Seventh Month 31

…  Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth [Exodus 21:24]: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. – Matthew 5:9 and 38-39

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The eye-for-an-eye injunction was radical enough in its own time, putting a limit on the degree of retribution for an offense.

Jesus now removes the response from acting on the same plane as the offense.

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To discover where a radical Bible encounter can lead, find copies of Sojourners magazine, or turn to the studies of Walter Wink (Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers or Engaging the Powers) and Walter Brueggemann (Texts Under Negotiation), among others.

Prophecy and faith challenge, rather than comfort, human institutions and interactions.

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And Christ said, I lead in the Way of Righteousness, in the midst of the Paths of Judgment. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

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Seventh Month 30

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. … – Matthew 5:9 and 38-39

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Peacemakers in practice are a much different creature than peacemakers in theory. It’s difficult, uncertain, and often dangerous work. Often unwelcome, too.

One thing Jesus made quite clear and early Friends understood was that true discipleship is without reservation or limitation.

One thing that strikes me in this – and something that becomes quite clear in the North Carolina Friends sufferings during the War Between the States, recorded in Fernando G. Cartland’s Southern Heroes or Friends in War Time (1895) – is the strength Quakers find in a united Meeting. Thus, an individual act of conscience becomes a beacon, “This we believe,” empowered by a gathered host of witnesses.

Peacemakers, we might add, have no more resources to draw on than do children.

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And now, a Remnant having heard that, in our Hearts, that hath told us all Things that ever we did, we know this to be the Voice of Christ; yea, the spiritual Appearance of the Christ of God. For this was he who saw us under the Fig-tree, when we had nothing but Leaves to cover us, although we saw him not, yet did he send and call us to himself, that he might cover us with his own Spirit, which when we came to be covered with, we then saw who it was that cast the Skirt of his Love over us, and said unto us, when we were polluted in our Blood, Live. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 29

…  But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it. –Micah 4:3-4 and 6:8

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I love the sensuous character of this passage. It’s Sabbath, a time to rest comfortably in the shade. The week’s work is done. Admire what’s been accomplished, without fretting about all that remains to be finished. For now, everything and everyone is at peace. The imagery of the vine and fig tree conveys not just platters of fruit and glasses of wine, but sexuality as well. (For me, the they who shall sit are husband and wife, do so as lovers.) All of this is extended as a blessing.

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Yet there is a Time in which this Principle of God doth stand as a faithful Witness against all Unrighteousness and Ungodliness in the Hearts of Men and Women, and leads, draws, moves and inclines their Minds to Righteousness, seeking to leaven them, as they yield thereunto, into the Nature of itself, whereby an inward, thorough and real Redemption may be wrought in the Hearts of all Men, of what Kindred, Nation or People soever, notwithstanding any outward Benefit or Priviledge they may providentially be deprived of, yet is the Lord so gracious as to dispense such a Measure of his Grace, Power and Spirit unto all the Children of Men, to convince them of Sin, to reprove them for it, and to lead them out of it, that as they give up to the Operation thereof in themselves, it will thoroughly sanctify and make them clean, and so prepare them, and make them meet for his Heavenly Kingdom. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 28

And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. … –Micah 4:3-4 and 6:8

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One argument that runs the length of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament is that God desires humanity to live in ways that are quite different than those we generally see around us. This alternative originates in redirecting individual lives but quickly rises to much wider associations.

Nations seem to have no difficulty finding funds for armies and weapons, yet claim frugality when it comes to everyday issues like education or mental health care.

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The faithful community is crucial in shaping, expressing, and encouraging our spiritual concerns and testimonies. We test the validity of our leadings in the gathering of our Meeting. This is discipleship.

Consider the trials, for example, of Quakers living amid a slaveholding society in the South. Should they remain, as a witness against the practice? Or should they remove themselves altogether? In a thundering message at Bush River Quarterly Meeting, which represented all of the Friends in South Carolina and Georgia, an aging Zachariah Dicks, a widely respected minister visiting from Cane Creek Meeting in North Carolina, warned Friends that they must “come out of slavery” or face God’s wrath. Because of his labors, between 1800 and 1804 nearly five hundred Quaker families moved north to Ohio, emptying the Friends meetings in South Carolina and Georgia. So rapid was their removal, in fact, that the minute book from Santuck (old Cane Creek Meeting), near Carlisle, South Carolina, simply continued at Caesar’s Creek Meeting in southwestern Ohio. (In the 1850 Census, a third of the adults in Indiana are reported to have been born in North Carolina, an indication of Quaker stock and the powerful sweep of that flight from a slave society.) Yet those Friends who remained behind in North Carolina discovered their own witness, establishing manumission societies and, like Friend Levi Coffin of New Garden Meeting, the Underground Railroad. Hiram H. Hilty’s By Land and By Sea: Quakers Confront Slavery and Its Aftermath in North Carolina (North Carolina Friends Historical Society, 1993) details their testimony.

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We, too, live in a society that calls for a witness. Which will it be, swords or plowshares?

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Wherefore this was my frequent Supplication unto him, viz. O thou incomprehensible Majesty! who hast established thy Throne in the high and holy Heavens; yet dost thou graciously condescend to look down upon the Inhabitants of the Earth … (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 27

Never repay one wrong for another, or one abusive word with another; instead, repay with a blessing. That is what you are called to do, so that you inherit a blessing. 1 Peter: 3:9

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I keep sensing that we’re missing something in our understanding of “blessing.”

What Jacob obtains in his father’s blessing is somehow tangible and exclusive. What Jacob demands in his wrestling encounter is power – the opponent’s name – which instead gets turned on its head when Jacob is blessed with a new name, Israel.

Blessing can also mean “consecration,” which we might see here as a giving of direction.

This, then, is part of our legacy, that we might learn to extend it and stand as genuine and loving witnesses to peace – and to the Prince of Peace, our Friend.

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Thus ’tis manifest how the Matter hath been misrepresented, to wit, That the Quakers are Inchanters, but this being mostly the Charge of the Rash and Inconsiderate, I shall say no more to take it off, but only add the Words of Christ, The Disciple is not above his Master, nor the Servant above his Lord; ’tis enough that the Disciple be as his Master, and the Servant as his Lord. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)