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Our Father

Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father

“Our”: not just a prayer for myself but for my community to, be defined in ever expanding terms. It is a collective prayer.

Father: the creator of all. Also mother works just as well here too, but both are metaphors for a relationship beyond our words and concepts.

Who art in Heaven

Who is totally other; standing outside the creation.

Hallowed be thy name

Of whom we can not speak. The creator is beyond all our categories and concepts; hence the Jews could not pronounce the holy name. YHWH (mis transliterated as Jehovah) is not a name so much as a statement of being. Paul Tillich called God “the ground of all being.” I don’t even like to use the word “God” as everybody has a different understanding of God; the word elicits different images and understandings in different people. I prefer the term “higher power” used in Alcoholics Anonymous, or even “transforming power” from the Alternatives to Violence Program; two terms left intentionally undefined.

Thy Kingdom come

Again a metaphor (how else can we speak of the numinous presence?). The point is that we ask that our lives, society, the creation be ordered according to the divine will.

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven

An elaboration on the above line.

Give us this day our daily bread

As we only have this phrase in Greek (Aramaic versions of the Bible are really translations from the Greek back into what the translator thought would have been the Aramaic) I take “daily bread” to be the mana from heaven which fed the Hebrew people as they traveled through the desert after escaping from Egypt. They were unable to hoard this bread because it would go bad in one day so they had to have faith (since they couldn’t work, gather bread, on the Sabbath bread gathered the day before would  last for two days).

And forgive us our trespasses (transgressions, sins),

Accept us with our imperfections.

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Do not hold onto grudges or resentments.

and lead us not into temptation

Being imperfect, any temptation will draw us further from our desired unity with our creator.

But deliver us from evil. 

I consider it evil to take pleasure in inflicting pain and or suffering on another, be it a person or people, or creatures. Do not make us subject to those who would inflict pain what us or on those we love.


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Quakers and the Martial Arts?

Some years ago, back when list-serves were still state of the art, there was some discussion on Quaker-L (remember Quaker-L and Quaker-P?) over Quakers and the practice of the martial arts. Some Friends (and friends of Friends) felt no conflict between the peace testimony (Quaker pacifism), and the practice of the martial arts. In particular these Friends cited tai-chi and aikido as martial arts that are not aggressive, that defeat an enemy using his (or her) own energy. There is something to be said for this argument. Neither of these arts are designed for attack, but is non-aggression the same as pacifism? I think not!

Recently I was contacted by a practitioner of both aikido and jujitsu asking for my thoughts. He said his practice of jujitsu is now something he “enjoy[s] … for its health and fitness benefits.” Just as most martial arts in Japan and Korea evolved (the purist might say devolved) from combat techniques as in jujitsu or kenjitsu (‘ken’ being sword), into ways of personal development (the do forms – as in aikido [yes, there is also an aikijitsu], judo, kendo, or the Korean taekwondo). In judo chokes are allowed (and resuscitation is taught as part of training). These forms have continued to evolve into sports. Take for example Judo and Taekwondo which have both been accepted as Olympic sports. As a sport, the winner is decided on points. 

The Chinese martial arts (wu-shu) do not use the linguistic convention of separating ‘jitsu’ forms and ‘do’ forms. In English, tai-chi (or taiqi in pinyin) often is used for the practice for health and meditation. Tai-chi chuan is the martial art (chuan meaning fist). In my practice of tai-chi chuan I would remain mindful of the martial applications if only to be sure I was doing it right (always considering if it would work, and trying it in push-hands?).

But the character development aspect of the ‘do’ forms may be over rated; used more as a rationalization and selling point to parents for getting kids into classes. I do feel it is important but you get what you bring to it. These activities do require a holistic view of oneself: mind, body, and spirit (spirit being an understanding of ‘ki’ at least, but potentially much more, a point which I leave to the practitioner’s own judgement). I do feel that in my case at least, the practice of the martial arts built self assurance and self-understanding. Of course in my case this practice was accompanied by a study of the martial art I was practicing and of the religious tradition out of which it grew; for the  Japanese arts, Buddhism, and for tai-chi chuan, Taoism. 

I consider it laudatory to engage in activities for personal development and fitness, and there is nothing wrong with testing our ability against another person. I consider this  not in conflict with Quakerism as currently understood, although Robert Barkley might have objected to activities that would distract us from devotions and worship of God (see Proposition XV section 9 of the Apology). Few modern Quakers would agree with him. And this objection could be raised for any sport (and Barclay would).

