What’s in the Name?

February 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

Through the Flaming Sword is not my first blog. My first blog is BibleMonster. I started that blog when Dick Cheney misquoted Benjamin Franklin to claim that God’s hand had blessed the American empire he was building.

So I started BibleMonster to deconstruct the way that right-wing evangelical Christians were torturing Scripture to say things they wanted it to say, to say things that it otherwise never would have said. Well, maybe it would have said some of these things; the Bible says some pretty unsavory things here and there. But it never said yes to empire.

Anyway, I found I couldn’t maintain two blogs at once. It’s hard enough to keep up with one. So when I was clearly led to write Through the Flaming Sword, I laid BibleMonster aside.

Lately, BibleMonster has been asking for more attention. This entry could be some kind of bridge between the two.

A meditation for Valentine’s Day:

Love and the Religious Society of Friends

In the beginning, Friends called themselves the Children of the Light and the Children of Truth, among other things. At some point, however, Friends settled into what is now our formal name, the Religious Society of Friends, and they rooted this identity in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, and especially verse fifteen.

This passage, in fact, the whole fifteenth chapter up to this point, is a sermon on the mutual in-dwelling of God, Jesus, and his disciples (among whom early Friends included themselves, and by extension, us), an in-dwelling made possible through the medium of love and reinforced with the constant repetition of the words “remain” and “abide in”.

Jesus starts with the figure of the vineyard. “I am the true vine and the Father is the vinedresser,” proclaims Jesus (Jn 15:1). “I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abideth in me and I in him, the same shall bear much fruit.” (v. 5)

But after developing this maschal, this “proverb” or figure of the vineyard, Jesus turns to love. I was not able to format this passage (John 15:9–17) the way I wanted, scanned to illuminate some of the elegant and poetic semantic structure of these verses, so I have created a pdf file that you can download here. This represents my own adaptation of the King James Version.

Early Friends knew not the ins and outs of the Greek that would have equated “friends” with “beloved” in their understanding, both of which are variations on “philos”, but they got the idea just the same.

So our identity as a movement they rooted in this idea of love as the sap that brings life to the vine, as the medium through which we dwell in Christ and he in us, just as love binds Jesus to his Father and his father to him. In this love, God’s truth is revealed. Out of this love, we bear much fruit, the fruit of love and service in the world.

This love is not (just) a good feeling that arises from good chemistry between friends, but a law, a commandment. It is something we do, even when we don’t want to.

Elsewhere, Jesus lays out the clauses in the law of love, quoting the law in Deuteronomy and Leviticus: you shall love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Heart, soul, strength, and neighbor mean specific things in Torah, and not what we would expect, since the meanings we ascribe ti them come from a Greek understanding, rather than the Semitic, and from modern denotations of the English words we use in translation. But that’s for another sermon.

The point here is that this love in which early Friends chose to root our identity is not (just) an emotion in the worldview of Jesus and his disciples. It is a set of mutual responsibilities under the law, obligations that are quite thoroughly defined in the law.

Early Friends seem to have intuited this, while at the same time applying our modern English understanding, expanding “friends” to mean “beloved” and taking love as a commandment seriously while adding the emotional dimension we usually mean when we say “love”.

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