Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I have been reading through William Penn's Fruits of Solitude and wish that I had read it sooner. It seems that if most of the world followed these simple bits of advice, most of our modern problems would not exist. Among his many edifying insights, I found this quote that really spoke to me:
"Love is above all; and when it prevails in us all, we shall all be Lovely, and in Love with God and one with another."
This of course echoes Christ's teachings to love our neighor as ourselves and love our enemies, also. When love goes beyond the "warm, fuzzy, Hallmark feeling" into the 1 Corinthians 13 practice, it becomes a very weighty commission, in my experience.
This type of across the board, self-sacrificing love is a the center of the New Testament, yet it is the most controversial part of Quakerism, I've found. I can tell people any number of controversial things and they take it all in stride, but the moment I bring up non-resistance or nonviolence of any kind in relation to Christ's teachings on love, the tone changes to outright hostility and ridicule. Why is this? Has anyone else noticed this? Nonviolence as an expression of love is a very difficult practice, I think, and it goes against instinct (at least my instincts), but Christ's example and teachings about doing good to enemies is so obvious, I wonder how so many Christians can overlook it. (It was one of the main points that led me to Quakerism.)
And, for a religion based on such a thick book (and supplementary books besides) when you cut to the heart of Christianity, all of those pages and volumes can be minimized to one simple word: "Love". Yet that one word symbolizes a concept that is so challenging in practice, you could spend your whole life dedicated to striving after that one word and never fully meet the challenge.
I've spent the last ten years meditating on the meaning and practice of love (truthfully) and I still feel as small and overwhelmed by it as when I first began.
Love is above all because it is the most difficult thing God ever asked us to do, and I can only dream and hope for a day when it prevails in all of us and we are all lovely and completely in Love with God & each other.
That said, why do so many read the Bible, encounter that repeated directive to love all people, and then ignore it? How can they spend so much time discussing whether a woman should or shouldn't cover her head or speak in church, or the how and why of baptism, but brush over passages that tell us to do good to our enemies? Is it a matter of convenience? And why is nonviolence such an offensive belief? I'm eager to hear the experiences of others who have encountered this.
I've got some friends, Christian fundamentalist missionaries here in Portugal, who believe that war and capital punishment are called for by the Old Testament, and that Christ's teaching us to love our enemies is "nice" but not necessary, or there to show us that we cannot do what God expects of us.
Many, or most Christians, I think, have a "Christological" conception of Christ, based on theology and Biblical cohesion and believing the "right" things, while the Peace Churches have a more "Christocentric" conception of Christ, based on discipleship. Of course discipleship is also based on believing, but that belief involves total Trust in Christ (to follow Him blindfolded so to speak). We believe on Christ, and we believe we can "be perfect" through God's grace, because Christ, whom we trust, and who we seek to know, has told us that to love even our enemies is what God wants of us.
I had been attending my friends' church, but at a certain point I could no longer attend, as I was constantly disrupting Bible study whenever I was led to speak out against "literal" dispensationalist interpretation.
I love the poem. You have brought up some interesting points about love.
I have found Penn a good resource for Quaker practice, a "how-to" manual, but I did not feel he had as much to say about Love. That's one reason I especially like the poem.
If you want to read more about Love in the Quaker literature, might I suggest reading Thomas Kelly? His most beloved work is A Testament of Devotion. First time I tried to read it, it was too overwhelming and frightening. Second time I read it through, and it was like a miracle. I understood in my heart and was open to new Light. I felt like I was swimming in whitewater.
An important pamphlet, a recent one, is "Holy Surrender," by Lloyd Lee Wilson.
These texts might help readers understand real love toward and in God. It is the action of picking up the cross, and is very different from looking for gratification, as you noted.
Another book, written by a non Quaker (Anthony de Mello), is The Way to Love. This small book was sent to me by a special weighty Friend who recognized I was wrestling this issues of love and forgiveness and caring for a Friend who had deliberately hurt me.
Yours in the Light, Paula
I have heard this argument also - the attitude that there are people who are purposely removed from God for (basically) the purpose of acting as pawns in God's grand scheme for the "chosen" - there as adversaries or objects to test Christians. Objects - not beings with precious souls, is how I picture these poor people cast as the "ungodly" who justly deserve all of the wrath in the world and beyond. I couldn't accept it.
The Old Testament supports this view, and I think the struggle of many Christians is to find a balance between the Old and New Testaments, which seem to have conflicting messages and yet - Jesus did not denounce the teachings of the Old Testament. So this leaves many Christians in a strange predicament.
But yet, when they do focus on the N.T. usually the intensity of focus rests in two things: the salvation message of Christ's death and resurrection, and the letters to early churches, especially the ones written by Paul. And among these, the ones usually focused on most closely are the chapters dealing with sexual immorality, marriage & divorce, gender roles, and the family.
