Revolution and the Quakers that Friends aren’t

Recently Matt left a comment asking a question on anarchism — what is the way forward?

“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?”

My indirect answer

To be honest, I am most drawn these days to problems of the person first, and political action second, as a consequence of personal change — rather than political action first and foremost.

Cutting to the chase, I think if the source of the tireless, defiant, uncompromising, and yet intensely loving spirit that the earliest generation of Friends had could be rediscovered, almost anything would be possible.

And I’ll go on record as saying that I don’t think any Friend I’ve met or any branch truly knows that source now, not by a long shot, and that the assumption that we modern Friends can claim the earliest Friends as our spiritual ancestors has as much to do with conceit (or selective reading) as it does with reality.

Somehow, in the woods or at the plow, the earliest Friends discovered a form of spiritual practice that leads to a dramatic form of personal transformation/enlightenment, and one that tended towards vigorous, real-world engagement (rather than escapism as in Buddhism). But for a number of reasons it was basically lost, and transmuted into something like the quietist, gradualist spirituality we practice today.

I think there are three main reasons this happened, in order of importance:

  1. The Quaker movement was artificially made more compliant, passive, and self-censoring in the 1660s and later largely due to the fear that they would be annihilated through persecution, and we’ve never re-examined this development critically enough.
  2. Friends have for a very long time had a structurally different conception of the “Light” than the earliest Friends did, and closely related to this, are doing something different in meeting than the earliest Friends were. (I hope to post on this soon.)
  3. The transformative potential of our worship is undermined because we don’t give worship enough time — a mere 45-60 minutes a week, less than 1 percent of our waking life, compared to much more in times past and in other meditative traditions.

I haven’t researched any of these thoroughly enough (yet) to write authoritatively about them, but enough that I am personally convinced they are true.

The quakers that Friends aren’t

To put it another way, modern Friends are all members of the “Religious Society of Friends,” but I don’t think any of us are really “Quakers,” except by association.

One name was coined in the 1700s, after our domestication as respectable, merely slighly quirky members of the bourgeoisie was well under way, and refers to an international religious bureaucracy (though one that I dearly love in its own right!).

The other was coined in the radical 1650s, in a courthouse no less, and referred to a tribe of fearless, almost super-human rebels who were turning England upside-down.

The two are not the same.

To adapt a metahpor from Marcelle Martin, the earliest Quakers were a flame, and we are the embers and coals. Nothing against that — you can do a lot of beautiful things with charcoal — but it’s not the same thing as fire, if a fire is what you want.

Perhaps it’s foolish, but I want to rediscover that fire, or reinvent it, within the RSoF or out of it. And back to the question, if that happened, the social and political implications I think would be staggering.

38 Responses to “Revolution and the Quakers that Friends aren’t”

  1. 1 Matt Sep 5th, 2006


    More than you’ll know, I am exceedingly greatful and happy that you have given an entire post to my question(s) rather than a cursory response. But, a few questions, in turn, have come to mind not so much as a critique, but more for the sake of clarification. So, I hope you don’t take my questions as naiive, or take offense at my naivete as I am fairly new to both Friends and Anarchism:

    The earliest Friends were practicing a form of radical Christian teaching. But now, Friends, at least on the liberal end, have become less Christ-centered and more pluralistic. For example, a non-thiest Friend, such as yourself, would have been an oxymoron in Quakers’ earliest days. How would we, then, regain the “flame” without becoming exclusively Christian? And, if we did, I feel many modern Friends, including myself, would be turned away by it.

    According to my understanding, which I’ll grant, is limited, Quakerism “turned England upside-down” in a more religious fashion than in a political one. Obviously, Church and State were more connected than they are now, so the two went hand in hand. But, if we were to truly have a spiritual revolution, I wonder if it would translate to the political.

    And lastly, while I love Friends, and I see them as one of the most personaly, socialy and politicaly-concious groups around, we are not large in numbers. With this rediscovery of Quakers-long-past, would we gain in numbers? And, even if we did, would these numbers be enough to affect change?

    Again, I thank you for your imput, and I hope you don’t feel you need to put too much into these questions for my benefit, as I’m sure you have plently going on in your life as it is.


  2. 2 Zach Sep 5th, 2006

    Come on, Matt, talking about these things is why I started this blog… :) And your questions aren’t naive in the slightest.

