As an antidote to my recent grumblings about Quaker quarrels and self-absorption (yes, I'm aware that I'm not helping with the latter!), here's a very partial list of things I'm grateful for among Friends.
- When Jesus finally reached me shortly after I turned 21, and I realized that that he is alive and trustworthy, I was able to believe him but not able to shuck 21 years of anti-religious programming from my parents. Friends (specifically Ottawa Meeting) were there to receive me with what I needed--a low-overhead alternative to the religion industry.
- Ottawa Friends mentored me in specific ways. For example, they accepted my application for membership after a scandalously short waiting period. (I knew on day one--August 11, 1974--that I wanted to join, but waited for what seemed to me a decent interval to apply. By the standards of others, I later found out, I was in a bit of a hurry.) They put me on their outreach committee, sent me as one of Canadian Yearly Meeting's thirty observers to the Friends World Committee for Consultation's triennial sessions in Hamilton, Ontario, nominated me to a yearly meeting board, supported my summer service with Voice of Calvary in Mississippi in 1975, gave me temporary gigs as warden of the meetinghouse and business manager of The Canadian Friend, and more.
- I gradually realized that the Ottawa meeting was not entirely in unity on matters of incredible importance to me--such as the important role of the Bible in discernment, and the importance of personal conversion--but no Ottawa Friend ever poured cold water on my story or my beliefs. (Others tried to do so later, but that's another list!) Instead, several Friends in Ottawa gave me precious instruction and encouragement for my growth as a Christian. I almost don't dare start listing them for fear of leaving someone out--but I will mention a few who are no longer alive: Deborah Haight, Betty and Len Huggard, and Susan Pepper.
- My parents responded to my conversion and my choice of Christian fellowship with incomprehension. The more time I spent with Friends, the more they became my new family. Thankfully, my Canadian relatives, who at that time were in the Anglican charismatic movement, were supportive of my choices. I know that I'm part of the much larger Body of Christ, but it's Quakers who really provided my mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters in the faith.
- Four different Friends employers harnessed my passion to communicate Christian faith and practice, supporting me financially for most of my working life to this point.
- Judy and I met and married within the Boston-area Friends community. Words are totally inadequate even to summarize this blessing, so forgive me if I move on.
- Friends also provided a funeral for my sister Ellen, twenty years after she was murdered. (My parents buried her with great sorrow but without any ceremony or observance. I didn't know she was buried until I saw the mortuary bill.)
The one thing that drives me crazy about Friends: Our false dichotomies over Quaker identity, which thankfully our little community of bloggers seems to be helping overcome. We do not need to choose between passionate, prophetic, whole-wheat Christianity, with all that this implies (to me) about personal discipleship and evangelism, and being fully Quaker. To me, the relationship between conversion and convincement is this: Conversion is when I crossed the threshold into conscious relationship with Christ, and decided to believe his promises and rely on his company until death. Convincement refers to my decision that Friends discipleship was, for me, the best possible way to implement the commitments that resulted from my conversion.
I remember the late Fred Boots (Quaker librarian, bookseller, and pastor, graduate of Malone College) saying with his inimitable laugh, "Evangelical Friends--that's redundant."
Altar envy: Last week I attended a convocation for adult converts to Roman Catholicism, which took place at St. Mary's Cathedral in Lafayette, Indiana. A dear friend of mine is moving from Quakers to Catholics. We've been corresponding for some time about this decision, and the issues reminded me of another friend of mine who went on the same path almost thirty years ago.
Sometimes I find myself in awe over the cumulative spiritual resources and wisdom of Catholicism--and the sheer density of those resources. With 1.1 billion adherents, there's a richness, a stability, an incredible variety, a racial and ethnic near-universality, that makes Friends sometimes seem mighty thin and whiny and petty. Of course I do not believe that obsessive comparisons are helpful; I believe that God raised up Friends with a particular vocation that makes us neither inferior or superior, just a different (and tiny) part of the larger Body. If Friends were to abandon our charism, the loss would not only be ours, but other Christians' too. But when we are tempted to compare, we can see that, for our part, there's clearly no place for arrogance!
So what is our vocation among the larger body of Christians? We are called to shape a community around the simplicity of New Testament Christianity. Our central testimony is trust in the promises and power of God, freeing us from the endless searches for control, security, and wealth. Trust is our central testimony; all the others spring from it. With trust in the promises and mandates that Jesus made in person to our family 2000 years ago and confirms daily, we can lay down our dependence on weapons, false social distinctions, and affluence.
Three factors (at least) weaken us in our contemporary realization of this calling: not enough of us know our own spiritual gifts and how they mesh together in the community; we pay far too little attention to making our communities accessible to those who would find spiritual liberation among us; and too often we cover up the weaknesses caused by these failures by the usual counterfeits: legalism (either a Christian legalism or an absurdly thorough mastery of Quaker trivia); lame imitation of "successful" models outside Friends; uncritical sentimentality; a social quakerism devoid of belief in the power of God--what Parker Palmer called functional atheism.
More proof that we are family: I'm very grateful for the prayers that surrounded me when I want to Zion, Illinois, for my mother's memorial meeting at the Arbor View nursing home. My mother taught German language and literature for many years, and one of my earliest childhood memories is of looking at the spines of volume after volume of books of German literature in her library. One of the readings I chose for the service was this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke (Cliff Crego's translation from this site):
Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug,
um jede Stunde zu weihen.
Ich bin auf der Welt zu gering und doch nicht klein genug,
um vor dir zu sein wie ein Ding,
dunkel und klug.
Ich will meinen Willen und will meinen Willen begleiten
die Wege zur Tat;
und will in stillen, irgendwie zörgernden Zeiten,
wenn etwas naht,
unter den Wissenden sein
Ich will dich immer spiegeln in ganzer Gestalt,
und will niemals blind sein oder zu alt,
um dein schweres schwankendes Bild zu halten.
Ich will mich entfalten.
Nirgends will ich gebogen bleiben,
denn dort bin ich gelogen, wo ich gebogen bin.
Und ich will meinen Sinn
wahr vor dir. Ich will mich beschreiben
wie ein Bild, das ich sah,
lange und nah,
wie ein Wort, das ich begriff,
wie meinen täglichen Krug,
wie meiner Mutter Gesicht,
wie ein Schiff,
das mich trug
durch den tödlichsten Sturm.
I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
to make every hour holy.
I am too small in the world, and yet not tiny enough
just to stand before you like a thing,
dark and shrewd.
I want my will, and I want to be with my will
as it moves towards deed;
and in those quiet, somehow hesitating times,
when something is approaching,
I want to be with those who are wise
or else alone.
I want always to be a mirror that reflects your whole being,
and never to be too blind or too old
to hold your heavy, swaying image.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere do I want to remain folded,
because where I am bent and folded, there I am lie.
And I want my meaning
true for you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I studied
closely for a long, long time,
like a word I finally understood,
like the pitcher of water I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that carried me
through the deadliest storm of all.
Among this week's righteous links, this just in: Rebecca Solnit on "Not forgetting New Orleans."
T. Vail Palmer, the Friend who first told me about my present meeting, Reedwood Friends Church, about three decades ago, has been writing about "Friends, God, and the Bible." He has set up a new Web site to make his work available.
The Mobtown Blues entry, "All paths don't lead to the top of the same mountain," provided a lot of food for thought for me this week.
I was delighted to see a Northwest Yearly Meeting Friend blogging recently about John Perkins, whose Voice of Calvary organization provided the Mississippi experience I mentioned above and wrote about here at greater length. The Christianity Today Web site has this appreciation of "Grandpa" John and Vera Mae Perkins.
I consume these "Hello I'm a Mac"/"And I'm a PC" ads like candy (my favorite is "the counselor"), but as effective as these ads are, I realize that I don't see myself switching to the Mac side. I still miss DOS!
If a theologically conservative Baptist preacher and radio talk show host can raise the subject of impeaching George Bush, is it really such a fringe idea? The motivation for impeachment should not arise from venom or a mean spirit, but the possibility should not be avoided simply out of undue awe at its radical nature, nor out of fear of a Cheney presidency. A free and democratic people, whose constitution has made available this mechanism for dealing with high crimes and misdemeanors, should use the mechanism when it is appropriate--not casually, but there is nothing casual about the corruption, deception, and centralization of power in the White House that is the record of Bush's leadership. To advocate impeachment, it is also not necessary to determine in advance whether Bush is a nice person or has decent and honorable motives. The simple object of impeachment is to remove from this powerful office, the U.S. presidency, a man who is not fit to occupy that office. [Thanks to John Sugg of creativeloafing.com for the reference.]
Howlin' Wolf, back on that German sound stage, performs "I'll Be Back Someday":