JESUS AS A ‘WAKER-UP’ OF FAITH

Introduction

In June 2018 Ipswch Quakers held a series of Quaker Quest events in which visitors were invited to come and find out about what makes people Quakers. The format was for three Quakers to each give a short talk on the topic for the evening after which there was a discussion on what was said. Some of those who spoke have kindly agreed to share their talks on our blog.

This is Andrew Sterling’s talk on Jesus.

JESUS AS A ‘WAKER-UP’ OF FAITH
Shortened version of a Quaker Quest talk.

Human beings grow up assuming the basics of life around them are the basics of life itself when, as I was later to find, they are largely the basics of the society in which we live. Big difference.

Similarly, reactions for and against religion(s) are based on assumptions derived from our (early) encounters (however strongly or faintly) with religion in the society in which we live. And so this applies equally to the figure of Jesus who, at the time of my young life, was still a powerfully central figure in religion and in society generally.

But my rebellious teen mind became appalled at what I regarded as emotive hanging onto any icon, from pop stars to Jesus. On the other hand, even at the age of 13, I did feel my own burning passion about the insensitivity and destruction of wildlife around me, due to “development” – it has continued to horrify me ever since: it is simply brainless, based on a whole set of assumptions and habitual and apparent economic dependencies .

This led to my wondering why we can’t also (like the rest of the living world) live simply, within what Nature provides rather than what we like to think we need. And I found, and experienced, clear evidence that indeed we can, and that it is our emotional, rather material, need that we feed through exorbitant, destructive, consumption.

This realisation touched memories of Jesus’s sayings in the gospels, so I looked again. This is some of what I re-found in Mathew:

6.19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal:
6.20: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
6.21: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
6:24 No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
6.25 Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?
6.26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they?
6.27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?
6.28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
6.29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
6.30. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
6.31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
6.32 For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
6.33. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
6.34. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

This talked to me about Jesus’s understanding of what our real material needs are and why we think we need to procure them and why we think we need more – an anxiety and lack of faith in life, in ourselves and in each other. If only we could let go.

Feeling instead insecure and confused, we relentlessly rationalise these promptings, by intellectualising life, creating beliefs and concepts to cling to – to explain, to tie life down and to control. We can’t let go. It spells disintegration and conflict.

This is also why we look to creating icons to cling onto and hopefully resolve our anxiety but, in a passage from the Gospel of St Thomas Jesus says

“If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

In a section from Mathew’s gospel, as distilled by Stephen Mitchell (Gospel According to Jesus) someone asked Jesus when will the kingdom of God come?

And he said, “The kingdom of God will not come if you watch for it. Nor will anyone be able to say, ‘it is here’ or ‘it is there’ for the kingdom of God is within you”

And John 3

“The wind blows were it wills. You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going. So with everyone who is born from the spirit.” (My italics).

This then is a Jesus who attempted to connect us back to our inherent faith. What he had, he was saying, we have too. But it’s up to us to reconnect, not some idol.

 

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JESUS AS A ‘WAKER-UP’ OF FAITH

JUNE 2018 NEWSLETTER

 

Our Collection this Month is The Leprosy Mission.

Almost 150 years ago, one man’s spirit of adventure took him to India. There, the future course of his life was set in motion. He saw the appalling living conditions and the social isolation of people with leprosy. His compassion and action birthed The Leprosy Mission, an organisation that now works to bring healing, inclusion and dignity to leprosy-affected people around the world.

If you wish to donate but can’t attend at the Meeting House, please send a cheque to Rachel Bach made out to “Ipswich Quakers”. Please send this before the end of the month concerned.

Introduction

This year we will alternate passages from QFP with the short poems of D.H. Lawrence. Best known for his novels, Lawrence was also a good poet, especially in the pioneering way he wrote about animals.

A White Blossom
A tiny moon as small and white as a single jasmine
flower
Leans all alone above my window, on night’s wintry
bower,
Liquid as lime-tree blossom, soft as brilliant water or
rain
She shines, the first white love of my youth, passionless
and in vain.
D. H. Lawrence.

