Answering God – 40 Days with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Day 38 – Maundy Thursday
Consider which of the ways to happiness offered by society are truly fulfilling and which are potentially corrupting and destructive.
Be discriminating when choosing means of entertainment and information.
Resist the desire to acquire possessions or income through unethical investment, speculation or games of chance.
(Advices & Queries #39)
In view of the harm done by the use of alcohol, tobacco and other habit-forming drugs, consider whether you should limit your use of them or refrain from using them altogether.
Remember that any use of alcohol or drugs may impair judgment and put both the user and others in danger.
(Advices & Queries #40)
From the Scriptures:
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are the three Unalienable Right set out in the United States Declaration of Independence. Rights with which we are endowed by our Creator[i] and are mirrored in the Constitutions of many other nations across the world.
It is very difficult to gainsay such lofty aims yet somehow across the world we seem to have turned these gifts of God into gods themselves. In particular the Pursuit of Happiness has become something that we scramble after even if it means standing on our fellows (see Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s thoughtful piece on this here).
In our desire to satisfy ourselves without reference to the consequences to others, (remember Paradise and the ‘Apple’ tree?) we have yet to learn that gratification of desire is not the same as Happiness and my staking a claim for my personal lebensraum is not the same as Life and Liberty.
We live in a world that is far removed from the lofty words of our Founding Forebears and the promise of the prophets:
In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 3v10)
We have chosen our own greed above other’s need and as a result the whole of our society suffers. The poor desperately needing the basics of life are thrown crumbs whilethe wealthy build higher fences and feed addictions to gambling and substances as if that will satisfy a craving for community and fellow-feeling. One of the greatest indictments of unfettered individualist Pursuit of Happiness is that 30% of the world’s population is obese, while 12% of the world’s population is malnourished. The solution to this problem is, literally, found in our hands; those things we lust after that feed the appetites of our bodies and our souls in unhelpful ways.
In the light of this today’s Advices are not words from overly strict religious killjoys but instead a genuine appeal for the survival and salvation of the whole world.
Being careful in our choice of entertainment and the use of the internet, examining
where we spend our money and invest our income, reflecting on our over-use of addictive substances is a healthy option for everyone. If we sign on to today’s Advice not only will each of us be healthier but we will be more able to help those for whom Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is but a distant dream.
Sometimes, when it comes to personal behaviours, we are tempted to think that faith crosses a line when it questions what we eat, what we drink, or what we do with our wealth. Long ago I discovered that this is just an avoiding tactic on the part of that within me that I have not yet yielded to the gaze of the One Who Loves us Best. A little flutter on the lottery, an occasional burger (yes please to a double burger and extra chips!), just one drink more than being sociable requires… please feel free to add your own peccadilloes to the list.
Surely this is harmless? After all I have earnt a break. I deserve to spoil and pamper myself a little. Anyway ‘everyone’ is doing it, my stopping will make no or little difference…
Isaac Watts in the words of his most wonderful Easter hymn, puts an end to all our plea-bargaining with selfishness and simply reminds us that a Love so rich and so full demands that we give up on our selfishness so that we might be saved ourselves:
Were the whole Realm of Nature mine,
That were a Present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.
Blessed Jesus, in the comfort of your love,
I lay before you the memories that haunt me,
the anxieties that perplex me,
the despair that frightens me,
and my frustration at my inability to think clearly.
Help me to discover your forgiveness in my memories
and know your peace in my distress.
Touch me, O Lord,
and fill me with your light and your hope.
(Grace Cathedral, San Francisco)
1) Read slowly the note from ‘Advices & Queries’ above again
2) At the beginning of Lent you may have committed yourself to not using, or using less, of a particular food or drink. In the light of Today’s Advice consider making this temporary discipline a permanent practice.
Please – if these words have raised any concerns you have about your or a loved ones over use of substances, information on the internet, or gambling please seek help for them. Alcoholics Anonymous may be a good place to begin that journey.
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
[i] A small note: Putting God at the centre of the Declaration should inform the debate in the USA about the separation of Church and State. The USA is not a secular state. It is one that, like many others, permit the Church to be involved in the running of the affairs of the State and vice-versa.