Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mark Wutka's Wonderful Questions

Mark Wutka really summarizes all the questions in looking at theology and philosophers, I think. Do read his comment to yesterdays posting. Mark thee is correct in thy question. What it boils down to, is a fine line between fact and opinion.

Let me use thy comment as an outline. "You refer to Quakers who talk about George Fox as "backward-looking", yet you have frequently brought up Elias Hicks. Is it only okay to look back at certain people?"

Fox began us on a process of worship and approaching the world in Peace. In this approach he and I have much in common, and if we were to meet over the centuries, we would recognize each other on much about Quaker Process. He was a man of the Seventeenth Century, so, on many scientific facts, he and I would not right off, see eye to eye, but in his process I would stay open to hear him, and I expect he'd be open to hear me. To look back on his facts and opinions is backward looking, as the facts change over time as the process of openness continues. I have access to comparative biblical studies that just did not exist in his day. Most people could not compare early texts of the bible as they were undiscovered or un translated.

Hicks and I agreed on the issue of inclusive Quakerism, and as with the facts of his day and some opinions we would not be in unity. For example, Hicks did not believe, as a personal observation, we should make graven images of each other. Like his nephew, Edward, I love making images and do not believe it violates my faith. The strength of the Hicksite tradition, is that from the example of Elias' dearness towards his nephew, and treatment of others with whom he did not agree, I know Elias would have stayed in process with me and I would not worry about him driving me from my meeting.

"You say you are not anti-Christian, but you seem in many of your posts to be discrediting Christianity as a corruption and misunderstanding of a Jewish Rabbi."

Some Christians consider me a Christian, and I don't run from that definition. If as a Christian, it is meant that the message of Yeshua is vital in my faith, as is the message of Fox and Hicks. However, as with Fox and Hicks, with whom I would not be in unity on certain opinions and facts, I know as a matter of scholarship, that the Jesus of the present Bibles cannot be the Yeshua of history. The statement that Christianity is a corruption and misunderstanding of a Jewish Rabbi, I would say, is a fact provable in a court of law. The changes in the texts, in order to conform his life and teaching to a violent growing institution of Christendom where so extensive that much detail of his life and much of his teaching has been buried under the weight of untruths. However, I think there is an outline that is valid and more, is vital.

Yeshua was born in Judea. He, as a young man follows John the Baptist. John believed that ritual washing was central to Judaism. Yeshua fell out with him over this, coming to believe that feeding each other, both literally and spiritually was the central ideal in Judaism as we were spiritually clean, and that we needed to feed each other in these ways beyond the division of nation or faith, and in so doing, we walked in the light of God. He was crucified and during that, this man who said we will not thirst cried out that he was thirsty and was forsaken by our father. His followers were pitched into despair. Shortly there after, a stranger prepared a meal for them as they landed from fishing, and they said, "he is risen." For me, they meant the seeds he planted grew, strangers were feeding strangers, literally food and spirit.

Now, am I less a Christian because I do not believe his body was reanimated? For many yes. For them, I am not a member of their tribe, and some who feel I am not their tribe turn their back on me, block me from comment on their blogs, bar the door of their heart to me. Which of us is Christian, well, that is a matter of theology. For me, we should all feed each other, literally and in spirit. I try and do that each day. Even those deep dark days in this past worst year of my life, I remain committed to Yeshua's lesson, feeding others as I can and remaining open to be fed as they can feed me.

"You say that "we should not bar the door to the Christian Bible", just after you mention violence in early Christianity followed immediately by the fact that people refuse to use nazi research. What kind of a conclusion are we supposed to draw from that?"

I draw the conclusion that we look at the violence we brought into our hearts in creating a Christian tribe, rather than following the tribeless faith of Yeshua. Once we make Yeshua a God, or the only intermediary of God, then we express the violence of the bible and reject his lesson of feeding each other, and tribelessness. Once we need others to believe the facts of our faith, we build walls between us, and I think walls between us and the message of Yeshua.
We accept the violence of the genocide against the Cathars, the Jews, all who did not accept the editorial and factual changes that made these books the present bible and all the other books officially false.

