Tuesday, January 30, 2007

an empty tomb, and a human God: the gospel of Mark

Who is Jesus according to the gospel of Mark?
According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus is a mysterious character. He comes into the story fully grown almost out of nowhere since the gospel starts with his baptism by John. He is a figure of secrets, some things he reveals, some things he tells only in parables and then only explains there meaning to certain people. He performs miracles as one of his main function in this gospel. He heals the sick and casts out demons, he prophecies and walks on water, calms storms. Although he claims to come to men as a servant, not a political leader or warrior, there seems to be very little warmth to Mark’s Jesus. When they comes to arrest him he is calm and in control of the situation. On the cross in dying he seems to be at his most human, as he doubts God. The gospel ends with the women find an empty tomb.
In some ways I don’t think I like Mark’s Jesus very much. He seems too mysterious and distant, I also don’t agree with the idea of Jesus hiding knowledge from some but giving it to others. The fig tree is something I cannot understand and find rather silly. Yet there are some parts of Mark I like, I like the ending with the empty tomb, I find it preferable to the endings of the other gospels. I like the fact that Jesus as he dies doubts, the supreme mark of humanness, to question our God in the hour of our greatest suffering. I personally believe that Jesus and through him God can be both completely human and completely divine, why after all should we believe God is in any way limited, and while Jesus’ teaching, life and miracles prove him to be more then human, the fact that he doubts in death marks him more then anything else truly human. Also the fact that even Jesus in his moment of supreme humanness doubts proves that doubt does not keep one from attaining God’s grace, and should be nothing that we are ashamed of or that holds us back. We doubt because we are human, Jesus doubted because he too was human. But in the end of Mark the women find an empty tomb, because Jesus was also truly divine. The empty tomb also for me represent a promise, of God’s love, and ability to over come everything even great suffering, doubt and agonizing death. Jesus himself was God’s promise of love and grace to us, a promise to all of us.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

another post from my New Testament journal

Reflections on the Gospel Q:
The Gospel Q is the over lapping parts of Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. Some of my favorite parts of Matthew and Thomas make it into Gospel Q but not all. Many of the Beatitudes make it into the Gospel Q, which is interesting. As does one of my very favorite parts of Matthew and Thomas, “ But on being asked when the kingdom of God is coming, he answered them and said: The kingdom of God is not coming visibly. Nor will not say: Look here! Or: There! For, Look, the kingdom of God is within you!” (Matthew 24:23, Thomas 3:1-3) Also part of one of my favorite verses Matthew 10:40. On the other hand some verses that I particularly don’t agree with also made it into the Gospel Q. For instance the verse on divorce is in the Gospel Q as is one extremely disturbing verse about those who will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven Q 13:24-27. I find it interesting that the Gospel of Thomas is included in the Saying of the Gospel Q but not the Gospel of John. I can see the reasons for this Thomas over laps much more with Matthew and Luke then John does. On the other hand Thomas is considered a Gnostic text while John is part of the canon body. However I do enjoy and see relevance in many points in the Gospel of Thomas and am troubled by many points in the Gospel of John.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Christ, the Lamb of God: Christianity and Sacrifice

The Theological Question of the class: What does sacrifice say about God, about our relationship to God?

The idea of sacrifice might seem rather pagan to most Christians. After all sacrifice usually mean and has usually meant animal, or human sacrifice to a God or Gods. Yet the Judaism that Christianity derives from practice animal sacrifice. Christianity also believes in sacrifice, after all to most Christians Christ is the Lamb of God who takes way the Sins of the World. Christ died for our sins, is a phrase heard often in Christian churches. Therefore Christians, if there faith is based on the concept that Christ sacrificed his life to save us from hell, not only believe in sacrifice but also in human sacrifice by torture.
As a Christian and an intellectual I am less interested in weather Christians believe in human sacrifice and more interested in what the idea of sacrifice means about the nature of God and our relationship to God. The whole idea of sacrifice assumes that God needs something from us, or is demanding that we suffer in some way to prove something to her. It also means that we fear God, that we fear some sort of wrath or punishment from God if we do not satisfy her in some way. I cannot in good faith believe in a God that needs something physical from us, besides from our love. I cannot believe in a God that demands us to suffer simply for the sack of suffering, and I cannot in any way believe in a relationship of fear between God and humans. Jesus preached, love, caring and compassion. Again and again he emphasized that helping others and living a good life was what God wanted from us. Jesus taught of a loving God. I therefore feel I cannot be Christian and believe in sacrifice with its relationship of fear and pettiness.
My God is loving not wrathful. Therefore I cannot believe that Jesus was sacrificed to God for our sins or for any other reason. I cannot imagine my God wanting or condoning the sacrifice of a human life especially one as beloved as Jesus. Jesus died because certain parts of the powers of his time where not open minded enough to understand his message, and like so many other good people died for political and social reasons not because God wanted him tortured to death.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Bible as I read it

