Sunday, December 20, 2009

ONE

So awe fulled the birthing
of God's presence, new cauled
in humble manger's destiny,

The base and apex of
a starred cave's presents
of all future festivals

Yet abandoned, forsaken to
the crowned world's nails,
every man's cursedness;

Farthest reach of faith
this Apocalypso dancer
crosses the Cosmos,

Morning us night-less;
he compassions Earth
ever peopling Heaven,

Emptying the pitiless bottom
zeroing Apollyon
into ever's Now

Beloved one, Yeshua
child of the masses
point man for us all.*


A poem I wrote a couple Christmases ago through God's Spirit. The verse
still warms my spirit during this cold time, and hopefully will speak to all of you.

May you have a blessed Christmas,

Daniel Wilcox

*Previously published in The Green Silk Journal

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Car Sign Close to the Heart of God

Car signs come and go.

I've followed them for years down the freeways and byways-- slogans or pictures so political, athletic, off color, scenic or religious. There are the countless Fish symbols...






...and more recently the counter Darwin images eating the Fish...






Of course, there are signs extolling various candidates who quickly disillusion even their drivers who then can't get rid of the politicians or the stickers from their bumpers so they accelerate faster and faster hoping to leave "them" behind.

Fascinating, sometimes disgusting, the signs and decals stick to my mind, but the only ones that deeply trouble me are the "God bless US" ones. Yes, the "God, give to the U.S., because we are the greatest nation---us, us, us...


Not only is the sentiment arrogant and self-centered, but it fails to consider those who really need God's blessing--the lost, the hurting, the hungry, the destitute, and, yes, even the bad all the world round.

That's why when I first saw the bumper sticker which said "God Bless the Whole World: NO EXCEPTIONS"
I was truly thankful and rushed out to get myself a copy.

Imagine that, a sign which doesn't fixate on us and our own, doesn't exclude or denigrate, but instead gives to everyone else, which blesses all others, a sign which is an evangel to the world to all those who are so in need. Yes, a call for those of us who have plenty to focus on all of humankind and be generous, peaceful, and kind.

May we live that car sign out.


I John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another; for love comes from God, and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God...because God is love.

In the Light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Yes, it's time to be a bit prophetic--to stand with a 'clint' in the eye, and a cigar (unsmoked, that causes cancer), to be honest and tell it like it is:

The Good:
Jesus, when he forgave all of humankind, even the worst of us, from the cross.

The Bad (actually the evil):
John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John Knox, the Popes, Oliver Cromwell, etc. when they supported the killing of other Christians, those who disagreed with them theologically. The Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church burned Christians at the stake, drowned them, horribly tortured and "legally" murdered the innocent who had done no evil.

In August 2009, Israeli police ejected two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem where they had been living for 50 years, and allowed Jewish settlers to move into the houses!

The Ugly:
Ex-Bishop John Shelby Spong when he claims theism isn't true, argues for the killing of pre-born babies, and supports acts of suicide:-(

The Southern Baptist minister when he prayed for the death of President Obama.

President Barak Obama, when he wins the Nobel Peace Prize yet promotes abortion, war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conservative Protestant Christians (those who support Defense of Marriage legislation against same sexual individuals)actually have the highest divorce rate according to the Barna Research Group. According to Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, 90% of divorces among born-again Christians occur after they have been saved:-(

In the sixties, in our town a young woman married a Chinese guy. The comments went around,"Couldn't she find a man?"

When I yelled at a student for not doing her homework for a week, (my not being patient and sensitive), only to discover later that her father had abandoned her:-(

To be continued


Feel free to weigh in with your own heroic, abhorrent, and despicable choices.

In the Light of God

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Find Truth--a Survey

Back, so long ago;-) when I was a teenager, I listened to radio call-in shows. What is your favorite new song, band, type of music? Surf City;-) The Yardbirds? Classical?

While I am finishing up on my blogs on Heaven and Hell, I would like to invite all you blog readers out there to "call in" and give us your view in the comment box on how humans can come to the Truth.

Here are some of the traditional answers:

The Councils?

The Creeds?

The Popes?

The Bible?

The Holy Spirit?

The Faith Community?

Human Experience?

Intuition?

Reason?

Science?

Do you trust in one or more of these?
Why?

If not, where do you look for the actuation of Eternal Truth?

Or is Eternal Truth an illusion or delusion as nontheists assert?

If so, then by what method do you seek to live your life beyond
the instinctual, cultural, and national levels of existing?

This questionnaire/survey is designed from a western theistic framework,
however, we are deeply interested in other perspectives as well--Buddhist,
Hindu, Islamic...

Please call in and win the latest virtual prize;-)

Daniel

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Heaven and Hell

The Beginning and the End, the Ancient of Days, the Satan, the Height and the Depth, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, the Sheep versus the Goats, the Third and Seventh Heavens, the Heavens of the Heavens, the New Jerusalem, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the Alpha and Omega--what do all these eschatological words mean?

I've got the theological tomes The Flame that Consumes, The Dogma of Hell, The Sovereignty of God, Heaven, on and on, but here I am at 62 full of endless head notions theorized by countless theologians who've never been to either Heaven or Hell, so I am not going to regurgitate their speculations, at least not yet.

Instead, let's dive into Jesus' vivid imaged words. And remember, Jesus speaks in symbols, metaphors, and hyperbole. He is mainly concerned with our motives and actions of goodness, not how theologically, doctrinally correct we might be. After all the Scribes, knew the Bible better than any living humans yet they failed to live loving lives.

Also, let's try to forget everything we've heard or read about the End of Things. Too often people take Jesus literally and thus miss his message altogether. Too often the Good News Jesus came to declare and give to all has become bad news of the worst sort, even downright evil.

Matthew 5:29-30: "And if your right eye causes you to sin," Jesus says, "gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna."

One extreme statement of Jesus' many extremist statements. But what does it mean? The first point to see, based on an understanding of Jewish imagery is that Jesus is not talking literally. Beside, no disciple in the New Testament is ever spoken of having actually gouged out his eye or cut off his hand.

If Jesus is not speaking in prose, not in legal terms, then what is the message?

And what is Gehenna?

What ever Jesus is saying, it can't be what a lot of religious people (Christians and Muslims) mean when they speak of God hating sinners and destining them to Hell. Many Christian and Muslim leaders even claim that God preordained most humans to eternal damnation before the beginning of Time!

But in the same section of Scripture as Jesus' Gehenna statement, Jesus says we are to love our enemies like God loves all humans, that indeed to love others is the way toward perfection:
"I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he causes his son to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteoous...Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect."

Yes, God loves us deeply, limitlessly and is not willing that any individual should perish (11 Peter 3:9).

But what of Hell then? What is Gehenna for if not for humans as the Catholics and Reformers, and Muslims, and other claim?

First, Jesus' words in Matthew 25:41 say "the eternal fire" was prepared for the eternal destruction of evil (the devil and his messengers). And later in the New Testament, it says"the Lake of Fire" was prepared for the destruction of Death!

So why then does Jesus speak of individuals who don't help the poor and the hungry and the persecuted as being told to "depart" into the eternal fire?

Because when humans refuse goodness, even embrace evil, they identify with evil. And evil is bound for destruction if there is any justice in the Cosmos.

Another way of perceiving this is the outlook of Eastern Orthodox theology which emphasizes that God (like Scripture says) is a "consuming fire." The Orthodox church says God is the fire of eternal love which purifies and redeems all who willingly live in love.

In contrast humans who focus on, live in, selfishness, greed, lust, hate, and revenge--are consumed by those evil actions and cannot experience God's love as purifying because they refuse to love the truth.

Also, keep in mind none of this is literal! How could Death be thrown into Hell? That doesn't make any rational sense; it's not a factual statement of prose, of science. We are speaking here of spiritual truth in the language of metaphor and imagery.

But even beyond this, some followers of Jesus (such as Origen, C. S. Lewis, William Barclay, Keith Ward, etc.) have deep hope that since God is perfect love, that God will never give up on even the most evil-choosing humans, the ones utterly given to the seven deadly acts of depravity. Hopefully, at some distant point in eternity, even the most rebellious and reprehensible will come finally to the truth and be saved.


Let us look briefly into this term Gehenna.

To be continued

In the Light of God,
Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Beginning of Wisdom

Remember we spoke last time of how Scripture is paradoxical, of how the Bible is mainly pictorial, symbolical, and mythical and less often or seldom logical, philosophical, and scientific. Poetic utterances come forward more often than journalistic prose.

So how does this help us to understand biblical contradictions? Consider Psalms 110:10-112:1 saying "The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom..How blessed the man who fears Yahweh..." versus I John 4:7-21 saying "Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God..God is love..There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

First, notice that humans are "blessed" who fear God. In Scripture, to be blessed is a wondrous happiness. Obviously, the writer isn't dealing with the kind of fear that we often think of when we use the word today. When a person says he has a fear of terrorism, he is not "blessed."

Second consider a rather simplistic analogy: I both fear and love the Grand Canyon. I've never cringed toward the Canyon; that is not what I mean by fearing the Canyon. Rather, when I was on one of my many trips into the Grand Canyon backpacking, I had to crawl across several rocks slides and move along a trail only as wide as a large book and slanted toward a cliff which plummeted straight down over 1,000 feet!

The wind was blowing, yanking on my 60-pound backpack. Let me tell you, I was aware of the awesome danger--that this was real not some virtual game or safe tourist area. I feared the Canyon!


Yet contradictorily, I loved the Canyon. Few times in my life have I ever felt so in love with any place, any scene. To descend down dangerous trails, being able to look back geologically millions of years and outward visually for miles and miles, the vista so vast that I almost ended in ecstatic awe!

Extrapolate this basic example to fearing and loving Absolute Goodness, Total Truth, Ultimate Reality. Fearing and loving God are complimentary responses/actions. Ecstatic awe and deep intimate relationship with the Eternal are together as one. At least that is Jesus' view.

When I John writes that there is no "fear in love" he isn't speaking of absolute awe. Rather the writer is saying that an individual who responds to God's love will no longer have a cringing kind of fear of God. He or she will live in the Beloved.

Consider this modern version of these scriptural passages: "The Love of God is the beginning of wisdom."

In the Light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, September 18, 2009

Part 2: Fear, Hate, and Hell

Whenever trying to understand a text, one first needs to define terms, figure what kind of genre the text is, etc. So many bad errors--often with horrible results--have come about through sincere individuals and groups misunderstanding and misapplying writings from the past. I've already given the horrendous examples of people of faith justifying war in previous blogs so I will skip that.

One of the more sad personal examples is the case of Origen, a great thinker, writer, and interpreter who literally mistook Jesus' hyperbole and mutilated himself. Even more tragic are the parents who try and follow the Bible literally. Several years ago one mother in the United States thought she should follow Abraham--have enough faith to let her baby die from a serious illness, but then God would raise her little one to life.

This terrible evil has happened many times repeatedly. Yet in a counter text of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), one prophet adamantly stated that human sacrifice NEVER was God's will. Scripture is a library of contrary views--not a legal guidebook.

Who knows why, but so many Christian leaders latch on to the worst verses in the Bible, and ignore the overreaching ethical truths. For instance, I was told by our Christian youth leader that God will call us Christians to sometimes commit immoral acts!

What was his basis for this horrendous advice? He said that God had told Hosea to marry a prostitute. In the first place, this leader had misunderstood the book of Hosea in my opinion. Hosea wasn't being called to do anything immoral. In the second, this action of Hosea wasn't some kind of all time moral pronouncement that all followers of God should know God will call them to do what is evil. On the contrary, Hosea married a prostitute to help her and to bring about good.

The first step we need to learn about ancient Middle Eastern thought is that it wasn't primarily logical or rational, but image-based and often given to exaggeration to emphasize a particular point, not usually to make a legal universal standard. To a certain extent this is still true today. Read many Middle Eastern newspapers or websites and you will be astonished by the extreme exaggeration, even heavy diatribe.

Various biblical scholars from William Barclay to James Kallas have pointed to the paradoxical nature of much of biblical literature. Furthermore, the Bible seldom gets philosophical and almost never dwells on the empirical in the Greek or modern scientific sense.

Also, keep in mind that even in the modern West, we often use exaggeration for effect, sometimes very superficially. Many times I've heard individuals say "I'm starving," yet they have eaten not more than 4 or 5 hours previously, and have never been without plenty of food.

When Jesus, in the space of two verses, seems to contradict himself, saying both to fear not and fear greatly, he isn't thinking or talking like a philosopher, but as a prophet, in strong poetic language not legal prose. You won't understand Jesus' way if you are looking for a logical system or a legal code.

Jesus focuses on vivid, even stark, images and extreme hyperbole. Remember at one point he gives a parable where he compares himself to a sneaky thief; in another parable he says disciples should act like an embezzler! What?!

He even compares God to a ruthless unfair judge!! The point had nothing to do with God's true essence. The odd analogy's meaning is that if even a bad judge will help us if we keep pestering him, then surely the God of the whole universe (who is essentially good, true, and just) will help us.

In another story, Jesus talks of God as our loving father, yet speaks of God throwing people into the burning garbage dump of Gehenna. What father would do such an act? NO normal father would ever do that. Only abusive ones. (At first I was going to supply the verses for these comments to verify what I am saying, but then realized that would miss the whole point. I am not trying to proof-text a few verses in the New Testament, but rather to show that we need to approach poetic literature such as the Bible very differently from how modern fundamentalists and skeptics do.)

For instance, consider the "hate" passage. In Luke, Jesus said we must "hate" our parents, our wives, our children, our selves, etc.! But we must read this in context. In the first place, this isn't a call for hatred in the modern sense of active hostility. It's an extreme case of hyperbole. In comparison to our dedication to Ultimate Truth, the Absolute Good--we need to love our loved ones less.

We can see this is so by cross-referencing the same passage in Matthew where the words of Jesus aren't of "hate" but rather "he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." Either Jesus varied his message or the writer of the Matthew thought he needed to soften the force of the hyperbole because people might misunderstand, as indeed they have and still do.

Some people ask, why didn't Jesus speak in legal code or philosophical moderation? I've even wished at times Jesus would be more reasonable. But Jesus seeks to get behind legality, respectability, the intellect, and even our moderate civility, to our inner self.

He doesn't want "nice" people--such humans often judge, expel, even kill those different from themselves. What God wants are individuals who are committed unconditionally to Truth, Goodness, and Love, ones who reach out to rescue the lost, the despised, the poor, the bad, even the evil people.

For another extreme example consider Jesus's most extreme words. He said if we wanted to be his disciple we need to be electrocuted in our electric chair/asphyxiated in our gas chamber! We need to be hanged. Well, in his case he was referring to a much worse form of execution that included long torture before dying--the Roman method of crucifixion reserved for only the worst sorts of individuals.

Why would Jesus use such extreme words--to some a very revolting and repulsive statement? Well, there's another long blogpost to write in the future:-) Right now, I am only trying to deal with only three words--fear, hate, and Hell.
And, I've only given the background so far.

Also, check out the comment by Ken Schroeder in the responses. He explains all of this from a somewhat different angle but is very clear.

To be continued

In the Light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Encountering Jesus Part 2

Jesus said, But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Luke 12:5

What? Sounds like a horrible contradiction to Jesus' emphasis on love in Luke 12: 6-7, does it not?

And what about 1 John 4:18? There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

And 1 John repeatedly claims, God is love. Yet is God also fear? And doesn't all of this sound like so much double-talk?

Should we teach our children to react to God like many religious children of the past and the present, who grovel in fear and anxiety so very afraid they might not be of the few predestined to salvation or that God loves to cast millions of them into Hell?

As a young adult trying to understand the Bible, even after college, I tended to see verses propositionally and logically--the fading shadow of my fundamentalist upbringing. So I was baffled and had no answer for skeptics. Whenever Scripture made extreme statements, especially ones which seemed contradictory, I got confused and lost my way.

Check out Luke 14: 26 If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Now there's a winner. Probably won't gets points from Focus on the Family. And it's an isolated verse atheists love to heave at people of faith, like a biblical Molotov cocktail.

So now we have Jesus demanding we fear God, fear Hell and then Jesus also orders us to hate our family!

I don't claim there are any easy answers to such difficult verses--and there are many pages of them in the Bible. However, I do think we grow when we sincerely struggle spiritually.

What I don't want to do is to twist the verses into easy answers. It used to frustrate me to no end when reading commentators and they would try and get around (or eliminate) difficult minefields like this. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the famous German theologian hanged by the Nazis) gave a brilliant satire on this habit of humans in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He made fun of those who turn Scripture into the opposite of its plain meaning:

Where Jesus says to give up all you have to become his disciple, Bonhoeffer has the modern Christian say, what Jesus really means is to keep all you have and get more.

I have learned much over the years about what Jesus means in Luke 12, but before I share my understanding this time, I thought, first, I would throw out the spiritual grenade;-) to you other bloggers and see what your take is on these vitally important verses.

In the Light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Encountering Jesus Part #1

Jesus said, Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God..Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. NIV Luke 12:6-7

These loving words mean so much--that God cares even for the sparrows and so very much for all humans, every single unique individual who has ever lived.

Indeed this may be the central reason to be a theist--to have deep hope for all people we meet now, and hope for all the millions lost in wrong harmful ways in this life. And hope especially for all past humans who so terribly suffered and died in the Holocaust, the genocides of Rwanda and Cambodia and Turkey, the pestilences of the Black Plague, malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and cancer; the tragic loss of life in the tsunami in Indonesia, and endless death from other forms of havoc and evil in the past, and the multi-millions who suffer abuse and die so young in childhood...

NONE OF THEM HAVE DIED FOR NOTHING if somehow all will be made good.

There is not the despair as in a nontheistic cosmos where ruthless determinism or chance rules.

No!

We have God's Yes--Faith, hope, and love are eternal:-)

For those millions of humans and all others, and even countless lesser creatures--they all are loved by God and cared for living within God, and as the NT says, and many people of faith have trusted, God will bring all into the loving realm of total goodness and blessedness in the end.

That, dear Friends, is the Good News, the Glad Tidings, the Ocean of Light--God IS and loves us deeply and endlessly:-)

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

The Love of God
by Frederick M. Lehman and
Meir Ben Isaac (from his Jewish
poem Hadamut written in Aramic
in 1050 A.D.)

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Refrain

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Refrain


Next in part 2 we will look at the rest of the Luke passage.

In the Light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

10 Acts from the N.T. in Modern Language

1. Love "I Am/I Will Be"--the Personal Ultimately Real, the Eternal Good, Truth, and Loving with all of your self, all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your strength.

2. Don't make any finite thing, idea, goal, or person the center of your life. Your focus is to be the unseen Center, the Eternal 'behind' all that is visible and temporary.

3. Be sacred in your words and thoughts. don't ridicule what is true or ultimate.

4. Take at least one evening and day a week for worship, reflection, and re-creation. This time is to help and revitalize, not to limit or to legalize.

5. Honor and help others, especially your own aging parents.

6. Love all, including your enemies as yourself. Don't violate others in thought, word, or deed, certainly don't kill anyone.

7. Be faithful and loyal to one other person for life, in an ultimate sense through intellectual, emotional, and physical union. Sexual fidelity and purity are very important.

