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Listening to God

Being open to the ‘truth’ within the various branches of Quakerism is one way we exemplify the virtue of “listening to God.” When we listen to others, we also allow ourselves to be made subject to them, and in this form of humility we have the hope of hearing God speak through them. This only happens within reciprocal social relationships. For Friends, who desire God-centered discipleship, we need to be open to hear what others have to teach us about God. I find it ironic that a tradition with silence as a core virtue has been so unwilling to listen to one another, and this is exactly what we need if we want to ever move our enquires past our contemporary situation. In light of this, Alasdair MacIntyre’s words come with a slight sting,

It is by having our reasoning put to the question by others, by being called to account for ourselves and our actions by others, that we learn how to scrutinize ourselves as they scrutinize us and how to understand ourselves as they understand us. When others put us to the question and call us to account, it is generally in situations in which they are unclear either about just what it is that we take ourselves to be doing or about why we take it to be reasonable to act in this particular way or perhaps both. They therefore invite us to make ourselves intelligible to them, so that they may know how to respond to our actions. And what we find when we attempt to make ourselves intelligible to such questioning others is that sometimes we also need to make ourselves intelligible to ourselves. (MacIntyre 1999:148)

And Richard Rhor writes:

Unless we are confronted by true Otherness, we will spend our lives rattling around inside our own world of preferences without any criteria to evaluate or critique them (Jesus’ Plan for A New World, 11).

Because Quakers have struggled to be available to one another in this way, listening is one of the primary works for us as Friends today. In doing this we may find ways in which the whole tradition can locate a common voice.

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A History That Doesn’t Aid Us

In reviewing some of my writing on philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in preparation for my exams I am reminded of the importance of writing (and re-writing) history. Much of our moral disagreements in today’s society stem from an inability to recognize where things “went wrong” historically. The tools of analysis, so says MacIntyre, were for the most part developed after the devastation to moral language and tradition had already occurred, so those tools themselves are unable to narrate the problem accurately.

While this may sound complicated, it’s not and it has some pretty important implications for all traditions, but I want to say something specifically about Quaker histories (and theories of origin). There are a good ten or more “theories” about how Quakers began, what gave them their rise, what the cultural and religious anxieties of the time were and how they filled the gap or offered critiques. My own “theory” of Quakerism as a participatory movement is itself an attempt to name this. I think that this work can be useful, but it is itself can be simply a modern gesture, a symptom of modernity’s desire to find a foundational truth upon which to build an objective understanding of one’s tradition. This is seen most clearly in the accounts that argue for a singular view of Quaker origins. Any theory that is one-sided or aims at one theological conviction that can explain everything once and for all falls prey to this problem. I am dismayed by the great work that goes into early Quaker history and theology that always ends shortly where it begins – somewhere near the origin of the movement. I have talked in the past about the problem of historical accounts that drool all over “the golden years,” but to press this more any history that never moves into theology, that never begins to outline what this means for today, falls short of helping the church re-imagine who it is in today’s society where we are searching for footholds.

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On Grief (John Wilhelm Rowntree)

This seems appropriate given the events of today involving a friend and Fuller prof. of mine.

Quaker John Wilhelm Rowntree wrote in 1905:

Every [one] knows in [their] heart that there is no greater thing in the world than pure unselfish love. Death cannot conquer, nay he teaches ever that love is supreme. Good [people] do not die. Their lives are as the tearing of the veil, they show us something of that which is eternal, for if here love is greatest in the heart of [humankind], must it not be greatest in God himself? And if greatest in himself, then let the mystery of his will be never so dark, we may gird ourselves each to his life’s work with something more than courage. Love bridges death. We are comrades of those who are gone; though death separate us, their work, their fortitude, their love shall be ours, and we will adventure with hope, and in the spirit and strength of our great comrade of Galilee, who was acquainted with grief and knew the shadows of Gethsemane, to fight the good fight of faith.

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Blog Entries Convergent Friends Quaker

Follow-Up Materials From Quaker Heritage Day

For now, I’d like to share the materials that were requested by those there at the Quaker Heritage Day event in Berkeley, CA this past weekend. A number of folks hoped I’d share the slides, and other documents. You can find those things below. Hopefully these things can aid in jogging memories and help with further reflection. Thanks for a great weekend! I hope to post some more personal reflections soon.

Slides:

Session #1: Mission, Quakers, and Culture

Session #2 (part a): Participation in the Quaker Tradition

Session #2 (part b): Heralding the New Creation

Session #3: Re-Enacting the New Creation

Documents:

Preparatory Handout

Small Group Discussion, Query and Quotation Handout

Bibliography for Quaker Heritage Day 2011

Session #3: Outline

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I Heard the Words of Fire

I heard the words of fire spring forth

from a child (of God);

words that sparked an inferno

and swallowed the whole world.

It was an unintended outcome,

but the devastation surprised no one.

Simple words carry with them,

the power to pick up,

and the power to tear down.

But reality, what you and I spend most

of our time admiring,

can be described only in part

by a tangible word.

Depending, of course,

on how that word is uttered.

But it can be evoked in

surprising ways without

so much as a full sentenced muttered.

To bless and to curse.

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Blog Entries Quaker

Births (a poem)

I was reminded of a poem I love today while working on my Quaker Heritage Day talks. It’s written by a Canadian Quaker (and friend of mine) named Julie Robinson. The poem is found in her pamphlet called: Openings: A Poet’s Encounter with Elizabeth Fry (Woodbrooke Journal 2008 #23).

Births by Julie C. Robinson

I had already known a measured opening of spirit,
the stretch and shift of what I held complete,
discovered I am elastic, mutable,
capable of emerging.

But this time, I didn’t expect to survive.
September, and the garden is heavy with the labours of summer.
They’ll have gathered currants and apples at Earlham,
chestnuts from the browning ground.

While here, in the confines of Mildred’s Court,
I spilled womb-water,
my fruit-belly emptying like a rain cloud,
thunderclaps bolting love across my back,
my body widening till I could only
think of thick night sky,
a rimless bowl of spilling dark,
my body raining.

And she came, as I came –
smelling of heat and wet earth.

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Featured Sermons The Biblical The Pastorate

To Bless and Not to Curse (Openings and Closures): Romans 12:14

Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14

Queries ::

1. What does it really mean to bless/curse another person with language?
2. In what ways have I been a recipient of both blessings or curses? How have these things impacted my life?
3. What might we need to do to grow as a community who “blesses and does not curse?”

Below is my message from Sunday: