Traveling in the ministry in the “old style”

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 2:31pm

Wess Daniels on Lloyd Lee Wilson’s traveling style

Most folks can guess what it means to travel in the ministry. You visit different churches and meetings and share gifts of ministry with the community there. “In the old style” is a reference to how many early Friends would travel, by sensing a call to go and worship with Friends in other parts of the country and world, with no clear outcome or goal, and only trusting that by showing up and worshiping with Friends “something divinely good would happen.”

On Traveling in the Ministry

Learning How to Travel in the Ministry: The Past Bears Weight on the Present This is a post…
Categories: Blogs

UK Quakers will not profit from the occupation of Palestine

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 11:57am

British Friends become first church in UK to pull investments in companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine. From recording clerk Paul Parker:

As Quakers, we seek to live out our faith through everyday actions, including the choices we make about where to put our money. We believe strongly in the power of legitimate, nonviolent, democratic tools such as morally responsible investment to realise positive change in the world. We want to make sure our money and energies are instead put into places which support our commitments to peace, equality and justice.

As you’d might expect, there’s been backlash. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has condemned Britain Yearly Meeting’s decision as a “biased and petulant act.”.

Quakers will not profit from the occupation of Palestine

Quakers in Britain has today become the first church in the UK to announce it will not invest…

Categories: Blogs

Genesis: Outer Space and Inner Light, by

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 11:57am

John A. Minahan has written this week’s featured Friends Journal article, a nicely paced exploration that touches on personal memoir, human milestones, cultural memory, and the Book of Genesis:

Now the astronauts had used that same rhetorical strategy but on a planetary and even interplanetary scale. Speaking the words of Genesis, they sent a message of healing to a wounded world; they expressed a certain cosmic humility about our place in the universe; and, most of all, they shared goodwill, jaw‐dropping in its simplicity, with “all of you on the good earth.” A moral and existential vision took hold of me in that moment and has never let go. Though I couldn’t have articulated it as such then, it was a realization of original goodness.

Genesis: Outer Space and Inner Light

Outer space and Inner Light

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

New eBook “Remixing Faith” Now Available

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 11:15am

From Wess Daniels:

I have put this talk together in ebook form complete with lots of pictures and illustrations and formatting that adds to the reading experience. I wanted to share this with all of you and make it as accessible as possible, so it is free to download. It should work with most modern-day eBook readers and apps. If that doesn’t work for you, I have also turned the talk into a downloadable .PDF.

New eBook “Remixing Faith” Now Available

My new eBook “Remixing Faith: Seeds of Renewal” is now available for (free) download as an eBook or…
Categories: Blogs

The Kingdom of God Can Be Yours – All It Will Cost You Is Everything

Micah Bales - Mon, 11/19/2018 - 2:00am

The early church was marked by intensity. Men and women filled with power and conviction that came down from the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; their unity was remarkable. They had become family in every important sense. The first believers, thousands of them, laid aside everything that they had possessed before, holding all things in common. They become one people, one body, in the kingdom of God.

The demands of the gospel experienced by the early church were total. This was not a Sunday-morning activity. It was not an add-on. The life of the early Christians was not a mere sub-culture or “identity” that served as flavor for the rest of their life as residents of imperial Roman society. For these women, men, and children, Jesus Christ had become the core and center of a new shared life. Together, they experienced and followed the inward Rabbi, the resurrected Lord who guided them through the Holy Spirit.

So much of what passes for Christianity today is a pale reflection of that fellowship. The church has become a club, a tradition, a tribe – just one more identity thrown into the melting pot of the imperial cosmopolis. I’m Quaker. You’re Brethren. She’s Catholic. He’s Orthodox. What difference does it make? Caesar still reigns supreme. Our loyalty is divided. We have failed to become family.

The gospel of Jesus is more than personal improvement, social engagement, and friendly potlucks. The good news of the kingdom is a direct challenge to imperial culture. As citizens of the kingdom of God, we are called out of the centrifuge of individual achievement and consumerism that transforms us into loyal imperial subjects. Jesus calls us to de-center the wealth, power, and violent glory of America and all other empires.

We cannot enter the kingdom of God alone. Only by shedding our success, our wealth, our security and privilege can we pass through the eye of the needle and become part of a new society. True freedom is only possible when we surrender everything to follow Jesus.

What is holding you back from surrendering all? What keeps you clinging to the false promises of empire? What are the people, places, things, and ideas that you still haven’t surrendered to God? When will you finally enter through the narrow gate, becoming a brother or sister of Jesus?

Related Posts: Are You Able to Drink the Cup of Jesus? Without the Spirit, The Body of Christ Is Just a Corpse!

The post The Kingdom of God Can Be Yours – All It Will Cost You Is Everything appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Reddit: Quakerism without Jesus

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Sun, 11/18/2018 - 8:57am

Two much-discussed threads on /reddit/Quakers, the first pondering Quakerism with Jesus, and the second—a response—arguing for Jesus’s centrality. Both original posts are perhaps a bit predictable but the conversations go into interesting contradictions and dilemmas.

