Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's in a Day's Name?

One way of Friends that seems lacking is our naming the days of the week by numbers. I do understand the historical reasoning behind not using the pagan names. Early Friends wanted to live in the present power of Jesus Christ. They thought destructive practices had crept into Christianity from paganism, so they cut off all such influences, including the polytheistic names of the gods from Scandinavian or Roman religions such as Saturday--Saturn's Day, the Roman god of agriculture.

On this blog today I won't try and present my own view of that cutting away, but only speak to the Friends' solution, what they chose instead. Keep in mind I am an artist, so as a Friend, I find naming days "first day," "second day," etc. bland, lacking in imagination, and downright boring. Of course, as an artist I may not have been allowed into the Children of Light back in the 1600's anyway.

Here is my somewhat light-hearted suggestions for change (I'm taking a break from slaying the demons of modern ethics and theology).

Why not change our traditional custom and promote the Quaker testimonies or faith statements/metaphors?

For example, Saturday becomes "Spirit Day."

Sunday needs little change. Call it "Son's Day" or for the more theological--"Son of Man Day."

Monday which is named after the Moon god could be changed to "Light Day."

Wednesday which is named after Woden, the lead god of Anglo-Saxon/Norse religion could be changed to "Word Day."


In the Light:-)

Daniel Wilcox

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Truth versus the Joseph Story

When I was a kid, one of my favorite stories was the narrative of Joseph
in the book of Genesis.

Not only was it an exciting tale--much better than the Begats, Leviticus, or the doctrinal epistles of Paul--
the Joseph story filled me with deep hope and faith in God.

I read with wonder how Joseph by faith overcame betrayal, terrible experiences, false accusations,
insurmountable odds, and eventually became Prince of Egypt--healthy, wealthy, powerful and wise.

Then as I grew up, and, myself, encountered terrible times (like most of us do),
and came to face to face with insurmountable odds, I would remember the rags-to-riches story or re-read it for more details.

Keep the faith and you will win, no matter how bad things get.

What I didn't realize until much later--into middle age when I continued to have worse and worse life experiences--
is only one person can be prince of Egypt, and it wasn't me;-)

Somehow I had modeled my central hopes and expectations according to a very few winning stories--
Joseph, Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego,
the Apostle Peter, George Fox, John Woolman,
Menno Simons, Levi Coffin, etc.--the great heroes of the faith who suffered greatly but overcame and eventually succeeded.

What I had somehow missed is that most hopeful people down through the many thousands of years of human history, and at present,
not only never reach a high place, they seldom overcome their tragic lives,
don't get out of the "pit" others or bad circumstances have thrown them in;
they live lives more like Jeremiah
than Joseph--
life only gets worse and worse as they age.

Millions never get to even age.

Their lives are cut short by debilitating illnesses, false accusations, abuses, wars, tortures, and destruction.

They die in prison like Francis Howgill, mistreated to death,
get drowned like Felix Manz,

executed like Quaker Tom Fox in Iraq,
or are tortured, sawn into, beheaded,
or burnt at the stake like Michael Sattler.

On an on the suffering goes. The injustice and very bad news seem endless.

This doesn't even deal with the millions of people who die in vast plagues, in hurricanes and tidal waves, who starve to death, get cancer or are abused.

No wonder so many despair and feel the hopelessness of Hezekiah in the book of Isaiah:
"For Sheol cannot thank you, Death cannot praise you,
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness."

Indeed, I now see that the Joseph story as I envisioned it is a harmful delusion of the worst sort.

Contrary to the claims of hundreds of thousands of success sermons and endless prosperity books, most people don't win by the world's standards. They don't even get to come in last, 5 hours late like
one runner who refused to give up.

They are born blind, or get leukemia at 4 years of age, or die of cancer at 33, leaving behind their 3 little preschoolers.

So where does that leave us, those who seek and hope in God, despite the worst Life heaves our way?

Those who think Dawkins, Harris, and other non-theists are wrong in their claim that existence is meaningless and hope is a delusion.

It's all about perspective.
Paul spoke of it in Corinthians when he spoke of the scandal of the cross:
"We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness."

No doubt many Jews were hoping for a Joseph-like figure, a messianic leaders who would thrash the Romans and become an overcoming prince.

They didn't want a Jewish laborer who told them to love their national enemies and sinners, one who was then arrested for treason,
tortured, and nailed to a Roman cross.

