December 31, 2004


Marjorie raised the issue of the size of the passage under consideration. The passage about John was small and had little meat to it.

I agree. It seems to me that its presence relates to political issues in the early church -- or at least in John's community. These issues don't relate to us directly. There seems little meat there.

Again. I have been following the paragraph structure of the NRSV. Sometimes we get small chunks that way. It also means we will spend an enormous amount of time working through this gospel. Like the postmoderns I find liminal texts interesting -- prologues and introductions. I consider them worthy of closer looks. But this could get tedious.

More importantly we may be looking at texts outside their wider contexts by doing this.

Solutions (proposed)

1) We all commit to reading the gospel of John in its entirety at some point and we all blog on how the gospel as a whole strikes us. This will give us a working start point for discussion -- for example -- does the closer reading we do as we go along change our general sense of the whole or confirm it. It also allows us to read the passages in their wider context(s).

2) I start posting by pericope instead of paragraph. A pericope is the name for the larger sections usually given a sub-title in most modern translations. It is based upon sounder scholarship than the individual paragraphs -- and so has greater agreement across the translations. It normally conforms to the lectionary readings found in the earliest Christian writings.

Pericopes will be quite a lot larger passages in most cases -- sometimes they are a single paragraph but at others they may be an entire chapter -- like Jesus' priestly prayer (chapter 17). They will provide more meat to chew on (metaphor chosen with apologies to vegetarians present). It also means our responses will likely vary as we respond to different details.

Having said all this. I do think it is useful to notice things that don't speak to us and reflect on why. Appreciating that some obscure point that matters little to us now may have been very important way back when is a useful discipline -- it distances us just enough from the text to make us doubt whether truly understand it.

All this is tentative of course. I'm open to other notions on how to proceed.

December 30, 2004

Testimony of the Baptist

A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light. The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world.

John 1:6-9 (New Jerusalem Bible)

December 29, 2004

John - nothing but questions

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't done any bible study stuff and have only read the parts I've read just as narrative stories without much analysis, so bear with me.

The main point of this prologue seems to be that Jesus is, as the intro to the NAB notes, "the preexistent and incarnate Word of God who has revealed the Father to us."

Now come the dumb questions ... Is Jesus the same as the Word? If he has always existed, why was he manifested only at that one particular place, time? What is the darkness? What is the significance of "light" to Quakers? Thanks :-)

Marjorie on John 1:1-5

These verses convey one main thought to me and that is HOPE. Jesus was there from the beginning, there is a plan. I may never know or understand the plan but its okay, Jesus was there from the beginning and not a thing was made that was not made through him.

I prefer the NRSV saying that the darkness did not 'overcome' the light as opposed to simply not understanding or comprehending it. Its important to me that light overcomes darkness, that good triumphs over evil. I've casually read that some religions believe that God is beyond good and evil. Perhaps thats frightening to me because I really can't comprehend it. I would no longer say thats wrong, I simply acknowledge that its not something I can believe in at this point, if ever.

I agree with the thought RW expressed in his post Something We Need to Remember, that the Word is Christ himself and not merely the words in the Bible and that its important to be careful in interpreting scripture especially where such interpretation would seem to contradict the teaching of Christ.

In the Beginning

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Orion Nebula

We are star-stuff

-- Carl Sagan (astronomer)

(commenting on how the heavier elements in our bodies were created in stars and exploeded out from nebulae)

December 28, 2004

Meredith on John 1:1-5

Main Point: John is declaring with certainty that Jesus is both fully human and fully God.

New Light: In this reference to ‘the Word’, John may be saying many different things with respect to his audience. In Hebrew, the Word was an agent of creation, the source of God's message to his people through the prophets, and God’s law. In Greek philosophy, the Word was the principle of reason that governed the world, or thought still in the mind. So if both are true, John is saying that Jesus was both a human being that he knew well, an agent of God’s creation, and also the ultimate revelation of God, of Holiness, a creator in the same sense that God is a creator.

Truth:In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

Of all the passages I am familiar with, this one speaks to me so clearly. For me, this acknowledges that life of spirit within, within all people. Using the word Light for this life is so perfect, because the spirit does radiate within us, even in darkness, though when we experience darkness we do not always comprehend this light at the time.

December 27, 2004

Reflection on the Word

If you want orientation re The Gospel of John see my Introduction.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
For many years I just took this for granted; the Word meant Christ. In a recent return to naturalistic theology, I had to question it. Just what does it mean?
The first thing that comes to mind is that it displays a departure from pure Hebraic thought to Greek thought.
You can also see it as an editorialization of Gen. 1., or a supplement.
We're led to believe that John was written late, and that it reflects the situation and circumstances of the community at Ephesus or for whomever John wrote.