    You’re asking, “How would we, then, regain the “flame” without becoming exclusively Christian?” Well, what I meant by this is not a revival of early Quakerism as a whole, which is impossible by any standards anyway. I don’t even think the very conservative Friends of Truth are as crudely supernaturalist (see Fox’s “Book of Miracles”) as early Friends were, for example, or as hostile to the arts as they were.

    So what Quaker “renewal” really means, in every case, whether we’re referring to the earliest Quaker only or including later Friends also, is trying to retrieve what is of value or what is essential in the tradition, and letting the rest stay in the 17th century (or later centuries). Everyone does this, from every branch; we just disagree on what is essential or of value and what is nonessential or obsolete.

    I’m not denying at all that what I have in mind — a renewal of what I see as neglected early Quaker spiritual disciplines in the context of a group/community/meeting where it would specifically be OK to not be a Christian or religious person of any description — would be a radical departure from any past or present Quaker community. But I’m more concerned with using things I see in early Friends as being of extreme value and potential, and less concerned with securing the Quaker and/or RSoF pedigree. If that means coming up with a new name, like the Shakers and Free Quakers did, I’m OK with that. (Maybe using the name Diggers — they were more ecological and political, and some have argued that Gerrard Winstanley was a humanist.)

    To get more specific, short term I would like to start, sometime within the year, a group which would meet weekly, probably intentionally not on Sunday morning, to worship/meditate for at least two hours, at least half of which would be expected to generally be silent, and with some mechanism for ensuring that the people gathered are in fact pursuing a similar spiritual practice (details in future posts), instead of this person thinking about daisies and that person reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the other person meditating on Nothingness. (To be clear, I’m not bashing existing Friends meetings for being places where this is allowed, or planning to stop taking part in such meetings. But I am looking for something beyond that as well.)

    Before or after this longer Meeting for Worship, there would be an hour or so of “Worship Sharing,” which, if you haven’t seen one, is basically a meeting where there is a lowered threshhold for speaking, and in fact everyone is expected to speak. I think this is vitally important, because when people in a meeting don’t have a venue to express their thoughts and emotions, they share them in the time reserved for MfW, and what should be “Meeting for Worship” (deep) in fact becomes “Worship Sharing” (valuable but less deep); this is endemic in liberal meetings if not others. Doing both regularly would help maintain the integrity each, I believe.

    Now short term, such a group could exist either (proper RSoF option) as a “Worship Group” under the oversight of an established liberal Monthly Meeting, or (more drastic option) as an independent, unaffiliated group. Longer term I perhaps shouldn’t speculate, but it could either go in a “reformist” direction, namely trying to stick close to the existing RSoF, or a more radical/breakaway direction, perhaps including the emergence of new branch (”radical Quakers” or some such) separate from the liberal branch. As in all things one must see how way seems to open.

    That’s a really long answer, and just to your first question; your third question has a simple answer — yes, we are small in numbers, and if what I am thinking of were to happen, we would probably get over our aversion to doing outreach naturally. The second question brings up some interesting issues in early Qr. history, and I think I’ll try to answer it in another post later if you don’t mind…


  3. 3 Martin Kelley Sep 6th, 2006

    Hi Zach. Three cheers for finding that old flame but I don’t see how you’re going to get there if God isn’t the point and Christ isn’t the tour guide. Many modern-day Friends greet that Source every day. He’s come to teach the people himself and He’s still on duty (whatever name we give Him).

  4. 4 kwakersaur (aka david) Sep 6th, 2006

    With all due respect to Martin. I don’t think rediscovering the flame requires rediscovering Christ. I think it means backing off from a post-modern epistemology. It requires a charismatic leader who can say, “I have experienced the Truth.” and a band of followers willing to listen.

    Think Waco. Think comet-whats-its-name.

    Now this leader, instead of engineering a collision course, needs to devolve power (that’s where that anarchism stuff comes in) so that the movement breeds new leaders.

    Religion is useful here. But I’d be awfully ethnocentric to insist it can only be done through Christ (not all Buddhists are escapists BTW).

    Me? Sorry. My epistemology is to culturally relativist to buy into such things. I’ll be standing on the sidelines when-if it happens.

  5. 5 Matt Sep 6th, 2006

    Personally, I don’t feel a charismatic leader would be a very positive thing. I especially don’t feel that claiming one has experienced the capital-T Truth would be good either.

    Leaders, especially charismatic ones, have a nasty habit of NOT devolving power. Think Castro after the 1959 revolution. He came to DC claiming he was going to start a democracy, but instead established a dictatorship.

    And, maybe I am more of a post-modernist, but groups and movements claiming to have THE answer have typically become oppressive.

    I feel that like-minded people will be drawn to such groups. I say groups, because I would hope that similar groups would pop up around the country (indeed, there are communes centered around anarchist-principles whether or not they call themselves such). Eventually, if we became large enough, I would hope that more people would see that there is an alternative to capitalism and the like.

    I’m sure this sounds (and is) hopelessly idealistic, but so have a lot of social movements that have become a reality (the end to slavery, for example). I’m not saying this sort of thing will happen in my lifetime, but I hope to help set the stage and make it at least a bit more possible.

  6. 6 Alex Sep 7th, 2006

    Well, I have no connection whatsoever with the Quakers, asides from a huge respect for their role in 19th american history and the slavery issue, so I’m ignorant of such issues of what it means to bea a Quaker or not.

    But one thing I’m pretty sure about, is that the tendency of certain anarchist groups to clamor for a violent revolution is totally counter productive. Violence favors strength, not justice. And come what may, at the end of a violent revolution, the power lands on the hands of the most powerfull, be it a new class or the old dominant one.

    Real change requires changing people, and this is bound to be slow and progressive. If people want to empower the weak and oppressed, they need to educate and develop their sense of dignity and initiative. They need to develop organizations that cater for the needs and representation of the neglected segments of society.

    Brutal revoluton does not bring this. The countries continually embroiled in violent revolutions are not the most free, they are often the most oppressive.

    That’s why it’s so hard to understand people claiming to dream for a better world talk about a violent revolution.

  7. 7 Simon St.Laurent Sep 7th, 2006

    [Trying again to post after losing the first take.]

    Despite my lack of interest in anarchism, I see a lot to like here. I agree on points 1 and 3, and look forward to seeing what you have to say about 2.

    However, I worry when I see:

    “for a number of reasons it was basically lost, and transmuted into something like the quietist, gradualist spirituality we practice today.”

    I worry that too many Quakers have lost touch with Quietism, thinking that it means only quiet. In fact, it’s about quieting the self so that God may speak through us, which can be powerful fuel for action. (It seemed to work well for John Woolman, among others.)

    It can be daunting, of course, if you’re not certain about your relationship with God, and I think that may be a large part of the real problem with Quakerism after the early enthusiasm faded. That first generation was convinced that they were in direct contact; after that, the nature of the contact changes, and no one ever seems quite as certain as George Fox - we all seem to be embers, with occasional flames.

    I’m also not sure why you’re complaining about gradualism, though that’s another, probably larger conversation.

  8. 8 Liz Opp Sep 7th, 2006

    Hi, Zach–

    Fabulous post and valuable comments! I had my own reply written out but it got zapped somehow. *sigh*

    I appreciate the three specific points you raise about what has been lost since early Friends. I agree with the second and third points but I have a different take on why early Friends may have pulled away from such outward witness.

    I’m not sure they feared annihilation as much as they maybe grew in numbers so fast that the fire that was initially felt and the obedience that was carried out by these Friends was not sustained during the growth. This is similar to my own thoughts about the changes in the Quaker blogosphere.

    I also agree that an hour of worship a week and one business session a month is not enough to knit us together as a faith community. It is not enough for us to settle, quiet our monkey mind, seek the Light together, understand how we might be called, support one another in being faithful and obedient… Seems to me there is much more that a “religious society” does on a day-to-day basis than what happens at a typical monthly meeting.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  9. 9 Rex Barger Sep 7th, 2006

    I get Rexcited when I see so many comments! But I get a little saddened to see so much ‘labeling’. Labels can be a very useful short-hand IF readers have a common understanding of the contents indicatd by that label! But when have people EVER had a common understanding of all that every word used means? Whenever I feel called to use a label, I try to make sure I define (as well as possible) what I mean by that label. For example, my preferred label for myself is ‘communiteer’. It’s a word I made up to refer to anyone who has made a commitment to respect all life (whether they’ve ever heard of George Fox or not)! I’m also a little disappointed when I see people (who call themselves ‘Quakers’) insisting that large numbers of them are needed if we are ever to change others (or society). If I’m not mistaken, George was only one person (& although I never had the pleasure of meeting him, his IDEAS have affected my life profoundly). What I’m trying to say is that what is important is IDEAS (that are solid) not NUMBERS (that can overpower but) not change peoples’ hearts!