Many sports played with a ball are derived from forms of martial training, or religious ceremony. While I lived at Pendle Hill (in Pennsylvania) there were those on staff (I remember two women in particular) who tried to ban competitive games for the kids, encouraging ultimate frisbee instead. I don’t think they got very far with it but I was too busy playing American football with the men to notice. My point is that I feel sports are healthy. In them we test ourselves against others. To my mind, this is not in conflict with our testimonies.

I have studied the martial arts since I lived in Korea in the late 1960s (see my page on this site). I have practiced yodu (Korean for judo), Shotakan karate-do, aikido briefly (about a year), Uechi-ryu karate-do (an Okinawan style close to its Chinese antecedents), and most recently tai-chi chuan (the chuan means fist and I include it to indicate that all but one of my teachers taught it as a fighting art. I stopped practice of tai-chi a few years back when I got a pacemaker and realized that if a strike landed in the wrong place it could do damage.

I became a Quaker about when I got my black belt in Uechi-ryu. The peace testimony was not central to my convinecment. In fact, I was employed as a statistician and taught computer programming at the U.S. Naval Academy; after work I’d practice with the Midshipmen Karate Club. In my Quaker meeting, my social concerns involvement was more to do with South Africa and apartheid than disarmament. There is a story that William Penn asked George Fox how long he could continue wearing his sword (a style statement for gentlemen I suspect, much like wearing a tie today). Fox is reported to have told him to wear it as long as he could. It is probably apocryphal but its persistence tells us it speaks for modern Friends. Annapolis meeting seemed to take this attitude toward my employment. I have no idea how they felt about my karate practice.

As I examined the testimonies, and that to which they testify, my thinking changed. Pacifism is not just an absence of conflict; the “lambs war” delighted in conflict; what is now called spiritual warfare. Refusal to fight was one of many weapons in this battle to confront the hypocrisy of the professors (i.e. those who professed Christ), along with the refusal to take oaths, give hat honor, and use flowerly language and titles. To find the roots of Quaker pacifism I start with the statement of George Fox in his reference to the Letter of James when he declined an offer of release from jail and a captaincy in the Parliamentary army. Fox said that he lived in the life and power that did away with the occasion for war according to the doctrine of James (James 4:1-3).

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. (James 4:1-3).

James tells us our desire to kill comes from our cravings (or desires) at war within us. The Commonwealth Commissioners who had made the offer t Fox were outraged and had him thrown back in jail (all of our weapons in the Lamb’s War, the testimonies, involved the acceptance of suffering for conscience sake). The peace testimony is based in moral purity; we have subdued that inner war. Later Quakers justified their position to others (mostly to Calvinists) by citing scripture, but for themselves it was the inward light which directed them to love their neighbor (and this included enemies).

So if I am attacked I could use my karate to defend myself, or I could immobilize my attacker with aikido techniques. Karate would invite further violence and he (or “she” but I’ll stick with “he”) might be better than me; aikido techniques, if successful, would immobilize the attacker but then what. He won’t just slap the mat in defeat. No – you will have to disable him: break the arm you are holding, or deliver a knockout blow, or he will just get up madder than hell and try again (or he might run away but do you want to chance it).

William Penn said “Let us try what love can do.” Some will consider this naive. I ask what do we have to loose. Material possessions are of secondary importance, and I am not likely to have any possessions on me worth fighting for. Quaker testimonies are all of a piece and can’t be separated. Our testimony on simplicity should remind us of the verses following those cited above in the letter of James:

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 4:4-5 NRSV).

Usually only the first three verses are cited to support the peace testimony but James, and therefore Fox, was teaching us more than non-violence.

I go back to the apocryphal quote from Fox: “wear thy sword as long as thou cans’t.”


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Christmas letter 2015

Pat Daly & Gene Hillman

280 Bridgewater Road, K-11

Brookhaven, Pennsylvania 19015


Dear Family and Friends,

I have taken it on myself to write our year-end letter this year. It will be relatively brief and straightforward; nothing poetic like Pat wrote last year. In what follows the first person singular pronoun is Gene. Just the facts! I begin by extending to all of you our best wishes for 2016.

Pat started the year in Arizona, on doctor’s orders. As in the past, her pulmonologist told her to get out of Philadelphia for the winter. In March I flew to Tucson (let’s hear it for frequent flyer miles) at the end of her sojourn, and spent a few days staying with her at La Vita House (a hostel near the University). We enjoyed the city and its area together. The highlight for me was an afternoon at Sabino Canyon, where we were told several western movies were filmed. We then took the overnight train to Los Angeles train (AMTRAK “Sunset Limited” – I slept, Pat enjoyed the view even in the dark), and after a four hour layover in Union Station we continued north along the coast to Oakland on the “Coast Starlight” with a view of the ocean, barrier islands (channel islands), and even (I’m sorry to mention) oil rigs.