Then there's the matter of my mood, my level of consciousness, etc. It tells me I will believe and understand various things at various times.

I try to penetrate all this data to reach a truth. I'm led like the blind man in chapter 9, to conclude that "Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.."
So I finally arrive at the need to ask God, what am I supposed to do with and/or about this verse?

Lord, enlighten my mind and spirit.

Christ, are you God? I recall his statement to the young ruler (none good, but God). and his statement: Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say.

And "8:31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Also "John 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. "

My awareness of Word, Christ, God is deeply influenced by what I do-- about him, for him, to him.

High Christology

We say someone has a "high christology" when the divinity of Christ gets more emphasis than the humanity of Christ. With this beginning to the gospel of John, we see a VERY high christology. Although the jury may still be out on the gospel itself. The prologue (1:1-18) is generally seen as a later addition -- possibly written by a disciple of the author.

What speaks to me in this brief excerpt?

I see a claim to the integrity of God and God's speech. When I promise something, even when I do so with the best and most sincere of intentions, my word and my being are separate by the very act and event of my speaking. Circumstances tomorrow could turn my promises of today on their heads. This is why Jesus tells us swearing oaths, or making claims about our future actions are arrogant:

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

But with God, this is different. God's word, God's self revelation, is itself God. One in essence and one in intention. The spirit who inspired the prophets, the revelation given in word or vision, are all one in perfect integrity. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And it is this same divine self-revelation by God, who was God's instrument in the creation of all that is. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. And that self-same divine and creative self-revelation is the source of all life and truth what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. And moreover, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome/understand/comprehend it.

With a beginning like this, we must be prepared for a book that makes a lot of claims. A book that is not shy from discussing arcana and metaphysics. This Word of God makes claims upon us and as this Word is itself God, those claims are themselves infinite.

Scary stuff, eh kiddies?

Beginning of a Hymn to the Creative Word of God

VEn avrch/| h=n o` lo,goj( kai. o` lo,goj h=n pro.j to.n qeo,n( kai. qeo.j h=n o` lo,gojÅ ou-toj h=n evn avrch/| pro.j to.n qeo,nÅ pa,nta diV auvtou/ evge,neto( kai. cwri.j auvtou/ evge,neto ouvde. e[nÅ o] ge,gonen evn auvtw/| zwh. h=n( kai. h` zwh. h=n to. fw/j tw/n avnqrw,pwn\ kai. to. fw/j evn th/| skoti,a| fai,nei( kai. h` skoti,a auvto. ouv kate,labenÅ


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John 1:1-5 (NIV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:1-5 (AV1611)

December 22, 2004

Peace on Earth to Those of Good Will

The wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock beast together, with a little boy to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6


December 20, 2004

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone :-)

December 19, 2004


I asked a while ago what folks wanted to do next.

The only clear suggestion is for John -- gospel or letter(s) (there were three letters after all). One suggestion for something from the Hebrew scriptures and one preference for the Christian (sorry -- I've taken on the discipline of avoiding the terms NT and OT -- not an easy discipline).

Meanwhile -- the themes that seem to speak to folks -- that generate the most energy -- are politics -- or rather the political implications of the gospel -- and prayer.

If we want to continue with those themes I think Acts would be a good choice. However -- if we want a fresh take and something different -- the gospel of John could be quite interesting.

I love the letter of James. That's why I chose it. So I posted based upon having read it over and over and over again. With John -- I've read it -- in pieces here and there. I will likely be a whole lot more tentative in my commentaries. Maybe a good thing.

I also suggest that the project begin sometime after that day some call Christmas. Familial obligations are running thicker and thicker as the days count down. Some entail travel.

What say you all?

December 18, 2004

Second Thoughts on James 5:19-20

I think my off the cuff comment about score brownie points with the Big Guy by finding the Shepherd''s lost lambs for him" model of salvation was actually needlessly unfair to poor James.

Firstly, James is not talking about conversion of outsiders here. That's clearly Paul's work. Paul's good at it. James -- at least here -- is talking about anyone among you wanders from the truth -- in other words -- folks who have been a part of this community of faith -- at least in the past.

It seems to me, after thinking a bit more about it, that James is either talking about members of the community who have -- metaphorically -- wandered form the truth (i.e., still attend meeting/church but are not involved in practices or beliefs that are not consistent with the gospel) or he is talking about folks who have wandered literally -- that is to say -- left.

In other words this is about community discipline.

Imagine a meeting or church, and after that meeting or church takes a hardline stand on something or other -- the war in Iraq, or peace tax initiatives, or same-sex marriages, or some such matter -- a person becomes upset enough to leave. Those who stay can have one of two responses.

