25 August 2011

Anthony Bloom speaks and we listen

Last week I described plans for a Bible study for our meeting. Now it's confession time: I am always a nervous wreck as I anticipate having to speak or preach or lead a group! I've done it a million times, and sometimes successfully, but it is never easy. Especially when it's not in my native language. I'm always secretly hoping that something will come up that will pre-empt the event that I've been preparing for so hard.

So, from that escapist point of view, this Sunday was promising. As worship and a round of introductions and announcements came to an end, two visitors we'd not seen before asked to speak--and they told us of their horrendous experiences looking for work. They had been recruited by someone at a public place to paste handbills, and ended up in virtual slavery for a month. If that weren't enough, two of our members were in a foul mood about something that had happened in June when I was in the USA. As we set out the tea and biscuits, the on-duty rep of the organization we rent our meeting space from came in and announced, to regulars and visitors alike, that we needed to get a better teapot, that our contract with the organization didn't obligate them to supply endless amounts of hot water. "Get something that will hold four or five liters," she boomed.

Even as I tried to sort all this out, and as we put out the after-meeting tea, I piously wondered whether the atmosphere was really all that conducive to a Bible study. When I suggested, with studied tentativeness, that "maybe" it was time to convene our study, I half expected not even to be heard. But I was, and everyone settled down.  (Everyone! I'd wondered whether half the people would leave, either fuming or scratching their heads! But as it turned out, I ran out of handouts; people had to share.) With a full 45 minutes left before we had to leave the premises, I'd run out of distractions. Time to start.

The handout included the full Anthony Bloom sermon that I excerpted last week. It also included these questions for discussion, based on sermon and related Scriptures:
  • ... A lot more is required of us if we want to be the people of God, the people who can say that the divine word belongs to them. Do we really want this?
  • ... A genuinely godly people--a genuinely New Testament people--must be the kind of community that could write the Bible themselves, giving it birth and preaching it from personal experience..... What are the similarities here with Friends' understanding of the Bible?
  • ... it would be a two-fold revelation for all who hear us: a revelation of the word that is being proclaimed, and a revelation that the proclamation has become flesh and blood, a living reality for people. Beautiful words and thoughts, of course, but realistic?
  • Is this what we see? Can we really say that the community we constitute, whether large or small, is a full-bodied confirmation of the news we carry, the good news that Jesus brings to the world? How does our meeting's current [self-study] project, "Improving the meeting's effectiveness," connect with these questions from Bishop Anthony? [We're currently undergoing a survey-driven process, homegrown but something like Natural Church Development.]
  • All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness ... (2 Timothy). What concrete examples can we imagine to show how Scripture could be active among us?
  • ... All the promises of God are 'yes' in him. (2 Corinthians). What promises of God are implied here and in the sermons of Metropolitan Anthony? How do we relate to those promises?
In 45 minutes we got through the first three questions, leaving us with plenty for later. But the discussion was outstanding--I was so proud of our community. Among my outstanding impressions from the evening were things said by three of our participants. Our most (apparently) cynical was eloquent on the way the Bible shapes his faith. Our most idealistic was lyrical about the image of love shining from the Bible. And a member known for bluntness said, "Isn't it a bit presumptuous of us even to hint that we, those of us in this room, could reconstitute the Bible?" Concerning those latter two, I said, "It's this very tension--between the idealistic and the prophetic reality-checker--that reflects an ancient and very important dialogue in the church. It's a natural division of labor, and we need both poles."

I have to thank the Holy Spirit for this--there is no way I could have predicted such a riveting session, that 45 minutes could be so full and (despite my initial nervousness) end so quickly.

Two prominent obituaries.

Jack Layton, Canadian scholar and politician. When I lived in Canada, the New Democrats were led by David and Stephen Lewis, and I was there to see the New Democratic Party actually hold the balance of power in Canada. When David Lewis resigned the party's leadership in 1975, I remember his eloquent speech as a classic statement of the democratic socialist creed that was a viable political option in Canada in a way that was not possible in the USA. In those years, even conservatives (like some of my relatives) would sometimes vote for the NDP based on the merits of their local candidates.

Since leaving Canada, I'd somewhat lost track of Canadian politics, but the NDP came back to my attention in a hurry this spring, when the national election gained them enough seats to become the official opposition. The NDP leader in this amazing success story: Jack Layton, one of the most interesting and inspiring politicians in recent memory. He died this past Monday. Among the many, many articles and editorials that were written in the hours following his death, this editorial (in a newspaper that did him no favors in life!) is one of my favorites.

Jerry Leiber, songwriter. Just as Jack Layton labored on behalf of policies to make people's lives better, Jerry Leiber worked with songwriting partner Mike Stoller and many other collaborators for decades to make people's lives more fun--and subverting race lines in doing so. Just a couple of weeks ago, I embedded the wonderful song "Stand By Me," product of a collaboration among the two writers and Ben E. King. For all Leiber's versatility, he always claimed to be deeply rooted in the blues. Here's a link to his best-known song, performed by the song's original artist and the great Buddy Guy. And Jacob Adelman's AP obituary.

"Who does that sort of thing?" "You'd be surprised."

Libya: Even revolutionaries need lobbyists.

Speaking of problematic clients: The church fathers on the "salvation of the Devil."

The colleges with the most religious and least religious students.

Helena Cobban: "New potential for Jewish-Palestinian solidarity."

Got time for a truly fun and absorbing documentary? This one is about physicist Richard Feynman.

Daniel J. Kasztelan's Friends United Meeting Triennial photo gallery: "We Are FUM."

Friday PS: New Friends United Meeting presiding clerk, Cliff Loesch. (One of those times when I hear about a choice and say "of course!")

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Your posts are really inspiring. I am also inspired by your faith. Thanks for the post.