Pat’s sister Gerry picked us up at Jack London station when we arrived in the evening. We stayed with her, her son Marcus, his wife Aldona and their two adorable little girls, for four days. We then crossed the bay to Palo Alto to stay another four days with Pat’s twin Peggy, and Phil (who left for Boston then Istanbul the day after we arrived), and were visited there by Pat’s niece Tracy and her two kids. Pat and I then flew home.

In May I attended a Pentecost retreat Stoking the Fire (click at link, then scroll down to color photo to see the back of my head – wearing red hoodie), with Friends United Meeting (FUM – Quaker), held at a Jesuit center near Cincinnati, Ohio. It was good to see old Friends from FUM, as well as two Friends from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

In July Pat, Geoffrey and I were delighted to attend the wedding of Pat’s daughter Natalie to her wife Lynn. The ceremony was held outdoors near Spring City on a beautiful day. There was a slight sprinkle of rain just as it was over, which we were told is auspicious in some cultures. Lynn and Natalie live in Kimberton, just outside Phoenixville and less than an hour from us.

In July my son Geoffrey, and his wife Yeji (김예지) moved back from Silver Spring, Maryland where they had moved to go back to work with Ducom, for whom he had worked in Korea. On one of my visits down there they told me we are to be grandparents (a boy, on or about March 7th). They moved back to Pennsylvania for him to take a job as manager (now general manager) of Azie, an upscale Japanese restaurant in Media. Their move back puts them closer to us. It also puts them closer to Jubilee Church, a bilingual Korean Presbyterian church where they have found a spiritual home, where Yeji sings in the choir, and where I am welcomed when I take Yeji (when Geoffrey is working). (Note: many Koreans born here don’t speak Korean but seek a church community, and Jubilee fills that need in Philadelphia’s western suburbs). I have tried to be of support to Yeji, whose English has improved greatly but still doesn’t drive;

While in Tucson I noticed a lump in my neck but it didn’t seem like a problem so I put off checking into it. Three months later, in August, while preparing for knee replacement, my ENT guy took a biopsy and said it was Lymphoma. It is stable and being monitored, so after a short retreat at Holy Cross Monastery (Episcopal and Benedictine) while Pat visited her niece nearby, I was able to go ahead with the knee surgery in September (I am still in rehab).

On December 8th I got Pat to the airport for another flight to Tucson, a stay at Pima Quaker Meeting House, then at a yoga ashram for a week, then the Friends Southwest Center (FSC) for the day known as Christmas. It is frequent flyer miles and cheap accommodations that make this possible. I’m not sure what happens next as she was out of touch at the ashram, and then had her cell phone stolen at a Walmart near Douglas. She plans to move to La Vita House, where I stayed with her when I visited earlier this year, on January 2nd and stay there until her return February 26th, but that has yet to be confirmed.

So while Pat was at FSC I joined Geoff and Yeji at Jubilee for a Korean Calvinist observance on the day known as Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.


Gene at Sabino Canyon


The very young Solomon

Blessings for the New Year, Gene & Pat


Pat offers blessing at wedding of Natalie (left) and Lynn (to Pat’s immediate right)

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“That of God in Everyone”: “Inner Light” or “Inward Light”

If you ask most liberal Friends (i.e. FGC affiliated or Beanite) what Friends (Quakers) believe you will most often hear them say Quakers believe there is “that of God in everyone.” While this is true, I disagree with this as a statement of Quaker belief on two counts. This belief does not differentiate us from other religions. Others share this belief.

First, “that of God” sounds much like what others call the soul. By itself that is not an argument against, as much as to say it is inadequate. It really doesn’t tell us much. A Sikh teacher I once heard speak defined namaste (the traditional greeting) as meaning “that of God in me greets that of God in you.”

Secondly, back in 1997 I wrote an article published in Friends Journal entitled “What Quakers Believe.” “That of God” was mentioned in connection with the peace testimony; some Friends explain the refusal to kill as being because the other person has that of God, so we can’t kill them. I pointed out that in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is reluctant to go into battle against his relatives. His charioteer, Krishna (a divine avatar), points out that the divine in them can not be destroyed, a twist on the significance of “that of God.” But this also points out that “that of God” is an important belief for Hindus. This makes both points, it is not unique, and it is so vague as to be used to reach contradictory positions.

