Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Becoming an Intern Member at Dayspring Church

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

This is a message given at Dayspring Church, Germantown, Maryland, on September 9, 2018, which you can also listen to. The photo below was taken during the service. I am in the center, surrounded by members of the Retreat Mission Group.

Bill Samuel with Retreat Mission Group at Dayspring Church

Good morning! Today I make the commitment to be an Intern Member at Dayspring. I thought it would be good to share with the community some of the things which underlie this decision.

My apologies to those hoping for an exploration into today’s lectionary readings. You aren’t going to get much of that!

In the spring of 2014, my wife and I moved to Rockville. Initially, I continued to attend the church where I had been a member for 9 years, despite it being twice as far now.

I shared the values of that church, but it was a couple of hundred people which was big to be a real community. There were folks I saw each Sunday whose faces I recognized, but I didn’t know their names let alone anything about them.

That church tried to be participatory, but at its size it was still mostly a relatively small group of leaders talking to a much larger audience. I became increasingly uncomfortable with this de facto division in the congregation.

Then I attended the Fall Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, with which I had been involved for a couple of years. That particular Gathering had a strong charismatic flavor which I loved. In me, this resulted in a feeling that it was time for me to seek a new spiritual home.

Following on the charismatic flavor of that Gathering and all I felt I had learned in my previous time when I had attended a charismatic church for a while, I decided to see if I could find a nearby charismatic or Pentecostal church which seemed to have a theological bent I could live with.

So I began Googling for such churches in the Rockville-Gaithersburg area. None of the charismatic or Pentecostal churches in the area seemed like a place where I was likely to be comfortable.

While I was googling, ads for Journey’s Crossing kept popping up. Journey’s Crossing was then meeting at Seneca Valley High School here in Germantown. I had not looked at Germantown because I was still somewhat ignorant of the geography in the area, and had assumed it was too far. But when I put it in Google maps, it wasn’t nearly as far as I thought.

I didn’t think Journey’s Crossing was likely to be where I would land, but it seemed interesting and I did attend a couple of times. This confirmed that Germantown was within reach.

Then I recalled Dayspring, where I had been at the retreat center a few times. I was aware there was a church at Dayspring.

The Church of the Saviour had long intrigued me, but my experience with it was limited. I had been at the Potter’s House a few times in the 1970’s, visited 2025 one Sunday, been to retreats at Dayspring and Wellspring, and had read Elizabeth O’Connor’s Journey Inward, Journey Outward with a church group.

In November 2014, I began attending Dayspring Church, and have attended regularly ever since. Why have I been so drawn to Dayspring?

When I was thinking about this, a scripture which popped into my mind was Galatians 5:22-23:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (NRSV)

I can’t recall a faith community of which I have been a part where I have seen this fruit so clearly and widely exhibited as at Dayspring. This reflects the CofS tradition which expects each member to be serious about their faith, and provides guidance in ways to grow in it.

So here was a faith community in which I could be challenged to grow in my walk with Christ, being encouraged by what I see in the faith community.

I will speak about just a couple of these attributes of the Spirit.

It seems evident to me that the people of Dayspring genuinely love each other and those that visit. It is also evident that this love extends much more broadly, for example to the refugees being helped by IFND. I see here the living out of the Greatest Commandment and the one that is like unto it.

Dayspring folks exhibit a joy that is not dependent upon circumstances. It is a joy that is not just at the surface level, and one that exists despite awareness of deep evil and pain in the world.

True joy recognizes that despite all these problems, we are truly blessed and there is much to be thankful for and much reason for hope.

In our scripture for today, in Psalm 146, it says, Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

This attitude should not take away our concerns for the world, but rather motivate them. William Penn said, “True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.”

So how does this work? In the CofS tradition, there is an emphasis on a balance and interchange between the inward and the outward life. This is not a unique insight of the CofS, but it is a particularly strong emphasis here.

I have seen that sometimes in faith communities there arises a division between the activists and the “spiritual” folks. This can be very harmful to the unity of the faith community. And if it festers, those on either side of the division become more one-dimensional, less whole.

When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we see someone who clearly transcended this division. Rather, he regularly retreated to a quiet place to take time to pray. This enabled Him to gather the strength needed for his outward ministry of reaching out to others with healing, teaching, etc. He saw these as intrinsically connected.

In many faith communities, there are groups – committees, boards, teams, etc. – which oversee the outward work of the ministries of the church. And there may also be other groups which focus on the inward journey of church members, where the spiritual disciplines may be encouraged.