Since I am a college student and the semester has started I have been taking a theology class on the study of the New Testament. One of the assignments for this class is to journal as we read the Bible and grapple with theological question in and out of class. I thought I would post of the entries I make in my journal:

The Theological Question of the class: How do we reconcile the historical qualities of the Bible and our personal faith?
Originally when I came to the Bible I was not a person of faith. Early in high school I studied the Bible, reading most of it on two different occasions. I studied both the old and new testaments as historical works, and viewed them strictly as examples of how oral history changes as it is set down in writing. Only later did I come to the New Testament as a person who believed that Jesus was in fact Christ, and the essences of God made human. Therefore I have always looked at the Bible has being a very historical, very human, text. I interact with it is from a scholarly perspective. The question posed to me therefore is, how do I know what is divinely inspired and actually God’s plan, and how to I distinguish this from what a Jewish scribe two thousand years ago thought? My answer to this question is simply faith. Some parts of the New Testament feel so right and so full of God’s love and grace that I must believe them to be her divine will, although I have no scholarly grounds to base this on. On the other hand some parts of the New Testament, Revelations for instance, I cannot see divine inspiration in because it does not reflect what I have personally experienced God to be. Finally, as a member of the Religious Society of Friends my faith is not Bible based, Instead I rely on a personal understanding of God. Therefore it does not really matter to me weather large parts of the Bible do not reflect Gods plan. I know one day the Bible will be forgotten, but God will always be there.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

words God speaks

I was looking through an old creative writing note book and found this poem writen in the inside of the cover. It was shared with me by my sister Margaret who is also active in the Quaker community as a traveling young adult minister. She found it on one of her travels:

When we speak
words come out.
When God speaks
birds come out.
You are a word
that God spoke too
what do you think
God means by you?
- Polly Berends

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

reading the gospel of Thomas

Jesus said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.”
I’ve been reading several translation of the Gospel of Thomas over the last week or so. The Gospel of Thomas has many passages I agree with and many that intrigue me. As I read I’ve been pondering the question of weather what I see as the central truths of Thomas are also unique to this Gospel or weather they are also found in other Gospels within the Bible. I have so fare come to the conclusion that many of the parts of Thomas I find meaningful; the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, that of God in every person, the need for a personal relationship with God, and what good you do with more important that revering religious creed, is also discussed in other Gospels if not in the same way. I am, however by no means done with studying this very interesting text.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Blessed Community and Gospel Order: Or we as Friends must have the strength not only to act but also to believe

It is one thing to want to bring about a Blessed Community, but how as Friends do we do this? Quakers especially in the early years of the Religious Society of Friends spoke of something called gospel order. Gospel order is what Friends believed was the way God designed the world to be and the way it will be when we have succeeded in making a heaven on earth, where everything will exist in a state of God’s grace. However as we are human we have strayed from the right order of things. Friend originally practiced living with the testimonies and following callings in an attempt to rediscover that gospel order and place it once more in their lives. As Lloyd Lee Wilson writes “ for early Friends to admonish one another to keep to the gospel order, therefore, was to remind themselves that they were citizens of the Kingdom of God, not a worldly government, and should act accordingly.” However, in recent years the term gospel order has become almost unused by Friends, especially among the liberal unprogramed tradition of which I am a part. To these meeting I would pose several questions. Do Friends still work in the spirit of gospel order? Do Friends still work in the light of the Spirit? Do we as Friends know the answers to these questions and most importantly do we, as a community, have the strength to ask them? It is one thing to say that “I work for change in the world because I feel it is a good and righteous thing to do”, but it is very different to say “I work for change in the world because I feel called by the light of God to do so, for she wishes us to create a good and righteous world in her name.” I would argue that there are two differences between these two statements, first one makes you a good person and the other makes you a Quaker, and second it is comparatively easy to say one while the other would, I can imagine, be extremely difficult for most liberal Friends to admit. To live in gospel order, however, we must admit that we are in fact living in gospel order. What will become of Friends if we cannot admit acting in the name and will of God even to ourselves personally and one another, as a community. Most Friends are worried that admitting to the religious aspect of our religion will discriminate against those who do not believe in God yet attend meetings, that if we even personally admit to a deeper more spirit-led understanding of Quakerism we will lose the openness and respect for diversity we cherish. The question I would ask is, do we really lose our respect for diversity when we admit we live in the grace of a loving God? And what are we giving up by denying everything religious. If we deny the fact that as Quakers we are led by God then we can not believe in gospel order which is the reason why we strive, as Quakers, for Blessed Community in the first place. Do we as Friends truly believe we become bad people when we teach our children the Bible, or mention God’s Grace or the spirit of Christ in our messages? How timid we’ve become. Isn’t it time to ask what would George Fox do?
I do not charge Friends with not holding to Quaker principals, or not sincerely wanting to change the world and make it a better place. I am concerned, however, by a spiritual dullness I have sensed in many meeting. I am equally concerned by Friends inability to educate the children of the meeting and seekers about Quakerism as a religion and a faith rather then a philosophy or a nice way to live one's life. Quakerism is and has always been so much richer, so much more then a philosophy, we are not just a community, but a spiritual community of believers. I worry we have forgotten this. Early Friends believed that God had called on them to return gospel order to the world. I am afraid and saddened by the thought that modern Friends have lost the passion and fire that came to those early Friends. I know that thinking about, and most importantly standing up and saying, that we are called by God to create the Blessed Community can seem intimidating and overwhelming some times. I will admit to any one who asks that I am routinely intimidated and overwhelmed. After all I am only one young college student what can I possibly do to make a heaven on earth? In is part of my faith journey however, I must simply trust in God, I will live my life in grace as best I can, and understand that some time I will make mistakes and I will not always live up to the gospel order of things, however I know that step by step we will get there. However, I also know we will never get there until we know how to step forward. We as Friends must learn to let go of our fear, and let the spirit guide us.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

