The Revolution According to Mark

Joe Snyder tells Bible stories. This sometimes makes people uneasy, and two years ago I was one of those people. “I flinch every time you say, ‘Jesus,’” I confessed.

“Read the Bible,” Joe replied, not at all concerned. “That’ll take care of that flinch.” And then he told me about Mark.

This piece is intended to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The afflicted in this case—or, perhaps, the conflicted—are those Quakers, particularly young folks like me, who are troubled by references to Jesus, Christ, Christianity, or the Bible as a whole. The comfortable are either those who are sure that they already know what the Bible says, and thus dismiss the Bible as a reactionary old tome, or those who confidently use the Bible to shore up today’s structures of power and wealth because it is so reactionary. I mean to show, however, that the Bible has a lot to offer the most radical in our Quaker faith. Continue reading

Advertisements

Christ in Vegas

Where would Jesus go in this country?

Would he go to the megachurches or to the televangelist sanctuaries? Would he go to the Catholic cathedrals, or to the Mormon temples, or to the Southern Baptist congregations? Only, I think, to cleanse any wickedness that has taken root there. Only, I think, to cast out the fundraisers and decry the modern Pharisees. And if he did go, and if he did preach, I think he would quickly outstay his welcome, for he would preach a message of charity that is often mouthed but not always followed in such places. He’d lead the pro-life marches down to the prison where they’re hanging a man, or down to the military base where they’re planning a war; he’d bring the wine to gay weddings and pass out condoms at Pride; he’d work the fields with the migrants and never cross a picket line. He’d love the wrong people (again) and he’d quote the wrong scripture (again!), and before too terribly long, a lot of Christian churches would probably throw him out. Continue reading

What I Mean When I Say Compassion

This one is about definitions. This is how I define respect, how I define compassion, how I define the old Quaker injunction to “Walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in every one.” And since it’s me writing this, we start with a story.

When I was in high school, there was a student named April who was developmentally disabled, with the conversational ability and habits of a seven-year-old, though she was older than I was. She was always cheerful, always smiling. On two separate occasions, I happened to see two different people interacting with April in similar ways. Both times April was brightly telling the other person about her day, or what she was headed off to do next. The difference, however, is what stands out. Continue reading

Altar Call

It was cloudy and drizzling; not the kind of weather you’d be out in by choice. My friend Ron, of course, has no choice. He has to beg for money every day so he and his brother Jim get a room for the night. So, huddled under his umbrella, he stood at the stoplight, waiting for people to take pity. I had a dollar for him, and stopped to talk. He was in low spirits, due to the weather, exhaustion, and little luck that morning, and he predicted with gloom that he’d still be out there when I got off work hours later: the money his brother had gotten wouldn’t even fold, and Ron wasn’t doing much better.

“It’s no way to live,” I said. “If you’re still out here when I leave, we’ll see about getting you what you need.” I had a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet, you see. Then I hurried up to work to get myself out of the rain.

But it bugged me, as I dried off inside. Ron was miserable waiting for a handout, thinking about old friends who now drove past avoiding his eyes. And I had a twenty in my wallet. Continue reading

Old Lessons

Every homeless person I pass, every abused child I hear of, every accusation of rape that is met with hostility and scorn, every fresh disaster worked by human hands, from pollution to famine to war — all these call me to my words. How could they not? I follow a teacher who taught me to love my neighbor as myself, and yet I live a life that spits on such philosophy — indeed, I live such a life and I am enriched by it. I follow a teacher who taught me to share all I have, and I live a life that insists on hoarding my wealth. I follow a teacher who taught me to see the holiness in every one, and I live a life of privilege in a system that treats some as gods and the rest as raw material, to use or waste as the gods see fit.

Then I see those charged by my teacher to set these wrongs aright — minister, priest, pastor on one level, every Christian on another — and too many of them are the scoffers and abusers, the ones who perpetuate the structures of power and the abuses of that power. Not all. There are quite a few who give all they have and more, who love their neighbor with compassion as their guiding star. But any is too many, when it comes to those who say they follow Jesus and attack their neighbors anyway. I look around at my fellows in faith, and for every one I see laboring to heal the world, I see one or two or ten wounding it further, sometimes without even knowing it. I may not see all the good that’s being done, which is as it should be. But when I see the poor on the streetcorners mocked and attacked and scorned, then there is more to do, and I see many of those charged with helping the struggles leading the charge against love and justice, or applauding the attacks from the sidelines. The man from Nazareth came to change the way the world worked, and too many of his followers are standing in his way: they are themselves the problem.

In such times all I can do is quote the words of the prophets, time and time again:

“‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
The Lord has told you, oh mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
(Micah 6:6-8)

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
(Amos 5:21, 23-24)

“‘You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37-40)

Why must I say this again? Why must I teach old lessons anew? Better men than I have taught us to love our neighbors — men, yes, and better women, too, for all that they don’t make it into the books as much. Why is it so hard to learn? Why is it such a struggle for so many to remember? I see so many pouring out their piety on one side, and pouring out scorn upon the poor from the other, yet all from the same mouth. One of their words must be a lie, and their wealth tells us which it is, because they “cannot serve both God and wealth.” They must renounce one master or another, and it seems they have chosen to renounce God.

But to those who renounce wealth, shall they be poor, shall they suffer, shall they starve? No, for the Generous One shall not forget them — and those they have helped will not forget them either. Let those who worship wealth go their own way, because it is a way of loneliness, and meaningless. Those who worship the god I follow shall have each other.

Make your choice!

The Last Judgment of the USA

Then the people of the United States were brought before Christ, and were divided in two, the sheep and the goats, and the goats were placed at his left hand. And he said to them, “You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and you did not cure me, in prison and you did not visit me.” And they all answered, “When was this precisely, Lord?”

And he told them:

“Whenever you drove past East St. Louis or around Watts, and did not stop; whenever you passed over Gary or avoided the South Side; whenever you ignored Baltimore or the Bronx, stayed away from Philly’s heart, fled DC at nightfall. Continue reading

No Second Coming

A whisper came into my soul and said, “Write!” And I asked, “What shall I write?” And the whisper said, “Write the words that are given to you, write the law that I wrote in your heart.” The whisper said, “Write of the world you live in, not of the next.” The whisper said, “Write of love and justice.”

For a thousand wrongs, and for ten thousand, the One will not withhold the punishment; because for the wealth of one we have beggared a thousand, and for the feast of ten we have let a million starve. The wealth of the great was a gift given that it might be given again, a blessing to be handed on for the blessing of all, but out of greed and pride and luxury it has been held back. Therefore all luxury shall pass away, and its passage will not be peaceful.

For a thousand wrongs, and for ten thousand, the One will not withhold the punishment; for what the One gave open-handed has been taken and consumed, and the fingers and the hand as well, and now we gnaw the wrist! The streams and the trees of the mountains are stripped and fouled, and the mountains themselves are thrown down, and not by faith but greed. The sea has been poisoned, and the air itself, and all the bounty that was once called limitless draws near to its end. Continue reading