Sunday, July 08, 2007

Casting Out Demons

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”
-Ephesians 1:17-19 (NRSV)

This morning, I attended Friends Meeting of Washington, and felt very blessed to be among that congregation. There were three messages this morning. The first came from a younger Friend, who spoke of an old friend who recently committed suicide. He described how his friend, by all appearances, had everything going for him in life. He also described how, having learned of his friend’s suicide, it colored his weekend with hues of beauty – in everything, he remembered his friend and was struck by how precious life is.

The second message of the morning came through me. When I had sat down for meeting for worship, I opened my Bible to the book of Ephesians and read the first chapter. This reading spoke very powerfully to my heart, but I was by no means led to give a message – and certainly not just a few minutes into worship! However, after the first Friend gave his message, my mind was forcefully drawn back to that reading. I picked up my Bible, which was lying next to me, and turned back to the passage, and I began to feel led to speak. I soon rose and read from Ephesians 1:17-19.

The last message, delivered after mine, was about the importance of wrestling with the problems that others have that are not under their control, such as mental illness. He spoke of how Jesus calls us to seek out “that of God” in all people and not be limited by our fear of the mentally ill. I did not immediately understand the connection between his message and my own. After weighing his ministry for a very long time, however, I got the sense that our messages expressed Truth from two different perspectives.

The thrust, I felt, of my message was that we are called into hope and glory by Jesus Christ, and that in trusting in Christ and seeking Christ’s Way, we are led into the inheritance of hope, power, glory, and love, that takes away the occasion for suicide. In my experience, suicide is often the response to a radical sense of meaninglessness. My message this morning was about how Christ calls us to be the recipients and servants of immeasurable greatness and power. If we dare to trust in the Spirit of the living God, to be broken open and penetrated, to live in that intimate, soul-forging relationship with God, we can discover the immeasurable greatness and purpose that we are inheritors of, in Christ.

I felt like the Friend who rose after me was speaking to the systemic nature of sin and slavery to self. It seemed to me that a big part of his story – about his loving response to a woman from his meeting, who was mentally ill and standing in front of his workplace shouting obscenities – was about our duty as Friends to extend our hands in an attempt to show others a way out of their misery.

I see that, in this sense, we are called by our Lord to cast out demons. There are forces of evil that have overcome our fellow beings, and we are empowered in Christ to exorcize these demons, to create a space where our brothers and sisters can step out of their enslavement to sin and begin to see glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven. We, children of the promise, we, children of the Light of the Day Star, are empowered by that Life and Power that we have encountered in our hearts and in the Body of Christ to shine light into darkness.

For we are all called into completeness in the Life of Christ, but we cannot make it alone. Perhaps there really is no salvation apart from the Church. Salvation as a lone individual is, perhaps, a flawed idea, out of touch with our dependence upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to know this hope together. We are inheritors of the promise God made to Abraham, not as individuals, but as a people.

So, I see that the two messages that followed the first fit together as one piece. The young man who committed suicide is a reminder, on the one hand, of the depths of despair that are possible when we cut ourselves off from the love and grace of God. On the other hand, it is a reminder to us, the Church, of our responsibility to be a light shining in the darkness, illuminating the Way out of death and despair. Are we living up to our calling as members of the Body of Christ to be living reflections of the glory of our Lord? To extend ourselves to those who wallow in despair and meaninglessness? To witness to the Life and Power of God, not only in words, not only in works, but in our very being?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Revival in Barnesville

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed
all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

This weekend, I had the honor of attending a weekend at the Young Friends of North America (YFNA) reunion, in Barnesville, Ohio, where several dozen Friends gathered to remember their experiences as young adult Friends as a part of the YFNA, as well as to look toward a future revitalization of the North American young Friends movement. This gathering, as of this writing, is still taking place, and will be continuing until the end of the week. I speak to my experience of what I took part in between Friday evening and early Sunday afternoon. During the weekend, there were two primary focuses that were programmed into the gathering: Celebration of the past YFNA movement, and a chance for current young adult Friends to meet together and discern the will of the Spirit for us as Quaker youth. It was in this context that the Risen Christ created space for the power of the Holy Spirit to be felt amongst us and to guide our gathering to dare to speak aloud our greatest hope and to be broken open to our tenderest wounds. In addition to the twin roles of this gathering as a place for YFNA nostalgia and discernment of way forward for North American young Friends, the Holy Spirit gave us two additional, complimentary charges this weekend: We were called into radical discipleship in the Way of Christ Jesus, and we were moved to wrestle with how the Holy Spirit is leading us into integrity in our sexuality.

