Tuesday, April 25, 2006

This is most certainly true

I have been participating with about a dozen other Friends in our meeting in a several-week workshop on vocal ministry. It is being led by a very able Friend who is using Samual Bownas' little book, A Description Of The Qualifications Necessary To A Gospel Minister: Advice To Ministers And Elders Among The People Called Quakers, as our text.

Our exercise for last Sunday's session, "What canst thou say?", was to write a brief (2-3 minute) statement of our "rock bottom core truths" about our spiritual lives of which we are sufficiently sure that we can testify to in vocal ministry.

I'm not sure that everyone did the exercise, but we agreed to share what we wrote with each other. (You can read Liz Opp's statement here.)

With all the usual disclaimers, and with all the trepidation you can imagine I might have, I offer what I can testify to as being true from my own experience (revised, somewhat, from what I read Sunday evening). I wish I could say more, especially about how one establishes an intimate personal relationship with the Living God and receiving instruction and power from that relationship, but that'd be a bit more than I could say in good faith that I know to be true, though I do believe it to be so.

  • I exist as a unique human being created in the image of the Living God who created me and all that is. And so do you.
  • My life has a unique and indispensable purpose in the Living God’s design and plan for creation. And so does yours.
  • The biblical narrative, including and especially the life of Jesus of Nazareth, reveals this design and points to the Living God who created it.
  • It is possible, and the Living God intends, for me to become increasingly conscious of my life’s purpose and to live in accord with it. And so can you.
  • My purpose and place in the design of creation is inextricably connected to every human being. And so is yours.
  • Part of my purpose–and yours–is to help every human being realize his or her purpose in the design of the universe.
  • I cannot do this unless I love my neighbor as myself, and neither can you. Anything you or I do that is not consistent with loving my neighbor is false and in error and inconsistent with the Living God's purpose for us.
  • Though I will die someday, if I am faithful to the purpose God has for me and live in harmony with my fellow human beings, I will have no fear of death and not be in its thrall. And neither will you.


Michael B. said...


When I read your statement on email, I thought to myself, "Oh, I hope he puts this on his blog." I appreciate both the boldness and the restraint of your statement.

david said...

My life has a unique and indispensable purpose in the Living God’s design and plan for creation. And so does yours.

People of faith -- people with a deep interest in spirituality -- love this. And I can see a period in my own life where questing after purpose -- the meaning of life stuff -- was important.

And it may be it will reclaim its importanmce for me at some point. But to be craeted for a purpose is to be a mcahine - a tool - an instrument whose worth is derived from something else.

When people treat me like my value is derivative and not intrinsic I'm offended. How do you love and respect and treat with justice -- someone whose worth to you is only what they can get you?

And how do I reconcile this insight with my notion of a loving Creator God?

Paul L said...

I thought a lot about whether the word "purpose" or "plan" were quite right (I eventually used them because I couldn't yet think of a satisfactory alternative), and your observation, Kwakersaur, points out the problem.

I realize that the concept of a "plan" for the universe and each human being brings up the sticky wickets of predestination and fatalism, but what I have in mind has nothing to do with that.

When St. Francis prays, "Make me an instrument of Your peace," does that raise the same concern for you? Does it degrade the branch to say that its "purpose" is to produce good fruit? Or that the fruit's is to produce good seed?

I was trying to express an integrated, inseparable relationship between the Living God and my life (and yours), not a new kind of dualism.

Perhaps I reconcile the paradox with my truth claim that I must love my neighbor as myself, and that you must, too. To me, that strongly implies -- nay, demands -- that I consider my neighbor (and myself) to be intrinsicaly valuable and an end in him or herself, not a means to achieve some grand cosmic plan. (Or not "merely" as a means in the plan; I may be God's instrument, but not anyone else's.)

I appreciate your taking this seriously, though, and for asking the question. I still have a lot to learn.

david said...

I learned philsophical ethics at the feet of Kant abnd left Kant for existentialism before discovering Christ.

So what I'm growing - tenatively into -- now is that we are co-creators of our lives with God. And so God did not create a purpose for my life -- he created me to create purposes. And my purposes become more loving and faithful as I consult God in the framing of those purposes. But again -- this is a tentative and not rock bottom belief for me.

Sarah said...

I really liked this. These are all truths I hold, as well, but I don't think I would have been able to articulate them so well- and if I had, I would have put them in a very different way.

Thank you.

Paul L said...

Sarah -- I'd love to hear how you would put them. How wouldst thou say it?

Songbird said...

I like the word purpose because it does not seem utilitarian at allto me, but perhaps our cultural impression of the word has been tainted by the Purpose-Driven materials so popular in many circles.
My nephew was born to unmarried parents, their second child in fewer than two years, and it was clear early on that the father of the children had returned to abusing drugs and alcohol. I remember a day when the then very little fellow swallowed a penny at my house, and 911 was called and much drama ensued. My mother-in-law, who had suffered great emotional pain about and on behalf of her daughter in relation to the birth of these children, turned to me after all was well and said, "Now that he is here, we want to be sure and keep him." His existence does have value and purpose, without regard to his potential usefulness.
Paul, I appreciate your truths and the way you tell them.

kwix said...


I read a lot of Quaker blogs, through QuakerQuaker, but rarely feel moved to comment. Your statements here seem to me quite full of truth -- of a very basic yet profound truth. More than that, they seem full of a truth that all in the Quaker tradition -- conservative, Hicksite, Evangelical -- can share (not to mention those in the wider Christian tradition as well).

Thank you for taking the time to articulate this. You've got me thinking about my own core beliefs.