18 August 2011

Anthony Bloom speaks to Friends

I'm going to keep it short tonight; my whole evening has been spent troubleshooting my mobile phone and its micro memory card. Each time I add files, the card becomes "read-only" and refuses to cooperate--but only for the "sound" folder. Videos and photos can be added and deleted as always. I'm now on my third workaround, hoping that my phone isn't corrupting new cards as soon as they're inserted....

This month, I'm helping with a Bible study at Moscow Friends. Rather than plunging directly into a biblical theme, we're going to explore how we understand the Bible and its role in forming us as individuals and a community. I remember a very helpful Wednesday evening discussion along these lines at North Valley Friends in Newberg, Oregon, USA, and I'm eager to see how a similar discussion might go here. A new translation of the Old Testament has recently been published and has been widely discussed (Stephen K. Batalden lists some of the issues here; and here is a more recent summary), making now a perfect time to choose this theme.

For our first discussion, I chose several scriptures on God speaking to us, through the Bible and through Jesus--including the well-known passage from 2 Timothy. On a hunch, I also went to a book of sermons by one of my favorite Russian Orthodox writers, Anthony Bloom (the bishop of Great Britain and Ireland at the time he died). There I found a sermon specifically addressing what it means to be a biblical people. I was struck by how close his sermon on the Bible is to the classic Friends view. Anthony Bloom is consistent: he teaches honesty in prayer, in our relationships with each other, and in our relationship with the Bible:
The Gospel was born in the Church. Both the congregation of Israel and the church existed before there was Scripture. It was from within that community that the awareness of God emerged--and with it, an awareness of God's love, a vision of His ineffable beauty, and a vision, as well, of our own status and fate, formation and calling. The community of the People of God is the kind of community that knows for sure that they have something vital to witness about--namely about the One who is their new life, the object of their love and joy. 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. If we're not that kind of fellowship, we don't really belong either to the Gospel or the people of God.

Often we comfort ourselves with the thought that we are a community of prayer where the word of God is preached and proclaimed, and where we seek, one way or another, to live by that word. But if we look around ourselves, everything we see indicates just the opposite. If we were a community where the divine word is being born from the very depths of our experience, 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. The community that preaches the divine word would by its very life serve as proof of what it is proclaiming.

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?
One of George Fox's biographers said that if the Bible disappeared, it could be reconstructed from his writings. Anthony Bloom's sermon seems to be asking us: if the Bible somehow disappeared today, could it be reconstructed from the testimonies and experiences of our communities? Of your church, or mine?

As usual, Anthony Bloom does not mince words. What will our little fellowship do with his challenge? What first steps can we make to become the kind of people of God who don't just read the Bible as an old document, or one that makes us individually "wise unto salvation," but begin to incarnate its meaning and message--not just for ourselves but for those around us? If I'm not mistaken, Wess Daniels and his community are considering similar questions--see "Reading the Bible for transformation" (including the comments) and "The company we keep."

(Update ... Anthony Bloom speaks and we listen.)

Sergei Nikitin, head of Moscow's office of Amnesty International (and former staffer at Friends House Moscow) asks us to look at this special edition of Amnesty's video journal, devoted to cluster bombs and the financial institutions that invest in these banned weapons' manufacturers. Honest question: If we find out that our bank or investment company is part owner of a company making weapons, given our teachings against all war and preparations for war, what do we do?

OK, we don't know everything that we're linked to through our investments, but when we find something out, what's our responsibility? (Especially when we're discussing becoming people who incarnate God's word!!) Equally awkwardly, shouldn't we put some effort into finding out those connections? Recently, Judy and I found out that our credit card company, whose card we use for all work-related expenses, raised our interest rate by four percentage points. We began looking for a new credit card. We ended up choosing to get a card from Everence (formerly Mennonite Mutual Aid). Interestingly, we are paying the same interest rate that our old card gave us before the sudden increase. Might this credit-union-based institution be an alternative for at least some Friends?

Ground-level reflections on London's riots: "When is enough enough?" (Thanks to Jeremy Mott for drawing this to my attention.)

 "Why did Japan surrender?"--and what does this interpretation (that the atomic bombs themselves were not decisive) do to conventional Quaker views of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? (See "How the Grinch Stole Hiroshima.")

 "The Pentagon's fake jihadists." ... "Put what follows in the category of paragraphs no one noticed that should have made the nation's hair stand on end."

 "Transfigured by the Spirit"--a review of Richard Werbner's Holy Hustlers, Schism, and Prophecy: Apostolic Reformation in Botswana. Is there, as the reviewer suggests, a parallel between 17th-century Quakers and the Eloyi church?

Enjoy this performance (and digital art) by Pamela MacCarthy:


No comments: