About this blog

The purpose of this blog is for Quakers and interested fellow travelers to explore the Bible together as it speaks to our condition as individuals.

This discussion is open to Christians, non-Christians, atheists and Pagans; to those who are often confused or angered by the Bible and to those who see scripture as inerrant; to good Quakers and to not-so-good Quakers--to name just a few points of view.

All comments should be given in humility and tenderness, especially where the original poster's perspective is different from your own.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Micah 6:8

For the past three years or so, I've been on something of a mission to come to terms with the Bible.

I was raised without a religion. As an adult, I found my spiritual identity as a Pagan--not the people "of the Book," as we like to say, but "of the library." The Bible never held any special place for me as a religious person. Over the years, I have managed to find satisfying and reliable paths for encountering Spirit that in no way related to the Bible.

And as a liberal Friend in a very liberal monthly meeting, I suppose I could go a long time without ever opening That Book.

On one level, that would make perfect sense.

Surely most of us have had the experience of having had the Bible used on us as a blunt instrument: of having been whacked upside the head with it by proof-texting preachers, as sure of their own salvation as they are of our need for it. This is especially true for non-Christians, like me: something about my mere existence seems to provoke some folks to heights of fearful rhetoric. You'd think I was personally Babylon the Great riding her Beast, come to usher in the end times.

I have been Jesus-ed at for more than one lifetime.

The other experience I've had that I suppose must be common, is of encountering the kind of liberal Christian who thinks of Christianity as the Source of All Niceness. The Bible is not to be taken literally, but exactly how it is relevant to this very polite, intellectual, not particularly life-changing religion of Niceness is never made clear. It is taken as a given, however, that singing the right songs (not too loudly) and attending a Nice church on Sunday is simply better than not doing so. In somewhat the same way that chewing with your mouth closed, or not wearing plaids with plaids, is better. The idea seems to be that we should all be Christians because it's what is in good taste.

I just never saw the point, frankly.

But a funny thing happened to me when I became Quaker.

In Quaker worship, I can feel the direct and immediate presence of a Spirit of love and peace. It's a Spirit as powerful as a river in full flood, and as deep and still as a lake at dawn. Worship can be as physical and visceral an experience as being tumbled by waves onto a beach when I'm body surfing: silent worship, hearing vocal ministry, giving vocal ministry. (Damn right Quakers quake!)

Now some of that is quite familiar. Pagans also know the direct and loving touch of a Spirit (or spirits) of love and truth. But some of it is bran-spanking new, at least to me: For the first time, as a Quaker, I have encountered the Bible used as a conduit for a living and present Spirit of love. Among Friends, when they are faithful, when they are led, and when they take pains to stay close to the root, the Bible becomes a language of power and heart.


Who knew?

I guess somebody must have figured it out before me. Probably that's where that bit about reading the scriptures "in the Spirit in which they were given forth" comes from. But I've been surprised.

I can still remember the first time I heard the words of the Bible spoken from the depths of worship, and felt them, really felt them, all the way to the soles of my feet, and knew that those words, at least, were True:
Do justice.
Love mercy.
Walk humbly with God.


Of course, without the Spirit in them, they're just words. A bumper sticker. It's pretty easy for us humans to take in the Word, and make it into... words. Just words.

But if lived?

Do I? Do I act justly, in all things? Well, no. I try. But I forget a lot. I screw up a lot. And sometimes even on purpose. (Crap.)

Do I love mercy? Well, mostly. Sort of. Except when I don't.

Do I walk humbly? Ouch. Not so much. (I want you to walk humbly first. As Mark Twain once said, "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.)

I get glimpses, though. I get flashes, of what it would be like, to be really fully faithful, even to this one flash of Truth. And in the lives of some Friends, I get more than flashes, and it's pretty breathtaking.

Brent Bill wrote last week of the idea of a "life verse" from the Bible, a kind of inward compass for our spirits. I don't think I can claim Micah 6:8 as a life verse. I think it could take everything I've got, and everything Spirit and my community can lend me, for me even to approximate living into this one. But what a thing to try! What a hope to set my sights on.

If I can take in the Spirit I have begun to hear in the Bible, in Micah and elsewhere, and find a way to stay faithful to that--to resist the pull to kill the words and put them, safe and dead, on a bumper sticker I will never really read in my heart... well, to the extent that I can do that, I will be richer for it. The people around me will be richer.