On Friday evening, during our first group session, there were in attendance mostly older YFNA “alumni” as well as a dozen or so current young adult Friends. After spending a full hour and a half on introductions, the evening was moseying along primarily as an opportunity for the older folks to indulge in a fair bit of nostalgia. However, about two hours into the meeting, an older Friend from Ireland stood up. This drew our attention immediately, as everyone previously had been speaking from their seats. This Friend, thanks be to God, called us out of a secular trip down memory lane and heralded the arrival of the Holy Spirit in our midst. His message seemed really out of place in the flow of the previous conversation that Friends had been engaged in – which, in that context, seemed like a good sign that his ministry was indeed from God. Friend spoke about the growing tide of darkness in our world and our need to stand up and take seriously the implications of following Jesus, though it be unto imprisonment or death. This message, accompanied by a covering by the Holy Spirit, led the group into a half an hour of open worship, out of which more ministry was given.

On Saturday morning, we broke into small groups, and most of us used that small group time to share about our own experience as being (or having once been) both young Friends and sexual beings. How does God call us to live our sexuality? What romantic and sexual practice leads to more abundant life and which ways of living lead to death? Many Friends felt that they and others had not received the guidance, support, care, and discipline that they needed from their community, which led to much suffering in many cases. While we certainly did not come to unity on any particular vision for Quaker sexuality, there was general feeling that the serious consideration of a “Christian sexual ethics for the 21st century” would be a positive step forward in strengthening our community.

By the end of the weekend, one Friend felt strongly enough about the past mistakes of her own young Friends community that she felt led to write a minute apologizing for the hurt that the unfaithful sexuality of some Friends caused in her generation. While the larger group was not in unity to approve the minute as a corporate statement, the fact that such a document was written by an individual and presented to the group is an indication of the seriousness with which Friends are taking the question of sexual ethics. I was very pleased to see this kind of serious engagement of sexuality on the part of Friends in Barnesville this weekend. If all Friends were opening themselves up to the admonishing and healing power of the Light as Friends were this weekend in Barnesville, our religious society would be far closer to living the kingdom-life in our romantic relationships.

I must admit that the aspect of this gathering that most surprised me was the amount of Christian language that I heard from so many Friends, accompanied by a deep Quaker understanding of the centrality of the Risen Christ in our midst. At the risk of unfairly maligning some of my brothers and sisters: I did not expect this from liberal-unprogrammed Friends. I know that a small gathering cannot speak for an entire branch of Quakerism, but I must say that the liberal-unprogrammed branch does indeed have its fair share of grounded, weighty – and Christian – Friends! I do think, however, that the Spirit had to make some moves, so to speak, before that reality was able to come to the surface. Two Friends in particular, as I recall, were instrumental in creating a safe space for overtly Christian language – and, in that space, a fellowship blossomed that felt far closer to the radical, Spirit-led Christianity of early Friends than I ever expected to find. I give praise to God for that.

I also praise God for the opportunity that I was given this weekend to experience more deeply the reality that I am not a lone individual, nor even a member solely of my own generation. I am an extension of my parents, and they are an extension of me; my generation is an extension of past generations, and they are extensions of us. When one of us lives in that Life and Power, it affects us all. When one generation sins, it affects all generations. We are not individuals. I am thee, Friend, and thee is me. Our faithfulness or lack thereof resonates between us, yes, throughout the entire Church. We are not individuals, not even family. No, we are something different, something more. We are the Body of Christ. We are the Children of the Light.

Monday, June 11, 2007

We’d Better Get Clear

I spent most of this past weekend with young adult Friends from Baltimore Yearly Meeting and also had the privilege to attend a Quarterly Meeting within Baltimore YM, where Silvia Graves, the General Secretary of Friends United Meeting, spoke. The conversations with young adult Friends before that meeting, the conversations with older Friends at the QM and more conversations with young adult Friends later on today often returned to the question of FUM, and, implicitly, its current institutional stance on homosexuality.

Saturday evening, other young adult Friends and I attended a gay pride
parade near my home in Washington, DC, and I experienced
what I felt was an opening from the Lord. Watching the parade, I saw several local Christian groups - Episcopals, Seventh Day Adventists, Unitarian Universalists, and others - going along in the procession. Sitting there, I felt a movement of the Spirit, and as I bowed interiorly, I was struck - again and again and again - with a two-second soundbite from Deborah Saunder's first sermon at the World Gathering of Young Friends. She had been mocking us young Friends for being so unfocused in our faith journey, and she suddenly became deathly serious: "You'd better get clear," she warned us. This memory, this soundbite of Deborah Saunders saying, "you'd better get clear," repeated in my mind as if fired by an automatic weapon.

You’d better get clear.

Accompanying this message was a great sense of compassion for all of the people I saw before me at this parade, reveling in their sexuality and identity as legitimate human beings. I was struck with the sense that the Church was losing these people. At the recent FUM board meeting in Kenya, as Friends were engaged in debate as to whether or not to re-affirm the Richmond Declaration of Faith, a Kenyan Friend reportedly admonished the board members, saying, "my people are perishing while you squabble." This is no less true in North America than it is in Africa.

While we, the Church, bicker about the very existence of homosexuality, we fail to address the terrible brokenness and unfaithfulness that so many of us find ourselves caught up in with regards to our own sexuality. While we squabble, many Friends deny homosexuals the covenant of marriage. While we scream back and forth about how right or wrong homosexuality is, we seem to be ignoring the lack of integrity with which we carry out our heterosexual liaisons. While we bicker about whether or not to "accept" homosexuality, we avoid doing the important work of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to those whose sexual orientation is not our own, yet who want to live the fullness of the Christian life.

We’d better get clear.

I am increasingly aware of how the question of homosexuality in the Church is allowing Friends to ignore so many other more substantive questions that face us as a community. It is a lot easier to focus on nailing down points of doctrine – be it liberal or orthodox doctrine – than it is to take a real look at whether we ourselves are glorifying God with our sexuality. Are we all, hetero- or homosexual, living out our God-given sexuality with integrity and submission to the yoke of Christ? Are we all, gay or straight, engaged in wholesome, committed, honest relationships with others? Do Friends respect the sanctity of the God-given bond of marriage? Perhaps once we get the log out of our own eye, we might see where the root of our struggles as a Church lies.

We’d better get clear.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Suffering and Sanctification

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

I have spent most of my life fleeing from suffering. I have imagined that it was something exterior to me, a condition that I could treat with outward remedies. I have made so many changes in my life – moving, changing schools, changing countries – with the hope that by altering things outside of myself I would somehow escape the pain that I had inside of me. I found, however, that I brought my own hell with me, and that anything that I did not deal with here, I would have to deal with there. I could ascend to the tallest mountain or descend to the depths, I could be in the wintertime of Kansas or the summertime of Costa Rica, but always I brought my shadow in tow.

Recently, however, I have begun to see how my suffering originates in the depths of my own heart – and how, if I submit to the Lord, that suffering can be transformed. The Light is like a refiner’s fire that exposes the hidden fortresses and rebellious provinces of my soul, and it has shown me the place from which all conflicts and disputes arise. The piercing illumination of the Light has begun to unveil the cravings that are and have always been at war within me. This is the inner darkness and death that has obscured the living reality of the Kingdom of Heaven throughout my life. This is the slavery to which I am bound, except that I trust in the Holy Spirit to deliver me, and the Light of Christ to search me and let me see myself for who I truly am. And I know that I have still seen only a small portion of the darkness that resides within me in rebellion against the Light.

The dawning of the morning star illuminates the cavernous darkness of my heart, but not all at once. The Light of Christ reveals myself to me in phases. I sense that if the Light revealed the entirety of my depravity, rebellion and darkness all at once, I would be incapable of surviving such a Day of the Lord. Were I to now know just as I am known, I would surely die. Glimpses of my sinfulness are revealed, particular aspects of myself that have long been hurting me without me ever having been aware of it. Sometimes it feels as though I were the captain of the Titanic, being given a guided tour of the submerged iceberg.

