Sunday, March 31, 2013

Scientists prove Jesus rose from the dead!

Jerusalem, March 31, 2013. After two years of intensive study, a conference consisting of nearly one thousand leading historians, archaeologists, and bio-chemists have concluded that a recent cache of documents and artifacts found buried near the Dome of the Rock prove conclusively that a Jewish prophet named Jesus was crucified by the Romans and rose from the dead.
“The DNA samples simply cannot be refuted,” said Nobel laureate Ronald Q. Symonson. “The evidence is overwhelming. Somehow this first-century Jew who was crucified by the Romans died and came back to life after several days.”
Even Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and confirmed atheist, had to admit the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection was as convincing as the evidence for the assassination of Julius Caesar.
“There is no reasonable doubt,” said Dawkins, “This resurrection of a first-century Jewish sage or prophet or what have you named Jesus is an historical fact.”
Asked whether this meant he was revising his views about God, Dawkins replied:
“Why should I? Just because a man rose from the dead doesn’t mean there is some supernatural being that caused it. We just have to revise our scientific thinking to conclude that somehow it is possible for the cellular structure of apparently dead people to be altered in some way so they can rise from the dead. Look, that’s what happened to that neurologist Eben Alexander who wrote a best-selling book "Proof of Heaven." He was brain-dead for a week, and he revived. That’s a fact. All that nonsense he spouted about having gone to heaven is another matter. That’s just delusional, just like those early Christians who imagined that Jesus flew up to heaven.”
I think you see where I am going with my hypothetical news story.  Resurrection from the dead is not in and of itself good news. If you lack faith in God, if you have never experienced the wonder and mystery of the Divine, then even a seeming miracle like resurrection becomes just another fact.
It’s like the unusual ability of the "resurrection plant' (Selaginella lepidophylla), which my wife Kathleen of blessed memory shared with kids at Sunday school to illustrate how Jesus rose from the dead. This desert plant is able to transform itself from a dry and seemingly dead state to vibrant life in a few minutes when dipped into water. To most people, this seems miraculous. To a biologist, it’s an interesting example of adaptive behavior on the part of a desert plant.
The same would be true if it could be shown that a man called Jesus rose from the dead. To a scientist, this would be simply another interesting scientific fact.
Yet for some, there is still the desire to know "beyond a reasonable doubt" if the Gospel story is true. How can one prove the resurrection “beyond a reasonable doubt” to someone who has not experienced the risen Christ?
One of the most powerful proofs for the resurrection I know is that those who witnessed this event were willing to stake their lives on the reality of their experience.
This is "judicial proof." For example, when a jury of nine men and women hear evidence accusing a man of murder, they must affirm that they are convinced “beyond a shadow of doubt” that the defendant committed the crime and therefore deserves to die. The law, and most people, believe that such a process proves guilt.
If such proof is strong enough to justify the taking of a human life, how much more convincing it would be if nine witnesses said: “I saw what happened and I am convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this man did not commit a crime. He actually did his best to save the life of the murdered man.” If the witnesses were so sure of what they saw that they were willing to die rather than repudiate their testimony, this would certainly constitute "proof beyond a shadow of a doubt."
Suppose that not nine but hundreds, thousands of witnesses, claim that they experienced something they called “the risen Christ.” This of course is not hypothetical. This is what happened in the early days of Christianity, and continues to happen to this day.  Ordinary men and women became willing to sacrifice their lives in the belief that they had this transforming and empowering experience.
Does this prove conclusively that Christ rose from the dead?
I would say yes, but you must decide for yourself, based on your own experience and epistemology.* I ask only that you be willing to suspend your disbelief and be open to the possibility that there is more to life than our finite minds can grasp. If you are open to this possibility, you may experience something life-transforming. I can testify from my own experience that the presence of the risen Christ has changed my life beyond what I could possibly have imagined!

*Since writing this essay, I have run across a little book called The Case for Easter, by a hard-headed journalist named Lee Strobel. Stobel interviews some of the top Biblical scholars in the world, who make the case that what is described in the Gospels is not myth, but a plausible historical reality. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to explore the possibility that Jesus was in fact crucified and rose from the dead. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter and the Holocaust


During this time of year, my Greek relatives used to say, Christos anesti. Christ is risen! But nowadays many people, especially middle class liberals, would rather not think about the cross. Why put such a horrible symbol at the center of one's religious faith? Wouldn't it be better to "accent the positive," and to focus on "that of God" in everyone? If only we could convince enough people to be reasonable and loving, we could achieve world peace!