So I am trying. Bit by bit, as Spirit illuminates a verse here, a story there, I am finding my way into a Bible I hadn't known existed until recently: a Bible that is not owned by humans, not a flag to stand under or a loyalty oath to take or a license to become complacent. Instead, this Bible is a language for listening in.

Maybe it's not the Seed. But it is at least fertile soil in which, at the right time, the Seed can begin to grow.

I'm good with that.

Cat Chapin-Bishop is a member of the Mt. Toby Monthly Meeting of Friends. She earns her living teaching 9th-grade English, and maintains the blog Quaker Pagan Reflections together with her husband Peter.


  1. Hi Cat!

    I doubt I'll be a regular commenter here, but I did want to come see what it was about after reading your Facebook comment.

    That is a powerful verse, and one that has always given me some hope for the future of the Jewish and Christian faiths (although I hear/see it used as a touchstone a lot more in the Jewish community than I remember from my early life as a nominal Christian... but that may be my flawed memory at work!)

    Almost all of my positive experience of the Bible has come through my connection with the Jewish community, and the only real flashes of insight that I have of what it might be like to live in relationship with Hashem and the Tanakh come from that experience. My favorite verse both grows from and reflects this experience: Psalms 19:15. Yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi, v'hegyon libi l'fanecha, Adonia tzuri v'go'ali. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

  2. I, too, often find more nourishment in the Tanakh than in the New Testament--despite the battles and iconoclasm. In the prophets, especially, though I'm also quite fond of a few mysterious little bits in Genesis, and the story of Saul in 1 Samuel. (Which was what I'd intended to write about, actually, though that's not what wanted to be written... as you can see.)

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. "though that's not what wanted to be written"
    It is that quality of...... directed?... communication where I see the Spirit at work in the blogosphere conversation.
    I wonder if that isn't the best definition of "inspired." Did you ever think of yourself as an "inspired" writer? Perhaps if more of us experienced it we would be able to communicate better what it means to have "inspired" scripture and to read it "in the spirit in which it was written."
    Micah 6:8 is one of those "bridges between the Testaments" that so demonstrates that growing awareness of the nature of God I see developed in the Bible, and it is an expression of that which has not been surpassed in the New Testament.

  4. "I can still remember the first time I heard the words of the Bible spoken from the depths of worship, and felt them, really felt them, all the way to the soles of my feet, and knew that those words, at least, were True: Do justice. Love mercy.Walk humbly with God. Wow."

    Wow, indeed. As a good non-creedal type Quaker, this comes as close to a creed as anything I could subscribe to. Now if I could just live up to it more.

  5. When I read the Micah passage, I am also reminded of Matthew 25:31-40 -- “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,” Jesus says, “and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

    Jesus seems to be saying that if we want to follow him we must live lives of service. In some ways he is echoing the words of Micah – “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

    What Jesus does not say is as telling as what he does. Nowhere does Jesus say that when we stand before God will we be quizzed on church attendance (though I kind of wish that had been put in there -- I'd be a shoe-in), correct doctrine, amount of quiet time we spent, or any of the other things we often use to judge others and ourselves by. All that seems to matter to God, at least as Jesus tells this story, is how we treated people.

    The old London Yearly Meeting "Christian Faith and Practice" says “Quaker service springs from the roots of our faith. It grows out of the inner experience of that deep compassion and sense of oneness with all mankind which Jesus Christ revealed as the eternal love of God for all men. We must seek to live our whole lives in the awareness of the presence of the love of God, giving time gladly to meditation and worship, to the outreach of preaching from the heart, and to the compassionate sharing of the burdens of our neighbors.”

  6. Thank you for the parallel, Brent, it's an illustration I seem to use a lot myself. While we are on the subject of parallels, I like James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." It sort of plays around the edges of the justice theme, but is another great comment on the theme of the relative value of religious practices and tenets that are not directly related to how we do "the work of the kingdom."

  7. Hello, Cat!

    I think you picked a wonderful verse to start with. Some modern rabbis describe Micah 6:8 as a summation in one verse of the whole Jewish faith. That’s maybe an overstatement, since there’s nothing in the verse about observing the strictures of the Law. But it’s certainly a beautiful summation of what the so-called “moral prophets” — notably, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah — had to say.

    Perhaps it should be said that even explicitly Christian Friends are not exactly “people of the Book”. (I know you don’t explicitly describe us as such, but there’s a hint, in the way your post is worded, that this might be what we are.) Our relationship to the Bible differs sufficiently from the standard position of professing Christians — ours is sufficiently opened up to ongoing developments and further news from the Spirit — that calling us “people of the Story”, meaning, the Story whose beginning is recounted in that Book, but whose later chapters are still unfolding, would be a whole lot more to the point.