  10. 10 Zach Sep 7th, 2006

    Wow, lots of comments since I last checked!

    Rex — you make a good point at the end, though I think both good ideas and good numbers are possible…

    Liz — can you give me more details on how your initial comments were lost? Was it because the anti-spam plugin claimed you answered the question wrong?

    You’re probably right that the rapid growth was part of the issue, but I’m pretty positive that persecution was a very real motivator as well. Around the time of the restoration of the monarchy (1660), Friends began to try very hard to become respectable. This arguably began in 1656 with the negative response to Nayler’s “sign” in Bristol, picked up speed when Fox got out of Launceston prison in 1658 and began organizing regular meeting structures, solidified through several controversies in the 1660s and 1670s about individual vs. meeting authority, and reached a symbolic height with the creation of the Second Day Morning Meeting, which met every Monday to preview and often censor Quaker publications — including a pamphlet by Fox (!!) once. In fact, most of the republished works of the first generation of Quaker preachers were carefully sanitized before publication; I don’t think Nayler’s works were republished at all until 1716. And theologically, “second period Quakerism” became less threatening through Barclay’s undermining of the earlier doctrine of the radical presence of God in his people, as I wrote about on Simon’s blog.

    The main thing I’m trying to point out though, here and at #1 in the post, are the myriad changes that took place between the first and later generations, whatever the causes were. I’m not saying these were all bad changes, just that they were significant changes, which call into question the continuity between the earliest “Quakers” and later “Friends.”

    And I’m very glad to hear you feel the same way about one hour of worship a week being too little — whenever I’ve said this in the past I’ve gotten the impression that people regarded the mere length of time in worship as a trivial issue.

  11. 11 Zach Sep 7th, 2006

    Simon — The tone in the post does border on deprecating modern Quakerism, but my considered intent is only to argue that the two are significantly different, without making a value judgment; I think the RSoF differs from earliest Quakerism in important ways, but I do still love the RSoF, including its “quietist, gradualist spirituality” on its own terms. To highlight just one of its virtues, taking a cue from David, we’re probably the religious group least likely to end up with a Waco or a Jonestown.

    To flesh out the distinction I was trying to make though, today if we talk about “enlightenment” at all (or the more Christian concept “sanctification”), we talk about it as a life-long process that in many cases seems hardly distinguishable from the normal maturation of a thoughtful person over the course of their life; but my impression is that for the first generation or two of the movement, and fading out quickly thereafter, “conversion” was an intense process that happened in a short amount of time – weeks or months – and culminated in a dramatic alteration of the personality that could be spoken about in the past tense (cf. 1 Peter 1:22). I suppose both might be “gradual” proccesses, and the real difference is that they believed in a shorter process of enlightenment, while we believe in a much longer path, if we believe in “enlightenment” at all.

    I can’t say I’m sure that this enlightenment is legitimate or just a lot of hot air, and if it’s legitimate what precisely it consists of, though as promised in #2 I’m going to take a shot at it. Maybe our post-modern suspicion of this sort of talk is a mark of maturity. But it also might just be sour grapes. In any case, I want to investigate such things further.

    (As for quietism, perhaps I was misusing the word – basically what I meant was quiet and reserved.)

    Alex — well said.

  12. 12 Zach Sep 7th, 2006

    Matt – I think David is actually agreeing with you, that charismatic leaders who claim to have found the Truth are a dangerous thing, and that if something of that description happened among Quakers he’d probably sit out.

    And I do share your and his aversion to charismatic leadership (more the “leadership” part than the “charismatic” part), and hope that if any renewal of the sort I am describing happens that it happens in a decentralized way.

    But I do think there is a good precedent for charimatic Quaker leaders to actually devolve their own power. Fox’s record, for example, isn’t perfect by any means, but he certainly did devolve whatever power he might have kept for himself into the meeting structure. As I touch on in my reply to Liz above, one of the very committees he started, for censoring controversial Quaker publications (the Second Day Morning Meeting), wouldn’t let him publish one of his own pamphlets in the 1670s. Definitely not a fan of censorship, but my point is that it is wonderful and telling to see the hotshot Quaker leader overruled by a somewhat democratic process.

    (Fox’s response: “I was not moved to set up that meeting to make orders against the reading of my papers; but to gather up bad books that [were] scandalous against Friends; … and not … for them to stop things to the nation which I was moved to the Lord to give to them.” quoted in Braithwaite’s The second period of Quakerism somewhere)

  13. 13 Zach Sep 7th, 2006

    David — I think your main point gets right to a very crucial issue, so I’d like to save a response for a future post (probably my next one).