But early Quakers, like early Christians, knew better. They knew that remembering the cross is a spiritual requirement. "No Cross, No Crown," wrote Penn. Before you can experience "that of God" in others, you have to face what George Fox called the "ocean of darkness."

This truth came home to me twenty years ago, in 1993, when I took a youth group to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance that had just opened up in downtown L.A.

This museum is a multimedia extravaganza filled with computerized gizmos intended to "make you think." For instance, in the hall of bigotry, you can walk down a dark corridor and hear voices whispering insults like "male chauvinist pig," "dago," and finally, "Jew boy." Exhibits like these are supposed to shock you into realizing what it feels like to be the victim, as well as the perpetrator, of prejudice. 
The museum also reminds us that the 20th century has been the era not just of scientific progress, but of that peculiarly modern form of mass murder known as genocide. Beginning with the mass slaughter of Armenians by Turks, our century has seen one bloodbath after another: the holocaust of Jews, the mass exterminations by Pot Pol Communists, and most recently, "ethnic cleansing" in Serbia and Bosnia and Darfur.
The vast numbers slaughtered during these acts of genocide can be mind-numbing, so the museum tries to "personalize" the victims. Before entering a reconstructed Nazi death camp, each visitor is given a "passport" with the name and life history of a single person who was killed. You can also go to computer terminals and hear videotaped testimonials of survivors.
Efficient though the Nazis were in misusing technology, they failed to obliterate the Jews or Jewish culture. The victims of the Holocaust live on in the memory banks of these computers, and in our heart.
Isn't this the message of Easter? The powers that tried to exterminate Jesus and his followers failed utterly. They could not kill the Truth. The Truth rose again and lives in all of us who cherish Jesus' memory.

This act of remembering can be painful as well as redemptive. It is disquieting to recall the complicity of so-called Christians who went along with the Nazi regime. I was especially moved by reading Sword of Constantine, James Carrol's well-researched and compelling book about the history of anti-semitism among Christians. This is a book that all Christians should read and take to heart.

Some of my Jewish friends find it difficult to accept the way of nonviolence in light of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. A few even champion guns since they believe that if the Jews had been armed, they might have defended themselves against Hitler and the Nazis. Others dispute that claim since Jews comprised only 2% of the population of Germany; and when Jews did attempt to fight back with arms, as in the Warsaw ghetto, they weren't able to overcome the massive power of the Nazi war machine.
 
It is worth remembering that the lives of many Jews were saved during WW II through nonviolence, and probably many more could have been saved if nonviolent techniques had been used more widely.  It is well known that  the Danes rescued 8,000 Jews from the Nazi's by smuggling them to Sweden in fishing boats.
 
Quakers also saved the lives of many Jews using nonviolent means. A delegation of Quakers went to Germany in 1938 after Krystallnacht to try to help the Jews. Their mission failed to avert the holocaust, but Quakers did manage to help 1,135 Jews to emigrate from Germany  between 1935-1941, thereby saving many lives. 
 
Quakers were also involved in the "kinder transport" that helped save the lives of thousands of Jewish children:
Many Quaker representatives went with the parties from Germany to Holland, or met the parties at Liverpool Street Station in London ensured that there was someone there to receive and care for each child.[13] 
 
It must be admitted that German Quakers were not as bold in opposing Nazism as they could or should have been. Few risked their own lives. But their efforts under very difficult circumstances did save many Jewish lives.

 
It is also worth noting that 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved through nonviolence. Not a single Bulgarian Jew was deported to the death camps, due to the heroism of many Bulgarians of every walk of life, up to and including the King and the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This amazing story is recounted in Beyond Hitler's grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews by Michael Bar-Zohar.
 
We need to remember and honor those who heeded the cries of the victims and were true followers of Christ. They are called by the Jews "the Righteous of all Nations."
 
At the Museum of Tolerance I learned of a Greek Orthodox archbishop who was asked by the Nazis to list all the Jews on his island.
 
"Why should I?" he replied. "The Jews have lived here peacefully with us for centuries. We consider them Greeks."
 
When the Nazis insisted, the Archbishop took a piece of paper and wrote down a single name.
 
His own.
 
Reading this story made me feel glad I was baptized Greek orthodox!

As long as there are Christians like him, we can truly say, Christos anesti. Christ is risen! May Christ rise in us, and we in Christ, and may we always remember the cross (and the holocaust) and heed the cries of oppression's victims. And may we stand in solidarity with those facing genocide and affirm, with our Jewish friends: Never again!




Saturday, March 23, 2013

Homosexuality and the Bible: Acts Speaks Louder than Words….

