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Tell senators: Oppose anti-immigrant bills. Support sanctuary cities.

American Friends Service Committee - Mon, 07/10/2017 - 2:32pm


Last week the House passed two anti-immigrant bills that, if passed by the Senate, will harm our communities and further fuel mass detention and deportation.  

Please call your senators today and urge them to oppose these inhumane bills.

Categories: Articles & News

ePublishers of Truth

Friends Journal - Mon, 07/10/2017 - 7:00am

Swarthmoor Hall, photo Martin Kelley.

The shared lessons of strengthening a movement among Friends

My first introductions to early Friends characterized them as rebellious, Spirit-led trouble makers who brought haphazard and serious disruption to the official church of England. It seemed to me that Quaker ministers wandered forcefully and randomly into public spaces and other churches directly—without the formal training, credentials, or funding that supported the preachers of the established church of the time. I wondered how this group could have possibly survived, and in fact thrived and grown as a movement without more underlying organization. As I explored more, I learned about a strategic, direct attention to publishing tracts and books, and disseminating a high volume of printed works as well as spoken word shared by traveling ministers. In this way, this roaming band of faithful Friends was strategic, organized, and connected—and founded a movement with lasting and far-reaching influence.

What lessons can we take from this history of an early movement? As someone who travels with questions on how we connect and support faithful community in digital as well as brick-and-mortar spaces, I look at tools of communication and church-building that can be effective no matter what their platform. As my local meeting considers how to share a message, adopt a communications strategy, and faithfully carry a message of “who Quakers are” to the wider world, the call is clearly the same as what those early Friends heard. The tools are varied and different. The pervasive strategies that early Friends of the Quaker movement used hold some remarkable lessons in what we might use today in our rapidly changing, growing sense of networks and connections. In thinking more about these early Friends, I began to wonder if I could find the elements of contemporary church communication strategies in their actions.

There’s a few specific elements that help me to connect the motivations and faithful support of the Quaker movement of both early and contemporary Friends. This list of ”lessons” from these early Friends has emerged as encouragement for me, as I consider these questions of faithful message and purpose in my own meeting, wider yearly meeting, and the wider Quaker movement that we are a part of today.

1. Let the Life speak through you on all platforms.

It is adherence to the Spirit that is important. Early Friends considered their written tracts as important and representative as their preaching. This is why their publishing and distribution was both extensive, well discerned, and very controlled. Today our secular world might call that “branding.” What that really means is being consistent and recognizable in all places. We are faithful in those ways to our discipline. Then it was published tracts and preached messages—today it might just as easily be 140 characters on Twitter!

2. Have all information centralized in one place, easy to access

Friends recognized a need for a central hub for connections, dissemination of information, and standardization of publications and travel. Margaret Fell created this center for information and support at her house, Swarthmoor Hall, in North West England. Eventually this physical place housed the Kendal Fund for support of ministers. She insisted on there being a centralized address for letters and news carried by ministers. This gave the Quaker movement consistency and strength in being responsive and organized. Today? That might be our meeting website. A central place where we hold and share information with each other and the wider world, a consistent email address for new attenders to contact us and receive consistent information. We might post our minutes of importance, our spiritual messages to the world—sending them out as the early Friends did in this new way.

3. Consider how we use language publicly

Early Friends developed a careful consideration of use of language. The word “Quaker” seems to have been adopted by public ministers around 1652. Pamphlets published at this time of have the word “Quaker” in a larger font size, emphasized for consistency (usually with a “the people scorned as,” etc!). There was no mistaking when a Friend had adopted the more public (even derogatory) label to make it their own. How do we do this today? Early Friends recognized that how we present to the world is important. Consistency in describing fully who we are, either avoiding insider jargon or using it and explaining it clearly when absolutely necessary and makes sense, was their process, and should be ours. Early Friends public adoption and use of the name “Quaker” created a name for a movement recognized instantly by those outside their smaller circles.

4. Assume your reach is wider than the in-person contacts

In 1653, there were 23 Quaker pamphlets in print. By 1659 there were over 150. The sharp increase filled a need for the words of Quaker ministers to be carried beyond their in-person visits. Ministers would often share and preach from their own writings, but then would leave the writings behind for young and growing Quaker meetings. They were handed out at public meetings. The author was present to answer questions. If a need for more support and writings was sensed, Friends would write back to Margaret Fell (and George Taylor and a few others) at Swarthmoor to ask for books to be sent as soon as possible. Edward Borough, for example, found himself in Ireland in a “great want of bookes”—and writing back to Fell for more. He needed to have a consistent supplier for his tools when he needed them most.

