Answering God – 40 Days with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Day 21 – Friday after 3rd Sunday of Lent
Respect the wide diversity among us in our lives and relationships.
Refrain from making prejudiced judgments about the life journeys of others.
Do you foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness which our discipleship asks of us?
Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God.
(Advices & Queries #22)
From the Scriptures:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
(1 Corinthians 1v10-13)
Cynicism is the curse of the Church. It is not our only fault, I suspect it only narrowly pushes hypocrisy into second place but it seems to squeeze its ugly slithering body into too many conversations about not only those without the Church – not a good advert – but most woundingly, to our sisters and brothers inside the church.
It seems in the lists of Fruits of the Spirit we mostly remember the ones that are on the surface of our common life, Love Joy and Peace, but then can’t be bothered to learn the rest of the list or attempt to put them into practise. A modicum of Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control would heal much that stops the Body of Christ from thriving and encourage more to be drawn to the Light of Christ.
Sadly, however, a little religion (like a little knowledge) can be a dangerous thing.
Our faith can be ‘little’ in at least two ways.
It is ‘little’ when we think our small portion of experience of God’s grace is the sum totality of God’s grace. This is ‘Little Jack Horner Theology’ which sees us sitting in our own corners thinking we are God’s gift to the Church because of our ability to gorge ourselves on plum duff! The moment we proclaim ourselves as ‘good’ (remember Jesus’s teaching on goodness?) we give ourselves license to look down on others whilst eating all the pie ourselves. When this happens the church becomes a copy of the worst of Pharisaism and instead of building the City of God we seal ourselves into whited sepulchres.
Our faith is also ‘little’ when we refuse to acknowledge that the journey of faith taken by other people is just as valid and just as entire as our own. James Fowler, building on the research into cognitive development of Jean Piaget, demonstrated that we are where we are on our faith journey, and although the weakness of our language forces the use of the phrase ‘Stages of Faith’, he demonstrates that there is no hierarchy of faith. No one’s faith experience is greater or smaller than another’s. For each of us our faith is entire as it is.
To long to be elsewhere is unfaithful, our faith cannot be hot-housed. To condemn or belittle the faith of another (making prejudiced judgments about the life journeys of others) is to forget that we ourselves have been on a journey. When we do this we weaken the Body of Christ, discourage others from growing deeper in the faith, and dishonour the sacrifice of the Cross.
A great sadness for me in my own tradition, particularly amongst the so-called ‘higher’ echelons is that difference has polarised us. Those whose faith is not identical to one’s own are no longer fellow pilgrims with whom we foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness but instead we cast each other out as heretics and unorthodox. We try to speak of Good Disagreement but all too easily (and rapidly!) we descend into ‘us’ versus ’them’.
For me it was a great sadness to discover last year, and still find in these past few days, that I have colleagues of the Cloth who do not believe that I believe. This because my faith journey is not, nor ever could be, the same as their own.
This Lent I have only one intentional devotion, one thing to give up; the use of the words ‘they’ and ‘them’. For the world, and the Church, to survive we need to learn there is only ‘us’.
How do we do this?
Again the Advices point the way;
Respect diversity amongst us
Refrain from prejudice
Foster understanding and forgiveness
Remember all are precious to God
In the mid 1960’s Bill Bright of Campus Crusade developed an evangelistic tool called the Four Spiritual Laws. For me it has a tendency to lean more on guilt than forgiveness, but then that is where Bill started from. Perhaps our list above may make for a gentler Four Spiritual Rules which, if implemented, would restore harmony in the Body of Christ and bring about an end to cynicism and hypocrisy amongst us?
Kindness in words creates confidence,
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness,
Kindness in giving creates love.
1) Read slowly the note from ‘Advices & Queries’ above again
2) Find ways of making the words Respect, Refrain, Foster, Remember part of your life when you gather with your faith community, with Christians of other denominations, with those of other Faiths, and with those of unknown faith.
Quotes from ‘Advices & Queries’ are copyright © The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 1995, 1997 and 2008
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Prayers from ‘Prayers for Hard Times’ are copyright © Becca Anderson 2017
These Reflections, ‘Answering God’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 – and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged