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?


Anonymous Robin M. said...

Let me be clear that the term Convergent Friends, for me, includes Christians, but it does not specifically exclude others. That's why the first sentence is constructed the way it is. The second sentence is just giving some examples - not defining the whole thing.

I myself am not quite clear whether I would call myself a Christian. And I'm sure there are people who would say absolutely not. Marcus Borg has had a Christianizing effect on my theology; Pat Robertson I try to ignore. Like you, I feel conflicted about the words.

I'd love to hear more terms - this is just my best guess at this point.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Not only do we have to worry about whether we consider ourselves Christian but whether others would consider us Christian. I sure don't fit the mainstream definition, that's for sure!

9:13 AM  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I would say it doesn't matter as much who "considers" us Christians as whether we "are" Christians - i.e. followers of Christ. And "Christ", in my opinion is a title (meaning "Messiah" or "Anointed One") for Jesus (or Yeshua, if you prefer), not just a term that connotes seriousness.

Now, being a "follower" of Jesus is a little different from believing things about Jesus. His first disciples started "following" him before they figured out much about him except that he "taught as one having authority". There is good reason to believe that even the early post-Resurrection Church held a wide diversity of views about things that would now be considered matters of dogma by some churches. Paul, for example, believed that Christ rose from the dead but he never says anything about the resurrection being a physical one, and seems to have something more "spiritual" in mind. He also doesn't mention the virgin birth. For that matter, even within the synoptic gospels there are some rather diverse pictures of Jesus, his deeds, and even his words.

On the other hand, to be a follower of Jesus probably requires that you at least believe he exists (or existed?) and that there is something special enough about him for you to trust his guidance. In the very strongest sense of the word I think "Christian" would mean a person who believes she/he is following a living (i.e. risen) teacher named Jesus OR whose life and relationship to God is seriously informed by the teachings of the historical Jesus (insofar as they are known).

12:50 PM  
Blogger Joe G. said...

I tend to agree with Rich on this one. Perhaps I've been too influenced by Unitarianism (in it's original form :}) or Eastern ideas (such as - one can be a follower of the Buddha's teachings without believing him to be divine). At least in parts of the west, the possibility to be a "Christian", as in being a follower of Jesus' teachings and life example, without necessarily believing the entire Nicene Creed, is now here.

OTH, we liberals that tend to emphasize "experience" as being the lever that everything else hinges on, tend to exclude the possibility of experiencing Jesus as God, as Christ, as Saviour, etc. BTW, I'm not suggesting that any of this has to be experienced so that it fits some doctrine or creed. However, are we are open to that experience, that possibility, as much as to all of our other intellectual and philosophical ideas about who/what he is/was and what problems we have/don't have with the Bible (our primary source about Jesus, after all).

This comment is as much for myself than anyone who reads it.

Thanks for posting your reflections!

6:01 PM  
Anonymous rex said...

I sometimes refer to myself as a "Questian", (pronounced 'question') because I am primarily on a quest for The Truth (knowing well that I can never grasp the Whole Truth, only little glimpses of it, maybe). And because I try to even question my own questions! Sometimes I prefer to call myself a "Seeker". I often wonder if I have a right to call myself a "Quaker" if quaking is not a dominate feature of my experience.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Zach A said...

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?

Dave, I think the answer is yes, living a life that makes real Jesus's teachings (Sermon on the Mount, Works of Mercy) is enough, although I think we must remember the danger of trying to feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, etc. from our own ego/self.

I think we should be careful not to assume that the kinds of Christianity we see around us are somehow the truest ones just because it speaks the most confidently. Quakerism has its own understanding of what Christ means, and though not all Friends will agree with me here, I think it downplays the literal resurrection and redemption-on-the-cross aspects, and highlights the "take up your cross and follow me" aspect. I think the primitive Quaker group Friends in Christ, while still fairly conservative, still goes in this general direction in the section on Christ in their Faith & practice, e.g.:

We reject the notion that a mere intellectual belief in Christ's atoning death on the wooden cross is sufficient for salvation; rather we must know Christ within us, the hope of glory: his cross within to crucify us to sin and the world, and his life-giving power to enable us to walk in obedience to God's will.