Good riddance! Or at least more kindly, well everyone has to choose their path for themselves.

But the other option is to go to the person, hear their concerns, and encourage them to return and add their voice to the assembly again.

Which path would you choose?

December 17, 2004

Marjorie on James 5:19-20

Two verses and still a lot to say...

"Cover a multitude of sins" -- hmmm...sounds dangerous, like 'saving' others will help us earn our way to heaven. How does one 'save' another anyway? In my enthusiasm for Christ, how can I know that I haven't turned more people away than I've brought? And I am not doing much of anything, anyway. I'm afraid I have a greater talent at alienating people than...than what, exactly? Saving them? Persuading them? Selling them on Jesus?

What am I supposed to be doing anyway?

I'm not a salesman for Jesus -- I tried and failed, miserably. He doesn't need me selling him anyway. What I CAN be is someone who loves God and Jesus and who earnestly seeks after righteousness, to become holy (which will never happen, but its the quest). Sure, some people won't like me. But maybe to others I can be a friend, a comfort, a companion when they feel lonely in their quest. Maybe thats all I can be. Maybe thats exactly what God wants me to be. What a joy, to think I might be who God intends me to be.

In this passage, I definitely don't understand 'cover'ing. I'm a Creedal gal, I believe Christ died that my sins might be forgiven, not covered. What is this covering? One conclusion is that saving others requires seeking righteousness in myself. If I am endeavoring to do this, hopefully, I won't be sinning. But maybe the one whose sins are covered is the one we are leading from error. Whose sins? What covering? I trust that if God has a message for me in this one, he will reveal it. Otherwise, I shrug my shoulders and say 'mystery of faith.' I do that a lot.

And Finally (James 5:19-20)

And a-way we go . . .

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.(NRSV)

My brothers, if one of you strays away from the truth, and another brings him back to it, he may be sure that anyone who can bring back a sinner from his erring ways will be saving his soul from death and covering over many a sin. (New Jerusalem)

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (King James version of St James)

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (NIV)

December 16, 2004

Marjorie's Approach to the Bible

I took Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), which is a large, organized, international Bible study for three years and it followed an inductive model (drawing general principles from the specific passages read). I think this probably influenced the way I read the Bible, I'm always looking for or finding applications to my life. I read the Bible as if it was written for me, because it was. I understand that there is a history behind each part and reasons for what was written and customs and culture that influenced all of it, but to me, it was written by God for me. I'm not an inerrantist, so its probably more descriptive to say I believe its the 'inspired Word of God written by human authors.' Whatever, its still God speaking to me and there are any number of ways the message may get messed up on its way to me, through the author, through interpreters and commentators, and by my self.

I think there are many ways to read the Bible. I believe the events literally happened but my approach is more of a willful suspension of disbelief (why can people do this for the movies but not for the Bible?). I believe the Bible is living and spiritual and that it is life. If you listen, it will speak to you. If you do not hear it, don't worry, you will. Or maybe it not your path, I can't speak for others. I know that when I read the Bible, it plants itself within me and will pop into my head at different times. Is this God within? Could be, could just be the result of ruminating on its stories and lessons. I have read large chunks of the Bible quickly from which I felt I got nothing and other parts that have spoken immensely to me. The Bible builds on itself, some of those large passages are explaining the backdrop and enable other passages to speak -- I have found this very true of the Old Testament.

David said: But I'm not to sure if my suffering is for my faith or for my wavering

To David I say: you do suffer for your faith. If you had no faith, there would be no waivering. Therefore we all suffer for our faith. Of course some have physical suffering to endure even unto death. Praise God that is not our situation, but that does not diminish the fact that we too suffer for our faith. Perhaps thats why we are to find joy in our suffering. Do I suffer for my faith, yes, but only a little. My faith brings me far more joy than suffering and there is joy within the suffering. Praise God.

December 15, 2004

Reading Strategies

Friend Meredith made an interesting comment:

Taken literally, this passage is difficult because it does not match my experience.

It is interesting to me, as it implies there may be figurative ways of taking this passage, and its hard words (like righteous) that do not pose for her difficulties and which may be true (or at least truer) to her expereince(s).

We all bring reading strategies to the words we read. Taking the text literally is just one such strategy. Advocates of literalism try to privilege literal interpretation -- discounting other approaches. Similarly, the scholarly approach of histoprical critical method(s) tends to discount other approaches as well.

What reading strategies do Friends (and friends) tend to use when they approach a scriptural passage? Or are we even aware of using them when we do?

I tend to use a gamut of strategies often labelled reader response. I ask the question, what can we know about the intended or ideal reader of this passage? And tehn I tend to ask how that affects my how the passage might be read. And whetehr th wisdom in it can properly be applied to me -- if I don't approximate that ideal reader.