And the Gentiles (all those not Jewish) were interested in power, wealth, and success as well. Who would want to follow some Jewish peasant that didn't
have an abstract philosophical system and who ridiculously told his followers to resist evil with love?

Obviously he didn't understand the real world.

Not much has changed in over 2,000 years. Many of us still want--at least I so often do--
a successful Christ, one who will help us live a healthy, happy life, with a successful career, etc.

But Truth doesn't come our way very often with Joseph-like health, power, wealth, wisdom.
Besides, how wise was Joseph really when he turned millions of Egyptians into paupers dependent on the national ruler?

George Fox and the early Quakers learned that early. They had hoped that Oliver Cromwell and English government would bring in justice, goodness, and truth.

On the contrary, only more destruction, slaughter, and oppression!

Many innocent individuals spent years in prison, lost all their material possessions;
thousands died as have many other people of truth have in the past. And in Europe,
hundreds of thousands died because of the 30 Years War--a battle between Roman Catholics versus Reformed to see who would get to be "Joseph"!

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of how unearned suffering is redemptive in the midst of a life of sacrifice.
For a while it even appeared that King might become a modern day Joseph as he went from being a minor Black minister in the South
to becoming a national hero and society-changer.

But in the end, he was executed by a lone gunman, and he, himself, had turned from the ethical way, even committing adultery repeatedly.

So tragic.

May we in each moment of now abandon our Joseph delusions.

Let us not give up, or give into unethical actions.

Instead, let us live in the hope that good, truth, and justice will eventually win, even if we don't.

To be continued--

Daniel Wilcox

Sunday, March 8, 2009

From Hell to Heaven in one morning!

Several weeks ago, I was getting ready to walk into a Christian church to worship. That's when I saw the sign promoting two authors of hard Reformed thinking--
that God has pre-ordained most humans to eternal damnation in Hell,
that Jesus didn't die efficiently for the sins of everyone,
that humans have no choice,
that babies are born evil,
that God plans
and determines all evil
events for his own glory...

I emotionally crashed, mentally gnashing my teeth; my stomach churned and plummeted. What despair!

Not because, I hadn't heard of T.U.L.I.P. before; on the contrary, I had studied American Intellectual History
at Cal State University, read many tomes on the Reformation and Augustinian and Calvinistic theology, etc.

What so shocked and depressed was to find this very bad, actually horrifically obscene, news promoted at my wife's church.
It seems that Reformed theology has taken over many of the large churches in the U.S.

My wife used to be a Quaker too, but she doesn't find unprogrammed worship fulfilling.

She likes songs and a sermon so she goes to an Evangelical church. I go with her often, as well as to the Friends meeting on the Central Coast. In some ways in the past, I got the best of both worlds, especially when I was able to attend both services on the same day.

But then damnation day slammed down hard!

To find that most of the leaders of her church actually hold to the view that most humans are predestined to Hell, that every infant is born evil...

It still grieves me right now as I write this. Where is the Good News?

If such Christianity is true, then there is no hope.

All evil and all destruction and all sorrow and all tragedy been determined way before the beginning of time.


Later that morning when I attended worship at Central Coast Friends meeting, in the silence I cried out to God.

Anguish tearing me apart, thinking of dear loved ones lost in wrong without hope according to these Christian leaders.

Countless millions of humans, children, youth, adults--most without hope.

But then out of the worshipfulness of the expectant waiting in our meeting, a woman stood and began to sing acappella with a fervency of joy and empathy
a wondrous song of communion.

She knew nothing of my travail and of my 'morning' in theological Hell or my endless despair.

But her hymn ministered deeply to me especially.

She sang the words of love and hope and good news and worship
and slowly the abyss of two hours before at the other church disappeared.

And Heaven came down into our midst
(to quote from an old hymn).

Thank God for Friends worship and the Good News of Spirit-led individuals from George Fox to Thomas Kelly to the woman who sang, and beyond.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Problem with Sin or the Sin of the Problem?

In this new post, I planned to write on the wonder of worship--about a deeply moving time of spiritual encounter we had at Central Coast Friends yesterday. However, as a lead-up to writing, I stopped by Quaker Quaker and clicked on a link
to "Why do some Quakers hate to talk about sin?" by Timothy Travis, a convinced Beanite Friend. His blog reflection jumped out very violently;-) and grabbed me by the spiritual throat.

