Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship, if you would like to receive an email each week with a link to the week's worship outline, please subscribe at the bottom of this post. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
The Irony of Anger and Abundance
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
— Jonah 3:10-4:11, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Scripture: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
— Matthew 20:1-16, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Message: The Irony of Anger and Abundance
While God speaks to us through the scriptures about abundance, the stories this week demonstrate that sometimes abundance is hard to believe. Many of us are raised to understand what is fair and what is not, often developing a strong “justice-muscle” that reacts when we perceive injustice. The young child part of ourselves that screams “that’s not fair!” develops over our lifetime as we learn to advocate for our wants and needs and the wants and needs of others. God’s message to us through these stories, the story of Job and the story of the workers and their supervisor, is similar to the story of the Prodigal Son. What appears to us—the worker, the person doing the right thing the whole time, and the older son—as an injustice, is actually God demonstrating abundance and generosity. These stories are also a reminder that our perception of injustice is often limited in scope. We react to a specific system and the injustices we feel, but we often forget about other systems at play.
Here I’ll offer my own confession. Back in 2005, when I was attending the World Gathering of Young Friends, the second gathering in Mombasa, Kenya, I did just that: react to a specific system of perceived injustice and forgot about other systems at play. Granted I wasn’t as versed as I am now about systems of oppression, about racism and classism, and about American dominance and colonialism, but I knew enough that I should have acted differently. I was one of the organizers of the 2005 World Gathering of Young Friends. Since the first gathering had been in England, I felt that the American support, both financially and programmatically, was considered less than the European support. (I don’t feel that now.) At the opening session of the gathering in Kenya, it was proposed that the clerk of the European planning committee and the clerk of the Kenyan planning committee sit at the front and conduct the business. I made a big deal about how I should be up there too. And so it ended up being two white faces at the front of the mostly African gathering. I was wrong. I cringe remembering how wrong I was.
In that story, I reacted to what I perceived as injustice, without considering larger systems and powerful histories. When we look at the stories this week from scripture, it is God who is saying that we really don’t know the whole story; we need to step back and widen our field of view. For example, while the workers in the field feel slighted because they worked all day but received the same pay as the workers who only worked for one hour, they aren’t taking into consideration the injustice of the workers who wanted to work all day but couldn’t find the work. This isn’t that different from the thousands upon thousands of migrant and seasonal workers who hope and pray that they have work each day—work that will allow them to feed their families and live in this American culture. There is a perception of people who are unemployed scamming the system, a perception that might be correct on occasion but is false in the majority by far. I have friends that have spent years applying to jobs, incurring debt, and wrestling with deep depression. God speaks to us through these stories and says, everyone deserves a living wage, everyone is worthy of providing for themselves and their family, and everyone is loved dearly by God.
But it’s hard to remember that when you’ve worked your body to the bone and it appears that someone else get’s a handout. It’s easy to be angry with that person. It’s easy to be angry at so-called “society.” It’s easy to be angry with God. In fact, that person whom you perceive is getting a handout, is probably also angry with you, angry at society, and probably also angry with God. What do we do with all this anger?
Many Quaker folks would call forth the scripture: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:9, NRSV) I’ve heard over my lifetime that you just shouldn’t be angry. It’s a “bad” emotion. Also as someone female-identified and female-enculturated, this idea that I shouldn’t be angry has been taught to me directly and indirectly. It wasn’t until I was training as a chaplain that I began to consider the power and privilege of being angry.
In my chaplaincy program we were taught something call System Centered Theory (SCT), a group facilitation and processing theory was developed by Yvonne M. Agazarian. I learned a lot of different things from SCT and I admit I struggled with its methodology quite a bit at first. Still, SCT and my chaplaincy training supervisor taught me how to create space for my emotions, allowing them to be expressed and give me energy. SCT talks about “retaliatory energy”—that feeling when you get angry and want to get someone back, to hit a wall, or to stamp your feet and scream. It’s that energy that pushes you to snap back at someone or makes you feel like there is steam coming out of your ears. What most of us won’t admit though, is that feeling this retaliatory energy actually feels good. It gives us energy and it pushes us to do something.
So imagine this: imagine harnessing that powerful energy of anger. Not letting yourself snap back at some one or hurt someone, but rather imagine creating space for yourself to feel that anger. Imagine a container where you can hold that anger and let its energy flow through your body. It’s a moment of pause, of experience and of space. Now let your anger fill you with energy and put that energy to a more constructive use. SCT teaches that if we suppress our retaliatory energy, our anger, then we turn it inward and get depressed. It’s a boomerang type of effect that causes us to feel lethargic, apathetic, and hopeless. If we can create space for our anger, if we can let ourselves feel angry and harness that energy for something creative, then we can also process our feelings in a healthy and constructive way.
One definition of irony from the Merriam-Webster dictionary reads that irony is an “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.” In our present American society, honoring and creating space for your anger can be seen as ironic. When we get angry people expect us to do harm, but we don’t have to. In fact, the scriptures honor emotions, and God works with people who are angry. In the story of Job, God lets Job stew for a while and suffer as his anger, that retaliatory energy, is misused. Job can’t retaliate against the people that God is protecting, so he turns it first to the vine, and then inward onto himself. God gives him space to process his anger and tries to teach him to use his angry energy for compassion. Abundance too, as described in the scriptures, is often ironic. We expect abundance to be a cornucopia of riches, and yet God’s display of abundance is most often an abundance of love and care. And what seems like grave injustices, what appears unfair, is often God stepping in and saying that actually there is more than enough for all.
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, help me pause when I feel personal injustice. Allow me to fully feel my anger and use the energy it creates for creative action. Help me to widen my view of my experience to understand the many systems of oppression a play. Guide my words, my actions and my heart O Lord, so that I may be full of your love and full of your wisdom. Amen.”