In the early years of the CofS, Gordon [Editor's Note: Gordon Cosby, founder of The Church of the Saviour] recognized a need to get away from this traditional way of organization. Out of this recognition grew the mission group orientation which has become so central to the CofS tradition. Mission groups are deliberately structured to include both the inward journey and the outward journey.

I hope members never forget how big a treasure the mission group model of the CofS is. It remains rare. I believe it is one of the keys to the small CofS faith communities having done so much good in the world. Church life has been carefully structured to facilitate proper grounding for our ministries.

I often see at Dayspring both a willingness to live out and articulate the spiritual insights folks have learned, and a recognition that they need to continue to grow which includes an eagerness to truly listen to the insights of others. Mature Christians do not think they have it all together, but recognize both the gifts they have received and their need to continue to grow in Christ.

Jesus’ strongest opponents were the legalist religious leaders of his day. Yet today many of those who claim to be the strongest followers of Jesus have a legalist, doctrinaire approach. I appreciate that Dayspring doesn’t insist on a rigid theological perspective or overly restrictive standard of behavior.

It seems to me one of the strengths of the CofS way is that it emphasizes following Jesus Christ while welcoming the exploration and questioning of what exactly that means in our lives. There is a spirit of listening even to understandings that may not initially appeal to us with openness and a willingness to learn.

Another strength is in asserting that all members are ministers of the gospel, rejecting the unbiblical idea of a laity in the faith community. I especially appreciate Dayspring’s decision not to have a single pastor to play the key role in worship, but to spread leadership among the gathered community. I appreciate hearing the insights and experiencing the gifts of multiple people in our community in weekly worship as well as in other aspects of community life.

And remember that I set out on the search for a new faith home that ended at Dayspring by looking for a community that was charismatic? Dayspring isn’t normally described as a charismatic church, but to me what I seek as charismatic is an openness to how the spirit may move in the moment. I have seen some of that in worship at Dayspring, and I really appreciate the freedom for people to respond in worship beyond what is in the printed bulletin.

Now let me move from the Church in general, and to my specific call to the Retreat Mission Group.

I have an activist temperament. Back in my 20’s, I tried to be involved in every good thing. The result was that I collapsed in exhaustion.

That experience taught me that I needed to stop frantically trying to do all the “right” things and instead seek to discern God’s call for my own life and trust God to call others to do the needed things to which I was not called.

This led me to look more to the inward journey, and to become involved in things like organizing spiritual retreats and going through the Spiritual Nurture Program of the School of the Spirit. I sometimes called myself a spiritual renewal activist.

There is much which needs doing in the world to bring about the reconciliation of all creation with Christ. I get discouraged when I see a lot of activism that is full of fury and even hatred. This won’t get us where we need to go.

I believe there is a deep need in these times in our society for those who want to heal this world to “be still and know that I am God” so they can be centered for the work needed and discern their role given their own God-given gifts. This highlights the importance of the work of the Silent Retreat Center.

I began talking with Catherine in 2015 about the possibility of joining the Mission Group. I came to realize I needed to be released from some of the things to which I was then committed in order to free myself for this call.

In 2017, much of that release came to fruition. I started sitting with the Retreat Mission Group in February 2018.

Since I started meeting with the Mission Group, I have felt at home there. I feel blessed to meet weekly with these special folks and to play some role in this important ministry.

I am sorry that this message has been a little choppy, but I hope it has given you a feel for my call to Dayspring Church and the Retreat Mission Group.

If there are some things you would like to clarify, I think there is time for a couple of brief questions.

Note: The questions and answers can be heard in the audio version.

Intern Member’s Commitment, Church of the Saviour

I commit myself to the covenant of my mission group. By this I declare my willingness to be held accountable for the disciplines that the members have made explicit. I recognize that in making this pledge I am committing myself to involvement with people who are not like me - whose opinions and ways may be in opposition to my own. I thus declare my willingness to be stretched in uncomfortable ways, and to live in the tension and pain of unresolved relationships until differences shall be transcended and hurt transmuted.

I acknowledge that the cornerstone of this community is Jesus Christ, Servant and Liberator - the One who said, “Love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). In committing myself to the covenant of the mission I confess my willingness to take upon myself the lifestyle of servant. I will endeavor to grow in my availability to each person in the group and I will join in the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed.

I will seek not only to receive, but to give, not only to be loved, but to love. I will give myself to discovering what it means to be a free person in community and what it means to be a community of free persons.

