it is not the kind of work that will bring one into the kingdom of God.

In order to know what our tasks are, therefore, it is essential that we distinguish clearly between politics and religion. How can one explain and communicate this vital distinction? That is the query I have often put to myself, both in order to become clearer in my own mind about the nature of my commitments as a Friend, and also to better understand occasions when I have suddenly felt estranged from Friends with whom I had recently been in close community. I want to share with you how my thinking about Jesus and about Jefferson has helped toward an answer to this query, and what I see this all to imply about the tasks which lie before us as Friends in the darkness in which we find ourselves.


Let us first consider Jesus. I must admit that there is much that I do not understand about his life. But I am also deeply impressed by some things which I understand only dimly; that is perhaps enough – at any rate it is as much as I can offer. I want to invite you to consider both Jesus’ entrance on his career (Matthew 4: 1-11 and Luke 4: 1-13) and his final message to the disciples just before the drama of his death (Matthew 25:31-40).

Here is the first passage from Matthew, as in the New English Bible:

Jesus was then led away by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.

For forty days and nights he fasted, and at the end of them he was famished. The tempter approached him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “Scripture says, ‘Man cannot live on bread alone; he lives on every word that God utters.’ ”

The devil then took him to the Holy City and set him on the parapet of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down; for Scripture says, ‘He will put his angels in charge of you. and they will support you in their arms. for fear you should strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered. ‘Scripture says again, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Once again, the devil took him to a very high mountain. and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. “All these,” he said. “I will give you if you will only fall down and do me homage.” But Jesus said, “You shall do homage to the Lord your God and worship him alone.”

Then the devil left him; and angels appeared and waited on him.

This ordeal prepared Jesus for his career. He had already been baptized by John, but baptism was not enough. The way was opened for Jesus by his purification in the wilderness, partly through fasting and partly through his rejection of the temptations. The implication seems to be that, if we would follow him, we must overcome similar temptations. Let us then consider more closely these three temptations.

It might be thought that the reason Jesus had to reject the offers made to him is that they were made by the devil – or by the “tempter,” as some scholars translate it. From this point of view it does not matter so much what is offered and rejected, as by whom the offers were made. I have trouble understanding this view, because it presupposes that I already know who the tempter is. I don’t. So far as I can see, the only way for me to recognize the tempter is by the temptations he or she sets before me. I therefore ask you to view this episode in a contrary way. I want you to consider that it does not matter by whom Jesus is tempted, and that he must overcome the temptations just because of what is offered to him.

....more to come...

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 250:
Jesus, Jefferson and the Task of Friends