But as uttered (or rather written) by George Fox, “that of God” was never meant to be doctrine. The phrase comes from George Fox’s pastoral writtings, particularly from a letter found in his Journal (reproduced by Simon StLaurants). He was addressing those in the pastoral ministry. Several Friends have commented on this subject from different viewpoints. I commend two in particular, from quite different perspectives: George Ammos in “The Postmodern Quaker”, and Steve Davison in “throughtheflamingsword.” But they don’t address the central point that concerns me here.

Some fifteen years ago I was discussing an environmental concern with a Friend. He stated his preference for ecological concern rather than environmental concern as the former put humanity at the center while the latter sees all of life as interrelated with no one species being center. Later, when drafting a minute for Friends United Meeting, I chose to speak of “care for God’s creation.”  This was to move the locus of concern from humanity to God, to see things through God’s eye, to put God at the center. The language was, and is, important. It places us in relation to that of which we speak.

Keeping this in mind consider that Friends make much of the theology of the light. It is important to the author of the Gospel of  John, particularly in John 1:9 which Robert Barclay identifies as the Quaker text: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (KJV). It is found in Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome (Romans 13:12) where he speaks of putting on the armor of light.  And it is found in the letter to the Ephesians (5:8) and in 1 Thessalonians (5:5) which gave rise to an early name for Quakers, “Children of Light.” Thessalonians is considered to be the earliest writing in the Bible.

I take this Light as metaphorical. I have never experienced the literal as Light as described in Acts 9:3, which was given to Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus. A good exposition of the Quaker understanding of the Light is provided on a page at the Conservative Friends in America site.

A central belief of Friends is in the inner Light. It is the Light that exposes our sins (literally, places where we miss the mark). To hold a person, group of people, or a situation in the Light is a common way of saying we will pray for them. Is this that of God in us? Early Friends were more likely to speak of the inward Light. The distinction is important. The inner Light is like that of God in us, a piece of God we all have. On the other hand the inward light is a light is from outside and shines in. It exposes our shortcomings. The question here is whether the light in ours (inner light) or from God. Either way it is universal.

Is “that of God” a piece of the divine in each of us, or our capacity to respond to God. I prefer the latter.

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On my index page I say: “I am convinced of the gospel (the good news; Mark 1:14-15) in its Quaker understanding (“Christ has come to teach his people himself”).” Mark (1:15b) tells us that Jesus preached “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” There are several troublesome words that need unpacking. Gospel, or good news, is one. I take it to be that “the  time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” That leads us to the word “kingdom.” What is the kingdom? Suffice it to say for now that the kingdom is where God is recognized, and obeyed, as Lord. I like to think our meetings are outposts of the kingdom.

But the word “repent” is what this blog is about. Repent, in Greek (in which the New Testament was written) is metanoia (μετάνόος). There are other possible translations, and we must keep in mind that metanoia is itself, in all likelihood, a translation of an Aramaic word which Jesus would have used. “Repent,” in less theologically loaded terms means a transformation or paradigm shift, a coming around to a new understanding. First, what is the old understanding from which we are to turn away? What is that of which we are to repent?

It is the materialistic self centered world view of which we are to repent: one motivated by arrogance and greed. We are called to value the spiritual rather than the material (Matthew 6:19-21). Instead of self centered we are to be empathetic and loving. We are to see things through God’s eyes, or as Meister Eckhart put it “My eye and God’s eye is one eye” (sermon 4).

Both Jesus, and his cousin John the Baptist, condemned the self centered arrogance and materialism of the Jewish religious and political establishment: the Sanhedrin (ruling council), the priests, and the tax collectors (collaborators with the Romans), all of whom did fairly well under Roman rule. We find in the Romans a hedonism in addition to the arrogance and greed of the Jewish establishment, but they embraced their . But it was the hypocrisy of the wealthy Jews that drew the ire of Jesus and John. They and the Pharisees were hypocrites, professing religiosity while condemning the less fortunate: the poor (too poor to maintain ritual purity) and sick (he healed, in particular, those whose disease excluded them from the synagogue).

Jesus taught a gospel of love, in Greek agápē (ἀγάπη), love of God and love of neighbor (e.g. Luke 10:27).”He taught that ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’” The first part of this is from the Shema, a prayer from Deuteronomy said daily by observant Jews. The second is one of the relatively minor rules from Leviticus (19:18) which Jesus raised to second in importance. agápē is an act of will , not of emotion. (“to desire and do good for another” in the words of one of my professors) When asked who is my neighbor he told the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

In Jesus’ parables the bad example, usually a secondary character, is the one who puts his (or her) interest first. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and the Levitt both act quite reasonably. Neither is willing to risk ritual impurity by touching this person. It is the Samaritan who shows compassion. In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) the older son is rebuked for being concerned with his own inheritance more than the return of the younger son (v 28-32), again a reasonable position but not one for which Jesus has sympathy.