Recently I had a short debate with a fundamentalist (for lack of a better term) who was adamently anti-abortion, yet very pro-war. I asked him how he could be so strongly against the killing of unborn, not yet viable humans, but sanction the bombing of already born, fully cognitive children. He cited the O.T. examples of God commanding the Isrealites to kill every man, woman and child in pagan nations. I told him that it was this type of belief that made the Christians and Muslim terrorists (that was at the heart of our debate) more alike than different. I ended up being called an "angry liberal" who "would rather allow every type of scum on the earth live than defend what is good and godly".
Your description of our perfection through faith reminds me of Katsumoto in "The Last Samurai" and his quest to find the perfect cherry blossom. At his moment of death, he says, "They are all perfect." Though we know the blossoms would not have been deemed "perfect" under close scrutiny, he realized a certain spiritual truth or quality about them that made them perfect. I think we are like those cherry blossoms - that our perfection is not because we're so adorably irreproachable in ourselves, but that our perfection comes from what we are in relation to our Source, who is perfect, and it's believing in something that we cannot see, something that under critical examination would not be apparent.
Paula, thank you for the book suggestions! I will look for them.
It is the action of picking up the cross, and is very different from looking for gratification, as you noted.
I was reading something today that said something similar, by William Littleboy. Since my childhood I have sat through sermons in many churches - Catholic, Protestant, conservative, liberal, 'the Holy Spirit no longer manifests miracles' churches, pentacostal churches... and a common thread is often, "If you follow God, if you are doing God's will, your life will always be good," as though following God never causes suffering. The type of "good" may be material wealth, a perfect family, success in business or career, constant good feelings, perfect health, or a spiritual life that constantly bears sweet fruit without exception. But then you read of souls like Mother Theresa, who after an amazing God experience threw her life into service, only to feel spiritually abandoned despite seeking. Does that mean that she wasn't seeking hard enough, or that she was no longer living in God's will for her? Even Jesus had his moments of feeling spiritually desolate and "forsaken".
Even among the most faithful seekers, we have our moments of faltering. We have our doubts. We lose our focus. So, at least what I see in myself is, the love is a work in progress based mostly on an intention... the intention to take up the cross and the efforts (no matter how weak or wavering) to do it... and therefore the love I find in myself is a work in progress, not complete and not whole. I see myself as constantly trying to bend into the yoga position as Forrest described, though uncertain whether I'll ever be able to actually fully achieve the position, due to my own physical limitations. So I try to stretch and remain true to the practice, not knowing what the end result will be for me.
"The Old Testament" is not a Christian book, and never was, and does not "support" any Christian's view of "The Afterlife" whatsoever.
Parts of it date from extremely ancient, downright savage times, when most Israelites would have seen little difference between "our god" and "their gods", beyond "This one's on our side!" Ideas of an afterlife were simply not part of the deal; later rabbis would challenge their best students to "prove the Resurrection from the Torah," because strictly speaking the Sadducees had been right; it wasn't in there.
How ethical God was seen to be... would have a great deal to do with the ethics of the particular Israelite you happened to ask. For Abraham, God may have been fearfully overwhelming... but still subject to manipulation via ethical considerations: "Shall not the Lord of the World do right?"
Jesus did not "denounce the Old Testament", because those books were "The Scriptures" that he and everyone he argued with accepted as basic reference points as to what God had done in ancient times, what He'd commanded on Mt Sinai, plus whatever communiques the prophets had passed along since then. No "Old Testament", no Jesus.
Among his opponents were rabbis who interpreted those books in ways quite similar to his, while many modern "Christians" read a savage modern creed into those same books.
It's extremely hard to know what the Pharisees of Jesus' time thought about the nature of death; the Hasidim of modern times evidently believed in (and had memories of) reincarnation, a doctrine said to go back a long ways in Jewish history (though not explicitly in written form, so far as I know!)
But "Hell" seems to be an invention of Christians, Buddhists, and Mohammedans, not ancient Jews.
Saul goes to a medium for information (a practice he himself has forbidden under threat of death)-- and the medium calls up Samuel, the prophet who'd been Saul's advisor in his better days, who'd become his bitter enemy. Samuel has been resting under the earth like everybody else in his condition; he is peeved at being disturbed for dumb questions-- and his answer as to Saul's fate is: "Tomorrow you and your son will be with me."
And there's nothing in any of it-- about any human being ever having been made in any form-- other than "in the image of God." That image seems to get warped now & then, but a person without it would be a robot: no-one in there. Some people seem to have been bent into what looks to be utterly inhuman characters, and I imagine it might be quite painful for anyone to thaw out from that, to suffer the remorse of looking back on such a condition. But I don't think it makes them that different from what anyone else... has been at one bad moment or another.