5. Know your audience

Why would Early Friends bother to use so much print, in a world where “that of God in everyone” meant sometimes people only minimally literate would be hearing their message? Because that message was for everyone, not just the hierarchy of the state church. As Friends realized their message was being heard in written form, they increased their publications at a surprising rate. They still were preaching, and visiting in person, and gathering local meetings. Do we make those assumptions today? Do our meetings only use verbal announcements at the end of meeting? Do we speak to visual learners, digital learners, and the google calendars of all who might follow us on many platforms? We hope our message is for everyone; so how do we carry it in multiple ways, at varied times, to the audience of everyone?

6. Mobilize your volunteers

As the Quaker message spread, many newly convinced Friends were compelled to alter their very lives to be faithful to this message and movement. The seemingly haphazard lack of organization became a strategic process of sensing where ministers were needed, where there might be ears to hear, and where the Quaker Movement might grow. Ministers checked in with letters sent back to their meetings, and with letters sent to Fell, Fox, and others as coordinators of the movement. Growing meetings and newer Friends could ask for visitors to be sent to minister to their condition. This represented adept responsiveness to growing faith, wherever it had sprouted. How do we do this today? Do our meetings respond to growing and deepening faith with readings, in-person conversations, and digital resources in a timely manner?

7. Have a system in place

This “sending forth” and “hearing back” needed a codified system to be effective, even in 1650. This network emerged as crucial in growing areas of the movement. How do we do that now? Do we respond quickly to newcomers who attend more than once? Do we welcome and offer support and help to those who seem ready to grow and learn more, or become members of our society? Do we have a regular system to respond to inquiries from newcomers, and a published phone number and someone to respond promptly on social media?

8. Tell your story

Stories are what move people. How do you share yours? Early Friends knew the tales of each others’ journeys, of scripture (our “forefathers”), and carefully listened to what was emerging in the time. They shared these stories in their growing network of experience. We still are storytellers. How we share the story has expanded in breadth and depth. Why we share that story is the deep call that early Friends heard as clearly as we do today—in video, in Facebook posts, in written books and journals. Those stories have a far reach and can encourage us to find more and deepen our faith.

These lessons of early Friends help to guide my current work among Friends in sharing an eternal message in contemporary ways. It may seem that these platforms and methods are new in ways Fell and others might never have dreamed of. And yet, I suspect those Friends, in faithful adherence to the message they were given, would today find many ways to share as they did then. Early Friends innovated their systems to become a faithful people of a movement. We are still called, sometimes in ways that look very different from those of 1665, to spread that message today.

The post ePublishers of Truth appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Welcome to Wichita!

Friends United Meeting - Sun, 07/09/2017 - 8:37pm

If you’re traveling to Wichita, Kansas, for the 2017 Triennial—good news! Several of the Meetings and Churches hosting the Triennial have prepared an e-booklet lovingly introducing you to their home. Complete with coffee shops, ice cream, restaurants, and a description of Friday’s Wichita service projects, you can view it online here, or download it and carry it with you when you’re able to explore Wichita.

Categories: Articles & News

‘Shovel This’ Pulls Most Garlic

American Friends Service Committee - Fri, 07/07/2017 - 12:58pm
News Source: Rio Grande Sun
Categories: Articles & News

The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 07/07/2017 - 7:23am

The Chris Christie beach memes are funny of course but I talked to more than a few local residents who wondered what the state shutdown was about. The Star Ledger has gone deep and interviewed the players to find out just what happened earlier this week:

When it ended early on the fourth day, New Jersey had been treated to a remarkable political spectacle, even by Trenton standards, complete with dueling press conferences, nasty backroom shouting matches, and even propaganda posters.  Some of it played out publicly — very publicly. What didn’t is told here, the inside story of what caused — and what finally settled — the New Jersey government shutdown of 2017.

It’s especially depressing to read the kind of horse trading that was going on behind the scenes: other measures floated to end the standoff. It was a game to see which constituency the politicians might all be able to agree to screw over. I presume this is normal Trenton politics but it’s not good governing and the ramifications are felt throughout the state.

Read: The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017
Categories: Blogs

Early “photo of summer” candidate

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 07/06/2017 - 4:06pm

I written many times before that I like to find family photos that encapsulate a feeling—a time and place, a moment in our collective lives. A few weeks ago I caught this shot, which I think will be one of my favorite photos of this summer.