    As for escapism, I realize not all Buddhists are escapist, but don’t you think that’s a fair characterization of the Buddhist tendency? To me, the very fact that there is a sub-movement for “engaged Buddhism” indicates that Buddhism is not naturally “engaged” unless it gets a kick in the pants.

  14. 14 Zach Sep 7th, 2006

    And Martin — I might need another post to adequately respond, but can I get you to clarify your objection in the meantime?

    Consider Fox’s argument with the governor of North Carolina about whether the Light is in all people, and Fox’s demonstration that it was by asking a nearby American Indian “whether or no, when he did lie, or do wrong to any one, there was not something in him that did reprove him for it”.

    As we know, the Indian replied that yes, “there was such a thing in him, that did so reprove him; and he was ashamed when he had done wrong, or spoken wrong.”

    Now, in the very next paragraph, Fox goes to the Indians and tells them about God and Christ.

    But imagine, for the sake of argument, that he didn’t, and that instead the Indian, to whom Fox had just shown some of the primary signs of the operation of the Light Within, went back to his tribe, and told them about the same thing – about the “something” in them that causes a feeling of wrongness when they lie or hurt someone.

    And suppose, for the sake of argument, they sat down and decided to meditate on this Light for a several hours in the Quaker fashion (perhaps they heard this is what the Quakers do, and decided to try it).

    Now my question for you is, in what way is this “meeting for worship,” of non-Christian and arguably nontheist Indians, not a Quaker meeting for worship? Because it’s very close to what I have in mind.

    To put the question a different way, if you (with Fox) believe that this “Light” is in fact Christ, wouldn’t you also believe that the Indians in the example (or a modern nontheist meeting) are in fact meditating on Christ, even though in they (or I) don’t see it this way? And if that’s the case, then it would seem to be a mistake to say that, from your point of view, God is no longer the point and Christ is no longer the guide. Minding the light is minding the light — don’t you agree?

  15. 15 Rex Barger Sep 7th, 2006

    OK, George Fox was a great guy. When the words attributed to him reach me, they inspired me, so does it really matter whether what inspired me was what he meant? I wonder why so much time is spent trying to figure out what George (or Jesus) really meant. I’m on a quest for peace&justice so I even question my own questions! If your words (or George’s or those that are attributed to Jesus) inspire me, allelulia! Let’s try to remember that when we put the Holy Spirit in a cage, it dies! Let’s just keep growing (not in our knowing, but) in our understanding!
    And thanks for all the stimulating words!

  16. 16 Matt Sep 8th, 2006


    I misread your post when I responded the first time. Zach set me straight. :)

    I apologize, I was trying to work on my radio show and read the blog at the same time. Not a good thing to try; both require too much attention.

    Sorry if I came off as confrontational.


  17. 17 Mark Sep 8th, 2006

    I don’t necessarily think it is the actual length of the worship that is the difference, it is that we put an artificial limit to it. We should be wiling to go in and be completely devoted to the worship without regard to how long it lasts, and it is over when God says it is over. Longer worship might very well be what we need, but I think if we lenghten our time limit, we are continuing to keep some bit of control to ourselves.
    With love,

  18. 18 Zach Sep 8th, 2006

    Mark, that’s a good point. I tend to focus on the length, but I think the “scheduled-ness” (programmmed-ness?) of it is just as important.

    It would be tricky to implement though. A moderate solution might be to give a range of ending times, e.g. “Worship starts at 10 and generally ends between 11:30 and 12:30″.

    The more radical solution, of no real planned ending point, I think would work best in a situation where it is expected that Friends will spend the entire day together, doing some combination of worship, worship sharing, study, socializing, singing, eating, going outdoors, etc… and trying to be spirit-led in terms of what exactly to do, and how long, each week.

  19. 19 Simon St.Laurent Sep 8th, 2006

    Zach -

    On Quietism, I think I’ll just ask that you look more into the subject before using the word. You might even find you like it. Despite the regular thrashing it seems to get from people who see Quakers becoming quiet and Quietist at the same time, I don’t think Quietism was the cause of the quiet.

    On gradualism, I’m not whether I have more doubt in sudden growth or slow growth Both have their benefits and challenges. I think most of the reason I tend to prefer slow and gradual is that I’ve seen too much sudden enlightment that, well, wore off quickly too. Often that experience leaves people even more doubting than before, less able to try again.