Also, an early plug that the December Friends Journal will focus on Quakers and Christianity.

r/Quakers — Quakerism without Jesus

12 votes and 42 comments so far on Reddit

Categories: Blogs

Kindertransport survivors call for routes to sanctuary for child refugees

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Sat, 11/17/2018 - 12:53pm

At an 80th anniversary of the UK kindertransport program (which we read about a few days ago), survivors and Friends call for wider support for today’s refugees and asylum seekers:

Helen Drewery, Head of Witness and Worship for Quakers in Britain, welcoming all to Friends House, said, “We are pleased to be hosting an event which honours all those – including Quakers who put the Kindertransport into effect. Their endeavours are being echoed today by nearly 100 Quaker meetings across Britain which have identified themselves as Sanctuary Meetings and are supporting people who have fled from danger in their home countries. We are glad that these Meetings and the people they are supporting are represented at today’s event. We join them in pressing for more safe passages.”

Ekklesia | Kindertransport survivors call for routes to sanctuary for child refugees
Categories: Blogs

This Couple Had a “Kitten Hour” at Their Wedding

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Sat, 11/17/2018 - 8:31am

This story needs no clever introduction:

“We wanted our guests to have something to do as they arrived [while] we took pictures with our families, so we planned a kitten hour,” Colleen told POPSUGAR. “We did a cocktail hour with cocktails named after our cats for the reception, but the Quaker meeting house we used for the ceremony doesn’t allow alcohol on premises. I wanted a wedding falcon, but Iz vetoed that, and so we compromised on kittens.”

This Couple Had a “Kitten Hour” at Their Wedding, and Yes, It’s a Cat Lady’s HEAVEN

This is probably the best idea ever!

Categories: Blogs

Kristallnacht, Kindertransport, and help for refugees

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 7:03am

Quaker refugee work circa 1933:

The reports gathered from the Jewish community in Germany by Quakers were of influence when Quakers accompanied the Jewish delegation who went to see Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare to plead the case for allowing immigration of children into Britain without the usual visa restrictions. They swayed the government and this planned immigration of German and Austrian Jewish children became known as the Kindertransport. Around 10,000 children were evacuated from Germany and Austria to Britain between 1938 and 1939.

What I find most fascinating is the detail that the Friends library in London doesnt have a lot of records of this work. It was so much in line with other refugee assistance Friends were doing in Europe that they evidently considered it just another day on the job, so to speak. I shared a piece on the related Quakerspeisungen a few days ago.

Kristallnacht, Kindertransport, and help for refugees

Last week saw the 80th anniversary of the November Pogrom in Germany and Austria, now known as Kristallnacht.…

Quaker Strongrooms
Categories: Blogs

Mike Shell reviews book reviews

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 11/13/2018 - 10:23am

Okay, it’s not quite so referential: Mike’s lifting up three books in September’s Friends Journal book columns that “help ‘white’ readers go deeper into self-awareness about the hidden dynamics of racism.” He also tells a little of his own story of color-blindness.

When my “white” friends said I couldn’t bring my “black” best friend to their lunch table, I shrugged and sat with him at a “black” table. On the minus side, when someone in the school parking lot shouted nigger lover, and my friend wanted to fight, I just told him I didn’t mind the insult. That was probably my first seriously hurtful act of “white color-blindness.” It took me decades to realize, to my shame, that it was he who was being insulted, not me.

Three books for “white” people

The Books section of the September 2018 Friends Journal includes reviews of three exemplary works to help “white”…

Quaker Universalist Voice
Categories: Blogs

Quakerspeisungen and an Oscar Schindler connection

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 11/13/2018 - 9:19am

This week marks the hundred-year anniversary of the end of the “Great War,” World War I, branded as the war to end all wars. Our annual commemoration of the armistice in the U.S. largely went by the wayside in 1954 when Congress changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Instead of marking the end of a horrific war that literally consumed much of European resources and people for years in trenches that never moved, we now spend the day filling lectures with cliches of military service.

But the hundred year anniversary also means we can start remembering the aftermath of the war. The First World War set up the second. We largely think of the mistakes and half-efforts of the victorious powers but Quakers were part of more righteous storyline:

Even more food was sent by American Quakers under the leadership of Herbert Hoover, providing daily meals for 60,0000 starving Berliners for five years. The Germans labelled this massive effort, Quakerspeisungen: “Quaker Feedings.” It saved thousands of lives, including those of the family of Oscar Schindler who famously went on to help 700 Jews to escape the gas chambers at Auschwitz in the Second World War. Schindler’s sisters spent six months recuperating with the Hall family and one even attended Thirsk Grammar School for a term.

Friends Journal Bonuses: Quaker work in Germany in the 1920s and 30s was the subject ofQuakers in Germany during and after the World Wars from 2010. Relief efforts in Spain were part of a more recent story that tied it to present-day refugee assistance in Gota de Leche.