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
 
The issue of homosexuality has become an incredibly painful and divisive one among Christians, even among Quakers who have a reputation for being peace makers. Most recently, Indiana Yearly Meeting—which has a long history of conflict between its conservative and liberal wings—has split into two because one of its meetings declared itself “welcoming and affirming.” This Christ-centered pastoral meeting didn't go so far as to support same-sex marriage; it simply affirmed that gay and lesbian members would be treated as equal to straights. For this openness, this meeting was condemned and essentially forced to separate from the Yearly Meeting. As a result,  dozen other monthly meetings are leaving and forming a new entity called “A New Association of Friend.” Like divorces, such splits can be excruciating. As one who has been through a traumatic divorce, I am holding these Friends in the Light, praying that they will find peace and new spiritual insight after their split up.
I have come to see the issue of homosexuality in a new, biblical light. During this past year, I have had numerous conversations with Evangelical Christians (including my wife) who are good, kind-hearted people who love Jesus and the Bible. They believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is not what God intends, but that Christ commands us to love our homosexual brothers and sisters as much as we love ourselves. As a result, I have looked into the bible to find out what Spirit says to me about how we are to treat those who are sexual minorities. I'd like to share my biblical perspective on homosexuality, based on the story of Philip and the eunuch from the Book of Acts. I realize that there are many viewpoints on this topic, some of which I list at the end of this piece. I especially want to lift up Tony and Peggy Compolo, Evangelical Christians who have different views on homosexuality and have had the courage to share their differences publicly. They prove you don't have to agree to love each other! See http://www.bridges-across.org/ba/campolo.htm
When it comes to matters of religion, I am convinced what we do is often more important than what we say we believe. That's why I turn to the Book of Acts which describes an encounter between an Ethiopian eunuch and Philip, an Evangelist who was one of the Seven Deacons chosen to care for the poor of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Note that Philip is called by an angel of the Lord to go on a mission to a “desert place,” an unpopulated area. The angel’s command made no sense, but Philip (like many other early Christians, and like early Friends) listened and obeyed whenever the Lord gave a command, however illogical or counter intuitive it might seem.
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[b] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:26-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 8:26 Or go at about noon
  2. Acts 8:36 Some manuscripts add all or most of verse 37: And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

What an amazing story! Philip, the evangelist, sent by an angel of the Lord, encounters an Ethiopian eunuch, baptizes him, and makes him a joyful Christian. What good news! I have shared this story many times this past year as I have tried to explain to my Evangelical Friends how I, as a Christian Quaker, feel about homosexuality.
I am aware that the Old Testament condemns homosexuality and so does Paul. But the Torah condemns many things, including eating lobster, that Jesus’ gospel of love no longer condemns as contrary to God’s law.
So what biblical warrant do we have for accepting gays and lesbians into full fellowship in the body of Christ?
I think the story of the Ethiopian eunuch is a powerful example of how the early church treated those who were sexually “different.” I am convinced the Book of Acts deserves to be taken very seriously, perhaps even more seriously than some of Paul’s theological statements, since it describes how early Christians actually put in practice (in their best moments) the teachings of Christ. According to the Book of Acts, they shared things in common so “there was no poor among them.” They offered health care for free (unlike most mystery cults which charged money for healing). And they accepted people of all races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, including “eunuchs.”
Let’s begin by exploring what the Bible meant by “eunuch.” Jesus makes it clear this word was used to mean many things, perhaps even homosexuals:
For there are eunuchs who were born so from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. To him who can comprehend, that is enough.” (Matthew 19:12)

The word “eunuch” literally means someone who has been sexually altered. But clearly in this passage it has a wider, metaphorical meaning. To be a eunuch from birth implies a man who has no sexual desire for women, which suggests homosexuality. It is clear from this passage that like Isaiah, Jesus did not condemn eunuchs. Since Jesus didn’t marry, unlike most rabbis (and most of the apostles), he even seems to have identified with them. By not marrying, he is one of those who “made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” I realize he is probably talking about celibacy, but if so, it's significant he equates celibacy with being a sexual outcast, a “eunuch,” or perhaps even a homosexual.
This was a radically prophetic teaching. Eunuchs (whether they were “from birth” or not) weren’t permitted to enter the “assembly of God” and become full-fledged members of the Jewish community, as Deuteronomy makes clear:
“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1)
But the prophet Isaiah, who was a source for many of Jesus’ radical ideas, offers hope to eunuchs:

Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. ... (Isaiah 56:1-12)
According to Isaiah, there is hope for the foreigner and for those who are sexual outcasts. This prophecy was fulfilled in the story of Philip and the eunuch. The eunuch was an Ethiopian Jew, a high-ranking official, who came to worship in Jerusalem, but probably would not have been allowed to enter the Temple since he was a foreigner and a eunuch, and hence an outcast. But he followed God’s teachings (the Torah), and wanted to learn more about the prophecies of Isaiah. When he asked Philip to teach him, Philip shared the good news that the Messiah had come in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. The eunuch, who knew how to read Hebrew and was well versed in the Bible, was probably wondering: How does this apply to me? Will I, a eunuch, be accepted into this new movement? Hence the eunuch’s bold, yet poignant question:
“What prevents me from being baptized?”
A rabbi or priest might have responded, “Why are you asking that question? You know the answer!” It was risky even to ask since it opened up the possibility of rejection. Imagine if Philip had responded, “Christ came to save everyone, except for eunuchs.” Or if he had said, “Well, you’re saved. But don’t expect to be baptized. That’s just for those who are sexually ‘normal.’” After all, baptism was a big deal in the early church. It meant that you were washed clean of all your sins and a full-fledged member of the community. Many would-be Christians went through a long initiation process in order to become spiritually ready for baptism.
The eunuch wasn’t willing to wait, however; he was impatient as well as bold. He “commanded the chariot to stop,” and Philip went down to the river and baptized him immediately.
In an instant, the eunuch became a full-fledged Christian. His sins were forgiven. He was a new man. He had an “everlasting name that would never be cut off.” What a glorious moment!
Then Philip mysteriously disappeared. I don’t know what this mysterious disappearance means. Perhaps it means that this baptism was a spiritual one, divinely sanctioned; certainly it was supernatural. We do know this baptism transformed the eunuch’s life. He “went away rejoicing.”
According to legend, this eunuch went back to Ethiopia and became an evangelist. He is credited with founding the Ethiopian church!
This story suggests to me that the early church was inclusive and open to everyone, people of different races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. All were welcome, as long as they loved God and sought to live faithful lives in accordance with Jesus’ teachings. This was and still is good news!

For more on eunuchs in the bible see:



For a discussion of the range of views on homosexuality among Friends, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Quakerism




 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

God didn't create the world.....and He isn't finished with us....

"God didn't create the world," a Catholic priest announced at a retreat I took many years ago. Pausing for dramatic effect, he concluded: "God is creating the world."

His point is that God's creation is not finished, but ongoing. The same is true of each of us. As the old saying goes, "God is not finished with us yet...."

But what about God? Is God a timeless, unchanging entity, as the Platonists argued? Or is God evolving and changing--as process theologians tell us?

I don't know the answer to those questions--both views can be found in the Bible--but I like what my Jewish Quaker friend Pablo posted in response to my entry "The Mystery and Miracle of the Immune System." He writes:

Forgot to mention that part of the Jewish teaching that distinguishes it from much Christian commentary is: We [Christians] refer to the Holy One as the Creator, from Latin, based on the perfect (passive) participle creatus. We think it means S/He has created this world (finished). But in Hebrew, ha-Shem is called Bore et ha-kol = the one who is Creating all, based on the form bore-, the imperfect active participle of B-R--, to bring something into existence [not just make something out of parts]. Notice how your perspective changes when you think God is your Creating One, constantly making and remaking you and all that is, flowing creatively through you as a stream of Living Water
.
I like the idea that God is not only a noun (a holy name, one who created the world) but also an active verb (a becoming, one who is creating and re-creating the world).

Jesus used the term "living waters" to describe the inward experience of God's presence when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. These Living Waters are what inspired the prophets and evangelists, and give joy and renewed life to the soul.

"Living waters" is the theme for this year's FWCC, Section of the Americas, as I learned when I went to Indianapolis this week to take part in the annual gathering. Over 125 Friends from 12 countries took part in this gathering, where the living waters flowed freely in prayers, messages, songs, and meetings for business.
 
How we view God, the source of Living Water, can be very important to how we live our lives. Is God timeless and unchanging, or dynamic and involved in the world? Or both? Since we are made in God's image (and hopefully do not try to make God in our image), how we view God ultimately reflects on how we view ourselves.
 
I see myself as evolving in time, with an unchanging core that I cannot describe but which I experience in those moments when I am "still and know that I am God." I know the God-essence in myself as unchanging, yet as the source of all change.

If I ignore the timeless and unchanging part of myself, I can feel overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life. If I withdraw from the world and focus only on the eternal, I can miss the opportunity to do my part in the cosmic drama/school we call life.

Sometimes I like to soak in the Living Waters and feel refreshed and renewed. Sometimes I let the Living Waters flow through me--a stream of peace, love, joy and light.

