November 30, 2004

Thank you for your invitation

Looks to me as if I have already introduced myself to some of you before, but by way of formal introduction on this invitation (thank you Mr kwakersaur), let me just say that I am a Christ-centered Friend. My meeting is in Downers Grove IL and we are a great mixture of all kinds of Quakers from all tracks.

I am a fairly conservative person in my personal life, and am decidedly not a socialist. In point of fact I think I am here by our host's invitation to explain my view on that score.

Let me simply begin by framing a question:

New members as well as new meetings for worship always prosper best when they have the input of "seasoned" Friends to help in small ways of guidance and care.

To my mind, what better and more "seasoned" a Friend could there be than William Penn?

Relative to his view of "property" and the like, he wrote in his book "No Cross, No Crown"
"The lawful self which we are to deny is that conveniency, ease, enjoyment, and plenty, which in themselves are so far from evil, that they are the bounty and blessings of God to us, as husband, wife, child, house, land, reputation, liberty, and life itself; these are God's favors which we may enjoy with lawful pleasure and justly improve as our honest interest. But when God requires them, at what time soever the lender calls for them as is pleased to try our affections by our parting with them; I say, when they are brought in competition with Him, they must not be preferred, they must be denied."

For me the operative phrases are "...which in themselves are so far from evil." And "...these are God's favors which we may enjoy with lawful pleasure and justly improve as our honest interest" (Please note PROPERTY is listed). And finally "when they are brought in competition with Him... they must be denied."

This sums up perfectly my feelings as well. So I guess I'll be on Penn's side (insert non-aggressive smiley).

November 29, 2004

Do Not Speak Evil Against One Another

James now puts into his own words that injunction of Jesus not to judge others:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

-- James 4:11-12 (NRSV)

Jesus' version -- or rather the gospel according to Matthew's take on Jesus' injunction is:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

(Matthew 7:1-2)

It has been pointed out to me in a private email, that this injunction is a kind of corrective to the socialist interpretation I (and a few other social gospel types) tend to give this letter thus far.

James has accused rich folks of persecution. He has told us that God favours the poor and that his agenda is a radical redistribution of wealth and resources. In this he follows the Jesus of the gospels and also the prophetic voices of the Hebrew scriptures.

How do we reconcile these two voices?

Multiple options. One is to not bother. James is speaking from his context (which is fuzzy to us at best). Apply the preferential option for the poor in circumstances where wisdom and faith warrant and apply the do not judge injunctions in places appropriate to that.

How do we choose between them?

James is clear. The reason we do not judge is that judgment belongs to God alone. But still, faith, for people of wealth, is to look forward with hope to a day when they are no longer rich in the ways in which this world understands rich. James has already said to us:

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field.

(James 1:9-10)

However we reconcile these, or whether we do, leaving James in his 2000 year old context and muddling through on our own, what speaks to us (me) here is this: if you think the Christian gospel is about warm fuzzy feelings about God, or is about saving your soul (some metaphysical entity). Think again. The gospel is also political. It is about the kind of community (polis) we are to live together in.

And when we pray we pray this vision of a new and just and better world into this old and tired one.

Peace be with you Friends.

November 26, 2004

Draw Near to God

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

"God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

-- James 4:1-10 (NRSV)

History note: George Fox (the Quaker not the country-western singer) sites the doctrine of James in his original statement on the Peace Testimony. So Fox at least saw this as relevant. I believe this passage is what Fox had in mind when he said that Christ takes away the occasion of war.

We also see here more stuff on prayer. We ask for stuff so we can spend it on our pleasures so God doesn't answer the prayer. That makes two reasons given thus far for unanswered prayer, a wavering mind, and selfishness of intention.

It echoes the Jesus of the gospels,

NRSV But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

NJB Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.(Matthew 6:33)

KJV But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.(Matthew 6:33)

NIV But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.(Matthew 6:33)

So the context of prayer is God's will, God's reign on earth, God's righteousness, God's saving-justice. Our prayers are measured against that standard. They are judged and found wanting.

Peace be with you all.

November 25, 2004

Marjorie's Hypocrisy

This is the second time I'm writing this. I wrote one account and as I was proof-reading it we lost power. Its so awful to see something that was hard to write and with which I was pleased to vanish. Of course, I imagine that my neighbors cooking Thanksgiving dinner weren't too pleased to lose their power either.

I put a teaser for this post in a comment a while back and feel its time to put up and shut up. This post isn't as exciting as it might seem. My hypocrisy is that I've been spiritually arrogant, I've turned into part of what made me hate and fear the church to begin with -- the smug, self-righteous individuals who judge who is and is not spiritual. My parents were judged as not having a Christian marriage because they were not interested in taking group Bible studies or in going on marriage encounters or taking part in other church activities (though they were active in the church in other ways). If I understand correctly, Larry has described such thinking as tribalism, you're one of us or you're not and consequently not worthy.

So, one aspect of my hypocrisy is turning into the sort of person whom I blamed for making church what it is -- controversial, unwelcoming, judgmental.

Another aspect of my hypocrisy is my pride of having studied the Bible. Before I started taking Bible study three years ago I was a Biblical illiterate. I had been embarrassed about this for years before I finally took a Bible study or even tried reading the Bible. However, this did not stop me from judging those who don't study the Bible. I didn't grant them the patience I granted myself.

I took part in a small discussion group through my church last year. This was a mistake and I think the only thing I contributed was negative energy. I joined the group at the request of a priest who was looking for people to join it. I thought maybe I could help him and also learn something myself. What I learned about myself I didn't like. I was smug and judging and dissatisfied because most of the other women had more money than I did, different priorities than mine and thought differently from me. The only one I felt really connected to had been taking a similar Bible study for years.

The nadir of my group experience came from one discussion we had about the difficulty of knowing what was the right thing to do in a certain situation -- I can't remember any of the details. One woman said, "well, didn't Jesus say 'what is truth?'" I was flabbergasted (I don't have a poker face). I said, "that was Pontius Pilate." Of course, in addition to my shock, I felt very self-righteous that I was able to spot this error. The irony is that a little more than a year before this conversation I would have shrugged off the comment and not known the answer. I was either feeling relieved and superior or perhaps unconsciously afraid that I was capable of such a perversion. I haven't even read all the gospels and I'm feeling superior? Upon reflection, I really think my overreaction is my awareness of how little I know and that I will likely make (or have already made) similar mistakes. Perhaps recognizing my hypocrisy and the true feelings that underlie it will teach me humility and meekness.

I've given up taking this particular Bible study. I had a niggling (David's term) that it wasn't good for me and this was crystallized when I met Larry on-line. This is not to lay any responsibility for my decision at Larry's feet (he actually discouraged me from quitting the study), but to thank him for his part in opening my mind. You see, based on the theology underlying that Bible study, I would have to shut out Larry for his low Christology view which would be deemed blasphemy. How can a man who loves Jesus so much that he posts an on-line Bible and commentary be seen this way? It doesn't make sense to me and it was the sign that I couldn't move forward with this Bible study. Since then, I've met wonderful people on-line and my heart has opened to those I meet in person at my church.

Funny thing about the effect that Bible study had on me -- while it taught me so much about the Bible and Jesus and God it also closed me off to those who believed differently than I. I am now coming to the understanding that we are all on our paths and that others are as deserving of respect as I am -- before I felt that the path had to be the certain, prescribed journey approved by a particular dogma.

I am very thankful to the wonderful friends I have here and especially thankful to kwakersaur, David, for bringing us together on this blog to discuss the Bible and spiritual matters. You have filled a void for me. Finally, after months of avoiding it, I've had the desire to start reading the Bible again, I didn't know if the desire would return. It has, though in a different way. I don't study the Bible to know more than the many who don't (which was probably an unconscious motivator before), I read it because it is Life. I'd love to be able to inspire others to read it, but I can accept that it might not be part of their path, now or ever.

Blessings to you all.

Happy Thanksgiving Folks

I'm a Canuck so I've already had my Thanksgiving turkey a month ago. So now its the Uh-murican's turn. Chow down on the turkey and the green bean casserole.

For those of you who want to get reflective about the world and the ways it could be better, here's a link to an article on consumerism at Thanksgiving and through the Christmas season.

Click here.