    I don’t think I’d compare it to maturation, or at least I wouldn’t connect it to maturation. Age, or even time spent, doesn’t seem to be a strong indicator.

    It seems likely that different people have different experiences this way. As long as we don’t bar the door to gradualism, it’s also good to have people who received insight in a flash.

  20. 20 Robin M. Sep 8th, 2006

    Hey Zach, I really, really like your “radical solution” of Friends spending a full day together - not just sitting in worship, although there’d be more of that too, but also going out to play and having a meal together. When we have done this, just occasionally with other families from Meeting, it is wonderful. What had not occurred to me was to do it on a regular basis, on an organized basis. Which is not very anarchic of me, but then I’m not. I don’t mean that I would want this to become a mandatory thing, but a regular option - hmmm.

    I know I’d be up for it, but I wonder about my kids and my less-gregarious-than-me husband. Lots to chew on.

  21. 21 Chris M. Sep 8th, 2006

    Robin: No, I’d probably be in the parlor reading blogs on the computer…. :)

    I’d be up for a long period of worship, but would the kids? Would the childcare worker? How do you tell a worker there’s no clear ending time to her or his job shift, “it depends on when the spirit tells us it’s over”? These are very alive questions for me in my life right now.

    Indeed, the idea of finding many ways to be engaged together — yoked together, as Liz has written about — seems key to me.

    Hey, here’s an example: I just hired a person from our meeting to work with me in the small nonprofit organization I work for.

    – Chris M.

  22. 22 Debbie H. Sep 9th, 2006

    Zach (and others), It was great to run across this thread last night. A couple of thoughts have been coming since then, specifically reflections on Zach’s first point.

    (1) - I think you’re on to something with the transition that happened in the 1660s and later - the stepping back from the fire. Another interesting perspective on that time period, however, was offered in a recent biography of George Fox (I believe, but I’m not certain, that I read it in Larry Ingle’s First Among Friends). In that book the chapter titles were taken from English proverbs that were current at the time. The chapter that discusses the transition of the 1660s that you’re referring to, is titled (and I’m paraphrasing) something like “There’s more to marriage than four bare legs in a bed”. And the chapter drew parallels between the transition in a marriage (from the passion and romance of the early years into a love that lasts through time) and the transition among early Friends. My reflections are that in the early years Quakers thought the external world was going to change dramatically into God’s kingdom. And when they realized that it was actually going to be a long haul, there was a transition into the energy and organization that was needed to sustain a long term work. And while there can be a looking back in a marriage to the romance and passion of early years, there is no presumption that the energy that was there at the beginning is what is needed to continue the growth of the individuals and the relationship.

    That said, I believe we’re a pale shadow of who we’re called to be as Quakers. And I believe that our work (and the work in every other spiritual tradition) is all about the transformation of ourselves into Spirit-centered and faith-filled vessels that can move in the world from a center rooted in the Divine, and yet simultaneously hold the potential of being wrong at any time. And the ability to move from a centered place is all about spending time coming to know that center.


  23. 23 Rex Barger Sep 10th, 2006

    Debbie H., I couldn’t (& haven’t said it better myself)!!!! Of course I would say it a little differently. Because I see our sense of ‘Divinity’ as coming from our commitment to ‘Oneness’, I would use ‘Oneness’ instead of ‘the Divine’.

  24. 24 forrest Sep 11th, 2006

    Rather than clutter this comment list further, I’m inviting people to a rather long post at my own blog, which is definitely relevant to the ‘longer worship” issue.

    & also the even longer piece, same site, on The Need for More Conflict Among Friends. For whatever that’s worth.

    I find myself in agreement with a lot of what you say–except that I can’t call myself an “atheist”, because in my day, when we suffered from that we took these little illegal pills and found ourselves nose to nose with the Big It. Which you can refuse to call anything you like to refuse to call it, but it ain’t hamburger.

    Sometimes we suffered from the little illegal pills, of course. What I would call them, striving to be objective, is “pattern-recognition enhancers.” Too much would have one recognizing more patterns than truly existed, and that could be unpleasant. So could recognizing patterns that really were there; life was scarey enough for me without enhancement, and the condition could go on a very long time, so these days I’d recommend meditation instead. But that, too, confronts one with something MUY bigger, smarter, and more loving than being an ego trapped in a clockwork dream.