Heroic Quakers and a fascinating link between Oscar Schindler and Thirsk

A FASCINATING link to Oscar Schindler via a Thirsk family of Quakers is being celebrated in the North…

Darlington and Stockton Times
Categories: Blogs

In These Days of Despair, There Is A Way of Hope

Micah Bales - Mon, 11/12/2018 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 11/11/18, at the Berkeley Friends Church. The scripture readings for this sermon were: 1 Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, & Mark 12:38-44. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

It can be hard to believe, in times like these. Hard to believe in a God that allows a world of migrant caravans, smoke-filled skies, climate-fueled natural disasters, and a rising movement of authoritarian nationalism. It can be hard to believe in a Christianity that so often sides with the wealthy, the powerful, the violent and the arrogant. Based on what we see on the national and world stage, it can be a challenge to believe that human beings are capable of anything beyond self-interest, self-preservation, and self-deception.

There’s this spiritual weight that has fallen over us as a people. We feel the temptation to despair. Despair tells us, “things won’t get better – they’ll always get worse. People don’t change, what’s the point in trying?” As human beings, we don’t lose hope because life is hard; we lose hope because life seems to have lost all sense of possibility, all long-term meaning and legacy.

It was this kind of lurking despair that Elijah found when he encountered the widow in Zarephath. The land was dying. The food was almost gone. No one and nothing could save her or her child. It hadn’t rained in the whole region for years. The famine was severe. What more could be done? Maybe it was just time to give up and die.

When Elijah showed up a the gates of Zarephath, he found this widow doing the only thing she could do: gathering sticks to start a fire, to prepare a last meal for herself and her son. And as she stands there, gathering kindling to prepare the last of the food available to her family, a stranger appears. Begging for food. “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”

I don’t know what the widow thought when Elijah approached her, asking for bread. I don’t know, because it doesn’t say in the text. But I know what I would be thinking if I were in her place. “Bring you a morsel of bread? Bring you a morsel of bread? My family is getting ready to starve to death, and you want me to give you food, stranger? Go sell crazy somewhere else – we’re all stocked up here!”

The widow is kinder than I might have been. Maybe because she’s afraid. She says, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug.” That sounds familiar. Have you ever done that? I’m ashamed to admit it, but I know I have. “Sorry, man – I don’t have any cash on me.” Technically true, but really a polite way of saying, “I don’t want to help.”

And why should she, right? Why should she want to help? Generosity flows out of hope, and hope seems in very short supply these days. The widow tells the stranger, “I am now gathering a couple of sticks so that I may go home and prepare [the remaining food] for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

“That we may eat it, and die.” Things are getting real in Zarephath.

But then Elijah makes a promise – an outrageous promise: Give me some food, and God will take care of you and your son. He says:

“Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”

Can you believe this guy? “Don’t worry lady – go make me some food right away. If you do, God is going to make your handful of grain and final drops of oil last for years!” Would you believe a stranger telling you this kind of stuff?

The text is very sparse on details. It doesn’t give us much insight into the widow’s emotional reactions to this whole conversation. It just says that she did what Elijah asked, and that God made good on Elijah’s promise. The prophet stayed with them for many days, and the three of them had enough to eat. The jar of meal never ran out, and the jug of oil never ran dry.

The widow at Zarephath trusted in Elijah and his God, and that leap of faith – that leap of utter desperation – paid off. Elijah truly was a holy man, and God was faithful.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus talks about some other “holy men.” In Mark 12, the important holy men of Jerusalem are demanding to know by what authority Jesus has disrupted the holy precincts of the temple by chasing out the money changers. In response, Jesus tells a parable, comparing the religious leaders to murderous thieves. They try to trip him up with questions about paying taxes, and the nature of the resurrection, and debates about the identity of the messiah.

At the end of all this, Jesus warns his listeners to watch out for these self-serving religious leaders, who live at the center of power in Jerusalem:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Elijah ate what a widow had to offer, receiving her food as an offering to God. And as a sign of God’s favor, God miraculously multiplied the meal and oil, saving the lives of the widow and her son. We see echoes of this story in Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. When we offer up what we have to God, there is enough to go around.

The religion of the temple in Jesus’ time was of an entirely different character from the prophetic faith of Elijah. The widow’s gift to Elijah was a leap of faith, but tithes to the temple were a tax imposed by a wealthy elite. Elijah lived on the margins, fleeing the wrath of a corrupt king; the temple was the very seat of power.

In the traditional Jewish cosmology, the temple was the holiest place in the holiest land on earth. The story of Elijah and the widow takes place in the least holy place possible – among the gentiles in Sidon. The temple was home to the best and brightest; Zarephath was full of unclean outsiders who had nothing left and were preparing to die. The rulers of the temple demand religious devotion and economic sacrifice, but Elijah comes begging and offering good news to the poor.

The second part of our reading from Mark is the famous “widow’s mite” story. It says that Jesus sat down opposite the temple treasury and watched people putting money in. Lots of rich people came by and donated large sums. And then finally a poor widow came and put in a couple of copper coins – practically nothing. And Jesus says to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

The most common reading of this passage is to interpret Jesus as praising the widow for her faith. While the other, wealthy, donors all gave out of their abundance, the widow gave in a self-sacrificial way. Through her willingness to surrender everything for her faith in the temple, she demonstrates the kind of risk-taking that Jesus wants to see in his disciples.

There’s a beauty in this interpretation, and I think it can be a legitimate way of thinking about the text on a certain level. But when we look at the context of this passage in the Gospel of Mark, when we look at Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and all the struggles and debates that this action unleashed, the story of the widow’s offering starts looking less like a model of faithfulness and more like an example of economic oppression.

