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Simple — Profound — True

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    Reflections on proposed legislation defining marriage as "one man, one woman". What is kind, good and necessary - and what is God's will?

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  • 02/20/05--10:00: 'Tis the Gift to be Simple
  • How much is enough - and how much is too much?
    May we look upon our treasures and the furniture of our houses and the garments in which we array ourselves and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these our possessions, or not. 18th Century Quaker John Woolman



    It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. - Matthew 19:24



    And one more quote: More is better!!! - Spoken daily by the Great American Dream




    Closing Query:
    Do we regard our time, talents, energy, money, material possessions and other resources as gifts from God, to be held in trust and shared according to the Light we are given? How do we express this conviction?

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  • 03/01/07--10:00: Speaking ONLY the Truth
  • Reaction to truth speaking in the context of Worship, Oaths, and Public Office.
    By Mark Helpsmeet

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    Looking at the "obvious evil" of the past to help distinguish the evil we're doing now.

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    Comparing how our Federal Income Tax is spent versus how we want it to be spent can be a deep spiritual lesson. Published as a "Matter of Faith" clergy column in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram on September 13, 2008.
    Click here for a larger version of the graph

    In 2007, 43% of our federal income taxes went to military uses and only 1% to diplomacy and humanitarian aid. Another way of saying it is that about half of every income tax dollar goes to prepare for, conduct and clean up after war, and only one penny of every dollar goes to finding peaceful alternatives and helping our neighbors. Many people have a hard time taking in what that means, so the neighboring graph may give a better picture of the dramatic import of those figures. Is that how you and I would allocate our tax dollars if we were voting our spiritual values and spending in line with our religious beliefs?

    Let me make one thing clear as we start - this is not primarily a political question, but a question of morality and faithfulness, of priorities and stewardship. As Jesus points out in the parable of the Talents, we show our fidelity in how we take care of the resources with which we are entrusted. And it is impossible to deal faithfully with our riches if we are unaware of what they are and where we are spending them.

    A graph produced annually by the Friends Committee on National Legislation paints a vivid picture of our national spending priorities, and the image is disturbing. How would that graph look if we compiled a physical representation of our religious priorities? How would we change our lives if we realized that the map of our beliefs clashed violently with the map of our impact on the world?

    This seemed a perfect opportunity for a hands-on spiritual exercise. I gave local Quakers 10 marbles each and asked them to spend in six budget categories: Military, Healthcare, Poverty, Government Operations, Education/Jobs/Science/Energy/Environment, and Diplomacy/Foreign Aid. You can see the results in the bar graph. Clearly, there is a dramatic and troubling gap between Quaker ideals and Washingtons spending. But maybe this gap is just because Friends priorities, oriented toward peace, justice and care for creation, are not representative of wider community values. With this in mind, we set up a table last Wednesday at UW-EC and 140 students voted their values. The results, also on the neighboring graph, speak clearly for values in great tension with federal realities. The students obviously wanted to spend their incomes with concern for the poor and the earth, prioritizing health and education.

    Quakers tend less to lecture about what is good and what is bad, than to ask questions, trusting that the person who honestly sits with the questions will confront Gods voice and be led to change. There is an opportunity tomorrow to face such questions. On Sunday, September 14th, between 1-5 pm there will be an event in Phoenix Park called Voices for Peace 2008. There will be speakers, music, workshops, crafts and food, but there will be, especially, a safe place to ask questions and listen to personal experience. And there will be a table at which you will be invited to vote your values, physically. Then, having faced these painful realities, lets join together in putting our hands to making our prayers real.

    I leave you with some words from John Woolman, an 18th century American Quaker.

    "May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions..."

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    This is an excerpt from Pendle Hill Pamphlet 389: From West Point to Quakerism, by Mike Heller, narrated by Mark Helpsmeet, with music by Mathilda Navias.

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  • 02/07/09--10:00: Free From Hell
  • Could the God of Love create a system which condemns the majority of humanity to Hell? Universalism, i.e., the belief in Universal Salvation, says no, and I agree.
    Hell was a stumbling block on my way to God.

    Heres what I was told: God loves us each with a love greater than any parent, enough to leave 99 sheep in order to look for a single lost sheep, so much that he would give his only begotten son for us, and yet that same God set it up so that the vast majority of people on Earth are going to spend eternity tormented in hells fiery pits. It made no sense to me. It still doesnt.