Technical note: this was only possible with a water resistant phone, as I would not have dared wade out into a pool with previous phones. The 3D bokeh effect is courtesy of the iPhone 7 Plus “Portrait” mode. It’s not perfect: zoom in and there’s some distortion around his left arm, both at the top where it fuzzes around the mid background of the slide and on bottom where there are artifacts in the contrast with the far background of the fence line. But I’m still pleased and amazed at how well the 3D imaging works.

Categories: Blogs

Chris Christie, meme muse

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 6:11pm

Chris Christie is always good for inspiring memes but he outdid himself this week when NJ Advanced Media staked him out and found him enjoying a empty beach on a closed state park with his family. The story behind the get is wonderful and all kudos to Andrew Mills and the team.

Here in no order and with no attribution (sorry future meme researchers) are some of my favorite re-workings. The Birdcage version made us laugh out loud so much that we knew we had to rewatch it that night.

And finally, a sand sculpture made on Island Beach State Park after the budget standoff ended and the beach reopened: 

Categories: Blogs

Hammonton 2017 Fourth of July

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 5:57pm

We didn’t see much of the Hammonton Fourth of July parade this year because once again the kids were in the bike parade portion (all except Francis, who had a bad meltdown in the morning and stayed home with mom).

The bike parade was again sponsored by Toy Market, the independent toy store in town (supplier of much of our household’s Santa delivery). They had a table full of red, white, and blue bunting that we could apply to the bikes. We all had a lot of fun.

Notes for next year: a tandem extension on a adult bike looked like fun and then 7-yo Gregory will be a good age for this (we should dig ours out from the back of the garage). Also: the parade has a dog contingent so maybe a much-calmer Francis will be able to be part of that next year (we’re due to pick up the service dog in 12 days!, eeek!!!)

Categories: Blogs

Sanctuary as a sacred act

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 2:31pm
Jefferson Post logo Photo: AFSC/ News Source: Jefferson Post
Categories: Articles & News

Winners and Losers from West Virginia's Budget Battle

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 1:45pm
WV Public Radio logo Photo: AFSC/ News Source: Winners and Losers from West Virginia's Budget Battle
Categories: Articles & News

“The Sword of Peace” — 44th Season Opens Thursday

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 9:43am

“The Sword of Peace” — Now, More Than Ever

Thursday July 6 is Opening Night for the 44th season of the Snow Camp NC Historical Drama series.

The “curtain” will rise at 8 PM, for “The Sword of Peace.” This gripping outdoor drama is based on actual events related to the American Revolution, in which many Quakers were involved. Convictions of patriotism, Quaker religious devotion to peace, courage, suffering and mercy all clashed in the historic Battle of Guilford Court House in 1781. This will be its 44th season.
Then on Thursday July 13th, “Pathway to Freedom” begins its 23rd year at Snow Camp. This is the exciting saga of the Underground Railroad, when courageous black men and women risked life itself to escape slavery, aided by NC Quakers and other daring whites.
These original plays have thrilled thousands of visitors from all over America and beyond.
These shows will alternate until August 19th. The full schedule, including Wednesday & Saturday children’s shows, is below.

Here are some  photos from the recent dress rehearsal of “The Sword of Peace.” An album with more photos is here. An album of “Pathway to Freedom” will be posted soon.

Getting into costume: back to the 1770s and 1780s.

Yes, even in 1781, a lad wouldn’t want to face a revolution without his gecko.

The play opens with Business Meeting at Cane Creek Friends Meeting. It is a solemn time, especially during “outward commotions” — i.e., war. (And yes, Virginia, there really is a Cane Creek, and a Cane Creek Meeting. But they’re in North Carolina.)

Thomas Hadley, raised a Quaker at Cane Creek, commits a grave infraction — “marrying out” of meeting.

Soon Hadley, at left below, becomes a reluctant, conflicted ex-Quaker soldier with the Continental “rebel” forces.

He has been taught not to join “wars and fightings.” But he loves his new country. Is it right to kill for it?

Don’t miss these plays! Tickets can be ordered online from: brownpapertickets.com

Private Hadley seeks spiritual & practical counsel from General Nathanael Greene, who George Washington said was his best war-fighting commander.

Greene was raised a Quaker, disowned when he joined the revolutionary forces & took up arms. Greene has words of wisdom for the troubled recruit.

The royal troops fire on rebels.

