Thursday, October 31, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Micah 4 and My Own Article on "Continuing Revelation" (Part 3)

Micah 4 – “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of all—the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. People from many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’” (4:1-2).

God will “wield authority over many peoples . . .they will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. Everyone will live in peace and prosperity, enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees, for there will be nothing to fear” (4:3-4). This is the promise of the Lord.

The chapter ends with a promise that the Lord will gather the lame and the exiles together, “those whom I have filled with grief” (4:6), and they will become a strong nation. “The kingship will be restored to my precious Jerusalem” (4:8). The exile has actually not yet begun. But this promise is one they will take with them. But the Babylonians do not know that the Lord will make them strong in the end.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism -
“Continuing Revelation”
Part 3
The idea of “continuing revelation” was a very important concept for early Friends, but it didn’t stand alone. It stood in tension with another important idea—the idea that the Spirit of God that brought forth all truth was not a God of disorder. The best articulation of this in the early years was in Robert Barclay’s Apology, published first in 1673 to defend Friends’ interpretation of the gospel against charges of heresy. Barclay defends the idea that the Spirit of God continues to lead and influence the faithful, but he is careful to assure his readers that such continuing revelation will never lead to utterly new and contradictory “truths”.

We firmly believe that there is no other doctrine or gospel to be preached other than that which was delivered by the apostles. And we freely subscribe to the saying in Gal. 1:8: ‘If we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed.’

In other words, we distinguish between a revelation of a new gospel and new doctrines, and new insight into the established gospel and doctrines. We plead for the latter, but we utterly deny the former. We firmly believe that there are no new foundations to be laid other than those which have already been laid. But added insight is needed on matters for which the foundations have already been laid” Dean Freiday, ed., Barclay’s Apology in Modern English - published through a grant from the Rebecca White Trust of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia, 1967, 63).

Early Friends knew that there were competing voices within people, and they knew and spoke eloquently about the fact that hearing and obeying God required a personal experience of Christ’s cross in relation to their own wills and selves. Fox himself had struggled against the competing voices that called to him, the “two thirsts” that clamored within him for attention during Christ’s ministration to him in the “spiritual wilderness” (The “ministration of Moses” in his own journey).

When certain early recruits to the Quaker vision of the gospel went off on escapades Fox thought were not authentic or that brought the movement into disrepute, he set up a structure of Monthly Meetings that he hoped would oversee individuals and test their leadings. But I don’t think Fox every fully appreciated the potential for confusion that lay in his rejection of outward standards. He simply believed that the gospel he had recovered had a power and an order in it that reached to the heart and transformed it. Christ’s sheep “know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because the do not know the voice of stranger” (John 10:4-5). If there were disorderly people in a Monthly Meeting, he encouraged the “more seasoned” to go to them and labor with them as Jesus recommends in Matthew’s gospel (18: 15-17).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Micah 2-3 and My Own Article on "Continuing Revelation" (Part 2)

Micah 2 –People lie awake at night thinking of evil things to do. “When you want a piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone’s house, you take it by fraud and violence” (2:2). The Lord will repay these evils with dire punishments. “You will no longer walk around proudly, for it will be a terrible time” (2:3).  Others will be placed in charge of them.

The people have no ears to hear any of this. They would prefer the words of false (optimistic) prophecy. But Micah does not leave the people without hope. He does predict that there will be a restoration someday. “Someday, O Israel, I will gather you; I will gather the remnant who are left. I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture” (2:12). The land will someday be restored and a leader will lead them out of exile. “Your king will lead you; the Lord himself will guide you” (2:13).

For the Old Testament prophets, the idea that the Lord was ultimately their one and only true leader was deep. The idea that an entity called a “state” with a “King” or “Absolute Ruler” was troublesome from the start. They finally got a good balance between the need for a centralized state and a king, but the king was never a god. God was god. His rule was what we were to look to.

Micah 3 – The leaders of Israel “are supposed to know right from wrong, but [they] are the very ones who hate good and love evil” (3:1-2). Then when these same leaders cry out to the Lord for help, they are foolish to expect that He will answer them.

The prophets who fill the ears of the people with false prophecies in hopes that they will be rewarded with food and other rewards, but they will be put to shame. Micah, though, says, “I am filled with power—with the Spirit of the Lord. I am filled with justice and strength to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion” (3:8). Jerusalem is being set on a foundation of murder and corruption. Because of them “Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field; Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!” (3:12).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism -
“Continuing Revelation”
Part 2
One of the best vehicles modern Friends used to get across the Quaker idea of continuing revelation was a story George Fox’s wife told in her introduction to the 1694 edition of Fox’s journal. Margaret Fell Fox and her first husband, a prominent judge, lived on a large estate in northwest England, Swarthmore Hall. The Fells were known for the hospitality they typically extended to traveling preachers of all kinds, so Fox and a friend of his stopped by and met the lady of the house. Judge Fell was away. Margaret Fell went to hear Fox preach at her local church and was moved by his plea that people needed to experience Christ in their own lives and not rely so exclusively on the Scriptures or others’ interpretation of Scripture to define the truth about Christ. She recorded the words Fox addressed to the congregation:

“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?” This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly. And I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scripture in words and know nothing of them in ourselves” (Quoted in Faith and Practice, sec. 19:07).

The truths contained in the Scriptures were truths that we could know in immediate and personal terms. They were truths we could embody in words of our own. God was alive and guiding men and women today just as he had guided them in Moses’ time, in the prophets’ time and in Jesus’ time. It was one thing to recognize the Scriptures as authentically recording the words and truths opened to godly men and women in former times, but it was quite another to deny that God could speak in and through people in other times and places.