For example, James opens by addressing his letter to the Twelve tribes of the Diaspora. In otehr words the People of God Who Suffer for Their Faith. I think of myslef as one of God's people, flawed perhaps, but of their number. I also suffer. But I'm not to sure if my suffering is for my faith or for my wavering. So I have doubts about applying James' teaching to my own life.

Another reader response strategy I tend to use, I borrowed from George Fox. When I read, and I feel resistance welling within me, or any emoptive response. I look to where it originates. I seek to interpret that resistance as much or more as the scriptural text before me.

How do you read the scriptures? What helps you in this work?

December 13, 2004

Prayers of the Righteous

We're coming into the homestretch: based upon the paragraph structures in the NRSV this will be the second to last passage under consideration. James seems to be ending off with prayer:

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

-- James 5:13-18

Some potential queries for thought (don't feel obligated to answer each one here unless you feel so moved):

1. What is the author's main point in this passage? (MAIN POINT)
2. What new light do I find in this particular reading of this passage of the text? (NEW LIGHT)
3. Is this passage true to my experience? (TRUTH)
4. What are the implications of this passage for my life? (IMPLICATIONS)
5. What problems do I have with this passage? (PROBLEMS)

From Friendly Bible Study

December 12, 2004

"...but what canst thou say?"

"Ye will say Christ said this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and when thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?"

Thank you Larry for bringing this wonderful quote forward. The direct experience of God is a kind of Knowing, which is beyond our cognition, beyond our intellect. When we feel this Light of Christ, or God, or Being within us, we know it, and cannot help but feel a subtle bliss, a warm feeling of love radiating. As Jesus said in John 10.30 "I and the Father are one." This is the experience of those who experience this union of God within. To know Christ, to know God, is to be permeated with the essence of this union. This is knowing God directly, the seed, the purest moment of our spirituality, foremost over any understanding of God through Scripture, doctrines, teachings, or church.

December 11, 2004

Something We Need To Remember

It dawned on me today that we may have forgotten - in our efforts to explain all our views of what the Bible is telling us - that scripture holds a secondary position of importance next to the Light amongst Friends.

It is a common misconception corrected by the early Friends that "the Word of the Lord" is not scripture - but Jesus.

Fox explained how it works when he wrote that scipture in and of itself does nothing unless read in the Spirit, and his proof was in saying that the Jews had scripture and yet denied the Christ because they did not have the Spirit in it.

Many Christians have - through the ages - called down Quakers for this stance, but we have forever stated that our guide is Jesus and he is present as our priest in meeting as well as (we hope) when we study the Bible on our own.

The idea is that Jesus always takes primacy. This is hard for many *Christians* to see sometimes, but I thought it might need to be said here.

Patient Endurance

James calls us to patience for justice and goodness will blossom like a farmer's crops. The world we long for, is not ours to build. Rather, like a farmer, we plant seeds, tend crops, but the growth is from God and comes in God's time.

James draws on the example of Job's patience. Like Crystal I find that interesting/odd. Job has proverbially been used as an example of patience, here, and in popular Christian culture. But on reading the book he doesn't really come across that way. His words come across as self-vindication. To the extent he shows patience, he does so only relative to the well-meaning comforters who sit around trying to buck him up with empty theologizing.

He also echoes the Jesus of the gospels with:

Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

-- James 5:12

"Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.'But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

--Matthew 5:33-37

This passage calls all Christians to the practice which, aside from the peace testimony, most defines Quakers from our wider culture. Some other Christian groups, mostly evangelical, mostly biblical-inerrantist, have adopted this practice, but Quakers won the right to it in the legal courts.

It seems clear to me that James is writing from and to a body of people suffering the trials of this life -- likely including hardships suffered due to faith commitment. The objective is to encourage us to hold fast to that faith -- for the coming of the Lord will soon be upon us.

This raises concerns. People have for ages laid claim to promises and teachings from the scriptures abstracted from their rightful contexts. How legitimate is it to place your faith in promises or to apply the teachings of passages like this, when we ourselves are not suffering for our faith?

December 10, 2004

Marjorie on James 5:7-12

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer
waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it
receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your
hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one
another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!
As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in
the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You
have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. Above all, my beloved, do not swear,
either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and
your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
-- James 5:7-12

I don't have much to say about this passage but it was in the Episcopal lectionary for Advent 3 and was packaged with Matthew 11:1-15, the passage where John the Baptist sends messengers to inquire if Jesus is the one or if another is to come. John is in prison at this time and his death is impending (though I don't know if he knew it at the time). John was unpopular with a lot of people for sharing his views about their sinfulness, so the tie-in is that, like John in prison, we must be patient. What is coming is not what we expect and our hearts must be open to read the signs and not be disappointed because they do not say what we wish they might.