"Perhaps you are only trying to argue against requiring Quakers to be Christian, but your result is that you are belittling the entire tradition in the process."

Exactly. Right on the point. As someone who was led to inclusion by the processes traditional to my Hicksite upbringing, I feed lovingly Quakers who believe Jesus is God, or God's only son, or a perfect being... but, I will speak to their power to build walls that exclude me in the same way I will speak truth to the powers that drop bombs. In love and in the courage to know it will take time and effort.
I would not say belittling. I am rejecting as I reject all violence, that part of Christianity which is a prize of war. I am not belittling or rejecting thee, or any other who accept those parts of the story which come into our homes on the blood of Cathar or Jewish martyrs, or all those burned, shot with arrow or bullet, all who were starved in prisons, or drowned in the tides. This telling of the story of Jesus, whose blood as a drop in the process that included the blood of so many innocents, killed for their loving faith.

Mark, dear Mark. Thy questions gave me the opportunity to make this more clear I hope, and I hope thee has more such questions as it leads us to unity in our one God.

Thine, all of you, dearly in the light

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Christian Bibles Are Prize Goods

I raise this issue, not because I believe there should be no place in the SOF for Christian Scripture, but because there is a trend of late to return to a time when some Friends are describing this work as fundamental to the definition of Quaker.

The final argument against Quakers owning slaves, was made by Elias Hicks, a few years before the Hicksite/Orthodox schism. He argued that, even if one did not accept that Africans were fully human as he did, that they were prize goods, taken in war, and forced at sword and gun point onto the ships. I would point out to those who argue that this ideal or that ideal was not spoken of by George Fox. This was CERTAINLY a different stand from Fox, who wrote in a letter to the governor of Barbados, in 1671:
Another slander they have cast upon us, is, 'that we teach the negroes to rebel'; a thing we utterly abhor and detest in our hearts, the Lord knows it, who is the searcher of all hearts, and knows all things, and can testify for us, that this is a most abominable untruth. For that which we have spoken to them, is to exhort and admonish them to be sober, to fear God, to love their masters and mistresses, and to be faithful and diligent in their service and business, and then their masters and overseers would love them, and deal kindly and gently with them ...

This change, to say that our Black Sisters and Brothers should not diligently serve slave masters is a profound answer to those who wish to retreat into a mythical Quaker idyllic past. This statement that products of war, products of slavery are as evil as the process that produced them was not an easy row to hoe, but Friends stuck by it. Hicks, in the last moments of his life, was covered by a cotton sheet, as it was mid summer and very hot in the house. He touched the sheet, and frowned and tried to throw it off. It was quickly replaced by a light woolen sheet. Hicks felt it and smiled, and shortly there after died content.

The Christian bible did not come about by a process of convincement. It came about because hundreds of other points of view and books describing the life of Jesus were destroyed and often the people holding those points of view were murdered and died horrific deaths. Christianity was not only spread by the sword, the orthodoxy was created by the sword, the heretic's fire, the rack and the noose. It was not a matter that the most convincing won out, it was simply that the strongest, most violent won to promote this story of peace.

Today, most civilized nations will not use the medical findings of nazi researchers who used concentration camp inmates as test subjects. No mater how good the research the end was tainted by the process. And that process does taint. I wonder if it is the fear of truth, that makes so many of the new orthodoxy afraid of dialogue. They don't allow free comment on their blogs, they don't meet for clearness with those they accuse and liable. They lock the intellectual door of their meetinghouses and retreat into a past before we dealt with the racism and ignorances of our Quaker past.

I am not judging Fox. He was a product of his day. He began a process that resulted in the like of Elias Hicks, Rufus Jones, a process that resulted in the doors of our meetings being wide open and welcoming.