8. Share your things with those in need. Don't take what doesn't belong to you.

9. Speak the truth always in love, in compassion and mercy. Be honest and forthright.

10.Simplify; be content with what is good and necessary. Don't long for what others have.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Ocean of Light

Mathieu sat looking dumbfounded as the red liquid seeped out on the wood of the cafe table.

In Jean-Paul Sartre's classic novel Age of Reason, the main character Mathieu suddenly comes to a shocking nadir of awareness--his own "age of reason"-- realizing how much of what he has thought, perceived, and done that is all so delusionary (as will most humans shortly because it is 1938 and only months before the Nazis launch humankind's own nadir, one of absurd unreason).

So suddenly, Mathieu, shocked with this personal awareness of the existential, stabs a knife through the palm of his hand daggering it to the scarred wood of the cafe table in Paris. And looks confounded as his blood seeps out while his friends look on bewildered.

I've encountered my own nadirs, and that's how I've felt, metaphorically, like a knife jabbed through me.

Would you like me to get melodramatic;-)?

Despite his pierced hand, Mathieu is no christ (he's getting his mistress to have an abortion).

And neither am I like Christ...though I seek to be, though I yearn to be.

I've been reflecting back through my recent posts of the last few months--times of deep spiritual crisis where I've lost my spiritual home, discovered I've been living in religious illusion. And now realize anew, I spend way too much time ruminating on and grieving over the "no" and "the ocean of darkness," and not nearly enough time on the "Yes" and "the Infinite Ocean of Light."

So here's a few of my Lightful lines:


Perception in Late Night

I work the graveyard shift in ‘67
Stock shelves of Marlboro ‘Country’
For California slickers, tubes of
Ultra Brite ‘sex appeal’
Brushed by grim oldsters,
And Olympia, ‘it’s the water’
For partying young adults;

I close the flashy cooler,
Pick up the empty card boxes,
Crumple and dump them in the trash bin;
Across the street a Texaco filling station
Slogans forth still, “Trust you car to the man
Who wears the star,’ but its ‘vacant for lease’ sign
Came from the only auto to ford
Those shallow words.

I lean on a metal stool behind
The counter, no customers; its past
The midnight hour; so I
Close my tired eyes,
Rub my warm forehead,
The feel of bone so arched like a vault,
My skull under skin
Almost Neanderthal,
And my sense of self in that inner cave
Of stored ads, memories and procedures;
What will be left in the finite end?

Suddenly like a lighted tidal wave
Overwhelming self and night,
Wide a w a r e n e s s
Oceans deep--
Awash in God.

______________________


The Mythic Mask

The vast kaleidoscoped cosmos
On black velvet background
Galactic star swirls,
One great masked Chagall
Above us in infinite light years,
Visioning vivid rose and royal blue,
We cover the earth,
Weeping colors of bowed rain
In this troubled world’s lastness,
From the very beforeness,
Out from
The great cosmic Blast,
A hooded violet trope
That hurtled
Us into the question
Before the asking;

Our distraught masks
Cascading;
Yes, we turn our
Stained-glassed faces
Away from the harshness
Of wintered survival rage
To stare at the flaming sun,
Ruby, emerald, and sapphire
Gleaming through,
Not mindfully blind
Behind metaphor’s
Translucent veil,
Seeing the True Face,
Ever-becoming visually real.
One finally white endless strobe
Of the brightness of becoming,
Unlimited strophe of the Masque
Of all Dancing.


In the Ocean of Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Monday, August 10, 2009

What is Love?

Christians for many centuries, over and over, have stated, "God is love." Most famously, St. Augustine said, "Love God and do as you like."

All this sounds so good, so pious, so wonderful, but tragically like so many philosophical and ethical assertions, the devil is in the details:-(--
not the God of Jesus.

The same St. Augustine of the famous "love" quote supported the persecution of other Christians, torture, killing, etc.

Augustine abandoned his common-law wife of 10 years, with plans to marry an aristocratic Roman lady instead.

From his era down through hundreds of years of cruelty, injustice, and slaughter to the present, Christian Churches in the name of "love" have commited all the horrific acts.

Millions of humans have been slaughtered, burned, hanged, shot, bombed, and drowned--
all in the name of Jesus and this religious ideal of Christian "love."

A more recent case is that of Christian soldier Stonewall Jackson and tehologian R. L. Dabney who ordered the death of many thousands during the American Civil War.

They gave all thanks to Jesus Christ and God for their killing success, and yet at the same time, emphasized the importance of love to God and others. Read the excellent and powerful biography, Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a Soldier by John Bowers.

What a great general Jackson was! And what a devout believer and how personable and kind to those of his own kin and group.

But what a ruthless killer of others, and in his killing, he gave all the praise for his successful slaughters to the Christian God! He often prayed, worshiped, and read his Bible in the midst of battles!

Not that Christianity has a corner on these strange demonstrations of "love." When I lived in the Middle East, I visited a restaurant. On the wall was a sign which listed all the characteristics of love in Islam.

Yet, then (and in the past and now) Muslims quote the Qur'an to justify slaughtering civilians.

So it goes.

And check out secular history. Humanists who reject religion for all its horrors, also, often define "love" as a worthy human goal, yet their actions are contrary, too.

On a minor note back during my university days (late 60's), Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlavsky came to the University of Nebraska to do a poetry reading. Allen emphasized that "love" is the answer to the world's problems.

I, a naive, small town kid was impressed,
but an older former beatnik told me, "Don't to be deceived."

Later we learned how deceptive talk of "love" can be. One of the young girls in our group was allegedly left pregnant and alone by Orlavsky who moved on to their next poetry reading.

Young men of other worldviews tried to persuade us that a man could have multiple relationships with women and it was "love." Forget all the tragic results of these "love" affairs.

And since then all manner of distortions continue to be put forth as "loving."

Thinkers have even claimed the intentional bombing of thousands of unarmed civilians, even hundreds of thousands including children is an action of love and justice!

And more and more, acts of euthanasia, abortion, etc. are said to be expressions of love!

Indeed, the devil is in the details. Evil hogs them.

Why is it God always gets left holding the bag of evil?

Enough of the very bad news!

What is the nature of true love--the kind that doesn't result in hell on earth?

The great Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh gives some very good clear examples if you wish a definition which isn't centered in the New Testament. However, since I am a Friend of Jesus, that is where I find my understanding of what love is.

Check out Luke 10:27. Jesus said, YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.

Well, the problem is in the details again though, because most of the killers, slave-owners, etc. of the last 2,000 years have claimed to believe Jesus' words, indeed have done their evil with this verse on their lips, praying to Jesus and reading the Bible as they did their horrific deeds.

So we need to go deeper.

A lawyer questions Jesus--sounds legalistic doesn't it--asking exactly, WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?

Jesus isn't going to be caught in parceling out humankind, the ones who we must love versus the ones we can ignore or even hate such as, say, the Romans or the national traitors or bad sinners. (Remember, in Jewish culture, the men wouldn't even eat with Gentiles!)

Jesus reverses the thinking of the lawyer with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, pointing out we should be loving like a heretic and national enemy and show active compassion and practical deeds of help including personal involvement, the giving of our money and our time.

This is a continuation of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 38-48) where he even contradicts such Jewish heroes as David and says that we should love our enemies.

And so his followers wouldn't get the wrong idea (like so many later would despite his very words), Jesus emphasizes that "loving one enemies" means practical actions on our part.

For instance if an enemy nation conquers you and its soldiers abuse and execute your people and these killers demand you behave as a servant by carrying their military bags for a mile, then you are to offer to carry these enemy killers' things for another extra mile.

When enemies HATE YOU, BLESS THOSE WHO CURSE YOU, PRAY FOR THOSE WHO MISTREAT YOU (Luke 6: 27-38).

Of course, for most of us (like Jesus' disciples who wanted to kill the Romans and call fire down to destroy the Samaritans, etc.)
we need even more directions of what the word "love" actually means and so the N.T. provides many more definitions and examples. The best is 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient,
love is kind
and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
love does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. (NASB)

No doubt these love commands from Spirit of Christ are overwhelming. Probably that is part of the reason why the disciples and Paul felt then that it was impossible to be a true follower of Jesus.

How can we possibly love individuals of the Taliban or the Islamic State!?

The murderers of Boko Haram in Nigeria?

The Saudi Muslim planners of 9-11?

The criminal who stabbed us?

A parent or leader who abused us?

A co-worker who lied about us so that we lost our job?

One way is to remember as Martin Luther King cautioned, we aren't called to "like" such evil doers, but are rather called to show them benevolence in order that they might turn from their evil ways.

This is Jesus' walk, what it means to be Friends. If Jesus loves and died for all of us, how can we do less?

Jesus' call: To love everyone into the realm of God:-)

In the love of Jesus,

Daniel Wilcox

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Am I Weird or Deluded or What? And being a pinball...

Am I weird or deluded or what? Or just still a very naive Nebraska village kid? For some reason I yet think most humans I meet are--underneath their vocalized differences and doctrinal tags--basically of similar spiritual faith and inner devotion and ethical concern.

But again this weekend, I discover for the umpteenth time--It AIN'T So.

Years ago, I became of the Friend's persuasion, leaving Evangelical Christianity partially because so much of the latter represents that which is most abhorrent in religion.

And I am a Friend because I love the centrality and experience of open worship where God is present right now in deep biblical "knowing."

Yet more and more I am finding there are many Friends who don't think God is. I keep trying to understand their view (such as the dialogues I've had with the bloggers on Nontheist Friends.org and elsewhere).

But I admit Untheism baffles me. If the God whose essence is love (of the NT and Friends for 360 years)
ISN'T,
then why are we meeting for worship? Are we not truly deluded as Richard Dawkins claims?

And in my dialogue with Evangelical Christians again this week, I realize to an abyssed degree that not only do I disagree with their central beliefs, but I don't really have faith in the same God as them. We use many of the same biblical terms but mean very opposite values.