Many Friends (Quakers) are not comfortable with the word “repent.” It sounds condemnatory. We believe there is that of God in everyone. What we often forget is that over the years most of us (all of us?) have build a shell of defenses around that primary core.  Again quoting Meister Eckhart “A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.” To repent is to peel away those skins or hides. If that wasn’t true there would have been no need for George Fox to admonish Friends to “answer that of God in everyone.” We’d be doing it. And this calls for deep listening.

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Theological Musings

This is a work in progress. As my musings take a new turn, or come back to an old one, I add to it. Thoughts on Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (anthropology)  have been moved to another blog.

In the interest of full disclosure I start by saying I am a convinced (converted) Friend (Quaker). Influential in my convincement was the book Friends for 300 Years by Howard Brinton (republished as Friends for 350 Years, recommended). I have always been a member of liberal (FGC) meetings but have been comfortable serving on explicitly Christ centered Quaker (FUM) and ecumenical (WCCC) bodies. Quaker theology is based on our experience of the divine presence, and not so much on thinking, or talking, about it.

My Quaker understanding has been further educated by:

  • The three doctrines in East Asian thought:
    •  While living in Korea (a culture strongly influenced by Confucianism) I wrote on Neo-Confucanism for my undergraduate thesis
    • Also in Korea I developed an aesthetic appreciation for Buddhism, and later practiced under two Buddhist martial arts teachers who taught meditation and guided my reading;
    • A 20 years plus practice of T’ai-chi (together with some reading) has taught me Taoism.
  • Episcopalians: Baptized and confirmed, but inactive until taking retreats with Anglican communities, particularly Holy Cross Monastery; and completing Education for Ministry (EFM).
  • Roman Catholics: retreats at various retreat centers, particularly the Jesuit Center; graduate study at Neumann College in pastoral counseling, and at Villanova University where I earned a Master of Arts in Theology .
  • The fellowship of the Friends of Bill W.

I start from an apophatic theology, which is to say I believe God, the ultimate which is beyond attributes, is beyond words and is unknowable in terms of our intellectual categories. Even putting a name to this ultimate reduces it to a something. The third century Neoplatonist Plotinus spoke simply of “the One.” For Plotinus, Nous (intellect) emanates from the One, and is the repository of the Platonic forms. Nous in turn overflows into psyche (soul), divided into a higher soul (reason) and a lower soul (the irrational soul) from which are derived the elements of the physical world. Plotinus’ “trinity” has some superficial resemblances to the Christian Trinity but parallels break down under close examination. The point is that they are both attempts to explain how an ineffable ultimate principle (God, One) manifests in the world. Psudo-Denys (long thought to have been Dionysius the Areopagite in Acts 17:34, which gave him almost apostolic authority) was strongly influenced by Plotinus. He, in turn, was translated by and influenced Johannes Scotus Eriugena who brought his thought into western Christian thought.

Words and categories developed to enable humans to express ideas pertaining to the created world. In Judeo-Christian terms, the Creator is, of necessity, outside the creation. Any attempt to describe the Creator with words which were developed to describe the created world is going to be inadequate. In Mystical Languages of Unsaying, Michael A Sells, a member of Lansdowne Meeting when he taught at Haverford College, said in apophatic theology every statement about God must be followed by its reverse. In a seminar at Villanova I once began my presentation on the subject with “God exists … God does not exist (gasps from my fellow grad students) … God neither exists nor does not exist” and I then explained God is beyond the category of existence.  I like the term “luminous darkness” used by John of the Cross to speak of the numinous presence. It is a juxtaposition of opposites to break us out of our usual mode of thought. 

So if God is totally other, how does God enter the world? Plotinus had it being through nous and psyche.The Gnostics would have us believe the true God is not the creator. The creator is a demiurge. Some held the demiurge to be the God of the Old Testament. The demiurge is often considered as evil, which explains the common Gnostic disdain for the material (the creation of the demiurge) as being evil. I only present this as a alternative theology which I personally reject.

In the prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18 in the NAB) we are told

In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NRSV)

In the above “Word” is the common translation of the Greek word logos, defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order.” I take this to mean the word of God is the principle of divine reason and creative order. Note that logos gave rise to all things. Philo of Alexandria, a first century Hellenized Jew, used logos to refer to a bridge between an inaccessible God and the physical world; to the Stoics it was the divine principle. But a new twist: verse 14 tells us “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory …” Jesus is the incarnation of the logos. I don’t know if He is unique; I doubt it but for me He is my bridge to God. We start with God who was with the Word [logos] and became human life and light.