And sometimes I feel dry as a bone....

Whatever my mental and spiritual state, I thank God that I am alive and able to be thankful.

God isn't finished with me (or the world) yet!

 
 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Just peacemaking: working together to end war, poverty, and injustice

I am grateful to Daniel Wilcox for his response to my recent blog asking "Where are the Quakers? Quakers who come to meeting once a week to worship and do little or nothing to promote peace and justice the rest of the week sometimes like to take credit for, or sentimentalize, what prophetic activist Quakers have done in the past, often distorting their message to make it fit their quietist perspective. For example, Woolman is often lifted up as a "compassionate or sympathetic listener." One Friend repeated this claim several times, as if Woolman were a disciple of Carl Rogers instead of Jesus Christ!

But the reality is that Woolman did not hesitate to confront slaveholding Friends on their own turf. He went to his monthly meeting and obtained a certificate so he could travel in the ministry with his concern about abolishing slavery. He then went to the homes of slaveholding Friends, often uninvited, and they were obliged by the custom of hospitality to receive him as a guest and a traveling minister. With patient firmness he "labored" with them about their practice of holding slaves, making it clear he felt this was contrary to the teachings of Christ. Granted, he did not rant and he did listen. But he also made his convictions crystal clear. When he left the home of  a slaveholding Friend, he often gave money, saying: "I notice that your black servants fed me and took care of my horse, but are not being paid, so please give them this money."

If the slaveholding Friend refused (no doubt shocked by this audacious request), Woolman often gave the money directly to the black servants.

This would no doubt have mortified some, and infuriated, other slave-holder Friends.

When it came to Truth, as he understood it, Woolman was not afraid to speak his mind and do what Spirit let him to do. This is an example I wish that more Friends (including myself) would follow. We are sometimes so afraid of offending people that we are willing to offend God by not sharing what we really feel and believe.

Here's what Daniel shared with me, which I really appreciate:


Though your article relates some disappointment, it actually inspired me--seeing how you are living out Jesus' vision relating to many different people, working for peace and justice. Very inspiring. It's an encouragement to those of us who are in times of struggle.
As for Friends not being so active, keep in mind, that except for the great movement in the 1600's, Friends 'as a society' have tended not to be at the forefront of social action. The great abolitionists of the 1700 and 1800's from Woolman to Coffin actually had to go against their meetings in order to promote peace and justice.
But this isn't just in the Quakers, most Christian denominations, though they 'talk' peace and justice, even make resolutions...when it comes down to action, tend to stay in their chairs. I think this has many causes, some sociological as H. Niebuhr showed, some personal, and some bad ol' mild selfishness.
 
But seeing you, and Micah Bales, and Liz Opp, and Convergent Friends living on the healing edge gives me hope that friends of Jesus are reaching forward, even if Quakers as a denomination (no matter how much they talk and write statements) aren't.
 
On a different issue, I find it difficult to work with those I strongly disagree with on key faith issues. But you seem to manage to hold to your own faith strongly yet dialog deeply and work for social change with many other faiths--wonderful...
Maybe you could write another article on how you deal with this. For instance, how do you deal with the Muslim view that Jesus didn't die on the cross? Or their view toward marriage or their belief in just war?
( I used to live in the Middle East for a while.)
Or Buddhists some who think there is no ultimate truth?
 
My wife thinks I'm too theological for my own bad;-)
 
Daniel Wilcox
 
I'd like to respond to Daniel's final concern. How do I deal with Muslims and others who don't share my belief that Jesus died on the cross, and that war in never justified.
 
First, I don't feel I need to agree with someone's theology to work with them to do what Jesus commands me to do, and what my heart tells me is right. When it comes to feeding the homeless, or working for peace and justice, I am willing to collaborate with any sincere person of faith and conscience.
 
Many Evangelicals (including my wife) would agree with me. When Rick Warren was asked to be keynote speaker at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Long Beach, CA, a few years ago, he didn't say, "I won't go because I don't agree with your theology." He agreed to speak, even though some conservative Evangelicals picketed the event with signs saying hateful things about Islam and Muslims. True to the spirit of the Gospels, Rick Warren began his speech with words I'll never forget:
 
"I love Muslims, and I love Jews. I love Democrats, and I love Republicans. I love gays, and I love straights."
 
He paused dramatically and added, "Because Jesus Christ commands me to love."
 
He wasn't talking about lovey-dovey kumbaya sentimentality. He was talking about real agape. He told the 2000 Muslims at this gathering that Muslims and Christians need to work together in Africa to end poverty, disease and violence. It was a powerful message, calling for people of different faiths to work together to make the world a better place. I say, AMEN!
 
