On ignorance

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Kay Wilson reflects on the idea found in 1 Peter that “ignorance of truth and intentional foolishness will inevitably bring destruction.” Peter says, “Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (1:14b), and Kay likens this ignorance to darkness, arguing that we must walk in the light because “it is impossible to learn to walk in the true knowledge of God’s glorious grace if we choose to be ignorant.”

Who would choose ignorance? And why?

Annie Dillard has an idea. In a chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie describes a moment when she is sitting on a curb, patting a puppy, and watching the sun descend behind a mountain. “Shadows lope along the mountain’s rumpled flanks.... It tricks out the unleafed forest and rumpled rock in gilt, in shape-shifting patches of glow.... a series of dazzling splashes, shrinking, leaking, exploding.... The air cools; the puppy’s skin is hot. I am more alive than all the world.”

Annie compares this particular experience – an opening in time – to Christ’s incarnation. As the light moves across the sky, Annie thinks, “This is it, this is it; praise the lord; praise the land.... you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” Then she begins to think about her experience, and it is gone. “Self-consciousness ... does hinder the experience of the present.”

Ignorance, then (or what Annie calls innocence), can open us to experiences of beauty and of grace. It can also be a defense, one in which we close our eyes to suffering, to injustice, to sin – the ugliness of the world in which we find ourselves.

That is why Kay suggests, “We must be self-controlled and place our hope on the glorious grace that comes through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Adequate preparation requires obedience and a conscious effort.” We must know God. We also must act.

I’m considering this morning what it means for me to act, and I know that one of the tasks to which God has called me doesn’t seem that active. I gather together words for this newsletter. I edit manuscripts and respond to emails. I consider our balance sheet and make decisions each week about which bills we can and can’t afford to pay. I have to keep my eyes open for opportunities to help. I also have to trust that these little efforts – continued day in and day out – might be like the sowing of seeds. Some fall on the path and are devoured by birds. Some fall on rocky ground. Some fall among thorns. I don’t know (might never know) if this work makes a difference. But I trust that at least one small seed might fall on good soil.

If you’d like to support the seed-sowing work of Barclay Press, please consider clicking on the Share Stories Change Lives link.

Finally, Peter writes, “With minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:13). And Kay offers this prayer: “Father, make me hungry for the truth. Lead me into a disciplined life of holy living and stir up your Holy Spirit within me.”

Eric Muhr

Baby birds

In this week’s Fruit of the Vine, Barbara Mann writes about the lessons she learned while caring for baby birds. She wrote yesterday about the nest her husband brought home “with four speckled, light blue eggs. He was weed-whacking in the gully below our farm and found this surprise. He thought it had fallen out of a tree and been abandoned.” Later, the eggs would hatch, and Barbara briefly shares that “some even traveled to Seattle with us, staying warm from my body heat together in half of a plastic Easter egg with cotton.”

This morning, reflecting on Ecclesiastes 3:1-10, Barbara shares that caring for others – whether baby birds or people – “can often be risky.” An elementary school teacher, Barbara writes of the loss of a rabbit that had lived in her classroom for four years. “She was a lot of work to keep and transport, but she enriched our lives.” Barbara also writes of the loss of her sister 12 years ago, a loss that never goes away. Barbara says it has increased her sensitivity to loss, it has increased her awareness of how she carries grief. “When I freely grieve, feeling deeply the loss that I have experienced, it opens up the possibility to feel joy more keenly in the future. If I wall myself off from my emotions, I decrease my capacity to feel both pain and joy.”

Tomorrow Barbara writes more of suffering. On Wednesday she recounts her efforts to feed the baby birds and how it prompted her to think about the kind of nourishment she needs to flourish. On Thursday she writes of how it can feel crazy to work at something you know will surely fail. And yet you go on.

Maybe you’d like to hear the rest of Barbara’s story or any of the stories we share each day in Fruit of the Vine. You can find a print subscription to Fruit of the Vine in our bookstore. We also have an inexpensive digital version that comes right to your email inbox each morning. 

While you’re at the bookstore, take time to look through our discount books. At the end of July, we go through our shelves and mark down all the titles we’d like to move out of inventory. Nearly 15 percent of those books have found new homes this month, which means that as of today, we still have nearly 200 titles marked down by 40 percent or more.

Finally, Barbara offers a simple prayer: “Help me as I risk loving others.”

In Ecclesiastes 3:10, the writer claims, “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.” I think we help one another to carry that burden by risking love.

Eric Muhr

Face to Face

Quaker publishing is a niche market, so our books sell in smaller quantities than those released in other categories. It’s forced us to do things differently. Our primary publishing strategy, for instance, has been to focus our efforts not on books that will make a splash (we don’t have the marketing power or distribution networks for that) but on titles that will hold their value for years to come.

Case in point: T. Vail Palmer Jr. A year ago, we released the first title in his three-volume masterwork on Friends history, polity, and theology. Face to Face: Early Quaker Encounters with the Bible. The second volume – A Long Road: How Quakers Made Sense of God and the Bible – will be available this fall. In the meantime, reviews of Face to Face are just starting to come in.

Stuart Masters at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre writes of Palmer’s assertion that early Friends “read the Scriptures in an empathetic way, entering imaginatively into the lives and stories of biblical characters. Rejecting a legalistic approach, they focused instead on an immersion in story, making them pioneers of narrative theology.” 

Masters writes that Palmer’s  claims appear “to contradict a widely held view that it was the direct inward teaching of Christ that constituted the foundational experience of early Friends.... Could it be that it was precisely the direct inward experience of the living Word that inspired Friends to read the Bible empathetically ... and engendered the dynamic interaction between spiritual experience and biblical narrative?”

Tom Paxson writes in a Friends Journal review that Face to Face is “an investigation of various ways Quakers have read and used the Bible from the beginning of the movement down through the great separations of the late 1820s.” Paxson continues, “Friends were not and are not immune to notional currents in the larger society in which they or we find ourselves. Palmer gives due attention to this and shows how the influence over the centuries of Restoration, Quietist, Enlightenment, and Evangelical modes of thinking influenced Quakers’ readings and uses of the Bible and their understanding of Quaker faith and practice generally.”

Paxson points out that Face to Face grapples with important and interesting questions:

  • How did earlier generations of Friends read and use the Bible? 
  • How was it that in spite of the diversity within the Bible regarding God’s apparent encouragement and approval of war, mass killing, and the like, early Friends were both deeply informed by scripture and yet took “pioneering positions on matters such as war, women’s ministry, and justice”? 
  • How could later seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century Friends read the Bible so differently from one another without these differences separating them or disrupting their friendships? 
  • What can we learn about reading the Bible and about community from earlier generations of Friends?

Masters claims that Palmer’s work on the empathetic hermeneutic is both valuable and a basis for further scholarship. Paxson calls it “a compelling depiction of important aspects of Quaker history.” 

This is a book I think every Friends church should make available for book studies, small groups, and individuals who want to know more about Quaker history. You can find it in the Barclay Press Bookstore.

I send out this newsletter almost every week, and there’s a clickable link over in the right margin – Share Stories Change Lives. It takes you to a donation page where you can support the work of Barclay Press. Your donations make it possible for us to take on small but significant projects like Face to Face. Thank you!

Eric Muhr