On Debt

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“Honor your father and your mother” can read:  “Honor all those whose actions, since before you were born, far off and up close, have brought you life.” Honor your debts. Celebrate life.

The honor we owe to one another is different from the honor we owe to Life itself. (Although, of course, we are social animals, and our lives depend on each other.) The honor we owe to one another is expressed by doing justice and loving kindness. The honor we owe to Life itself is expressed by confronting it with humility.

Humility is not the same as humiliation. As Carl Jung tells it, Job (from “The Book of Job”) responded to his humiliation under “Yahweh’s amorality” by bringing his case before God and arguing to God that God deserved Job’s trust. That is, Job faced down humiliation by embracing an attitude of humility.

[Job] has to admit that no one except Yahweh himself is doing him injustice and violence. He cannot deny that he is up against a God who does not care a rap for any moral opinion and does not recognize any form of ethics as binding. This is perhaps the greatest thing about Job, that, faced with this difficulty, he does not doubt the unity of God. . . Yahweh is not a human being: he is both a persecutor and a helper . . . Yahweh is not split, but is an antinomy – a totality of inner opposites – and this is the indispensable condition for his tremendous dynamism, his omniscience and omnipotency. . . Job realizes God’s inner antimony, and in the light of this realization, his knowledge attains a divine numinosity. . . Job, by his insistence on bringing his case before God, even without hope of a hearing, has stood his ground and thus created the very obstacle that forced God to reveal his true nature. (1958)

The relationship between a human and God, between a human and Life, is often called a “covenant” relationship, which is contrasted with “transactional” relationships. A covenant relationship centers on acceptance and celebration – be here now. Transactional relationships center on fairness and kindness – do unto others. The quest to bring these two types of relationships into close alignment is the quest for “heaven on earth,” for “perfection,” and for “the beloved community.” This is the central quest of the Religious Society of Friends.

The year 1652 is generally seen as the launching point in George Fox’s public ministry – a ministry that provoked countless public assaults on his person over the years. In one of his journal entries for 1652, Fox relates:

[The constables] thrust me amongst the rude multitude, which then fell upon me with their hedge stakes and clubs and staves and beat me as hard as ever they could strike on my head and arms and shoulders, and . . . at last I fell down upon the wet common. There I lay a pretty space, and when I recovered myself again, and . . . the eternal refreshings refreshed me, [I] stood up again in the eternal power of God . . . and said again with a loud voice, “Strike me again.” . . . [A rude fellow] gave me a blow with all his might just a-top of my hand, as it was stretched out, with his walking rule-staff. . . The skin was struck off my hand and a little blood came, and I looked at it in the love of God, and I was in the love of God to them all that had persecuted me. And . . . in a minute I recovered my hand and arm and strength in the face and sight of them all, and it was as well as it was before, and I never had another blow afterward.

He never had another blow afterward on that day, that is.

We owe George Fox a debt of gratitude. He spoke not only
with words, but with his very life, to give fresh evidence that the eternal springs of acceptance and celebration, “the eternal refreshings,” are always at hand. Those springs can infuse truth and gentleness into every human transaction – among all humans and with all creation.

As we take stock of the debts we owe – externalized costs that we don’t pay when we buy mass-market goods, wisdom we dismiss because the messengers are “different,” the times we don’t speak up when we should, the times we stick our noses in it when we shouldn’t, all the pains our ancestors took that we don’t even know about, all the beauty in the air and the water and the land that we are diminishing – let us feel “the eternal refreshings.” They flow all around us, lift us up, sooth our shame, straighten our spines. In faith we can find the strength to honor our debts.  ~~~

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