Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reading the Bible: a personal story of scripture

The last entery in my New Testament Journal:

“This is the repeated discovery of generations of Bible readers. “I meet that in Scripture,” said Coleridge “which finds me”. (Henry Cadbury, 1959)

“I don’t read Scripture to learn doctrine.
I don’t read it to find answers to every question.
I read it to find God.” (Carole Spencer 1999)

I read the Bible both as a scholar and as a person of faith. As a historian I have
found it impossible to look at anything without looking at it through the lenses of a scholar. However as a person of faith I am also constantly searching for my own faith throughout the Bible. When I come right down to it, I feel that I am examine the Bible both from the perspective of understanding it historically as an ancient text and all of the things that go with this and as the holy scripture of my faith. Does this work, is the question many Biblical scholars ask them selves and some like Ehrman, would say no.
However I believe that it can and must be done. Christians who’s faith is weak enough that it will crumble by discovering the historical truths behind the Bible and carefully reading scripture, should already be seriously questioning what it is that their faith in built on. I personally only find my faith strengthened from studying the Bible from a historical perspective, it not only adds layers of meaning I had not thought of previously, but also gives me answers to parts of the Bible I would other wise find troubling or confusing. I also study the Bible as a person of faith. According to my faith I do not believe that the Bible is the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I believe it is a sacred text that reflects my personal faith beliefs and experiences. While having a discussion with some of my (F)friends about New Testament classes at Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion I mentioned Ehrman’s particular tendency to be as my friend put it “evangelically atheist”. We talked about some of the examples I feel Ehrman uses for no academic reason except to shock Christian readers. My friend pointed out that most main stream Protestants probably would be shocked by studying the Bible historically. I responded that no matter what I found out about historical Bible study or the historical Jesus my faith would stay in tact because that was not what my faith was based on.
In the end after all it comes down to this, really, my faith is based on my personal experience of God. Therefore when I experience God through scripture that is a blessing when I don’t, I don’t, that is all. Through reading the Bible I have found parts that frustrate me, and parts so beautiful they move me to tears, in this way reading the Bible is like experiencing God.
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” ( Galatians 6:18)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

God is in the Grayness

"... What would happen if every time we did something we disapproved of, we opened our heart to heaven?” (by Alan Lew)

“You never know who will be your witness. You never know who grants forgiveness. Look to heaven or sit with us.” (Betty’s Diner by Carrie Newcomer)

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” (Henry James)

Forest of A Quaker Watering Hole posted this quote by Alan Lew as a writing starter for us Quaker bloggers. After reading it I felt called to write in response.
"... What would happen if every time we did something we disapproved of, we opened our heart to heaven? What would happen if every time we felt an impulse we didn't like, we acknowledged its divine origin?...

"Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that it's all right to keep on being mean to people. I am saying that if you keep beating yourself up for being mean, your meanness is just going to keep striking back, getting stronger and more vicious with each blow. If on the other hand you were to fill up your meanness with attention and presence, it might just begin to cool down...

"When we experience ourselves exactly as we are, we sense our oneness with everything and we realize there is no such thing as a mistake. When we pay attention, everything enlightens us, even the things we think of as mistakes."
I grew up, and in many ways continue to live, in a black and white moral world. Throughout my life there has always been, right and wrong, the right way to live and wrong ways to live, good things to spend your money/time/energy on and a waste of time, money and energy. There have been good life style choices and bad life style choices, the right things to believe and stupid ways to behave. In my family of strong-minded women, our way always had to be the right way and everyone else had to be, pretty much, wrong. Guilt is an emotion I am well acquainted with. Furthermore, I have carried this black and white attitude into my work, there are things worth fighting for, and things that are just a waste of time. Yet recently I have begun to examine my tendency to see the world in a moral pattern of black and white. When a friend of mine asked me what I thought constituted a “good and righteous life” I struggled with the question. I fought my instinct to tern to strict moral definitions of what made a good and righteous life, realizing that these moral frameworks were in many ways static and unbending. I instead tried to base my answer on the good and righteous people I know and had known, the people I feel do live good lives. I finally came up with an answer that was not based on traditional black and white moral values. "A good and righteous life," I told my friend, "was one where people dared to push themselves to their personal limits to become the most they could possibly be." I realized that my definition was based largely on the illiterate, disabled and mentally ill communities I have worked with. These people do not live good lives in many peoples eyes, some had made bad choices, others lived in incredibly poverty, but over and over again I have encountered the willingness and the strength to put their lives back together and push themselves to be the most they could possibly be as people.
The other day I picked up a bottle of Honest Tea and read a quote from Henry James on the inside of the lid “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” This quote stuck with me, so much so that it is now one of my new signature lines for my e-mail. I am drawn to the message that the most important thing we can to with our lives is to be kind. The more I think about these two incidences the more I am sure that they are intrinsically connected. I am being drawn away from judging everything by a strict moral code. To see the world in black and white is to lose the ability to see the grayness. To see the places where the people unlike us are good and kind. Where people who make mistakes are still capable of good and great things. It draws me away from truly seeing God in everyone because I am so worried about weather they fit into my narrow definitions of right and wrong. Most of all however it stops me from seeing God in myself.
If I am constantly plagued by guilt because of badly spend money there, time that should have been spent studying here, then I begin the slow process of losing sight of the fact that I am a child of God. The more I beat up on myself for being human, the more I forget that God made me that way and loves me just the same. The more I stop loving myself because I can not be perfect, more I lose sight of God’s love. When I became a Quaker and a Christian, I did it under a belief that changed my life. The belief that God loved me and wanted only for me to love myself just as unconditionally. The day in Meeting when I was faced by this realization I made a promise to God that I would try to love myself and care for myself with the same reverence that She showed to me. I must never lose sight of that promise. Every time I make a mistake I must open my heart to God instead of beating myself around the head with my own guilt. Only through this quiet surrender can I come to understand the beauty and fullness of God’s plan for my life.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Blog Writing as Ministry: My Personal Journey Thus Far.

I have been told that whether or not Quaker blogging is considered ministry, is a hot topic in the Quaker online world. I have also been told most Friend do not consider blog writing as ministry. Instead they tie it more closely to journaling. This however, is not my experience. For over two years I had been feeling a strong call to write about Quakerism in general and the state of The Religious Society of Friends in particular. However because of college and other distractions I did not start writing until the end of last year. Immediately I knew that I had to publish , in some form, my work. I was not merely being called to write, but called to write things that other Friend could and would read. About six months ago I started Raised in the Light. As I have written my blog and been requested to write for several other forms of publication, my sense of a calling has only increased. Last week I finally requested from my Meeting a clearness committee to help me discern the shape and nature of by calling.
I do not know what the outcome of this discernment process will be, but I do know that I feel called to ministry through writing, and am ready and willing to take on such a calling. Yet I am also scared, I have taken the first steps towards committing myself to my writing not just as a form of spiritual journaling for myself, but as ministry for the entire Quaker community. I know that if I reach the decision that I am in deed called to ministry, my whole life will change, and I will be called on to take responsibilities within the Quaker community as a whole. Further more my disabilities will make writing for the general public particularly challenging.
Yet for all me fears, worries and trepidations, I feel I have done the right things. The Spirit is with me, and I have set my course.