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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13

This is probably one of the most misquoted passages in the Bible. Out of context, it seems to say that God will give you the strength to accomplish anything. And that’s not entirely wrong. But the verse isn’t talking about your next running match or gym competition. The fuller passage reads:

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.”

What Paul is talking about here isn’t really physical ability, but spiritual and emotional strength. In his walk with God, he has learned to be content. Whether praised or ridiculed, hungry or satisfied, needy or well-off, he has learned to be contented with his circumstances. God could have us win a game, but he might also have us lose. What he has promised is that we will always have the spiritual and emotional stamina to see us through if we trust in him.

History Weekend: The Shakers, pt. 3

I originally stated that this series would be in TWO parts, but, after getting into it, I realized that even THREE parts is hard. However, I promise that this will be the last of this particular subject series. (By stringing this out for another week, I also can put off coming up with a new topic!)

a_shaker_school

Credit: Author unknown, from The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by CaroleHenson

Last week, I finished with the organization of the Shakers following the death of their founder, Ann Lee. I also gave an overview of the communities that they establish in the Northeast United States. This week we will look at the Western expansion of the Shakers and their overall history after that, up to the present day.

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Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jer. 9:23-24

What do we boast in? Let me re-phrase the question: What do we trust in? Many people trust in their wealth, the material possessions that they can accumulate. Perhaps power, the ability to command and lead people, and impose your will on others. I like to trust in knowledge and wisdom, to show people how much I know, teach them how to make good decisions. Wealth, power, and wisdom are not bad. They are very useful tools. But, ultimately, should we trust in them, take pride in them, boast in them?

Companies go bankrupt, or the economy collapses and investments become worthless. Elections pull down leaders from positions of power, or you might be passed over for a promotion. Their could be a new finding in your field of study that proves your ideas worthless, or your advice might turn out to have been misleading. You might make a mistake.

But, if you trust in God, what can undermine that? We might lose power, wealth, wisdom. We might even lose our physical life. But what does that matter to our eternal being? What harm can the physical do to the spiritual? If we want trust in something solid, trust in God. Know him, understand him, and act like him. Do the right thing, the loving thing, the just thing. Use what wealth, power, and wisdom you do have to help others. This is a type of boasting that does not draw attention to yourself, but to God.

In last week’s post, I introduced the Shakers and recounted their early history, up to the death of their founder, Ann Lee, in Niskayuna outside of Albany. This week, I’ll explain the history of the Shakers after Ann Lee’s death. The chaotic exuberance of individual expression that defined the time of Ann Lee will soon evolve into a more orderly and communal, but no less enthusiastic, way of life.

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Shakers dancing. Credit: Unknown, originally uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Hugh Manatee

The death of Ann Lee shocked her following. Some were convinced that she would live forever, despite her own, vehement claims to the contrary. While many of the seemingly devoted soon left after this tragedy, the Shakers did continue. James Whittaker, as a close and widely respected companion of Ann Lee, took over the lead of the faith in her stead. However, in 1787, he also passed away, likely due to the hardships and persecutions he’d faced during his life. In his place, Joseph Meacham, the minister from New Lebanon, whom Ann Lee called the “first-born of America” and indicated as her rightful successor, was selected to lead the Shakers. There is some question, historically, over whether there was a power struggle in the years from 1784 to 1787, particularly a debate over whether Joseph Meacham or his brother, David, should lead. The primary source material from this period is largely silent on this, possibly because Joseph Meacham won out in the long run.

Joseph, wanting to ensure equality among the Shakers, appointed a woman named Lucy Wright, a native of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to be his partner in ministry. Devoted yet ambitious, Joseph and Lucy reorganized the Shakers, setting up a model of society and worship that would last them up the present day. To keep the Shaker movement from dissolving, it would need structure, and these two leaders would provide it. Though Niskayuna, by this time known as Watervliet, was the first Shaker settlement, Joseph and Lucy set up New Lebanon as the headquarters for the Shaker faith. No longer would Shakers live apart on their respective farms and in their own houses. The Ministry at New Lebanon now dictated that Shakers should live together in a unified community, sharing all their lands and goods among themselves freely. Each Shaker community would then be further divided up into different Orders, or Families. The Church Family or First Family would be the most devoted and respected Shakers. A Second Family would consist of novitiates, persons who were interested in becoming Shakers and were trying out a Shaker life. Other Families would be established for additional Believers. These usually were named after their geographical position relative to the Church Family: North, South, East, and West (if there were more than four, some might take the name of a particular industry, such as Union Village’s Mill Family).

But the New Lebanon Ministry did more that just set up a model of community organization. It also streamlined Shaker religious practice. While Joseph and Lucy fully encouraged ecstatic, charismatic worship, they stressed that worship was now communal: Instead of individuals each singing, dancing, and shaking on their own, they all would sing and dance together. Laws regarding proper conduct for daily life were also formulated, and routines established.

By 1790, the Hancock Shakers organized, with a village centered at Hancock but stretching across town lines into Pittsfield and Richmond. By 1794, eight more communities had organized in Tyringham, Harvard, and Shirley, Massachusetts; Enfield, Connecticut; Canterbury and Enfield, New Hampshire; and Alfred and Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Joseph Meacham died two years later, but Mother Lucy, as she became known, would carry the Shakers into the 19th century and presided over their Golden Age. Next week, we will learn about this Golden Age, and the subsequent history of the Shakers up to the present day.

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezek. 11:19-20

 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezek. 36:26-27

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Since April, I have had the privilege of working at Hancock Shaker Village. This is a museum that straddles the border of Hancock and Pittsfield in Massachusetts, and I’ve been visiting there for about as long as I’ve lived here in MA (since 2003). This historic site was once part of a Shaker community which lived in much of Hancock, Pittsfield, and Richmond from c.1780, when the first locals converted to the faith, to 1959, when the last two Shakers moved out. Here we see a picture that my brother took of the iconic Hancock Round Stone Barn back in 2009:

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Credit: Karl Mick

But who are the Shakers? Why are they called that? Since answering these question proves a lengthy discussion, I will break it into two installments.

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For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did… Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Cor. 10:1-6, 11-13.

Think about those verses. Paul is describing the history of Israel, and says that everything that happened, is for our benefit as Christians today. I think it is no stretch to extend that to the entire Old Testament. Thousands of years of human history were orchestrated by God so that we, today, as believers can grow closer to God. How much must God care for us? He gave us a great history Lesson to learn from, replete with mistakes to avoid. It is a warning, yes, but a warning with directions on how to avoid the mistakes that Israel made. So why read the Bible? Because the Bible is our handbook, our guide on life’s journey. Last week I put forward the idea that all of teach through our lives. If that is the case, then the ancients lived for us. We see the trails that they took, and the points where they became lost. Let us learn from them.

Did you know that sausages once changed history? It’s true – let me tell you the story:

The time: March 1522 A.D. The place: Zurich, Switzerland.

It is the time of the Lenten fast. All Catholic peoples are forbidden from eating meat (other than fish) during this somber time of fasting and abstinence. However, a few radical minded men plan to change that. They plan to eat some smoked sausages.

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“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” Titus 2:1-8

This summer I have been working as a guide/docent at Hancock Shaker Village. There, I educate people about the history and society of a particular religious group, and so, even though I don’t work in a school or college (yet), you could say that I am a teacher. But I think that all of us are teachers. Our actions and words impact those around us, influencing them in ways that we may not even notice. So it is very important that we ensure that we teach others the right things.

In the passage above, Paul encourages Titus to teach what is right, in this case, right living and a right understanding of God. And Paul then gives instructions to all of us: Old or young, man or woman, we all are included in the above. But the final part of the passage I think is the key – how is Titus to teach? Through words, yes, but also through his life. How do we teach others to be truthful? Be truthful ourselves. Teach others to be self-controlled? Be self-controlled ourselves. Teaching is so much more than a lecture. It is a life.

For much of my childhood, I disliked chocolate. This probably is because of when I was very young, I once over-ate from a bag of chocolate to the point of being sick. However, I now enjoy chocolate immensely and typically will snack on it at least once or twice a week, sometimes every day. But chocolate as most of us know it now is very different than how it was consumed in centuries past. Chocolate bars and chips, as well as milk chocolate, are inventions only about one hundred fifty years old. For my debut post for History Weekend, let’s look at the history of the chocolate bar:
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