As to judgment, I cannot pass on whether and how we will be judged by the Divine. However, its occurred to me recently that one aspect of 'judge not yest ye be judged yourselves' is that those who judge often feel the judgment of others upon them, whether or not others are judging them (how do we know what is in the hearts of others?). To me, the directive means if you don't spend your time judging others, you are less likely to worry about them judging you.

Finally -- let your yes be yes...I love that Quakers don't swear oaths, there is purity and integrity in that practice. In law school, when they taught us about impeaching a witness, they directed us only to point out inconsistencies with prior statements but told us not to ask why the inconsistencies exist. Asking a witness why, now that they are on the stand, they are saying something different than they said is a prior statement allows the witness the opportunity to say, 'well, I'm under oath now.' Oh, so its okay to lie if you haven't sworn an oath? Sick.

Strengthen Your Hearts

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

-- James 5:7-12

December 09, 2004

Conflicted about making a profit?

I am at a true loss to understand the problem some folks seem to have with having money or resources or wealth or whatever you want to call it. I never considered having money an evil in itself - but I do believe the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. There is a difference.

I believe capitalism and markets of barter and exchange are a natural condition that occurs amongst humans, and I think free and open markets eventually do more good than harm. I will say I truly feel that we should walk carefully to be sure that unfettered capitalism doesn't exploit the unwitting, but I also believe that true free markets take care of that abuse over time.

But I do get a little uneasy about the people who tell me "I DETEST the free market," or "I oppose globalization without reservation," mostly because I don't think these types of folks ever understood the way an open market works, or what the bogeyman of "globalization" has already actually accomplished in the way of raising living standards in poorer countries. All they see is an image of a fat-cat making money and they get to act out their knee-jerk finger-wagging routine where all profit is evil and is the is root of all war and misery all the way back to the cavemen.

I disagree and I believe very strongly that there is another approach and I have been doing it for a long time myself.

Why not marry the forces inherent in the "market" to your worldview? By utilizing the market itself you can direct the market to accomplish the things you deem to be important.

If you reject the function of the marketplace just out-of-hand you simply close a door to one entire avenue that can be used as a means of change. True, the way you are now you get to sulk in window-seats of greasy restaurants and act the misunderstood rebel, which is kind of satisfying in a black-and-white movie kind of way - but this doesn't get anything actually accomplished.

If you read Marx or Proudhon or whoever by candlelight instead of by a lamp just so you can deny the power companies your money - all you get is bad eyesight. Nobody cares. Property isn't theft - property is property. Redistributing my property is theft. Get my view of things? :-D

So I would like to introduce you all to a concept whereby you get to apply your beliefs to the marketplace in a real effort to make a difference.

Here are two investments I am currently holding personally (Please note that this is just a generalized information article. I am not an agent of any company listed here, nor am I reimbursed, nor am I saying these are automatically going to make you lots of money):

PaxWorld Mutual Funds was started up during the Viet Nam era by a group of anti-war ministers who didn't feel right about investing in companies that made napalm. Pretty simple. This was an SRI (Socially Responsible Investments) before the term SRI existed. A Quaker actually runs one of the funds! Well I'll be!! As a matter of fact, this fund has ads in Friends Journal regularly. Go figure! They won't invest in companies that engage child labor internationally, and they will invest in community development banks in our cities.

And speaking of community development banks, check out one of my long-standing favorites, the Chicago Community Loan Fund. This is essentially a loaning institution that offers below-market rates to fledgling "inner city" start-ups that otherwise would not be able to qualify for a loan at the big banks downtown. If you visit this site, you will notice it began with a modest $200,000 in assets just over 12 years ago and is now funded to over $10,000,000 - and I am very proud to say I was there in the early 90s.

But that's right - and no apologies - I intend to make money here. Money is useful. It is ok to have it so long as having it isn't the whole deal. Sorry to have to say this, but we all need money. Gasp! We need money so that - if nothing else - we don't become a burden to our kids when we are old. And my intention is plain. It is just that you can do that and have it work for the right things too. And this, to me, makes more sense than rejecting the realities of the situation in some (what I feel is a) misguided clinging to a principle I'm not exactly sure is really in the Bible to begin with.

Interested in "green" investing? Try these guys. Need a clearinghouse for this kind of information or want to learn more? Go here. Or are you one of those limousine liberals who have money out the ying/yang already and are just a poor little rich boy who is clueless about this stuff but you know you don't like Republicans? If that's you - go see some Quaker friends of mine, and they will help you manage your estate - for cry eye.