God’s revelation cannot be limited to a prescribed form of words, whether scriptural or creedal; it continues and sometimes even changes as our understanding of God’s will evolves. The example most often given of this is the change that occurred when Friends in the eighteenth century decided that slave-holding was inconsistent with Christian profession and would henceforth be prohibited for members of the Society of Friends. God did do new things in history—not contradictory things, but things that revealed the underlying order and coherence of his will. It is clear from reading the Scriptures that there was a time in history when the holding of slaves or participation in slavery systems was not understood by even holy men and women as being fundamentally inconsistent with God’s redemptive plan. But such an understanding did come to pass, and Friends were among the first to grasp it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Micah 1 and My Own Article on "Continuing Revelation" (Part 1)

Introduction - This prophetic book was written sometime in the 8th c. BC before the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. Micah is one of the twelve “minor prophets”; he was a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea and the kings who reigned during his prophetic life were Jotham (742-735), Ahaz (735-715) and Hezekiah (715-696). His message is addressed to both Samaria and Jerusalem; he was the first prophet to predict the downfall of Jerusalem. But he also prophesied Jerusalem’s restoration and an “era of universal peace.”  There are parts of his prophetic message that later became central to Christianity, especially his prophesy that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah.

Micah 1 – “Look! The Lord is coming! He leaves his throne in heaven and tramples the heights of the earth. The mountains melt beneath his feet and flow into the valleys like wax in a fire, like water pouring down a hill” (1:3-4).

Why is the Lord coming? Because of Israel’s “rebellion” (1:5), and especially the sins of Samaria, its capital. The city has turned to idolatry, and in Judah too its major city, Jerusalem has turned to idols as well.

The prophet declares that the Lord will “make the city of Samaria a heap of ruins” (1:6). All the idols will be destroyed. “These thing were bought with the money earned by her prostitution” (1:7). It is his called to “mourn and lament.” (1:8). He will “walk around barefoot and naked . . . howl like a jackal and moan like an owl” (1:8).

There are notes indicating that the writer is using a lot of assonance and playing on the words used to emphasize that the twelve cities are all guilty of different crimes. He begs the people of Judah to repent “for the children you love will be snatched away. Make yourselves as bald as a vulture, for your little ones will be exiled to distant lands” (1:16)

“Continuing Revelation”
Now I come to what many who admire Friends’ spirituality see as the “fly in the ointment”. How can you be sure that the voice you are hearing and obeying is God’s voice?

It was no trouble in the 1970s and ‘80s to find support for the idea—revolutionary in the seventeenth century—that the individual might come into a personal sense of what truth is. Everyone I knew in the 1970s and ‘80s believed that he or she could arrive at truth through his or her own efforts—trial, error, reflection, consultation with others. The really tough question was how could you know if your view of the truth was true. Was anything really true in an absolute sense?

Fox’s conviction that the inward Teacher would direct all people without the need for others to instruct them, the sense he had of Scripture being secondary to the Spirit in terms of authority, his call for people to come away from the dry husks of outward forms and legalism in religion all seemed consistent with the notion that individuals could find their way on their own.

Contemporaries of Fox often mocked the Friends’ assertion that they could know God’s will experientially without the aid of church authority of Scripture. Fox tells of one incident he faced:

“ . . . one [man] burst out into a passion and said he could speak his experiences as well as I; but I told him experience was one thing but to go with a message and a word from the Lord as the prophets and the apostles had and did, and as I had done to them, this was another thing” (Quoted in Faith and Practice, sec. 19:07).

Fox did not think he was promoting religious subjectivism. He really thought it was Christ—the Christ of the Scriptures and the Christ of history—who dwelled in us and taught us the way to go. But this Spirit of Christ and the truths he embodied were not reducible to church formulas or dead and encased in Scripture texts. This Christ lived. He was resurrected and with us always. Fox and early Friends very much believed in the reality of God’s continuing revelation in history.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 14-15 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 12)

2 Maccabees 14 – Around 161 BC, Judas learns that the son of Antiochus Epiphanes who should have succeeded his father – Demetrius – has been released by the Romans and had arrived at the port of Tripolis with a strong army and a fleet of ships. He had killed his brother Antiochus V and Lysias.

A “former high priest” one Alcimus, approached the new king and present him “with a olden crown and a palm, together with the traditional olive branches from the Temple” (14:4), presumably to get on his good side.  When Demetrius calls him to learn of the “dispositions and intentions of the Jews, he replied, ‘Those Jews called Hasidaeans, who are led by Judas Maccabaeus, are warmongers and rebels who are preventing the kingdom from finding stability’” (14:6).

Together with others around Demetrius who hate Judas, a plan is hatched to send Nicanor as “military commissioner for Judaea” to “dispose of Judas, disperse his followers and install Alcimus as high priest of the greatest of temples. The pagans in Judaea, who had fled before Judas, flocked to join Nicanor” (14:13-14).

When the Jews hear these men are coming, “the sprinkled dust over themselves sand made supplication to his who had established his people for ever and had never failed to support his own heritage by his direct intervention” (14:15). Things turn out well for Judas. Nicanor send representatives to offer the Jews a pledge of friendship and a treaty is concluded that undermines Alcimus’ plan. “Nicanor took up residence in Jerusalem and did nothing out of place there . . . He kept Judas constantly with him, becoming deeply attached to him and he encouraged him to marry and have children” (14:23-24). A Jerusalem Bible note says that the outcome here is at variance with 1 Maccabees 7:27 that focuses on there being a “clash” between Judas and Nicanor.

Alcmius tries to get the king to turn on Judas and Nicanor and appears to succeed. Demetrius writes to Nicanor expressing displeasure at the treaty and telling him to break it. Nicanor does not want to turn on Judas but he must obey his king. He eventually demands that Judas be handed over to him and threatens to destroy the sanctuary if they do not do this. The priests respond by turning again to God for help. One of the elders of the Jews, a man named Razis, is threatened with arrest, but he falls on his own sword rather than permit himself to be seized. His death is not quick, and they describe it in some detail.

2 Maccabees 15 – When Nicanor hears that Judas and his men are near Samaria, he plans to attack them on the Sabbath. The Jews who were forced to be with him challenge him not to behave in a savage way on this special day. He challenges their arguments, but does not succeed in carrying out the “savage plan” he had started with (15:5).

Nicanor plans to “erect a public trophy with the spoils taken from Judas and his men,” (15:6), “a cairn stacked round with the arms of enemies fallen in battle” (717). Judas urges his men not to be afraid. “He put fresh heart into them, citing the Law and the Prophets, and by stirring up memories of the battles they had already won” (15:9). He relates again the treachery they had endured from the Seleucids, and arms his men “not so much with the safety given by shield and lance as that confidence that springs from noble language” (15:11). He tells them of a dream he’s had, a vision of “Onias stretching out his hands and praying for the whole nation of the Jews” (15:12). Onias introduces the Prophet Jeremiah, a man highly regarded by the Jews of this period. “Jeremiah . . . stretched out his right hand and presented Judas with a golden sword, saying as he gave it, ‘Take this holy sword as a gift from God; with it you shall strike down enemies’” (15:15-16).

Judas thus inspires his men. They face an enemy well deployed with elephants and cavalry. Judas raises his hands and calls on the Lord “who works miracles, in the knowledge that it is not by force of arms, but as he sees fit to decide, that victory is granted by him to such as deserve it” (15:21). Judas and his people win the battle and they come across Nicanor, dead among the defeated. Judas orders his head to be cut off along with his arm and his shoulder and taken to Jerusalem. When he presents these body parts to the Jews in front of the altar, he also sends for the Seleucid soldiers stationed at the Citadel. In front of them, he takes out the tongue of Nicanor, cuts it up and feeds it in pieces to the birds. The head is hung from the Citadel.

Since then the city has remained in the possession of the Jews.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 12
The testimonies I have touched on in this chapter were not the only ones. In the nineteenth century, Friends made it a very clear testimony to avoid the use of alcohol and, later, drugs. They also frowned on gambling or toying with “chance” or “luck” in any way. They adopted a testimony against the use of capital punishment. But the bottom line for early Friends was the idea of hearing and obeying—being singularly attentive to the light and word of Christ in you and doing what he commanded with undivided heart, even if it meant embracing the cross. The cross, as I have said, was central to Friends.

Where the world is standing the Cross is not lived in. But dwelling in the Cross to the world, here the Love of God is shed abroad in the heart and the Way is opened in the inheritance, which fades not away. . .” (Fox, Letters, 45).

The Prophetic Dimension of Friends’ Spirituality
The fact that Friends saw themselves as responding to God’s living voice within made them see themselves in some measure as prophets of his word to the world. Hearing and obeying the word of God was the occupation of a prophet. You may not be called to go out and do some great and memorable deed, but you were called to do what God led you to do even if it involved risks. Mary Fisher, a simple English housemaid, believed God was calling her to witness the gospel to the Sultan of Turkey, who ruled over an empire that posed a military threat to Europe in the seventeenth century. She traveled many months to obey this call and even managed to get an audience with him. I have mentioned the Friends who died obeying a call they belied they had from God to witness against the Puritans’ prohibition against the free circulation of Quaker tracts in New England. This prophetic dimension of Friends’ early witness is sometimes overlooked in presentations of Friends’ testimonies and spirituality. But I mention it because it played a role in my journey from the beginning, whether I felt called to speak in vocal ministry or in other more worldly contexts or at the end when I felt called to leave and return to the Catholic Church. The sense of being in the same place in relation to God as the prophets has always been something I felt as a Friend.

Modern Friends are much less reticent talking about the testimonies Friends hold that they are about what Friends believe[d] theologically. Many people, like me, were drawn to Friends precisely for these testimonies, especially the peace testimony, so I experienced the difference in what it was to see those testimonies prior to becoming Christian and after my convincement. The antiwar movement of the sixties attracted many people to the pacifist views of Quakerism. The track record of the Society—being so early an opponent of slavery, recognizing the humanity of the American Indian tribes they settled near, providing leadership to the women’s suffrage movement, and other progressive stances they have taken over the years—these things were very appealing to many of us who grew up believing in the struggle for civil rights for blacks and then for women, fighting against the war in Vietnam, and struggling to bring about a society we thought would be more just. The environmental movement of the seventies and eighties also found values and commitment in Friends’ testimonies that supported their concerns with the idea of stewardship over the creation. So many of the movements of the post World War II era found resonance in the traditions and values of Friends.

The problem was [and is in my opinion] that without a strong foundation and articulation of the theological roots of all these testimonies, the modern Society tended to adopt the secular reasoning and language of the wider movements. Quaker “guides” or disciplines tended to hold onto older quotations and references back to early Friends beliefs, but the common parlance and logic of Friends on these issues was hardly distinguishable from that of the anti-establishment groups that existed outside Friends. What is missing from the modern way of understanding and articulating Friends’ testimonies is any kind of radical call to holiness especially in relation to personal, sexual behavior And there is no room for the call to lowliness or self-abnegation; there is little comfort with the sense of sin early Quakers found so important in coming to the sense of God’s new covenant presence. But it is in the discernment process (or lack of one) that one really sees what modernism has wrought among Friends.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 13 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 11)

2 Maccabees 13 – It is 162 BC. Antiochus Eupator [nine years old ???] advances  against Judea with Lysias, [brother?, tutor, vizier] and 110,000 Greek infantrymen, 5300 cavalry, 22 elephants and 300 scythed chariots.

Menelaus – Benjaminite brother of the High Priest Simon who suggested that the Temple be plundered back in chapter 4 - collaborates with the enemy, but Antiochus finally has him executed – thrown down from a high tower into a pile of ashes that surrounded it (13:5-6). “And indeed, this satisfied justice, for just as he had committed many offenses toward the altar of God, the fire and ashes of which are holy, so was he condemned to die in ashes” (13:8).

