A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Robin M. has come up with the term "convergent" for "Friends who are seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life in the kingdom of God on Earth, radically inclusive of all who seek to live this life. It includes Friends from the politically liberal end of the evangelical branch and from the Christian end of the unprogrammed branch."

The first sentence draws me in. I’m about to walk in the door when I trip over the second. At this stage I would fail the definition, as I don't explicitly identify as Christian. I know the centrality of Christianity to Quakerism can be a touchy and hot topic -- and its made a little more confusing for me by the many stripes and shades Christianity can take -- probably takes in more categories than even the term "Quaker!" Maybe I'm a Christian and don't know it! (I currently describe myself as Christo-curious.

My position at the moment though is that Quakerism can be practiced deeply and authentically without identifying with a particular theological label. At the same time, I read the Bible and what others have to say about it and am spiritually nourished and growing by all that. I seek God's (and other words than "God" will do) guidance (from within and without)as much as possible. I can am inspired by Penn, Barclay, and Thomas Kelley (et al). On the other hand, I just can't conceive (not today at least) that I might ever say to someone: "I'm a Christian and I'd like to share the good news...." Now there is a spirit alive in me that I am willing to share in a number of ways. Maybe that's the Christ within, eh? Sometimes I can think so, but its sort of a transient thing. "Christ" is a useful word because its so serious, connotative of very deep spirituality, love, commitment; its just a word that noone is going to take lightly. It gets my attention.

On the other hand, "Christian" is a horse of a different color for me. It has too many negative connotations for me to adopt wholeheartedly as a personal tag. Many of those connotations are no doubt unfair to many fine folks who identify as Christian. But do we really need a label to be Christly? Its just a word -- but words can be such a trap. I'm told that "Buddhist" is actually a western word; that in the East, the practitioners follow the teachings of the Buddha without becoming "ists." They don't want to be set apart from you and I, you see. That's the whole point of their practice.

And again, does "Christian" (or "Christian Quaker", more particularly) mean like Marcus Borg, or more like Pat Robertson? Does it mean I believe Jesus raised people from the dead, or is it enough if I love others as myself? Must I adopt "personal lord and savior" or is "visiting those in prison" going to qualify? Should I be reading the Bible connotatively or denotatively?

I realize this must seem awfully tedious to people raised in (as I was not) or otherwise presently rooted in a Christian world view. Two thirds of the world is not, however. Quakerism has this odd capacity to draw people in though, and with no creed (maybe that was a mistake, George!) we're hard to get rid of. Sometimes our camel nose is followed by the rest of us right into the tent! Now that we're here, lets do more than all just get along. Lets get down to where all those words come from.

Anyway, I'll probably just need to come up with my own term... Crypto-convergent, perhaps?

Friday, January 20, 2006

St. Judas

"Judas is a Saint?" Want to have scripture opened to you in true Quaker fashion? To read a counter-intuitive but spot-on, wisdom-filled interpretation of a biblical passage? Well, I can't promise anything, but for me this did all of that.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

But what's actually happening?

Just thought I'd ask. Comedian Flip Wilson had the "Church of What's Happening Now." Funny, but doesn't that somehow get to the heart of Quaker worship? What happened yesterday, or might tomorrow, all involves the self-seeking mind. God's presence is here and now, to repeat a hackneyed but still serviceable phrase. And is that God the God of my imagination, or a God that is -- one who precedes and exceeds anything my feeble imagination could cook up? Thus, from my perspective, this God comes to me in what seems a spontaneous manner -- nothing that I can plan for, create, or manipulate into being, or even truly envision. And can I see myself attempting to do those things? And then can I refrain from judging myself and simply be grateful that God allowed me to catch myself doing it? "I do not even judge myself," said Paul. After all, my "self-willed" thoughts also arise spontaneously and unplanned. We normally don't think about thinking a thought prior to thinking it.

So, I ask, what actually is happening? Now, I mean. Don't answer--it will be too late by the time you do. But feel free to chime in about what did or might. And keep taking care of isness. Right now.

Monday, January 09, 2006


From the Quaker Ranter Blogwatch on my last post:

"My sense is that it is 'us v. us', or more accurately, the spirit nudging us while we often pull back into a more sociable, culturally-conditioned way of being."

Just the pull-quote I predicted. I know we don't gamble, but there ought to be a way to make a little money on the side here....or win a free pamphlet, maybe? A bumper sticker, surely?