You're right, the O.T. is not a collection fo Christian books, but most Christians see no real distinction. Many believe that Jews born before Christ were retroactively saved through his sacrifice, so are also Christians. In fact, during the debate I mentioned above, one of the men arguing against me said, "The Bible is full of stories of Christians fighting wars against the ungodly foe," and I had to point out, no, the O.T. is full of accounts of Jews fighting wars. The only war of concern in the N.T. is a spiritual one.
As far as I've ever learned, in the O.T. there was no concept of Heaven or Hell that we would recognize in our popular culture. I know there were Hebrew words that refered to "the grave" or "afterlife" which had their own cultural context... and I wish I knew where my old study Bible was because I could look up the specific word I remember reading about from Psalms. Maybe someone else here will know it. Just as when we try to bring over teachings from Native American culture, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, certain things get lost in translation. The ancient Israelites had a cultural context for their beliefs that we can only remotely relate to... and we have translated it to fit with our own cultural narrative, one heavily influenced by the Christianity that spread from Rome and evolved since. The Apocrypha also contains descriptions of the afterlife that we wouldn't recognize from our popular conceptions.
But all of this aside, most Christians in conversation do not recognize these distinctions. Their close association of themselves with the Israelites manifests itself as the modern evangelical Christian support for modern Israel, even if many modern Israeli Jews are wary of such support, fearing that heavy support from western Christians will give this outside group too much influence in Israel, among other fears. The Christians remain oblivious to this reluctance. Many times I sat through sermons in different churches, listening to pastors explain that if America doesn't fully support Israel, we will lose God's blessing because the Jews are still God's chosen, even though their hearts are hardened towards God.
This special association with the Jews does not extend to any other type of people. So when many Christians read the Bible, they see themselves in both the Jews and the Christians. I think the saga of the Israelites especially appeals because of the land, wealth, power, and military victories given to them in blessing. It fits with the American vision of ourselves and our own "manifest destiny".
But even so. Culture aside. How can so many, who spend an hour in Bible study followed by prayer each day, not respond seriously to the passages that tell us to love our enemies and do them no harm? How can so many who spend hours in prayer and have lively experiences of the Holy Spirit (by their own accounts), falling on the ground in tremors, having visions, etc., still support ruthless and widespread killing? Why do they still prescribe to the belief that the "righteous" have a right to kill the "unrighteous" without consideration that perhaps the righteous thing to do is not kill at all? They become deadlocked in debates about Creationism vs. Evoluton, but don't spend a moment of serious contemplation over the thousands of innocent people killed by our "just wars". To me it seems like a mismanagement of priorities.
If there are "believers" whom God 'Him'self can't convince... and I think Jesus probably had arguments with people very much like that-- then one has to hope that we don't need to "win" discussions with them.
There's supposed to be a really old Christian doctrine... that God talks to people in the language they understand, shows them what they're ripe to digest, doesn't try to teach complex abstractions to babies. If the Jews didn't understand their own scriptures (and I'm afraid that there are words to that effect in the New Testament) then there's no guarantee that Christians will get it right away either. But I've met some pretty naive Christians who knew right away that it had a lot to do with feeding the hungry, etc. , not with smiting & Get Out of Hell Free cards.
Well Forrest, you just gave me an idea for a t-shirt:
"Become a Christian today and get one 'Get out of Hell Free' card plus a Smiting Rod!!"
I think it probably isn't my place to convince people who have the "get out of hell plus a smiting rod" mentality, as any convincing falls to the one who ministers quietly to their spirits. But I do feel compelled to speak out when any group begins to stir a cry for violence, especially when it is happening within my own family.
When I hear that people are buying firearms in preparation for an anticipated civil war, or I hear certain radio or television personalities saying that the poor are meant to be poor and we are not morally responsible for helping them, I become very discouraged and sorrowful, especially when these things are being done in the name of some brand of Christianity. It makes me wonder what Jesus would say to the people doing and teaching these things in his name. And with this being considered a moral majority, even as a Christ-follower speaking against this type of sanctioned violence and hard-heartedness, I'm somewhat despised and I can only think they believe I am either seriously misled or a wolf in sheep's clothing.
It is the situation of peace being considered "liberal" and "liberal" being considered "immoral". Since when did peace become immoral? Since when did love become immoral?
Hey, I resemble that remark!
Anyway, we're not supposed to expect God's love because of who we are, but because of who God is.
As far as giving love goes, I woulda done better if I coulda done better but I couldn'ta so I didn'ta, so far.
It isn't that people don't love, so much as we have a really hard time learning what to do about it. Getting some, when we're babies if we're lucky (& continuing after that, if we want to want to grow up...) looks essential, at least to that Spontaneous Natural Affection aspect-- and love through gritted teeth is probably not being expressed well.