Again let me say - I have no vested interest in this, and I am telling you I have some finances in the first two instruments mentioned. This is FYI only. Always read the prospectus and do your "due diligence" before putting Mommy and Daddy's money any place. Ok?

There is an old saying at work here: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him the rest of his life. I say let's invest in people and things that improve conditions, and if we make money at it as well - what's the problem?

Luke 14:16-24

It was 1989 -- still the first year of our marriage -- and I got asked to go to a conference on World Missions and Evangelism by Canadian Yearly Meeting. CYM then was even mre liberally then than now in some ways. I'm sure there were some snakey politics behind sending me -- or anybody.

This was an international conference in San Antonio Texas. We met in bible study groups each morning to read Luke before the main business of the conference. One morning we read:

Then Jesus said to him, "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.' So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.' Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'"

Luke 14:16-24

We were sitting quietly mulling it over when soemone spoke. He was a black pastor from South Africa. Apartheid was still going strong. Mandella was still in prison. Our pastor friend (Christian Reformed) said, "I sometimes wonder if I'm poor enough, when I read this."


It of course left the rest of us stunned.

December 08, 2004

Jimbo 5:1-5

One of the things I have learned by hanging with Quakes and other fringeworthy Christians -- is the difference between "power-over" and "power-with".

Wealth is about control. It is buying power. And when we have enough of it we get to buy people too -- literally or figuratively. Power-with is about mutual aid and mutual empowerment.

I start with that comment because I think it has something to do with being a gospel people. This passage from James makes us want to dwell on the spiritual message. So does the story in the gospels about the rich young man Jesus told to give up his wealth. We want to spiritualize it. If we have detachment from our wealth its alright to be wealthy. When the plain sense of these scriptures is that to have wealth is to have a kind of power contrary to the gospel.

On other websites I rail against Bush's foreign policies. I'm sure folks read me as a Republican-hating Democrat. I'm not. I can't even vote in American elections. If we take this passage and others like it seriously, then no President of the United States can be a Christian -- by definition.

The best and most righteous President ever imaginable, must still exercise the power of office of the world's most powerful nation to preserve and protect that power and privilege that belongs to that office and nation. A Christian would be obligated to give that power away to empower those who are yet enemies. And a Christian in the role of Prime Minister of Canada, or Britain, or even of some small, African nation is in no better position.

So what do I do with that?

Well. I waffle.

I have a retirement fund. I've dipped into it during my recent unemployment. And I collect government funds during this unemployment. And when I was working I made decisions that affected other people's lives.

And I know that there were followers of Jesus who did not abandon ALL their wealth but used some of it to support the ministry of Jesus and other travelling prophets.

So now what?

As God Wills, As Way Opens, If Nothing Happens

(By Larry)
Re: James 5:1-5
Many years ago I served a small struggling Methodist church in an industrial suburb of New Orleans. It was peopled primarily by 'rednecks' from the surrounding states, many of them also oil field 'roughnecks'. One family were most faithful: the father would always say "we'll be here next week, if nothing happens".

Years later I learned the family had been prominent Quakers in the East; Quakers generally say 'as way opens' (a queer 'Quakerism', no doubt). Like a great many Quakers who had become Methodists (usually for marrying 'out of unity' - another queer quakerism), his speech had become secularized.

Now, evangelical Christians (including many Quakers) understand that it's exceedingly presumptuous to say something like "I'm going to fly to New York next week." (I may be dead next week). Much better to say "if God wills".

James, and Jesus before him made this abundantly clear. Jesus was pretty harsh:
"Thou fool", he said to the rich man, "This day shall thy soul be required of thee" (or something like that-KJV).

December 07, 2004

Marjorie on James 5:1-5 (6)

How rich is too rich? I note that verse 4 indicates that these rich are cheats, not paying the wages they owe to others. Is this speaking only to the lawless?

Verse 2 speaks of rotting wealth and moth-eaten clothes because wealth is worth nothing, its transient and has no lasting value.

Verse 3: "you have hoarded wealth" -- ouch -- "in the last days" -- you never know when its too late.

Here's where I get into trouble with kwakersaur (did I mention I have an ancestor who was kicked out of a Quaker community? it might be genetic) by extending the passage, in my Bible verse 6 is the last sentence of the paragraph. "You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you." Ah...these were some bad dudes, different from me, right?

How expansive are we to read 'condemned' and 'murdered'? In a study I took on the Ten Commandments, we were taught that the prohibition on murder could extend to character assassination (gossip) and ill will. Read expansively, condemn might mean judge and murder might be harboring ill will towards others. Guess I'm not safe after all.