    The wonderful thing (in my humble opinion) about Christian Friends, as distinguished from many other professing Christians, is that Christian Friends do not presume that times are any different today from what they were when the prophets, Christ, and the apostles were alive. The outpouring of the Spirit, and of God’s living guidance (which the early Friends called “revelation”), has not ended or even diminished.

    And what that means is that Christian Friends see, or eventually come to discover, all the ways in which the things the writers of the Bible said, could be equally things that we ourselves can truthfully say, to describe what we ourselves livingly experience in this present hour. This may perhaps be the reason why it was among Friends that you first “encountered the Bible used as a conduit for a living and present Spirit of love.”

    I think this is an important part of what George Fox, Thomas Lawrence, and other early Friends were getting at, when they spoke of reading the scripture in the spirit that gave it forth. Barclay, in particular, put it well:

    ...God hath seen meet that herein [i.e., in scripture] we should, as in a looking-glass, see the conditions and experiences of the saints of old; that finding our experience answer to theirs, we might thereby be the more confirmed and comforted, and our hope of obtaining the same end strengthened; that observing the providences attending them, seeing the snares they were liable to, and beholding their deliverances, we may thereby be made wise unto salvation, and seasonably reproved and instructed in righteousness.

    This is the great work of the scriptures, and their service to us, that we may witness them fulfilled in us, and so discern the stamp of God’s Spirit and ways upon them, by the inward acquaintance we have with the same Spirit and work in our hearts.” (Barclay, Apology, Prop. III §5.)

  8. I can live with that verse although my "God" may not have the same name.

  9. The people of the Story, eh? I like that. That fits. Though I'm not sure that all Quakers would regard the words the same way you (or I) do, still, that's consistent with how I am beginning to be able to understand and use the Bible. Certainly, one of the things I am enjoying about the approach of many Quakers to the Bible is the sense of times not being different than in the days of the prophets. To a large extent, that quiets my longstanding issue with Christianity (and to a lesser extent) Judaism as something too bound to a single historical timeline: the concept that the Spirit that moved then moves now, and that those times are every time, that those actors are each of us:
    that "we should, as in a looking-glass, see the conditions and experiences of the saints of old; that finding our experience answer to theirs, we might thereby be the more confirmed and comforted."

    It is as a mirror--reflecting the sinners of the Bible as much as the saints, for me, I think--that I sometimes find surprising things opening for me in these stories. (When I post next, whenever that might be, maybe I'll get to say a little more about that.)

    If I can let go of the commonly held idea that the Bible is, or ought to be, God's autobiography, I begin to see myself written into its pages.

    Interesting, too, to know that Micah 6:8 has been seen as a kind of culmination of the Tanakh. Unlike many other commenters here, I find myself far more at home in the pages of the Jewish Bible than of the New Testament.

    I wonder why?

  10. Wow, Cat. This is why these conversations are important to me. Every once in a while I'm blindsided. It never occurred to me that people think the bible was God's autobiography. I figured they saw it as the story of God's people (problematic enough for me) but not the story of God himself by God himself. I knew that people think that the writing is inspired but it is a new twist to hear that lots of people think of it as an autobiography. I guess that makes sense when I look back on various comments I have heard and read. If that is the case, it is a wonder I don't aggravate more people but I've also never been "Jesus-ed"- at least not to my face. Perhaps my Paganism is too nicely Protestantized. I'll have to think about that.

    I wonder why too you feel more at home in the OT than in the NT. That's a curious thing, isn't it? What is it that appeals to you? Can you pinpoint anything?

  11. James Riemermann posted a comment somewhere back that said someting similar. From memory, it was something about those stories being more nitty gritty humanity. James...... hmmmmm gonna hafta nudge James.

  12. Cat,

    Thanks for starting off with Micah. As you write, "What a thing to try!"

    I welcome the distinction which has arisen from the comments (thanks, Hystery) between Bible as "the story of God's people" and Bible as "the story of God himself by God himself."

    The great eye-opener for me, back in my 20s in Lutheran seminary, was learning that the Bible is a record of century after century of the People "not getting it right" and having to be shown over and over again.

    In fact, I have a comic vision of God and Buddha and Mohammed and all the others sitting on high, watching the mess and shaking their heads.

    God turns to his son and says (in the accent of a yiddish rabbi, of course):

    "Oy! I keep telling them. 'Mercy, not sacrifice!'