Ah, the problem of sin or the sin of the problem or of the sin problem-- "Missing the mark," "Original Sin," "national sin." Trying to reduce this horrendous topic to thought and then to print is no doubt like trying to tame Hurricane Katrina to take a shower:-) But here I go--

First a couple paragraphs of autobiography:
Growing up in a devout home and religious community in Nebraska in the 1950's, I very early came to awareness that all was not right within me and in my own moral choices. I was about six or seven. I loved my sister dearly but would sometimes be vindictive and tease her. And I knew stealing was wrong, but oh how I did want (and take) that item at the corner drug store..etc.

And I had a very deep sadness with how adults so often hurt others by their immoral choices both in my small town and in the world. I also received many, (probably more than my share of) spiritual talks on sin and its results and on justice.

What delivered me from my own guilt, helped me make wiser choices, and gave me a deep passion for seeing spiritual change and harmony come to all humans was an encounter with Jesus Christ (in my own childish way)one night on a gravel road coming home from prayer meeting. I was only eight years of age, but I still get spiritual goose bumps remembering that night and, now, when I feel the wonder and joy of God's love for everyone.

So I am not big on focusing on the negative, on the problem of sin, but rather dwelling on the Good News of God's love--sharing of the deliverance from sin and all the messed-upness that we experience in this broken world, from petty gossip to war in Iraq and Sri Lanka.

We all do have a problem with wrong-doing. Some think it is a problem that others have, not us, at least not Friends. Others think they are worthless and there is no cure. Others that there is a problem but no right or wrong--we're just one form of primate living out survival in a meaningless cosmos. And, of course, many religionists such as the Calvinists think we are born evil, have no choice but to sin, and there is only help for s few selected ones, while God leaves the rest of us to wallow down to despair and eternal judgment.

So what's the truth?

Original sin, total depravity--What about those abstract ideas? This last week, I again encountered individuals who hold very strongly to such a theological worldview:
We're all born evil and sin constantly and can't do right or seek God.

When I started this blog this morning, I thought maybe I would have something to say of such a philosophical outlook, but now that I am to this point, I realize that such a view of life is totally contrary to everything I have experienced and everything I hold dear.

As a literature teacher for many years, every five months I taught the famous Puritan poem "The Day of Doom" to high school students (and Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," too). I sought to help them intellectually understand the Puritan mindset, though within my own spiritual self, I couldn't (and still can't) understand Michael Wigglesworth or Jonathan Edwards at all. Their view that infants who die shortly after childbirth go straight to Hell to be tortured for ever because of Adam's sin is abhorrent theology which makes no rational or spiritual sense to me whatsoever.

While I as a child did have a sense that I had deeply "missed the mark" and needed forgiveness, I also distinctly remember how I, too, had very deep spiritual yearnings. So while there was an ocean of darkness in myself and in others, I also saw Truth and Love, and Goodness--and trusted that the latter was far more powerful than the former. And that we all have a choice for God loves each one of us with limitless mercy and compassion.

Then, of course, there is the other extreme--the so-called "liberal" view of human nature where only murderers, tyrants, and "fundamentalists" commit evil. Most of us are decent human beings. We may err, but certainly aren't sinners, nor by any stretch of the imagination, are we evil.

This, too, doesn't resonate with either life experience or reasonable thought (in my opinion). While I consider myself a "liberal" Friend, I can remember very vividly times in my life when I have been tempted to commit horrendous sin. I can remember times, I chose wrong and how it hurt others.

And it strikes me as highly hypocritical that at the present time Americans of most persuasions oppose terrorism by others such as the Palestinians, yet the United States in the twentieth century carried out some of the most horrendous terrorist attacks in history! And this was done by "liberals." Maybe we nice "liberal" people are not nearly as nice and good as we think we are.

And when was the last time among Friends, that wiser ones, privately, sought to guide members who were making immoral choices?

As a "liberal" I would not want to go back to the days of the 1800's when members were excluded for wrongdoing. But should we not in love speak the truth to erring ones?

I guess all this leads to my next point which is the experience of Friends such as George Fox and John Woolman. In their journals both speak of the darkness of evil and sin, of humankind's need of deliverance. But their focus is not there; it is on God who loves us, on the Ocean of Light, on the spiritual symbol of the atonement.

Well, that's a start.

Any comments?

To be continued--