This revelation of my hidden darkness, this unveiling of my inner rebellion and wickedness, is immensely painful. I see myself as I am, not as I wish to be. The radiance of the Light leaves no room for the self-deceit that was possible in the former darkness. God puts me on display to myself, rubs my nose in the reality of my own inner corruption, leaving me only two options: denial of the Light, or denial of the darkness. The uncovering of the veiled root of my suffering is deeply painful, in much the same way as the pain that accompanies the cutting away of infection from a wound. This sickness, though, must be revealed, cut out and put to death, if I am to be freed from slavery to sin.

The miracle is this: The Light does not merely reveal my darkness, nor does the Light stop with judgment. No, the Light pushes back the darkness and purifies the corners of my heart where it shines. The Light puts my formerly hidden evil to death and raises that part of me up into new life, resurrected to life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, our Lord comes with the sword, but that which the Light puts to death in me God raises to new life in the service of Christ. My Lord puts me to death, piece by piece, but raises me to new life in the Spirit. This new being that is raised after the purification of my soul by the refining fire of the Light is tender and new. It is a new creation the likes of which this world does not understand, for it has died to death and the power of the world and is now at one with Christ.

A seed sown in the ground does not come to life unless it dies. In the same way, the Seed of Christ lies within us, but we must first be willing to die so that it might sprout and give forth the fruit of the Spirit – the Kingdom of Heaven! I have seen this Seed of Christ sown in the dishonor of my soul but raised in glory, bringing me to new and abundant life. I can testify to the power of the Light in exposing me, destroying every proud obstacle that I have raised up against the knowledge of God. My hope lies in this process of sanctification, in the faith I have that the Light will continue its campaign to take every thought captive to obey Christ.

In the purifying suffering of sanctification, in the rawness and tenderness that the penetrating gaze of the Light engenders, I have faith that the Lord can deliver us from the power of sin and death. The Holy Spirit works eagerly in our lives, if only we will cry out to our Savior. Submitting to the yoke of Christ, we must suffer. We are stripped down, humbled, made tender and all of our worldly security and sense of control is taken away. We suffer to come under the Reign of God, and may well be called to suffer for the sake of that Reign, the eternal core of our new life, our Lord of the New Jerusalem. However, this suffering in Christ is inherently different from our suffering under the former darkness. While we suffered before in ignorance and rebellion, we now suffer in the light of day, knowing for Whom we suffer and in Whom we die.

And though we suffer, this present distress will come to an end, but our Life is forever. We can endure the sufferings that we bear in Christ, because our existence is bathed in the radiance of the Eternal Now and transformed by our knowledge of a victorious end. We have seen the Lamb standing on Mount Zion and know that the time is coming - and indeed the time has already come. The victory has already been won for us in Christ. Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus: Stand firm in suffering that brings us closer to the Lord, for that fleeting discomfort is passing away. Abide in the Truth unswervingly, for soon death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things, that former darkness in which we lived, will pass away.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Abundance Breaking in on a Mindset of Guilt and Scarcity

I visited a Friend’s home recently, and had a wonderful evening drinking tea and talking about, well, everything. In addition to the pleasure of sharing her company and that of other friends, her home itself was a blessing. During the entire evening, I was struck by the simple beauty of her living space. And there was an abundance there; her apartment wanted for nothing. And there was a sense of safety there; I felt enveloped and comforted by the interior space that my friend had crafted. I felt very at home in my friend’s home.

My friend had commented before I came over that she struggled with the testimony of simplicity, and during our time together at her apartment, she mentioned it again. She indicated that, having seen her home, we could now see for ourselves how she struggled with simplicity. I looked around again, bathing in the joy I found in her well apportioned home, and replied that I hoped that I could someday live in such a beautiful place.

I, myself, have pushed myself to “simplify,” in terms of my physical possessions, for quite some time. It came to the point where I even began giving away some of my books, not buying new clothing, questioning myself and holding myself accountable for every purchase. I have pared down my possessions to a small wardrobe, a computer and ipod (I really question myself on the ipod) and my books and notebooks. Apart from a few small miscellaneous objects, that’s it. Clothes, books, music and computer. I look around the small room where I live, and I realize that I haven’t even bothered to decorate; my walls are bare.

