This year's Swarthmore lecturer Beth Allen, in here talk titled "Ground and Spring," broached the subject of evil. She pointed out that James Nayler, an early Quaker who not only "messed up but was also messed up by others," discovered in his long journey back toward wholeness, "the forgiveness of God is the ground and spring of God." But the fact that Nayler remained alienated from at least some of the Quaker community, including George Fox, reminds us of the many people, often going nameless, who have "messed up" and been "messed up by others" and their own alienation from our communities. There are many ways in which we see these breakdowns and deaths occur within our society and while Nayler's life is one example, it is only one small example of the evil in the world. Evil is something that cannot be neglected by the church if we are any kind of hope to the world.
Beth Allen used the Compost pile to further illustrate the idea of breakdown (and death) and how that makes it possible for new life (and resurrection). The compost heap is a wonderful metaphor for the waste of life being turned into something new.
In our everyday lives it's not much different, though it can often take God much longer to turn the "waste of our lives" into something new and fresh. This is because we're much more fragile and stubborn than dirt, and evil is a very complex matter for us to deal with. We can't deny that evil exists in the world and often cripples us when we are confronted with it. Similarly, the various bits of waste within a compost are not only easily recognizable as decayed bananas, apples, and oranges but this process can often be grotesque (like the picture above in my own view).
Death inevitably surrounds us but so does resurrection. Without decay there is no space for new life, without death there is no resurrection.
The story of God's work in the world, as chronicled not only through Scripture, but also through our history, philosophy and science books, is a familiar story; this narrative includes one of creation, fall, redemption and resurrection. This narrative cycle of life continues on small and large scales throughout the history of our world.
Quakers, as all Christians, are a people called to remind the world of this process of creation, fall, redemption and resurrection. All of life is packed into this cycle. And beyond the simple reminding, we are also to be a people who embody forgiveness, a forgiveness rooted in the love and mercy of God who has first loved and forgiven us.
If you'd like to read more on this issue read my short entry called "One Big Kitty Litter."