Tag Archives: fundamentalism

My Dad’s Last Sermon

I was recently gifted with the audio of my father’s last sermon. I got to hear my Dad’s voice for the first time in many years and his words are just as relevant now as they were then. In this sermon he shares the lessons he learned as a white urban minister. My father was a prophet, and his words, Knowing God, Facing Death, Phil Ochs, and a Kitten  shared with the urgency that comes from walking in the valley of the shadow of death, may be hard for us to hear. These are important words and in a very real way are some of the foundations of my upbringing. My father lived these words out and I try in my own way to live in the knowledge of God proclaimed in the person of Jesus.

If there is anyone out there who can help me clean up the hiss from the tape, I would love some help.

 

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The Living Word

Was inspired from the following notes:

Today I want to talk about the word of God, the divine logos that teaches us how to live the most excellent way. There are a lot of messages about what the good life looks like, and they even refer to the Bible to back up their claims. Creflo Dollar taught that God wanted him to have a private jet and quoted chapter and verse to justify it. Televangelists taught that God wanted you rich, fat, and happy and that if you gave them your money God would bless you with money. The church in America taught that it was just fine to enslave other human beings for personal profit using passages from scripture to back up their position. We now look at those things as abhorrent, and rightly so. The misuse of scripture has definitely caused many hurts, trials, and ills in the world. I myself must say that I misused scripture to self-justify bad behavior a few times. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one in this room to have done that, and when I lose sight of the important truth in today’s scripture I will again. What I forget sometimes is that the Divine Word existed before the first human writers chiseled pictograms into rock.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:1-18

  • The Word of God is not separate from God. The Word is God himself.
  • Through the Word creation happens. The Word is the source of life.
  • The Word is light and there is no darkness to be found in it. Darkness has no chance.
  • Clearing up confusion between the messenger and the message.
  • The world’s priority structure is based on darkness, so cannot recognize the light.
  • Even God’s people did not accept the light of God.
  • Those who did come to accept him became God’s children, superseding all previous arrangements.
  • The Word became flesh. God accepted all of the limitations of humanity in order to demonstrate the truth and show the way of grace.
  • Without the Living Word we cannot rightly understand the written Word. Our interpretation must come through Jesus.
  • God’s agenda is grace and restoration, not judgment and destruction. Grace and grace – unmerited favor.
  • Law of Moses is interpreted into God’s heart for humanity in Jesus.
  • To know God we must look to Jesus. To understand the scripture we have to look at Jesus.
  • We, like John the Baptist, are called to point our lives to Jesus, and as we enter into open worship let us focus on the example our savior set for us and ask that God help each of us to seek the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the teaching that flows from Jesus, and the heart of the Father who loves us.

 

Friendly Persuasion

(Click here to listen.)

As we look over this week’s and the next few weeks’ texts, I want us to keep in mind that Peter is writing to some people that are experiencing some very scary things. Fear was the main tool that the Roman Empire used to keep its subject peoples in line, and they were brutally effective at instilling fear in conquered territories. Fear was a part of daily life in the Roman Empire, and fear is still used by entities in our time to control others for power and profit. The sad thing is that fear mongering is effective. We see people from all walks of life driven by fear of others who are different from them, or who live by different principles, or who they think might want what they have. This fear creeps its way into my life, and I am sure yours as well, until suddenly God opens my eyes to the fact that I have been operating from fear. When I began the recording process for Friends ministers there was a fear that I hadn’t recognized until someone said that they thought I should go to seminary before I was recorded. I kind of lashed out a bit because I was afraid of those snobby educated types. I was afraid that my lack of education would make me look foolish and that I would be looked down on. These were fears based on the experience of watching others with access to education look down on the folks from my neighborhood. These fears of our neighbors are used to manipulate us and to generate conflict that draws our attention away from what is important. It almost drew me away from God’s call on my life to be a pastor. Into our fearful society Peter’s words speak with surprising relevance:

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[or what they fear]; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV)

Peter starts out with what might first be considered a rhetorical question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” Well, the Wednesday night bible study came up with a fairly depressing list of all sorts of people that could fit into that category. Needless to say what all of the categories had in common was that there are some people who stand to gain in one way or another from others who are not eager to do what is good. Kathy pointed out last week that some of those who benefit from our accepting a broken role in our families will lash out at us when we reject a bad relationship and enforce boundaries that are healthy and good. Peter doesn’t gloss over the brokenness of the world or of the various institutional and personal relationships we have to navigate.  I would say that every culture, nation or relationship has some form of brokenness built into it, so when we go about our daily lives maybe we can keep our eyes open for the opportunities to repair things. The good work of repairing what is broken exposes us to the jagged edges of raw emotion and occasionally we will get hurt by those edges, occasionally we will suffer for our repair efforts. Peter reminds us to not let our fear of pain, rejection, and loss stop us from doing the good work we have been given. The work of healing broken relationships is worth a little pain and suffering, isn’t it? Especially when we get the blessing of seeing a broken relationship with God healed.

This section of the letter is about witness, and Peter’s instruction is even more relevant to us than those to whom he wrote. Christianity has a bit of a PR problem. There are people who claim to follow Jesus as their Lord that picket funerals and attack people who are hurting rather than extending healing hands. There are people who claim the name of Jesus that do not act lovingly at all times, and to my great sadness I have to admit to being one of them. God has chosen to reveal himself through broken people like me who still have large imperfections and flaws that in their clumsy attempts to bring healing instead cause harm. When I was in my discernment process for coming here and was feeling unsure about the call, one of the elders of my church asked me what I was afraid of. I thought about it for a minute and said that I was afraid that my mouth would move ahead of my brain and I would hurt someone and not realize it until it was too late. My elder looked over at me with a chuckle and said “Don’t worry about that Gil. I guarantee you that it will happen, the only question you need to keep asking yourself is will you keep yourself ready to do what you must to make things right.” Following Jesus and revering him as Lord means paying attention to the fact that some of the brokenness I have to work on is in me, that some of the broken relationships I am called to repair were broken by me.

This is what I think Peter is referring to when he speaks about being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have with gentleness and respect: we must acknowledge our brokenness in order for others to ask us why on earth we would have any hope, and we must be sympathetic to the brokenness in others, not passing judgment, but carrying the fragile light of hope into someone’s personal darkness. We as the church and me personally have gotten this dead wrong all too often, and I can only speak to my own condition here, but I mostly get it wrong when I allow fear to set my agenda. It is a natural thing for us to be afraid of what is different from us. We have had thousands of years to set up mental structures that tell us who to be near and who to avoid, and the people who are most like us fall into the category of people to be around. Unfortunately for this tribal imperative Jesus teaches that the people who God loves tends to not fit into those neat categories. Keeping a clear conscience in God’s sight then leads us to look beyond the surface impressions and false identities and see the beloved child of God in each face we encounter no matter how unlike us that face appears to be. Jesus taught about this in a parable:

25Just then a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures tried to trap Jesus.

Scholar: Teacher, what must I do to experience the eternal life?

Jesus (answering with a question)26What is written in the Hebrew Scriptures? How do you interpret their answer to your question?

Scholar: 27You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”* —and “love your neighbor as yourself.”*

Jesus: 28Perfect. Your answer is correct. Follow these commands and you will live. 29The scholar was frustrated by this response because he was hoping to make himself appear smarter than Jesus.

Scholar: Ah, but who is my neighbor?

Jesus: 30This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. 31By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. 32Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. 33Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. 34The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night. 35The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages* to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” 36Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?

Scholar: 37The one who showed mercy to him.

Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan. (Luke 11:25-37 The Voice)

The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable proved himself to be a friend to the victim of the robbers, and Jesus tells this scholar, a Jew raised to despise the Samaritans as half-breeds who taught all kinds of wrong things about God, to emulate the Samaritan in this story. If we would persuade the world around us of the truth of the hope we bear, we also must behave like the Samaritan. The Samaritan didn’t check to see what faith the wounded man was, what class, race or anything else. The Samaritan simply saw someone who was wounded and dying.

Our culture is mired in a culture war that is creating scores of wounded and dying and I wonder if God may not be calling us to lay down any arms and jagged edges that we may be carrying and minister to the wounded rather than fight. As a pastor I have felt pressured to take sides in the culture wars and I will say this: my job is to minister to the wounded not to create more wounds. I will fail at this, but by the grace and mercy of God I will try my hardest to bind up every wound that God brings before me no matter what. It cannot matter to me whether someone agrees or disagrees with what I believe the only thing that can matter is that there is a beloved child of God in front of me that has been wounded and may be in danger of dying. That must be my top priority, not making sure everyone is saying the right words or doing the right things, but that the sick, wounded and dying are being healed, that by my friendship, compassion, and care I might witness to the hope that comes from knowing Jesus as my king. If we are to imitate Jesus we must remember that it was by his wounds that we could be healed and be ready to stand in the gap for others so they might be healed. There will be a price for being conscientious objectors in the culture wars but if we truly befriend the wounded and become as a body a “hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” the good of planting those seeds of God’s kingdom is, and will be, worth the cost. As we enter into open worship let us listen for the direction of the Holy Spirit, giving him the space to speak to each of our souls. Let us ask that God open our eyes to how we can be Jesus’ hands and feet, binding up the wounds of the fallen and persuading people by our friendship that they not only have a good friend in us, but the best possible friend in Jesus.

Pacifist-Aggressive

I have been wanting to write something about this topic for a while, and have needed some time to collect my thoughts and to do some serious self-examination. I have been part of the Mennonites, Brethren, and the Friends and must agree that we do violence in the ways we use our testimonies as litmus tests or proofs to kill conversation and/or kill challenges to how we are living out our testimonies. The conflict avoidance of the “Peace churches” can feel extremely passive aggressive when you actually want to figure out how to handle not living up to testimonies. Recently, Wess Daniels posted on his blog an article titled When Peace Preserves Violence and spoke of the ways we abstract ourselves from violence that arises (knowingly and unknowingly) from the choices we make. He then advocates a need to stop talking about peace and actually make our communities into places in which peace can be found. I have to say that I both agree and disagree with Wess’ conclusions in that I do think we need to actually live into our testimony to peace rather than merely paying it lip service or using it against others. Where I disagree with Wess is in stopping talk about the peace testimony. It feels really weird to talk about killing the peace testimony. (My interpretation of Wess’ words advocating letting the peace testimony die.) I think that we have, for the most part, already stopped talking about the peace testimony in the Evangelical Friends unless we are around like-minded Friends and are griping about those naive hippies who hold it over our heads like some kind of litmus test or about those fundamentalist Friends in name only who want to dilute our witness. I have heard both of those statements from people in various places in reference to the peace testimony and it breaks my heart when we dishonor each others’ voices in that way. I wish that it was just the peace testimony we handled this way, but my experience is that we tend to handle almost every testimony as if it were a past achievement rather than our hope for the future.

While I don’t agree that we need to stop talking about our testimonies, we do need to change the way we talk about them. I would like to propose that we treat our testimonies as ideals rather than norms. Let me explain: An ideal is a goal that requires sacrifice and deep personal change over the course of a lifetime to live up to, while a norm prescribes specific behaviors in order to be considered part of the community. When we try to make the achievement of an ideal the norm we dishonor those who are striving towards the ideal, and we short circuit any conversation about how we don’t match up to the ideal. We allow for all sorts of nuance and diversity of opinion over the simplicity testimony because we see how difficult it is to live up to a simple lifestyle in a complex world. Why can’t we have that same grace in our discussions about other testimonies? Why can we not acknowledge how difficult it is to live up to the peace testimony in a violent world?

As I process this I need to ask the question “Are any of the things we call testimonies actually testimonies?” It seems like the language of testimony is not helpful since a testimony really is about something that we have accomplished or do accomplish. Maybe calling these things testimonies is an arrogant misrepresentation of the current state of affairs in the Friends that is leading us into legalism and rebellion. So I do agree that the way we are talking is unhelpful, but to stop the conversation seems equally counter-productive. Action is important, but we need to at least think about and discuss with others what direction our action needs to go in. To that end, maybe we need to revive the language of “advices”. Instead of the “x” testimony we would have advices towards peace, simplicity, integrity, community, and equality, this would inject a much needed humility into our discussions of issues. We could say things like “How are you struggling with the advices towards peace?” or “How has the Spirit led you in your response to the advices towards simplicity?” We could be open with the ways we struggle with living up to the measure of the light that has been given to us and not worry about whether someone else’s weakness matches up to our strengths and vice versa. What we need is a testimony of humility, one that says:

We openly admit to not living up to the ideals we strive towards, but are committed to walking beside each other as we struggle on. We hope to learn from our mistakes and missteps, but sometimes it takes us a while to recognize them. We are committed to  the people we disagree with, knowing that our own understanding of God and the divine will may never be wholly accurate and must be challenged in ways each of us would prefer not to be. Each of us has a skewed perspective and it is through relationship with people unlike ourselves that we can grow.

I desperately want the conversation to go on, since I still struggle. I still have two cars and live in a single family dwelling with about half the lights in the house on and an abundance of kitchen gadgets. I still yell at my kids when they get me really frustrated. I still hide certain opinions and feelings in order to be thought better of. I still don’t know most of my neighbors. And I still look down on people whose opinions seem “stupid” to me. In other words I don’t actually live up to ANY of our testimonies, but I really, desperately, want to. I think we can do a good enough job of beating ourselves up over our perceived failings that we don’t need to inflict that on others. Maybe our meetings can become healing places, not because we live up to the testimonies, but because we are committed to helping each other reach for ideals that feel unreachable alone. So lets not give up on ideals that we have striven towards for hundreds of years but instead figure out what the next step is towards them. We can’t take that next step if we “kill” discussion of a core piece of our identity. We can take that next step if we admit to how we have struggled in the past and try to learn from our mistakes and thus fail forward.