Seeing the contrast between my home and my friend’s, it’s clear that my material life is far more sparse than hers. She has far more possessions, more room and more beauty in her living space than I do. But, instead of feeling any sense that she was living decadently or wasting resources or being self-absorbed, I felt very pleased at what she had created. I appreciated the beauty that she had wrought in her interior space. And, when I saw the beauty of her home and saw that “it was good,” it freed me from the shame I had been living in for so long. I had seen every “unnecessary” object as a burden and a sin for myself – an obscenity in a world wracked with abject poverty. However, seeing the goodness and beauty of my friend’s abundance, I was able to release myself to live abundantly, as well.

I was able to see that my friend’s attention to detail and appreciation for material beauty was good and wholesome – at least in the unidolatrous way that I saw her expressing it in her home. In recognizing that goodness in the life of another, I was able to find release to feel worthy of having my own needs met. It’s easy for me, when praying for my daily bread, to feel ashamed for having more than the bare necessities. But humans live on more than bread alone, on more than the bare essentials for sustaining biological function! Human needs include beauty, the feeling of safety and prepared sacred spaces. I am indebted to my friend for helping me to see that I am worthy of beauty and abundance – we all are.

Simplicity is not about reducing life, not merely about removing luxuries, “creaturely” pleasures and joys. Certainly, there is a place for this, but this is not at the root. The core of simplicity is knowing our need and accepting our provision as a pure gift from God. And, just as we should not seek more than our needs call for, neither should we seek to deprive ourselves of the daily bread – physical, emotional and spiritual – that God grants us. Simplicity calls for discernment and trust in God that the Spirit will provide for our needs. 

We need neither to seek riches nor poverty, but instead to seek the will of the Lord in all things. I am reminded of Margaret Fell, who it is said refused to stop wearing bright colors, even as many Friends began to insist on a somber wardrobe as an outward form of simplicity. We Children of the Light are not called to drabness, but instead to the colorful and joyful living of the Kingdom of Heaven.

As citizens of the New Jerusalem, we are called to be as little children, accepting joyfully the gifts of our Mother in heaven, but also being actively willing to share our gifts with our brothers and sisters. Let us not seek to escape the beauty and wealth of this world, but instead recognize the immense abundance that we have in Christ and be fearless in sharing that which we do have and seeking that all know that full and abundant life that we have found – both materially and spiritually. Let us know that, while there is immense injustice in the world and while we are called to share what we have with our brothers and sisters, we too are worthy of our daily bread.

We pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Powerful Gathering of Young Adult Friends in Burlington, New Jersey

This weekend, in Burlington, New Jersey, I knew with certainty for the first time that I had been a part of a “covered meeting,” a meeting where not only did the Holy Spirit speak to me, but to all of us as a body. We were covered in the Holy Spirit, bonded together in Love, a gathered people under the headship of the Spirit of Christ. We were broken, tender, and open to the ministry of the Lord. And the underlying message that the Inward Teacher had for us was simple yet profound: We start with love. Often Friends, reaching across the divides of differences in theology, culture and ways of viewing the world, wonder what it is that makes us all Friends. “Why are we called to be together?”, we ask. This weekend, I felt that we were given the answer: We are called together because of our love for one another.

I had come to the gathering with a strong concern for the importance of the biblical witness and the Christian tradition as a foundational part of the Quaker heritage, and I found that I still had that concern when I left. However, the reasoning behind and the context of my concern had been clarified. The reason that I wrestled with my community, was because I love them. I don’t simply care about the institution of the Religious Society of Friends, nor merely about some abstract ideal of Truth. No, while these things are important to me, I found this weekend that the core reason for my concernedness and continued wrestling within the Society of Friends is my love for other Friends as individuals, as well as love for Friends as a corporate body. I found my love for God expressed so beautifully in my love for them, both as individuals and as a corporate body.