    "Jesus, go down there and see if you can sort it out."

    Blessed Be,

  13. Brent,

    You stole my first post on Matthew 25.


    Actually, it's good to know others have noticed that Jesus doesn't say anything at all about right doctrine. Only mercy.

    I've also noticed a deeper layer of paradox in this parable.

    It seems to me that the goats on the left become, by their failure to minister to others, "the least of these my brethren."

    In that case, if I don't then help them to join the sheep, I, too, become....



    Nobody gets to heaven unless everybody does.

    Blessed Be,

  14. Michael, you write, “...Jesus doesn't say anything at all about right doctrine. Only mercy.

    But “doctrine” literally means “teaching”. Christ taught all his life, and everything he taught was, obviously, part of his teaching, and therefore, by definition, part of his doctrine.

    And wherever Christ set up what he taught as being in opposition to what other people taught — as in Matthew 5:21-48, where he began each point he made with the words, “You have heard it said ... but I say to you....”), he was making a distinction between wrong and right doctrine.

    Would you disagree?

    Nobody gets to heaven unless everybody does.

    Now, the parable of Lazarus and Dives, Luke 16:19-31, seems to me to say otherwise. And so does the parable of the sheep and the goats, Matthew 25:31-46. Again, Michael, would you disagree?

  15. Marshall,

    "And wherever Christ set up what he taught as being in opposition to what other people taught — as in Matthew 5:21-48, where he began each point he made with the words, “You have heard it said ... but I say to you....”), he was making a distinction between wrong and right doctrine."

    I would disagree. Jesus in this passage and others was making a distinction between Law, which is not wrong, and the strictures of love which are so much more comprehensive, based as they are on a personal concern for the well-being of others. This is why He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. Just as the two "great commandments" applied fulfill all the Law and prophets.

    "Doctrine" bears the connotation of "word from on high" in the same sense as "law." What Jesus taught wss more illustration of love at work. That is the different paradign of the "New Covenant;" going by the spirit that animated law and not by obedience to particular strictures.

  16. Friend Marshall,

    I apologize if the too-casual wording of my comment led you to read into it more than I intended.

    Perhaps that sentence should have read: "It's good to know others have noticed that Jesus doesn't say anything at all in the parable of the sheep and the goats about right doctrine. Only mercy."

    However, perhaps you were correct to wonder. I did use the phrase "right doctrine" deliberately, in order to refer to our natural human desire to abstract a set of "teachings" from the concrete example of a lived life.

    Cat's post is about Micah 6:8.

    Do justice.
    Love mercy.
    Walk humbly with God.

    I was responding to that core message, one which is repeated a hundred-fold throughout scripture, as YHWH again and again tries to get the people to understand "mercy, not sacrifice."

    "Justice and mercy" are about making certain that every real, living person is cared for.

    "Sacrifice" is about doing ritual actions to placate a god of violence, part of acting out a belief system.

    I am not interested--at least for the purposes of this blog--in the choice of the post-Jerusalem diaspora Matthean community to incorporate a simple Jesus saying (the description of justice and mercy) into a figurative portrayal of apocalyptic judgment.

    What I am interested in here is Jesus' single, simple, down-to-earth criterion for being his Friends.

    "I swear to you, whatever you did for the most inconspicuous members of my family, you did for me as well."

    (Matt 25:40, The Complete Gospels, Annotated Scholars Version)

    With the ruthless spotlight of that criterion shining on my heart, I know that Jesus is not talking about last judgment but about right now.

    What a person believes, what religion she practices, is of no concern to Jesus in this saying.

    Whether or not I make certain that this person is cared for, that is all.

    And so it is.

    Blessed Be,

  17. I am glad to see substantive back and forth discussion in these comments.

    I'm also thinking that, if this were a committee meeting, I might be asking us to center down into some waiting silence for a moment or two, and to be careful we don't outrun our Guide.

    Perhaps it's unnecessary, but I'm feeling a tug to remind everyone present to stay tender with one another as we explore different ideas, perspectives, and background knowledge around the Bible and Quakers' approaches to it.

  18. Nate, I thank you for your comments. I must humbly confess, though, that I am unpersuaded by your treatment of Matthew 5:21-48 as a contrast between the Law and the “strictures of love”. In this I am influenced by what Albright and Mann had to say in their Anchor Bible commentary on Matthew: as they point out, the words of the formula are, “You have heard it said” — not, “It is written.” This choice of wording suggests that what Christ was criticizing was not something he found written in the Law, but rather, an understanding of the Law which was spoken by the scribes who taught it, an understanding that failed to penetrate to the actual purpose of the Law’s strictures. This would fit much better with what Christ had previously said in Matthew 5:17-19. And I think it would also fit much better with my feeling that Christ was talking about wrong vs. right doctrine.