Things don't look so great for me so I'll return to my initial question, how rich is rich? A salary of 5 figures or 6 or 7? Is 'rich' solely a monetary description? Might is also refer to other blessings -- a happy childhood, nuturing parents who enable one to be a blessing to others? One who has been given the advantage of a formal education? One whose material needs have been satisfied?

I should note that my Bible provides a heading for 5:1-6, Warning to Rich Oppressors. How am I oppressing others? How can I stop?

Me and James 5: 1-5

I can't help thinking as I read this, that James has some serious personal issues/agendas with the rich ... his words are not just cautionary but angry. I found an interesting online article that talks of the piety/poverty connection in James and it fills in a little about the historical backdrop. I've always been on the edge of poverty (american style) so I tend to agree with James' attitude toward the rich ... but ... I think that to be rich is not to be evil and poverty should not to be envied or romanticized but we should strive to eradicate it. And remember, Jesus loved the rich young man :-)

December 06, 2004

Meredith on James:1-5

Wow, rich folks are getting a tongue lashing here. James rather fiercely admonishes the wealthy regarding their attitude toward riches, especially when riches are hoarded and laborers are not paid fairly. He suggests that the love of money could be one's downfall "...their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire." Monetary riches are worthless in the eternal kingdom.

In my experience, this attitude toward riches is accurate. Once the treasure in your own heart is found, for wealthy and poor alike, little else in the manner of riches compares. This is the nugget, the jewel, the gift. And once you recognize it within you, you will want only to share it, and share it abundantly with an open and grateful heart.



Two housekeeping issues I want to raise and hear responses on.

1) I've noticed some real problems saving blogs lately. I just changed to a new browser: Firefox. So I don't know if its the browser or the blogger. I have noticed the problem goes away if I save a draft version first and then publish. Anybody else having difficulties here? Mostly I want reassurance I'm not just messing up someplace :0)

2) We begin chapter 5 which puts us into the home stretch. I welcome input for the next scripture study. We can plough through a new book -- but we gotta choose one. For those who celebrate the season of the Guy-in-the-Red-Suit family issues may impinge -- we can deal.

James 5:1-5 A Warning to the Rich Oppressors

That worked well I thought. Here's the next paragraph according to the NRSV:

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

-- James 5:1-5

In keeping with earlier concerns about using alternate translations:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. (NIV)

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. (Good King Jimmy)

Well now, you rich! Lament, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is rotting, your clothes are all moth-eaten. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be a witness against you and eat into your body. It is like a fire which you have stored up for the final days. Can you hear crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the labourers mowing your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart's content. (New Jerusalem)

Re: James 4:13-17

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
-- James 4:13-17 (NRSV)

The defining lines in this verse for me are these: "...Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. "

We don't know what the future will bring. Our lives are so temporary. Almost all of us alive today will be gone in 100 years or less. Living as though God exists in us, perhaps a reasonable goal is that we are we able to fully appreciate this very moment. When I consider this very moment, I recognize its perfection, just the way it is, with not one thing needing to be different. To be fully mindful of God's presence, and the rich blessing of this present moment eliminates much fear and suffering.

"What is your life?..." This passage suggests that our life is illusory, and even this illusion will vanish in time. To accept the temporary and illusory nature of this life creates humility, and encourages us to drop any arrogance, and live a manner in which the God in us speaks.

This whole verse seems to teach us that it is not enough to talk about faith, but that we must live it with God in each moment.

December 04, 2004

Anyone Who Knows (James 4:17)

Well. The experiment seems to have been a success with postings ranging from personal response to outlining the echoes elsewhere in scripture this passage hooks up to.

Personally, the one line in this passage and indeed in the entire letter, that resonates most for me is this:

Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

-- James 4:13-17 (NRSV)

I have mentioned fear before.

When I do a survey of my sins or my failures my weaknesses my challenges: I do not see the bad things that I do. I see the good things I left undone.

I see a woman rushing for the bus from the my seat warm inside and say nothing to the bus driver. I do not put the laundry on or do the dishes piling in the sink. I forget to tell my wife I love her. I vote with my ballot but not my wallet nor with my volunteer labour. I do not express my feelings, thoughts, hopes, needs, and then, I resent others for not living up to my expectations.

I do not create. I dabble. I dream of writing that great book, that amazing article, a poem, a short story. I write it but do not send it out. Or start it without finishing.

I will be remembered --

if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only as the hollow men

-- T.S. Elliot

But with God all things are possible. I need only stop reserving the right to say, No Thank-you, when I call of Christ's Spirit for guidance and direction.

December 03, 2004

Marjorie on James 4:13-17

Foreward: I see that Crystal and RW have already posted on this and I have not read their posts yet so that my own will be unaffected by what they've written. This may be a mistake that I correct in the future. My response is based only on my personal reaction and is limited by that. I'm sure I'll learn more about the background of this passage from other posts.