Fighting rages. Many fall. Soon Thomas Hadley, ex-Quaker soldier, comes to his moment of truth: will he now kill his “enemy”?

To find out, order tickets online at:

After the Battle of Guilford Court House, mourning one of the many casualties.

Area Quakers, including some from Cane Creek, tended the wounded, and helped bury the dead, of both armies.

“Wars and rumors of war.” A somber, yet quietly hopeful candlelit close for the show.

“The Sword of Peace” will have ten performances, through August 19.

An album with more photos is here.  A schedule is below.

SOP = Sword of Peace
PTF = Pathway to Freedom
ENC= Emperor’s new Clothes
B&B = Beauty & the Beast

Tickets on sale at the Box Office. Or from:





The post “The Sword of Peace” — 44th Season Opens Thursday appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Four for the Fourth: Holiday Ruminations

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 11:08am

For thirty years or so, I was shielded from most July 4th festivities by attending a big Quaker Gathering which is always held the week of the holiday.

Going about our multifarious business there (as the saying goes, “We liberal Quakers don’t believe in hell — we have committees instead.”), we didn’t take much notice. Once in awhile we’d see some local fireworks, but there was no patriotic speechifying, flag-draped parades, or wreaths laid on war monuments. (Thank goodness.)

I remember one year, the college where we were assembled was perched at the brow of a ridge, overlooking several small towns scattered across the valley below.

Pressed by some kids who felt pyrotechnically-deprived, several of us gathered just before bedtime in a peripheral parking lot; from its edge  the view downhill was clear. Soon a bright dotted line rose in a curve and mushroomed into colored sparks. Then another lit up, well to the south. These were followed by others.

All were so far away that the sound didn’t carry, and the scene became like a kind of subdued and scattered northern lights display. The kids were disappointed, but I liked it. Far away, small-screen, and quiet; it felt like the right frame for our patriotic outbursts.

But this year I’m not at the big gathering; too busy at home. So right now, the radio is off, the house is quiet, and my daily online newspaper-reading was soon  derailed into several non-journalistic pathways, strewn with the debris of the day. Here are a few pieces I picked up there, for recycling . . . .

Frederick Douglass, from “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” 1852

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July.
It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.
This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young.
Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood.
I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon.
The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny?
Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young.
Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever.
But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory.
As with rivers so with nations. . . .

The full address is here.

Resistance Poetry, by Meg:

The Picnic

‘Neath a haze of charcoal fumes
And sparkling summer sky,
They gathered round the sickbed
And ate an apple pie.

They reminisced and pondered
The speed of her decline,
Fingers crossed that better days
Were not now all behind.

Despite alarming symptoms,
To hope they held on fast.
This wasn’t her first illness.
It might not be her last.

One by one, as light grew long,
They said their fare-thee-wells,
Each willing there’d be next year,
But you can never tell.

4th of July, 2017

More Resistance Poetry.



In the Other News . . .

Inspired By Patriotic Church Service, Man To Study All Biblical Passages About America

“GRAND PRAIRIE, TX—“Truly inspired and deeply moved” by his church’s patriotic 4th of July service, and particularly his pastor’s message, titled “The Shining City Upon A Hill,” local man Jim Radcliffe announced Monday his intention to launch into a comprehensive study of every mention of the United States of America in the entire Bible.

“From God’s covenant with America in the Old Testament, all the way through to America’s ultimate victory over our enemies in Revelation—I’m going to study every single verse about God’s chosen nation,” read his announcement on Facebook. “There are a ton of them, I know. But I am committed.”

Radcliffe also announced that he hopes to complete this daunting task within one calendar year.

“By this time next year I hope to have exhaustively studied the Scriptures’ entire treatment of the United States, even if it takes several hours each day,” he said in his online missive, noting his confidence that God will bless him as he endeavors to honor the U.S., quoting Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless [America].”

[Reader advisory: the website on which this piece was found is widely suspected of publishing truth disguised as fake news.]


And finally, thanks to Scott Horton for passing along this poem, which fits my mood on this date just about every year:

 On the 4th, am reading William Stafford’s “Every War Has Two Losers,” a lovely book of writings and poems about being peace in a world desperate for war, like this poem celebrating a non-4th 4th at an un-monument “remembering the unknown good in everything”… 

At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.