    Why “worship” longer, unless there’s some”thing” there to worship? What metaphor do you use, for what you find worthwhile in it?

  25. 25 Zach Sep 11th, 2006

    Forrest, thanks for the link.

    On the issue that you bring up of nontheist Quakerism, I actually dislike the word worship for the exact reason that you bring up — it impiies worship of Something. I still use it because I haven’t found a better alternative word.

    But the reason a nontheist Quaker like me still wants to “worship” longer is because I find the activity of rightly-done Quaker “worship” to be a very valuable thing that we should do more of — whether the theory behind it is a theistic one or not. And what I think that worship really consists of, even I daresay for Friends who think they are listening to a God, is that the Friends gathered are trying to allow themselves to come into contact with reality, or Reality if you prefer. This assumes that in our ordinary life we are separated from reality, through ignorance and conditioning and past wounds and intellectual vices like denial and wishful thinking.

    Which I think is supported by what I am going to eventually post on re: #2 above; early Friends had more of a concept of worship-as-seeing-reality than we do today; today we almost exclusively think in terms of worship-as-listening-to-something, which was only part of how the first Friends thought of it (though it was part).

  26. 26 Zach Sep 11th, 2006

    Hi Debbie, I like the analogy with marriage, but I think it can go either way — the strong impetus to change cause by the persecution could be compared to some hardship early on in a marriage — getting injured and losing jobs for example — that cause a lot of stress and make the relationship lose its zest before it naturally would have.

    And if a long marriage can settled down into a mature place of serenity, it can also settle down into a place of lifelessness.

    Chris, what to do with the children is a good question. The problem would be sidestepped if the child-care person were simply hired for the whole day. I also don’t see why care of the children couldn’t be a rotating duty for the adults, at least in a small meeting where everyone knows everyone, but then again I haven’t had to think about these things very much yet.

  27. 27 forrest Sep 11th, 2006

    I am confused: How can worshipping longer bring Friends more into contact with what I call “Reality” and also more into contact with what you call “Reality”?

    What I call Reality can take pretty good care of itself. It can make itself known, and will (although it generally doesn’t bother trying to get people’s attention when they could care less–which is not, after all, the best time.) But if you sit around long enough, paying attention, you are definitely at risk. You might still prefer not to call it “God,” but that’s the common word for it.

    If sitting longer makes my reality go away… I’ll just have to take my chances. Since that’s all I really am (aside from my ego and other illusions), I should feel pretty silly without myself, and I really don’t expect that, any more than you expect God to raise her lovely head and say “Boo!”

    I know, a lot of things getting called “God” are really pretty nasty. But how do you like God’s interview in Raymond Smullyan’s “Is God a Taoist?”

  28. 28 Zach Sep 12th, 2006

    Forrest, what you’re saying here is unclear to me. What do you mean when you say “Reality”?

    Me, all I mean is “what exists” – the creaking and sneezing of Friends in the benches, the cars outside, the relationships I feel in my heart, the intellectual and cultural worlds we are a part of, the earth we are sitting on. When a Friend says “I feel God is leading me to talk to my coworker and see if she’s doing alright” (assuming the Friend is truly being led), I see this as the result not of divine intervention, but attention to reality; attention to the reality that the person has been acting strangely, as well as attention to the feelings of care we have in our hearts for one another. Both of these things we might wish to keep in the dark, so that we will be spared the inconvenience of taking an interest. But these are the things the light will show us.

  29. 29 earthfreak Sep 12th, 2006

    Zach -

    I’m curious as to how you would guarantee that there’s a focus to worship. SOunds dangerously close to programmed worship to me, which, for me, can tend to kill the spirit, as it were…

    Other than that, I think you’re really onto something, and it’s such a relief to hear someone else voice something that I’ve been feeling for a long time - that we ARE called to go back to our roots, to the original passion and god-focused-ness of quakerism, we are, perhaps, called to QUAKE, and yet, it’s not about Jesus.

    FOr me, as far as my experience and what’s been revealed in my life, Jesus was the word/concept/story that people had to work with back when the spirit moved amoung early quakers. This doesn’t mean that it necessarily ISN’T “true” in some way, but demanding that THAT is the essence, and that power, that tapping into TRUTH or REALITY, isn’t available without “Jesus” makes about as much sense (to my perception) as insisting that the spirit can only communicate to english speakers, or white people, as those things were true of the first quakers as well.


  30. 30 forrest Sep 12th, 2006

    We both mean “what exists,” but I would say there’s a direction and intentionality at work.

