A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thou Art Salty

I wrote this in response to a post by QuakerK on "How We Imagine God." I've been wanting to post something like this, anyway, so...

I think of God as the ocean, ourselves as the waves. This is an Eastern analogy, but has correlates in Christianity. We are in God and God is in us. It brings to life Jesus' prayer in John that we understand our oneness with him, God and one another. (Why don't I ever hear the radio preachers talking about that?)

It also deals with a problem we sometimes have with a notion that "thou art that." We don't want to say that "I am God" because that sounds megalomaniacal. But the real intent of "thou art that" is that thou art the wave -- not the whole ocean, but arising from it (or created by it, if you will) and wholly inseparable from it. The ego or "self-will" is nothing more than the mistaken notion that we are stand-alone entities, the real "doers" existing independently of the divine whole.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Keep It Simple, Seeker

I don't mean to slight "spiritual disciplines" here such as fasting, prayer, study, and doing good works. But this post is about some really simple stuff that's easy to forget. These suggestions are not meant to replace anything else, merely to supplement and even provide a foundation, perhaps. When your theology fails, when your are in a spiritually dry period, when no words satisfy, here are some things you can do anyway:

1. Good posture. I have it on good authority how important this is. Charlie Brown said if you want a good depression, you have to slump over. Can't stay depressed if you stand up straight, he said. Whenever I see Friends in meeting for worship slumped over, I invariably also see a furrowed brow. Its sort of like crimping a hose: the water can't flow freely -- same for our spirits. If you're feeling down, try straightening up and see what happens.

2. Diet. Food is drugs. Take good drugs. Lighten up on the sugar and eat a lot of veges, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts & seeds.

3. Move. Sitting still is fine, but we gotta move as well.

4. Nature. We were created in a garden, remember? Wm. Penn said somewhere that when we are in the city, we see what man has made, in nature, what God has made.

These are things that are often presented under the guise of "health," and that's true enough. However, they also help nourish our spiritual well being.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Check in

Its been awhile since I posted. I do this more when I'm really seized by something...sort of like those who say of vocal ministry in meeting for worship that their "test" is they speak if they just can't hold it in.

But as its been so long, I almost feel compelled to blog just to keep the cobwebs away.

Had a most disturbing medical emergency a few weeks ago in the family. The patient has recovered, but not sure I have. Things seem different: although not bad necessarily, I'm still looking over my shoulder, figuratively speaking. Its sort of like after I got rear-ended last year - I wasn't hurt, but shaken -- "you mean that can really happen?"

And how minor those events are to all the tragedy of the world. In searching for meaning, God's purpose if I may, I find myself feeling much closer to friends and family, more aware of my own fragility and mortality, keener on how much I take for granted. How much more I depend on others than I really knew.

And then Tom Fox died. Very sad. Many more people have written eloquently about him, and I won't attempt to go there right now. I feel just a little sadder about that then when I hear of someone more anonymous to me in Iraq or elsewhere dying a needless, violent death. Probably more than a little, although I didn't know him. I'm asking why...because he looks more like me and was a Quaker?

We started our Bible study last night at our house, using the Friendly Bible Study method. It went great. We had people from all sorts of backgrounds: Quaker, Baptist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Unitarian et al. We started with Matthew, 1:1-17, Jesus's Genealogy. Some of us were incredulous that we'd get much out of that (the study method provides for responses to 5 queries from each participant). What ensued was an amazing discussion of family ties, the importance of context, patriarchy, Biblical history, chromosomes, elitism, faith, and doubt. One participant who grew up in a small town in south Arkansas talked about the power of these verses for him: at home everyone knew he was _____'s and ______'s boy, and knew the lineage for each of them. I grew up in southern California, with my parent's relatives far away. Rarely saw my grandparents. Not the same at all.

We were asked to relate any problems we had with the verses. For me it was the need to emphasize Jesus's authority or authenticity by tying him back to Abraham. Someone said Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience so this makes sense. "He's one of us" and part of the tradition. Therefore, give him creedence.

I was pleased to learn Edward R. Murrow came from a Quaker family, an affirmation of "Quaker goodness?" And therefore an affirmation somehow that I'm at least in the right company, and even dare I think it, of my own "goodness?" Is that why Tom Fox's death is a little more poignant?

A lot of this is natural enough and perhaps not to be rejected out of hand. I grieved tremendously for the sudden illness of a close family member, but feel only mildy melancholic for the deaths of faceless children in the news. I'm not going to feel too guilty about that, although I do take note of it. But there is a sinister side to it as well. Isn't it just out of this sort of thinking that we devalue the other, the one not like us? The Friend from South Arkansas, who felt the power of those verses, also alluded to this.

I don't really mean to moralize here, to myself or others. The lesson for me is not that I or thee deserve reproach. Our ability to see all this is of the light. In the seeing is the healing and a torch to light the way to something better. Another few cracks in my shell, a way beyond my self-concern, a way to friends and relations and the knowledge that we are one.

'What can I do?' - SiCKO