"Who God possess in nothing is wanting"

While reading through The World's Wisdom: sacred texts of the world's religions, by Philip Novak, I found a poem in the grace notes for Christianity. It was written by Teresa of Avila a Spanish mystic in the sixteenth century. I had underlined it the last time I had read the book several years ago.

Lines Written In Her Breviary

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you;
All things are passing;
God never changes;
Patient endurance
Obtains all things;
Who God possess
In nothing is wanting;
God alone suffices.

Blessed Community: a vision among Friends

For a long time I have pondered the question of the Blessed Community. New York Yearly Meeting met in 2006 on the topic of Blessed Community. The idea of my yearly meeting questioning the place of Blessed Community in the life of the Religious Society of Friends is interesting to me. My own understanding of Quaker thought and practice is based on the idea of Blessed Community. I truly think this concept must be central to the way Friends think and act. Many Friends find it difficult to reconcile the many faces of Quakerism, the practice of worship, the calling to social justice, living ones life by the testimonies, and understand Quakerism as a religion and as a faith with theology, and beliefs even if most Friends do not agree on what these beliefs are. When I think of the idea of Blessed Community, I see in this idea a coming together of these beliefs, practices, and testimonies.
The puritans when they came to America spoke of building The City on a Hill. Once I told a f(F)riend that Quakers were the same as puritans only Quakers had lasted longer. To which my f(F)riend replied jokingly, “I hope there are more differences then that”. Of course there are many differences between the puritans’ beliefs and those of Friends but the idea of building The City on a Hill is one that drove both groups in their early years, and I hope still drives us. The City on the Hill is a phrase that is found in Matthew 5:14 “ You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” Most groups have interpreted the City on a Hill as another way of stating the idea behind the Blessed Community. The idea of the blessed community is well documented in the founding principles of early Quakerism. The Blessed Community is heaven on earth and in that single idea Quakerism in its essence exists. First it is important to understand that I see Quakerism as Protestant Christian denomination. This does not mean that non Christian Friends are not good Friends or do not follow Quaker practice, but I believe that it is important to understand that Quakerism was originally a Christian denomination and many of its ideas are necessarily rooted in the Christian faith.
To me Quakerism and being Quaker is to believe that there will be no second coming, no day of judgment, no rapture, no amidogen. Instead I believe that Christ has already come again and that Gods essence in all of us is in fact the tangible proof of his coming. This then changes what we are on earth to do. Many Christian denominations focus their whole beliefs on the idea that believers will go to heaven and one day Jesus will come again, therefore alleviating any need to make real lasting changes in the way the world is now, this is where I think Friends are different. Friends base their beliefs on the Blessed Community, City on a Hill, a Heaven on Earth, or put simply bringing God’s love, grace, and joy to the world now. If we are not waiting for Jesus to one day magically show up and solve all our problems for us, but instead realize that if he is in all of us, then it is our job to make our world in God’s image and according to her will ourselves. In my personal belief God is present now, in our lives and the world. It is her grace and love in each of us that if we listen to, and act on, can and will bring about the Blessed Community.