This thought that the ineffable ultimate principle gave rise to the creation through an intermediary (nous, Christ) is not limited to the religions of the Mediterranean.

Brief digression into East Asian thought


Wuji (heaven) becomes yin-yang, becomes the five elements, become the 10,000 things.


Here the t’ai-chi generates the eight attitudes.

Having lived in Korea, whose culture is still permeated by China’s three religions: Confucinism, Taoism (Daoism) and Buddhism, and some of their popular expressions which go beyond the non-theistic roots of these three, I will make a brief digression. In the religions of the Far East, the non-theistic religions of East Asia, Taoism and Confucianism hold with an ultimate principle giving rise to all things. Confucian thought and Taoism both start with the wuji, which is without attributes, evolving into  the yin-yang (t’ai-chi), giving rise to the eight (diagram to the right) and then the 64 (in the I-Ching) and the many. The opening lines of the Tao Te Ching are “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao” conceding that ultimate reality is beyond words. In the diagram to the left (click on it to enlarge)  the wuji corresponds to heaven and gives rise to the t’ai-chi (yin-yang symbol), and in another paradigm the t’ai-chi gives rise to the five elements, and the five to the 10,000 (traditionally the largest number). The diagram to the left shows the t’ai-chi  giving rise to the five elements. The diagram on the right has the t’ai-chi give rise to the eight basic trigrams, the eight attitudes. (digression within a digression: together the five elements and the eight attitudes combine to produce the thirteen basic positions of t’ai-chi chuan). The One of Plotinus and the wuji of Chinese thought, and I might as well add the dharma of Buddhism, are  ultimate principles and not personal Gods, and in no way conflict with the Abrahamic religions.

“The One” postulated by Plotinus is not unlike the wuji, It also gives rise to the sensible. Although there are parallels with the philosophy of the I Ching, and he did travel at least as far as Persia to study Persian and Indian philosophy, there is no reason to think he learned of the Chinese understanding of wuji.

Back to Theology

The Hebrews did ascribe attributes to God, in particular anger, and steadfast love (hesed). Jesus taught a loving God, calling God the father “Abba” (Daddy). Jesus’ God was a personal God. The first letter of John tells us “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The word for love which Jesus taught in the New Testament is agape (there were others: eros gives us the word erotic, phila is found in Philadelphia “city of brotherly love), and one of my New Testament professors at Villanova defined agape as “to will and do good for another.” Agape is not a matter of emotion; it is an act of will. The translation of agape as charity, found in “The Cloud” (see below) and in the Authorized Bible (authorized by King James hence it is also known as the King James Version) may be closer to the mark in contemporary English.

The anonymous 14th century author of The Cloud of Unknowing wrote in Middle English and was a contemporary of Chaucer. It was translated into contemporary English by several people including an anonymous resident of Pendle Hill in the late 1940s (Howard Brinton?). The author of the Cloud owes an enormous debt to Denis, and therefore indirectly to Plotinus, and my understanding of theology owes a debt to him. In chapter four he tells us that we are made in God’s image. He goes on to say

“all reasonable creatures, angel and man, have in them each one by himself, one principal working power, the which is called a knowledgeable power, and another principal working power, the which is called a loving power. Of the which two powers, to the first, the which is a knowledgeable power, God that is the maker of them is evermore incomprehensible; and to the second, the which is the loving power, in each one diversely He is all comprehensible to the full.” (Evelyn Underhill translation).

Almost 25 years ago I underwent 10 hours of surgery for cancer. They opened both my back and my belly (two teams worked on me). As I was coming out of the anesthesia I felt myself held in the arms of the comforter. I couldn’t see his face (odd?!) but I knew Him to be Jesus. Later I questioned this experience and almost immediately had another experience while reading the Psalms which confirmed it. I was reminded of Howard Brinton saying that where we experience Jesus, a Buddhist would experience Kwan Yin (Bodhisattva of compassion). But for me Jesus is the mediator between me and the One. 

Light is a common metaphor among mystics. Quakers (and I’ll leave open the question of whether Quakers are mystics) often speak of the light. We are told to walk in the light. When we ask for God’s healing love for someone we hold  that person in the light. The Quaker verse, per Robert Barclay, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) equates Jesus with the true light. 

When Quakers speak in Meeting we are said to deliver a message. Whose message is it? The idea that God speaks through us seems to imply a personal and theistic God. If the words are given to us, and I have had this experience, who is it that is doing the giving? One way of understanding the prophetic voice is to say that God doesn’t speak, but that Jesus is giving us the words, speaking through us. For those of us who consider Jesus to be divine, to participate in the divine but not necessarily in terms of a trinity, this is God, or the divine, speaking through us.

