And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them (Rev. 11:11).
The writing that follows is a transcription of vocal ministry given in meeting for worship at a Philadelphia meetinghouse on February 4, 2018. Soon after I had given this ministry, the meeting’s Worship and Ministry Committee met and discussed my ministry as a problem in need of their intervention. (To get a sense of the tenor of the ministry I had given at this meeting, see essays based on transcriptions: “Called to Christ,” November 2017; “Moses and the Burning Bush,” January 2018; and “The New Way,” March 2018.)
In that committee meeting, members decided they would attempt to persuade me to change the form and content—and thus the Source—of the ministry I gave. And if they could not persuade me to change the ministry, the committee would convey their disapproval by ousting me from further participation in the meeting.
Thus charged, a committee representative approached me under the guise of the committee’s “wanting to support the ministers in the meeting,” and to that end, asked to meet with me to discuss it. During that meeting, his true intent emerged as he repeatedly urged me to alter the ministry. (It was the committee’s idea that I should speak in parables!) I politely but firmly declined to adopt the change the committee had devised for me, and the following Sunday after meeting for worship was cornered by several members of this committee, who made it clear that I was now ostracized from the meeting: my ministry was deemed “unwelcoming.”
Having given several decades of prophetic service to the Philadelphia Quaker community, I felt myself, at that point, inwardly released from again ministering to a Liberal meeting. Though there were a number of Friends in the meeting who regularly and warmly expressed appreciation for the ministry I gave, and often wanted to speak with me about it, these interested and supportive Friends were not in positions of influence: not clerks of committees, nor wielding old Quaker surnames, nor ambitious to ascend the ranks of the meeting hierarchy.
Through their intent and action, these Liberal Quakers silenced prophesy in their midst.
For more than half a century, clear-sighted Friends have been pointing to signs of spiritual distress in our Society. Many of them have been scholars, who have offered sound analysis of the cause and progress of this decline, but we’ve had too few personal stories documenting it. This account is one but is typical of many, as Adria Giulizia points out in her description of the steps by which contemporary “managers of vineyard” (Mark 12) silence the prophets among them. She writes:
When the prophet challenges us with uncomfortable truths, rather than using our discomfort as an opportunity for reflection and discernment, we tell her to tone it down, complain that she is “unwelcoming” and, if she doesn’t get the message, we run her off (“Welcoming the Gifts God Sends Us”).
A genuine assembly of Friends is comprised of people who when faced with a choice between truth and securing a comfortable—or exalted—place for themselves in the community, to a person will choose truth, hands down. Only in Christ, the Truth, can such an assembly of Friends function with coherence and viability.
Here is the transcription of the ministry I gave on February, 4, 2018, in this Philadelphia meeting:
Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (Jn. 4:13b-14).
There is a story in the book of John about Jesus resting at the well of Jacob. His disciples had gone to town to get food, and Jesus was sitting on the side of the well, resting. A woman came to draw water from the well, a Samaritan woman. Jesus asked her for a drink of water, and they had a conversation about drawing water from the well.
Jesus said that the water that came from the well would satisfy thirst for only a short time, but thirst would return. There was water, however, that he had to give that would prevent one from ever being thirsty again. He was talking about the Spirit that he had and wanted to give to everyone.
We come here each week, and we share the sustaining experiences of our lives; we offer ideals for consideration, so that we might be inspired. These things are transitory, and that’s why we come here: we need that refueling—week after week—because life debilitates and threatens, and we’re vulnerable. We need to be strengthened; we like strength in numbers and teamwork.
But Jesus was alone, and he had something to give. When we receive what Jesus has to give us, we have a source of life within us that wells up forever. We don’t need external things that we humans can provide for each other: we have the source within us; we have life.
Is it better to keep coming and receive what is transitory: when we’re empty, filling up from other sources, sources other than ourselves? It makes us dependent, cowardly, because we know we’re depending on others for what we do not have ourselves; it makes us conformists.
What is it to be a Quaker?
Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”(Jn.10:10b), ”that [his] joy might remain in [us] and that [our] joy might be full”(15:11). It is “that of God” in each of us that responds to Christ’s offer; it is that of God in every one that may receive life in Christ.
Do not shortchange yourself. You are a human being, and this is a gift, the best gift.
To place this ministry and its mild reprimand within the context of the work of prophetic ministers to forthrightly speak the truth that challenges deceit and corruption, one could read accounts, debates, and treatises of seventeenth-century Friends. Here is just one example, an excerpt taken from James Nayler’s “The Lamb’s War” (Works, IV:20).
So holiness is come down from heaven, and the light of the son is arising, and begins to shine; and now all unclean spirits get to their strongholds. An unclean, lustful, covetous, proud heart, that hath got the words of truth, is become a habitation of multitudes of unclean spirits and hath covers for them all; so thither they flock apace, and in the light they are seen making head against the lamb, the temples of God to defile, holding forth whoredoms of all sorts, to entice the simple to come out from their strength; but he that keeps within is safe, and the clean heart is God’s habitation, and such as walk in his light are them that are saved; who are inhabited with the chaste spirit and clean minds, they cannot bewitch; so the Lord alone is become the salvation of all that receive him, and the separation is making daily, and them that are saved of the nations walk in the light, and thick darkness covers the unclean, and such love the deeds that are evil; and see not destruction in their way; and the fool delights in his folly, babbling and vanity, and thinks he is as rich as he that hath the treasure of God in a clean vessel; and the whore wipes her mouth, and saith she is right, though the heart runs from God all the day long. And so the scriptures are fulfilled upon that generation, that it may pass away out of the sight of the Lord, and his holy ones forever, into the place out of which the deceiver came, and the deceived with him.
And this the father of lights shows to his own,
as they come out from amongst them;
Glory to his day forever, and holiness without end.