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)

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)

Seventh Month 26

But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. – Matthew 5:44-46 (Contemporary English Version)

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Listening to many Christians present their beliefs, I get the feeling they’ve bought into an insurance policy for eternity. A cheap policy, at that, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously argued.

In context, Jesus extends his “love your enemies” counsel to a much broader understanding. We seek to live in relationship with Christ and the holy community not because it will allow us to escape suffering, but because it changes our awareness and attitude toward daily living.

Yes, bad things happen to good people. It’s how they react in response that makes the difference.

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Certainly Quakers had a better Esteem with him, than they have with this Generation; the Name being given them in Derision and Scorn, notwithstanding the Posture is that, in which the Servants of the Lord, backward from Moses, through the Prophets and Apostles Days, till this very Day, have been found. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 25

… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. – James 4:1-3 and 10 (NIV)

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As he recognizes the self-centered nature of most wealth, James offers us an unexpected alternative: humility.

This is where the Quaker testimony of simplicity gets its vitality. (Simplicity, we should note, was what emerged when Friends laid down the earlier testimony of Plainness, which could be truly humbling or even humiliating in the greater society.)

Observe, though, that this humility also has another connection, opening the individual to the Holy One. The simplicity is not mere asceticism, but the removal of barriers and clutter.

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And sure something of this King Darius was afraid of, when he made a Decree, That all under his Dominion, should fear and tremble before the God of Daniel. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 24

… 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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Seventh Month 23

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? … – James 4:1-3 and 10 (NIV)

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To what extent are our battles engaged in the “heavenly realms” surrounding us contrasted to the conflicting desires within each of us — which then compete outwardly against the conflicting desires within those we deal with daily?

James points us to a psychological dimension of spiritual labor as we delve into our hidden emotions and needs and the ways they collide and contradict each other. There are times they fight and quarrel within me. I need to listen!

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It is fashionable today to speak of “my” truth or “my” Inner Light, a position early Friends would have dismissed as meaningless. Such variable “truth” was something the detested Ranters would invoke to justify indulging in whatever excesses they desired. There was nothing reliable in their message, so they recanted, when convenient.

Relationship, of course, demands dependability. Faith takes this to a timeless dimension. So the fighting and quarreling within me undermines this stability. Curiously, eternity demands psychological work in the inward moment now present before me.

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That Foundation Principle, upon which their Religion is built, which Principle is Christ the Prince of Peace, who utterly disallows of all coercive Compulsion, Force, Constraint or Violence to be used in Matters of Religion; and teaches such who learn of him, in Meekness to instruct those that are ignorant of the Way of Truth, and then patiently to wait till he inclines their Hearts to walk in it; so that having their Dependance upon, and Expectation from the Lord alone, they dare not attempt the Propagation of the Gospel of his dear Son, by the Strength, and in the Skill and Time of Man, without being guided, directed and subjected by him, in whom is all their Help found … (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 22

…  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)

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So much easier said than done! (As far as our action is concerned!)

My Bible dictionary definitions of mercy begin with “forbearance from inflicting punishment on an adversary or a law-breaker” before it gets to the concept of extending compassion by helping the weak, the sick, and the poor.

So it ranges from refraining from revenge and vengeance, at one end, to face-to-face charity, at the other.

But what gives us any sense of superiority here?

Look again, and see that God is refraining from punishing us, too, and then offering us nurture.

Like love itself, we extend what we are given. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Oh?

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And it shall be to me a Name of Joy, a Praise, and an Honour before all the Nations of the Earth, which shall hear all the Good that I do unto them; and they shall fear and tremble for all the Goodness, and for all the Prosperity that I procure unto it. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)