I am not saying we should bar the door to the Christian Bible, as we did to other prize goods. However, perhaps those who use the bible as a beam to bar the door to other Quakers might show a little Christian humility.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Rufus Jones

A Friend recently wrote about Rufus Jones, "From what I can tell Rufus Jones was trying to slip some 20th Century modern liberal progressivism into Quaker theology by claiming that this was a core belief of George Fox. As you point out, Fox never used the phrase we use it today. All this isn't to say there isn't something to the phrase but it misrepresents the relationship of the divine to the individual. " and goes on to suggest Friends read, "None Were So Clear: Prophetic Quaker Faith and the Ministry of Lewis Benson"

So... is this a divergence or an attempt to return to the divisions of the great schism, and if it is, is this in the spirit of our faith or is this simply an affirmation of base tribalism. To answer this, I think we might examine the effect of Rufus Jones on our community of faith.

Rufus Jones, was instrumental in ending the schism, which lasted from 1828 - 1955. He was the director of the American Friends Service Committee for some thirty years, and under his leadership the AFSC won the Nobel Peace Prize - he was a genuine peace activist.

Jones mentored Howard Thurman, whose works inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jones mysticism, with its practical application of addressing evil with love, healing division not sowing disunity is in many ways the modern popular view of what it is to be Quaker. Unlike Fox, who did little to oppose such wrongs as slavery, he was in the mold of John Wollman and Elias Hicks, who felt it the concrete expression of duty to God, to oppose the evils of the world through positive acts of love. Jones' real success is measured, not only in his own accomplishments but in the seeds he sowed in such theologians as Thomas Merton or Harry Emerson Fosdick.

The difference I have noticed between the life of Rufus Jones, and the author of this odd statement about him, is that Jones' life spoke of bringing the world together, not the creation of cliques and divisions. His life spoke of the power of being an activist for peace.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Revisting Elias Hicks

Elias Hicks

Thanks to the kindness of the librarians at Swarthmore, I had occasion to visit the image of Elias Hicks, his death mask,and make this photograph. It made me think of who we are after the healing.

There is a movement to place Jesus at the center of what it is to be a Friend. Well, perhaps I am in agreement with Hicks, that it is God at the center of what it is to be a Friend. I was asked if I was a Christian, by a Friend and very dear friend, who associates plain dress with a more Christ centered group of us. Frankly, I find it harder and harder to say I am a Christian in light of what that means, and find much of what that has come to mean is in direct conflict, for me, with all that it is to be a Friend, or even one inspired by Yeshua's words, as we can know them. This is not to say one can't believe any manner of myth and be a Quaker, I am just not led in that way and I am certainly mainstream Quaker. There are Friends who tell fortunes by making charts of the stars, I can't see the truth in that, but I accept they are Friends, and I also say, I cannot believe that astrology is at the core of what it is to be a Friend. Rather, I am open to them, listening, not pushing them away, I just don't by that particular myth.

Bart D. Ehrman, in his wonderful book, "Misquoting Jesus", points out that when texts do not agree, the more simple text is seldom the original, the more difficult to explain, the contradictory is often the older text. Scribes and editors, simplify, bending the tale to their point or their understanding. Now, those who argue that Jesus was more than man, and rely on the bible for proof, are on rather thin ice. In fact, it is one of the only such examples where, if say one were to go into court on their evidence, rational people would dismiss their point wholesale as silly. It is like basing life decisions on a Zombie Movie. And yet, it is only the pervasiveness of the belief that such a contention is not laughed out of court. Otherwise rational people would overlook the myriad textual flaws in the bible, and the silly contention that on the day he rose from the dead, numerous things happened, unrecorded in any secondary accounts. It might have good theological value, but truth?

So, we find that where early text disagree, the interpretation which makes Yeshua into Jesus the Greco Roman God, are chosen, not remarkably because it is a Greco Roman institution that spreads the philosophy and the history, working hard to remove all Jewish rationalism from the story.

