22 June 2006

Are Quakers marginal? part two

I've been thinking about readers' responses to my question. Since it has been a couple of weeks since I first posted it, I'm commenting via a new post rather than just adding my own comment at the original location.

Starting with the most recent comment: Lorcan says, "I find it hard to see us a marginalized sect. For our numbers, our average success rate is staggering. We have had one of our members become an American President (Hoover), and we have built hugely successful institutions in our schools, and public schools in many places like New York. We sometimes feel marginalized when we must engage in bringing our successes back to the light, sometimes, but that is a mark of our success, in my light."

I don't see disproof of our marginalization here, although I do see hints of enduring fertility in Quaker communities, perhaps traceable to the original vitality of our movement. Lorcan's arguments aren't decisive for me for a couple of reasons. First, our two presidents, Hoover and Nixon, are not exactly unmixed representatives of Quaker discipleship; nor did they campaign and win wide public acceptance by emphasizing their Quaker roots. (Nor did either one hide those roots, however, and both remained lifelong Friends. Also, in fairness to Lorcan, their more enlightened public activities could certainly be traced to a Quaker-influenced idealism.) Aside from many other complicated issues, both were commanders in chief of the U.S. military, a prospect not contemplated in our books of faith and practice!

Our institutions do shine in many ways, but they vanish into near statistical insignificance compared to the similar institutions founded by other religious groups. In a few specific locations, whole public school systems were built or modeled upon existing Quaker schools, but in other locations, the religiously-inspired schools of other bodies performed similar roles, sometimes with equally lofty ideals. And the most groundbreaking Quaker institutions, such as Indiana Yearly Meeting's Southland Institute for "freedmen" after the civil war, found mixed acceptance within their own yearly meetings. The late date by which some Friends schools were racially integrated is a sad scandal.

The story of Quaker schools marginalizing themselves is a whole sad issue in itself. Typical story arc: (1) Quaker school is founded with strong identity and mission. (2) Non-Quakers are welcomed. (3) Non-Quakers, after a while, begin commenting on aspects of the school that they're not comfortable with. (4) Quakers don't want to do anything that might make someone uncomfortable, so they accommodate the others. Result: a secular school with a faint odor of quakerishness and vague definitions of its Quaker roots using "that of God in everyone" out of context. If this is unfair to any specific school, let me know and I'll give plenty of space to their case.

Mentioning Nixon's name brings back memories of his funeral. During the funeral, his Quaker affiliation was mentioned, but the most genuinely Quaker thing that happened at that funeral was Billy Graham's clear expression of Christian faith. There, before the eyes of a huge national (and beyond) audience, Graham said the most important thing that could be said: "The Bible says, 'For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.' There's a gaining about death. For the believer, the brutal fact of death has been conquered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Testifying with clarity and simplicity about the heart of what we have come to know about God, and its universal availability, is as Quaker as we can be; and the marginalization of this first priority in our "testimonies" is the marginalization we Friends have done to ourselves.

Well, it's at least part of the marginalization. Evangelical Friends have not done much better statistically than liberal or middle-of-the-road Friends, despite claiming a clearer Christian witness. I believe the reason for this might be found in the definition of "clarity"—the evangelical subculture overvalues doctrinal propositions, worn-out male-dominated leadership behavior, and non-transparent governance processes masked by happy-talk; and undervalues integrated and prophetic discipleship. And these compromises obscure what might otherwise be a verbally clear message.

The good news: there are hopeful signs that, within the evangelical subculture, a correction is setting in. (See this recent E.J. Dionne column, "A Shift among the Evangelicals," in the Washington Post.) And if the larger evangelical Christian movement really does reclaim its soul, the issue of Quaker marginalization will lose some of its urgency for me. Our task will then be one of continuing to infect the larger culture with some very specific insights about discipleship already shared by the most creative subversives at work there: the incompatibility of discipleship with the use or threat of lethal force; the Holy Spirit's decisive role in guiding church business and empowering leaders, not false social distinctions or powerful personalities; the connections between Christian discipleship and our economic behavior; and, maybe most important of all, the need for worship always to trust in and wait upon the Holy Spirit.