The writer says that the king – still just a boy – revealed himself “as more wicked to the Jews than his father” (13:9) had been. Judas realizes he will once again have to fight for his people. “And so, giving everything to God, the Creator of the world, and having exhorted his own to contend with fortitude and to stand up, even unto death, for the laws, the temple, the city, their country and the citizens: he positioned his army around Modin [or Modein]” (13:14).

Judas assaults the Seleucids before they arrive at Jerusalem and is successful. The details of what happens during the assault are very confusing. The Seleucid king realizes he had been outsmarted and agrees to make a treaty with the Jews.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 11
The final testimony of early Friends that has had lasting value to Friends is the peace testimony. The peace testimony was not clearly enunciated by Friends until 1660. There is even some evidence that Fox may have believed in the 1650s that Oliver Cromwell’s army would have a role to play in the end-time scenario he believed his reproclamation of the “true gospel” might inaugurate in England. For an interesting discussion of Fox’s approach to this issue, see H. Larry Ingle’s excellent history of Fox entitled First Among Friends (New York: Oxford University Press). He discusses the history on pages 161-194.

Much of Fox’s most successful evangelization in the 1650s was among the soldiery of this army. This may have even been true, though he made it quite clear that he personally felt from the start that he had been called into “the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars. . . .” (Fox, Journal, 65).

By 1660, however, Fox had become clearer on the matter. He and eleven other Quaker leaders issued a statement at that time that soon became official policy for all Friends. This was not a decision made by all Friends; it was made by the recognized “leaders”:

“We know that wars and fighting’s proceed from the lusts of men (as James 4:1-3), out of which lusts the Lord hath redeemed us, and so out of the occasion of war. .  . All bloody principles and practices, we, as to our own particular, so utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.

. . .the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world” (Fox, Journal, 399-400).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 12 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 10)

2 Maccabees 12 – While there is this new pact of peace made with the Jews, some governors – Timothy, Apollonius, Hieronymus, Demophon and Nicanor, still will not let them live in peace.

It isn’t long before there is another assault on the people - an unexpected drowning of people in Joppa. Judas takes revenge and then goes on to head off a similar assault on the Jews of Jamnia. Clearly, as he sees it the whole campaign embodies a recommitment of the Jews to their God. They believe in the resurrection of the body. Offerings for the dead are made so that they might be released from their sins. This is almost like the idea of a purgatory.

Judas and his men pursue all of the governors who refuse to join in the terms of peace. He is successful in all his battles and takes a terrible toll on his enemies towns. At Casphin, a city “inhabited by a crowd from many different nations” (12:13), he “made a slaughter without number, so much so that an adjoining pool, two stadia in width, was seen to flow with the blood of the slain” (12:16). These words are always hard to take in the scripture narrative; there must have been some innocent among the slaughtered.

Judas’ enemies are stricken with fear. He wreaks havoc on a number of populated cities. At Scythia, they learn that the inhabitants of the city have been kind to the Jews, so they do not assault them. At the end, the Jews return to Jerusalem for the “solemn days of the seven weeks were underway” (12:31). After Pentecost, the march against Gorgias, the leader of Idumea [or Jamnia]. After the battle, they find “some of the treasures of the idols that were near” (13:40) hidden amongst the remains. They see this as the reason for their success. It is confusing here. Clearly Gorgias is a Seleucid governor who was attacked for mistreating Jews under his authority, but the treasure found must have been associated with the Jews of the town – otherwise it is hard to understand why he would react as he does.

“So then, turning themselves to prayers, they petitioned him that the offense which had been done [by their compatriots??] would be delivered into oblivion. And truly, the very strong Judas exhorts the people to keep themselves without sin, since they had seen with their own eyes what and happened because of the sins of those who were struck down” (13:42). He send 12,000 drachmas of silver to Jerusalem to make a “sacrifice for the sins of the dead thinking well and religiously about the resurrection, for if he had not hoped that those who had fallen would be resurrected, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead” (13:43-44).

It is interesting to see the beginnings of a belief in the resurrection of the dead here so late in the narrative. I am not sure what I think when it comes to this. I tend to be somewhat analytical about things; I see the increasing faith in the “afterlife” and in the “resurrection of the dead” as ways of solving the problem of justice in this existential reality we must deal with. It is so clearly not something we can see solely within the parameters of the short lives we have.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 10
The question of racial equality did not really confront Friends until they began to travel to those parts of the world where slavery was practices. While Fox made it clear that Friends who were slave owners should exercise kindness and teach their slaves the gospel, he clung to the biblical letter here and did not see slavery as a fundamental offense against the gospel of Christ.

John Woolman, in eighteenth-century America, would be the one to lead Friends to the insight that any participation in the institution of slavery was inconsistent with Christian practice.

Modern Friends found early Friends’ testimonies about sex and race very meaningful, but not for the same reasons. Modern Friends’ testimony is based much more on the values and principles of the Enlightenment than on any principle early Friends articulated. The problem with that did not become entirely clear to me until some years later when I thought through some of the dilemmas modern feminism was causing us in the Society.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 11 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 9)

2 Maccabees 11 – Lysias, the brother of Antiochus [a new fact about him here introduced] and head of the government, wants Jerusalem to be a city amenable to those who love Greek culture. He also wants the good old days back when they taxed the Temple, sold the high priesthood of the Jews for lots of money and basically ignored the will of God for the city.

“Lysias was so pleased with his tens of thousands of infantry, his thousands of cavalry, and his eighty elephants that he failed to take into account the power of God” (11:4). He invades Judea and attacks a fort about 19 miles south of Jerusalem.

Judas Maccabaeus urges men to join him in going to defend their fellow Jews, but not far from Jerusalem, “they noticed that they were being led by a horseman dressed in white and carrying gold weapons” (11:8). They see him as an angel or celestial man God has sent to help rout their enemy. They “charge into the enemy like lions, killing 11,000 infantry and 1,600 cavalry, and forcing the rest to run for their lives” (11:11).

This is in 164 BC. After this, Lysias sends an offer of reconciliation and Judas agrees to the proposals he makes. A letter from the king promises the Jews independence in cultural and religious matters. The Romans also send a letter agreeing with the terms of the agreement made between the Seleucid king and the Jews.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 9
Equality of Persons
Early Friends’ testimony on the equality and worth of all men and women is another fruit of Friends’ faith from the beginning. But again the basis of this testimony has shifted over the years. Early Friends saw the equality of the sexes as something that flowed from the “restoration” Christ had brought to pass on earth. God had never intended men and women to be unequal (Gen. 1:26-27 and Gen. 2:18). The subordination of women to men had arisen in the fall (Gen. 3:16); but with the fall overcome in Christ, the subordination of women was meant to cease.

. . . man and woman were meet-helps [companions and helpers to one another] (before they fell) and the image of God and righteousness and holiness; and so they are to be again in the restoration by Christ Jesus” (Fox, Journal, 667).

The restoration came with Christ, with the institution of the New Covenant and the outpouring of his Spirit that had come at Pentecost. Again, Fox pointed to Peter’s first address to the people of Jerusalem, a speech I have already quoted in my discussion of early Friends’ theology. Christ’s coming was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . ..Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).

As women converts came into the life and power of Christ as Friends, they too began to preach and prophesy. Fox defended them in an England that saw this as an affront to proper church order. As to the admonitions against women preaching in Paul’s letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:12), Fox developed complex arguments to reconcile his views. He never doubted that women had a right and a duty to respond to Christ’s call in them to preach, teach, or prophesy. Women played a vital role in the building of the early Quaker movement. Many preached and some even traveled to the far ends of the earth to proclaim the gospel Friends were preaching. One woman, May Dyer, died as a martyr for responding to that call—hanged by the Puritans of Massachusetts in 1660 along with three Quaker men called to the same ministry.

It was this same sense of what life “in the restoration by Christ Jesus” was to be that shaped the Friends’ wedding ceremony. Just as God had joined Adam and Eve together without the mediation of any other human being, so Friends too believed it should be among them. Friends who desired to marry were not joined by any minister or officiating elder or clerk of the Meeting. They simply met in a Meeting for Worship and stood in the group to exchange their promises to love and care for the other, “with divine assistance.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 10 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 8)

2 Maccabees 10 - The Maccabaeans restore the Temple, pull down foreign altars and then encourage a penitent spirit among the people, begging God’s forgiveness and praying that never again will the people be subject to such cruel and godless oppression.

They celebrate for eight days and institute this celebration for future times as well – the Festival of Shelters [Sukkot].

Then the story goes on to the history of Antiochus’ Epiphanes’ son Antiochus Eupator – age 8. He [or someone] appoints a man named Lysias to be chief governor of Greater Syria, “replacing Ptolemy Macron, who had been the first governor to treat the Jews fairly” (10:12).

The king’s friends go to Eupator and accuse Macron of being a traitor because he abandoned the island of Cyprus, which King Philometor of Egypt had placed under his command, and gone over to Antiochus Epiphanes. . . . No longer able to maintain the respect that his office demanded, he [Ptolemy Macron] committed suicide by taking poison” (10:13).

Another military assault against the Jews is recounted, this time by Gorgias, governor of Idumea and the Idumaeans. Judas Maccabaeus and his men capture the town and kill about 20,000. About 9,000 take refuge in two forts and Judas has to move on to other places. He leaves his brothers Simon and Joseph behind to continue the siege. Some of Simon’s men are lured into accepting a bribe of some silver in return for letting some of the men escape from the fortresses. Judas is furious when he learns this and has the men executed (10:22). He then is successful in taking the forts.

A general named Timothy [or Timotheus] brings a large force from Asia against Judea. As “the enemy forces were approaching, Judas and his men prayed to God. They put on sackcloth, threw earth on their heads, and lay face downwards on the steps of the altar, begging God to help them by fighting against their enemies, as he had promised in his Law” (10:25-26).

The fight begins. “When the fighting was at its worst, the enemy saw five handsome men riding on horses with gold bridles and leading the Jewish forces. These five men surrounded Judas, protecting him with their own armor and showering the enemy with arrows and thunderbolts” (10:29-30). The enemy becomes so confused, they are easily defeated. Timothy escapes to a fortress at Gezer but Judas and his men take the fort on the fifth day, killing Timothy and his brothers. The Jews celebrate the victory “by singing hymns and songs of thanksgiving to the Lord, who had shown them great kindness and had given them victory” (10:38).

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 8
The other virtue closely connected with simplicity for early Friends was the call to integrity. When they stood before a magistrate, they refused to make a ceremony of honesty by employing oaths. They simply kept to “yes” and “no” as Jesus had urged (Matt. 5:37). Fox and other leaders continually stressed the importance of integrity as part of the witness they made:

Do rightly, justly, truly, holily, equally to all people in all things . . .

Wrong no man, over-reach no man, if it be never so much to your advantage, but be plain, righteous and holy. . . . Let justice be acted and holiness in all things, without any guile, fraud or deceit. . . .

Loathe deceit . . . hard-heartedness, wronging, cozening, cheating or unjust dealing. But live and reign in the righteous Life and Power of God . . . doing the Truth to all, without respect to persons, high or low whatsoever, young or old, rich or poor . . .