    I was led to think that you either believed in hell and Gods vengeance, or you couldnt be a Christian. I couldnt accept those conditions. I was told that folks who never learned of Christ, such as unbaptized babies and inhabitants of remote jungles, were condemned to everlasting punishment for the happenstance of their births. No loving parent could do that to his children, and I couldnt believe it of the loving God I knew. This was a wedge between me and the faith I was raised in.

    An early glimpse of alternative Christian thought came during one of my first visits to a Quaker meeting. I was told by another young adult that she didnt believe in hell. This was amazing to me, that she could be a Quaker in good standing and not share a religious belief that I thought was universal. Ive since learned that there is an entire strain of Christianity, dating to the very first followers of Christ, that believes in Universal Salvation, and the belief is even sprinkled among some members of the Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Pentecostal churches.

    Its a little strange for me, a Quaker, to dwell at all on hell. After all, you wont hear a lot of debate about hell and salvation in Quaker circles. Part of that is because Quakerism is a non-creedal religion and such theology is often beside the point, but its also because we also tend to recognize Gods Light in each and every person.

    Why do so many churches give hell so much pulpit time? While Im sure most are simply earnest in their beliefs, there may be other factors. For one thing, its an effective conversion tool to whip up fear of damnation. Experience says you can speed church growth if you push the fear button, and hell is a scary prospect. I think that says more about organizational priorities than Gods viewpoint.

    The best treatment of Universalism Ive read is in 2 books co-written by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, "If Grace Is True" and "If God Is Love". They are Quaker pastors (though many Quakers, like those in Eau Claire, do not have pastors), and their exploration of universal salvation is fearless, faithful, and steeped in their experience of Christ. It would take multiple books to address the many issues involved, but Id like to share a few ideas that may intrigue you and encourage you to encounter the question more deeply.

    >>>> The Bible contains many passages that promise universal salvation. The Bible also contains a number of passages promising hell. Its not a choice of believing the Bible or not, its about which Biblical promise you believe.

    >>>> Some churches have said that our free will was what allowed us to reject Gods love and promise. They say its not God condemning us to hell, its us choosing to separate ourselves from God. But what if God rejects our rejection? At one time or another, many children tell their parents they hate them, but the best parents only return love, ever welcoming their childs eventual return. Could God do any less?

    >>>> Why should Gods power to redeem us end with the life of our bodies? Who picked death as the arbitrary moment when we had to put up or shut up? If the soul is eternal, surely God can wait as long as it takes for the return of Prodigal Son or Daughter.

    >>>> Some fear that without the threat of hell, no one would bother to turn to God. That just isnt reality. Gods love and healing are powerfully attractive. Whats more, compliance won by threat and fear is not salvation, anymore than the torture of the Spanish Inquisition really won souls for Christ. Its not a bother to turn to God, its a blessing.

    If we remove our hell-colored glasses and realize that Gods grace is universal, its the end of fear and the start of something really great. Its the possibility to let grace permeate every person, action and institution. We become part of a world where there are no unworthies, no least-of-these to be disdained. We no longer cringe fearfully, but stride joyfully into the Peaceable Kingdom.

    Is it time to welcome Amazing Grace for everyone?

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    Six years ago today, US forces commenced military operations in Iraq. Following are the names of the 93 fallen soldiers from Wisconsin, from the the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Please take a moment to honor the soldiers and the countless innocent civilians who have suffered in this conflict.

    The observance of Wisconsin fallen is brought to you by Voices for Peace Institute and Iraq Moratorium.

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    After Jacob wrestled with God, he came away with a new identity and a new name - Israel. The practice of choosing a name to match your spirit and calling is mostly neglected in American mainstream society, yet it is another important opportunity for truth-telling. The family names we take and pass down are a remnant of the days when men owned their women and children and slaves - is it time to think more deliberately about the names we take and live with?
    A "Faith Matters" prepared for the 8/1/2009 Eau Claire Leader-Telegram by Mark Helpsmeet on behalf of Eau Claire Friends Meeting.

    Image of Jacob wrestling with the Angel is from ChristArt.com.

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 18

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 17

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 16

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 15

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 14

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 13

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 12

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 11

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 10

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 9

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  • 01/29/18--00:02: Article 8

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