Quakers were not necessarily Trinitarian. They could, and did, use the language of the trinity when talking to trinitarians, but among themselves often used the names of the persons of the trinity interchangeably. When I feel the presence of God, that presence does not identify itself by name. So for me God is beyond words. God can not be spoken of. God’s presence can be felt but, at least in my case, the moment I try to think about the experience, much less put it into words, I loose it.

I like the last paragraph of William Penn’s Letter to His Children, (from Quaker Heritage Press) equating Plotinus’ nous, which I take to be what William Penn calls “Plotin’s root of the soul” (below), as the intermediary. Had he been aware of them I think he would have included the Buddha’s Dharma and the Chinese wuji. 

I have chosen to speak in the language of the scripture; which is that of the Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth and wisdom, that wanted no art or direction of man to speak by; and express itself fitly to man’s understanding. But yet that blessed principle, the eternal word I begun with to you, and which is that light, spirit, grace and truth, I have exhorted you to in all its holy appearances of manifestations in your selves, by which all things were at first made, and man enlightened to salvation, is Pythagoras’s great light and salt of ages, Anaxagoras’s divine mind, Socrates’s good spirit, Timaeus’s unbegotten principle, and author of all light, Hieron’s God in man; Plato’s eternal, ineffable, and perfect principle of truth; Zeno’s maker and father of all; and Plotin’s [Plotinus’] root of the soul. Who as they thus styled the eternal word, so the appearance of it in man, wanted not very significant words. A domestic God, or God within says Hieron, Pythagoras, Epictetus and Seneca; genius, angel or guide says Socrates and Timaeus; the light and spirit of God says Plato; the divine principle in man says Plotin; the divine power and reason, the infallible immortal law in the minds of men, says Philo; and the law and living rule of the mind, the interior guide of the soul, and everlasting foundation of virtue, says Plutarch. Of which you may read more in the first part of the “Christian Quaker,” and in the “Confutation of Atheism,” by Dr. Cudworth. These were some of those virtuous gentiles commended by the Apostle, Rom. 2:13, 14, 15. that though they had not the law given to them, as the Jews had, with those instrumental helps and advantages, yet, doing by nature the things contained in the law, they became a law unto themselves.

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Korean Christianity

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Geoffrey and Yeji with Geoffrey’s parents.

My son Geoffrey recently married Kim Yeji (김예지) a Korean woman who is very involved with her church, the Smyrna Presbyterian Church in Changwon, Korea. It is my understanding that most of the Protestant missionaries to Korea were either Southern Baptist or Southern Presbyterian, although in 1968 I remember a Methodist missionary assigned to the Methodist High School in Gongju where I was living (he was teaching them American football!). A college friend is now a Methodist pastor in Maryland and tells me that in his experience the Korean Methodists tend to be rigid. Both Southern Baptists and Southern Presbyterians probably fit that description as well. After all the Presbyterians are Calvinists.

Geoffrey tells me that he went with Yeji’s family to a farm owned by her paternal uncle for Chuseok (추석, the Korean three day harvest festival). The Chuseok rituals developed out of early shamanistic practices, I would guess with an overlay of Confucian ritual. Geoffrey’s father-in-law, as the oldest male, was obliged to be involved but the women did not participate. Their Christian beliefs would not let them.


Geoffrey and Yeji with her parents

In the 1600s in China the Pope determined that Christian (Catholic) converts must give up honoring their ancestors. The Jesuits opposed him on this (the rites controversy), saying the honoring of ancestors was cultural and not religious, and in any case that would make it very difficult to gain converts. Of course this had no influence on Yeji’s family since they don’t recognize Catholics as Christian (there are two different words in Korean for Christian and Catholic). Of course Quakers are also relegated to the group that doesn’t meet their standards. According to Geoffrey “they don’t like Ham Seok-Heon” (1901-1989). He was a Quaker, albeit of the Universalist variety, and named a Korean National Cultural Figure in 2000! When Koreans don’t know what Quakers are I mention him to help me explain, and I guess this is what Geoffrey did.

I worry about how Yeji will adapt to life here. In addition to the expected culture shock and need to learn English (serviceable but needs a lot of work), she will be in a family that loves her but does not share crucial elements of her belief system.

Jesus taught a gospel of love, agape. We are to love God and to love our neighbor, and neighbor includes the Samaritans (Luke 10:25-37) who were a group of mixed blood Israelites that differed from Orthodox Jews in that they worshiped on the mountains and not in the temple as required by the priests in Jerusalem. They also limited scripture to the Torah (first five book of the Bible or the books of Moses) while Jews recognized the whole Tanak (Torah, prophets including the Histories, and writings). It was the priests and the Pharisees that were rigid and intolerant. They excluded people from the temple or synagogue for many reasons. Jesus healed people whose afflictions caused them to be excluded. I hope she will come to see that Jesus was against intolerance.