I recognize that though I am bound by the covenant of my mission group, I am ever free to break with it - never by default, but by open decision arrived at through meditation and in conversation with members of my group.

I celebrate this day because I believe that in binding myself in this covenant, I will be given new possibilities for a life of growth, freedom, and devotion.

[From Handbook for Churches and Mission Groups: Disciplines and structures of a church and a mission group developed during fifty years at The Church of the Saviour, by Dorothy Devers and N. Gordon Cosby.]

-Bill Samuel, September 9, 2018

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Message, Dayspring Church, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Audio of message, including the sharing of others after I spoke.

Bill Samuel speaking at Dayspring Church, May 20, 2018

Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember what happened after the Resurrection on the day of Pentecost. As we read in Acts, the Holy Spirit came on them with power and they were enabled to speak other languages so that everyone in the diverse crowd heard them speaking about God’s deeds of power in their own language. None of them had ever witnessed something like that before.

In the Hebrew scriptures, there were a very few people, such as the prophets, who heard directly from God, and everyone else heard it second hand from those select people. The scriptures record that the prophet Joel asserted it would not always be that way, but there would be a time when God’s Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh. All flesh – that’s each and every one of us. Peter explained to the crowd gathered at Pentecost that this was being fulfilled on that day.

Since the day of Pentecost, we don’t need intermediaries to hear the word of God. Through the Holy Spirit, each of us receives the Word directly if only we will listen. That may manifest itself in many ways. The Spirit may speak to an individual and it may speak to a group.

From my life, I will give a couple of examples of the Holy Spirit at work.

A little background on the first example. I had a friend named Bruce Baechler. I got to know him through a Vigil for Peace against the Vietnam War in front of the White House which went on 24/7 for almost 3 years. That itself is an example of the Holy Spirit at work since a regional body of Quakers called New York Yearly Meeting had directed it continue as long as the Spirit leads, not imagining this would be more than a week or so. Bruce was a high school student who dropped out of school to participate in the vigil.

When Bruce turned 18, he refused to register for the draft and sent in a letter explaining why. This was after inductions under the draft had stopped, but the requirement to register continued (and still continues to this day). Bruce was arrested and prosecuted for refusing to register and spent 2 years in Morgantown Federal Prison. I visited him regularly.

One Wednesday evening while Bruce was in prison, I got a call from Marge Baechler, Bruce’s mother. She told me that on the coming Sunday Bill Moyer’s Journal was coming to tape a special meeting for worship at Hartford Friends Meeting as part of a future program on Bruce’s case. She said I was welcome to come.

Hartford was a long drive away, and I didn’t know what I would have to contribute at this event. I also had a lot on my plate that I had hoped to do in these days. So it didn’t seem to make much sense to go, but I was feeling a nudge that I should.

I decided to take this leading to midweek meeting for worship on Thursday evening. During that time, the leading became stronger. I still didn’t understand why I should go, but I have learned that often with leadings one does not understand in advance. One needs to take it on faith, and the reason may emerge after one has been faithful – or sometimes I never understand but feel that I have been faithful.

In the Quaker tradition, one normally does not go alone when traveling under a leading. One has a traveling companion who serves as your elder. The Spirit put on my heart who my traveling companion should be, another person who had been a part of the Vigil named Mark. The last I knew Mark didn’t have a fixed place to stay, and this was long before the era of email and cell phones, so contacting him was an issue.

I knew that Mark frequented a café which catered to the alternative crowd and which had a big bulletin board on which one could post messages. So I posted a message there asking him to call me. On Friday morning, Mark called, and I told him about my leading and the role he could play. He readily agreed to be my traveling companion and elder, and we arranged for me to pick him up on Saturday morning for the trip.

Mark and I drove to Hartford on Saturday, where we had arranged with the Baechlers to meet with them and some others at the Meetinghouse. The plan had been for us to stay overnight at the Baechlers. However, although we had not discussed this beforehand, both Mark and I at that time felt called to spend the night in the Meetinghouse as part of spiritual preparation for the next day. Those who had met us were surprised at this but agreed to it and figured out how to set things up for our stay.

Mark and I stayed up talking. I was very anxious, and it proved very helpful to have him as a companion to calm me down. I remained anxious in the morning, even thinking of not going to the special meeting out of concern it would be a spectacle rather than a true meeting for worship.