The post Four for the Fourth: Holiday Ruminations appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

“Bigger Than Us” Project at Worthington Friends Church

Friends United Meeting - Mon, 07/03/2017 - 12:35pm
Churches in Jamaica often find that they cannot meet their operating needs without income beyond tithes and offerings from the congregation. Many churches use other fundraising options, such as hosting fish fries or chicken bar-be-ques or running pledge drives. Friends’ Meetings and Churches are not exempt from this need to explore creative means of fundraising. Worthington Friends Church, in the capital city of Jamaica, has come up with a new plan. They hope to capitalize on their location in the heart of the financial and corporate center of Jamaica, New Kingston, by renovating some of their space to provide reasonably priced, quality accommodations to the Friends community as well as to the national and international business community. There has been talk for many years about a “refurbishing project ” of their Annex – a one room board with four bunk beds and a bathroom. There have been dreams, plans, discussions, etc.  Earlier this year, they decided to approach the idea again from a fresh perspective. The church is replacing the one room board Annex with two “mini-suites”. Each will have two twin beds and a private bath. In a later phase, a small kitchenette will be added to each. The church hopes to use income from renting the spaces to travelers to supplement their budget. The project is being funded from a number of sources including Worthington’s members at home and abroad, friends and family, and from project funds from two short-term mission teams who also volunteer their labor towards the project. They have made great progress so far and phases one and two are nearly complete! Phase three is removing the board structure and completing the roof. Remaining phases will include plumbing, electrical, interior and exterior finishes and finally furnishings and equipment. Friends at Worthington would welcome any and all assistance, whether in cash or kind. Prayers for this “bigger than us” project are also appreciated. Any plumbers, carpenters or electricians interested in some work in Jamaica? Pastor David is sure that at least one day at the beach could be arranged for workers! For more information, please contact Pastor David Goode at goode.dave@gmail.com or by local US phone call to (330)283-9832.
Categories: Articles & News

Did God Really Ask Abraham to Sacrifice His Own Child?

Micah Bales - Mon, 07/03/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 7/2/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Genesis 22:1-14 & Romans 6:12-23. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

This is a tough passage to preach on. It’s one of the most iconic stories of the Bible – the time that Abraham and Isaac went up to that mountain, and Abraham only thought only one of them was coming back.

God told Abraham to take his son up to the mountain top. He told Abraham to take wood, and fire. He told him to kill Isaac and burn his body as an offering. This was the command of the Lord, and it’s clear that Abraham would have gone through with it.

If you google “Isaac and Abraham sacrifice” and do an image search, there’s no shortage of paintings and drawings. Renaissance art is full of paintings depicting this scene, the moment that Abraham lifted the knife to take the life of his son, only to have God intervene.

Some of this art is better than others. The best of these images focus on the drama unfolding between Abraham and his son. Isaac, laid out on the pyre. Abraham, holding the knife and gripping his son by the back of the neck. There must have been a struggle.

Our text this morning leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s not very detailed, and you can read it a lot of different ways. It’s possible to read this story and imagine Isaac as innocently confused, but obedient. His father told him to lay down on the wood, so he did. His father pulled out the knife to take his life, and Isaac accepted it. Abraham, for his part, conducted himself with simple obedience and calm. He didn’t start crying, he didn’t lose control. He didn’t shout or lay hands on Isaac. He just obeyed the command of God, and so did his son.

But I know that’s a lie. Or, at least, I hope it is. Because if that were true, if Abraham was psychologically prepared to murder his son with no displays of emotional conflict, that would make him something less than human. And Isaac – what young man, what human being accepts a violent death at the hands of a loved one without a struggle? Without horror? Without desperate cries for mercy and tears of disbelief?

There are images that present Isaac and Abraham as dutiful pawns in God’s strange chess game. In these paintings, the two of them are placid, serene, looking only to God.

I know that these images must be false. I can feel it in my bones. When I look at these peaceful depictions of this violent event, there’s no soul, no humanity. Abraham becomes a monster, and Isaac a bovine creature with no real human spark. Lost is the Abraham who argued with God over the fate of Sodom. He convinced God to spare the city for the sake of just ten righteous people. Couldn’t he be bothered to argue for the life of his own child?

And not just any child. The heir of the promise. This was the child that God had promised Abraham for decades. The miraculous boy who was born when his parents were far beyond the age of child-bearing. Isaac was the living proof of God’s faithfulness – his intention to make Abraham into a great nation, to make his offspring as numerous as the stars. Isaac was the tangible substance of God’s relationship with Abraham and Sarah.

But more important than any of this, Isaac was Abraham’s little boy. He wasn’t just a means to an end. He was a real person, a child. And Abraham loved him.

