Monday, January 16, 2006

True Evangelism Grounded in True Faith

Evangelism is a word that makes many unprogrammed Friends cringe. I find it a touchy subject within my own heart, but perhaps only because I often do not feel clear about true purpose and meaning behind the mainstream evangelism commonly found in today's society. Evangelism is often defined as the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ. I can almost see Friends cringing now.

If the news is Good, why is it then, Friends, that so many of us cringe? Through today's society, many of us have associated evangelism with threats, or guilt trips - "If you don't accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will suffer unimaginably in Hell for all eternity!". Others may associate it with tricks to lure people into churches where numbers mean more than one's true spirit; such dishonesty and lack of support is damaging, and not at all what most would call "good news". All of these societal factors make me cringe, too.

Recently, though, I find myself coming at the idea of evangelism from an entirely new direction. When we truly follow with our whole lives and our whole selves the leadings of the Spirit, through any hardship, over every mountain, we are then finally spiritually alive. In having such an experience one is grounded in faith and in God, with such an awesome and incredible trust and steadiness. In living in this Center, this Power, one joins in a divine Fellowship (to borrow the terms from Thomas Kelly) with others who have reached down deeply and found such spiritual trust. In a previous post I mentioned John Woolman as an example of such a life. This proposition is one I would not have understood before beginning to experience it myself (I do not claim perfection, only the beginning of serious striving). People encounter such an experience in different ways; there are many who find this experience through Jesus Christ. In having such an experience, no matter how one came upon it, it seems only natural that one would not just outwardly want, but would feel an inwardly deep desire and need to share the true experience of faith in God, with everyone.

This deep need to spread the experience of full faith and trust in God, the Good News, arising from a deep and full trust in the Spirit, this is what I'm beginning to see as a true call to evangelism. Here, spreading the Good News is not about keeping track of how many souls are "saved" or about which church can have the largest congregation, nor is it about threatening people into believing a particular theology out of fear rather than love and trust. For through such a transforming experience, through loving God so deeply to have such faith, we come to love deeply all the world. Evangelism is about having such a deep love for others that it pains us to see them living so blindly without the deep and transforming experience of the Light, of God, or, for those who find such an experience through him, of Jesus Christ. Out of love, we want to spread the Good News, and only out of such profound love and a deep trust in God arises true evangelism.

But what is the content and aim of this yearning Love which is the Divine Love loving its way into and through us to others? It is that they too may make the great discovery, that they also may find God, or, better, be found by Him, that they may know the Eternal breaking in upon them and making their lives moving images of the Eternal Life. ... Wherever any heart has tasted of the heavenly Love, ... there is the shepherd heart yearning over sheep not having a shepherd, not knowing where are the green pastures, not even aware that there are green pastures to find.

(A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly, p. 76)

In such simple and eloquent words, Thomas speaks to the condition of all who live in the Life and Power, the Divine Love. It is not about fire and brimestone raining upon all lost and sinning souls, it is not about who has the correct theology and how many people can we get to believe in it. I find beliefs in this theology or that to be wholly subjective; to me, the Life and Power is not simply a belief, it is an experience, it is real, and it goes much deeper than who is right and who is wrong. I think this is what I was trying to articulate in my previous posting about just what the Important Question is.

In unbounded eagerness we seek for more such fellowship, and wonder at the apparent lethargy of mere "members." In the Fellowship cultural and educational and national and racial differences are leveled. Unlettered men are at ease with the truly humble scholar who lives in the Life, and the scholar listens with joy and openness to the precious experiences of God's dealing with the workingman. We find men with chilly theologies but with glowing hearts. We overleap the boundaries of church membership and find Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Jews and Christians, within the Fellowship. We re-read the poets and the saints, and the Fellowship is enlarged. With urgent hunger we read the Scriptures, with no thought of pious exercise, but in order to find more friends for the soul. We brush past our historical learning in the Scriptures, to seize upon those writers who lived in the Center, in the Life and in the Power. ... And we wonder and grieve at the overwhelmingly heady preoccupation of religious people with problems, problems, unless they have first come into the Fellowship of the Light.

(Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, p. 55-56).

I quote Thomas Kelly, a soul who by the end of his life was truly living in the Life and Power of which he speaks, because I fumble with words attempting to express an experience that is truly wordless, and Thomas often expresses that which I also find to be true in my heart, in my Center.

It is through this Center, this groundedness in the Inward Guide that we can begin to recreate the Society of Friends and the Christian church and shake the countryside for ten miles around (Holy Obedience, Thomas Kelly). The fellowship .. is founded upon a common Object, who is known by them all to be the very Life within them. This is the Reality which removes Quakerism from pure individualism and from pure subjectivism, as it is so commonly and so mistakenly interpreted (p. 76, A Testament, Thomas Kelly, again).

It is through this Center that we can be called to evangelize, in the true sense of the word, beginning with our own Religious Society of Friends in the form of ministry. Come to think of it, is ministry not a form of evangelizing? True ministry does not come from our minds, but from the depths of our hearts, from the Spirit. By speaking the words of the Spirit from the place of the Life and Power, are we not ultimately calling others to join us this very place? Oh no, we've been evanglizing all along! Perhaps now we see that it's not something to make us cringe, but something with which we find deep love and inspiration, through which we begin to live in this Life and Power as part of the glorious corporate experience of the Divine Fellowship.

Though I began my spiritual journey years ago, I have only just begun to discover what truly living in the Center can mean - and I have begun trembling slightly in writing this post. I have begun to find myself caught in a place where I want to communicate and share the deep groundedness and faith and the seedling of deep Love within me to all those around me, but do not know how to go about doing it without profound (and perhaps damaging) awkwardness. It is a subject not to be thrown around lightly. I myself am just beginning to grow in this Center, and feel a bit scattered as I try to discern what reordering my life with the Spirit located in the Center, at the top of the priority list, entails for me.

I know there are Friends who have discovered this true experience. The Seedlings are there and are planted with deep roots. It is way past time that we share the Love, the Good News, even and especially within our own faith community.

Love and Light,

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Faith Enough to Be Outrageous

Friends, I have found that I have a concern about the life and energy of our meetings for worship, and the life and energy of all members of our monthly meetings. Many a First Day these last few months I have come away feeling distraught, concerned for the inner understanding of the meeting, concerned for spiritual accountability. A couple months ago I posted a query that arose from this same concern: Do we strive for authenticity in our faithfulness as individual Friends and as a community?

My conception of faithfulness has grown much deeper since I first posted this query, though I do not discredit my then meaning. Then, I was querying about being faithful to the Inner Guide in terms of decision-making in our daily lives, and as meeting communities. Today I re-post the query with more than just decision making in mind; today I query in terms of Holy Obedience.

Thomas Kelly, in his lecture entitled Holy Obedience, (also found in his book, A Testament of Devotion) reflects the concern I have today:

Many of us [Friends] have become as mildly and as conventionally religious as were the church folk of three centuries ago, against whose mildness and mediocrity and passionlessness George Fox and his followers flung themselves with all the passion of a glorious and a new discovery and with all the energy of dedicated lives. In some, says William James, religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever. Religion as a dull habit is not that for which Christ lived and died.

The earliest Friends had such fiery passion. They did many outrageous things to spread the Quaker message; they would even interrupt sermons of other congregations, hoping to point them toward Truth. A few Friends even felt led to "go naked as a sign" - appearing unclothed in public. I'm not calling for Friends today to interrupt other congregations or practice spiritual nudity, I'm calling for a return to the same fiery passion that led these early Friends to have faith enough to be outrageous, if so called. This fiery passion was from a deep dedication to God, from a deep holy obedience to the stirrings of the Inward Guide. These Friends turned their entire lives over to the great cause of the Spirit. Again to quote Thomas Kelly, Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life (A Testament to Devotion, pg 1). Friends, I must ask, how many of us by this standard are truly living?