First the regular meeting for worship was held. Then, after a brief period in which the crew set up their equipment, the special meeting was held. It felt like a continuation of the worship more than something totally separate. The folks who rose to speak in the meeting about Bruce had mostly seen very little of Bruce for a number of years. Their remarks tended to run along the lines of: “Bruce was such a nice young man. It’s too bad he wound up in prison.” It sounded pretty sad.

I was the only person in the room who really knew how things were with Bruce. Visiting him regularly, I didn’t see so sad a situation. I knew that Bruce was not at all defeated. Rather I saw that the state could not defeat conscience through imprisonment. The real story was that conscience was not touched by the effort to suppress it. So I was able to speak this truth. Now I knew why I had needed to come. I had a message of hope for those gathered. This was valuable, even though it did not go further since the show was never aired.

I felt great on the way home. It almost felt like I was floating the whole way! And remember that I had a lot on my plate? Well, everything I needed to do got done in a timely manner.

What are some of the aspects of the Holy Spirit at work this story illustrates?

  • When the Spirit is leading, you may not understand why you are being led to do something. Just be faithful, and don’t insist on knowing why you are led to do it.
  • Things sometimes fall in place in amazing ways to allow the Spirit to work.
  • What faithfulness requires will continue to unfold as you follow the leading.
  • You may be anxious and uncertain, but the Spirit can still use you.
  • When you have been faithful, you may have a great feeling of satisfaction and peace.

My second example is of a group being led by the Holy Spirit.

I was a Quaker for 4 decades and, like the first example, this occurred in a Quaker context. A little background. Waiting or unprogrammed worship is rooted in silence. The gathered meeting starts in silence, but as anyone feels led they may stand and offer vocal ministry which could be a message, a prayer or a song. The end of the worship period is marked by a designated person – historically someone formally recognized as an elder - shaking hands with a neighbor, after which all participants shake hands with those around them. This is the Quaker version of passing the peace. Historically worship lasted as long as the Spirit leads – sometimes several hours, and so it required someone of spiritual maturity and discernment to have the responsibility of sensing when meeting was to rise. Today, usually meeting is broken close to a fixed schedule, most commonly one hour. Rarely does it last much longer than that, unless it’s been announced as an extended meeting for worship.

This occasion was at a Triennial session of Friends United Meeting, the largest association of Quakers. There were several hundred present from various parts of the world. It was in an auditorium, with the elders for the evening on the stage. The schedule included a meeting for waiting worship, followed by a meeting for business, so it was a very full evening program.

The worship was spirited and lively, with messages, prayers and songs offered in various languages. It was so Spirit-filled that the elders allowed it to run over the hour scheduled a few minutes, but then shook hands. Something astonishing happened that I had never seen before. No one else shook hands after the elders did, and the worship continued as if no one had tried to break it.

The elders settled back down and waited for some time before shaking hands again. It was the same as the first attempt. The worship simply continued. Finally, after the worship had gone on about two-and-a-half hours, the elders shook hands, and all responded by greeting their neighbors. It seemed that the Spirit had led the gathering in an extended period of worship, which apparently was what the gathered body needed more than getting to business as scheduled.

I have kept my message fairly brief so that more could be heard from. I hope that all of you have felt the Holy Spirit at work in your lives and recognized that numerous times. So I invite anyone who feels moved to share from your experiences with the Spirit to do so at this time. You may come to this mike, or a mike will be brought to you. And if the Spirit leads you to speak about something else, you should also feel free to do that. May the Spirit be heard!

-Bill Samuel

NOTES: After I spoke, 6 others shared.
Before I spoke, we played Holy Spirit Come by Aaron Fowler.

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From Death to Life: A Memorial Day Message

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

     Some time later, I felt the Lord’s power take control of me, and his Spirit carried me to a valley full of bones. The Lord showed me all around, and everywhere I looked I saw bones that were dried out. He said, “Ezekiel, son of man, can these bones come back to life?”
     I replied, “Lord God, only you can answer that.”
     He then told me to say:

         Dry bones, listen to what the Lord is saying to you, “I, the Lord God, will put breath in you, and once again you will live. I will wrap you with muscles and skin and breathe life into you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”


Ezekiel 37:1-6 (CEV*)

This is an amazing passage which continues with the bones actually coming back to life. The scripture seems to be saying that God can bring life out of death, and God uses prophets - those who are especially faithful - in this work.

It seems appropriate that this (alternate) lectionary reading for Pentecost comes this year during Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. We remember those who lost their lives in the human folly of war, and our President issues a Proclamation in which he calls for “a day of prayer for perpetual peace.” If we would actually make it such, it would be about bringing life out of death.