I do live in a totally different cosmos from such humans.

Where is there a window where I can go and scream...

And last night, I was invited over to a couple of my friends and we had a great talk fest for four hours! At least we are in the same cosmos:-) but their views also seem so contrary to everything I trust and think true.

So I am like the small pinball in one of those classic game machines that bounces from other worldview to other worldview, all so incredibly different from my own faith and wondering where all of this is leading.

I am too much of an intellectual doubter to think everyone else must be bonkers;-) and only my group--Theistic Friends--understands Reality. So I struggle.

On my more despairing days--for instance yesterday, the day for worship--I wonder if maybe Friends, and indeed all religion, is delusion.

Maybe only Existentialism is true.
Maybe this is an absurd world like Albert Camus said and where The Plague wrecks havoc and we are brief consciousnesses for no reason and then the abyss...

Thank God, today I have renewed hope. I may be hanging in emptiness or am pre-damned, etc.,
but today I experience God's love
and am
in God's
Presence.

Friday, July 17, 2009

7 Loves and 7 Hates

For a number of reasons, I've been thinking of what are the vital basics of Life. Here's my short list of the truths I love and the falsehoods I hate.

Love:

Yeshua, the Jewish Son of Man who was and is the Image of the Invisible God who gave humankind the Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and other practical life-changing words. His eternal love for every single human being is so true that he rejected violence, suffered and died for all of us instead.

God in whom we live and move and have our being, the Ultimate Reality beyond our understanding.

The ideals essential within God's eternal nature: love, mercy, justice, truth, goodness, purity...

All groups who reach out in love and help to the neediest of humans such as World Vision, Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, Open Doors, Pilgrims of Ilbillin.

The wonder of the visible cosmos and that God gave us the mental ability to search out and seek to understand.

The creativity God has given us so we, in God's image, might be finite creators in the sciences and the arts.

The many individuals of deep faith and limitless love, who though flawed and sometimes sinful, have inspired us to reach deeper into trusting God and seek to change the world by his love. Spiritual leaders like Origen, John Cassian, St. Francis, Erasmus, Menno Simons, Michael Sattler, Sebastian Castellio, Jakob Harmenszoon, George Fox, Margaret Fell, John Wesley, John Woolman, Elizabeth Fry, Levi Coffin, Lucretia Mott, Charles Finney, Martin Luther King Jr., Brother Andrew, Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen...

Hate:

All forms of theological determinism, especially Reformed Christianity with its despairing news that most humans are pre-ordained to eternal torment (except for the pre-chosen few), are born sinful, have no choice to do good and are incapable of responding to God. And for its past and present intolerance, support for persecution, execution, war, inequality, superstition, etc.

All forms of injustice, violence and war, especially the killing of civilians, the justification of collateral damage and torture.

Nationalism and ethnocentrism where persons of faith get caught in group egotism thinking their nation, group, and kin are more important than distant others.

Inequality including various types of subtle racism and prejudice that still live within us like unseen cancer.

Poverty and the misuse of wealth where some political and religious leaders spend 11,000 dollars on one night hotel accommodations or 400-dollar haircuts while millions live on the edge of hunger.

Superstition and opposition to science in which people of faith believe miracle claims without hard empirical evidence, reject scientific factual theories such as evolution, and trust in unfactual doctrines such as the "inerrancy" of the Bible or the Koran.

Popular media which twists and panders to humans' worst failings and proclivities from revenge to lust and also wastes millions on the violent and the gaudy and the superficial.

All praise to the One in whom we live,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Discerning True Guidance


Growing up naive, sincere, pietistic, and goal-oriented, I was very concerned to know God's will for my life--what was to be my central mission? Who would I someday meet, love, and wed (and let it be soon;-)? Which theological doctrine was true and which false? What career should I choose? Where would God have me serve? How best should I prepare for all this? Even where should I live?

I prayed, listened to umpteen sermons and read countless books and pamphlets on the topic. I was all into the "How To." One of the best theological booklets, The Will of God, by the British Methodist pastor, Leslie D. Weatherhead, written many years ago during the worst days of World War II, surprisingly didn't even deal with any "how-to."

Don't miss this deep meditation and reflection if you can find the booklet. Weatherhead shows the central message related to God's will is not a series of abstract theological points, nor even a bunch of practical steps, but to know God, to experience God relationally, to live in God's love. Indeed, that thesis was in all the best books: Live in and for God now, and the path of life for you will unfold as it ought.


I wish I could say then, everything worked out well for me, but it didn't. Nor has it for most people! History often seems one long deranged wreck.

At times, when hearing of all the heartache, even from successful leaders, I wonder if there are any truly blessed God-centered people. Consider that at one point in his ministry, George Fox lay in bed listless for two weeks overwhelmed by an ocean of despair.

And Fox could be mean and petty. For instance when he visited James Naylor in prison, Fox demanded that James Nayler kiss his foot before he forgave him! What?! Sounds not only ethically immoral, but down right egotistical.

Mother Theresa, near the end of her life, said she hadn't felt God's presence for years! John Wesley, after leading thousands to Christ, meeting the needs of the poor and needy, helping to transform the lives of so many lost people, wrote in a letter to his brother Charles, during one severe depression, that he felt he had never really loved God. Even John the Baptist, when in prison, came to severe doubts as to whether Jesus was really the Messiah, the One sent from God.

Sometimes, even in my earnest love and seeking to do God's will, the brokenness of myself and others and chance circumstances got in the way or led to dead-ends. Once I strongly felt and reasoned through that I and my wife should help start a peacemaking, socially-concerned church. Sounds good does it not?

We did, investing many hours in the effort, praying fervently that we would reach many people, giving out to the local community--but then in only a matter of months everything came crashing down. Why, when all seemed right?

According to statistics, hundreds of worshiping communities fail all the time. I suppose one could argue that God is not responsible when a Christian business fails. After all "Jesus saves people, not money"--to quote the current joke. But why does God allow the vagaries of circumstances and time to strangle meetings which exist to show compassion, work for justice and equality, and help those in need?

When doing my very best as a high school teacher, I had several students lie and claim that I had shoved them! What a ridiculous slander if the charge weren't so serious. That horrible slander left me feeling angry at the school district and abandoned by God. I wasn't so upset at the students. They were at-risk students who often caused and got into trouble. Their lies could be understood. But what of God's will? Why?

To tell you the truth, I am still not over the tragedy. But it has finally dawned on me that Jesus, early on in his ministry, warned us we would be falsely charged and unfairly maligned, and yet we should bless those who lie about us. So I do. I pray for the people who so hurt me, and I pray that someday I will be able to live completely in God's peace.

The hard truth of life finally comes to most of us: though we do experience God and seek to live each moment in the Spirit, and though some choices are morally and spiritual far better than others, in this open-ended path of becoming, there are no easy sure-fire methods or step-by-step trail maps.

Scripture does say "In all things God works together for good," but God's working is within the finite--our best choices, circumstantial chance (the openness of this life of being), the natural order of survival, and other factors. So millions of humans who seek the truth don't end up being healthy, wealthy and wise, let alone happy and successful.

When we speak of finding meaning and purpose--God's will for us--we aren't thinking of the glossy success of the pop evangelical Christian books that flood the U.S. market, where if one does the three steps or the seven points, he will achieve what is meant to be. Nor are we talking of the doctrinal tomes that weigh so heavy they twist and bend nearly every individual who carries them around within his psyche.

Some individuals do seem blessed with temporal success, but so many humans go through present hell--the deepest levels of Sheol, dropping deeper and deeper year after year, and only their centering in God's love, despite the wreck of life, keeps them from plummeting into an abyss of despair. In the Bible why was it that Job after all his trials became happy and successful, but Jeremiah's life ended so terribly, his people and country destroyed, he himself kidnapped and taken to a foreign country?

Why did Peter escape jail but James got beheaded by the government? Why, if everything works out for good, did all of the apostles' lives, but one, end in very violent death? Why did so many early Friends have to languish in prison for years, many dying? Why are many thousands of followers of the God suffering now as I type, in Orissa and North Korea and Saudi Arabia and...

Finding meaning and your destiny in the Light doesn't mean all will be well in the short run or that you will achieve the American dream or that you will only have personal setbacks like I did in ministry and career. On the contrary, millions of humans suffer natural disasters, disease, and evil behavior by individuals or governments. In fact, often the worst seems to come the way of the devout.

Think of Elie Wiesel, age 12 and a fervent lover of God, suffering in Auschwitz, his father dying, his head bashed in by a Nazi club. Elie lost most of his family who were gassed and turned to horrid smoke drifting up into the Nazi sky. Think of the loving persons lost in the tsunami which raved over Indonesia killing over 230, 000!

Far too often this life journey is difficult and lonesome and tragic--as the old gospel song wails. What of a lady friend of my family who developed cancer, died all too soon leaving behind her three little kids with no mother?!

Evidently, finding God's will is not at all what most people have thought, certainly not what I thought for so many years. Even Yeshua, who lived in God's presence from moment to moment, in his last seconds cried out in agony, feeling totally abandoned by his Father! "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

And strangely of all, in all of this--in all the excruciating suffering in the cosmos--God suffers most, endures the agony each of us and every sentient creature suffers! God is closer to us than our own heart.

What is the point of this reflective wallow in the "ocean of darkness"?

What I am trying to do? Get us all depressed and make us feel hopeless? Have I been reading too much history? Too many biographies? Are facts such as that half of all babies in 17th century England never survived to their 5th birthday obsessing me too much? Or that every year in the present time, 6 million children die from malnutrition?

Not at all!

But we do need to realize down to our innermost being what St. Paul stated and what the theologian Paul Tillich and others have so profoundly pointed out--when we live truly spiritual lives we must do so living "under the Cross."