. . . live in the Power of Truth and Wisdom of God, to answer the just Principle of God in all people upon the earth. And so answering . . . it, thereby you come to be as a city set upon a hill. . . .So, let your lives preach, let your Light shine, that your works may be seen, your Father may be glorified, your fruits may be unto holiness and that your end may be everlasting Life. . . .” (Fox, Letters, 154-155).
Friends’ reputation for honesty and fair dealing became legendary and remains a source of justifiable pride among Friends. Honesty had always been something important to me, but now I fully recognized and acknowledged God’s part in that in my life.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 9 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 7)

2 Maccabees 9 – Antiochus is outraged when he hears of the defeat of Nicanor and Timotheus. He races out to take revenge, but God strikes him with a terrible pain in his bowels and “excruciating internal torture” (9:5) that cause him to smell very bad. The author uses this as a lesson in how God takes his revenge on those who persecute even in this life, and no matter how exalted a man may be in power, his power is not greater than the power of God’s justice.

He actually seems to come to a realization of this on his own. When “he could not even bear his own stench, he spoke in this way: ‘It is just to be subject to God, and a mortal should not consider himself equal to God.’” (9:12). He seems to want to reverse all the terrible things he had planned – destruction of the city, massacre of the Jews and the plundering of the Temple. He even promises to “become a Jew himself, [so he could] travel through every place on earth and declare the power of God” (9:17).

He writes to the people, begging them to respect him and the son he has named to succeed him when he dies – a reality he sees as coming soon. So “The murderer and blasphemer, having been struck very badly, just as he himself had treated others, passed from this life in a miserable death” (9:28).

Philip the Phrygian flees into Egypt to Ptolemy Philometor because he is afraid of Antiochus’ son. Antiochus' son is supposed to have been nine years old at this time, so it is unlikely he was really afraid of him. His tutor and guardian is the man he is afraid of - Lysias.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 7
The reduction of spiritual issues to political or social ones was deeply bothersome to me, as I have said several times. It sapped the faith of any real need for Christ and failed to recognize that the deepest barriers in us that kept us from God were not societal but spiritual. I already lived my life wary of the kind of materialism that capitalism promoted. Simplicity for me involved more things like avoiding political or philosophical fads, trying not to be overly cerebral about what I believed, speaking what was on my mind and heart simply and directly and trying not to be manipulative or devious in my dealings with others. These were the parts of the simplicity testimony that came to mean most to me, maybe because talking and arguing about ideologies was something I had done a lot.

If you believe that God dwells in you and works in and through you, then it is your responsibility to treat your words and acts with respect by making sure that what you say and do comes as much as is possible from a spirit of love, that it is sincere, and that it comes from a deeper place in you than off the top of your head. How what you say or do is received or whether it changes anything is not for you to worry about.

Examples of the kind of speech I am talking about are very common, such as words of apology or repentance for things you have said or done in anger or impatience. If, like me, you lose your temper with people in frustrating circumstances—you are forced to stand in line endlessly or have to deal with people who cannot understand some important, complex issue you need to work out with them—if the Lord puts a word of repentance in you to offer to that offended party, you have an obligation to act on it. It doesn’t matter that it was a week or two weeks ago. It doesn’t matter that you might go through the rest of your life without every having to cross paths with that person again, you have an obligation to go back and try to apologize.

Or perhaps you have a family member or friend with whom you have long-standing and intractable “issues”. In these situations too, you have a duty to speak thoughtfully, lovingly, and with integrity what the Lord gives you to say. I know I did. There were family members who had hurt me many times over the years, relationships that were tortured and difficult because my need for them had always been so great. People who come from broken, dysfunctional families like mine will easily be able to understand what I am talking about even without the boring details. There was a need and a call in me to “speak truth” in love to members of my family and also, for the first time, an ability to accept the broken reality I had always previously hoped would be healed by my silence or endurance. I could not cure things in my own will. Perhaps it would not be God’s will either that everything be cured the way I had in mind. But my job was not the end result. My job was only to be faithful to the little truths I believed God had given me to speak.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 8 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 6)

2 Maccabees 8 – Judas Maccabaeus gathers together a group of 6000 men who are ready to fight. They “called upon the Lord: to look upon his people, who were down trodden by all; and to take pity on the temple, which was defiled by the impious; and even to take pity on the city by utter destruction, for it was willing to be immediately leveled to the ground; and to hear the voice of the blood that was crying out to him, so that he would remember also the most iniquitous deaths of the innocent little ones, and the blasphemies brought upon his name; and to show his indignation over these things” (8:2-4).

They fight guerilla style and are successful, the author says not so much because of their strength but because “the wrath of the Lord had turned into mercy” (8:5).

Philip the Phrygian writes to Ptolemy, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, to send help and he does. He sends Nicanor and 20,000 men, “to wipe out the entire race of the Jews” (8:9). Nicanor raises 2000 talents in money to be given by the king to the Romans as “tribute” by promising Jewish captives to willing supporters.

Some of the Jewish people with Judas Maccabaeas become so afraid of what is coming, they run away. Others pray that the Lord might rescue them “for the sake of the covenant which was made with their fathers” (8:15). Judas says to them, “these [fighters] trust in their weapons, as well as in their boldness; but we trust in the Almighty Lord, who is able to wipe out both those coming against us, and even the whole world, with one nod” (8:18). His words give them courage and confidence.

They meet the Maccabaean divisions led by the four brothers – Judas, Simon, Jonathan and Joseph – and are beaten by them. The brothers take the money given for their purchase.  The booty is divided in half – half for the fighters and half for the victims of the anti-Jewish persecutions. Nicanor, bereft of position and troops, escapes to Antioch “like a runaway slave.”

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 6
There was an eagerness to deny self not only by denying oneself things but by denying self-inflating impulses and expressions of every kind. Early Friends wore somber looks and refrained even from superficial conversation lest it proceed from a worldly, frivolous spirit rather than from God. They spoke slowly and with much deliberation. They avoided what we usually think of as simple distractions—games, sports, plays, and shows of all kinds because they believed that these things “trained up people to vanity and looseness and led them from the fear of God . . .” (Fox, Journal, 37).