The date for this reading in the church is also one week after the Transform Now Plowshares defendants were released from prison. Their offense was a prophetic action about transforming the machinery of war into life-affirming purposes.

We need more Christians to sound a prophetic voice for turning from the way of death and oppression to the Gospel way of peace and harmony. How is the Spirit of God calling you?

-Bill Samuel. Originally published as the Friends in Christ Weekly Message for May 23, 2015

* Contemporary English Version ©1995 American Bible Society.

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Participatory Worship

Monday, November 10th, 2014

        So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (1 Corinthians 14:26, The Message)        

This is a subject in which I have had great interest for decades, but my thoughts have been stirred recently by an event and some things I’ve read.

A number of years ago I attended an independent charismatic church. At that time, they had a Friday evening service which was not programmed in advance. There was a pastor of the church who, in Quaker terms, clerked the service, helping it to flow as the Spirit led. At the beginning, you would see people talking to him, relaying what the Lord had said to them about what needed to happen that evening. The character of the service varied enormously week from week, as the Lord led. But most of what was vocalized was from the floor of the church. The only standard thing which happened is that, sometime during the about 2.5 hour service, bread and juice would be put out giving the attenders opportunity to take communion. That period would usually be pretty quiet. People often took some time to pray before consuming the elements, frequently kneeling on the steps which are used in place of an altar in that church. I really appreciated this service. Unfortunately, the church stopped doing it.

Charismatic and pentecostal churches often allow people from the congregation to offer a Word from the Lord, but at least at Sunday morning services that’s usually within the context of a service in which the usual Protestant prepared sermon from a pastor is the central focus, to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps some of them offer another time when it is all from the body, but I couldn’t find any in my area which do. (And I have theological issues with most charismatic and pentecostal churches.)

The Quaker tradition is to have worship in which there is not a program set in advance, but the Lord may speak through anyone gathered. However today most Quaker groups which are still non-pastoral have moved away from a center in Jesus Christ, and generally the range of expression which is acceptable is limited by a somewhat repressive WASP middle class cultural environment. I have been at a couple of Quaker gatherings where a session broke free from those restraints, and a vibrant, charismatic session resulted. However, that is rare.

I suspect a major reason why the kind of participatory worship Paul recommended to the church in Corinth is so rare is fear. What might happen if the Spirit was allowed to work in the congregation free from control by one or more leaders and from cultural constraints? It seems so much safer to keep things under human control.

So I have this concern for finding and nurturing spiritually alive participatory worship. I would appreciate reflections on this subject and any pointing towards where I might find such worship or how I might facilitate it.

-Bill Samuel, November 10, 2014

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Prayer for Peace

Saturday, September 7th, 2013
       

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4, NIV)

He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:3, NIV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44, NIV)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

       

I thank God for the divine love and compassion for each and every human being, which is a model for us.

I thank Jesus Christ for modeling a life of care and sacrifice, and showing us another way than the world’s way of exercising power over one another. I thank Jesus for telling us to love our enemies and put away the sword.

I thank Pope Francis for calling for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. I thank all those religious leaders of various faiths who have joined in this call, and all the faithful who are setting aside time for prayer for peace.

I pray for the people of Syria that there be an end to weapons taking their lives, injuring them and forcing them into refugee status.

I pray for Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, others in the Syrian government, and the leaders of all the non-state armed elements in Syria that their hearts be transformed and that they put away all weapons of war, and seek a solution which will provide a democratic government which will focus on the needs and rights of all the people of Syria.

I pray for Syrian Christians that they might find hope and strength in the peace and power of Jesus Christ, that they may be free of repression, and that they may find ways to build peace and restore the nation.

I pray for those in Syria who seek to uphold nonviolent action as a way forward that they will not give up hope, and that they may see their efforts increasingly appreciated and supported.

I pray that the leaders of key countries involved, and of the United Nations, will cease providing weapons to all forces in Syria, and will join together to support a Syria where all of its people can live in peace and freedom, with the rights of all respected.

I pray for President Obama, Administration foreign and military policy officials, officials of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and the United States Congress that they might search for peaceful ways forward and not inflict yet more violence on war-torn Syria. I pray they will seek a more humble and cooperative role for our country in the world. I pray they will open their hearts to provide generously for humanitarian aid to Syrian refuges and victims, and welcome Syrian refugees to our great country.