No group that gathers around Jesus Christ, and whose members support each other in living out the reality of that gathering (including its ethical consequences for daily life) can ever really be marginal. Their unity spans the planet, transcending all labels. And as they are faithful, they bless the planet as well.



Sonic the Hedgehog--Christmas presence!Righteous Links: It's hard to believe that fifteen years have passed since Sonic the Hedgehog burst onto the video game scene, to the delight of our family. This YouTube clip tickles my nostalgia center, but there's more context in this retrospective article. The official Japanese Web site for the fifteenth anniversary game is here.

I was actually the first person in our family to defeat Robotnik at the end of level one of the first Genesis game. Whatever else I've done in the Quaker or any other context probably pales in comparison to this achievement in terms of the respect of my children!

On a completely different note (I was going to say a more serious note but thought better of it), Sean's Russia Blog has had so much rich material recently that I'm not sure where to start. Browse it all. But these two items drew my special attention: Muslims in the Russian/Soviet Empire, and The Russian Diaspora in Israel.

(Deviating from his normal Russian focus, Sean also contributed important comments on the Florida law banning "revisionism" in teaching American history.)

In the meantime, Konstantin's Russia Blog quotes approvingly a comment by Kirill Pankratov in eXile, along the lines that in the USA, it is taboo or uncool or boring to criticize most racial or ethnic or national groups,
But it is totally permissible to hate and despise Russians. It is as if a huge sign is flashing over the media landscape: "Here you may shit as much as you want!" There is a very small number of roles that Russians can play in American popular art: vicious mafia thugs and their molls, obnoxious fat apparatchiks, half-starving babushkas, raving alcoholics, pitiful girls exploited for sex trade, or the occasional brave pro-Western dissident or a spy. Any kind of "normalcy" is simply forbidden.
To which stereotypes could be added a very few positive but almost equally superficial ones: cosmonauts, hockey players, ballerinas. I won't comment further on this item here, but check the extensive comments that have already appeared on Konstantin's weblog.



Here's where you can find me June 30-July 4: Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival.

18 comments:

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Johan: thanks for another great post. All I can say is yes, yes, yes. The spookiest part was reading the paragraph about Quaker schools, for in my mind I couldn't help substitute "liberal Quaker meetings," right up to the last line: "a secular [meeting] with a faint odor of quakerishness and vague definitions of its Quaker roots using 'that of God in everyone' out of context." That vision of injecting Quaker insights into a shifting Evangelical subculture sounds interesting, a great task if it can be done. I suspect liberal Friends have some equally daunting work ahead of us if we choose to take it on. As always, I find myself grateful that you share your insights. Your Friend, Martin

sal said...

my comment may be a mirror of the previous. I am only loosely Quaker, but i do appreciate a traditional meeting. my observation/ criticism locally is that the quaker congregations have abandoned a traditional format and have become barely distinguishable from a run-o-the-mill evangelical church group. maybe quakerism has changed out from under me, but i find it difficult to find a local sunday meeting sans the pastor and delivered sermon. where did the silence go?

Johan Maurer said...

Martin, thank you.

Sal: My first reflection on your comment was not altogether charitable to Friends, I confess: Most Quakers are only loosely Quaker.

Having gotten that off my chest ... May I gently challenge you on your comment that "the quaker congregations have abandoned a traditional format and have become barely distinguishable from a run-o-the-mill evangelical church group"?

First of all, there are hundreds of meetings in North America alone that still worship in a format of silent waiting until someone is prompted, in theory by the Holy Spirit, to speak. I assume this is what you mean by traditional format. Although I've been part of three of those meetings and have visited dozens, I can't honestly say that those hundreds of unprogrammed meetings are any more genuinely Quaker in terms of faithfulness to our founding vision and energy than the programmed meetings that have adopted some elements of Protestant worship. Sitting in a room in silence guarantees nothing. As a great Russian Quaker once said, "When I worship in a Friends meeting, I want to know that the person sitting next to me is worshipping the same Lord." Format does not, in my opinion, trump content, although I'd agree that format should serve content and be coherent with it.