Superficially, it would seem that the widow’s gift at the temple has a lot in common with the widow’s gift to Elijah at Zarephath. In both cases, a marginalized, impoverished woman living on the edge gives everything that she has to live on. They both give it to holy men who claim to have a higher purpose for asking for the resources they need to live. But the holy men of the temple do not possess the same character as Elijah.

The widow at Zarephath took a leap of faith to feed a prophet on the run, a prophet being hunted by an abusive and unfaithful king in Israel. The widow at Jerusalem gave away everything she had to live on to satisfy the demands of an abusive and unfaithful temple system – men who “devour widows’ houses, and for the sake of appearances say long prayers.” The faith of Elijah relieves poverty and famine, but the temple’s tithing system exacerbates it.

Where do we find ourselves in these scriptures? Do we live in the faith of Elijah? The faith of the margins? The prophetic faith that stands with the poor, the widow, the hungry? Or have we been seduced by the spectacle and violence of the temple?

The religion of the temple is still very much alive in our world today. It is the faith of Wall Street, the faith of the Pentagon. The faith of Silicon Valley. It’s the prosperity gospel that tells us we all get what we have earned – that the rich deserve to run the show, and the poor deserve to eat their last meal and die. This kind of religion centers the people and institutions that already have a lot, and says they should be given more. This is the kind of faith that devours widow’s homes and for the sake of appearances says long prayers.

Jesus and Elijah offer us an alternative this way of empire. They stand in the prophetic tradition. The way of the wilderness, the revelation of the burning bush. Theirs is the way of utter dependence on God, the way of the cross. It’s a way of liberation. To walk with Jesus is to hear the voice of God calling to us on the tattered edge of empire, commanding us to say to Pharaoh, “let my people go!” The prophetic faith of Jesus turns its back on the center, the holy, the important, the wise, in order to embrace those who are rejected and despised by the world.

In days like these, when the skies are filled with smoke and refugees stream northward seeking refuge and safety – in times when political power seems bankrupt of moral authority – we are tempted to despair, to gather sticks so that we can cook our food and die.

In our hunger for a faith that can speak to our distress, Jesus and Elijah present us with two different paths we can choose. Will we put our faith in the God of Moses – who challenges oppressive structures and liberates his people from slavery? Will we walk in the faith of Jesus, who surrendered everything – his life, honor, and dignity – to open the door to healing and reconciliation?

Or will we pick the way of the temple? Will we be like the scribes, riding high on our own sense of moral authority? Will we place burdens on the poor and the marginalized that they cannot bear? Will we side with the economic and political system that is choking our planet and tearing families apart? Will we allow our hopelessness to congeal into cynicism? Will we seek personal advantage in a time of societal breakdown?

As followers of Jesus, we don’t have to guess about which path we are called to. Our God is the holy one of the wilderness. He stands with the widow and orphan, the poor and oppressed, the migrant caravans and the child laborers who make our clothing and electronics.

Our God dwells with those who our economic system is crushing. On the cross, Jesus bears the suffering of the weeping parents and hungry children. In his resurrection power, he invites us into the ministry of reconciliation, turning away from the glitz and glamor of celebrity and power and toward the daily needs of those who have been cast away by our society.

Will we heed this call? Will we become like the prophet Elijah, approaching the widow at Zarephath for food, offering good news to the poor?

The prophet does not command obedience through their own wealth and power. Elijah did not come to Zarephath as someone superior and worthy of respect. He came as a homeless beggar. Like Jesus and the early disciples, he carried nothing with him but the clothes on his back and the good news of God’s salvation. Liberation for the poor, and justice for the oppressed.

In these times of darkness, when we are tempted to despair, Jesus and Elijah offer us a way forward. A way of life and peace. A way of releasing our fear and embracing trust in God. By serving those most in need – by embracing our place as humble beggars in the house of God – we can find our way through this time of drought and famine. Together with the unexpected friends that God will reveal to us, we might even find hope.

Related Posts: God Doesn’t Need Your Religion – Love Is All That Matters Are You Able to Drink the Cup of Jesus?

The post In These Days of Despair, There Is A Way of Hope appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

The gray wave that wasn’t

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 11/07/2018 - 6:25pm

Back in March, Friends Journal and the Earlham School of Religion co-hosted an online discussion with six Quaker candidates for congressional seats. The idea and coordination came from the awesome Greg Woods. I went to see just how high the 2018 “gray wave” had crested.

Spoilers: no wave. Four of the candidates didn’t make it out of the primaries and a fifth was running as an independent in a long-shot candidacy. The one candidate to win major-party primary was the awesome Shawna Roberts1 of Barnesville, Ohio. Shawna’s one of the most down-to-earth, real, people I know and it was a lot of fun to follow her campaign. Her twitter feed has been a hoot:

Last night, at the BPW forum, my opponent’s statement said his childhood home “didn’t even have indoor plumbing.”

Oh, Bill. Indoor plumbing’s still pending at our old farm house.
You can’t out-hillbilly me. Unless you eat squirrel brains. I draw the line at squirrel brains.