I pray for those serving in the armed forces of our country that they will turn from the ways of violence, and seek ways to use their commitment, courage and desire to serve to foster a world of peace, where all may have the food, water, shelter and medical care they need.

I pray for the leaders of companies which produce weapons of war and support the military infrastructure of our country that they might seek ways to transform their businesses to ones which produce products and services to meet human needs. I pray that all employed by such companies may search their hearts for ways to earn a living which foster peace, care for creation and provide for human needs.

Lord, I pray that the seeds of war in my own heart be transformed through your love, and that I may be an instrument of your peace.

-Bill Samuel, September 7, 2013

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An Open Letter to FCNL

Monday, December 26th, 2011

This email to Diane Randall, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), was written in response to an email fund appeal from her. I have written a number of such emails over the course of the last 3 years, and I normally get no response. This one I am going to make public.

Dear Diane Randall,

For decades, I contributed regularly to FCNL. I felt it stood for what I believed in, and I could count on it. I thought it was largely free of partisanship.

Then came the Obama election. After the election, I saw a metamorphosis in FCNL. It seemed to become a branch office of the White House - of a President who campaigned on escalation of the war in Afghanistan, increasing the military budget, and increasing the number of military troops. These were all things FCNL traditionally would have opposed. The President kept all those promises, and FCNL supported him in that. It campaigned for a budget that increased military spending and devoted over half of all discretionary spending to the military. Joe Volk, then FCNL’s Executive Secretary, sent out an email asking supporters to write letters to the editor supporting the President’s Afghanistan policy.

At that point, I resolved to stop supporting FCNL. I pointed out this radical change in FCNL to others, and urged them to not support FCNL. Many FCNL supporters had the same reaction. If you will look at donation trends, you will see that FCNL’s income dropped dramatically during that time. The FCNL budget and staff were reduced. The official propaganda from FCNL was that this was due to the economy, but I’m sure FCNL’s betrayal of its values was a large factor.

Gradually FCNL moved back to its traditional positions. However, it has yet to publicly admit it got off course. I am a Christian. I believe in repentance and redemption. But fundamental to that is admitting the sin. I believe there are thousands of us willing to come back as FCNL supporters if FCNL will admit it went seriously off-track after the Obama election, and pledges never again to sacrifice its values to engage in a partisan effort. But we’ve been waiting for years for this, and so far have not seen any sign of an admission by FCNL that it went terribly wrong in that period. I continue to wait.

Bill Samuel

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An Open Letter to President Barack Obama, Christmas 2010

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Merry Christmas, Mr. President, to you and your lovely family.

In your Christmas radio message you said, “many are fighting halfway around the globe – in hopes that someday, our children and grandchildren won’t have to.” I believe that you were sincere in saying that, but I ask you to look at that statement in light of the facts of history.

Many of your predecessors said the same thing with respect to the wars they were fighting. People on both sides of every war seem to say that. World War I was called the “war to end all wars.” This hope has proven itself through thousands of years of history to be misplaced. To the extent that history can be said to have proven anything, I believe it can be said to have proven that you don’t bring an end to wars by waging war. It not only doesn’t sound logical; it just doesn’t work.

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Is it just possible that Jesus knew what he was talking about? Is it possible that you really do not achieve good ends by slaughtering people?

In your Nobel address, you said you could not be guided as President by the examples of Gandhi and King. Your implication was that the ideas of peacemakers are impractical in “the world as it is.”

Is it possible that it isn’t people like Jesus, Gandhi and King who aren’t facing the reality of “the world as it is” but those that advocate and wage wars? None of these men ever held political office. Yet each of them accomplished a lot more for good than you, the most powerful political leader in the world, will ever achieve by squandering our nation’s dedicated people and resources on wars. And they lived in “the world as it is.”

Mr. President, I implore you to re-consider your following of an approach that has proven over and over again to be ineffective, and causes untold misery. I ask you to abandon the approach of endless wars and instead offer us the politics of hope and lead our country in more positive directions that will constructively use the idealism of those currently on the battlefield and our material resources.

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Reflections on Independence Day

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Today in the United States is Independence Day, when the country celebrates the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776. At my church, we were completing our annual God in the Movies series, and we focused on the John Adams mini-series. What caught my attention was a particular remark by John Adams, and what I drew from it was quite different from what the day’s speaker did.

The comment, made by John Adams at the Second Constitutional Convention, which caught my attention was that the end would be worth the means. My own Christian understanding is that the end can not really be separated from the means. Rather, we must be sure we are using ethical means if we hope to achieve a good end. The ethical way may seem naive and impractical, but in fact it is not only the right choice, but the only pragmatic one if we really desire a good end.