Our Film Night

22nd June- Our film this month is Nostalgia-Tarkovsky’s poetic exploration of the melancholy of the expatriate. It has sub-titles

Music In Our Bones

About two years ago, while on a visit to St. Mary-at-the-Quay near Ipswich Waterfront, we picked up a leaflet about ‘Sanctuary Singing’, the first word referring to the sanctuary knocker still on one outside door. Marie in her younger years sang in choirs and we decided to go along, very much on the basis that it is recommended at our age to keep doing new things.

Tracy Sharp took the session and we soon realised we were the only couple there , the rest appearing to have medical problems of some kind or just single people there to enjoy it. Tracy is an inspiring teacher and we enjoyed it so much that we became regular participants for every fortnightly session. Eventually Mark took over and we were introduced to various accompanying instruments but an eventual move to The Quay near Christchurch Park reduced numbers, leading to us transferring to the fortnightly sessions in the Central Library Lecture Room, 2-4pm on Mondays.

Usually up to thirty people attend, most the other side of fifty in age but also some younger. The recommended donation is from £2-5 with refreshments halfway through. Thankfully other couples were there, some supporting partners who appeared to have had a stroke. Here three leaders were involved, Tracy plus two from Ian, Jennie and Fran. Another difference was the lack of printed word sheets we had become used to- we simply watched as the three went through the song in the middle of our large circle, usually with applause at the end. Then we repeated each line and then sung the words until we had grasped the song enough to go through all of it. However I have forgotten the initial warming up exercises, usually amusing and noisy, to loosen up our bodies and voices. The three leaders seem completely unphased by anything extraneous such as people coming and going, phones going off and other potential distractions. The most important part of the session is the atmosphere created, incredibly positive and happy, everyone knowing they can opt in or out of anything, there is no form of compulsion, not even having to stand up to sing. What those working elsewhere in the library must think of the sometimes very noisy outpourings is unknown but once I looked up to see the caretaker stop just outside the room to enjoy a particularly beautiful song. At St. Mary-at-the- Quay people were always walking close by and one man said it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard on entering a building.

The songs cover an incredible variety, a small sample over many sessions including ‘I Have A Dream’, ‘Wimoweh’, ‘You Are My Sunshine’, ‘The Drunken Sailor’ and ‘Fings Aint Wat They Used Ta Be’. Once we have mastered words and tune and sang the song through several times, then the fun begins. Different melodies are introduced, some with delayed starts, some with lower or higher voices, making of a seemingly simple song something wonderful and memorable. Those present decide which group to be in, each one orchestrated by one of the leaders. It is amazing how such a simple refrain as ‘Jubilate, Deo, Hallelujah’, sung just before Christmas, ended up with three beautiful intermingled refrains and then the addition of handbells.

The whole purpose of these sessions is to retreat from the strains of life with songs spanning time and subject matter, in an atmosphere where everyone can explore their voices, however tuneful or otherwise. In the most recent session we sang a song with words I doubt anyone could decipher but the fact that we were told it was a rallying song from the apartheid times in South Africa meant that we sung it with loud and passionate voices.

The four leaders are also involved in many other activities, often accompanied by some from the group. These include ‘Musical Memories’ for those with memory loss, their partners, family members and friends. This sense of inclusion is evident in ‘Music In Mind’ for long term mental or physical health issues, while ‘Lifting Spirits’ is for women only. The value of these initiatives is emphasised by the many different bodies giving financial support, in addition to private donations. These include the D’Oyly Carte Trust, The Acorn and Bluebell Trusts, Port Community Fund, Ellies Fund, Suffolk Community Foundation and Suffolk County Council’s Family Carers’ Innovation Fund.

Frances from our meeting attends regularly. To judge the success of any session you have only to look around the room, seeing everyone happy and enjoying what they are doing, laughing, chatting, joining in as they wish to make joyful music. It is one of the most positive and uplifting group experiences we have ever experienced.

