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Perfect Imperfection

We are all imperfect. But we are perfectly suited to the work we are called to do.

In the church I grew up in we memorized a creed, a statement of the beliefs we held in common. The life of Jesus was described this way: he was “conceived by the holy spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried…” 

This creed ignores the fact that between “born of the virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate” lies the whole story. That’s where we find the love of God shown in the life of this man who left his family to tell us how much God loves us as we are, to minister to the poor and oppressed, to bring God to the godforsaken. 

He said to us, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. … Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.”

I do not find God in steeplehouses or meeting houses or even in meeting for worship very often. I find God in the actions that let my life speak. I believe that Jesus isn’t present in the ones who feed the hungry or in the hungry who are fed. Rather, he is present in the action of feeding them – the action that binds them together in a connection that is godly. 

The message from my childhood church was that I was not (and would never be) good enough. That I was born tainted by sin, that nothing I could do short of confessing my imperfections and following directions of men who had no idea about my life would make me acceptable to the God who created me. I learned that I had to be perfect to live a godly life. Or at least try to be.

However, I once visited a church whose pastor said that God loves us JUST AS WE ARE. I was in my 40s and this was something I had never heard in church before. It was absolutely life changing for me. I broke down in tears. 

We all struggle to be perfect, to live up to the perceived perfection of Jesus, to earn the love of God. But what if God loves us just as we are? What if we can learn to accept or even embrace our imperfection? That might mean also accepting the imperfection of others, understanding that they too are doing their best to struggle with their imperfect-ness. What if we could love others unconditionally, just as they are? As God does.

As a Quaker I believe that it is not necessary to be perfect or cleansed or absolved to have a connection with God. It is not necessary to feel love for all of our fellow humans or to be always calm in our spirit. It is only necessary to do the work and the connection with God will manifest itself.

I have heard that our ministry, our ‘right work’ is where our great joy meets the world’s needs. We are all imperfect. But we are perfectly suited to the work we are called to do. We can all bring the message of Jesus – that we can and should love one another, that we can and should feed the hungry, tend the sick, bring the kingdom of God to this imperfect world. We are the hands that God has to do this work.

This, then is the measure of our perfect imperfection. 

Author’s note: This was published in the British Quaker Magazine “The Friend” 31 Dec 2020

Photo by sum+it from Pexels

Quaker Roots

Our roots nourish us and hold us steady. But we are not our roots — we grow beyond them into something different, something new.

The Religious Society of Friends is rooted in Christianity and has always found inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus. How do you interpret your faith in the light of this heritage? How does Jesus speak to you today? Are you following Jesus’ example of love in action? Are you learning from his life the reality and cost of obedience to God? How does his relationship with God challenge and inspire you? Advices and Queries 4, BYM Quaker Faith and Practice

We are taught that Quakerism is rooted in Christianity, but without much explanation of what that means. In the same way that early Christianity was rooted in Judaism, we are rooted in Christianity. It is our spiritual culture, the ground from which we grew, the language and concepts we use to describe our direct experiences with God. 

Our roots nourish us and hold us steady, but we are not our roots. Rather, we grow beyond them. In the same way that early Christians grew from their Jewish roots into something different, Quakers take their Christian roots and grow into something different, which fits our experience with God. 

Jesus was rooted in his family, in his culture and in his religion.  They informed every aspect of his life. But he was not only that culture – he went beyond it. He even rejected large parts of it. 

I can’t claim to be a student of the Bible, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus never said, “pick up your cross and worship me”. I think what he said was “…follow me”. Do what I do: tend the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger.” I believe that the Quaker form of worship helps us to connect to our roots and then go beyond them to “let our lives speak”; to work for the world we want to see. 

Ghandi is often quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Quakerism began as a return to early Christianity, to the work of Jesus. In many ways, Quakers continue to do this, to respond to Jesus rather than to the Christ. To follow the one who said that we need to “love one another”, rather than the one who is represented in many modern Christian churches. 

I often think about Jesus – the man, not the Christ. I wonder, for example, what kind of accent did he have and what did that accent say about him? How did he part his hair? What did he call his mom? We hear he was a carpenter—was there one piece he created that he was particularly proud of? Did he like his work? What did he say when he smashed his thumb with a hammer? What was his favorite color? His favorite meal? His favorite swear word? Could he swim? There is so much we do not know about this man and about the things that formed him to be the one we still talk about 2000 years after his death. 

One of the things that first attracted me to Quakers is the notion that revelation didn’t stop 2000 years ago. It continues today, as Friends wait in anticipation for divine inspiration and then share their ministry with each other and with the world. 

What does this mean, then? The mystical nature of Quakerism means that my experience may not be yours. However, I believe that the roots of Quakerism are not in the steeplehouses and the hierarchies of Christianity. I believe that those roots are in the man who taught us to love one another. It’s that simple and that difficult. 

Author’s note: This was published in the British Quaker Magazine “The Friend” 22 Oct 2020

Photo by Evie Shaffer from Pexels

Forgiveness

We all carry around resentments, wounds that impair our ability to function as a whole person.

Forgiveness. Who doesn’t seek it? Who doesn’t need it? Who doesn’t crave it? How do we get it? We all carry around resentments, wounds that impair our ability to function as a whole person. 

There is a story that the author Corrie Ten Boom was asked to forgive one of the Nazi guards from Ravensbruck, the prison camp where she and her sister were imprisoned and where her sister died. She found that she wasn’t able to do it. She prayed to be given the strength, and at the moment she committed to making the effort she reported that she was filled with a healing warmth that she called the love of God.

In The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare tells us “…in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.” In that prayer we ask, “forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.”

This can be understood as meaning ‘in the same manner’ as we forgive others. To the extent that we can completely forgive someone else we can be completely forgiven. If the best we can summon up is incomplete and grudging forgiveness that’s what we find for ourselves. Our forgiveness of others is a prerequisite for being forgiven ourselves.

“AS we forgive others” can also be understood as meaning ‘at the same time’ as we forgive others. It’s a simultaneous process of healing which we initiate. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying “it is in pardoning that we are pardoned” I think that this is what Corrie Ten Boom experienced.  It’s an interlocking action. Or is it the same one? Is forgiving others the same as forgiving ourselves?

The moment when we are able to give up our identity as the wounded one is the moment we are made whole.