John Woolman is another example of an early Friend with such inward dedication. He didn't go preaching in other people's churches, but he was deeply faithful to the Inward Teacher, reorienting his life about God such that he needed not to contradict in his daily life his leadings, his inner conscience, his dedication to the Holy Spirit. His life is a powerful testimony to what true faithfulness brings.

Also in his Holy Obedience lecture, Thomas challenges Friends to re-kindle the embers of faith:

Little groups of such utterly dedicated souls, knowing one another in Divine Fellowship, must take an irrevocable vow to live in this world yet not of this world, Franciscans of the Third Order, and if it be His will, kindle again the embers of faith in the midst of a secular world. Our meetings were meant to be such groups, but now too many of them are dulled and cooled and flooded by the secular. But within our meetings such inner bands of men and women, internally set apart, living by a vow of perpetual obedience to the Inner Voice, in the world yet not of the world, ready to go the second half, obedient as a shadow, sensitive as a shadow, selfless as a shadow—such bands of humble prophets can recreate the Society of Friends and the Christian church and shake the countryside for ten miles around.

Friends, this is no easy challenge, but we were not put on earth to have easy lives. I too am struggling with this, always trying to discern where it is and how the Spirit calls me to be. Reorienting one's life about the Spirit could have heavy implications for some, a change in vocation or location. For others it may be mostly inward, having been faithful enough to end up already where they need to be. Where we each need to be in our lives, and where we need to be as a whole community, is wholly dependent upon our leadings from the Inward Guide, the [Holy] Spirit, God.

I challenge us (myself included), to live with such faithfulness.

Love and Light,

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Blog Changes

I've recently made a few changes to my blog. The most obvious difference in my blog is the backround (or Template) - it's now all white!

I decided that I needed a change, in part to go along with my ever-changing experiences. Whether or not this change makes a difference to others, it is significant to me and my current blogging experience. It's somewhat difficult to explain why; sometimes I just need a change.

Also new: I added an extensive list (with links) of the Quaker or Quaker-related books I've read, am currently reading, have started reading (but am not currently reading), will soon read (will soon have, or already have but have not yet read), and hope to obtain in order to read (my wishlist). I came up with it mostly from memory, so after returning to my room I may add a few more that I forgot. Since it's such a long list (and will only grow), I may condense it to a post and leave a link to that post, but for now it's on the sidebar.

If anyone has comments or suggestions about the changes (or about my reading list), please, feel free.

Love and Light,

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

More on Asking the Important Question

In re-reading The Quakers in America (Thomas Hamm), I came across a passage (page 15) that I remember had struck me the first time I read it almost a year ago:

What is clear is that Fox and other Quakers agreed that all people had within them a certain measure o fthe Light of Christ. If they heeded it, that Inward Light would show them their sinful conditions and their need for Christ, and would lead them to salvation. But if they ignored it or failed to heed tis admonitions, they would be lost and ultimately damned. This experience was not limited to those in Christian lands. Pagans who had no knowledge of the historical Jesus could still experience the Inward Light of Christ, and, if obedient to it, could be saved without ever having heard Christian preaching or knowing the Bible.
(emphasis mine)

I don't intend for this to come down to an argument about universalism, as that would address a different and less important question about details and theology.

Earlier in the chapter, Hamm comments on the striving of the earliest Friends (page 13) :

These were men and women suffering from inner torment, trying to work out for themselves, and seeking others who could help them answer, what seemed to be the most important question that anyone could ever confront: How do I know the will of God for my life?

I find that the question is not just "how do I know the will of God?", but "what is the will of God?" and "how do I follow the will of God in my life?" The first passage I quoted above is stating that this is a struggle reserved not only for Good Christians, but for all of humanity. I am not trying to discredit Christianity in particular or any one religion in general - again, that would be addressing the wrong question. There are certainly valid, Spirit-led fruits to be found in the diverse theological standpoints of the world, including Christianity.

(From page 16) Fox's argument was that the same Spirit that had inspired the writers of the Bible was still available to humans, and that past written work of that Spirit, while it should be valued, should not be placed above the Spirit itself.

