Lord, I Was Born a Ramblin’ Man

[I have several topics in the churn: Friends and homosexuality; immigration; and, recently, “what about Young Friends and their place in our Society?” All of those take thought, effort, meditation and prayer and will come in the fullness of time. Until then, some brief notes. Just ramblin’ a little.]

Idolatry

That one may make an idol of plain clothes, or of plainness itself, I have no doubt. It is suggestive to me that, of all the essays I’ve posted hereon, the one on plain clothing has attracted twice the readership of any.

It is neither plain clothing nor plainness, as such, which demand my attention. It is how we may enact, to the best of our comprehension, the leading of the Spirit within the most mundane details of our lives that I find compelling.

Those who are plain, for whom I have the utmost respect, are those whose lives embody the same concern.

Sacrifice and Submission

I recently heard a sermon by a preacher who suggested that sacrifice and submission were things to be avoided.

There are so many ways in which submission is not a bad thing. Anyone who has ever had a profound sexual encounter knows that it can’t be forced. You have to let go and submit to the experience. Falling in love, for that matter, is cut from the same cloth. It is only the voice of egocentricity which says “I must be in control at all times” that does not recognize the real significance of submission. Yes, there is an unhealthy sort of dominance/submission dance that people do play out. It is remarkably myopic to see that as the only context in which submission can be found.

As to sacrifice, any sober alcoholic or recovering addict knows that, while it may have seemed like a sacrifice at first, the life of joy and freedom which is made possible by recovery is no sacrifice at all. Yes, we sacrificed the use of mind and mood altering substances; so what? Might as well say that when we got clean we sacrificed a life of degradation, of obsession about using, of constant fear, of damage to those around us — if you call losing those things a “sacrifice.” Most of us prefer to call it “surrender” rather than sacrifice, but it amounts to the same thing: sometimes you have to lose in order to win. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Traveling in the Ministry

Bonnie and I have been making use of occasional Sundays, when we have no other obligation, to travel. We have attended all but one of the Meetings within reasonable distance, and have plans to get to that one next month. It has been wonderful to meet new people, experience the different personalities of the Meetings as a whole, and to enjoy the time together.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to a church here in New Bern which I would call a part of the emergent church movement. I have known the pastor, David McCants, for some time, and have real affection and respect for him. We have talked together, worked together, and prayed together.

This was the first time I went to his church. It was quite different, not just from an unprogrammed Quaker meeting, but from any mainstream Protestant church I’ve ever attended. For one thing (perhaps superficial, perhaps not) there was coffee and juice and water and snacks available, not in the fellowship hall for after the service, but in the sanctuary, for whenever. The rock and roll band playing the music is more and more common in a lot of churches, but it’s still not what I’m used to. No “Rock of Ages” and “Abide With Me” here. There was a great deal of informality; very few people dressed up. For most, it was like “casual Friday” at the office, a nice shirt and slacks. But there were some in shorts, and more than one t-shirt. Even one suit.

I love what this church does, and not just in the worship service. They do so much in the community as well. They really try to live the Gospel of service to “the least of these, my children.” Nothing is dearer to my heart, and this is one of the reasons I am so fond of David.

All in all, I liked it a lot, and so did Bonnie. It was a pleasant change of pace for both of us. In speaking with David afterwards, I said, “I really loved being here this morning. And it reminds me how glad I am to be a Quaker.” He got it. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Lord, I Was Born a Ramblin’ Man

  1. Thank you for sharing, Friend. The words you write ring in my ears as rightly ordered, and echo the Spirit’s own words I have often heard reaching out from the silence.

    I feel compelled to add that I am surprised that a preacher in any Christian sect would encourage avoidance of sacrifice and submission. Generally speaking, in my experience, Christian preachers lead their flocks to practices based on the life of Christ, a life that was filled with sacrifice and submission. As i think on it, sacrifice and submission are two ingredients of service. I believe that this preacher may have been talking about avoiding specific aspects of sacrifice and submission, not in general. Perhaps this preacher intended to convey that when pressed by worldly conditions, one ought not sacrifice one’s spiritual leadings. Nor should one submit to another’s will because of the social construct of authority, but treat all as equals, equally vested by that of God within.

    Early Friends certainly knew both Sacrifice and Submission. They submitted to the leadings of Spirit, rather than the “authority” of society. They often sacrificed their physical freedom, and suffered imprisonment for it.

    Your thoughts about plain dress have stirred similar thinking in me regarding the traditional Quaker Testimony of Peace. Some friends, it seems to me, have elevated this testimony to a position which comes very near idolatry. I believe that the peace testimony was meant to express a particular view held by those who raised it up. It was to say “this is what I believe, and therefore I cannot comply with you demands that I fight in your war”. I do not believe that early Friends meant for it to be a way of saying, “here is what I believe, therefore you should too”. In fact, when William Penn asked George Fox about what he should do with his sword, he was told “to wear it as long as thou canst”. He was not told to cast it aside as a tool of the devil, nor chided for having been a soldier or leader of soldiers. He was told to keep doing what he was doing until Spirit led him otherwise. The only one telling you how to behave is your own connection to Spirit. For me, that is what makes me “glad to be a Quaker”.

  2. As plainness of dress is perhaps a goal and not a requirement, when I am in synch I will have plainness of dress. When I am overreaching I will fuss that what I wear will be correct. What I wear should not matter. How I worship ought not matter. Many forms of worship start out with great appeal to me. It is easy to start out making great strides. If I seek one with the infinite, through, great strides are unimportant. I like that you offer “don’t tell me how”. I await the inevitable self-congratulatory words from the Churches you visit “we have arrived, come with us,” that I usually will doubt. Thank you for inspiring me today.

  3. Plainness of dress is not a goal. Plainness of life is not, per se, a goal. Simpliicty, the overall Quaker testimony that includes honesty, plainness, clear-speaking, directness, knowing one’s own mind, discerning one’s role in God’s will, and other Quakerly qualities, is a Testiimony – an outcome and visible witness of the sacrament of one’s life, lived in accord with the Inward Light and following the model of the spiritual teachings we share, the life of Jesus and other saints and prophets, the witness of lives lived in the Light like John Woolman’s and Margaret Fell’s and many others, in accord to what scriptures have revealed when read in the Light, in honest commitment to align with the Divine Master who has come to teach us Her/Himself. Some Friends set up the SPICES testimonies like a creed: here’s what you’ve gotta do to be –or act like– a Quaker. But they are testimonies, witnesses to an inner state achieved thru cultivating one’s listening to the Guide, who is, as Deuteronomy points out, “not in heaven that we should wait for an angel to bring it, or in far off teachers, that we should send students abroad, but rather it is as near as a mouth whispering in thy ear.” The goal is a righteous and holy life, lived in peace and love with God and our neighbors. The best practice for a life in Paradise is a life well lived in this world.
    Your Service, or Stewardship, or Simplicity and Peace-making and Integrity and Community and Equality should merely prove that you are doing your best to walk in that path that Jesus and others tried to walk in.

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