Secondly, I've visited probably a couple of hundred programmed meetings, and most of them differ dramatically from run of the mill evangelical churches. (A minority, however, seem more like frant imitations of those other churches.)

To take my own meeting as an example: It is not only the fifteen or twenty minutes of unprogrammed worship that is different from other evangelical congregations. It's also the shared worship leadership, the strong presence of women in leadership, the frequent references to social justice in sermons and announcements, the unhurried way we move from one element of the service to another, the lack of liturgy and outward sacraments, and the willingness to change the programming spontaneously if needed. We have no altar.

There are similarities to non-Quaker churches as well: our hymnal is not Quaker; many of our praise songs are from the Vineyard movement (which has Friends roots) or are similar to Vineyard songs; other similar elements include children's messages, a collection, intercessory prayers, and so on.

Our business meetings are startlingly similar to business meetings of unprogrammed Friends. Sometimes, sitting in our business meetings, you'd be hard put to guess what classification of Friends we are. And you'd also see that our pastors don't have a dominating role in our church. Their leadership is based on function and spiritual gifts, not on status, and they have a relationship of mutual accountability with us.

One thing I like about our worship: it honors nearly the full range of temperaments and learning styles present among the participants. People who are oriented devotionally or inwardly, probably like some elements of our worship better than others; the activists and theologians are fed at other times. But we all hear words from the Bible, and prayerful reflections on those words. We all get training in Quaker discipleship. We all are reminded of our covenant to support each other in our growing capacity to be faithful.

A few of us at Reedwood have, over the years, developed a relationship with the nearby unprogrammed meetings. There's no reason for us to be isolated. We also serve each other by referring people back and forth so that they can choose their spiritual home based on a wider exposure.

Johan

Robin M. said...

And then there is the occasional school that starts out at #4. Not to name names to protect myself.

I'm reading John Punshon's Reasons for Hope: The Future of the Friends Church. I'm hoping to understand Evangelical Friends culture and theology better when I'm done. Have you read it? Is it a decent explanation?

Anonymous said...

In course of making a very astute observation, you wrote,

"Quakers don't want to do anything that might make someone uncomfortable, so they accommodate the others. Result: a secular school with a faint odor of quakerishness..."

Martin replied (correctly, I think), "The spookiest part was reading the paragraph about Quaker schools, for in my mind I couldn't help substitute 'liberal Quaker meetings...' "

On the one hand, I'd like to point out that patience, tolerance, and peacefulness are great Quaker virtues—and I can only hope to live up to them better than I have done so far.

But on the other hand, I would still like to point out that defining the limits of respectful accomodation should be of concern to Quakers.

After all, corresponding questions are currently being asked by both secular liberals and people-of-faith liberals everywhere.

(As a pertinent aside, I think that conservative radicals have so aggressively framed their issues that people who would have once been called middle-of-the-road, and even moderately conservative are now portrayed as “hopelessly” liberal.)

So. Here it is 2006, and the planet itself is in terrible shape, and obviously getting worse quite rapidly.

Looking back, when did “liberals” cross the boundary that demarcates a patient, tolerant, and peaceable people and enter the zone of the apathetic, the impotent, and the timorous?

In the political realm, the question is of vital national concern.

Returning to the far more circumscribed question about Quaker open-mindedness, I must confess I have long had misgivings about claims that someone can be “a faithful Catholic AND a Quaker,” or “an observant Jew AND a Quaker.”

Am I missing something? Are these spiritual traditions, if taken seriously, truly compatible?

-- Mitch

sal said...

i guess my comment wasn't directed necessarily at quaker congregations in general, but mor specifically to my local ones. the 'sign' out front says freinds, but i don't see mcuh quaker about it. there is likely an unformatted group around, but not ini my immediate vicinity, i would have to go past 4-5 quakers churches to find one practicing the traditional silent worship which i peresonally am seeking and enjoy.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Friends, I've spent thirty-six of my fifty-six years as, first an attender, then a member of unprogrammed meetings. I've also attended my share of pastoral meetings. I do my best to follow Christ faithfully. I know that our Society's corporate bodies, both pastoral and unprogrammed, often fall flat on their faces when a challenge arises to follow Christ -- they will shirk the path of the Cross, or even worse, fail even to see it.

