Answering God – 40 Days with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Day 35 – Monday in Holy Week
Do you uphold those who are acting under concern, even if their way is not yours?
Can you lay aside your own wishes and prejudices while seeking with others to find God’s will for them?
(Advices & Queries #36)
From the Scriptures:
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up…
… some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak.
(1 Corinthians 8v1,7-9
Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury posted a heart-felt tweet about those who had died from Covid-19 being in his prayers. Knowing him personally as a man of deep prayer and I appreciate his care. What I found sad and concerning (bearing in mind the times in which we are living) was the vitriol heaped upon him by other Christians,several of them clergy in the Church of England, who took extreme umbrage at him expressing a belief that is slightly more Roman Catholic than Protestant.
It seems that those who were spending their time in self-isolation indulging in a bit of Archbishop baiting have read neither Advices & Queries nor 1 Corinthians 8. This is sad and says far more about their concern for orthodoxy and being right rather than a more generous concern for orthopraxis and being righteous …Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up…
The challenge of today’s advice is that it recognises, something which is a useful lesson for all to learn, that sometimes what we ourselves describe as orthodox and correct is simply our own experience writ large. For this reason we are asked to lay aside [our] own wishes and prejudices in our quest for unity and understanding.
Ouch! Does that mean that when the actions of another irk me, or I think they are wrong, or I am certain they are hell-bent on leading others astray, it may not because they are ‘wrong’ but because I am a slave to my own desires and presuppositions?
For the most part when we do this it is not visible. We are unaware that we our putting our desires before the conscientious decision and even essential faithful commitment of another. Instead of helping them prosper in the faith we knock them over and insist that they live the faith according to the way we see it. We presume that they are myopic while our vision of God is always 20/20.
These are not often the grand hatreds and prejudices that have bedevilled all faiths down the ages. Thankfully some rifts have been healed, the form of prayer for the 5 November has long been removed from our Book of Common Prayer, yet many sink into the DNA of a church community and become what is now known as ‘Unconscious Bias’. [i]
A simple everyday example. A child is noisy in church and some worshippers presume it is because they are ‘naughty’ when in fact they are autistic. Judgement and condemnation comes to the fore instead of understanding and compassion.
In essence today’s Advice teaches us, in the words of the anonymous 17th Century Nunwho keeps on popping up her head during this Lent, ‘the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken!’
After all, what do we gain by impugning the good conscience of another save a feeling of self-righteousness (never a good look), the belittling of a fellow pilgrim, and the further fracturing of the Body of Christ?
For the Gospel to prosper and the love of our Beloved to be magnified we must needs encourage each other in our own response to that love. When a fellow pilgrim takes a different considered path to our own our response should not be to shun them but to give them our blessing. Even though we may be on different paths, we are both journeying towards the light.
At the center of the universe
is a loving heart
that continues to beat
and that wants the best for every person.
Anything we can do to help foster
the intellect and spirit and emotional growth
of our fellow human beings, that is our job.
Those of us who have this particular vision
must continue against all odds.
Life is for service.
(Fred Rogers – Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, 1959)
1) Read slowly the note from ‘Advices & Queries’ above again
2) Now, as you read these, words say a prayer for God to watch over the last person in your church with whom you had a disagreement.
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