Wednesday, March 28, 2007

burger king buying cage-free!

I'm a vegetarian mostly because of inhumane treatment of animals, so the announcement that Burger King is going to only buy cage-free eggs, chicken and pork (after a phase-out time) is great news! You can see the NY Times article here. They apparently already have standards for how their beef is raised and slaughtered. They hope this will change the market for more humane treatment of animals, and that their competitors will have to change over, too.

As Friends I think we should care about the ethical treatment of all life, not just humans. I don't know that it's unethical to eat animlas at all, but they definitely should be treated with dignity in life and killed in a way that isn't traumatic.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


What do Quakers believe about the possibility of reaching perfection? Many denominations say it's impossible and presumptuous to believe we can be perfect in this life--only God is perfect. We, on the other hand, are depraved and sinful and can only do good if God does good through us. We have free will, but we only have the freedom to choose to do evil, and any good we "choose" to do is actually God choosing for us. Because of our evil sin nature, we can't ever be perfect in this life because we're completely detached from the way we're supposed to be.

George Fox apparently thought perfection was possible in this lifetime. He repeatedly rebukes the religious leaders of his day for not believing in perfection. In chapter one he says:

But the professors were in a rage, all pleading for sine and imperfection, and could not endure to hear talk of perfection, and of an holy and sinless life. But the Lord's power was over all; though they were chained under darkness and sin, which they pleaded for, and quenched the tender thing in them.

In chapter two he says he can't find any denomination that believes that we can attain "Adam's perfection. He thinks this doesn't make sense if we're supposed to be imitators of Christ, and since it says in Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Here Quakers are fairly close to Wesleyans, believing in the possibility of holiness if we'll allow God to make us who we're called to be. This is different from the Reformed tradition, where good we do is directly done by God--instead it's God in us, transforming us into a new being, that allows us to be able to choose good ourselves.

I agree that we can choose good--theology doesn't seem to make sense to me if we can't. If God is the only one choosing good through us then it doesn't make sense that God wouldn't just choose for all of us to choose good, and it wouldn't make sense to punish us if we don't choose good. But do we have the power, with God's help, to be transformed so much into the new being God calls us to be that we actually attain perfection?

I would answer a qualified "yes." Just like we can work to bring the Kingdom of God to earth even though it will never actually be fully realized, we are also called to work toward perfection even though we'll never fully reach it. We're still supposed to try. I don't mean just doing "works" in order to follow God's laws, but listening and being transformed in ways that help us to follow Jesus' main command, to love God, others and ourselves.

This view is similar to Tillich's view, that we are estranged from God and when we become Christians (or when we start following God in whatever way we do, whether or not we recognize ourselves as Christians), we start a process of becoming a New Being in Christ. He always qualifies all his ideas by saying that we are to work toward the ideal, but in this life all the perfect states of ourselves and our communities will only reflect our "essential selves" (read: who we would be in a perfect world) in a fractured, fragmentary way. And yet, this is truly the mark of God in the world and in our lives, moving all creation toward perfection.

I'm not sure that Fox would agree with this, because he'd probably say it's a way of taming what we believe in order to not have such high requirements. But I think in many cases it's more damaging to say we believe perfection is possible, because then people who know they're not perfect (umm...I think that's all of us!) get extraordinarily discouraged. It can also lead to people covering up their struggles and areas of weakness because they think to be a Christian one has to be perfect. That's why church people tend to look so pious, because if we're truly changed by God we should be good people, right? We shouldn't make mistakes, right?

But we still do make mistakes, and I think it's part of moving toward perfection to be able to acknowledge our mistakes and have the humility to work on them with accountability from others and with the recognition that we've still got work to do. I think a healthy church community isn't threatened by people's failures, but is strengthened by them, because people are able to talk to one another and admit their shortcomings, rather than pulling away from each other because they can only handle looking perfect for a couple hours a week.

So is perfection possible? Yes, but humility is a huge part of perfection that most in the American church seem to not be very perfect on yet...including myself.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

early friends & silence (or lack thereof)

Another thing I've noticed reading Fox's Journal is that it doesn't seem like he and other Friends spent a whole lot of time in silence at their gatherings for worship. It sounds like most of the time it was more like Fox was on a preaching circuit so people came out to hear him, and sometime's he'd speak and sometimes he would wait for a while before he spoke and "famish them for words." Once he talks about waiting until he could sense the Spirit had opened the hearts of everyone there to the extent that they were going to be opened that day, and then he spoke into that open space, prepared by the Spirit.

Other times when he meets with a smaller group of committed Friends it sounds like they would wait for a while together until they heard what they were supposed to do, and then they would go out and do it. So it was a meeting to come together and listen about the immediate action they would take, rather than just time to sit around centering and get a nice feeling, a retreat from daily life.

That kind of silence sounds like a deliberate opening up to the leading of the Spirit in ways that are challenging and scary. I mean, in meetings for worship I'm scared sometimes if I'm just led to speak out of the silence, but this took courage of a whole new level. What they heard God leading them to do was no small matter--they might go speak about "the day of the Lord" in the market place, or go debate with people in the "steeplehouses," or go visit Friends in prison. With all of these there was risk of being thrown in prison themselves, or getting beaten up, or at least being made fun of. Doing any of these things marked them publicly as a crazy Friend and even if persecution was not immediate it often would occur later.

It seems like our meetings for worship (whether programmed or unprogrammed) have veered quite far away from the meetings of these early Friends. I think it's important to come together for the simple purpose of worshiping God, but what IS worship anyway? Can it be worship if we're not willing to act on what we hear? How long do we need to wait and ponder for clearness before we go out and just DO what we're called to? (I ask these things of myself, because I'm definitely not perfect in this area, but also of us as a community.) If don't want to support our country's wars, why do I still drive out of convenience? If I don't want to encourage slavery and worse worldwide, why do I still buy consumer products that are too cheap to have been paid a fair price for? If I don't want to destroy the Earth why do I use disposable containers and buy items with unnecessary amounts of packaging? etc. etc. etc.

When will we as Friends not just listen, but ACT again?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

old leather breeches and shaggy, shaggy locks

As I've been reading Fox's Journal I've been struck by the fact that he's a bit crazy. I wonder if he showed up in one of our meetings today what we would think of him. Would we accept his teaching as prophetic, or would we write him off as a lunatic? Here are some reasons:

1. He preached for hours on end.
2. When he got beaten up in a town, sometimes he immediately went back and got beaten up again.
3. When someone was particularly "rude" to him, and died shortly thereafter, he says they were condemned by God for their treatment of him.
4. He often wouldn't accept money from people, even for food.
5. He was utterly convinced that his way was "the Truth," and that anyone who didn't immediately jump on the bandwagon was evil.
6. One time when he met someone who was a fairly jolly person, he counseled him to not laugh so much, and when he met him again and he was then "sober," he thought the man had much improved.
7. He wrote a lot of long-winded and convoluted letters to his oppressors (I suppose we still do this today in the form of minutes against wars, etc.).

There are probably others but those are the ones that are coming to mind right now.

So what would we think of him?

Or perhaps more importantly, what would he think of us? Are any of us as Friends living in a way he would approve? Are we "living in virtue of that life and power", Jesus Christ? If so, what do we have to show for it? Where are our fruits? In what ways are we called to, and do, challenge the status quo?