So, we see for example given in Ehrman's book, Yeshua, in Luke dies a very human death on the cross, saying nothing but, "My lord why have you forsaken me?" In Hebrews it is said, "He died separated from God" in the earliest Greek texts, but then latter scribes mistake XARIYI for XWRIS, so apart from God, becomes, in God's grace. Other changes, Jesus proclaims the universe, becomes Jesus manifests the universe, the one describing becomes the one creating. Mary is an unmarried woman, becomes Mary is a virgin. Truth is a very import part of being a Quaker, because in the search for truth we build unity beyond tribe. In promoting hurtful and damaging myths, we divide our tribe from all others, and as members of our tribe begin to see through the myth, and that myth is defended as being core, being fundamental, we become the institutions that Fox rebelled against.

Then why was Fox not part of this questioning? Well, the first comparative studies of early Greek texts of the bible did not happen until 1720. And then, the process of learning how to understand the historical generation of text was a science in its infancy.

So, what did we get from Fox's start? We received a dedication to truth and an openness to process. I don't find it odd, that the same Friends who proclaim a convergence on older notions in Quakerism which deny modern theological studies and history, also often do not allow free comment on their blogs, they rebel against the very openness that defined us in Fox's day. They do not take part in clearness when in conflict, but entrench themselves in the past as a shield against their fear of the world of change around us. They would have us set aside centuries of progress in meetings, where we weighed and remained open to new light, to enshrine beliefs of the past, as being a foundation to a wall against the outside, and yet, with these walls against the outside, how can we grow towards peace.

Hicks was not anti Christian. I am not anti Christian. But Hicks and I are pro inclusion. Because, without being in process with others of differing belief we cannot move towards truth or peace. When Friends speak of placing any notion, any individual, including Fox, at the foundation of our society, in seeking definition, they loose the definition of what it is to be Quaker, to stand before God, and God in others, not to follow popes or kings or idols.

The division intended in making belief in Christ a Quaker fundamental ideal is both retrograde and harmful to the peace intended by our societies beliefs. It is also a recipe for further falling out among fundamentalists, because it is in the nature of fundamentalism to disagree.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Whose tribe?

Sometimes I am at a loss. I feel silenced in faith by the movement of tribalism in our religious society. Perhaps the most pernicious example is the denial of tribalism in Christianity. Most pagan, tribal faiths declare their god to be the only one, or the strongest... Judaism did not. They said there is only one God, which we will not name. Then, they were conquered by Romans, and there was immigration by Greeks, all who needed the image, the God defined, rather than the God whose name must not be spoken, our God rather than the God.
Then, in the midst of all the swirl of passions a man, not a God, a Jewish man, said, there is no tribe in God. So... Romans and Greeks knocked Cesar from his pillar and placed the image of this man in his place, and so doing made pagan his message... yes there is only God's tribe, and without defining the voice of God in your hearts as that of Jesus, you are not a part of that tribe.
Our community of faith went through a bitter battle to free ourselves of this kind of paganism. Those who said the voice of God is heard by all, and we must be incorporative to move towards the truth were cast out by those claiming orthodoxy. Those who claimed orthodoxy more narrowly defined the voice of Jesus within, splitting again and again, until one day we came together and said this is not the way of peace or unity. Once again Friends are seeking convergence in a single notion, that the voice of God in our religious society is that voice of this objectified Rabbi, and in so doing there is a divergence between Yeshua's message of unity in a God who is close, a part of us, to the God of the strongest hand in the tribe. Once you name a thing, you own it. Once you exclude another's light, because of your laying claim to God within the society of Friends, you are the spirit of separation, the opposite of a child of light, but a servant of darkness.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

An Important New Blog

Radh Auchuthan has begun blogging on his leading towards spreading the intention to meet the minimum needs for all. I urge all to visit,

Here is just a small taste...
"Consumerism interferes with the workings of society by replacing the normal common sense desire for an adequate supply of life's necessities, community life, a stable family and healthy relationships with an artificial ongoing and insatiable quest for things and the money to buy them, with little regard for the true utility of what is bought. An intended consequence of this, promoted by those who profit from consumerism, is to accelerate the discarding of the old, either because of lack of durability or a change in fashion. Landfills fill with cheap discarded products that fail early and cannot be repaired. Products are made psychologically obsolete long before they actually wear out. A generation is growing up without knowing what quality goods are."

His blog is in my links, under meeting the minimum needs of all