November 24, 2004

A Harvest of Righteousness Sown in Peace

Well I've stumbled back from a conference for employment counsellor's -- I'm still not sure I've fully recovered. And I find you folks have clammed right up without me.

So here goes:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

-- James 3:13-18 (NRSV)

Many spiritual writers speak of the two wisdoms. Earthly prudence and spiritual discernment. Here we see the distinction made and the fruits of them compared. And then comes the last line: And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Does that sentence jar you? It doesn't seem to follow from the rest. At least immediately so. I can in my own mind make them follow. But it does seem a jump. Let's look at it in multiple translations. Maybe we have a translation issue:

New Jerusalem. James 3:18 The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice.

King Jimmy. James 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

New International. James 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Doesn't solve me trouble.

What if, for James, peacemaking is that list he gives: pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy? Does that work?

Well first off, that doesn't sound much like the peace keeping troops our governments send to places like Iraq or Somalia or Bosnia or Viet Nam or Korea. But hey, I'm a Quaker, you didn't really think I'd be on the side of dropping bombs on people to show them how much we love them.

But then again, this doesn't sound much like the placard waving peaceniks who go on marches and protest government actions in those same countries either. pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

So just what would scriptural peacemaking look like then? What canst thou say?

November 20, 2004

No One Can Tame the Tongue

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue-- a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

-- James 3:5b-12

In a way its kind of consoling to know that all the church politics, the gossip, the pettiness, the stupid vicious cruel things that go on in churches and Quaker meetings today were also happening in the earliest days of the Christian faith.

Its also sad we haven't changed much in 2000 years. But at least its evidence we haven't fallen too far from the tree. Yep, we're still Christian: we crucify our ministers. And we are all ministers.

Can we place ourselves in the sandals of those who bless the Lord and Father, and curse those who are made in the likeness of God? Notice James uses the first person plural: we. He includes himself in that injunction.

What is the payoff for blessing the creator and cursing the creation? Power. Control over the community, its direction, the interpretive agenda. Its the old self-will, the me and the mine, in guise of guidance and wisdom.

We do this. We are this. Its we who love our church congregations, love our Quaker meetings, want it to be all it can become, want it to look a lot like us. We want to shape it in our own image. The biblical word for that is idolatry, by the way.

November 18, 2004

No Free Speech in the Church?

Without wanting to disrupt the ongoing sharing of our faith stories, I also felt the structure of on-going scripture study has been helpful to this discussion. So I'm returning to James. Others can freely post on other matters of course.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

-- James 3:1-5 (NRSV)

I'm not sure what I can say about this passage. Its sense is so transparent that the words speak for themselves.

The notes to the NRSV look at how James speaks of teachers. He implies he is one of them. He also seems to imply that the office of teacher is a voluntary one. That is to say, it neither appointed nor required. Any are free to do it. But most should choose not to.

James wants teachers to have matured sufficiently to be living blameless lives before they set out to teach. That suggests to me that there were troubles in the Christian faith with teachers living less than blameless lives. And maybe teachers who got themselves into trouble by being too quick to speak.

This seems in accord with early Quaker practice. There is a lovely little book by an early (second generation -- I think) Friend named Samuel Bownas. The book is called A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister It provides much good advice.

It is also contrary to the spirit of most Quaker Meetings I'm familiar with. The freedom of the meeting seems to dominate modern Quaker culture. We place ourselves at the mercy of folks who want to talk about their cat, or the colour of rain on autumn leaves. We do so as we trust that sometimes one Friend's cat or the colour of rain on autumn leaves may speak to the condition of the meeting. We also do so as we believe earlier generations were too quick to silence divergent voices.

Somewhere I think there is a middle ground. And for those who take the work of speaking in the gathered assemblies of the faithful, the advices and considerations of both Samuel Bownas and James the Just may offer much help.

November 17, 2004

Books of the Head and Heart

In reviewing the books I listed I've found it difficult to distinguish. Many or all of them seemed to speak equally to both organs; let's say the intellect and the spirit.

The first and preeminent one for me must be the door to spiritual life-- N.V.Peale; it was simplistic, but a little child doesn't have a highly developed intellect or critical faculty.

In midlife I think George MacDonald: he had an incisive intellect, but what does most for me is the spiritual nurture- the manna that sustains me through the journey.

In later years there was C.G.Jung: he had special gifts for the many professional religionists who had lost much of the theological underpining for their vocation.
He continually spoke of God as a psychic fact, which no one can really deny. His Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, published posthumously, confirmed my suspicion that he was one of the few outstanding prophets of our age; he looked at religion in the way scientists do, open to whatever truth unfolds.

But much bigger than Jung was William Blake (Frye was my door to him). Blake's art is fraught with spiritual truth with a depth that perhaps no one else has achieved in our age. He is still waiting on us reaching a level of consciousness when we can comprehend. Just read The Little Black Boy, and tell me if that doesn't tug at your heart strings. Or the Monk of Charlemayne, or the "Quaker sacrament", where Blake speaks of his relationship to God:
Throughout Eternity I forgive you,
You forgive me.
As the dear Redeemer said,
This the wine and this the bread.

My (un)Faith Walk

When I was a child a picture hung on my wall. A young black boy and his pet cocker-spaniel kneeling at the foot of his bed praying. The caption read Lead Us.

I hated that picture. Mostly I hated it because it was cute. But increasingly I hated it because my connections to religion as an organized human construct was coming a part at the seams.

I remember somewhere around the age 8 or 9 saying if God was real he's show up in my room to prove it. I would then hide under the covers just in case. Slowly I would realize the Big Kahuna was not going to take me up on the challenge.

Two of us filled out our application forms for Boy Scouts. Under "religion" one of us put Druid and the other put Atheist. I can't for the life of me recall which was which. But I do recall getting a dressing down from the scout leader. Scouting is a Christian organization. Could have fooled me. One the lousiest bullies in my grade was in the troop. And since then my old neighbourhood has formed a Raja Cub Pack for Hindi boy scouts.

Somewhere around the same time -- or maybe a tad later I made a pact with God. This Christianity thing wasn't doing it for me. I wasn't even certain God existed -- in fact I was getting increasingly convinced he didn't. So I was going to try and figure things out for myself. Only thing I asked, was that if I got it wrong, then when the time of judgment came -- show me what I did wrong. Show me what I missed.

I read a lot of occult, philosophy and religious stuff through my teen years and into my 20s. If there had been a Goth movement I likely would have been a part of it. But there wasn't so I wore blue jeans and T-shirts like everyone else in the 70s/80s. And I was alone with my searchings.

November 10th of 1982. Matters came to a head. I was suddenly weighed down with the realization I could not live up to my own ideals and principles. The issue was harboring anger towards someone who had disappointed me. Add to this mix that I had recently been to my first Quaker meeting and felt like God has spoken to me -- so I was also wrestling with my metaphysics. I turned my life over to God.

You have to appreciate that the Quaker Meeting I was attending was not one to encourage born-again religion. My wrestling was not going to stop nor was it going to get easier. It was just going to move in a slightly new direction.

From this you will see that the gonna-go-to-heaven notion of salvation wasn't on my agenda. The salvation I sought and continue to seek was the wisdom to know the morally right path and the empowerment to walk it. That's all I have really ever wanted from God and faith. Sometimes I pray for other stuff -- like an end to a migraine or healing of cancer for a friend or a new job (yes God!). But at its heart -- my faith is about right action -- knowing what to do and then doing it.

I often mess up.

November 16, 2004

My faith history

Hi. I hope nobody minds if I take a leaf from Marjorie's book and post this - I already did a couple of days ago, but deleted it ... if you've already read it, please ignore this :-)

I wasn't raised in any religion, didn't go to church as a child except for a couple of visits.

In high school my sister and I got interested in eastern religions, took yoga classes. She still really likes the Dalai Lama and Tich Nat Han (sp?).

In college, I majored in art and later added philosophy - Socrates and the existentialists were my favorites. I thought religion was for those rationally challenged :-)

Things in my life started going badly - was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, got married and then divorced just a couple of years later. Money problems. I joined the Catholic church, not because I believed in God, but because I was lonely and hoped to make friends. Spent 3 years there and learned a lot about church but nothing really about Jesus/God.