Their suspicion of worldly customs and manners was profound, especially those that led away from the recognition of Christ’s centrality, such as religious holidays or festivals that Friends thought had corrupted the church—even day and month names that retained a trace of pagan influence. Friends stopped celebrating religious holidays they considered tarnished with pagan worship such as Easter and Christmas, much as evangelical Christians today are troubled by our modern celebration of Halloween.

But mostly they challenged secular customs that fed people’s pride or sense of self-importance—customs of class or social order that marked one person’s superiority or mastery over another. The contemporary custom of using the pronoun “you” to address social superiors and “thee” to address equals and social inferiors came under attack. Friends addressed everyone in the familiar form as a testimony against this distinction of persons. Similarly the custom of doffing one’s hat to social superiors (“hat honor”) or using common titles such as “Your Honor”, “Your Excellency”, “Your Highness”, or “Sir”—even Mr. and Mrs.—all these things were abandoned by early Friends.

Modern Friends continue certain practices that flow out of these testimonies but not all. They do not celebrate Christmas or Easter in a “liturgical” way any more than they celebrate Sunday (First Day) liturgically. But they do not challenge observance of the day of Christmas the way they once did, keeping their shops open. Friends are more like everyone else with respect to these holidays, trimming trees and going on Easter egg hunts with children. They do retain the use of nonpagan-based names for days of the week and months of the year—calling them by their number rather than any name; but their observance of this venerable Quaker custom is formal only. The offense taken to pagan cultural remnants is no longer there. Even among Christian Friends, the offense to such small remnants seems not to have endured over the years.

The main thing with respect to the simplicity testimony that has changed over the years is the loss of any deep or radical concern about either “the self” or “the world” as early Friends understood them. Indeed, the modern infatuation with “self” (self-esteem, self-actualization, self-determination, etc.) seemed fully to have captured Friends by the 1980s as it had captured most Americans. There is little sense among modern Friends that the self needs to turn from death to life or from “fall” to “restoration”. The only really negative talk you hear of “the world” is the world of capitalist enterprise—the materialism promoted by Madison Avenue, the manipulations of industrialists or manufacturers, or “Big Money”. In this, modern Friends are virtually indistinguishable from politically left-wing critics of American business.

The world is never the things that we are part of, that we are tempted by. As Fox once wrote, the problem is always “they”, “they”, “they”, never “I”, “I”, “I”.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 7 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 5)

2 Maccabees 7 – Seven brothers are also models of the kind of Jewish revival the Maccabees seek. They refuse to comply when the king orders them to eat pig’s flesh. To punish them, he orders one of the seven – the spokesman – to be tortured and killed. He is cut up and fried. Both mother and other brothers look on but only encourage one another in accepting martyrdom. “Inhuman fiend, you may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again for ever.” (7: 9)

This is the first time in scripture that belief in bodily resurrection is expressed. The note says the “doctrine of immortality [is] developed in the atmosphere of Greek thought and without reference to the resurrection of the body . . .For Hebrew thought however, which makes no distinction between soul and body, the notion of survival implied a physical resurrection . . .” Ironic that a book so dedicated to rejecting Greek influence would import such a Greek-influenced notion!!

It is the mother who is most highly praised. She says, “I do not know how you appeared in my womb; it was not I who endowed you with breath and life, I had not the shaping of your every part. It is the creator of the world, ordaining the process of man’s birth and presiding over the origin of all things, who in his mercy will most surely give you back both breath and life, seeing that you now despise your own existence for the sake of his laws” (7: 22-23).

A hard thing to understand is that all of these martyrs ascribe their sufferings not to the evil of the king but to the punishment of God for sins they have presumably committed: “We are suffering for our own sins; and if, to punish and discipline us, our living Lord vents his wrath upon us, he will yet be reconciled with his own servants.”

Everyone dies in the end here – and all are honored by both Jews and Christians for their faithfulness to the traditions of our faith.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 5
Simplicity, Integrity, and Plainness of Speech

The idea of looking solely to God for one’s direction, of turning one’s gaze from all the pressures and preoccupations of the “world” one was living in, led to a kind of radical simplicity about what was important in life. For me it is especially hard to tease apart the testimonies of high importance to me, so I will deal with them here together.

Simplicity for Friends involved a turning away from the two things human beings are most likely to worship in place of God—the self and the world. The “world” in this context is not the “world of John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who belies in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

but the “world” of 1 John 2:15-16.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

The good “world” was the creation and humanity made in God’s image and likeness, the world that God’s love “was toward” as early Friends put it. It was the world God’s love went out to in spite of all the problems man’s disobedience brought. The “fallen” or bad “world” was the unjust and tawdry world of things that fed human pride and sparked human lust: superfluous possessions, customs and traditions that set one person or class or race up over another, transient and unimportant things that people loved instead of loving God. As people came into a sense of God’s real presence in them, however, the vanities and attractions of the “world” lost their allure:

“. . . we received the gospel with a ready mind, and with broken hearts, and affected spirits; and gave up to follow the Lord fully, casting off the weights and burdens. . . . Oh, the strippings of all needless apparel, and the forsaking of superfluities in meats, drinks and in the plain self-denying path we walked. . . . Our words were few and savory, our apparel and houses plain, being stripped of superfluities; our countenances grave. . . . .Indeed we were a plain, broken-hearted, contrite spirited, self-denying people; our souls being in an unexpressible travail to do all things well pleasing in the sight of God, for our great concern night and day was to obtain through Jesus Christ the great work of salvation, and thereby an assurance of the everlasting rest and Sabbath of our God” (Charles Marshall, Early Quaker Writings, Barbour and Roberts, eds. 81).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 6:18-31 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 4)