And in this regard, I am not impressed by the assertion that "Evangelical Friends ... claim a clearer Christian witness" than unprogrammed Friends. Too often "claiming a clearer Christian witness" means waving the flag of Christian affiliation, which is not the same thing as actually taking up the cross.

Christ said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Paul followed up on that teaching with the advice, "...Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." I do see a lot of pastoral Friends who appear not conformed to the world, but possessed of minds that are plainly renewed. But I see a lot of others who appear to be still conformed to the world, no matter that they say "Lord, Lord" a whole bunch. And I see a similar mix in unprogrammed meetings.

One thing Christ says is "Judge not, lest ye be judged" -- and, guided by that wisdom, increasingly so as I age, I try not to judge my individual neighbors in the meeting I'm attending, be it pastoral or unprogrammed, on the basis of such appearances. (That is why I myself do not go to ecumenical gatherings and mutter about "hireling ministers", for all that I think the Philadelphia Friend may have been moved by the Spirit to do so.) It may be that those who appear to be merely conformed to the world, are appearing that way for good reasons that I do not know. There have been cases in my personal past where I've found out that some person had a far better reason for conforming than I had realized. It may also be that those who appear not conformed but renewed in their minds, are unconformed for the wrong reasons, and/or are only seemingly renewed.

The fact is, I do not know who is truly following the same God I am; I may find out at the Judgment, but I have reason to suspect that Christ's rulings at that time will often surprise me.

And so, even when I see the corporate body falling flat on its face yet again, I try not to judge my individual neighbors who are participating in the corporate body's decision. I may decry the corporate body's action, but I do not know the true reasons why my individual neighbors approve that action, because I am not privy to their true relationship with Christ. All I know is whether the decision of the corporate body -- e.g., the decision of a Quaker school to be wishy-washy liberal -- accords with my own leadings in such a way that I can work with it, or at least live with it, or whether, on the other hand, I am led to challenge the policy in some loving and, hopefully, constructive way.

The big challenge for me is to follow Christ in his guise as the Paraklete myself; the older I get, the more I realize how very hard that is. I have a real tendency to do a thing for a poor motive and then put the knowledge that I've done so out of my mind and assume I am virtuous. When I overcome that fault in myself, I might be qualified to judge my pastoral and unprogrammed neighbors. Maybe.

The secondary challenge for me is, in meetings for business, to help the corporate body discern the path of the Cross as best I can. But the task of helping the corporate body discern, is not furthered by sitting in judgment on the corporate body's individual members. Is it? Judging my individual neighbors accomplishes nothing except to feed a sense of alienation and animosity, which if not checked can tear the Church apart. And what goes around comes around -- so that helping the body discern also involves a mirror obligation to permit it to help me discern, i.e., to let myself be taught and corrected when someone else in the corporate body shows me that that path is not what I had thought.

Above all, I think it is a mistake to reject the insights of others because they are not waving the flag of Christian identity all around. It may simply be that those others have been led not to pray on streetcorners, or otherwise make a worldly show of their love of Christ. If that is what they've been led to, their quietness about their Christian identity may actually be a form of faithfulness to Christ. I've known an awful lot of unprogrammed Friends who are quiet in just that way, including some in my parents' generation who taught me a great deal about what it means to be faithful.

In Christ's parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), one of the points he makes is that when someone we treat, or judge, in a certain way, turns out to have been Christ himself in disguise, it will be someone that we did not realize was Christ. That, to my way of thinking, is an extra-good reason for not judging those who make no show of their Christian identity.

Simon St.Laurent said...

You raise a few points that trouble me.

* Nixon and Hoover may not have run on or hidden their Quaker credentials, but they both ran in races that were harshly anti-Catholic, whether or not the candidates participated directly. (I trust Hoover did not; given the rest of Nixon's record, it's hard to doubt that he did.)

* Those watered-down Quaker schools that disturb you are, in fact, how I found Quakerism. I attended a college long since unaffiliated but still with more than a faint odor of Quakerishness and a meeting on campus. You may find this sad, and probably would even if you visited, but I suspect I'm far from the only person to find Quakerism through this softer approach.

I share your hope for the shift in evangelical culture, though I still find the gulf between the Fox and Barclay roots of Quakerism and the Calvinist roots of much evangelical activity hard to bridge. (Wesleyan roots seem a less difficult evangelical perspective for Quakers, though.) Perhaps we can find ways to share Christian witness despite those differences.

Johan Maurer said...

Mitch: You wrote, "Returning to the far more circumscribed question about Quaker open-mindedness, I must confess I have long had misgivings about claims that someone can be 'a faithful Catholic AND a Quaker,' or 'an observant Jew AND a Quaker.'

"Am I missing something? Are these spiritual traditions, if taken seriously, truly compatible?"

In my own mind, I think all spiritual traditions that have integrity are compatible, or at least capable of being part of a very fruitful dialogue. There are some people (I'm not one of them) who seem to be able to host that dialogue in their own minds, without denying the contradictions. And then there are the precious and problematic heretics who actually try to synthesize different faiths. I don't usually agree with them but I love talking with them.

However, I don't believe that one can achieve depth in any spirituality that has a communal dimension without making a commitment to a real-life community. That means ceding some of our precious autonomy to that community. It means declaring publicly that we feel that committing to this community and its disciplines is the best way WE presently know to grow in faith. That part is hard for me to imagine doing in more than one community at once. Still, as Brian McLaren says in his wonderful book A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN, I can't help but confess that the influences that have formed me range far beyond Friends, even though I'm firmly anchored here.

Marshall, thanks for your wise additions. The Philadelphia Friend who sounded so negative about clergy reflected an attitude which I've heard repeated often, but I feel okay about citing an actual instance. I'm willing to take the risk of mistakenly assuming that he was not divinely led. If we cannot cite instances where individuals seem to have fallen short or have perhaps unthinkingly expressed a prejudice that prevails in their culture, it will be hard to make any concrete points at all, because organizations are often the long shadows of individuals. There are limits, of course: caring not to endanger the reputations of named or identifiable people, or objectifying them for the sake of manipulative rhetoric, or assuming that someone who has made one mistake is beyond redemption.

Simon: Marshall's point about not judging individuals applies to my reflections on what you wrote. I remember Martin Marty commenting on the phenomenon of Watergate figures claiming conversions in prison. He said that he would never ever deny the validity of an individual conversion, he was just intrigued and a bit skeptical about the mass phenomenon. The same applies to people who come to Friends through the softer way that liberal and middle-of-the-road Friends provide. One British friend of mine came to Quakers, and is growing in knowledge of and enthusiasm for Quaker Christian discipleship. He says that if Quakers had been more openly Christian when he first made contact, he would not have gone through our door and would not have embarked on his present, clearly Christ-centered path.

In any given instance, I have no desire to deny the validity of his experience. However, in turn, he is not entitled to insist that Friends remain boundaryless and unreflective about the drift we've endured over the last three centuries. For him to turn his individual experience into a general principle is an unjustified leap. How does he know that he would not have found another equally useful door? Are there not other communities that are patient and tolerant? Are God's hands tied, so that only "soft" doors are available to God to fulfill divine purpose with respect to any given individual? "All things work for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to God's purpose." But that doesn't mean that all things are to be left alone, left unscrutinized.

The Quaker movement as a whole has plenty of variety, so doors that some might consider less narrow will always be available. But I'd rather focus on building a community that is as faithful as possible, that is spiritually intimate enough for me to know that I'm worshipping the same God as the ones worshipping with me, and then giving that community maximum accessibility. Those who would not find my community spiritually liberating might go somewhere else, somewhere perhaps less narrow, but at least they would have had a chance to find out. And my community would not then be held hostage to the comfort level of the most prickly newcomer among us, one whose own patience and tolerance is not at the level he or she expects of us.

Johan

Simon St.Laurent said...

Johan asks:

Are God's hands tied, so that only "soft" doors are available to God to fulfill divine purpose with respect to any given individual?

