To all Friends everywhere

Two things, loosely related.

First, an item of business. I’m launching a new blog today called To all Friends everywhere, which will publish recent epistles, written by yearly meetings or other Friends bodies on a weekly basis, in an attempt to bring the Quaker blogosphere and the real-world RSoF closer together. There is a longer introduction on the intro post. The first epistle I’ve posted is the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005 epistle; next will probably be Ohio YM’s 2005 epistle. If anyone has a photo from that gathering I’d love to post it along with the text.

Second, a clarification and a reflection on the recent almost 70-comment marathon post about God, Gods, and their possible nonexistence and/or metaphoricality.

Clarification on tolerance

One thing I want to make clear upfront, as a newly-out Quaker nontheist, is that I don’t want think Christian Quakers should have to censor themselves, or still less be censored by others, a phenomenon I’ve never seen in person but which I’ve seen a number of Friends blog about (e.g. kwakersaur).

Now I still, as a nontheist Friend, presume on the tolerance of liberal Friends (if not others).

And I still would like to see Friends get beyond both our preferential relationship to Christianity and our supernaturalism, of course saving what good there is from each.

But I want it to happen by friendly challenge and persuasion, not censoring and eldering.

Because while I think these philosophical/theological questions are important, they’re still not vitally important. As Paul L pointed out in one of the last comments on that post, the question will always remain, How does your understanding or relationship with God or the Great Whatever [for me, “Reality”] affect how you live your one precious life?

And to quote Pam’s reply,

…I care so little whether someone calls that relationship one with “God” or “the great whatever” of “mystery” or “love” or “being” - I have seen people who call it all different things radiate light and I have seen others with all the various understandings who can only use those understandings to sow hatred and division.

(I think I care a bit more than she does, but I still unite with the spirit of what she’s saying.)

Reflection on wider process

Something crystallized for me over the course of that discussion, which I’ve been on the fence about for a long time. A parable may help:

Imagine that two friends are walking through the woods, and one decides that they’ve lost their way. “We lost the path – it’s over here,” the first friend says.

“No, I think we’re on the right path,” the second friend says.

Now they could stop and reason with each other – some landmark is missing, or the position of the sun is wrong – and come to unity on the way forward, however long it takes.

But instead they continue on the ways they see as best without having done so, perhaps hollering at each other through the woods as they walk. (“I’M PRETTY SURE THIS IS THE RIGHT PATH…” / “WELL, SO AM I…”)

Until, perhaps, one of them changes their mind, and has to slog it alone through the darkening woods to catch up to the other.

Not the sort of thing good friends would do, I don’t think.

But I think it resembles the condition of the different branches of the RSoF today – having gone our separate ways back in the 19th century without stopping long enough then to come to unity, and still pursuing our separate paths, hollering at each other through the Quaker press and blogosphere from time to time about how right we are. (I’m trying to highlight our distance and separateness here, not our tone, which usually is respectful.)

Might we not try the first option? And what would that look like?

I can’t speak for other individual Friends, but for myself I think it means becoming a more serious student of the Christian and Jewish traditions. Not as a believer myself, but as someone who sees Christocentric Friends as worth reasoning with until we come to greater clarity on this Important Subject, even if it takes a lifetime, rather than ditching them in the woods. Otherwise we might both get lost.

I don’t know yet what this will look like. Maybe just studying and posting on Jewish and Christian topics more, when I feel clear to, or maybe something more involved.

If that image resonates with you, what might that look like for you?

(Note: I think this is the closest I come to “Convergent“…)

2 Responses to “To all Friends everywhere”

  1. 1 Matt Sep 1st, 2006


    I’ve been following your blog for the last few months now, and I really enjoy it. I’m both an anarchist and a Friend as well. I know this isn’t really related to your most recent post, but I’d like to hear your ideas.

    I’m frustrated with the anarchist movement as a whole because it seems most anarchists feel that the only way to affect real, radical change is through violence. I’m of the opinion that we can’t have a political revolution without a social revolution as well. The general populace needs to learn that they don’t need someone telling them what they can and can’t do to keep order. If the U.S. government were to disappear tomorrow, it would cause the kind of chaos that society sees anarchism as. But, at the same time, no matter what kind of non-violent action we take, there’s a lot of misinformation and violence perpetuated by the government to shut these kinds of movements down. Without an effective way to fight back, whether violent or not, there’s no way any movement will succeed.

    So, in a nutshell, I was wondering what you think the most effective sorts of actions are to affect change?

    Thanks for your input,

  2. 2 Zach Sep 3rd, 2006

    Hi Matt, thanks for stopping by. I think I’m going to take a stab at your question with a blog post…

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  • The Quakers are not so blindly attached to antiquity, as to keep to customs, merely because they are of an ancient date. But they are ready, on conviction, to change, alter, and improve.

    A Portraiture of Quakerism (1806) by Thomas Clarkson

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