Took up writing. When writing a story with a Jesuit character, I did research and met a Jesuit priest online. His website had his posted homilies and they were amazing to me - showed a possibility of relationship with Jesus/God I had never imagined. He was reluctant to talk to me about this stuff so I decided to take the online retreat at Creighton U. and asked him to help me. He agreed and the rest is history :-)

Sorry this was so long.

Marjorie's Faith

This is hard for me to write and I don't know why -- perhaps its because I feel I don't have anything important or interesting to say about my faith.

I'm a lifelong Episcopalian. Both my parents are lifelong Episcopalians and my mother's father was an Episcopal priest. So being an Episcopalian is part of my upbringing and my family.

My faith is simple. I believe what is stated in the Nicence and Apostle's Creeds -- God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Jesus as the incarnate God, crucified as a substitutionary atonement for our sins and his resurrection. I view the Bible as mostly literal, wholly metaphorical and God's inspired Word. I don't know whether the Word is inerrant but I know man is not, so I'm not an inerrantist. Even if the Bible is without error, I imagine we humans have gotten the message jumbled here and there again and again. As to anything that doesn't make sense or seems improbable, I simply shrug my shoulders and say "mystery of faith" and I'm satisfied with that. Perhaps I don't view my faith critically enough, but I'll spin that to be that I have the faith of a child.

I have had a negative view of the church since childhood as a result of attending a church that was caught up in the charismatic movement, of which my family was not part. I don't have much to say about the substance of the charismatic movement (e.g. I don't believe or disbelieve in the gift of tongues, I don't know anything about it). What I do know is that my parents were treated cruelly by friends of theirs who judged them because they weren't interested in being charasmatic. They were even told at one point that they didn't have a Christian marriage because they weren't interested in attending some couples Bible Study. My view of the church was that it was filled with cruel hypocrites and that church was a dangerous place. I was pulled out of Sunday School at an early age because the teacher (a former Baptist) was focussing a bit too much on resisting the devil and it was scaring the hell out of me (pun intended). Thus, I always felt I had missed out on some important religious guidance. Confirmation was a joke, we were made to buy some insipid book written by the power hungry rector -- I only read the part on sex, don't do it if you're not married to the person. I did learn the Nicene Creed, which is handy and I think we might have looked at the 10 Commandments. My mother couldn't believe we didn't cover the catechism (and its pretty short).

Basically, I wasn't interested in church. I always believed in God and Jesus and the whole shebang, but not church. I always felt one could find God more easily during a walk in the woods than in a pew. Interestingly, I had a boyfriend in college (Baptist) who made an off-hand remark that always stuck with me. He said that when you move to a new town, the best way to establish community contacts was to go to church.

I was never involved with the church while I was in school, but after I got married and moved to a new town, I joined the local Episcopal church. This was probably partly because I wanted to establish community contacts and partly because I married a lapsed Catholic and was hoping to have priority on church should he revive. We moved after a couple of years and lived in an apartment in D.C. -- during the year we lived there, we did not join a church. After we bought a house and moved again, we joined a local Episcopal church. Both my children were baptized as infants and I am an active member of the church (I'm lay reader and on the Altar Guild).

The turning point for me to pay attention to my faith were the September 11, 2001 attacks. I was scared -- the attacks were very salient to me because I worked in the World Trade Center for a year and I live near the Pentagon now. I feared future terrorist attacks. I was concerned that I would start having panic attacks if I didn't do something. Interestingly, a week earlier, a friend invited me to a Bible study, which I had declined. After the attacks, I took her up on the offer and began Bible study.

I took the Bible study for 3 years and really enjoyed it. The reason I gave up this class is because its a bit conservative and fundamentalist. As a result of my interest in homeschooling, specifically unschooling, my philosophy of life was becoming more liberal. I knew I was in for an inevitable clash if I continued with the Bible study class.

Where am I now? I am still interested in Bible study, though I no longer take that particular class. I am still an Episcopalian and am comforable enough at my church. While I recognize that I may need to move on at some point, its such a part of my background that I don't want to move on unless I have a clearer view of where I'm going. Also, I'd be taking my husband and children with me and thats no light matter to me. My husband is satisfied with our church and my daughter's do well with the childcare and Sunday School.

[This is a long post; I don't know if this blog has established the ability to truncate posts, but if and when it does, this should be truncated]

November 14, 2004

Even the Demons Believe -- and Shudder

But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-- and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

--James 2:18-26 (NRSV)

Note that the NIV comes pretty close to the NRSV here but instead of works reads deeds. I actually think the word deeds comes closer to the sense of this passage. But by keeping works we retain the echoes of Paul. James I feel is railing against an overly simplified interpretation of Paul and keeping that active in our minds as we read can be helpful. The NIV readership, like my IVCF friend, is committed to justification by faith not works, even as they turn belief into another work. So NIV's deeds helps make the lesson go down better for them.

Paul I think was a mixed blessing for our faith. He certainly was successful in his missionary activities. But the so-called catholic epistles are a bit testy about him. There's James here. Then there's 2 Peter:

So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability.

-- II Peter 3:15a-17(NRSV)

So we're stuck with the faith/works things again. Crystal's link is helpful here. Just remember that even Paul agrees, the only thing that counts is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Peace be with you, Friends.

November 13, 2004

Faith Without Works

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

-- James 2:14-17(NRSV)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

-- James 2:14-17(NIV)

Take this one and memorize it.

It was very early in my Christian life; I was at university and fell in amongst Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship folk. I was invited to an "advance" which is what they were calling retreats then. They taught me all sorts of stuff, like there is no such thing as a virtuous pagan as all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Fortunately I had met a virtuous pagan so was safe from that particular instruction.

I mentioned in conversation that I had seen something on television about Mormons who stored six months worth of food in advance of emergencies. This was when the media were agitating about survivalists and the commentator had asked the Mormon what he would do if there were a real emergency and he replied he was obligated to share his stores with his neighbours.

I must have sounded too impressed with the Mormon fellow on the television. One woman looked at me with horror in her eyes, But that's justification by works! I'm afraid I had no answer for her.

James has an answer for her. My answer now is, any faith that does not make you just, does not justify you.

Peace be with you, Friends.

Book Keeping Matters

You will notice a Links list (courtesy of Crystal) in the sidebar. They are interesting -- especially if you are interested in the scholarly stuff issues related to what we've been discussing.

As I am currently Clerk of this meeting posting of interesting links in the sidebar becomes my responsibility. If you want to post a link for others to explore you can post a blog with the links in it. Or you can email me and I'll add them to the sidebar.

I would also remind members they can now post blogs as well as comments. So if the passage under discussion speaks to you and you want to respond to it rather than to me you are given full freedom of the meeting.

November 12, 2004

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

-- James 2:8-13

It seems to me a lot is going on here. I find it interesting that this is one paragraph and one section in NRSV.

To show preferences (following on the last section I read this as showing preferences towards the rich) you sin by breaking the royal law of love. This reminds me so much of the tract by Leo Tolstoy, The Law of Love and the Law of Violence. I read it when I was a teen and at the time I saw myself as a practicing atheist. I picked it up because it was Tolstoy and thin (thinner than War and Peace). It preached a kind of Christianity I had never imagined before. It prepared the road for me to faith and to Quakerism. It doesn't quite speak to me condition any longer. But I still love it as a part of the path I have walked.

The other thing I see James doing here is reminding us that there is no such thing as a small sin. You cannot break a part of the law. You break the law or you do not break the law. Yet if you do not show mercy you break the law.

If I do not forgive the injury another has done me I stand in the same place as the one who has injured me.

A Buddhist story (I forget where I heard it): Two monks are walking down the road. They come to a river -- the bridge has been washed out. A woman is standing on the bank. The one monk picks her up and carries her across the river. Several hours alter, the second monk mentions it: You touched a woman. That is against our vows

The first monk replies, I left that woman on the river bank. You're still carrying her.

November 11, 2004

Is it not the rich who oppress you?

Yes, a political blog!

But how can we avoid it? The religious is the political. Funny thing is the editors of the biblical translations want to hedge their bets. This section receives the title Warning Against Partiality in the NRSV. This title is imposed by the editors based upon their sense of what the main thrust of this section is.

Is that your sense of this section?

I would label it Preferential Option for the Poor. This section clearly opposes partiality toward the rich. But the justification is that God shows partiality for the poor. Recall an earlier posting of mine that talked of Prophetic Reversal? God shows forth God's power by turning our ways on their heads. As literary critic Northrup Frye once wrote, the Bible story is a comedy.

What does this do to the cherished democratic principle of separation of church and state? I mean liberals everywhere bemoaned the last American election when it became clear that it was traditional, social conservative values, backed by conservative and evangelical churches that won this last election for the President.

Yet James seems to be taking a very political tack. It would seem for James faith and politics are fundamentally in the same business. Its just that the political stance of the gospel isn't exactly consistent with the middle America (or Canadian for that matter) political ideologies.

Now what?

Peace be with you all

November 10, 2004

James 2:1-7

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (NRSV)

My brothers, do not let class distinction enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord. Now suppose a man comes into your synagogue, well-dressed and with a gold ring on, and at the same time a poor man comes in, in shabby clothes, and you take notice of the well-dressed man, and say, 'Come this way to the best seats'; then you tell the poor man, 'Stand over there' or 'You can sit on the floor by my foot-rest.' In making this distinction among yourselves have you not used a corrupt standard? Listen, my dear brothers: it was those who were poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those who love him. You, on the other hand, have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who lord it over you? Are not they the ones who drag you into court, who insult the honourable name which has been pronounced over you? (New Jerusalem)

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (NIV)

Re meek

David inquired about my statement re
meekness in a recent post.

First use of 'meek' in the Bible:
"NUM 12:1 And Miriam and Aaron spake
against Moses because of the Ethiopian
woman whom he had married: for he had
married an Ethiopian woman.

NUM 12:2 And they said, Hath the LORD
indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he
not spoken also by us? And the LORD
heard it.

NUM 12:3 (Now the man Moses was very
meek, above all the men which were upon
the face of the earth.)

NUM 12:4 And the LORD spake suddenly
unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto
Miriam, Come out ye three unto the
tabernacle of the congregation. And
they three came out.

NUM 12:5 And the LORD came down in the
pillar of the cloud, and stood in the
door of the tabernacle, and called
Aaron and Miriam: and they both came

NUM 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words:
If there be a prophet among you, I the
LORD will make myself known unto him in
a vision, and will speak unto him in a

NUM 12:7 My servant Moses is not so, who
is faithful in all mine house.

NUM 12:8 With him will I speak mouth to
mouth, even apparently, and not in dark
speeches; and the similitude of the
LORD shall he behold: wherefore then
were ye not afraid to speak against my
servant Moses?"

It gets worse if you read on.

Re the lion part: we know what he did
with Pharoah.

"MAT 5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they
shall inherit the earth."

Wesley's notes: "Happy are the meek -
They that hold all their passions and
affections evenly balanced. They shall
inherit the earth - They shall have all
things really necessary for life and
godliness. They shall enjoy whatever
portion God hath given them here, and
shall hereafter possess the new earth,
wherein dwelleth righteousness."

The first definition in Webster:
"patient and mild, not inclined to anger
or resentment". Unfortunately the
second definition is the one we usually

David, I did find a reference re this
somewhere years ago. Who knows where?

McKay! Oh Wow. A house down the street
from us belonged to Buddy McKay, briefly
governor of Florida (until the "Reds"
swept it all aside). Strangely enough I
met Buddy at the Church of the Saviour
in Washington.

Marjorie is here

This is perhaps not worthy of a post and can be deleted later, but I just wanted to let you know that I made it. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to do it without botching it.

I'm so glad to be here. Thanks!

Welcome to the New Digs

It seemed to me that with the end of chapter one of the book of James this would be a good time to make some changes in operational procedures.

Its been niggling at me -- and Quakes pay attention to niggles (ask anyone who has attended a meeting for worship for business) -- that a proper scripture study should pay attention to all the voices and not just be some guy behind the podium doing all the talking.

So I have created a new blog: Friendly Kwakersaur Skripture Study wherein we can continue. Commenting on postings will continue. As will be my regular comments on my scripture reading on James. But I will be inviting the membership of those who have been commenting regularly on the scripture study postings thus far to become members and thus add their own postings as well as comments.

If you're not a member you can comment on the postings. If you would like to join and post yourself, I'm at I will consult with the current membership before adding new names.