And now I'm thinking of a Thomas Kelley quote about cracking jokes that bring credit to us rather than God. Can't I just credit God for all my wisecracks? A topic for another post perhaps....

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Who's Your Coreligionist, Pt. II

Martin has challenged me to go beyond my “notable quote” approach to the passage in Sheeran’s “Beyond Majority Rule” which I’ve previously posted. I’ve taken in his review and will now attempt to respond to his queries of me (see his comments to the previous post on this topic).

My first response is to question the underlying assumption about “cleavage.” I am of course quite unfamiliar with seventies-era Philadelphia Quakerism, or even current-era for that matter. I suppose one of the things that triggered my desire to disseminate Sheeran’s observations were recent debates, on the use of language about Jesus in meetings.

I don't experience a cleavage in my meeting between Friends of the type that Sheeran describes. On the other hand, PYM Friends might not have "experienced" it either: it took social scientist Sheeran to come do interviews to unearth it. If we have cleavages, there are more obvious ones than this one. I also wonder if the "non-gathered's" that Sheeran discovered were truly having no experience of the spirit whatsoever? I have my doubts, as you'd have to ask why they would keep returning to a meeting for worship. Perhaps there were so many vocal messages about peace and social justice that it kept them happy and distracted from any workings of the spirit. Or perhaps they were new enough to Quakerism that the spirit was only sneaking up on them....and they hadn't realized it or learned to articulate it.

In either event, our meetings for worship are fairly quiet, so I have a hard time believing that there's "nothing happenin' here," to paraphrase Mr. Stills, of a spiritual nature. Our meetings for bus., on the other hand, take place right after MFW. This has the advantage of a group who is already somewhat centered, although this often gives rise to a sort of bubbly gregariousness and good-humor that can overwhelm the worshipful nature of the meeting.

So any cleavage of the sort Sheeran describes is for us not so much of the "us v. them" variety. My sense is that it is "us v. us, or more accurately, the spirit nudging us while we often pull back into a more sociable, culturally-conditioned way of being: what we're "used to." But I also think we're working on this. As one of our elder Friends likes to say, "God's not done with me, yet." Nor us, I hope.

So what then, did I find notable about Sheeran's findings? That there is unity to be had when we sink down below our notional preoccupations. Its hard to speak of the ineffable, and the more time we spend in the ineffable state, the easier it should be for us to see that our verbal diagrams of the spirit are merely maps, not to be confused with the country we wish to actually inhabit.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Who's Your Coreligionist?

I just finished reading "Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Society of Friends," by Michael Sheeran, a Jesuit scholar who studied Quaker meetings for business in Philadelphia in the 1970s. I found the following particularly notable:

"When a Christocentric Friend stood at the 1975 Yearly Meeting to proclaim, 'I consider all of you my Friends, but many I cannot consider my coreligionists,' his remark ws generally greeted with shocked dismay. But those individuals this reporter interviewed combined concern over the inappropriateness of the remark with acknowledgement that the point could not be ignored.

It would appear, in short, that the cleavage is between Chistocentric and universalist Friends.

After most interviews were completed, this reporter began to feel uneasy with this understanding....when the reporter reflected on the atmosphere and the tone of his interviews instead of the words that were exchanged, he began to find that the Christocentrics and certain uinversalists shared a sort of profound reverence for the gathered meeting for worship which was not readily found among other Friends.

When asked what they treasured most about Friends, Christocentrics and some universalists would typically recall a meeting for worship conducted in the Light. If asked to recall the business meeting decision that meant the most to them, they would often describe how some incident led the group to a gathered condition. Their words to explain the experience varied markedly, of course, but for both groups, the experience itself was what counted.

Asked the same questions, other universalists and Friends favoring what we have called the social action and the democratic myths might recall the same decision at a meeting for business or express their pride in a decision well made, but would be apparently unaware of the special atmosphere experienced by the others. Even when told directly that others in attendance reported a special sense of being gathered, such individuals were likely to comment, 'That sort of thing doesn't much impress me,' or 'other people can talk about their experience; I can only talk of mine.'

Put simply the real cleavage among Friends is between those who experience the gathered or covered condition and those who do not....

In this very important sense, those who share the experience, be they Christocentric or universalist or whatever else, are the coreligionists."

'What can I do?' - SiCKO