Both liberal and traditionally conservative religious views are too often filled with human illusions of their own particular distortion. The depth of evil is so great that, as one mystic writer wrote, "At the Heart of the Universe is the Cross." Thank God that no matter how deep and wide the abyss of evil, Eternal Light is deeper and wider and higher and further.

In this difficult reflection, I am seeking to walk very circumspectly--looking soberly and realistically at the facts before I suggest one small method toward seeking to do God's will, to finding in each moment God's meaning and purpose for us that we might in our own small way be a part of the Spirit's counter to the juggernaut of natural and human history. That we might be one tiny step forward by God's love toward what Teilhard de Chardin called the Omega Point, the Scriptural metaphor of the Kingdom of God, the union with Ultimate Reality.

Here's my suggestion, the result of all of the above:

I've made it into an acronym (though some may find that sort of cheesy), because I need daily a quick method to remember to remember to seek to live in the Light, not in my own designs, and certainly not in my own selfishness, my culture's twisted perspectives, or the tragic brokenness of human history.

--

Guided by God's Light

Understand by Reason

Inspired by Scripture

Decide through Clearness of Community

Enlightened in Experience and Practice

--

Here's an example of how this has played out in the past:

In the 18th century the vast majority of Christians, and people of other worldviews, supported slavery. They were morally blind to the terrible evil though many of them saw slaves every day. Indeed, Christians were the strongest supporters of the slavery, citing the Bible as proof. Friends, from their birth in the leveling movement of England in the 1640's, had emphasized equality for all humans yet most contradictorily they didn't actively oppose slavery. Many Quakers in the 1700's owned slaves and supported slavery!

Scholars think this is so because Quakers were already being persecuted for their faith and didn't want to be seen as supporting slave revolts and insurrection. Many Friends had been imprisoned for years because they were considered dangerous revolutionaries, even though most of them clearly were not. So it would seem that George Fox and other early Quakers practiced the subterfuge of St. Paul, who also emphasized the quality of all humans in Christ, yet supported the institution of slavery so as to not receive more persecution from the Roman Empire.

This, of course, seems unethical to us now, but we ought to be careful in our judging, unless we are willing to stick our neck out on other controversial ethical standards.
How many Quakers regularly protest against the murder of pre-born infants now when our society is so committed to the right of abortion on demand?
How many of us are deeply involved with supporting suffering Iraqis, Syrians, Nigerians, and Afghans?

Some Friends did protest strongly against slavery. One of the best known protests occurred in 1688 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. However, by the time John Woolman was a young person working for a Quaker merchant, most members of the Society accepted slavery or remained quiet in their disapproval.

Even in the 1800's, long after Quakers had banned slavery in their meetings, they still were so ethically blind that they disowned and and expelled abolitionist Levi Coffin from the Society of Friends because he worked to free slaves through the Underground Railroad!

--

#1 Guided by God's Light
When John Woolman was directed by his employer to write a bill of sale for a slave, he felt suddenly slavery was wrong and that he shouldn't write it. But he did so because he had been assigned the task, but then later he deeply regretted his act. The next time he ordered to write a legal document dealing with slavery he followed his conscience's warning that this was contrary to the Good, the True, the Just and refused.

#2 Understand by Reason
Humans in history and now get all sorts of convictions and notions. They conscientiously seek to do the right thing. Consider Robert E. Lee. He was so guided by right action, by duty, by honor, by conscience that he didn't get one demerit in all of his time at West Point! Yet, look how wrong his conscience guided him. His guidance that he thought was from God was the partial cause of the horrific deaths of over 800,000 Americans, and the wounding and suffering of millions, and the loss of so many families, and so countless other worse results.

So often our conscientious "guidances from God" later turn out to be exactly the opposite. When accepting any "guidance," we need to use our reason to make sure we aren't deluded, misguied, or deceived. When ever we get an intuitive ethical sense, we need to double check it with our rational ability.

Later as Woolman became more and more convinced of the evil of slavery, he reasoned that he should not buy or use products available in the market if they came from slave labor.

#3 Inspired by Scripture

There are too many cases where millions of us humans have used Scriptural passages to slaughter, torture, enslave, persecute, destroy, steal, lie, and so forth; therefore when we seek inspiration from Scripture, we need to carefully ground that in reason and Enlightenment values. See Valerie Tarico's
"In Defense of Cherry Picking" for a good explanation of this. http://valerietarico.com/2015/05/21/in-defense-of-cherry-picking-the-bible/

#4 Decide Through Clearness of Community

Though John Woolman and Levi Coffin were sure of the rightness of abolition, they sought confirmation from other Friends, and never became self-righteous but traveled about among Friends seeking to convince them in the Light that they needed to oppose slavery too.

#5 Enlightened in Experience and Practice

The more we choose well, the more we reject the wrong, the more we see the Light more clearly. Based on Woolman's sense of the Truth, his understanding of the central ethical meaning of the NT (despite its many pro-slavery verses that so civilized humans used in defending the institution), his interpreting his concern with careful reason,
Woolman then, more and more, applied this to his experience.

At one point Woolman, despite being a very successful business man, stopped wearing dyed clothing because the dye came from slave labor. This lead other well-to-do people to look at him as an odd duck, but he followed God's Spirit putting into practice his concern, without regret.

--

But there is no money back guarantee;-) that G.U.I.D.E. will succeed. Besides, the ideas and methods expressed for this aren't mine. However, after a life time of reading and hearing wise counsel, trying to implement and live in the Light, yet encountering roadblocks and sometimes suffering serious car wrecks and the daily drudge,
I do find Light in G.U.I.D.E.

Reflect and go forth to walk over the earth cheerfully as George said 450 years ago:-)

In the Light,

Daniel

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Atonement

The etymology of atone: at + on one. But if you know even a tiny amount about Christianity and its tragic history, you know that there is no oneness at all among Christians when this vital and central subject comes up. The very word "atonement" is incredibly divisive.

Millions have been killed ruthlessly, cut down young by sword, pike, and gun, or the results of such religious fighting--all because of this word . A third of all the people in Germany died in the 17th century because of this concept and its related ideas.

So why am I attempting to deal with such a historically destructive and impossibly difficult theological doctrine? Because how one views this doctrine, dramatically affects how one views God, others, and how one will live.

So let's jump into the Grand Canyon or leap to the end of the Cosmos:-)

Enough in my past blogs has already been said about the abyssed divide between Limited Atonement versus Unlimited Atonement, so I won't repeat here but go onto the next step, to better things. Given there is universal atonement in Christ, how and why exactly did God in Jesus bring the miracle about?

Why was Jesus "slain from the foundation of the world"? (Revelation 13:8b) And what could Scripture possibly mean to say Jesus died on the cross before dinosaurs ruled, before even this solar system and earth came to be, long before humans appeared on the scene?
(Ah, and the question of evolution; no I'm not going to pull on that animal "tail" now.)

Being a Friend, I wanted to start with Quaker thinker Robert Barclay's view, but it has been years since I've read in his Apology and I couldn't seem to find a quick answer. (Please rescue me Quaker Theologians;-)

Let us go back to the good Fox himself who was wary of theological notions but had a deep sense of practical biblical doctrine:
"Soon after there was another great meeting of professors, and a captain, whose name was Amor Stoddard, came in. They were discoursing of the blood of Christ; and as they were discoursing of it, I saw, through the immediate opening of the invisible Spirit, the blood of Christ."

"And I cried out among them, and said, 'Do ye not see the blood of Christ? See it in your hearts, to sprinkle your hearts and consciences from dead works, to serve the living God'; for I saw it, the blood of the New Covenant, how it came into the heart."

This startled the professors, who would have the blood only without them, and not in them."

from The Journal of George Fox

Commenting on this and other passages related to the Atonement, the Quaker historian Howard Brinton says:
"This identification of blood and life indicates that we are regenerated, not so much by the death of Christ, as by his life in our hearts...In it symbolic meaning blood represents life...
What was more natural than that Jesus, knowing that his own blood would be shed on the morrow, should refer to the blood of the new covenant foretold by Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31) which was written in the heart.

Like the blood of the old covenant, his blood would create a living bond between God and man. His was to be that third life which would bridge the gap between the divine and the human, overcoming the isolation and estrangement of the human individual. This would be at-one-ment, a uniting of that which had been separated.

So Paul writes: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace who has made us both one, and broken down the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:13,14)."

from Howard H. Brinton, Friends for 300 Years

In the last two thousand years, a wide variety of other views on the Atonement have been put forward. Here's two interesting outlines naming them:

Problem: We Were Cursed
Solution: Jesus Became a Curse for Us

Problem: We Were Unforgivable Sinners
Solution: Jesus Expiated Our Sin and Gave Us Access to the Father

Problem: God Hated Us As His Enemies
Solution: Jesus Propitiated God and Made Peace Between Us and Him

Problem: We Were in Slavery to Law, Sin, and Death
Solution: Jesus Redeemed and Ransomed Us from Slavery

Problem: We Were Guilty Before the Father
Solution: The Father Justified Us, Declaring Us Innocent in Jesus

Problem: We Were Unrighteous
Solution: The Father Imputed Jesus’ Perfect Righteousness to Us

Problem: We Deserved Eternal Punishment and Forsakenness
Solution: Jesus Was Punished and Forsaken In Our Place (Penal Substitution)

Problem: We Were Under the Dominion of Satan and Death
Solution: Jesus Conquered Satan and Death and Transferred Us Into His Kingdom(Christus Victor)

Problem: We Were Faithless
Solution: Jesus Was Faithful On Our Behalf, Purchased Our Faith, and Taught Us Faithfulness (Christus Exemplar)

Problem: We Were Spiritual Orphans
Solution: The Father Adopted Us in Jesus and Reconciled All Things

Listed on the Web by Darius at http://zealfortruth.org. (I was unable to find the original source to credit the author. If someone knows the author of this lucid outline let me know. Thanks.)

Here's a second, shorter outline:

Ransom to Satan: This view sees the atonement of Christ as a ransom paid to Satan to purchase man’s freedom and release him from being enslaved to Satan...

Recapitulation Theory: This theory states that the atonement of Christ has reversed the course of mankind from disobedience to obedience...

Dramatic Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as securing the victory in a divine conflict between good and evil and winning man’s release from bondage to Satan...

Mystical Theory: The mystical theory sees the atonement of Christ as a triumph over His own sinful nature through the power of the Holy Spirit...

Moral Influence Theory: This is the belief that the atonement of Christ is a demonstration of God’s love which causes man’s heart to soften and repent...

Example Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as simply providing an example of faith and obedience to inspire man to be obedient to God...

Commercial Theory: The commercial theory views the atonement of Christ as bringing infinite honor to God. This resulted in God giving Christ a reward which He did not need, and Christ passed that reward on to man...

Governmental Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as demonstrating God’s high regard for His law and His attitude toward sin...

Penal Substitution Theory: This theory sees the atonement of Christ as being a vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s justice upon sin...

From http://www.gotquestions.org (No author listed)

Other views or ones with different names:
Scapegoating, Satisfaction, Covenant, Hilasmos, Pardon, Warfare Motif, Community, etc.

Here's part of a Quaker reflection by Bill Clendineng (Plainfield Friends Meeting):

"For early Quakers atonement was not an external transaction, but an inner experience of what George Fox called the “true Cross,”. Christ is the type, allowing himself to be put to death on the cross, so that we can experience the antitype by allowing all that is outward to be put to death in us.

Barclay refers to the description of atonement in 1 Peter 2:21-24: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (KJV). The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is a demonstration of the power of God over the power of sin. We experience this power by following Christ to the true cross within."

In contemporary theological categories, early Friends would fit into the “moral example” understanding of atonement, with some qualification. Atonement for Friends was not just a theological concept. Following Jesus to the cross meant a radical personal transformation. Nothing could ever be the same again.

Religious symbols and rules (“voluntary humility”) fade into the background when living in Christ’s kingdom (“the regeneration”). Shewen describes that radical transformation in his “Meditations & Experiences.”

Check out Bill's full blog at http://billclen.sc104.info/wordpress/2009/06/the-true-cross/

What is my own conclusion? I reject totally the view that Jesus had to die because God couldn't forgive humans unless he did. Not only does such a view severely limit God, but it demeans and distorts the character of God--his total holiness, absolute goodness, incredible mercy, and limitless love.

According to I John, God is love. Jesus repeatedly emphasized God is love--metaphorically, a father who loves all humans with limitless love, even loving the most heinous of us.

I find much appealing in a number of the good views. But to tell you the truth, I don't know which one is the sole Truth. I'm much more concerned with the "soul Truth."

This isn't meant to be a cop out. I am writing about the Atonement because it is so central to faith, but I don't have the spiritual maturity or the intellectual genius to know which view is the most true, or the only true.

Besides, at least in my limited understanding, the theories of the Atonement (and for that matter all theology) seem analogical, symbolic and poetic,--not literal prose, not factual, not abstract propositions (except for some theologians who try to bottle the Wind).

Furthermore, if deep-thinking Christians over nearly 2,000 years of theological speculation haven't been able to agree, and have come up with so many very different, and at times contrary, theories, there seems to be a question of whether we are meant to narrow our view to only one method.

Indeed, since the wonder of the Atonement is so limitless, maybe God encourages us instead to wrestle with the great miracle and be moved to love God more and more.

Besides, I am much more concerned with the practical results of the Atonement than with theory. Like the early Friends, I want to deeply experience and live in and for Christ much more than I want to theorize.

Having worked in various social capacities from mental hospital care worker to high school teacher and in many manual labor jobs as well, and having read too many depressing books of academic history, I am very aware of the evil that pervades humans within and without. And even if I had avoided reading about all the evil of history and not seen sin played out in many families' lives, there is still the cussed sin and selfishness in my own life.

Even if no one else ever needed the Atonement--the loving, reconciling, merciful action of God--I certainly did. And am so thankful God loved us universally with an eternal love.

My prayer is that more and more we could live in such a way as to draw the seeking, the lost, the needy, and the rebellious--all individuals everywhere--into God's eternal, limitless Ocean of Light.

In glad tidings,

Daniel Wilcox

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Who Is Jesus the Christ?

Who is this Jesus that the Nebraska village kid accepted into his life at eight years of age, the historical figure who many millions have allegedly turned to and sought to follow in the last 2000 years?

Tragically, like so many other words, "Jesus" has come to mean almost anything--another semantic empty bucket to be filled by human speakers whether with silver or slop or manure. The first thing which comes to mind is how Jesus gets used for excitement, frustration, anger--"Jesus F. Christ! Look what that idiot driver just did!

Such cursed meaning grieves deep. Think how we would feel if every time someone got frustrated they used the name of our sweetheart as an expletive.

My earliest memories of Jesus aren't from some creedal statement. I don't know if this is normal for being a kid or because I didn't grow up in a creedal church. We were American Baptists, my father a serious pastor of a small village church of probably about 30-40 town people and farmers. What first comes to mind now are the pictures of Jesus from the walls of the church and our parsonage and from Vacation Bible School. Jesus was my savior, my shepherd, my friend...yes there were those warm pietistic hymns I so loved..."What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "Shepherd Like a"..."Leaning on the Everlasting Arms"..."Nothing but the Blood of Jesus"...In this indifferent, sometimes hostile world, I knew Jesus cared for us--he loved me so much that even if I had been the only sinner in the whole world, he would have died for me. "The Wonder of It All"...another great song rises out of my memory.

Even when I reached my teens and began to seriously abstract and to consider complex doctrine, I never could find a home in the doctrine of the Trinity. I, of course, as a good Baptist accepted the concept, but it seemed unreal. Jesus, as Son of God, I could understand. And God as Father...And the Spirit was God's influence here and now, his inner presence within us, guiding us, correcting us.

Indeed, to me that is the wonder of the Friends way of viewing all of this; its key phrase is "that of God" in each person--the Spirit/Light of God either wooing those still prodigal and lost, or guiding ones now seeking and following. So God (Ultimate Reality) isn't a group of fickle supreme beings or impersonal Fate (like the Greeks), not an animal or an urge (like other pagan religions) or Chance, Energy, and Matter (like modern Non-Theism).

No, Humanity--in their essence--is the image of True Reality. To most Friends for the last 360 years, Jesus, the Christ, is the true Image of the invisible God, the Ultimate Reality beyond our finite minds' ability to intellectually grasp. This is what the Incarnation is all about--not some abstract theological doctrine--but that Ultimate Reality is revealed in the life of a common laborer born in a despised backward corner of the Roman empire, illegitimate in birth, rejected by family and community, and finally executed by the political and religious leadership as a dangerous revolutionary.

The strangest of all quandaries, however, is how did this Son of Man--both a term emphasizing his common humanity with all humans and his prophetic supernatural reality, one who showed great compassion to all types of individuals caught in their sinful ways, from the rich and famous to the poor and despised--come to be the poster boy for endless forms of war, oppression, cruelty, torture, slavery, intolerance, discrimination, prejudice, and unkindness?! 2,000 years worth of mostly horrible abyssed distortion and going very strong now as many modern Christians continue to wax intellectual about Jesus being the Son of an amoral god of powerful sovereignty who destroys most humans for his own glory.

I suppose all of this is the strongest reason to consider whether maybe there is no meaning or purpose to the cosmos--that the nontheists are right--that Jesus was one deluded Jew, pathetically wrong. And we humans are here only briefly and absurdly alone in an indifferent cosmos going no where for no purpose, as Bertrand Russell said--from darkness to darkness.

Only of course, I didn't choose such a path, nor many of the other human ways of perceiving existence, nor do I now. Despite the naysayers and twisters of all types, I still respond to the love of Ultimate Reality revealed in Yeshua, the Chosen One.

Next, we will consider the issue of the Atonement.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Nature of Conception and Childhood

My earliest recollections of life are of excitement, mystery, and joyfulness. I personally don't see how so many Christians can think babies are born sinful, that little children are full of original sin.

When our own first son, while still in the womb, used his feet to kick out bulges in the side of my wife's rotund stomach, I never once, not in the wildest imagination ever thought, let alone said, "There's our sinful pre-born baby, pre-ordained to be totally depraved..."

And I don't know any traditional Christians, not even any fundamentalists, who actually treat their new born babies as sinful, yet so many Christian leaders claim babies are "wicked sinners." In one famous Christian apologetic book, a Christian theologian explained the reason millions of babies die in infancy is because they are innate sinners.

Contrast this theological view with Jesus' way. When the disciples tried to keep children from coming to Jesus, he didn't say, "Don't bring the sinners any closer!"

He said instead, "Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these."

Doesn't sound like Jesus thought little children were totally depraved.

Yes, I know there are a few verses in the Scripture one must deal with such as Psalm 51:5 "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." I suppose that verse might be the one that allegedly led Augustine to think a man's semen transferred original sin to a conceived infant.

However, keep in mind that the Psalms are poetry! In poetry, then as now, hyperbole is often used. Have you ever said, "I'm starving!" when you hadn't eaten for half a day?

One of my mom's favorite phrases was "There's no rest for the wicked." She wasn't making an obtuse theological statement but poetically declaring it is important work hard in life. She certainly didn't think my sister and I were wicked, but that sometimes we didn't work as hard as we ought. Her comment had nothing to do with our spiritual or moral inner nature.