And I ask - who are we to tie God's hands? God will fulfill divine purpose with respect to any given individual with the "soft" or "hard" doors that fit God's purpose, not ours.

You're right that that doesn't mean that all things are to be left alone, left unscrutinized, but your next paragraph feels angry, concerned about being held hostage to the comfort level of the most prickly newcomer.

Perhaps it's time to focus on what Quakers of all kinds have in common. (Marshall Massey appears to be working in this direction.) Then we can build enough bridges among Quakers that people can gravitate toward the kind of Quakerism to which God leads them, directing newcomers to places where they'll be less prickly in the hopes that their journeys will lead them in the directions we've found through our own listening. (Yes, I know that's a huge challenge.)

Your last paragraph has some of that, but your call for giving that community maximum accessibility doesn't fit smoothly with the sentences that follow. It sounds like you want to close the door a bit, open it carefully at times, and shut it again if a prickly newcomer arrives.

If that door's opening and closing is the opening and closing God wants, that's fine - but in what you've written, it sounds like you're in charge of the door.

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Simon. Yes, the reality is that we're in charge of the door (not me personally!), because we members have the stewardship of our community's relationships and resources. We exercise that stewardship in response to God's leadings as well as our book of faith and practice.

I believe that our Quaker communities should know who is host and who is guest. The hosts are those who stand in (I hope with humility and groundedness in prayer) for the true host, God. Hosts are those who've made a commitment to the community, who have steeped themselves in the history and discipleship of the larger church and particularly of Friends. They are able to communicate Quaker teachings with some degree of confidence, although they always remain accountable to each other and ultimately to God.

With this sense of stewardship of relationships and resources, including tradition (not as rigid folkways but as carrier of teaching and models of what Quaker discipleship looks like), the host community ideally is prepared to extend hospitality to ANYONE, even those who are prickly or are carrying wounds from some authoritarian religious affiliation in their past. But those who receive the hospitality are guests. They are entitled to the hosts' loving attention and healing ministry, but they are not entitled to enforce restrictions on the hosts. They're certainly entitled to tell the hosts what's making them (the guests) uncomfortable, but the hosts should in turn not feel forced to accommodate the guests' allergies unless there's also a divine confirmation that these newcomers have new and valid insights.

This "host" and "guest" analogy is important to me, because the absence of a sense of confidence as host has weakened a number of meetings in my experience. However, the opposite danger happens when the hosts forget how important it is to communicate a transparent process for moving from the status of "guest" to "host." When newcomers really do feel at home, they should know how that transition can happen. Being a host is no claim to ultimate truth, it just means carrying that stewardship for the community and it's not a status to be hoarded.

You say, "Perhaps it's time to focus on what Quakers of all kinds have in common." I've spent a fair amount of my adult life working on that focus, including ten years' service on the staff of Friends World Committee. That is definitely a focus for those of us to have who care about the worldwide family of Friends. But I'm not sure it is a primary focus for any individual Quaker community. They should be more concerned about building up a faithful community with God at the center. Many evangelical Quaker leaders have said that they have experienced the call to focus on Quaker commonalities as a distraction and diversion. As one of them put it to me, more or less, "With X billion souls on their way to hell, why would I spend my time on a cultish hobby?" I'm suspicious of their motives some of the time, but in a way, they're right. The "Quaker commonalities" project is, for some, like a second helping of dessert--fine, but definitely secondary; reaching the world with the urgent message of Jesus Christ is far more important. I disagree with these ways of framing the issue, because a worldwide family of Friends, mutually supporting each other, will amplify our local effectiveness and actually build up local resources both for evangelism and for social justice. Still, the local focus should be the spiritual growth of the individual and the group.

Actually, the wisdom of the group (sometimes but not always expressed through elders, ministry & counsel, pastors, etc.) may help the group discern which of its members actually has the gifts to be the bridge builders, for whom that wider concern for Friends will be the way that they grow spiritually.

Thanks for your patience with my long-windedness! I'm not the least bit angry, but I guess I'm pretty passionate about these issues. By and large, I agree with your comments--I'm just trying to reflect faithfully the cautions and perspectives that the evangelical Quaker community brings to the subject, as well as my own experience.