Be well,

2:19 PM  
Blogger Dave Carl said...

Thanks for all your responses. (I know what to write about now if I want to start a conversation here!) There's a bit more here than I feel ready to respond to specifically, so I'll let it stew for a bit and incorporate y'all's (as we say in Arkansas) thoughts in future posts.

9:36 AM  
Blogger anonymous julie said...

For me being Christian means being Christocentric in the way I live, move, and have my being. At least in the ideal state. The realistic state is about seeking to be Christocentric and not getting discouraged by doing so imperfectly.

People get pretty uptight about definitions, and it's downright painful to see, because religious definitions especially seem to be to the exclusion of all others.

I'm enjoying reading your blog.

9:38 AM  
Blogger earthfreak said...

Wow, I'm way behind the times.

But I just had to comment, as I found my way here from Robin's blog, and you say something here that I've said numerous times, now (in my life, if not in my blog)

about that experience of hearing the "first part" - about deep exploration, and being really excited, and then "tripping over" (what a great image!!!) the "christian" part.

I find that I am frustrated with a complete lack of understanding about what it means to be a 'christian' (what are people saying about themselves when they say it? what is this experience that they have that I'm missing? What, when Julie says being a christian is being "christ-centric" does that mean??

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Chip said...

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

I find it ionic that many within the Society of Friends shutter to bear the title Christian. George Fox struggled with the Christians of his day. There were many who professed Christianity, but there was not one among them who could speak to his condition. So, he laid aside all the messages, all the theologies, all of the understandings of those who merely professed Christianity and went on his own deep and personal seeking. It was then, oh then, that he heard a voice which said “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition”. And when he heard it, his heart did leap for joy. On this revelation he built his ministry. In it, he declared that it is not enough to profess Christianity, you must possess it. And the one who possesses Christianity is the one who lives in that power and Spirit that takes away the occasion for all wars.

Even though George Fox’s understanding of Christ and Christianity were radically different than those of his day, he did not shun that tag. He called upon the World to turn to that Inward Spirit which is the true Christ. We are no strangers to this Spirit. It is the Power of this Spirit that Leads us to call for Peace and Social Justice. It is this Spirit that is present in our midst of our silent Meetings for Worship. It is this Spirit that is both the Inner Light is and the Inner Christ.

So who are the True Christians? Would not we say that the True Christian does not attempt to overcome evil with evil? Would not we say that the True Christian overcomes evil with Good? Would not we have to conclude that the True Christian would never use flimsy, absurd excuses (even lies) and lead this country off to war?

I would ask that we reclaim Christ from those would abuse his name. Let us remind the World that the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of love and the Way of Christ is the Way of Peace.

We, in the Society of Friends, have always been about Peace. We have always been about Love. How could we possibly have forgotten that we are also about Christ?

6:13 PM  
Blogger Dave Carl said...


Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. I'd forgotten about this post and the richness of the responses. Also about my promise to return to discuss this further!

I continue to engage with the Christian heritage of Quakerism. I read the Bible and what others say about it -- from a variety of perspectives. I find it enriching and helps to provide a sense of "homecoming" after decades without that perspective. I am also grateful for the perspectives from Eastern religions and philosophers which I do not find at odds with the Gospel - but often at odds with the way the Gospel is frequently interpreted.
I think my exposure to the Eastern perspective has helped to open up the Judeo-Christian tradition for me. So there is a certain sense of gratitude for this wider perspective that keeps me at present from wanting to hem myself in linguistically as "this but not that."

Nevertheless, I can unite with much that you say and if I ever am convinced that I should wear the "Christian" label I would hope to be the type of Christian that you describe. I'm glad that as a Christian Quaker you insist on claiming the life-affirming, peaceful vision of Christianity that you have.

Some of what you say dovetails nicely for me with Rich's comments about (at least) engaging with the teachings of Jesus as recorded. That I can do (as my measure of light allows) -- so again, perhaps I am a "poet who doesn't know it."

In Friendship,


7:39 AM  

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