See www.musicinourbones.btck.co.uk

Richard Stewart.

What does faith mean?

Do we mean having faith, or belonging to a Faith? If we mean both then does the one necessarily have much to do with the other?

I searched the web. One explanation of faith was to compare it with the trust we experience as babies not to be dropped by a parent. Another was that faith is a firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible evidence. Another was that if God promises to do something it cannot be a lie so that, conversely, it is evidence of God. Yet these would seem to be very dependent on things not going too badly wrong. How quickly do we lose faith when things do go wrong! – be it banks, a council, friends, life itself, and indeed God. This would seem to mean that the explanations of faith I found online are more concerned with expectation – and hope – than with faith.

So I turned to a BBC website that outlines Faiths (religions), including the three Abrahamic Faiths, Hinduism, Baha’i, Buddhism, Jainism, Mormonism, Paganism, Shintoism, Spiritualism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Sikhism, looking for what they each define as faith. However different they seem to be they have in common sets of beliefs and narratives largely based around extra-natural or paranormal events, documents and persons, often set in remote historical time. These factors in themselves give rise to a strong sense of religiousity and the spiritual, which become culturally institutionalised as Faiths.

This means they are tied up with cultural identity and within that context, personal identity. Small wonder that faith or religion is often a hotly emotive subject, often prone to fundamentalism, pro or anti. Faith, and beliefs (religious or not), would appear to be about emotional vulnerability rather than faith, the latter arising from the former. Concepts and ideas are coat hooks from which to hang longed-for ‘meanings of life’.

Yet I found myself in great empathy with many of the underlying values across these Faiths. And having beliefs and concepts is not exactly avoidable. I could say, and do say, for example, my better self is inclusive of others rather than rejecting them, yet as words this immediately appears to be a yard stick to live up to, to judge myself and others by. It easily introduces a sense of the negative in an instant – and no-one dare challenge the beliefs I need so much!

But given my Christian upbringing, do I believe that Jesus judgementally bellowed at people to ‘stop judging others!’ or was he trying to speak to a spirit that lived within them already? Was he instructing us to adopt thoughts, ideas and philosophies or was he connecting with that spirit, pointing out what it is, and thereby get us to reconnect with it, in and between and for ourselves?

That, then, is the difference between faith and ideas of faith. It became very clear to me at the death of my father – does he live on or has he stopped existing? It struck me that whatever one believes, it’s not about faith – it’s about what one wants – as though this will change the realities of death, whatever they happen to be! But whatever happens is right, because it’s life. So let go. Have faith.

I had found my faith then, which is experiential, not conceptual, a releasing, a letting go; albeit it may seem ironic that one uses the world of ideas – words – to communicate it!

Faith is in the absence of beliefs and dogma.
Dogma and beliefs are the absence of faith.
It has no name or terms and concepts. Beliefs have names, terms and concepts.
It implicitly accepts. Belief implicitly excludes.
Faith is not about being right or wrong. Belief leads to the implication, at least, that other beliefs are wrong.
It is about letting go and letting be. Belief controls.
Faith embraces. Beliefs conflict.
Faith opens up. Belief ties down.
Belief presents own agendas as truth. Faith has no agenda.
Belief is make-belief.

And my reading of the interactions with his contemporaries is that is what Jesus meant as faith.

Andrew Sterling

Concern

I see that YM is to consider the removal of the word ‘God’ from our literature, including QF&P, and I feel the greatest concern if YM does decide to do so.

The reason for my concern is that I belong to a religious society which is distinct from the Humanist Society with which I otherwise share values – apart from their constantly needing to bash religion.

I have been with the Quakers for well over 50 years because the sense of the sacred is vital – as is ‘worship’. The word ‘God’ sums this up in one. If Quakers ditch the word God, and possibly with it – perhaps over time – erode the sense of, and the word, worship, and possibly the sense of the sacred, I cannot but feel that I will be deeply challenged in my membership.

Andrew Sterling

 

 

JUNE 2018 NEWSLETTER