Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Winnipeg Monthly Meeting (which I am part of) has grown in attendance from less than 10 to closer to 30 over the past few years. A delight to be sure. But our current rented space, which we love, is…Continue
We all encounter many slogans, aphorisms, quotations and proverbs. And, working in prison chaplaincy, I have been privileged to hear great testimonies of how these words have helped people make their way through phenomenally disturbing circumstances. For instance, I have heard the words, “you always get a second chance” continue to give life to people who have already had twenty or more chances and yet persevere when many others would have given up.
I also heard confused people utter various slogans hoping but no longer trusting they have any real worth or meaning. I have heard people excuse the most foolish mistakes by muttering the phrase “you only live once” but it appears the words are not life giving at all. Instead, the catchphrase deflects responsibility and prevents them from learning from their mistake.
At their best, such proverbs are called to mind in a split second to provide sustenance and direction. The very same words can also be empty, rote and meaningless. They can create confusion and distraction instead of real integration, spiritual challenge and growth.
Yet other common phrases have become innocuous over time compared to their heavily freighted origins. An example is the saying “nothing is certain but death and taxes” which has nowhere near the impact of its first recorded use.
Those familiar with Quakerism would know that doctrine does not have the role that it has in other expressions of faith. My title, A Quaker Reflects . . . acknowledges this. I cannot speak for Quakers. Nobody can. However, I trust that being a Quaker is one of many things that helps bring consistency to the way I approach understanding conventional wisdom, in the form of common adages. I also assume that my background in congregational and institutional ministry impacts my thoughts and decisions. As do my many roles from father to son to brother to husband to baseball fanatic. To be clear, when I use a phrase like “Quakers say . . .” or “Quakers ask . . .” I am not speaking for all but instead holding up a common thought within Quaker circles.[i]
My intent is not to give a pass or a fail to each of the 201 turns of phrase. Instead, my intention is to delight, invite and provoke. My desire is to bring the words alive and into the midst of your daily struggles. The method I use is to create a discussion between Quaker values, conventional wisdom and biblical excerpts. Where you go with that is much more important than where I begin.
While each post will look the same, a common quote and a reflection followed by a bible verse and a reflection, each entry has its own genesis. Sometimes I started with a broad concept from Quaker life and from there sprung a bible verse, which was linked to a phrase that came to mind. Other times I thought first of a theme and searched out a quotation that then sent me running to the Bible. Other times, my work began with a familiar verse of scripture. While I researched both historical and contemporary uses of each phrase, a lot of work never made it close to the final copy. I try to provide some context for the phrase and from there move into the juxtaposition with the chosen Bible verse. I hope the reading finds the sweet spot where elements of order and spontaneity coexist producing a healthy dialogue with each element having its own force. The categories I provide are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive.[ii] My hope is that the sections help readers make connections between the quotations, the biblical verses and the Quaker advices and queries and recognize the value of doing so.
I do not offer these as systematic theology. However, I am optimistic that the consistency of my viewpoint will be a gift. My hope is that these reflections will speak God’s Word with life, resiliency and maturity. I offer texts, ideas and convictions that have helped me not only cope but to thrive while encountering fallen humanity and fractured social systems which, in turn, create pain, injustice, alienation and despair on a daily basis.
I describe the life of faith as “touching pain with love.” I offer my comments, insights and illustrations hoping they bring that joy closer to the centre of your life.
[i] You will note that all of the Quotations come from “Queries and Advices” that are provided by Yearly Meetings to Friends for reflection, stimulation and edification. From the Website of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting: “Queries are an approach that Friends use to guide self-examination, using them not as an outward set of rules but as a framework within which we assess our convictions and examine, clarify, and consider prayerfully the direction of our lives and the life of our spiritual community. Rooted in the history of Friends, the Queries reflect the Quaker way of life, reminding Friends of the ideals we seek to attain. While the text of the Queries has changed somewhat over the years, it has been marked by consistency of convictions and concerns within Friends testimonies – simplicity, peace, integrity, stewardship, equality and community – as well as by strength derived from worship, ministry and social conscience.” They are offered here as a approximation of “common Quaker thoughts.” Note that I have freely intermingled from both conservative and liberal traditions. Not all Friends would recognize this as a seamless composition.
[ii] This blog is not an atlas of sayings but rather a demonstration of a method of understanding. My description of the Quaker approach to any topic is taken directly from Quaker sources and detailed with footnotes. The individual reflections give enough reference that the original sources, where applicable and available, can be traced with little effort.
Identified as a Russian proverb and attributed to various people, this aphorism implies that trust has its limits. Or, at least, trust should not be tempted. One of the most common things I ever heard as a chaplain was: “I didn’t come to jail to make friends.”…Continue
I am collecting my reflections for a book that I will release for free this fall in hopes that people will donate to a fund that helps low income folks pay for shares in cooperative housing developments.