One Quaker’s Perspective on Modernism vs. Fundamentalism (part 2 of 4)

A little disclaimer before I start: This is not an academic paper, this is a bit more of my reflections on what I have experienced in Modernism and Fundamentalism.

I firmly believe that every human movement in history has its source in a negative reaction to specific, previous, human understandings. This certainly includes the two movements which seem to hold sway in the West, which also seem to be in a constant reactionary death spiral. Contributing to that spiral are three elements that arose from the Enlightenment that both Fundamentalism and Modernism use, albeit in different directions.

The first Enlightenment idea these movements have in common is reductionism. Both Modernism and Fundamentalism have used this in an attempt to both analyze every little piece and nuance of the culture and setting of the biblical text, and break the text into pieces small enough to categorize for use in proof-texting. The poison here is that there is no acknowledgement of the subjectivity of the person doing the studying. Every person brings a bias to their studies and this will always have an effect on the outcomes. It is thus highly important to find dissenting voices to challenge our bias, whichever direction it lays.

The second Enlightenment impulse that seems contradictory in application is that of questioning orthodoxy. Both Modernism and Fundamentalism question and set new boundaries on orthodoxy. In Modernism, there is no orthodoxy, doctrine, or text that is not questionable or improvable upon, while in Fundamentalism we see orthodoxy changed through the expansion of what cannot be questioned. The true aim of both is that of categorization. If you intellectually assent to a specific statement, then you are welcomed into fellowship with the specific group that came up with the statement, if not you are obviously part of “them”.  Modernists and Fundamentalists equally apply their doctrine or lack thereof as categorization tests to determine belonging. The more Quakers from various streams I encounter, the harder it is for me to say that a group is either Modernist or Fundamentalist. There is just too much internal diversity for those categories to have real meaning in any of our Yearly Meetings.

The third Enlightenment idea shared by Modernism and Fundamentalism is the idea that History is on a linear course in which cause and effect are obvious. The early Modernists felt that humanity was constantly improving and that God was at work making everything better and better. What ultimately called the Fundamentalists into existence was the disillusionment that World War I cast over the Modernist movement. This backlash led the Fundamentalists to the opposite extreme of the linear progression scale, giving us the idea that the world is degenerating and eventually led to the pre-millennial dispensationalist view that the world is going to keep getting worse until things get so bad that God will have to step in, destroy everything, and start over with the few faithful that remain. I can’t help but think both linear courses are misguided in the desire to impose a sense of direction on things that are beyond our control.

What is most troubling to me is the categorization and separation of people into smaller and more homogeneous groups.  We are segmented into target demographics that are then used to sell us products, services, politics and religions. We are encouraged to identify ourselves then by categories that are externally applied as ways to define ourselves and others. Instead of listening for the voice of others, snap judgments get made and we pigeonhole people into categories that we can then dismiss from our minds. I find this behavior to not only be lazy, but deeply unloving as well. As Quakers, I think we can do better than to let external s get in the way of striving to see the divine light within others.

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One Quaker’s Perspective on Modernism vs. Fundamentalism (part 2 of 4) by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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One Quaker’s Perspective on Modernism vs. Fundamentalism (part 1 of 4)

My next few blog posts are going to be about a discussion point that I am seeing in Evangelical Quaker circles. I have to admit that hearing Friends discuss fundamentalism vs. modernism makes me a bit uneasy. While part of this is my own desire to not be categorized, I feel as though we are being forced into molds that don’t necessarily reflect our core values and understandings.

My sense is that none of us truly fit these categories, but we don’t necessarily have language to talk about what specifically we struggle with. I hope that over the next month I am able to help articulate more than just my own struggle and would love to get feedback on whether any of the spaghetti I am about to throw on the wall is sticking.

There are three specific areas I feel the need to explore as I wrestle:

  • Next week I will look at how fundamentalism and modernism are both rooted in the same basic assumptions of “Enlightenment Thought”.
  • In two weeks I will look at how both modernism and fundamentalism have changed from their origins and how those changes impact current Friends.
  • In three weeks I will attempt to refute the idea that these two categories are the only existing choices for Friends. (Which seems to be the point of the discussions I am hearing.)

Hopefully I can serve all of us as we try to live up to the measure of light with which we have been entrusted.

Creative Commons License
One Quaker’s Perspective on Modernism vs. Fundamentalism (part 1 of 4) by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at wp.me.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com/.