Friendly Witness: The Spiritual Ground of Quaker Social Action4th mo. 19, 2023 from 1pm to 6pm
Quaker Theological Discussion Group 202312th mo. 1, 2023 at 8am to 12th mo. 2, 2023 at 10am
Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
If we are followers of Jesus, are we willing to emulate our Lord at the expense of our very well-being, our health? We know of Christians who are persecuted daily in far flung lands. We know of Friends who were jailed and even killed for their religious daring. Our faith reminds us of the sacrifices of our forefathers and foremothers who dared to spread a radical message. They were willing to go where many of us would not.
Closer to home, the application of the Jesus story shows that there are many Christ-figures among us. Jesus is not forever stuck in 4 B.C. When I was in college, we studied literature that prominently featured a character whose behavior was inherently like Christ. He (and sometimes she) wasn't hard for myself and others to locate in the text as we expounded about the literary device in discussion. I know now that Jesus is more than a literary device or even a good idea. Some may think otherwise.
At the time, I concede I grew weary of constantly searching for Jesus in a semester's worth of worthy short stories from the past. It spoke to my own unsatisfied yearnings. I wasn't a Christian then. I wasn't opposed to Christianity, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't ready to take on that mantle yet. The label is too emotionally loaded for many in the outside world and that unfortunate fact kept me silent. Even today, among a liberal audience I have to pick my words carefully and consider how much God talk I want to use. Certain people may form conclusions I would rather not invite.
I often think about the Rudyard Kipling poem If--- in times of personal upheaval and strife.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
The language is patriarchal, the stoic words often criticized and even lampooned, but much remains of great worth. It, like the Bible, has its roots in the past. In my interpretation of the Scriptures, Jesus passes every examination. If we read the Gospels, we know of the times Jesus was tested. Early on, he was tempted by Satan in the desert. Later on, he was provided opportunities by various Jewish religious groups to implicate himself through trap questions, and yet he saw through every single one. It isn't until the end that Jesus reveals his divinity in front of a hostile court, the most unforgivable of all sins, assuming he was lying. But he wasn't.
As follower, I fall short. I have been both persecutor and persecuted. But even having lost part of my argument or even part of my sanity, I always start again at my beginnings, as Kipling put it, and continue unabated. I have no choice. If Jesus' death on a cross serves as the ultimate sacrifice, then it validates every action taken. If he is indeed God, as I believe he was, this act is redeeming and heroic, not depressing and tragic, as many thought at the time. A painful death became a symbol for endearing goodness and the defeat of even death itself. Rationally, it is a difficult concept for us to swallow whole because it is tempting to see Jesus' deeds as dismal failure, or the opportunity to wonder "what if?".
I've offered myself as a sacrifice, if that meant needed changes and long-delayed reforms. In certain instances, my departure accomplished more than I did myself. I was Christ-like in spite of myself and it took hindsight to reveal success or failure. If I sacrificed some ego in the process, if the sacrifice I made somehow accomplished its intended purpose, I feel quite certain I was living God's plan for my life. I'm prepared to be feared, prepared to be misunderstood, prepared to be cast aside. But when I adopt a guise of self-pity, I know my leadings have gone astray.
Ephesians teaches us to be wary of our anger, unless it is justified. The King James version renders it this way,
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.
Sacrifice should not be confused with masochism. Viewing the process through only one lens, Jesus' ultimate demise is a humiliating exercise in playing the victim. Like the stoicism of the poem above, Jesus manages to endure an agonizing death, but being very human, even he doubts God for a second, before conceding that God's will must be done. This act has been criticized and discounted for thousands of years, and yet I believe.
Look at what one tragic act on Golgotha produced for the whole world. I'm not sure why Jesus came when he did and why he has yet to arrive again, but that old story always bears another retelling, and another following it. It has inspired millions, if not billions. English literature classes aside, the world continues to produce Christ-figures who live among us until they breathe their last.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Would you be strong enough in being lied about to not deal in lies? I may be describing your life or your job or your relationships. I'll say this much. My words have been twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools on more than one occasion. I would wager that yours have too, assuming you sat down long enough and thought about it. It's part of the human condition, but it doesn't have to be the end.
Sometimes it takes a big stink to change minds and hearts. Sometimes it takes three years of healing, temper tantrums, harsh pronouncements, inspiring words, and an execution to save the world from itself. And in this, those of us who believe do hope that eventually everyone will reach the same conclusion. Activists, movers and shakers, and dilettantes should know that whatever follows comes on God's timetable, not our own. May we resolve to be patient and to know we will always be given what we truly need. Yours is the earth and everything that's in it.
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