Taken simply, this passage says to me that one should always realize God's supremacy. It is not by our planning that we accomplish anything but by God's grace. I've never been much of a long-term planner, so I love this idea. I know many people who have far reaching plans and visions as to what their future should hold. I don't (I've never known what I'd be when I grow up and still don't), I've oftened wondered if this was a shortcoming on my part (perhaps I'm an underachiever) but I realize that my way has its advantages as well. I am trying to live in the moment and enjoy it fully for we can never know what tomorrow or even the next moment will bring. Also, what happens when life deviates from our plan? It seems an invitation to disappointment. Painting myself positively as I am wont to do, I also think that by not planning I'm practicing a sort of humility, I cannot predict the future, I do not know where I am going but I am happy to go where the Lord leads me (Psalm 23 now running through my head). Of course, I'm sure that those who enjoy planning are equally as able to recognize and respect God's supremacy.

It seems to me that there is a disconnect with the last sentence -- anyone, then, who knows the right thing and fails to do it commits sin. Though I suppose it might make sense with regard to those who plan, that they should have flexibility in their plans to allow them to do the right thing, even when that deviates from their plan.

This passage reminds me of the announcement of my brother's ordination. It began "God willing" and continued with the time and place of the ordination. My husband (who is no great admirer of the Church) snickered at this, but its clearly in keeping with this passage.

December 02, 2004

4th of James 13-17

James is reminding the reader of the old lessons already learned in Proverbs.

Go to now, ye that say,
Today or tomorrow we will go
into such a city, and continue
there a year, and buy and sell,
and get gain.

Whereas ye know not
what shall be on the morrow.
For what is your life? It is even
a vapour, that appeareth for a
little time, and then vanisheth

For that ye ought to say,
If the Lord will, we shall live,
and do this, or that.

This is one complete thought. The "ye" of "ye that say" merely forgot to consider the idea of "God Willing."

James is admonishing them for forgetting the right order and reminding them of the Proverb 27:1 "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."

"God willing, we shall succeed" is simply gospel order. They forgot that.

But now ye rejoice in
your boastings: all such rejoicing
is evil.

Therefore to him that
knoweth to do good, and
doeth it not, to him it is sin.

(This is why when football players dance in the end-zone they are being foolish).

Continue the comparison of this to the following as Proverbs 27:2 continues: "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips."

Again, after the manner in which I've been reading James, the writer is reminding people to be humble about their business, remember that successes and comforts and gain are mercies to you. Be thankful of them and recognize your life could be a thousand times worse; Therefore worship God and quit taking your life for granted.

In other, harsher words - especially if you have been a success - you need to get your butt into meeting on Sunday and shut up.

I have always felt that we men, especially, need the discipline of meeting. The way society is, we are for some reason given all this status and power by virtue of our gender. It's totally stupid but there it is. And if you look at some of us, especially the successful fellows, we emit self-sufficient power.

But we are not self-sufficient. We are full of hubris and self-worship. I think this is everyone, but from my experience in business - especially we men. We need to humble ourselves. And a few of us need to be humiliated, too.

My take on James 4:13-17

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town,
spend a year there doing business, and make a profit" -
you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that
appears briefly and then disappears.
Instead you should say, "If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that."
But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.

Well, I don't know at all what I'm doing, but here goes ...

The first thing that comes to mind is that expression - "Men plan, God laughes" :-). Probably it's a good thing to keep in mind our ephemerality and our truly utter lack of control over live's situations.

Another questtion is about ... "if the Lord wills it". Is everything that happens God's will? What is "providence"? Where's free will in this?

Finally, the idea that one who knows the right thing to do and doesn't do it is sinful is interesting. Socrates said that if a person knows the right thing, he WILL do it. But in real life, I often don't do what I think is the right thing ... sometimes, I don't even floss! Maybe I am sinful, if sinful means flawed.

James 4:13-17

My usual practice with this study has been to post the passage from the Letter of James and then comment upon it in my blog. Then all you folks who have been taking part comment on my comments. All very hyper-texty and post-modern.

I'm going to suggest another procedure today. We'll try it. If folks like it we'll stick with it for a spell. If not we can always go back.

Below is the text in the NRSV. I suggest we each write a blog here responding to some aspect of this passage. And then we can each comment on each other's responses. I'm not going to post my response immediately. I want to step back and see what develops. Besides, it frees me from the role of learned lecturer into which I seem to have fallen like some prehistoric wasp set in amber. This time I get to create the space and then step back and see what fills it.

Have fun!

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

-- James 4:13-17 (NRSV)