24 July 2019

Anthony Bloom speaks to Friends (repost and update)

Raymond Village Library
Hello from Raymond, Maine, where our Internet access is mostly limited to our visits to the Raymond Village Library, a wonderful library which is open to the general public three days of the week. (Hence another Wednesday entry instead of my usual Thursday schedule). I may use a similar dodge next week, as our time in Maine draws to a close.

As I write, the former special counsel Robert Mueller is testifying to committees of the U.S. Congress. I'm resisting getting caught in the political and emotional swirl surrounding these much-anticipated appearances by Mueller. His report really does speak for itself, and could easily form the basis of Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings if there were any sort of political leadership for that obvious step in our struggle to preserve what's left of republican democracy. As for today's appearances, it's hard for me to put any hope that, in the absence of such leadership, the political mudwrestling on offer today will result in anything edifying. Maybe I'm wrong, but please forgive my lack of investment in being among the first to know.

Instead, I'm remembering Anthony Bloom again. A few weeks ago I brought you a few of my favorite paragraphs from his book On Meeting. It left me with a desire to put up another scoop of his words. Today's unappetizing political spectacles, and Christians' mixed record in standing up for higher values, brought to mind this Bible study we did at Moscow Friends Meeting....

(Startling realization: this was nearly eight years ago!)

This month [August 2011], 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 (see this item for a bit of an introduction to the discussion), 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 God's 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."

Re-reading the end of this post from 2011, I remembered that at the time Wess Daniels wrote the items I referenced from his blog, he was pastor at Camas Friends Church. When we returned to the USA from Russia, and eventually resettled in Portland, Oregon, the church we've ended up at is … Camas Friends Church. We love it! (Wess is now at Guilford College's Friends Center -- but his writings continue to be available to us all.)

Follow-up: Anthony Bloom speaks and we listen. Here's what I wrote the following week about the first session of that planned Bible study series.

Mike Farley on craving and prayer.

A story in captions: What does Leonardo DiCaprio have to do with Lake Baikal?

Gregory Osmolov: Why HBO's Chernobyl series resonates in Russia today.
For the Russian audience, perhaps not always consciously, the main theme of Chernobyl was not the events of the past, but the forces of invisibility that are still at work today. In a risk society whose contours – just like the spread of the Chernobyl radiation cloud – have begun to appear in our everyday lives, the main factor is not just a loss of security, but a fundamental need to come to terms with life in a world of growing uncertainty, where we are increasingly losing control over what is happening.
The new book Adventists and Military Service: some Quaker comments. (By the way, are Quakers "naively optimistic"? And which Quakers?)

A set from Steve Guyger and band:

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