|Happy New Year|
and Merry Christmas!
(Today we bought our Christmas cards
from the friendly staff at our local
This card is published by Art Design.
On a private blog entry (so I'm not quoting), I read about a person who claimed Quaker membership but was also a member of a liturgical church. The blogger commented that it was hard to imagine both claiming and rejecting ceremony, both claiming and rejecting direct non-mediated communion with God, and both claiming and rejecting equality. (The liturgical church excludes women from some leadership roles.)
This is not a unique case. I know Friends in Russia who find themselves in a similar situation--participating faithfully for years in Friends worship and community, while also holding fast to their Russian Orthodox identity. The Western mentality, to risk a generalization, prefers a clear choice, but I'm not surprised that people here feel no pressure to choose.
In my comments on that blog, I tried to distinguish two sets of questions. First of all, are Friends really a full-service Christian church? That is, in the Quaker faith and the Quaker community can we find what we need for a healing and saving relationship with God throughout the full cycle of life from birth to death? Is there a full-bodied concept of worship, of discipleship? Are there ethical teachings, and so on? Or do we simply provide a forum for adult intellectuals along with a space for meditative practices and social activism? Reviewing our history and today's worldwide family of Friends, the answer is clear: with all our inadequacies, we are a genuine church, a full member of the worldwide family of Christian communions.
Admittedly, this confidence may be harder to maintain when one's own group is tiny and far from other Friends. Another possible source of confusion about this reality is when we forget the transforming importance of George Fox's proclamation that "Christ has come to teach his people himself" with all its potential to provide a whole new basis for church structure and practice--a whole new understanding of Gospel order. Friends arose to cleanse and refresh and intensify Christian faith, not to weaken and relativize it. Our skepticism was originally focused directly at presumptuous leadership and its self-serving theologizing, not at our Lord.
Once we agree that Friends can provide the full spectrum of resources that one would expect from a church--support for relationship with the Creator, and support for our relationships with each other and the world around us--maybe we can think more about the second area of questioning: the situation of those who want to be 100% Quaker and, for example, 100% Eastern Orthodox. For someone who has grown up in Orthodox culture, whose spirituality has been formed by the extraordinary depth and beauty of that culture, who honors this precious family legacy, and who feels at home in the liturgy, I can't imagine rejecting the attempt to unite these allegiances. It might be hard work, but bless you for trying!
Something truly sad arises only when that choice to stay in two confessions simultaneously is made as a result of a judgment (perhaps subconscious) that Quaker faith and practice really doesn't provide any sort of equivalent value in worship, discipleship, and spiritual legacy for the full cycle of life. "Quakers are fine for meditation and social activism--within a sort of Western middle-class comfort zone--and so I better hold on to my other affiliation in light of these inadequacies." I would certainly agree that such a truncated view of Friends faith and practice seems like very thin fare compared to the extravagant beauty of the ancient liturgical churches. But here's the secret of Friends' own extraordinary richness: it is rooted in what all Christians hold in common, unfettered by human dogma, hierarchy, furniture, or ceremony. It is nothing more or less than this: Christ in us. There's no lock or confessional monopoly on this treasure that we are bound to respect. Instead, "I give you a new commandment, to love one another." Outside of that divine economy, honestly, all I can see is poverty.
A few years ago, I wrote about the "hyphen within" from a slightly different angle, thinking about the dilemmas of being hospitable while holding fast to our identity. And this recurring discussion reminded me of a post two years earlier in which I recommended Albert Fowler's Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Two Trends in Modern Quaker Thought, published in 1961. That pamphlet came back to me today as I thought about the thin-ness of a disconnected Quakerism.
David Niyonzima in an interview on the American Friends Service Committee site: "Called to Relate." (Five years ago, a talk by David Niyonzima provoked these reflections on being "absurdly happy.")
Allison Deger, "Israel's annexation moment has arrived."
"Obama in Tehran?"
The urge to control that reality [Iran's crossroads location] lies at the heart of Washington’s policy in the region, not an Iranian “threat” that pales as soon as the defense spending of the two countries is compared. After all, the U.S. spends nearly a $1 trillion on “defense” annually; Iran, a maximum of $12 billion -- less, that is, than the United Arab Emirates, and only 20% of the total defense expenditures of the six Persian Gulf monarchies grouped in the Gulf Cooperation Council...."How NASA might build its first warp drive." Thanks to Lynn Gazis-Sax for the link.
A modest summary: "After a year of protest, a different Russia beckons."
"Have you ever considered that giving can be a luxury?"
From Chicago Blues: A Living History, Billy Branch:
One More Mile (Billy Branch) from Larry Skoller on Vimeo.