As the speaker noted, John Adams was a man who really sought to do the right thing. There is much to admire in his life. However, he made a critical error in his thinking in his belief that the willful shedding of the blood of many people could be a means to a good end. This critical error was not only made by most of those who attended that Constitutional Convention, but also by most societies throughout the ages. The universality of the error does not make it right.

Our Lord Jesus Christ allowed his own blood to be shed for the freedom of all. But he refused to be a part of shedding anyone else’s blood, and rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant at his arrest. The early Christian leader Tertullianus said, “the Lord afterwards, in disarming Peter, ungirded every soldier.” This was the almost universal view of the Christian church before Constantine.

One wonders how history would have unfolded had there been a Gandhi in America in the period in which the Revolutionary War took place. In India in the 20th century, as in America in the 18th, there were many who were calling for war against British imperial rule. Yet Gandhi’s different way captured the imagination of the Indian people. In America during the Revolutionary War era, the Society of Friends (Quakers), which has a strong testimony against war, was still a major religious body. However, they had largely withdrawn from the public arena, after having been very active earlier in the colonial period. What would have happened if they had proposed an alternative, nonviolent strategy?

The political leaders in America chose to engage in war against the British. At great cost of lives, they “won.” However, let us look not only at the independence of the United States, but what has happened since.

Born in violence, the United States has a long history of violence since. We have fought many wars, most of them wars of aggression and domination, since, up to and including the present day. We suffered a great Civil War. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” When you use the means of violence, the end is violence and bloodshed.

And what about freedom? The “free country” enslaved African-Americans and engaged in genocide against native Americans. The country has taken military, political and economic action to deny many countries their own freely elected governments. How, for example, might the story of Iran be different if the U.S. had not instigated a coup against Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and installed a tyrant?

We reap what we sow. American leaders in 1776 unleashed a campaign of violence which still reverberates today. Our independent country is #1 in its military, but behind almost all other industrial nations in almost every indicator of economic and social well-being. We have stirred resentment throughout the world through military interventionism, the undermining of free governments, the support of tyrannical regimes and economic imperialism.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God can redeem anything. If we “repent and believe the good news” our course can be changed and we can enter the blessed community of peace and well-being promised in such prophecies as Isaiah’s Peaceable Kingdom. Let us pray for and work for the day the United States humbles itself, confesses its sins, and turns from its ways of violence and domination.

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I Am Thankful

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

We are on the eve of Thanksgiving in the United States, where it is a major holiday. I believe in having an attitude of gratitude.

I could go on at great length with things I have to be thankful for, but I will just list a few today:

  • I am thankful for my Lord, Savior, Teacher and Friend Jesus Christ, in whom I live, move and have my being.
  • I am thankful for my sweet, loving wife Young, who brings me so much joy.
  • I am thankful for being raised by loving parents who showed me by example how to live.
  • I am thankful for Cedar Ridge Community Church, a loving faith community dedicated to growing in discipleship.
  • I am thankful for the several small groups of which I am a part, places of spiritual growth and friendship.
  • I am thankful for my work situation, in which I can do meaningful work as part of a team of great people.
  • I am thankful for my colleagues on the Board of Consistent Life, a delightful group with which to work for a world in which all human life is treated with respect and dignity.

Who have you thanked today?

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Why I’m Voting for Joe

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

On November 4, we have an Election Day in the United States which will result in the choosing of the next President. Many people have explained for whom they’re voting, and I’ll join them in that. And that often includes why they’re not voting for someone else.

Very few of my friends seem to have seriously considered voting for John McCain, and I don’t think most of them would expect me to vote for him. So I won’t devote much energy to explaining why I’m not voting for him. I will reference him occasionally, but the major issue in the circles in which I move is whether to vote for Obama or for some non-duopoly candidate, so that is what I will principally address in this post.

Why I’m Not Voting for Obama

Since many people are making the assumption that if you don’t want McCain to be President, you should vote for Obama, let me address why I disagree.

I don’t believe in voting for the lesser evil. I think voting for evil is morally wrong. Of course you aren’t likely to agree with any candidate 100%, but it seems to me that you need to view them as on the whole working in the right direction to vote for them in good conscience. Since I believe that the fundamental assumptions that underlie much of the policies of the country are wrong, that means I don’t vote for candidates who basically uphold those assumptions, even if they may tweak them slightly in the right direction. Obama does not seem to reject any major assumption of our system, and has never stood for any significant change to the best of my knowledge, so he is not seriously in contention for my vote.