Prof Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Seminary, describes himself as an Evangelical Christian and was a student of Niebuhr (the nemesis of pacifists like me). But he has come up with an approach called "just peacemaking" that I as a liberal Quaker pacifist find very compelling. He argues that pacifists and just war theorists/Christian realists will never agree because they come from very different theological perspectives. Arguing about theology may or may not be helpful to the cause of peace. So Stassen argues that every Christian can agree that God calls all of us to do our utmost to avoid war and promote peace. After considerable study, Stasses has come up with ten "best peacemaking practices" that have been proven to work:
  1. Support nonviolent direct action
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness
  5. Advance democracy, human rights and interdependence
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system
  8. Strengthen the UN and international efforts for cooperation and human rights
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trad
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations
Stassen shows these techniques not only work in the real world, they are also consistent with biblical teachings. He published his first book on "Just Peacemaking" when the Cold War ended in the 1990s. He then helped put together an anthology by Christians of various denominations embracing the concept of Just Peacemaking. Finally, Susan Thistlethwaite just published a book called "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigmn of Peace and War" (MacMillan: 2012).
 
This is a fascinating book by leading Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars that explores the practical application as well as theological basis for Just Peacemaking from the Abrahamic faith perspective. These scholars don't all agree on every point--God forbid!--but they are in general agreement that the practices of Just Peacemaking are consistent with the Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran.

This is good news, don't you think? I plan to write a review of this book for Friends Journal because I want people to know about this growing consensus among theologians.
 
I am disappointed that no Quaker scholars were tapped for this book and asked Glen about this. He said he would like to have included some but didn't know of any who are doing significant work in this area. How sad! I thought, since Glen has worked with the AFSC and FCNL and even has a poster on the door of his office: "War is not the answer."
 
So I end with a question: Where are the Quaker scholars doing important research and writing about the Peace Testimony? How can we make sure that our Quaker voice and vision is included in efforts to create new Just Peacemaking paradigm?
 
Most importantly, how can we all work together to do our utmost to end war, poverty, and other forms of injustice?
     
     

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Where are the Quakers?

I often become frustrated with Friends because we not only hide our light under a bushel, we often also hide the bushel in a closet! This week was for me a particularly painful example of Quaker invisibility.

An Interfaith Peace Walk and Shoe Drive took place in Pasadena in which 200-300 people of diverse faiths showed up--Muslims, Jews, Bahais, Buddhists, pagans---but I was the only Quaker. I was also one of the organizers and had talked up this event a lot among Friends in my meeting, so it was especially painful to me to be alone and unsupported by my own faith community. (I asked for support but it was not granted. "We are already doing too much," was the reason.)

This is not usual. Quakers seldom show up at peace and interfaith events in Pasadena or in the LA area. Many Quakers feel that they have done enough for peace and justice if they write a letter to their elected officials from time to time.

As a result, Quakers have become an invisible church, a relic from the past that many associate with the Amish. My wife, who is a community organizer here in Pasadena, and knows or has worked with virtually all the area's religious congregations, barely knew that Quakers existed.

The spiritual fire and prophetic witness of Friends is in decline, and that saddens me deeply. I love Quakerism, and so does my new wife, who is an Evangelical Christian. She sees us as a prophetic faith, and that's what we are at our best.

However, I have experienced a  lack of prophetic fire among Friends for many years, and that's one of the reason I turned to the interfaith movement. The interfaith peace movement is what Martin Luther King called "the beloved community," and it's in this powerful spiritual movement that I encountered kindred spirits--people who care so passionately for peace and justice, and for God, they are willing to make personal sacrifices to witness to their faith and vision.

Where are the Quakers? is a question I keep asking myself. It is also a question that came up repeatedly during the World Conference of Friends in Kenya whose theme was "Being Salt and Light in a Broken World."

Addressing this theme, Esther Mombo, a Kenyan Friend, spoke of the terrible injustices and problems in the world and asked:

Where are the Christians? It was John Salt who said, “if the world is rotten don't ask why the light is broken. Ask, where are the Christians?”So if our contexts are rotten, we need to ask ourselves, where are the Quakers? Where are the Quaker Christians? People need to see the work of the salt and people need to see the work of light in us. The Christians amongst you are known to be Christians by the way they love one another, not by the way they talk about one another. As salt and light, Christians are called to be involved in the society.
Being "Salt and Light" means making the Quaker presence known in the world.

For me, sharing the good news of Quakerism is a joyful experience but also often a very lonely one.

When I go to the annual meeting of Progressive Christians Uniting, I am the only Friend. I feel a little sad about this because this organization is one of the most inspiring Christian groups I know. They need and deserve all the support they can get!

When I go to the annual "Giants of Justice" breakfast sponsored by Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice, I am the only Friend. This is also sad because this interfaith group fights for the rights of low-income workers in our community and does great work.

When I go to demonstrations opposing torture, drones, etc. I am usually the only Frend.

When I went this year to the annual meeting of ECPAC, the ecumenical service organization here in Pasadena that helps the homeless, I was the only Quaker present. (My meeting supports ECPAC but no representatives came to the annual meeting.)

When I went to the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in Pasadena last year, I was the only Quaker.

You get the picture. Quakers don't make their presence known at these public events where people of other faiths gather to show unity. Most Quakers see no reason to do so.

When Philip Clayton, Provost of Lincoln Claremont University, came to speak at our Meeting about the interfaith movement, he made it clear why it is important for Quakers to take part in these interfaith efforts. When people of diverse faiths get together to support a cause, there is a great moral and holistic power. The whole is greater than the sum of individual parts. 

I would add that when Quakers are absent, they are making a statement. They are saying: this cause is not important to us.

I was asked by a Friend what gives me joy in my work. What gives me joy is using my gifts and talents for a cause that's meaningful and worthwhile. I can think of no cause more worthwhile than working for peace and justice.

The great Catholic theologian Hans Kung said:

"There can be no peace in the world without peace among the religions.

There can be no peace among the religions without dialogue.
There can be no dialogue without a common ethic."

I would add that there can be no justice in the world unless religions work together for justice and for peace. The Quaker voice and presence is urgently needed.

That's why I go to these events. They inspire me to do the work that God is calling me, and I think all of us, to do: "to love mercy, to do justice, and to walk humbly with God."

And I love the people I work with.  They are on fire with a passion for justice, peace, and God. And they are truly alive!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Do we see the world in black and white or living color?


Sometimes I become sad, or angry, when I encounter Quakers who are lukewarm about their faith. They go to meeting, fill a committee slot, and dutifully do what Quakers are supposed to do. But they lack enthusiasm or joy. They seem to be living in a world of Quaker gray.

I have to struggle against judgmentalism. I have to remember that, as Quakers used to say, they are living according to the measure of the light that they have been given.

Remember when computers had black-and-white computer monitors. At that time, black and white seemed perfectly fine and we were satisfied with shades of gray. Then there were monitors that displayed sixteen colors. Suddenly the old black-and-white world seemed drab. We was dazzled by the new technicolor universe, a universe with sixteen different colors!

I remember when I was given a monitor that could display 286 plus colors. At first, my amazement was beyond words. Who would have thought that the human eye could perceive that 286 plus colors! Yet when I looked at this monitor and compare it to the real world, I realized that the real world contains thousands, maybe millions, of nuances of color that the human eye can perceive. And of course, the human eye perceives only a fraction of the total color spectrum. Even humble insects can see ultraviolet shades that are invisible to us. We should therefore never imagine that an insect or a flower is drab simply because we can't perceive its beauty. That pale, sad-looking wild flower may be emitting ultra violent light waves more spectacular than the reddest of roses!

Robert Barclay said that those who have not yet experienced the presence of God in their lives are like people who are color-blind. These not yet fully enlightened souls see the world in shades of grey, or in black and white. But those who see the world as God made it, see it in living color, in shades too various and too subtle to put into words.

The Psalmist said that the "Word of God is like a lamp unto my feet." I'd like to update this image by comparing the Scripture to a flashlight. This extremely useful device emits a narrowly focused beam of light that helps us to find our way in the dark. Scripture can be very useful when you are in the dark. But when you turn on the light of God's love and it fills the room, or your life, you don't need the flashlight of Scripture any more. You might keep it around for emergency power shortages, but you don't go shining into every one's eyes. The same should be true of the way that we use the Bible.

The experience of God's presence changes everything. George Fox, that earthy man, had a more pungent image for this transforming spiritual experience. He said, "All creation has a new smell." You can almost imagine him leaning over and sniffing the earth in springtime, when the soil is rank and pregnant with new life invisibly stirring beneath the surface. In spring, new life stirs everywhere, in the earth, in the air, and even inside of us. Some of springtime's odors are fragrant, some are pungent, and some are downright irritating. The same is true of spiritual "scents." Spirituality isn't just about smelling roses; it's also about smelling corruption.

I once knew a woman who had no sense of smell. She couldn't tell if something had gone rotten in the refrigerator, unless she labelled and dated it. Only when she read the label could she be sure that something was fresh.

Many people are like that when it comes to spiritual matters. They lack the ability to "smell out the truth." They need labels and dates to guide them. But as a Sufi master once said, "Truth has a smell." If your spiritual senses are in good working order, you can perceive truth directly, just by sniffing the air, so to speak. It doesn't take a spiritual genius to discern that baloney and roses have a quite different aroma!

When our noses and our eyes have opened, we realize that the practice of the presence of God is not a one-hour-a-week Sunday morning ritual. To experience God's presence, we must be willing to be open ourselves to the truth twenty-five hours a day. We must be willing to inconvenience ourselves, to give of ourselves totally. At very least, we must be willing to spend time with kids outside of Sunday school, to share their joys and concerns, to have fun with them, to listen to them, and to let them know that we care, that God cares.....Words are not enough. Our very lives must speak....

A young man went to an old desert monk, and said, "I have studied the Bible and I have prayed diligently, and yet I feel that something is lacking. Tell me what I must do." The old man stood up, stretched his arms into the air, and light seemed to stream from his finger tips. The young man was dazzled, and the old man said simply, "You must become fire."

This is what Barclay and Fox and Jesus and other great teachers have tried to tell us. We must become fire. We must open ourselves to all the world's colors and smells, and most of all, we must open ourselves to God. When we are truly open to God, we will be given all that we need to convey the glory and wonder of God's spirit to young and old alike. Then the world will truly have a new smell--the smell of truth--and we can trade in our thread-bare Quaker grays for Joseph's technicolor dreamcoat!



Friday, March 1, 2013

“Violence Prevention Sabbath” Resources


Religious congregations around the nation are coming together to address the epidemic of gun violence in the wake of the Newton tragedy. A national faith group called PICO is organizing a “Violence Prevention Sabbath” on March 10 and 17 and is encouraging pastors to preach on this topic and inspire their congregation to take appropriate action. Over 150 congregations have signed on so far. Pastor McBride, director of the PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing Campaign, a faith-based effort to reduce gun violence, writes:

My partners in gun violence advocacy are anxious to cooperate with everyone and anyone, from President Obama down to the high schoolers in our pews, not just to advance gun violence reduction, but to change our culture and save lives. We’ll mark Inauguration Weekend as a Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath; houses of worship across America will incorporate the message of ending gun violence into our worship, as we remind ourselves and each other that every shooting statistic represents a life lost, a family shattered.


Last month I wrote a reflection called "Guns and the Gospel" that looks at  gun violence from a biblical perspective. See http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2013/02/guns-and-gospels.html
 

To learn more about how faith communities across the nation are supporting this campaign, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sally-steenland/faith-communities-step-up-against-gun-violence_b_2440032.html

Sojourners, an Evangelical group committed to social justice, has launched a campaign against the “idolatry of guns” and has a lot of biblically based resources on this topic:


Here are other resources that address gun violence from various religious perspectives:






This is also an opportunity to support the policies advocated by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which has been endorsed by the mayor of Pasadena. See http://www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org

The Friends Committee on Legislation (a Quaker lobbying group in Washington, DC) has joined with 45 other faith leaders calling for universal criminal background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime. Learn more at Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.

The major components of legislation that Congress is considering are listed below. When you call your Senators and Representative, let them know that you are calling as a member of the faith community, and emphasize those of the policies which you support.Require universal background checks for all gun purchases
  •      Ban semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines
  •      Make gun trafficking a federal crime
  •      Improve access to mental health services
  •     Tell them that gun violence prevention laws work

After a tragic mass shooting in Australia in 1996, the government organized a mass gun buyback program and the national murder rate dropped in half, and there have been no more mass shootings.Require universal background checks for all gun purchases
More than 3,000 children and teens (30,000 people total) die in the United States each year as a result of guns — either by murder, suicide, or accidents. Three tragic gun-related deaths have occurred in Pasadena since Christmas 2012.

It doesn't have to be this way.

If the community works together to end gun violence, we can make a huge difference.

****
 
The San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Brady Campaign invites clergy, faith leaders, and members of faith communities to:

Faithful,

Not Political:

Communities of Faith

Address Gun Violence

Representatives of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Women Against Gun Violence will present resources for education and action for faith community involvement in gun violence prevention.

Tuesday, March 5

1:00-2:30 PM

Emerson Unitarian-Universalist Church

7304 Jordan Ave., Canoga Park, CA 91303

Please RSVP by March 1                                           Light lunch and

Virginia Classick                                                        dessert


818-225-0410