The Definer and the Defined

Many of you will recall a famous conversation from about ten years ago in New York Yearly Meeting. Two people were discussing who Jesus is/was. One of them reached a point of frustration and asked the question “Why is my Jesus not as good as yours?” The discussion, and particularly this oft-repeated question, raises interesting issues.

How much can a human really know about God? To some degree, He is much like the ocean. While standing on the beach, one could take a cup of water and analyze it. One could identify its chemical properties, evaluate its purity, and assess other qualities. One is not able to perform the same analysis on the entire ocean, so (according to this parable), there will always be aspects of God that each one of us will miss.

The most common parable about understanding God is the elephant parable. Many people like to talk about the blind men, but it seems to me that this parable misses the boat widely. A more apt comparison would be an electric wire. Making contact with God causes the current of divine energy to flow, and we know that something different has happened. Touching an elephant might be interesting, but unless the elephant steps on thy foot, it is unlikely to be too memorable for thee. Touching God is memorable from the first instant.

The Apostle warned us not to be like the people who are always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth. Each of us is responsible for acting upon what has been given to us. This is the problem – each of us to a degree defines the Creator by what we have experienced. And, sad to say, too often each of us also defines God using worldly criteria and notions.

Was Jesus a good teacher or the Son of God? Both? Neither? People who believe the question is important often base their statements upon various sources, including the scriptures, experience, and what they have observed in others. Let’s take all three and work from the latter to the former.

1. What they have observed in others. I attended a meeting last year in which a woman was not a Christian because she disagreed with the religious philosophy of Jerry Falwell. I was also not happy with Falwell’s understandings, but I asked the woman why Falwell was granted the right to define God for everyone else. The kernel of truth here is that a person whose life has been transformed has something to say about Who the Great I Am is. We are warned to speak the things that we know and not condemn the things we do not know – so allow those who know to inform thee and don’t worry about those who don’t know. And sometimes I am in the latter category, too.

2. Personal experience. This is held up high in eastern Pennsylvania as some kind of mantra. I know from personal experience that X is true and that Y is not. Here is a little parable about why I have a problem with this notion. Suppose someone said that houses of the 1800s have large, walk-in kitchen hearths. A person might know this by personal experience. I have certainly been in many such houses. I have also been in dozens (hundreds?) of houses from the 1800s which never had a large kitchen hearth. The issue here is that (since this is my job) I have been in a substantial number of historic houses, and what I might say on the topic would be supported on a wide base of personal experience. The same holds true spiritually. A person saying that Jesus is only a good teacher needs a lot of experience on that topic, not just a casual reading of the scriptures or reading of modern spiritual writing (most of the latter should be avoided anyway).

The scriptures. Sometimes it seems that everyone has a different shade of opinion on the scriptures. Many agree that the Bible is inspired except for the difficult passages (those we disagree with?). In the early 1990s, USA Today had a small graphic on scripture reading. Among those who attend religious services every week, only one out of three (it was actually 38%) read anything from the Bible at home. What this means is that two-thirds of religious people are allowing others to define God (my first category in this discussion). This 62% of religious people agreed that the scriptures are some variation of a suitable or the only guide for life but were not reading them. God gave us a text to allow us to have a common basis of spiritual knowledge and a mechanism for teaching us, but so often we don’t allow Him to use it as He intended.

What all this is leading up to is this: who is the Definer, and who is the Defined? A person with little spiritual experience is still in the stages of defining who God is. That is fine, and not to be condemned. It’s not always easy to understand what the Lord is up to in the life of a given person. Right now I would be glad to have an insight into what He is doing in my life. The challenge is not to allow speculation on who He is to stop the person from moving into the next spiritual chapter. People who have moved from ideas about God to an intimate communion with Him have also made the transition from Definer to Defined. Christ Jesus, as the Logos or Light, is changing that person into what He intends or desires, and He is defining the person rather than being defined. This is the person who has something of substance to say about who the Creator is.


Comparing Spiritual Gifts

The following is the substance of a message given at Ohio Yearly Meeting last week.

For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend
themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves,
are not wise. 2 Cor 10:12

This passage can seem a little complicated, but the Light (through the Apostle) is making an important
observation for us here.

When we compare our gifts with those of others, we seem to do it in three general ways:

1) My gift is not good enough or is inferior. This type of comparison comes when
thou comparest thyself to someone who is quite spiritually advanced. My gift must
not be real because so-and-so is far better at doing this, so that person should do
it if God wants it done. I might make a mistake. I must not be a true minister
because I am not as successful as Billy Graham (or whoever). I am not a true Elder
or Overseer because Person A does X or has such a keen insight (or whatever) and I
don’t. This type of comparison can lead to sentiments such as hopelessness or lack
of interest.

Don’t allow this to paralyze thy gift. Not all trees in an orchard are peach trees
– there are apple trees, cherry trees, and pear trees. All bring glory to the
Creator. Also even the most gifted of ministers has had times of dryness and

2) My gift is superior. This is the type of comparison Paul dwells on in the
passage. This type of comparison dwells on the idea that the person feels so
spiritually advanced that whatever anyone else is doing is meaningless. The person
has set himself up as the yardstick for measuring the faithfulness of everyone
else. The mindset is that everyone must do what the speaker is doing or otherwise
they are not heeding the call of God. They, measuring themselves by themselves, are
not wise.