The Spirit manifests itself in the well-known ministry of many contemporary and historical figures, and so I find studying such ministry (such as found in the Bible) of great importance. However, to come back to focusing on the Important Question, it is vital to keep in mind the proper direction of our seeking, and not to be led astray by replacing the inward and coorporate seeking of Truth with the ministry of others, past or present. For past written work of that Spirit, while it should be valued, should not be placed above the Spirit itself.

I feel that this goes for theology, as well. Theology, while some of it may be the work of the Spirit, should not be placed above the Spirit itself. Since theology is how we describe the ways of the Spirit, this may seem a difficult thing around which to wrap one's mind. Our ideas about the ways of the Spirit should not be placed above the Spirit itself, whether or not these ideas are the work of the Spirit. This is a strong example of the apophatic nature of Quaker spirituality; even our ideas about the nature of God must be let go in order to truly know God. It is easy to get caught up in these details and to forget to continue listening to the Inward Guide; it is easy to get caught up looking for the answer without asking the Important Question about the will of God in our lives.

I would like to encourage Friends of all sorts, whether struggling with theology or theological differences (especially pertaining to faith language, as that is an ongoing struggle in many corners of the Society), to explore whether anything is being placed above the Spirit itself in these struggles. In these struggles, are we really asking the right question in seeking to find the answer?

Edited to add:
You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the Apostles say this'; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light, and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?
-George Fox, 1652

Love and Light,

Sunday, January 08, 2006

What Question Leads Me to the True Fires of the Spirit?

The times I feel most lost are the times when I'm asking the wrong questions.

So many get caught up in the details, the language, this set of beliefs or that - it's an easy trap to fall into. But what are these details but worldly, outward things to be caught up in? What question is being asked that leads to disputes over such things? If we are so concerned about what detail is correct or which words should or should not be used, or even who is right and who is wrong, are we really asking the right question? Instead of being caught up in these outward details, why don't we get caught up in the true Spirit?

How am I called to live?

Living the deeper question transcends the details, including the words I used to feebily communicate a deeper, wordless seeking in my heart.

I find that when I am most grounded, most centered, my life is not at all about the details. In fact details arising from questions as important as "do I consider myself Christian?", or "how do I feel about the war?" become irrelevant when I am closest to the Spirit. My faith experience is not about figuring out or defending these details, the exact answer to these questions. My faith is about listening to the Spirit, discerning and following my deepest leadings as well as I am able at every moment. It is the question behind all, it is the seeking that gives rise to all the answers to any relevent question that needs to be answered.

How am I called to live?

From a William Penn lecture delivered by Thomas Kelley, Holy Obedience:

The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness. Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, its love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child. It is the life and power in which the prophets and apostles lived. It is the life and power of Jesus of Nazareth, who knew that "when thine eye is single thy whole body is full of light" (Luke 11:34). It is the life and power of the apostle Paul, who resolved not to know anything among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is the life and power of Saint Francis, that little poor man of God who came nearer to reliving the life of Jesus than has any other man on earth. It is the life and power and utter obedience of John Woolman who decided, he says, "to place my whole trust in God," to "act on an innter Principle of Virture, and pursue worldly business no farther than as Truth opened my way therein." It is the life and power of myriads of unknown saints through the ages. It is the life and power of some people now in this room who smile knowingly as I speak. And it is the life and power that can break forth in this tottering Western culture and return the Church to its rightful life as a fellowship of creative, heaven-led souls.

Penn, of course, came from a Christocentric perspective, giving examples from the Christian tradition, but the meaning goes beyond those words. The life that follows the deepest callings of the Spirit has a "simplicity of a trusting child". It is not about who is right and who is wrong, for to concern one's life over such a matter is to live beside the point, lost in the wrong questions.

I mean not to discredit current inward and outward struggles. If a detail strikes me in a way that makes me bristle or uncomfortable, I try to examine what it is that makes me react to it so - often it is my outward self, distracted. I instead try to truly listen to the message
behind the detail. Healthy dialogue is important, so long as we don't lose sight of the real Purpose.

When I feel lost, I need to instead ask what question leads me to a deeper Reality, what question leads me to the true fires of the Spirit?

Love and Light,

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