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Quaker Christmas?

Puritans were called that out of their efforts to purify the church of practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholics (“Papists” in the quote below from Barclay) which were not based in scripture. One of these practices was holy days and they did not observe Christmas, and at times and in places they controlled made it illegal to do so. Even when legal, Christmas wasn’t observed in much of New England until the mid 19th century.

George Fox as well as other early Friends shared this view. Fox would speak of “the day known as Christmas” rather than speaking of Christmas. Robert Barclay, in proposition XI of the Apology (Concerning Worship)  section 3 (paragraph 793) speaking of holy days, including the sabbath said “we may not therefore think with the Papists, that these days are holy, and lead people into a superstitious observation of them; being persuaded that all days are alike holy in the sight of God.”

Today is is generally accepted that Jesus would not have been born on December 25th; that that date was chosen because of a Roman pagan holiday on that day. The yule log is Germanic as are so many Christmas customs. Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) borrows attributes from the Norse God Odin and came to us via a Dutch myth. An occasional creche scene not with standing, Jesus, the prince of peace, is missing from Christmas.

Many Quakers, into the 20th century, honored that understanding, but it seems today many of us are no different from everyone else. For most Americans Christmas is a celebration of materialism. Even the high church tradition in which the liturgical calendar has Christmas start on December 24th you find Christmas decorations put up before the end of November. I remember when I was in the Episcopalian Education for Ministry Program the facilitator told us she (a member of her church’s alter guild) would go around taking down decorations during Advent, put up by over anxious parishioners.

The new Pope, Papa Frank as I heard one Jesuit call him, not only decries materialism, but lives a life of simplicity. Shouldn’t Quakers, for whom simplicity is a testimony, let our lives speak as much as he does?

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela died yesterday. It seems most people greet this with sadness but I can’t help feeling relief. He has gone to a well deserved rest.Mandela

His public life was full of accomplishment and recognition, but his private life was full of turbulence and, I would think, regret. His family used him and his name for private financial and political gain; his comrades in arms turned the African National Congress (ANC) into a milk cow to make themselves rich. So I am not sad. I feel he was being kept alive beyond his time.

I did my undergraduate study at Lincoln University in the 1960s. Lincoln is an historically black college and at the time it had 20% African students and an African Center to support refugees from non-independent Africa (mostly the Portuguese colonies, South Africa and Southwest Africa), and I had a course in the Politics of Non-Independent Africa. One year I roomed with a student from Basutoland (now Lesotho) and our room was like the south African student union. I heard about Apartheid first hand from those who lived under it, and who fought against it; bull sessions in my room were often discussions of ANC tactics. I followed Mandela’s the career, off and on, since then.

I joined Friends (Quakers) in Annapolis and one of the first two activities with which I was involved outside of my meeting was the American Friends Service Committee (Middle Atlantic Region) South Africa project, and my first demonstration as a Quaker was at the South African Embassy in Washington. A few years ago I went to see Invictus (about Mandela) with my son, and standing in line in front of us was a young white man with a jacket with “Capetown Rugby” written across the back. After the movie we talked and I was getting chills as we talked of his experience. I have never been to South Africa and never meet Mandela. I never even saw him when he was in Philadelphia to receive the Freedom Medal, but I do feel a connection.

He has been likened to Mahatma Gandhi but that is not fair. They are each unique. But they do both have roots in South Africa, a crucible out of which was forged two largely, but not completely, non-violent mass movements. And we must remember that the South Africa in which Gandhi developed his philosophy and method of Satyagraha was not the same as the  South Africa of the second half of the 20th century.

Mandela is dead now, released from the pain and trials of this life. He lives on in the inspiration he provides all of us. I am confident that he is among the saints.

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Changwon wedding 2013

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Geoffrey and Yeji with Geoffrey’s mother, Kyung-Sook (left) and me.


Geoffrey and Yeji with Yeji’s parents.



with the minister


Geoffrey and Yeji with guests. Three to the left of Geoffrey is his uncle Duke.

Click here to see the invitation. I returned to Changwon in October 2013 to 2013-10-18 22.19.12attend the wedding of my son Geoffrey to Kim Yeji in the Smyrna Presbyterian Church (click on pictures twice for maximum enlargement).2013-10-18 22.19.03

with Geoffrey on his wedding day.

with Geoffrey on his wedding day.

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