— Shawna Roberts (@RobertsOhioD6) October 20, 2018

Unfortunately Shawna only got about 30 percent of the vote yesterday. This election was not kind to Democrats in rural districts like southeast Ohio’s 6 and she was running against an incumbent. From my vantage point 30 percent seems pretty good, though as my seventh grade math teacher used to intone in his weary baritone, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. traced it down (Popik was an essential source tracking this Quaker bumpersticker).">2 Still, the prospect of a Mrs Roberts Goes to Washington win had me hoping against the odds. I’d love to see her continue to be involved: 2020 is only two years away.

Stats on everyone’s results are at the updated Quakers in Politics page. For anyone wondering about Quaker politicians, Paul Buckley had a nice overview of our complicated relationship to voting a few years ago.

2018 Quakers in Politics Web Panel (Updated Nov 2018)

The upcoming U.S. Congressional mid-term elections already have at least seven Quaker candidates for office. How does their…

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

Looking outside the meetinghouse (FJ call for submissions)

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 3:25pm

Let me give a plug that Friends Journal is looking for articles on the topic of “Outside the Meetinghouse” for the March issue. The deadline is a little over a month away. Here’s a little bit of my write-up for it, as a teaser:

There is a long history of Friends preaching and witnessing outside of the confines of the meetinghouse. George Fox’s Journal is full of unconventional worshiping; he had a particular penchant for preaching from any bit of high ground he could find, like a tree or rock outcropping. His contemporary James Naylor is most remembered for re‐enacting Jesus’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem by dramatically riding a horse down a main road into Bristol. Modern‐day Friends continue to find unconventional places to worship…

Also, I’ve just set up a form to get on the email notification list to get pinged when topic write-ups get posted. It’s very low-volume, as we only write these once a month. There’s only two subscribers. For the time being, I’m just keeping the emails in a list and sending personalized emails.

Writing Opp: Outside the Meetinghouse (due 12/10)

Information about our upcoming March 2019 issue, “Outside the Meetinghouse.” Feature submissions are due December 10, 2018.

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

Political queries from an almost-Quaker

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 2:27pm

Timothy Taylor on radical objectivity:

But near what feels like an especially divisive election day, it seems worth posing his insights as a challenge for all of our partisan beliefs. While I am not a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I attended a college with Quaker roots and married a 22nd-generation Quaker. The Quakers have a term called a “query,” which refers to a question–sometimes a challenging or pointed question– that is meant to be used as a basis for additional reflection.

His list isn’t really in the style of classic Quaker queries (surprise). It’s the modern style of leading questions that get called queries. Too often this form ends up being a rather transparent attempt to impose a kind of political orthodoxy but Taylor’s questions feel refreshingly challenging and useful for whatever side or non-side one takes in politics. Hattip to Doug Bennett for the link.

Clifford Geertz and Radical Objectivity

My current office sits near the anthropologists, who have posted this comment from Clifford Geertz on the departmental…
Categories: Blogs

God Doesn’t Need Your Religion – Love Is All That Matters

Micah Bales - Mon, 11/05/2018 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 11/4/18, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Ruth 1:1-18, Hebrews 9:11-14 & Mark 12:28-34. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Jesus spent all of his ministry preaching the arrival of the reign of God. All of his words and actions revealed the presence of God’s power, love, and justice. The sick are healed, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The kingdom of God has drawn near.

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Jesus says this to one of the scribes. One of the Pharisees. A member of a group that Jesus criticizes a lot. The scribes and Pharisees, middle-class people who could read the Torah and write dense legal theories about how to follow it correctly.

Jesus fought so often with the scribes and the Pharisees not because he was so different, but because he had so much in common. In fact, if you were going to categorize Jesus in terms of the ideological camps of his day, you could be forgiven for numbering him among the Pharisees.

Just like the Pharisees, Jesus had an extremely high regard for scripture. In fact, just before our gospel reading this morning, Jesus had been publicly debating with the Sadducees – a highly conservative, priestly party that denied the resurrection of the dead. When Jesus rebukes them, he does so on the basis of two things: the Torah – the written testimony about God – and the power of God himself.

He says to the Sadducees, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?”

Unlike the Sadducees, Jesus didn’t accuse the Pharisees of being ignorant of the Bible. Jesus was with the Pharisees in his respect for the scriptures. They had that in common. Where Jesus parted ways with the Pharisees was their lack of responsiveness to the power of God. The God who inspired the scriptures is far beyond, far greater than the scriptures. God won’t be held hostage to human legal theories derived from the Bible. Just as Jesus is lord of the sabbath, the Holy Spirit is lord of scripture.

This is really important. We get lost whenever we forget this. Because, if history has taught us anything, it’s that our sacred texts are almost infinitely malleable. European Christians have used the Bible to justify the crusades, manifest destiny, and slavery. We’ve also used it to build the theological basis of the civil rights movement, anti-slavery societies, and nonviolent action for peace.

This may sound scandalous to some, but there is no “clear meaning of scripture.” Our fallen natural minds simply can’t comprehend the love of God, regardless of what is written down in a book. We’re not qualified interpreters. We’ll twist those holy words to justify our worst impulses. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

The scriptures, of themselves, can’t save us. Without the Holy Spirit to guide us in our reading, we are utterly blind and lost. In fact, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, in the absence of the Spirit, the words of scripture can become death to us. Without the power of God, the scriptures can be used as a dangerous weapon. The good news is that, guided by God’s love and wisdom, the scriptures can be a force for healing and liberation.

So when Jesus rails against the Pharisees he’s not railing against their respect for scripture, or the intense study they devote to understanding it. When Jesus gets into his Epic Rap Battles of History with the Pharisees, it’s not about the letter – it’s about the Spirit. It’s about the power of God to move mountains, change the rules, and scandalize us by valuing mercy more than correct religious practice.

Our scripture readings this morning are all about this dynamic power of God to change structures, relationships, and all the moralistic rules that hold us back from being truly moral beings. From Jesus’ dynamic and radical teaching from the Torah, the wisdom of the Book of Hebrews, and in the story of Ruth and Naomi, we hear of how God transcends and upsets all our expectations about what holiness should look like.

In these stories, we discover a God who cares more about love than about rules, more about justice than correctness. We encounter a God who we can trust, because he doesn’t think in the same categories we do. God won’t be boxed in by our limited minds and legalistic straight jackets. And if we’re willing to listen and pay attention, he will free us from our slavery to rules and forms. He’ll bring us into the real life and substance of the gospel.

This gospel of liberation is available in the most unlikely times and places; it emerges in the lives of the most unlikely of people. Ruth was a person like that. A person who lived on the margins in every way. She was a widow in an age where, for a woman, who your husband was determined everything. She was childless in a time when childbearing was the measure of a woman. And from the perspective of the Jewish people, she was an outsider. A Moabite. A descendent of Lot’s incestuous affair with his daughters. As a Moabite, Ruth was unclean and unfit to enter the congregation of Israel.

And let’s be realistic. Even if Ruth were a Jew, she’s married into the most marginal family she could have picked. Naomi and her boys fled famine in Bethlehem, selling their land and abandoning their heritage in Hebrew society. These were not fancy people. These were people living on the edge.

As if things couldn’t get any worse for this family, Naomi’s husband dies, leaving her alone with her two young sons – who are apparently both very unhealthy, probably from living as poorly-fed refugees for most of their lives. Somehow, these two manage to take wives from the local Moabite people – Orpah and Ruth. Despite this bit of good luck, things don’t end well for Mahlon and Chilion. Not too long after they get married, they both die, leaving Naomi alone with her two widowed daughters-in-law.

Naomi had lost everything. She was probably in her forties – too old to expect to find a new husband, as her childbearing years were soon to be behind her. The only shred of hope she had left was to head back to her homeland of Israel and see if she could beg for food there. Word on the street was that the famine had ended and there was enough grain to go around. For Naomi, it was time to go home.

As she began to make her way back to Bethlehem (which was maybe 50 or 60 miles from Moab), Naomi released her two daughters-in-law from any responsibility they might feel towards her. Naomi knew that she was headed back into a very hard situation in the land of Israel – poverty and begging. As an older, childless woman, she didn’t have much hope of integrating back into Hebrew society. Orpah and Ruth, at least, had their youth. Naomi urged them to stay in their homeland – to return to their mothers’ houses and seek out husbands who could provide for them economically and give them the chance to bear children.

Orpah weeps at the thought of leaving Naomi to face their cold and dangerous world all by herself. But she sees the wisdom in Naomi’s decision. After a tearful farewell, Orpah returns to her mother’s house and to her people.

Ruth is a different story. Ruth stubbornly refuses to leave Naomi’s side, no matter how much Naomi tries to convince her. “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth isn’t interested. She says,

Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!

This is a remarkable scene. One of the most beautiful and memorable passages in all of scripture. These words could be wedding vows, couldn’t they? But they’re not. They’re the words of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. People who have probably only known each other for a couple of years at most. Ruth is ready to sacrifice everything to stand with Naomi, to abandon her people, land, and gods, and to adopt Naomi as her true family and the Lord of Israel as her true God. All of this, even as Naomi’s situation looks impossible. This commitment may very well cost Ruth her future.

This is unnatural – supernatural – love. This is love that breaks the rules. This is covenantal love that defies the divisions between people, that flies in the face of danger, poverty, and death, to show solidarity and commitment to another. This is love that breaks the written rules of Hebrew tradition in order to demonstrate the life, power, and spirit of the God of Israel.

The love and courage of Ruth is remarkable in every way. As a poor, widowed, foreign woman, she reveals the character of God in her commitment to Naomi. And as we will eventually see by the end of the story, she becomes the great-grandmother of King David, and an ancestor to Jesus himself. From the story of Ruth, we learn that God uses the stone that is rejected – the widow, the orphan, the poor, the foreigner – as the cornerstone of the kingdom of God.

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

We human beings like to make things complicated. With all our texts and translations. Our rituals and rules. Our notions of who’s in and who’s out. We like to feel in control.