    As to your sense that “doctrine” carries the connotation of “word from on high”, I agree that such a connotation is present in some contexts. But it does not seem to me to be a necessary connotation in all contexts, and as far as I can tell, the authors of the Merriam-Webster dictionaries don’t seem to think it is, either. I would encourage you to check some dictionaries for yourself, and if you do so, I’d love to hear your reaction.

    Mike, to you I have to confess that I am not nearly as impressed as you are by the Jesus Seminar’s “Annotated Scholars Version”. There are any number of Biblical scholars I highly respect who are strongly critical of the Jesus Seminar’s methods and views: Ben Witherington, Luke Timothy Johnson, Richard Hays, and N. T. Wright, among others. And the Jesus Seminar’s methods are full of assumptions that strike me as deeply flawed: for example, their idea that passages in which Jesus spoke of himself, or of the church, are automatically dubious, despite the obvious fact that nearly every human being speaks about her- or himself, and that virtually everyone who is trying to accomplish anything will speak of what she or he is aiming to create.

    The Wikipedia article on the Jesus Seminar and its “Scholars” translation contains a good summary of the criticisms of the Seminar. If I may, I would like to encourage readers of this blog to review what it says.

    Cat, I greatly appreciate your request for centeredness and, even more, your request for tenderness. I think you are right to sense that these virtues could be in danger of getting lost. I, for one, will be happy to back away from further comment here for the next few days.

    My best wishes to all!

  19. Well, don't back too far, Marshall. I think there's a phrase in the Koran that says something like, "He who cites his source saves the world," or words to that effect.

    That might be a bit strongly worded, but I do appreciate sharing the names of specific scholars, translations, and critiques as resources. (Being a bit of a nerd's nerd, I'll confess I often spend a lot of time reading up on cited sources. I expect that, as a librarian, Mike does, too.)

    We may not reach the same conclusions, but offering the reasons for our understandings--some of which may go deeper than logic alone--I hope we can journey together companionably.

  20. Commendable, Cat, and it can be a lot of fun.

    A word of caution: don't let learning get in the way of knowledge.

  21. As to the Old Testament being a "Story" or hiSTORY, I wonder what a history of God's story would look like written by those who are convinced they are getting commands directly from God, eg. George Bush, some Evangelicals (Katrina was sent by God as a punishment) (The killing of an abortion doctor was Christ's plan), etc. I suspect the Story of Christianity (especially European-US), from that point of view, would be full of wars defending the faith against the Huns, Arabs, Heretics including the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the many American wars of "Manifest Destiny." The story would include the settlement in a promised land "won" after years of strife with "Foreigners," such as the British, French, Spanish, Mexicans, Communists, Dictators (but probably not dictators who agreed with God's chosen people - Americans (USAmericans only).

    However, I am sure there would be sections written by "others" which would tell of a greater freedom and write passages which tell of turning enemies into allies by peaceful means and some prophets who would speak of the shortness, compared to centuries, of violent overthrow or change of political power in nations as compared to the longterm effects of mercy, justice, love.

    In some ways the Old Testament is "our" story while the Gospels are a story of what our story could become.

  22. Friend Marshall,
    I must confess that I am having trouble wrapping my mind about the thinking of your authorities: "This choice of wording suggests that what Christ was criticizing was not something he found written in the Law, but rather, an understanding of the Law which was spoken by the scribes who taught it, an understanding that failed to penetrate to the actual purpose of the Law’s strictures."
    When I look at the points I see "Do not murder," a simple restatement of the commandment; "Do not commit adultry" again a commandment; "certificate of divorce" I did not find the specific law, but references to it as law in both the OT and the NT; "Do not break your oath," especially in the light of the command to do their swearing by God (Deut 10:20)it would not seem to be poor doctrine;"an eye for an eye" is used more than once in Hebrew law, as Exodus 21:24; "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy," here at last is one that fits the description by combining a commandment with "worldly wisdom."
    These do not seem to be cases of "wording," but of direct quotes. All I can see is that your authorities bent all their thought to how to protect the idea that there is nothing wrong with law and prophets and none whatsoever to what it means to "fulfil them," even though they have the specific example of Jesus saying that they are fulfilled in following the two greatest commandments.