This weekend, I came to know what George Fox referred to when he said that he had seen a “people to be gathered.” We are that people, and we are gathered in the name of the Spirit of God. We are gathered together in the love of God, an openness to the penetrating power of the Light and the tenderness to expose ourselves not just to the Holy Spirit, but to one another as well. And I came to find once again how much I need the ministry of my community and how my own vulnerability is essential for my growth as a child of God and for the proper functioning of my religious community. I knew this intellectually beforehand, but this gathering has helped me to gain a better heart-knowledge, recognizing experientially that I am desperately in need of help from the Spirit of God speaking through my brothers and sisters. In submitting to my brothers and sisters in love, I submit to God.

We have come away from this gathering with renewed hope and energy. The Lord has spoken to us. We are the Children of the Light. We are called together to be in loving relationship with one another, attending to one another in our brokenness and vulnerability, just as we attend to the Inward Teacher who guides us as a people. We are the tender Children of God. I am overcome by the experience of the boundless love that flows between us, through us and from us, with its source in the Love of God. We have been overcome by the Love that is forever. Let us magnify it and proclaim it everywhere. We have the hope of glory, the hope of salvation for our people. We have seen the loving-kindness of the Lord and we proclaim it to all who would listen and believe. In tender brokenness, in vulnerability and weakness we find eachother in the Life and Power of the Holy Spirit.

Praise God, who has shown us the living waters of salvation, whose source is simplicity itself: The Spirit of God has always been with us, the tender Love that has pressed at the gates of our hearts from our earliest days. We must have the courage to be simple, yes, to be as little children and accept this simple but infinitely powerful Love that God is and that God pours out onto those who are tender to it and open to receiving it. This weekend, we opened ourselves to the loving mercy of the Spirit of God, and we were penetrated, comforted and united, gathered around the well of the eternal Spring of Life. If we stay low to the ground, if we stay vulnerable and tender to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is no limit to how God can act through us. The ministry of young Friends, the ministry of these valiant Quaker men and women, will shake the countryside for miles around.

But we must start with love.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Friends and the Spiritual Forces of Evil

I tried to talk with a group of Quakers recently about the concept of evil in the thought of early Friends. I communicated to them what I had come across in my reading of early Friends, such as George Fox, Margaret Fell, Robert Barclay and William Penn, among others, which was that the early Quakers were people with a vivid experience of evil, and who were comfortable speaking about the active presence of spiritual evil in the world. I was surprised to find myself responded to in a very defensive manner. I had the sense that some of the people I was speaking to did not want to genuinely hear what I had to say, and I struggled with why that would be so among Friends. If our spiritual ancestors were so aware of the presence of the spiritual forces of rebellion and antichrist, why is it apparently so difficult to even mention the subject among some Quakers today?

One obvious barrier that I was encountering among Friends was the perception that, when speaking about evil, that I was speaking about some sort of personified "anti-God," some sort of Zoroastrian, evil counterpart to God, equal in power but opposite in polarity. Given the reaction that I have received from some Friends, I feel it prudent to be explicit about what I feel that the early Friends were referring to when the spoke of the fallen “god of the world,” whom they knew by the biblical name of “Satan,” “the Serpent,” “the Dragon,” “the Beast,” or “the Tempter,” among other names. I have seen no indication that the early Friends saw evil as being a force equal to God. While the early Friend’s emphasis upon spiritual warfare might lead some to bring charges of dualism, I see no evidence that this is the case. 

Far from being a counterforce to Christ, early Friends viewed the Devil as being the leader of an ultimately futile rebellion against the limitless power of the Lamb. Evil was anti-christ, not in the sense of being coequal with Christ, but in the sense of being a flawed, impotent imitation thereof. Early Friends saw the forces of evil as being that of lust and confusion, a shadowy reality destined to be eradicated and transformed by the inescapable advance of the Light. In the beginning there was only the Light and its Word, and so it would be in the end, with this present time of darkness as only a relatively brief interruption of the clarity of Truth.

All the creation must do to stand against the so-called "powers" of evil, these principalities of the world, is to abide in the true Vine, the Way shown to us by Jesus Christ and opened to us by the Holy Spirit. All shadows flee in the brilliance of the Light - but we must submit to and turn towards the Light. The shadows, as ultimately unimportant as they are, do exist, and they must be rejected, turned away from. I do not feel that the darkness should be ignored or denied having any reality, however. If we are to turn towards Light, we must acknowledge and recognize that which we are turning away from. If we avoid acknowledging the reality of evil, of the spiritual forces of rebellion, it is far easier for us to fall into the traps that are laid for us and to stray out of the Way.