2 Maccabees 6:18-31 – A man named Eleazar, an elderly man who is “one of the foremost teachers of the Law” (6:18) goes to an event at which he is compelled to eat “pig’s flesh.” He chooses to go “to the block” rather than submit to this desecration of Jewish Law. There are people at the event who respect him and try to save him by getting him to “pretend” to eat it (6:21). Instead, he “publicly state[s] his convictions” (6:23), fearing that the young might be misled by his appearing to break the law. So he dies, “leaving his death as an example of nobility and a record of virtue not only for the young but for the great majority of the nation” *(6:31)
A Jerusalem Bible footnote comments that Eleazar was a hero to the early Christian church as well – a pre-Christian martyr.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 4
Dedication to the disciple of self-denial and attention to the Spirit of Christ brought results for early Friends. It transformed individual lives and it transformed the Christian life of the whole community of Quaker believers. People testified that they felt in themselves palpably passing from death to life, from spiritual bondage to Christian freedom, a resurrection of the “first Adam”. Early Friends firmly believed that a life lived in the power of God’s spirit did not have to remain fallen and unredeemed.

“Christ, the second Adam is come, that the dead in the first Adam might have Life, might be quickened and might be awakened to Righteousness. . . . And so, he invites all Adam’s posterity to come to him, that all through him might believe, come to the Light . . . to Life, and . . . up into Peace and rest. . . .” (Fox, Letters, 95-96).

This is what I felt too—profound love and the sense of being at the beginning of a journey into the depths of something utterly endless and boundless and good.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 6:1-17 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 3)

2 Maccabees 6:1-17 – The king sends an “old man from Athens to compel the Jews to abandon their ancestral customs and live no longer by the laws of God; and to profane the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus” (6:1) -- to compel the Jews to accept Hellenization.

The Temples in Jerusalem and Samaria are filled with idols and the “altar of sacrifice was loaded with victims proscribed by the laws as unclean” (6:5).  There is a monthly celebration of the Seleucid king’s birthday and people are forced to “wear ivy wreaths and walk in the Dionysiac procession” (6:7) when there was a feast for the god Dionysus.

A decree goes out “ordering the execution of those who would not voluntarily conform to Greek customs. So it became clear that disaster was imminent” (6:9). Two women are “charged with having circumcised their children” (6:10). They are “paraded publicly round the town, with their babies hung at their breasts, and then hurled over the city wall” (6:10).

“Other people who had assembled in the caves to keep the [Sabbath] without attracting attention were denounced to Philip [the Phrygian – officer in charge of the town] and all burned together, since their consciences would not allow them to defend themselves, out of respect for the holiness of the day” (6:11).

Then the author says, “I urge anyone who may read this book not to be dismayed at these calamities, but to reflect that such visitations are not intended to destroy our race but to discipline it.” (6: 12).

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 3
The silence of the Meeting for Worship is something that has come down through the years in the “unprogrammed” tradition that is mostly followed in the Eastern United States, and it remains what it always was, a place where you can encounter Christ. But people bring to the Meeting the expectations and theologies they have. If you bring to it an expectation of meeting Christ, you will meet him there. If you come expecting something less, that is what you will encounter. Meetings today seldom expect to encounter what early Friends expected, so the ministry you hear is very different.

The feeling of being called to give vocal ministry is a very powerful experience. As I became regular in my attendance at Meeting for Worship and grew in my understanding of what I was going and expecting, I found myself called more and more to speak. The feeling was always the same—the burdened feeling, the feeling in my throat, the beating of my heart. These experiences understood in the light of Friends’ theology were very special to me—like brushing the hem of Christ’s garment inwardly.

By all accounts, the early Meetings of Friends were rich in spoken ministry—inspired prayer, teaching, and encouragement. But there were also times when Friends spoke and “outran” the Spirit. Being attentive meant learning when you were not being called. If you were not being moved by God to speak, you were supposed to remain silent, even if what you had to say seemed very interesting or wise to you. Friends were eloquent in describing and exhorting each other to self-restraint and attentiveness, as I have pointed out in the 1656 advice quoted above. The experience of being called to vocal ministry is not self-inflating. Fare from generating pride, the idea that you might be “God’s mouth” in some small way generates a deep humility:

“. . . stand still in quietness and meekness, that the still voice you may hear, which till you come down within, you cannot hear. . . . So be low and still, if you will hear his voice, and wait to hear that speak that separates between the precious and the vile, now that which you must wait in is near you, yes, in you” (Howgill, Early Quaker Writings, Barbour and Roberts, eds, 176).

Worship was and continues to be the starting point of all Quaker spirituality, but listening and waiting in Meeting was and is not the end—even vocal ministry is not. The end or point of learning to listen for his voice was life in Christ. The discipline of hearing and obeying practiced in worship needed to be carried out of the Meeting for Worship into one’s daily life, into one’s activities in the world. Early Quakers were not contemplatives. They were simple laymen and women—married mostly, often rudely educated and active in every kind of human work. They lived in a tumultuous society at a tumultuous time in history. They traveled, preached, went to jail, challenged entrenched social customs, and tested the limits of religious orthodoxy. A generation later, a certain withdrawal from the world would become part of the Quaker way of life, but even in that more quietistic time, Friends never would withdraw from the daily routines of family, business, and ordinary human life. Also, the silence and inner stillness were never meant to bring one into any kind of contemplative state. They were meant to keep you in the life and power of Christ wherever you were.

The writings of early Friends are filled with words and phrases that evoke the waiting atmosphere of Meeting: “be still and silent”, “stand single to the Lord”, keep “the mind stayed upon the Lord”, and others. But these phrases, which can be plucked from Quaker writings like ripe fruit, rarely refer to Meeting for Worship, but rather to the general hustle and bustle of everyday life. Life was not to be divided into an hour or two of attentiveness to God each week followed by hours and hours of preoccupation with human affairs.