Friday, January 28, 2011

To Whom do we Listen

To Whom Do We Listen?

by Tom Smith

Quaker Life, March 1979, p.19

You have heard that it has been said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you that you resist not evil, but whosoever shall build up their nuclear weapons, take down all your defensive weapons. And if any man will sue you at the law to obtain open housing, offer your help in buying him a house in your neighborhood. And whosoever shall compel you to work eight hours a day, work for him conscientiously even if it takes nine hours to finish the job. Give to him that asks for welfare and from him who needs your help to live a full life, turn not away. You have heard that it has been said, America, Love It or Leave It and Hate the Com­munists. But I say unto you: Love the Cubans and Russians, and pray for those people who seem bent on the destruction of your world. That you may be the children of your heavenly Father."Paraphrased interpretation of Matthew 5:38-44.

You have heard it said that we need to put ourselves first, to be number one, "I deserve the best, after all I'm worth it." "I've worked hard for my money, I deserve credit for that." "We need to get used to the finer things of life here on earth, we will have them in heaven." But the Spirit of Christ says, "Be servants one to another." "The first shall be last." We should be more concerned that this world is better when we leave it than that we will be going to a better world. It is not that Friends are against heaven but that the Kingdom of God is here and now and Christ is King.

You have heard it said "They run the church." "I didn't get a thing out of the service today.""They changed the order of service and I didn't like it." "I don't like it when they pick new hymns, I have to concentrate on the words too much." But the Spirit of Christ says to come to meeting prepared to participate, not spectate. Unless we participate we are like those of whom the prophets spoke, "The Lord despises your worship services and songs." Friends were not against sermons, there was a lot of preaching during "silent" meeting. Nor were they against music, but they were for listening to Christ, meeting Christ as the head of their fellowship, thinking of the words that were shared and the meaning of these words. The church of today must be the strong clear voice of Christ and not only a weak echo of society.

You have heard it said "Let us wear good (or is it fancy?) clothes to church to show our respect for God." But the Spirit of Christ says unto you, "The Lord despises your pretense at pleasing Him by wearing special clothes and having 'Sunday best' when those clothes or that money could be providing clothes to those who have none." Friends are not against colors, lapels, ties, or fancy clothes, but they are conscious of waste at all levels because we are stewards of all God gives us, not just ten per cent or one day a week.

You have heard it said, "Cut back on taxes so we don't have to pay the cheats on welfare, the incompetent bureaucrats, etc." But the Spirit of Christ says unto you if the fellowship of Christians was carrying out the command­ments, the government would not have to have large welfare rolls or a huge bureaucracy which com­plains about the billions of untax-able dollars hoarded by the church for its own security. Friends say stop spending tax money on the ability to destroy human life and concentrate on caring for each other by improving the life of all individuals regardless of color, language, country or belief.

You have heard it said, "Christ is coming again, what a glorious day that will be." "These are the end times." "Christ will change the world soon." But Christ is here. Christ has come to teach His people Himself. Christ brings us the power to change the world now. The greatness of His power to us is according to the working of His mighty power in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. It is not that Friends did not believe in the Second Coming, but they did believe and act on the Real Presence of Christ. The Spirit of Christ says that He does bring power over sins, but you must forgive to be forgiven and make your will be Christ's. Let Christ within you become the central power of life, not as a substitute for you, but as the enabler and guide. Then you will not only be a finder but also a seeker. You will begin to grow and continue to seek God's will. Christ brings a cup. The cup of
Radical Obedience. We must love all persons if we are to love Christ. We must forgive if we are to be forgiven. We must grow and continue to seek if we are to find and to be found.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why my last posting

My Life Review Part 1 was very "personal" and narrowly defined by my current physical state. I was literally somewhat surprised when I realized that. In thinking about the posting two aspects came to mind. The first is the way I often begin Meeting for Worship for me. I tend to get in touch with my physical state. The second is an "old" Friends story about speaking in Meeting.

In sharing with students in Friends schools about Meeting I often talked about Listening. I would speak of listening in three major ways.
The first is listening to self and this often begins by listening to one's body and what it is "saying." This could be in the form of pain, discomfort, tension, numbness or other sensation in a specific area. Once that has been "heard" it tends to be easier to move on to other aspects of what is on your mind. After listening to what is uppermost with your body and mind then, at times, deeper issues can be addressed.
The second way of listening is to others. This might take the form of thinking about the others that are with you in the room, but it can also take the form of remembering good times with family or friends or sad times. I also encourage the Listening to others that may be far away physically, to bring them with you into the Meeting. I often share that I think of my mother and father and what they taught me even though they have died many years ago. In that way I can still listen to them. This can be extended in many ways to what has been read, etc.
The third way of listening is to God/Spirit. In a school setting, I tried to share that traditionally in a Friends Meeting for Worship this was the main focus of Meeting. In a school Meeting where the great majority are not Friends, I invite the students to think about that but indicate that much can be gained by learning to Listen to themselves and to others in a way that opens communication.