    What am I missing?

  23. Nate, in the sentence you quote in your first paragraph, what I mean by “an understanding of the Law which was spoken by the scribes who taught it, an understanding that failed to penetrate to the actual purpose of the Law’s strictures”, is as follows:

    — As regards “do not murder”: an understanding that recognizes that murder is forbidden, but does not understand that the purpose of that stricture is to end the passions and alienations that divide one human from the next, tear the community apart, and lead to continuing bloodshed — and so continues to indulge in such passions and alienations.

    — Similarly with “do not commit adultery” and the bit about a divorce: an understanding that recognizes that adultery is forbidden, and a certificate of divorce mandatory, but does not understand that the purpose of these strictures is to end the lusts that lead us to betray relationships, tear families apart, and drive the wounded to despair — and so continues to indulge in such lusts.

    — As regards oaths: an understanding that recognizes false oaths and broken oaths are forbidden, but fails to understand that the purpose of not breaking oaths is to make relationships dependable, so that people can trust each other and care for each other — and so continues to act in ways that others cannot simply depend on.

    — As regards “an eye for an eye”: an understanding that recognizes extravagant retaliation is forbidden, but fails to understand that the purpose of limiting retaliation is to make reconcilation possible — and so continues to be unreconciled to people it doesn’t like or doesn’t respect.

    Yes, the commandments “do not murder”, “do not commit adultery”, “do not swear false oaths, or break your oath”, and “an eye for an eye” are direct quotes. When I spoke of “wording”, I was not referring to these quotes. Rather, what I was referring to was the wording of Christ’s repeated refrain, “you have heard it said”. My point was that his wording was “you have heard it said”, rather than “it is written”.

    Yes, Jesus said that all the commandments are fulfilled in following the two Great Commandments. Ergo, if we say we are following the two Great Commandments, and then fail to keep our given word, or find ourself tugged by lust, or get angry at someone, it is clear that we are not really keeping the two Great Commandments. The logic cuts both ways.

  24. Wonderful, Marshall! Then we ARE together, and the point is that good teaching is that merely following "law" is not good enough, that the strictures of love are much more comprehensive, and that the spirit that should animate "law" is what Jesus is teaching as important. Or, as I said before, "law" is not wrong, but so much less comprehensive than the spirit that animates it: "the letter kills but the spirit brings life." The point being that we should be looking to the purpose of "law" and fulfilling that whether "it is written" or "heard." Therefore any "law" is subject to such examination in the light of the greater purpose. As Paul put it, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." So, the problem was my understanding of what you meant by doctrine in "where he began each point he made with the words, “You have heard it said ... but I say to you....”), he was making a distinction between wrong and right doctrine" and the essential difference in "doctrine" would be something like "This is what the Law says, and that's all there is to it" vs. "The Law was meant to help humanity in relations with each other and with God and we need to understand the purpose of each individual "law" and fulfil that rather than going by just the letter." Thank you for helping me clear that up.

  25. On story. The narrative approach to theology has become increasingly important to me. I think it is implicit in the Quaker tradition. It is explicit in the loose emerging church environment in which I am now. It makes sense and is consistent with the actual content of the scriptures, which are full of stories.

    At my church, people interested in becoming members take the Journey Seminar. The wording itself communicates something of our understanding. When I took it, the approach was to take a run through scripture, then through the two millenia of the Christian experience, and then at the specific experience of Cedar Ridge Community Church.

    To become a member is seen as placing yourself in the story that includes all of this. The paper I signed asking to be a member was all about commitments to be part of that story - bearing each other's burdens, participating in worship, participating in community activities, etc. It had no doctrinal statements. As a Church, we have a Mission and a Vision, but no Statement of Faith. It's all about living out the story that Christ calls us to.

    Last night, I was at a Bible study (initiated by Friends in Christ, the independent ministry with which I am associated. We are in John, having previously done the synoptics. We were noting how Jesus taught. In the synoptics, he talks about something by telling multiple stories that shed light on the subject. In John, he gives multiple metaphors. It isn't the neat, boxed set of points theology that is popular in so many churches. It is implicit that you can't really convey Truth that way. The folks that tried to were those most criticized by Jesus. It still boggles my mind that most professed Christians can't seem to get this point as it seems to me unavoidable from reading the Gospels.

    Evenm the fact that the early church accepted 4 gospels with somewhat different approaches shows that they were assuming the narrative approach not a rigid, tightly defined approach.