Johan

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Johan, you're a delight to converse with. I yield to your clarifications regarding the Philadelphia Friend. Please accept my apologies for not simply accepting the point you were making earlier.

Simon St.Laurent said...

Johan quotes:

"With X billion souls on their way to hell, why would I spend my time on a cultish hobby?"

Yes, in that I hear a door slamming, and closing out some portion of the X billion souls.

However, I'm not particularly convinced that there is a solution to this problem now, especially given the relatively few Quaker meetings in this world and their tendency to cluster in particular groups - evangelical in one area, liberal in another, etc.

It seems unlikely that an evangelical group would want to foster the development of a liberal group in their area, unless they were genuinely swamped with prickly newcomers. On the liberal side, there might be perhaps more room to create activities for Christocentric or evangelical Quakers within the confines of the meeting (Bible study is a good start), but I'm not sure how far that would go either. Some cities offer multiple choices, but many can't support that.

So, for now, I expect that Quakers in North America will continue to lose a substantial number of possible guests-who-might-become-hosts, because of the way our traditions are distributed across the continent.

I hope that the Quaker conversations on the Internet may help some of those people realize what they're seeking, and change some of that, but it's a difficult path.

(I wonder what share of people who get a Quakerish result on beliefnet even have the option of a Quaker meeting nearby? Or how many try attending?)

Aj said...

It seems that we all have some sort of agenda, and generally it consists of "Come over to my side: I'm right." That goes for evangelicals *and* liberals: being accepting of all can be an agenda.

What seems to "work" (build community, open doors, start conversations) is to give: our time, our stories, our selves. This sort of giving stems from receiving love and being shaped by God. The only agenda is to point others to the Spirit.

Christ set a pretty high bar: leave everything and follow me - I am your priority. The Bible tells of one rich man who couldn't do that. Though Christ was sad, he didn't bargain with the young man (hey: you don't have to give away *all* of it. just do half, and we'll call it good). Why not? Because he had 12 men already who had done everything he had asked; if this young man came in, he would lower the bar for the whole group rather than b raised up to their level (ah, blessed human nature).

I don't know how this will end up looking, and you know what? I don't need to. My job is to receive from the Spirit and respond: not to explain but to proclaim God. And to love.

Thanks for being such a passionate "host" of this topic, Johan: I greatly appreciate your willingness to question, probe, and share of your experience.

Lorcan said...

Dear fFriends:
I did not mention Friend Nixon for a reason. Unlike Hoover, he was not an attending Friend. Hoover, when he could not attend a meeting, held meetings in the White House.
I am not sure it is wise to create a single monolith of "Liberal" Quakerism, and say that we all are responsible for the offend no one attitude. Why... Hell! I offend lots of folks, through no intent of my own, other than my intent to live much of the sermon on the mount actively and have not God before God, but God, in all mystery and majesty.
I wish all you who read this could sit in on all the meetings, both in the Quarter and 15th Street monthly meeting on OUR school, Friends Seminary. In fact, we are one of the few last remaining schools not separately incorporated, and are in a labor at the moment to decide if we should allow Friends Seminary to separately incorporate, and the first question asked by this amalgam of Hicksite, New Age and Orthodox fFriends is, "is Friends Seminary a Quaker School." It would be a HUGE task to describe here the range of discussion, but, there is a tradition in our little once completely Hicksite meeting, to - every forty years or so, walk back into our school and ask, are we still Quaker, and if not, and often our worry was not... if not, what shall we do to make this a Quaker school.
It has been suggested by a rather liberal Friend, that we form a committee to stop asking to be invited into our school, but gently enter the school as an active Quaker presence in our school, and make it Quaker.
We so often judge each other, but frankly, I think we need to spend more time getting to know each other, and this mass of plastic and electrons does not do that. We must meet, in that presence of God in each other, and talk, all this is nothing but introduction...
Well, thine in the light all
and to all a good night
lor

Johan Maurer said...