The story about speaking in Meeting goes some thing like this. A member of Meeting for several weeks kept having images of other members during Meeting. The images were of what the other members were bringing with them to Meeting. The tanner seemed to always be carrying a load of leather; the tailor had a lap full of sewing; the farmer was loaded down with seeds and a hoe; and so on. Finally it seemed that he was led to speak about the foolishness of bringing the burdens of the week into Meeting. However, as the Friend tried to stand he found he was unable to and on examining why not, he, a cobbler, found that he was weighed down by the bag of shoes on his shoulder. Although the images are "old" the message is very current and ancient. It seems to be a retelling of the remove the "log" from your own eye before trying to remove the speck from an other person's eye. It also brings to mind all of the "baggage" that I carry with me in trying to be open to myself, others, and God.

Thus for me in trying to examine "where" I am, I somehow felt that I needed to examine my physical state and to look at some of the things that are "weighing" on me right now as I start to look at other issues and at my relationships with others. I am not sure where this will lead, but am determined to start on the journey. That seemed to lead to a first small step of self examination.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life Review Part 1

For various reasons I have been a rather reflective mood recently. It may be the influence of our first Minnesota winter, a record one at that, with large snow piles, some over 10 feet tall, having been present since about Thanksgiving, with fresh layers of snow occurring something like 15 out of the 20 days in the new year. However, I believe it has had more to do with my strong sense of "exhaustion." I use that term in the sense of the exhausting of resources. Referring in somewhat ascending order of importance, to financial, physical, mental, and emotional resources. In some ways these also include spiritual, but I find that seems to have a different "source" and needs to be examined in a very different manner.

The most "easily examined" is my physical health. I just underwent an angiogram, first since 2004, to update the status of my CAD and try to assess the nature of some current discomfort. The result showed that things are about the same as expected. Some slight, but not "significant," increase in arterial "blockage" with no intervention necessary. It was again confirmed that all 3 of the bypasses done in 1998 had failed relatively quickly. One didn't seem to "take" at all, a second failed between 3-13 months after the procedure, and the third was blocked for a year until it was corrected by a stent. The two stents placed in 2004 made a significant difference in my energy and stamina at the time and seem to be holding well. However, as was described at the time, the status does not seem to be "life shortening" but rather "only" limiting as to "activities." I think that just means I can't do as much as I might. let alone what I would like.

Since about the same time, 2004, I have been dealing with peripheral neuropathy. This started as some slight numbness on the soles of my feet. It was significant enough at the time that I underwent a battery of tests, which at first showed signs of MS, but further testing confirmed that it was not MS. The neurologist at the time indicated that he did not know what the cause was and was somewhat "stumped." I did have lesions/"scars" in the brain which had been the cause for the first assumption by the radiologist that it was Multiple Sclerosis (Scarring). Since then the numbness has been spreading up my legs and now includes my hands and lower arms. I visited a neurologist after our move to MN. His preliminary diagnosis was similar to the Oregon neurologist, "idiopathic" (sometimes I think "idiotic") which means "unknown cause." After further tests, including brain function, he indicated that the lesions on my brain possibly were unrelated to the neuropathy and may actually be residual effects of malaria that I had as a child in Jamaica. He referred me to a specialist at the U of MN with the earliest available appointment almost 4 month away. I finally saw the specialist and his first assessment was again "idiopathic," but he was intrigued enough that he asked if I would like to consider undergoing some further testing to possibly narrow down some aspects. The most likely "candidate" for cause may well be a form of auto-immune disorder, but there may not be any real clarification of cause or prognosis even with further tests. The one major "positive" analysis so far is that the neuropathy is almost entirely limited to sensory nerves and has not effected motor neurons. However, I still find it very discomforting that it seems like I have limited sensory function in the hands and arms as well as very limited sensory function essentially from the waist down.

The cardiac and neurological conditions produce physical and financial drains which are evident and of concern but are not the most "exhausting" of what I consider my most "valuable" resources. These conditions seem relatively minor compared to some of the mental and, to a much greater extent, emotional issues that "plague" me now. I will address some of these in my next blog.


This was written 30 years ago, but remains essentially my response. However, as I have stated before, the way in which I might describe this has probably been modified over the last "half" of my life. This seems so long ago in many respects and yet my mind often seems to say that I am still 35 years old while my body says, "Not."

"I consider Christ the one true guide but recognize the need for other guides to assist as we live our lives on a daily basis. For this reason I appreciate the genius of the Query form. The Queries do imply a correct answer or authority but indicate the answers are within the person as Christ is with us in a creative freedom. The questions and helpful guides come from outside while the answers and one true guide are “within.” It is of no small importance to me that the record of just how the Queries were originally formulated is not readily available. The most thorough discussion of this that I am aware of is in a few pages of The Later Periods of Quakerism in which Rufus Jones states that Friends “slowly accumulated … a body of advices and Queries.” It seems that the earliest Queries were those which asked about the difficulties and growth being experienced within the Society.

“As fresh moral issues arose, and as the ‘testimonies’ of the Society grew defined

in relation to the practices of the world, the list of Queries enlarged. They grew

in number and importance until they embodied almost all the essential aspects

of the Quaker moral ideal, and they furnished a kind of silent confessional for each

individual member, as well as a moral measuring rule to guide the Overseers in

their work of looking after the flock.”