Even, if one dismisses the hyperbole argument (which is my own view; I taught literature for 26 years and am a published poet who loves to use hyperbole), a person still needs to be awfully careful of taking every word in the Bible as eternal truth, as a literal command, especially in the O.T. Consider the countless humans who have read the Abraham and Isaac story and sacrificed their own child because they erroneously thought God wanted them to do so. This tragically happened just last year back in Indiana or Ohio. The mother believed God would raise her little girl back to life if she had enough faith and killed her (like she thought God had told Abraham to do to Isaac)!

Babies are born innocent--natural. While conscious, a baby doesn't have a developed self-awareness, wherein he/she chooses to defy God and to hurt others.

Of course, when we grow, we do discover our finiteness. We then become aware of our self-focus and how our desires have no seeming limit. We then enter a stage where we are more than natural--and two opposite ways beckon. We are tempted toward selfishness. And yet we too sense our deep desire for the Ultimate--for truth, goodness, and love. How we respond shapes our lives. We are given the choice to respond to the wooing of Love or to choose our own selfish way even if it hurts others and ignores the Truth. And depending on our own culture and family some of us grow up potentially capable of more good or more evil.

Scripture from Genesis to Revelation emphasizes that we as humans should choose. I am aware of the few problematic verses which seem to posit God as an amoral supreme being who manipulates humans like unwanted pots. But the general trend of the Bible is God as mercy, as God as father, God as love--God who chooses us, not in order to damn others, but to bless all nations.

When a child, I don't ever remember thinking of God as an almighty sovereign who treats us kids as sinful objects created for destruction. In fact I've never met a child who thought of God in such a way, though I suppose it is possible there are children who think thus. More likely the view of babies as "totally depraved" comes from adults' philosophical/theological analyzing--and terribly misguided thinking that is.

About the age of 7, I came to what some Christians term "the age of accountability."--when a child reaches a moral awareness, an awareness that he/she, as good and precious as he/she is, has still "missed the mark,' that he/she has fallen short of all one could and should be.

I became aware that I was sometimes selfish, sometimes teased my sister, sometimes disobeyed, even had stolen a paint can from down the street and tried to help steal candy money out of my gramma's purse.

I came to sense deeply my moral failings, my sins. I remember once having a nightmare of Hell. I was no angel, but the ornery preacher's kid.

But notice, I wasn't a totally depraved sinner either. In the midst of my failings, there were also joys and times when I responded to Love and Truth and Light, when I experienced the joy of worship to God with all my heart, when I loved my sister dearly, when I helped my parents and the elderly women in our neighborhood, when I sought truth with all that was within me.

The Holy Spirit of God was wooing me as does God's Light within every person ever created. We are created on the dividing line of nature--finite beings with infinite desires. As the Bible says, God has put "eternity in our hearts." Whether we yield to the Truth and find the Infinite or yield to a self-centered focus, trying to make all others and life to swirl around us, or somewhere in between. It's up to us whether we respond to God or reject him.

It was a Thursday night after Bible study and prayer at our small Baptist church in the tiny village of Adams, Nebraska about 100 miles from the Missouri River. We were headed home in our 50's Chevy driving down a gravel road. My little sister, Margie, and I were in the backseat. Unlike usual I was very quiet. I felt the tug of God. I knew I wanted to respond to God's voice within. Whether the sermon that night was really any different than many others we had heard before is uncertain. But I felt God urging me to respond. I leaned forward to the front seat and told my dad I wanted to "ask Jesus into my heart" (a Baptist pietistic phrase meaning an individual was asking forgiveness for what he had done wrong and wanted to follow Jesus in his life).

My father slowed the car and pulled to the edge of the road. And that night was the beginning of my life journey to follow Jesus.

Never in that first major decision, nor in any wonderful times of spiritual inspiration over the last 54 years with God did I ever feel or think of myself as a "dead object of original sin" who God irresistibly made follow him, or worse, was preordained to Hell.

So then where does the complex theology of original sin, total depravity, etc. come from? Let me the philosopher butt in here for a moment. In my opinion the trouble seems to be one of epistemology. Instead of taking religious truth as story, as transcendent RELATIONSHIP, many theologians have tried to treat religious truth as factual propositions. But religious truth is poetry! Not prose. It is art. Not science. Religious truth is I/Thou, not I/it.

Okay, back to my narrative;-)

My life was transformed. I no longer stole; stopped teasing my sister as much. I even tried witnessing of Jesus' love to neighbor kids. Collecting the autographs of missionaries who came to our church to speak became my passion. I experienced a deep, deep compassion for those in need.

Dear to my heart (even at 62), is a transforming experience at a Youth for Christ rally when I was about 13. We were singing "Everybody ought to know who Jesus is" and I filled to bursting with love for Jesus and for others. Welled up with joy and love beyond measure--experienced true worship, a gathered meeting. Like so many other humans--encountering God, the Infinite filling the finite. Fox, Wesley, Woolman, etc. all spoke of times when their heart filled with limitless love.

This was before I had ever heard of complex, strange doctrines or read depressing sermons such as Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" where God is pictured as hating us and desiring to gut us and that we are filthy spiders he holds over the flames of Hell" and that God even willed Adam and Eve to sin, and that God ordains humans to be sinful so he can get glory. What a travesty! What twisted theology brilliant humans can come up with when they don't focus on Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son or the Lost Sheep, the Good News of the Gospels.

That is one of those baffling questions: Why do religious scholars from the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus' day down through church history, to the present often turn God's loving good news into a twisted message of despair?

It is true Jesus did warn of Hell, allegedly used the word more than the word Heaven. And, if I don't keep getting sidetracked we will get to that topic soon. But check out the Gospels. Jesus didn't throw Hell down on individual sinners caught in their own wrong choices. No, he spoke with tenderness whether it was to the woman caught in adultery, the rich young ruler, the tough fisherman, the woman at the well, the turncoat traitor and cheat...

He, as some theologians rightly point out, saved his hell-fire messages for general sermons against religious hypocrites, the power elite, those who abused the poor. And his warnings were just that, warnings, that even the arrogant might turn from their sinful ways and be rescued.

Well, I lost my narrative path and started preaching:-) Next time I will get back to further experiences of the joy and hope and faith in God and how like all humans, I, too, faced times of testing and despair. Life is a difficult journey, a crucible of testing.

Indeed, only a short ways up ahead in my story, I will encounter the secular world and the idea everything has no meaning...

To be continued

Daniel Wilcox

The Nature and Destiny of Existence: Introduction

The title of my long reflection is, of course, a reference to Reinhold Niebuhr's famous theological tome--one of the best and deepest! I love reading all kinds of theology and philosophy--at least the parts I can comprehend;-);
HOWEVER,
And that is a "how" that goes on "forever,"
I am a pretty average guy and I've never stopped wondering how it is that famous theologians and philosophers of all stripes and spots think they know so much about Ultimate Reality. The Reformers and the Catholic Church, for instance, thought they knew God's reality and will so well that they executed (by drowning and burning) other Christians who didn't believe in infant baptism! Yet these same theologians and philosophers who "knew" God's eternal nature and hidden decrees didn't even know the basic nature of our local solar system or why people get sick (must be God's will).

And then there's the opposite extreme: the other Know-It-Alls, those of Nontheism who while being, also, only finite conscious mammals are sure, to a strong degree that there is no objective Meaning, no Purpose, no Truth, no Goodness in the Cosmos. We humans are a brief fluke of cosmic chance, one evolutionary twig on the natural selection bush (according to Stephen J. Gould, the famous Darwinian biologist).

Seems rather presumptuous. Of course, I've had my own times with humankind's dear friend, Pride, too--when I thought I "knew" much more than I actually do. As I get older and older, I know less and less.

So if you are misguided by the title of this reflection and think I am going to pontificate about knowing the Ultimate nature of everything and the whys and wherefores and to-dos for all, etc., you are about to be disappointed or relieved.

My goal here is very personal and very basic. Rather, by the love of God, I hope to share my own narrative experiential theology--how I have experienced God (at least in my own perception) and what difference that has made in me and my limited influence on others and the world.

For those who want the quick short version, rather than my own long-winded journey, here's a quote:

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly, to help me; nor could tell what to do; then, O then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition": and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. (...) Thus when God doth work, who shall let [i.e., hinder] it? and this I knew experimentally. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not, but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his son by his Spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal...
The Journal of George Fox


I think George Fox's statement (of his experience in life, his spiritual search, and encounter with what he perceived to be Truth) says its best.
Even though
I know all the naturalistic vultures;-) are circling waiting to pick Fox's experience clean until there are only factual bones of meaninglessness left.

Well, each of us takes our life journey and what trail we walk makes all the difference...

To be continued

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Irony of Justified Killing--Just a War--Just a Baby

Please hold the family of Dr. Tiller in the Light, especially his wife who must be suffering deeply.

What caused this tragedy? The immoral atmosphere and faulty Christian ethics we have developed.

Isn't it highly ironic that many Americans--many of the same ones who justify war including the killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Hiroshima, etc.--are quick to condemn the killer of Dr. George Tiller? Before we rightly condemn the murderer of a doctor, let us consider the evil of this whole situation.

Doctor Tiller has been responsible for the killing of thousands of late-term babies! We're not even talking here about the questionable practice of terminating a pregnancy of an embryo when the little one is an inch long or there are severe complcations for the mother. No, we are speaking in horror about an abortion doctor who executes late term babies including those six to eight months old, ones who if wanted could survive the womb! Babies dearly loved of God. Dr. Tiller is one of the worst killers in recent history!

As for the individual himself--the human being behind the doctoral killing mask, George Tiller--he was and is loved of God no matter how evil his actions of the last 30 years. He is answering to his Maker now as we shall some day.

How many of us pray every day for abortion doctors such as Dr. Tiller that they will turn around from their immoral actions and live in the Light? Isn't it ironic that Dr. Tiller who killed thousands of innocents was an usher at a Christian church?