3) How can the gift of others inform and nurture my gift? The third type of
comparison is the one we need to use. Some Friends (and others) have well-developed
gifts. What qualities in the exercise of that person’s gift particularly call forth
inward hallelujahs in thee? Are there qualities that might foster a stronger
exercise of thy gift? In these considerations, be careful to be faithful to thy
calling. This is not about emulation but about sharpening thy spiritual skills.

In these evaluations, always keep in mind that the purpose of spiritual gifts is to
direct the recipient to Christ Jesus (the giver of the gift), not to the
practitioner. Always measure thy faithfulness against thy calling – never measure
thy faithfulness against that of another person. We all fall short of the glory of
God in the exercise of our gifts. It is fine to recognize this, but learn from it
and move on.


Independence from Sin Day

Every fourth of Seventh Month, people throughout the United States attend special events to mark the separation of 13 colonies from England. This political event was dramatic for its time, to be sure.

I would argue, however, that each of us (that includes me, and it includes thee) should consider an Independence from Sin Day. The Light of Christ, which as the Holy Ghost is the sanctifying force the Lord has granted thee, has been working to assist thee to obtain a holy life. This is not opinion or conjecture. It is the creative juices of the Creator of the Universe working in thy life to help thee become what He has intended for thee all along.

Give the Lord an opportunity to perform a miracle in thee or through thee. Taste and see that the Lord is good! Now this is something to celebrate!!


2007 Gathering of Conservative Friends

The Gathering of Conservative Friends was held at the Lampeter Friends Meeting House near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from the 22d to the 24th of Sixth Month, 2007. Exactly 100 Friends attended, though not all at the same time.


The Gatherings have been held since the early 1960s. The first was held as a conference called the "General Meeting of Conservative Friends," among the three Conservative Yearly Meetings (Ohio, Iowa, and North Carolina). After a concern was raised in North Carolina Yearly Meeting that the three Conservative Yearly Meetings should hold periodic meetings, the General Meeting became a biennial event which rotated among the three. The General Meeting of 1974, held at West Grove NC, played a seminal role in the formation of a new meeting of plain Friends at Harrisonburg VA, which became part of Ohio Yearly Meeting. From that time, Iowa and North Carolina Friends began to step away from the General Meetings, and the meetings developed a growing attraction to plain-dressed Friends. In the early 1990s, the event was re-named the General Gathering of Conservative Friends. It is held biannually at Stillwater, with Friends outside of Ohio invited to host the event in odd-numbered years. The Gathering was hosted by Keystone Fellowship Monthly Meeting this year.

The 2007 Gathering

Keystone Fellowship Friends made a number of planning decisions with major consequences. First, the Gathering was free, though attendees could donate funds to assist with costs as they felt led. The result: several young families came with their children. Roughly one-third of attendees were in the 0-25 age range. Second, one member was able to make arrangements for Friends to stay at a local private school nearby. That allowed visiting Friends to have plenty of time together throughout the day.

On Sixth Day evening, Friends arrived at the home of a Keystone Friend for supper. Evening worship was held in a large workshop building behind the Friends' house. As in all the times of worship, the ministry met the general high standards of Ohio Friends. The leadings of the Lord were crisp and clear throughout the weekend.

On Seventh Day, breakfast was held at the local Friend's house. We held worship at the Lampeter Meeting House at 10 and had dinner at noon. The afternoon was reserved for fellowship, though during this time various committees also met. After supper, we returned to Lampeter for worship. A local man who had never attended a Friends meeting saw our cars and stopped in. At the end of the worship, he gave a brief testimony. A Friend started a campfire
, and we had additional fellowship.

On First Day, Friends gathered for worship and Bible reading again in the morning. Worship was held at Lampeter at 10:00. Four people from the community attended the first Friends meeting of their lives. As usual, the ministry was particularly inspired. We returned to the local Friend's house for dinner. At 2:00, Keystone Friends held a discussion on current drawings of Christ among us, and a group of scattered plain Friends discussed online worship sessions they have been holding the past five months. After supper, a final time of worship was held, though by this time the gathering was down to about a dozen people.

An interesting aspect of the worship was the mixture of plain-dressed Friends and those who did not wear plain clothing. The two groups were about equally represented. Four plain-dressed young women, who roomed together, have been involved with the online worship. This Quaker Quadrilateral made an impression, as they often sat together wearing their bonnets. In fact, the number of plain Friends present was probably the largest such gathering of plain Friends held in many decades.

During the worship, Keystone Friends generally sat on the facing benches. At Lampeter, we worked the previous week to adjust the existing platform for the facing benches to improve the seating arrangements. These changes increased the seating capacity in the building, as we already knew that the attendance was twice what we had originally anticipated. Keystone Friends invited other appropriate Friends to sit on the facing benches, including visiting ministers and other public Friends.

The ministry generally fell into three categories. The most common was the FGC-influenced ministry, in which the speaker would start with something like "yesterday on our way to the grocery store..." The second type of ministry was the common Wilburite style, which features more Scriptural references less autobiographical material. Third was prayer. As common, Ohio Friends follow the traditional Quaker practice of the person appearing in supplication kneeling. Men remove their hats while another Friend prays.

The Gathering was a time of spiritual renewal for many Friends, a time during which the Lord created many new friendships and gave each of us new direction in meeting the needs of those around us. It was a wonderful time for many and will be long remembered by many.