A Long Road

In late July 2016, we released Face to Face: Early Quaker Encounters with the Bible, the first volume in T. Vail Palmer, Jr.’s masterwork on Friends theology. In that first book, Palmer noted that “the earliest Friends constantly quoted the Bible, and it is clear that their pioneering positions on matters such as war, women’s ministry, and justice derive from their understanding of the Bible.”

Last week, we sent Palmer’s long-awaited second volume to press, and we expect to have copies ready to ship on or before January 2. In that second book, A Long Road: How Quakers Made Sense of God and the Bible, Palmer picks up where he left off in Face to Face.

“By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the effort to keep outside influences from impacting Quaker spirituality was clearly failing. Many Friends were impressed by the Enlightenment emphasis on reason in religion and commitment to religious and political freedom. Many others were caught up in Evangelical enthusiasm and commitment to social justice.

“The result was a series of separations and divisions – Quakers disagreed about the nature of God, the atonement, and the function of scripture.

“A long, rocky, even muddy road.

“This is not the first time the story has been told. We find in the contemporary splits of one yearly meeting after another, the underlying issues are the same as they have always been. After all, the story of Quakerism is a story of divisions. It is also a story of creativity. And of hope.”

Eric Muhr

On bacteria

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Cleta Crisman has edited a reflection from Arthur Roberts, first written and shared with pastors in Northwest Yearly Meeting in June 2003. At the time, Arthur’s wife, Fern, was struggling with an outbreak of “a particularly vicious variety of Clostridium bacteria.... A routine application of antibiotics in dental surgery” had compromised Fern’s guardian bacteria, and this “monster” was wreaking havoc on her body. 

Arthur writes that “maybe there’s a parable here: We live in an environment not only inhabited by good and bad bacteria in the gut, but also good and bad influences, persons, ideas, and spirits.” I might add that there are also systems, attitudes, perceptions. There is also our response.

A friend of mine frequently asks, “When you’re under stress, what is your default?” And how might we overcome such defaults (this bad bacteria in our guts)?

Arthur admits that he’s not sure exactly “what powerful combination of truth and love enables you to fend off the ‘destroyer.’” He’s too tired from battling these lions “that prey upon a loved one ... but love makes it not only bearable but spiritually fulfilling. In bearing one another’s burdens – whether burdens of the body, mind, or spirit – we fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Cleta offers a prayer suggestion at the end of Arthur’s reflection: “Lord, show me how to do my part to stay strong against any form of evil that would try to trip me up. Thank you for your constant and loving protection!”

Eric Muhr

The miracle of food

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Pam Ferguson reflects on her work managing a community food pantry. “In six years, I’ve handled over a million pounds of food. I watch food items come and quickly go.” And Pam wonders at her “various motivations: feeding children, saving food from landfills, meeting an increasing need in my community, increasing the amount of fresh food and protein to the most vulnerable . . . creating a network of volunteers.”

I relate to Pam’s experience, thinking about the number of words I’ve edited at Barclay Press, or from back when I was teaching, the number of students who moved through my classroom. I wonder what you would count in your own reflection about what you’ve accomplished over the years.

Pam writes that the more than “a million pounds of food” represents “much time and energy wondering how I am going to fill the shelves at the pantry or where the money will come from.”

I can relate to this as well – the sense that the problems I face are too much and that I am not enough. Pam writes that long ago, she “gave up the need to know how it will be done,” and she claims the story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath as a source of hope. “The miracle of nourishment is a gift from our Creator and a reminder of God’s care for every human being, especially those who have little.” 

This week, a week of Thanksgiving, is a time for many to think about family and food. (I’ll be at my grandma’s house in southern Oregon. I’ll roast the turkey and bake crescent rolls. My sister will make pie. My grandma will eat all the olives.) Pam writes that this is also a week when people remember their neighbors in need, “a week of increased donations to the food pantry. Being present to watch the miracle of food filling the shelves blesses me. It reminds me that miracles come in all forms – and the miracle of nourishment should never be taken for granted.” 

Eric Muhr