Archive for June 2012 – Page 2

Written On Our Hearts

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not posess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts… – Romans 2:13-15
When we are faithful, the Church has good news to share. But we are not always so faithful. Often, the gospel is crowded out by human ideologies. We proclaim a Liberal Jesus or Conservative Jesus, an Evangelical Jesus or Social Justice Jesus. The Church has bought into the false dichotomies of the “culture wars” hook, line and sinker. Our worldviews are often rooted in forms of black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking that has brought us to the brink of self-annihilation.

When we are captured in this way by our surrounding culture, we fail to proclaim the radical truth about who God really is. In Jesus, we encounter a God who is not like us. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Instead, in Jesus Christ we come face to face with a Being whose love and justice transcend any of our normal catagories. In him, it is always “yes.” God is strong and gentle, loving and just – blessing us with freedom and responsibility.

God is not boxed into our narrow frameworks. The Holy Spirit blows where it will, and it is present in each of us. All we have to do is listen to the gentle whisper that breathes in every heart. God is spirit, and those who worship him will worship him in spirit and in truth. God is not confined to temples or hierarchies or rigid belief systems. Who you are or what you call yourself presents no barrier to this relationship.

God is equally real in the heart of the illegal immigrant and the wealthy Anglo. The Word of God is alive and active in the innermost parts of the gay atheist and the straight Christian fundamentalist. The living witness of God is present in the Occupy activist and the Tea Partier. The Spirit blows where it will, and Jesus does not show partiality.

But will we listen? Are we awake to the Spirit’s promptings in our hearts? Do we see Jesus in the poor and those that the wider culture chooses to ignore? Are we ready to offer up our lives and reputations for those who have the least? Do we recognize the voice of our Shepherd when we hear it?

My greatest joy and challenge is to see how God is active among other “flocks” – groups of people where I would not have expected to find God at work, guiding and blessing. One of my surprise encounters with the God of the Margins has been within the Occupy movement. Occupiers run the gamut of beliefs, from committed Christians to dogmatic atheists, but many are quasi-agnostic, “spiritual-but-not-religious” types. They can sense that there is deep truth out there somewhere, but they haven’t determined yet what to call it, or how to relate to it. These are people of deep moral conviction who have rejected the rote religion of past generations and are seeking out the truth on their own terms.

Since they are involved in the Occupy movement, it is not surprising that most of these folks find expression for their commitment to truth and justice through social activism. They live out the light that they have been shown through their struggles for grassroots democracy and economic equality. Just like the Gentiles who do instinctively what the law requires, many Occupy activists act naturally out of their own interior sense of justice.
In the process, they fulfill the “law” far better than many Christians! Though the Scriptures callus timeand timeagain to work for justice, many Christian congregations and organizations are more focused on preserving their own privilege and comfort. The Church is often the “hearer of the law.” But many of those whom the institution has rejected obey the law that the Lord has written in their hearts.
This “law,” the inward voice of Jesus that calls us to the work of justice and reconciliation in our society, is the Cornerstone that our religious builders have rejected. While we in the Christian Church have kept all sorts of superficial rules and regulations, we have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. We have strained out a gnat but swallowed a camel!

I want to walk with whomever is listening and obeying the inward promptings of God. Some of these people are Christians, and I praise God for their witness. But God is speaking through many who are outside the gates of the city, wandering in the wilderness following a pillar of cloud and fire whose name they do not know. I want to follow this wild, uncontainable God with them, even if it costs me security and my already tenuous sense of certainty. Will you walk with us?

Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. – Hebrews 13:12-14

The Seed That Dies – Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2012

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. – John 12:24-25

Great Plains Yearly Meeting has been thinking about dying for a long time. Back in 2001, Great Plains – a fellowship of Quakers in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma – had dwindled to only five local congregations, and Friends considered seriously whether GPYM’s time was up. Yet, for some reason – whether a nudge from the Spirit or the lure of nostalgia (perhaps a bit of both) – Friends re-committed themselves to existence as a Yearly Meeting.

Over the nine years that I have attended GPYM, I have watched Friends wrestle with what continued existence would mean. Is GPYM primarily a family reunion – an assembly of “good people” who like one another? Does the Yearly Meeting primarily exist as a connection with Quaker institutions on the East Coast? Does GPYM have something unique to say to its own context in the American heartland? Could the Yearly Meeting be a base community for a shared life of radical discipleship and loving action for liberation and justice in the Great Plains region?
During my time attending Great Plains, it has seemed like the default mode for GPYM is to operate as a place of comfort, security and self-affirmation. The Yearly Meeting provides a sense of identity and connection with the wider Quaker world, a touchstone in a region with few Friends of like mind. Often, the posture of folks in Great Plains Yearly Meeting has been fatalistic – resigned to the sleepy decline of our Christian fellowship.
But we were not left without a witness. Over time, I have seen God prodding Friends to choose a path of renewed life and vitality as Christ’s Church. God has raised up a number of prophetic ministers who have called the Yearly Meeting to a deeper engagement with our shared experience of Jesus Christ, and his call to be salt and light in the world. These prophets have not always been well-received, but their ministry has had a clear effect over the long haul.
This year, the clerk of the Yearly Meeting brought a proposal that she be financially released (Quakerese for “hired”) for part-time service to the Yearly Meeting. She explained that she felt called to dedicate a substantial portion of her time to nurturing Meetings throughout the region and helping to spur the development of new leadership that could help to sustain the work of the Yearly Meeting in the years ahead.
In 2009, after a season of traveling ministry among Friends in the Great Plains region, I had laid a similar concern before Great Plains Yearly Meeting. At that time, however, Friends were not ready to provide support for such an out-of-the-box proposal. GPYM’s Ministry and Counsel minuted, “Our Yearly Meeting simply is not yet at a place where we can corporately affirm an apostolic ministry” (M&C 09-17). Three years later, however, the ground seems to have been cleared enough that Friends are seriously considering supporting just such an apostolic call.
Jesus teaches us that the way to everlasting life is through apparent death, and that by clinging to what we already have, we deny ourselves the riches that are to come. Have we reached a place where we are ready to die to our comfort and nostalgia – to bury that which once was so that we can reap that which God is bringing into being? What does it look like for the Church to die to itself, and to be raised again, clothed in Jesus Christ? Are we willing to let go of the dirty rags that we cling to in order to put on the fine linen of Christ’s wedding banquet? Can we embrace the self-death that leads to overflowing life in the Spirit?

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. … – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44