Let me just outline a few of the ways in which Obama represents the wrong way:

  • He has voted to spend over half of the discretionary budget on the military - current and future mass murder. And his campaign position is that we spend too little on the military, and should spend more. Furthermore, he wants to increase the size of the active duty military forces. [McCain's official position is virtually identical on all of this, although he did cite the military budget in the last debate when asked where he could cut.]
  • He favors massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan [so does McCain], and military attacks on Pakistan [McCain has criticized him for that].
  • He has said that the first thing he will do when in office is sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” which would outlaw all restrictions on abortion by the Federal, state, and local governments [McCain opposes it]. This is consistent with his record of opposing all abortion restrictions in the past. And while he says he is in favor of reduction in abortions, he refuses to support the Pregnant Women Support Act, a Democratic-sponsored measure which would provide the kind of social supports that make it easier for women to choose life.
  • He favors the death penalty, even though he admits it is ineffective, because he believes in vengeance.
  • He is a strong supporter of subsidies for corn-based ethanol [McCain opposes them]. Simply from an environmental standpoint, this is bad because producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But its most disastrous effect is on the poor. The diversion of corn to ethanol production is a major contributing factor to the precipitous rise in world grain prices we have seen (the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates bioenergy accounts for 30% of the increase). Skyrocketing grain prices mean poor people can not afford the food they need to survive. UN Food and Agricultural Organization Director-General Jacques-Diouf said, “The fact is that people are dying already.”
  • He favors “clean coal” [as does McCain], although experts say that there is no way to make coal production environmentally responsible.
  • He decided to attempt to buy the election with the massive sums he can raise, much of it from Wall Street and other corporatist elements, instead of accepting public funding of his campaign, even though he promised to accept public funding if his opponent did [and McCain has accepted public funding, resulting in having less than 1/6 of the funds Obama has].

Poverty and the “Matthew 25 Network”

There is a group calling itself the “Matthew 25 Network” organized by a Democratic operative which has recruited a number of pastors. Despite the name, it does not exist to encourage people to act in accordance with Matthew 25. It is rather an attempt to use Christ to support partisan political purposes, which is arguably blasphemy. Christ refused to align himself with any of the major religio-political parties of his day, and instead preached and practiced an alternative vision.

The “Matthew 25 Network” exists to support Barack Obama for President. This despite the fact that Obama’s policies are in direct contradiction to the principles Christ outlined in Matthew 25 of supporting the poor and outcast. Not only are his subsidies for corn-based ethanol production currently killing poor people, but his skewed national priorities directly result in killing the poor (most of the casualties from war) and also result in the lack of resources for programs to address social needs. As former President Dwight Eisenhower noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Jesus did not say of the righteous:

For I was hungry, and you used the grain that could have fed me to produce ethanol. I was thirsty, and you used water resources to produce “clean coal” and ethanol. I was a stranger, and you bombed foreigners. I needed clothes, and the money you spent on clothes went for military uniforms. I was sick, and you devoted your resources to wars so there wasn’t enough for health care. I was in prison, and you executed me so the society could wreak vengeance.

If Not a Duopoly Candidate, then Who?

McCain and Obama aren’t the only people running for President. There are some who are on many state ballots, some on a few, and others running solely as write-in candidates. Many of these candidates represent a markedly different vision than that of McCain and Obama.

On many issues, I agree with the positions of Ralph Nader (independent) and Cynthia McKinney (Green Party). However, while these candidates stand for life in many respects, their campaign platforms do not stand up for the unborn, the veritable “least of these” (whom the “Matthew 25 Network” ignores). Nader seems preferable because he did come out in a 2004 interview for banning feticide, so seems at least open to recognizing the dignity and worth of the unborn. Nader is on 45 state ballots, more than any other alternative candidate. So if you’re going to vote for someone on the ballot, I would suggest you vote for Ralph Nader.

I intend to vote for Joe Schriner. He is a Christian who is running as a consistent life ethic candidate. He is right on all the life issues on which Obama is wrong. He is a strong environmentalist, and an advocate of simple living. He had hoped to run in the Green Party primaries, but his campaign was blocked by state Green Party leaders who objected to his being pro-life on abortion. I urge everyone to write-in Joe Schriner for President and Dale Way for Vice President. He is a registered write-in candidate in several states, including my state of Maryland.

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