But that’s not what the gospel is about. The good news of Jesus – the good news from A to Z, from creation to the Red Sea to the cross to the end of time – that good news is very simple, and utterly challenging. When the scribe asks Jesus “which commandment is the first of all,” here’s what Jesus says:

“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love God. Love him with everything that is within you. Love him with your whole body, your whole mind, all the passion that is within you – love him. And love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

OK, got it!

We like to make things complicated, so that we can make them easy. But reality is simple, and much, much harder. Love God with everything we are, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Our immigrant neighbor. Our gay neighbor. Our Muslim, atheist, Republican neighbor. Love them as we love ourselves. Love God, and love even our enemies, with everything we’ve got. There is no command greater than this.

Religion tends to be about how to follow the rules correctly. How to feel justified, and know that we are on the right path. That’s the kind of religion that Israel had in the Temple. Through their sacrifices and burnt offerings, they sought to be at peace with God. But how did the scribe respond to Jesus?

“You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ — this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

God doesn’t need our sacrifices. God has already provided us with the ultimate sacrifice – his son Jesus. And as the author of Hebrews tells us, Jesus himself is present forever as our high priest, offering intercession for us in the heavenly realms. It is written, “[Jesus] entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”

That is our sacrifice: Love. The Love who was nailed to a cross for our sakes. The Love who intercedes for us and offers us peace – with God, with one another, even with our enemies.

Love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love neighbor as much as we love ourselves. There is no greater commandment than this.

Let us walk in the footsteps of Ruth, who risked everything to become a living expression of the love of God. Let us demonstrate the faith and courage of the scribe, who – despite all his religious and scholarly training – was open to the radical truth of the gospel – beyond rules and rituals. Let the Spirit of love, life, and power enter into us, so that our God-loving, enemy-blessing lives may become the fulfillment of the law.

Related Posts: Are You Able to Drink the Cup of Jesus? The Sabbath of God is Within You

The post God Doesn’t Need Your Religion – Love Is All That Matters appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sun, 11/04/2018 - 8:53am

I don’t know about you, but late last week I hit the wall about the midterm election: the swirl of attack ads, the endless urgent fund appeal emails, the feverish palaver about polls. Not to mention the shocks of the Khashoggi assassination, the mail bombs, and the massacre in Pittsburgh. When the funerals there were basically crashed by the uninvited  ghoul, my internal needle bounced into the red “zone marked “Overload.”

I’m not dropping out: already voted (first day of early voting); urged all & sundry to do likewise; sent several hundred dollars to a list of pleading, promising candidates. And I’ve been reading & listening to the nonstop chatter & prognosticating. 

Then finally it became too much. It was driving me nuts. Had to get away.

But where? In every direction, there was TNT (Trauma & Triggering).  I didn’t even need a screen to see it: Memories crowded in like visual earworms.

The most vividly ominous were from a road trip in late October, 2016: Philadelphia back to Durham. Leaving the interstate in western Maryland, I turned onto US15, which drops almost straight south across Virginia, 240 miles of farmland and hillocks and small towns, before veering southwest and passing through Durham about a mile from my place.

Before long, I started seeing Trump signs. Big ones, that people spent good money for and put time into erecting. By the time I hit the North Carolina line, I had tallied well over a hundred & lost count. Oh—plus two each for Hillary and Gary Johnson.

At the time, I had swallowed the conventional wisdom: yard signs meant nothing, the wise people said, Hillary has this in the bag, etc. 

My head “believed” it. But as US15 unrolled through hills and fields, that secondhand conviction settled in my belly like a growing lump of lead. I still clung to the wise people’s assurances, but my gut lost all conviction. Election night, I stayed up til near dawn, hoping it was a nighttime hallucination; Hillary did carry Virginia, just barely. But the gut turned out to right.

Surveying the rubble in the bleak post-election dawn, I realized that my loss was a double one: not only had Hillary’s campaign crashed and burned, but nearby was another smoking pile of debris: that of the plane carrying all, or almost all, of the wise people. Not just the partisan flacks, but the “independent” pollsters & most “analysts,” including many who were officially “conservative.”

Despite their deep ideological differences, they had long since forged a confident consensus that what had just happened simply couldn’t happen. And I, posing as a worldly-wise semi-sophisticated reader, had stifled my misgivings and accepted it. I did get fooled again, and was now left with neither a political success nor the mechanism I had leaned on to make sense of this campaign turned catastrophe.

The wise people survived, and should have resigned in shame and be pursuing rehab driving for Uber and learning HVAC at community college. Instead they crawled from the wreckage, dusted themselves off, checked their Twitter feeds and went back to “work.” Nowadays they pretend to be chastened, more guarded, though the Democrats among them are already certain that their blue wave is about to crest. For me, the specter of their epic 2016 collapse is still very real.

With effort, I managed to push this 2016 flashback to one side. But it did no good to stop listening to this season’s incessant chatter. I still knew, could almost hear, a giant invisible clock ticking down to D-Day, with seemingly endless days of it still to go. 

I tried distraction: a birthday lunch with the Fair Wendy. A stroll to the park with my grandson, granddaughter, great granddaughter & Sassy the dog. 

That was good, but it was still shadowed: look at them: all except Sassy would someday qualify for Social Security, Medicare, and one was already eligible for Medicaid.  But would it be there? 

And what about the rush of climate change? They’ve been through two hurricanes this year; all lucky this time. Next year?

By nightfall, they had headed home. Wendy went off to an architect’s meeting. I felt tired: ready to sleep — sleep! Probably the best way to muffle the ticking of that damn clock, foreshorten the wait.

So I went to bed.

Actually, I went to bed three times.

Didn’t work. I got back up three times. Read several chapters of a biography of the French writer Colette. (Once, her sexual adventurism seemed daringly “transgressive”; but now, she’d likely be atop both the #MeToo and #HimToo target lists, with a D. A. on the trail.) Not exactly a cure for insomnia.

On further thought, I began to have doubts about the whole scenario the wise people were now serving up: come November 6, or the  morning after, it will all be over.

Really? The more the clock ticked through that night, the more doubtful I became.

Consider: the word on the street is that a big cabinet shuffle will quickly follow the closing of the polls, aimed above all at derailing the various probes by one Robert Mueller,  a confrontation typically mentioned in the same sentence as “constitutional crisis.”  And how many new indictment bombshells can Mueller drop even as they’re trying to push him out the door?

Or what about the budget showdown that looms in early December? You know— the Wall versus the caravans. And speaking of caravans, what if rocks start to fly at the thousands of Army troops? And what if maybe a few bounce off and hit one or more of of the hundreds of vigilante “militia-persons” doing their freelance patrols with their over-the-counter big guns? And as for guns, how many days til the next big mass shooting?

Am I exaggerating, or is this what the last two years have been about: a succession of shocks that shows no real signs of slowing.  In which case, on reflection — of which maybe I’m doing too much in these long hours — the election, even if it goes the way I much prefer, is unlikely to really settle things down. There seems an equal chance it may add more fuel to many fires.

See? No wonder I can’t sleep.

The post Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs


Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 1:03pm

Mike Farley, of Silent Assemblies, writes of an early Quaker interpretation of anoiting:

I have been struck by the word “anointing”. Elizabeth Bathurst (as quoted by David Johnson) wrote: “But I brought them the scriptures, and told them there was an anointing within man to teach him, and the Lord would teach them himself.” We are not very used, I think, to the term among Friends today. Among charismatic Christians it is much more common, and seems to be used in both the sense of being given spiritual gifts… But I think Elizabeth Bathurst, following the apostle John, as she says, is using the word in a slightly different sense to either of these, and it is a sense we as Quakers should recognise.


As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone…

Silent Assemblies
Categories: Blogs

The Doctrine of Discovery, white guilt, and Friends

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 10:10am

Johan Maurer starts with “it’s complicated” and goes on from there. A passage I find particularly interesting is his explanation of why looking at large-scale state-level atrocities like the stealing of native land or the kidnapping of millions of Africans is not just something to be done out of guilt:

Whether you believe in an intelligent Satan (along the lines of Peter Wagner’s ideas) or a more impersonal mechanism of demonic evil (Walter Wink), we shouldn’t pretend that such nodes just go away. Their evil persists. The basis for apology and repentance is not white guilt or shame or any form of self-flagellation. Instead, it is to conduct spiritual warfare against the demons of racism and oppression and false witness, to declare them off-limits in the land that we now share, so that we can conduct our future stewardship—and make our public investments— in freedom and mutual regard.

I’m drawn to the old notion of “The Tempter” as a force that leads us to do what’s personally rewarding rather than morally just. I think it explains a lot of internal struggles I’ve faced, even in simple witnesses. As Johan says, these massive injustices can’t just be undone but they need to be recognized for the immensity of their scale. I’ve also seen this weird way in which progressive whites can blithely disregard Native American perspectives on these issues. Listening more and waiting for complicated answers seems essential in my opinion.

Another good deep-dive for Friends interested in this is Betsy Cazden’s Friends Journal 2006 article, Quaker Money, Old Money, and White Privilege. It’s one I turn to every so often to remind myself of some of our monied Quaker norms. Johan gives a pass to William Penn but I think it’s important to remember that his colonial ambitions were deeply enmeshed in at least three different wars and conveniently served the political calculations of two empires, the perfect storm of an opportunity for a group of pacifist idealists.

Quakers and Native Americans: It’s complicated

Political and cultural observations in light of Quaker discipleship. Recurring themes: Russia, peace, evangelism, blues.
Categories: Blogs

The freedom to seek sanctuary

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 7:36pm

From Lucy Duncan at the American Friends Service Commitee:

What if, instead of characterizing folks seeking home as “threats” or “invaders,” we understood them to be our neighbors, that our futures are interlocked and that how they are treated is connected to the well-being of us all? What if we understood love as not constrained by borders or walls, but abundant, and that caring for one another and those most violated by systemic oppression is the pathway toward liberation for us all? What if we, as people of conscience and faith, greeted the migrants at the border as our brothers, sisters, and kin, opened our homes and communities to them, and greeted them as resourceful contributors to figuring out the planetary threats we currently face together?

The freedom to seek sanctuary: A Quaker perspective on the migrant caravan

“Underlying the complexities of sanctuary’s evolving role within civil society, the sanctuary covenant that gathers us into a…

American Friends Service Committee
Categories: Blogs
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