To risk a total tangent: If you want to prove Nixon's weakness as a Quaker, you can cite one set of facts. If you want to emphasize Nixon's persistence as a Quaker, you can cite another set of facts. During his White House years, Nixon held ecumenical services instead of explicitly Quaker services, though the pastor of his Friends meeting was one of the invited leaders. In any case, it is hard for me to imagine anyone being both a power politician and a steadfast Friend. It's sobering to think that Nixon may have been the president who pushed the concept of imperial presidency furthest, at least in modern times, until Bush/Cheney left him in the dust. Mitch's aside IS truly pertinent: "... I think that conservative radicals have so aggressively framed their issues that people who would have once been called middle-of-the-road, and even moderately conservative are now portrayed as “hopelessly” liberal." Much of the Nixon team's actual policy work now really does seem liberal!

I'm in total agreement with Lor that there is no liberal monolith, except perhaps in the rhetoric of would-be evangelical heroes. (Nor is there an evangelical monolith.) I can cite dozens of specific monolith-busting people and incidents in my travels within the supposedly more liberal communities of Quakerdom. Among the ways of avoiding "monolithic thinking," I propose the following:

(1) Remembering that people are not just ideas with legs, and that no person can simultaneously give all points of view that he or she might hold on a complex subject; therefore, receiving ideas with serious but also playful respect and continuing the dialogue;

(2) Remembering to ask "why" instead of just "what" or "how";

(3) Finally, remembering that we have different gifts and temperaments, and that we can have a respectful division of labor, in which some of us do more than others to stay in touch with those who are outside our communities (however defined), while others are more focused on internal maintenance--but in love we're accountable to each other.

Personally, I'm a bundle of total contradictions. My spiritual gifts include evangelism, but I find myself advocating more attention to the building up of the internal life of the body. I'm passionately evangelical, but utterly opposed to the near-captivity of the evangelical establishment in the USA to the political right wing (well, theologically, that's not a contradiction at all, of course); and I'm an introvert who's spent most of a lifetime being a public Friend. I do love getting to know people beyond the context of narrow threads of ideas.

Lorcan said...

Well... frankly I also have to praise Nixon on two fronts, detaunt with China ( though that is a double edged sword ) and his remarkable strides forward in the field of American Indian rights, while at the same time, carring out the COINTEL program targeting AIM so, one's head can spin with contradictions.
But, Johan, what thee points to, is a basic flaw, as I see it, in the concept of orthodoxy, is that in each of us we live the main theme of the tower of babel. And so we are called to find truth within transendant truths... that which unites us in silence. Few spoken concepts can do this. Most words we use become idols which hide God's face from us, as we devide upon human artifacts which attempt to describe all God is...
Maybe we are how we act towards God in each other, not the words we use to explain our actions.

Thine
lor

Bill Samuel said...

Johan has invited us to look back at this dialogue, which for some reason I did not look at when it was taking place.

One of the comments was relative to the idea that liberal Friends not being clearly Christian gets people into the door, who sometimes then develop into Christians. And I know a number of people who came into Friends not looking for a Christian group, and are now deeply Christian. Some of those are still with Friends, and others have left.

You can't run those people through a different possibility, so one can't really determine whether there was a different approach which would have reached those people - or whether they would have found Christ (who knows, maybe even earlier) if they had not come through liberal Friends. [Ouch, that sentence was long!]

But I am now part of Cedar Ridge Community Church, founded by Brian McLaren who's been mentioned on this thread. It seems also to reach many of the same kind of people that liberal Friends do, with a lot of skepticism about Christianity, while being unmistakably Christian. So that inclines me to think it's possible.

I think the host/guest image is useful. Certainly at Cedar Ridge, we seek to be a place where guests with a lot of skepticism about Christianity can feel welcome. We think that's important (it certainly fits in with our call to be missional - we tend to avoid the term evangelical due to all the bad associations). But as hosts, we are profoundly Christian.

I twice attended the yearly meeting sessions of Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region. In talking to folks there about how they had come to Friends, I was struck by how similar their reasons often seemed to be to what I was used to hearing among liberal Friends. And EFCER is unabashedly Christian.