Today begins a new semester for many beginning or returning to college, and if seminary and graduate school has not begun for you it is just around the corner. Here is a prayer I want to offer to all of you as a new school year begins:
Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of man [sic]; who givest understanding, and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto Thee, enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations of the wise, be present with me in my studies and inquiries.
Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which Thou hast given me on useless trifles, nor waste it in vain searches after things which Thou hast hidden from me.
Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day may discharge part of the task which Thou hast allotted me; and so further with thy help that labour which, without thy help, must be ineffectual, that I may obtain in all my undertakings, such success as will most promote thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the sake of Jesus. Amen.
From the Works of Samuel Johnson.
Over the last week I’ve had a number of appointments cancel on me or just not show up. It’s only weird because it has happened with the last four meetings in a row and it is something that usually doesn’t happen. I keep wondering, along with the double rainbow guy, “what does it mean?” I actually don’t mind when things like this happen at all. I almost always have a few books with me and enough other things to keep me busy that when someone doesn’t show up to a meeting or shows up late I just take it as unscheduled “free” time and use that to either get a little caught up on something else or sit back and enjoy a little time to read. (Which consequently I feel like I do not have enough scheduled time for). The other day during one of these periods of unscheduled time, that had been previously scheduled, I caught site of someone who appeared rather distressed. This person was outside shouting and all around looked pretty upset. At first I just tried to remain focused on reading, after all this was my chance to get caught up! But the shouting and commotion continued so I decided to find out what was going on. When I asked the person, someone I already have an established friendship with, he said he had just had something stolen from behind his house and then he said, “It’s just not my week.” Now I am no sage but I took that as an invitation to find out more about what was going on. It turns out that his relationship with his girlfriend is on the rocks, which jeopardizes his living situation (he’s out of work), and it jeopardizes his relationship with their child, and a whole swath of other issues.
I picked up a copy of Joan Chittister’s new book “The Liturgical Year” the other day at Powells. ((affiliate links connected to powell’s online bookstore)) Chittister, a long-time nun, writes in this book a theological and practical explanation of the liturgical calendar. I’m pretty excited about this book, as I’ve already talked about my interest and use of the lectionary, I think this will give me a better grip on how we can understand all of life as falling within the patterns and stories of the Scriptures. From the back of the book it says:
“There are years to mark every stage of life, from childhood to old age. And in the center of them all, unchanged for centuries is the liturgical calendar. Beginning at Advent and rolling through the following November, the churches liturgical year represents nothing less than the life of Jesus Christ – he whose life and attitudes Christians strives to emulate. It proposes, year after year, to immerse us repeatedly into the sense and substance of the Christian life, until, eventually, we become what we say we are: followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.”
And the Chittister quote that was the clincher for me is:
“The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus. It does not concern itself with the questions of how to make a living. It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life.”
I look forward to digging further into this book and discovering ways in which I might take on this practice.
My friend Jez Smith from the British Quaker magazine “The Friend” is looking for a variety of Quaker perspectives on a few questions below. Will you read this and consider helping him out?
Just what is the World Family of Friends? From 3-5 September Quakers from Britain Yearly Meeting, Ireland Yearly Meeting, Aotearoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting will be exploring this question through worship, workshops, activities and fellowship at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, UK.
The participating Friends will be bringing their own connections to many of the Yearly Meetings and worship groups around the world. But I would like to add some more perspectives to share with participants and to share online as a resource for other Friends who want to explore this starter question. To facilitate this, I would appreciate it if anyone would take the time to answer the following questions:
- a. Why are you a Quaker?
- b. How are you a Quaker?
- c. Please give an example of how a Meeting for Worship is conducted in your tradition.
Ideally please keep to a word count of around 800-1,000 but any length of response will be accepted. Please also give me your name and Meeting details. A photo would be great too. Email to email@example.com If you prefer to video your response, or have photos online that would help with your response, please email links to uploaded material to the same address. Initial deadline for material for the course is 2 September 2010 but earlier submissions appreciated!
Mark Harvath from Invisiblepeople.tv posted this story to the Huffington post the other day and a woman in my community shared it with me. I think it’s really hard to realize that stories like Sergei’s exist today, but they do and we come in contact with boys and girls, men and women regularly who may be in shoes just like his.
Check out Invisible People when you get a second. Horvath was himself homeless and writes about that experience, and those who get caught in the downward spiral to invisibility. It’s a good work he’s doing there to tell their stories. I know others are doing similar work to help make the invisible visible again through a variety of means. This is something we are hoping to do in our own community as well. How can we pay better attention and be better prepared to care for all those whose path’s we cross?
Isaac Penington was one of the earliest Quakers, he and his wife Mary were convinced after a long period of seeking, some believe by George Fox himself (I’ve written more about them here). The Peningtons, like many other early Friends, were met with great hostility and hatred by those who professed to be themselves Christians. Isaac was imprisoned no less than seven times and had he and Mary had their entire estate seized because they refused to take an oath of allegience. For early Friends, following Christ was not only about radical sacrifice, but also radical love. That’s what makes this short little excerpt so amazing to me:
The innocent love, which things no ill, nor wishes no ill, much less can do any ill to any; but suffereth long, and is kind, meek, humble, not seeking its own, but the good of others; this love is lost. The love unfeigned is banished; a feigned love, such a love as enmity and violence proceed from, is got in the place of it. The true love loves the enemy, and cannot return enmity for enmity, but seeks the good of them who hate it; but this love can persecute and hate that which it calls the friend, nay, the brother, because of some difference of opinion or practice. The love that was in Christ, taught him to lay down his life for his sheep; and he that hath the same love, can lay down his life for his brother. But the love that is now amongst Christians tends rather to the taking away of life.
Isaac Penington (Some Positions Concerning the Apostasy from the Christian Spirit and Life 1658: 38)
A few weeks ago I was hanging out with a friend who happened to mention he too loves M. Ward who happens to be one of my favorite singer/songwriters. He asked me if I knew which was his Quaker song and I said no. He pulled out his iPod, plugged it into our car stereo and turned on Chinese Translation. Chinese Translation is a beautiful song, one of those songs that you listen to a hundred times but until someone says “did you know that song is about…” or gives you a different way to look at it, it’s content to just rolls off your ears. Well that’s what’s been happening to me and this song until my friend made clear the three queries that Ward presents in his song.
I subscribe to Sojourner’s Daily Verse and Voice and almost always find it inspiring. Today’s “voice” reminded me that all the compassionate intentions, energy and activism for the right causes doesn’t mean squat unless it comes from a person who has first gone through the process of transformation within themselves. I am struck by those who take doing what is right as license to be rude to others and I find Biersdorf’s quote below a good response in those times:
Compassion is expressed in gentleness. When I think of the persons I know who model for me the depths of the spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness … They are gentle because they have honestly faced the struggles given to them and have learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point. Their caring is gentle because their self-aggrandizement is no longer at stake. There is nothing in it for them. Their vulnerability has been stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others and truly selfless love.
This is my sermon from Sunday. If you’d like a little background to this, you can check out yesterday’s post “In Search of a New Frame for Evangelism and Mission.” This is my attempt at an initial response to the questions I raised there.