I think of my son, George. I think of what it would mean to me if I thought God was asking me to kill my son and burn his body. Forget the promise. Forget great nations and offspring as numerous as the stars. This is my son, whom I love. I’d rather die than do to George what God told Abraham to do to Isaac.

What kind of psychopath says “yes” to a request like that? But more importantly, what kind of God would ever make such a request?

And for what? To test Abraham’s faith? To be sure that he was really committed? What kind of friend would test a relationship like that, much less the most high God, creator of the universe?

There’s a long tradition of not taking this story literally. And that’s good. Because honestly, it’s just too horrifying. Who could worship a God like that?

So this morning, I want to continue in that tradition. I want to invite us to experience this story as an allegory, as a narrative that opens up a moral dimension to us that is simply not accessible through anything less than a shocking but true story.

None of this diminishes the horror of the story. What God asks of Abraham is unfathomable. But in this ancient horror, we are also given a mirror into our own spiritual condition. We can find ourselves in the experience of Abraham, and that of Isaac. We can recognize in them our own challenges, our doubts and fears. The existential dread that stalks us.

When I heard this story, I’m forced to ask myself: What does it mean to sacrifice my Isaac? Because again, for the purposes of this allegory, Isaac is not merely a beloved child. He is the instrument of God’s promise. He represents everything that Abraham understands about who God is and how he is in relationship with God. Isaac is the most fundamentally important thing in Abraham’s life. Without Isaac, Abraham has nothing to hold onto, nothing to assure him that God really cares for him and has a plan for him.

So for God to demand that Abraham sacrifice Isaac – well, it just doesn’t compute. It’s like a snake eating its own tail. How can God ask Abraham to end the very life that demonstrates their relationship? It’s as if a husband said to his wife, “if you really love me, you’ll throw away your wedding ring and move to another city.” This request doesn’t make any sense.

But the incomprehensibility of God’s request is exactly what makes it so important. When God tells Abraham to kill his son Isaac, he’s essentially asking Abraham this: “Do you trust me enough to let go of everything in this world that connects us? Do you love me more than my gifts, more than my promises, more than my presence in your life?”

That’s pretty deep. Because to be honest, most of the time, I want God for his gifts. I want him for his presence and power in my life. I want him because he helps give my life meaning and purpose, a sense of perspective beyond myself.

But that’s not what God wants. The kind of relationship that God desires with you and me doesn’t hinge on reasons or benefits, outcomes or external validation. The relationship that God is seek with you and me is one that stands beyond all incentives or proofs. It’s the relationship that Jesus demonstrated when he hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The story of Abraham and Isaac has often been taken as an analogy for Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross, in submission to God’s will. In this view, God is often seen as represented by Abraham – the sacrificer – while Jesus is represented by Isaac, the sacrificed. But this is a backwards view of things. During his struggle in Gethsemane, his torture by the religious and imperial authorities, and his death on the cross, Jesus found himself in the position of Abraham. Like Abraham, he was forced to abandon everything in this world that gave him assurance of God’s love. Jesus had to accept absolute risk.

On the cross, Jesus sacrificed the “Isaac” of his earthly ministry. He experienced terrible grief and failure. He experienced the absence of God, the loss of the promise. In that moment, all of his work was for nothing. It all ended on that nihilistic cross of suffering and shame.

In his Letter to a Young Activist, Thomas Merton writes about this journey into loss and unmooring, which is essential to the path of Christian discipleship. He speaks about how we often use our God-given work “to protect [ourselves] against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of [the] work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.”

We’ve heard a terrible story this morning. It’s a story of a father’s love for his child – his hope, his future – being overcome by his greater desire to be in relationship with God. It’s a story of cutting loss and heartbreak. It’s a story about how each one of us must move beyond assurances and guarantees if we want to experience the full depth of relationship with God.

This is a story about Abraham seeking a truer, more authentic faith. Beyond pleading and promises. Beyond rewards. Abraham gives himself to God unconditionally – even if it means the loss of everything else, including his ideas about God.

Our scripture this morning is an invitation to self-examination. What are the ways that we have turned our faith in God into a transaction, rather than full submission? Do we love the gifts God gives us more than we love God himself? What are we being called to surrender, so that we can be more fully embraced by God?

What does it mean to be like Jesus, who let go of every guarantee, every promise – even the promise of God’s presence and protection – in order to live in the naked reality of God’s kingdom?

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