… You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. … – James 4:1-3 and 10 (NIV)

*   *   *

I wonder what James would have made of an advertising-driven consumer society like ours. He rides straight into the matter of possessions, seeing the difference between needs (true needs) and desires, before emphasizing the self-centered nature of the latter. He tackles the realities of day-to-day living.

*   *   *

An examination of the headings in a compilation of Rules of Discipline of the Religious Society of Friends, With Advices, published in London in 1834, indicates some of the many ways Quakers sought to bring spiritual insights to daily lives. Its queries and counsel cover Arbitration; Books (acceptable reading); Civil Government; Conduct of Conversation; Covetousness; Detraction and Defamation; Gravestones and Mourning Habits; Heathen Names of the Days and Months; Liberality and Benevolence; Love and Unity; Marriage; Masters, Mistresses, Servants, and Apprentices [in a contemporary setting, we might label that Employers and Employees]; National Fasts and Times of Public Rejoicing; National Stock; Oaths and Affirmation; Parents and Education; Plainness and Moderation; the Poor; Slave Trade and Slavery [in a modern setting, we might consider Third World labor and imports]; Temperance; Tithes and Sufferings; Trust Property; War; and Wills, Executors, and Administrators; Youth.

*   *   *

We may find ourselves startled today to hear of applications of these concerns. My great-grandfather Joshua, for example, coming home to find his son Leroy playing with a deck of cards, snapped them up and threw them into the wood-burning stove: “I will show thee where those belong!” – will seem harsh from our perspective, which likely lacks their degree of discipleship and service. We cannot understand their barriers to keep out music, dancing, theater, or novels (“We Quakers only read true things”). Not surprisingly, the testimonies that disturb us also seem to be on much thinner scriptural grounds than many of the others.

*   *   *

And so he goes on expostulating the Matter with them, till at last he threatneth to visit them, and be avenged on their Nation. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)


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