The early Friends spoke of evil and of the Tempter, they made reference to the spiritual forces of rebellion against which they fought as Children of the Light. They acknowledged the forces arrayed against them that had so deeply saturated the world they lived in and the civil society that surrounded them. Things have not changed. The forces of evil infest our world, spurring the rich to oppress the poor, fueling the lusts which are the foundation of war, encouraging petty rivalries and pride, and pushing the will-worshipping, God-hating world along in haste towards the pit it will not see until it is too late.

How are we to move forward as Children of the Light if we forget that our very identity as Friends is that of spiritual warriors against the power of death and hell? To be a Child of the Light is to have our Father's law written on our hearts, yes, and also His name written on our foreheads. Children of the Light have been called apart from this world to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. This is not some dead letter, this is not some history lesson; This is the deadly real spiritual warfare that echoes through eternity. The fight of the early Friends is our fight. We fight not with outward weapons, but with the double edged sword which comes from the mouth of Christ. If we abide in the Vine, the forces of rebellion and lust will flee before us, but we must be aware of their existence and their works in the world: their subtle treachery, consistently attempting to overcome God's plans in our lives through barely consciously articulated arguments, fears, worries, and petty lusts.

For we are at war with the power of sin and death, and we are to demolish every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we are to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Our war is total, down to our very thoughts and innermost motivations. We must be aware of and actively working against the forces of rebellion and infidelity in our lives. George Fox and others stressed the subtlty of the Devil; evil needs only a small foothold to begin its work within us. We must be active in our warfare of inward sanctification. We will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, bringing our entire being under the reign of Christ.

Recognizing the presence of evil in the world, we are called to be strong in the Lord and God's mighty power. God has not left us unequipped for this struggle, but has given forth the Holy Spirit to fight through us if we will but submit and obey. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Our warfare is not, at its root, about presidents or congresses, or even about the imperial economic system and the lusts and outward tumult that come with it. No, our warfare is against the principalities and powers that sit on their high thrones and that have their root in the shadowy realities of rebellion, pride and lust.

We cannot understand our calling as a community to be a spiritual army, following the Lamb wherever he goes, until we recognize the forces of rebellion and lust that assail us and the world we live in. How are we to witness the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven throughout the earth if we cannot see that the outward wars that rage amongst the nations find their origins in the lusts that reside within our own hearts? What are the things that we chase after that keep us from being entirely obedient to the Spirit of Christ? What are the things that we believe we love or need, but which are actually addictions that separate us from God, that keep us from being obedient? Is there anything that you would not be willing to give up if the Holy Spirit demanded it of you? Where does the spirit of lust and rebellion have a foothold in your heart? Are we ready to come together as a community and declare war upon this darkness that we find in our hearts, as well as in our interactions together and with society more generally? Is the time yet come for us to bind together our whips and to clear the temple of our hearts?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Peace and Vulnerability

It occurs to me that where Friends are very privileged and protected by Caesar's might, we are far more likely to set up "reasonable" arguments for the Peace Testimony, as a matter of public policy, or to abandon it altogether.

The third alternative, to justify the Peace Testimony as a recognition of an inward reality, requires that we confront the question: "are we living in the Life and Power that gives forth this testimony?" When we are not ourselves in the position to live out the peace testimony, when, instead of putting our lives on the line, we hide behind the walls of Empire, we are loathe to justify our doctrine by the Light, which would convict us in our hearts. It is easier for us to ground our testimonies in "reason" and liberal "sensibility," or to abandon it altogether, than to really examine what it is we believe - and, more importantly - what it is we are living in the terrifying Light of Christ that demands that we purify our lives and turn away from our own comfort.

We Friends can stand with integrity on our Peace Testimony if we are speaking out of our experience, and if we are living faithful, vulnerable, endangered lives. Of course we hide behind "reasonable" arguments when we are not putting ourselves in harm's way. We can only proclaim peace from a position of vulnerability.