As for the killer of the killer... Even though his killing wasn't as horrendous as Dr. Tiller's--for who can be a worse killer than innocent infants?!--still, who gave the killer the perverted notion that the end justifies the means?

All the rest of did, the ones of us who in so many situations justify and commit wrong actions in order to achieve supposedly good results. Many well-meaning individuals justify America's slaughter of civilians, saying that it is necessary.

And isn't that what the Supreme Court and countless Americans did when they unleased the 'killing fields' in 1973? Since them millions of infants in the United States have been gutted, gassed, etc. America sought to help women. We sought to support human rights for women. But as always happens when we seek to use immoral means to accomplish good ends, we end with evil, sometimes horrendous evil.

Are we praying for women who made wrong choices, women caught in pregnancy because of our immoral men and our salacious media? Are we supporting crisis pregnancy centers? Are we helping women who killed their own little ones now find forgiveness? Are we praying for criminals such as the murderer who shot Dr. Tiller? Are we praying for the other killer-doctors in our midst?

How has our faith in God become so passive? Where is the moral passion that motivated earlier Friends such as John Woolman, Levi Coffin, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony to oppose evil?

May Jesus Christ flood us with his love, mercy, and goodness.

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Blessing versus the Bane of the Bible

As a liberal Friend (as in progressive Hicksite, Beanite, Anthonyite, Woolite;-), I am very biblically focused, which sometimes confuses people who tend to think of the Bible as every thumper's rigid rule book which he uses to chastise others, bludgeoning them over the head, trying to drive out a legion of modern liberal ideals.


Isn't living Scripturally, fundamentalist?

And there is, too, right up front, the chameleon-likeness of how Scripture often changes into different meanings according to which religious group is quoting it.

This compendium, of sometimes contradictory, ancient spiritual and ethical texts acts as a Rorschach inkblot of squiggles, worded phrases where any and all humans find whatever they wish to see.

Slave owners see justification for human bondage, but abolitionists see the truth of liberty.

Augustine, Luther and Calvin see mostly a God of sovereign power and self-centered glory, creating a reality of damning theological determinism, but
Pelagius, Origen, and George Fox see God as empathetic father with limitless love for everyone, lighting all of reality with creativity and beauty.

One can even become fluent in Greek and Hebrew and read enough tomes for a PhD. and still fall victim to the humor (or is it the tumor?) of proof-texting:

A person wants to know God's will. He opens his Bible and reads:
>And he went and hanged himself.

The person worries; there must be more than such an awful command.
So he opens to another verse:
>Go and do thou likewise.

Surely that must not be God's will.
The person flips to another page:
>What thou doest, do quickly.

Also, for many Christians (not many Friends), the Bible is a flat inerrant book.

Immoral actions in I Samuel are given equal weight to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Joshua and Judges carry equal weight with Jesus and Acts.

That is why Bernard of Clairvaux, Oliver Cromwell, Stonewall Jackson and R.L. Dabney, Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman could justify the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of humans in the name of Jesus.

They, actually, were following Joshua, not anything that Jesus did or said. They held that O.T. actions and commands are still valid for Christ-followers. According to them, Jesus' words only apply to personal relationships, while the O.T. orders for slaughter, slavery, conquest, theft, deception apply to government and us as a nation.

Evangelicals think the Bible must be inerrant because Scripture is the very words of God, and God wouldn't create a book of errors.

In sharp contrast, thank goodness, early Friends realized that the words of the Bible witness to Christ, who is the Word of God, who represents true reality (like an ambassador represents a nation in the UN). Scripture must be interpreted by Christ's Spirit, not by a theological flat literalism.

We are to reject texts that contradict Jesus' life and words.

So how then is one to be instructed, guided, and inspired by Scripture as a liberal Friend?

Here are a few suggestions that I learned the hard way. I kept bumping into the low theological literal doorway until I finally realized there was a wide-open-to-the-heavens alternative. Some of this came by the help of wiser persons of hope.

#1 Written by humans (as well as inspired by God), the Bible is ancient literature which needs to be interpreted like other writings. For instance, in Genesis 1, a reader doesn't assume this poetic praise to God for creation is a modern scientific explanation of the cosmos. Rather it is a symbolic hymn to the Divine, a celebration to the wonder of existence, and a declaration of the importance of the Sabbath.

#2 Unlike much secular literature, within Scripture there is a witness to God--to Truth, Goodness, and Love.

This is true sometimes in spite of the literal meaning of various texts, not because of it.

And there are many key passages throughout the Bible which will transform our lives if we live in them. For example, try this. Read I Corinthians 13 every day for a year. Whenever the subject refers to love, insert your name.

[Dan] is patient;
[Dan] is always kind;
[Dan] is never envious or arrogant with pride...

Practice those words of ethical truth.

I'm still working on the very first one;-)


#3 The whole Bible is not one consistent theological treatise using 21st century standards of rationalism and logic.

On the contrary, the books of the Bible (the book is a library of ancient texts) often disagree and are filled with symbolism and much paradox.

Hebraic thinking was mostly image-based and concrete, while modern people often expect information to be logical and abstract.

The Bible doesn't try to philosophically prove theism. It assumes God IS
and focuses on images of what God is like--a father, a mother,
a romantic lover, a shepherd,
a just king, a strong tower,
a shield, a consuming fire...

(Thanks to Professor James Kallas for showing the paradoxical nature
of literature in the NT.)

#4 When interpreted by people of hope, an individual can find true guidance from God. This isn't easy. But when was Life ever easy?

Are any of the other ethical systems of ethics reliable?

Too often they amount to the "end justifies the means."

Life is a dangerous journey not a walk in the park, not the Garden.

But if we seek transcendent Truth with our whole self, we will discover new vistas of living.

#5 Much of the Bible is filled with stories of individuals encountering God.

These encounters (and even some ethical rules) are told from the humans' point of view and often display distorted, at times even evil twists.

For instance, the devout Jewish Pharisees and Scribes (textural scholars) said that divorce was okay because Moses had gotten the Jewish law from God, and then they quoted the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible)

In contrast, Jesus countered that divorce had never been God's idea, not the Truth, but Moses permitted divorce because of the "hardness" of humans' hearts.

Mark 10:2-12:
2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away."

5 But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh.

9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Jesus held to very strict ethical ideals! For a primer on how to live as a Friend of Jesus, read the Sermon on the Mount.

On the other hand, Jesus is very compassionate when we fail. When he met a woman at the well--an immoral one who had had five husbands and was living with another man-- Jesus didn't launch into a condeming speech.

He asked her for water. Imagine that!


A Jewish rabbi asking an immoral woman in public for water.

Furthermore she was an enemy of the Jews, a despised minority and a heretic too, but Jesus loved her and shared with her Living Water.


#6 Scripture is not the end of revelation but the foundational beginning. Revelation continues.

For example, early in the biblical narrative (I Samuel), the text claims that God "tempted" David.

Later, however, in Chronicles, the biblical text changes the story and states that "the Adversary (the satan) "tempted" David.

And James in the New Testament totally contradicts all of the past literature, emphasizing that God never tempts anyone.

In the O.T. according to the text, God ordered Israelites to slaughter every single human in villages, including children and infants.


Indeed, Psalm 137 blesses people who bash babies onto rocks to kill them!

But in the New Testament, the son of man says to let the little ones come unto him and that if anyone hurts a child, it would be better if the person were hung with a millstone and dumped into the sea.

Every child is precious to God. All ancient texts need to be interpreted by Christ's ethical insights.

As one leader stated, God sent a prophet, not a proposition.

The key to understanding the Bible is to remember, the book (written over thousands of years) demonstrates increasing truth, increasing ethical insight.

What is condoned or ordered in the O.T. is often strongly condemned in the New.

David kills 200 men and mutilates them--cuts off their foreskins--as a present for his first wife! (1 Samuel 18:14-28)

But in the NT, Peter doesn't mutilate or kill others. On the contrary, Peter blesses and encourages the Roman jailer who had him tortured!

Who among us today, even the most literalist fundamentalist would encourage or order soldiers to behave like David?

In total contrast to David's actions, we are supposed to live in peace with everyone, even love our enemies.

James says violence and war come from selfishness, not from the Spirit of God (James 4:1-7). How many of us pray for the Islamic State leaders and the Taliban bombers every day?

Are Friends making an effort to give the Good News to them?

Would any person of hope in modern time
(excluding Christian soldiers of the Spanish Civil War under Franco and some Muslim jihadists) think it morally right and the will of God to kill others and mutilate them?

Yet in 1 Samuel verse 14 says "David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and Yahweh was with him."

What a LIE!

Evidently, one has to judge such a declaration as not true when evaluated by the Spirit of Jesus.

A good interpretive method is to remember that what is ethically condemned in the Old Testament is even more stringently true in the New and now in the present.

Jesus said the act of adultery had been condemned in the OT., but he emphasized even lusting in one's heart for a woman who has committed her life to another man is sinful.

The closer one comes to the Truth of God, the holier one must seek to live in the Light.

Since the closing of the NT canon, there have been many further developments in ethical truth.

Most humans (except for a few Reformed and Muslim thinkers) now hold that slavery is inherently evil despite the fact that neither the O.T. nor the N.T. claim slavery is wrong, let alone evil.

This new ethical truth finally shown forth with clarity among the Mennonites/Brethren of the 16th century, then eventually among the Friends of the 18th century after the witness of John Woolman, and among some Methodists of the 19th, etc.

Finally the total ban on slavery was accepted by most people (though a few Christians and some Muslims still defend the slave system).

Torture was practiced by Christians for centuries, justified by Augustine, the Reformers, etc. and is still held to be good by many American Christians today such as Evangelicals, but many humans now realize torture is contrary to the Light and Love of God.

Then there is the case of equality of the sexes and races...

To be continued

In the Light,

Daniel