    We might both see a square dance, say, and I gather that you would notice that everyone is doing some particular pattern, while I would say, “Everyone is doing that because the guy with the fiddle is telling them to.” I’d be going by inference, usually, not by necessarily hearing the guy any better… But I’m not talking about a being who gives orders, and everyone obeys out of fear, more like our most central central psychic ganglion.

    A line from the Incredible String Band, on “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter”: “We are the tablecloth, and also the table. Also the fable, of the dancing leaves.”

    To some extent I’m talking about a belief system based on how the world actually works in my experience, which is full of “far out, heavy, man” type interconnections when I’m open to it.

    More than that, it’s something that clicked about 20 years ago, one afternoon when I was smoking a joint and reading a Scientific American article on ~”What the hell is consciousness, anyway?”

    I was saying to myself: “That’s not it! They haven’t got a CLUE!” I suddenly “saw” it. It was not born, it could not die, it was clear as glass whether one painted it blue or smeared mud on it, or whatever. It wasn’t “me,” and I wasn’t anything else, just the picture it was showing at the moment.

    A moment of befuddlement? No, what I saw was entirely obvious, not mistakeable, too “simple” to explain to anyone who hasn’t “seen” it. I haven’t checked it out with the Zen folks, but it fits with what I read of that. It hasn’t made me supercompetent at anything; the main difference as I see it is that there’s a whole lot of things normal people fuss about that I know I shouldn’t take all that seriously.

    “God” is the same thing in a different hat. “The eye with which I see God, is the eye with which God sees me.” Whatever that means. But I know the outside God is more than a quirk of my imagination, because the real evidence is on the inside.

  31. 31 chrismsf Sep 13th, 2006

    May the longtime sun shine upon you
    All love surround you
    And the pure light within you
    Guide your way on.

    – From “A Very Cellular Song,” by the Incredible String Band, also on The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter

    I couldn’t resist!

    – Chris M.

  32. 32 Zach Sep 14th, 2006

    Chris, thanks :)

    You know, randomly, for a few weeks I thought your blog URL (or Robin’s — I forget which I saw first) was a reference to Medicins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders…

  33. 33 Zach Sep 14th, 2006

    Pam, I don’t have a good answer to that right now, and I’m not completely sure it is a good idea in the first place (trying to ensure that everyone is pursuing a similar kind of spiritual discipline I mean). I’ll probably come back to this.

  34. 34 simonstl Sep 21st, 2006

    Your flame and embers metaphor kept echoing with me, and eventually drove me to write:

    I have a very different take from you on the relation of flame and embers, though. The Quakers of the 1650s were extremely brave in carrying the Protestant notion of direct connection between God and the believer to its natural limit, and it drove them to do amazing things.

    At the same time, living on that edge is hard - impossible? - for a community to do over time, so rather than incinerate themselves they stepped back to find a way to support people on that quest, maintaining the embers that could be a source of continued future flame.

    I don’t think it’s fear so much as the difficult of sustaining that flame.

  35. 35 Lorcan Sep 22nd, 2006

    Hi Zach: I think thy siting the story of Fox and the Indian is right on point. I frankly have found some very vocal advocates for putting “Jesus” in place as our guide in Quakerism openly fly in the face of his most important lessons, that we should love each other.
    On the other hand, I find that all that Yeshua taught, could have been learned from Hill el. More, not hearing the words of either, one can find those lessons in thy heart, do nothing to another that which is abhorrent to thy self, what goes around comes around … be kind and brave and thy life will live, be craven and a coward … that evil planted will grow. I wish folks who demand us to “Jesus” as the tour guide in our lives, might be led by his words more than his image as an idol. Be a real agent of peace, not a chear leader for an empty idol. For Yeshua to lead thee to God, one might do as Bonhoffer suggests, live the sermon on the mount. To mouth alegence to “Jesus” and demand us all to fall in line, one might consider living that message enough for thy life to speak.
    Thine in the light

  1. 1 Recovering the old Quaker fire without burning anybody at The Seed Lifting Up Pingback on Jun 20th, 2007
  2. 2 Evangelical Friends at The Seed Lifting Up Pingback on Jul 18th, 2007
  3. 3 As one passing out of the body: Introduction to Richard Hubberthorne at The Seed Lifting Up Pingback on Aug 3rd, 2007
Comments are currently closed.

 Subscribe to feed

Or subscribe by email:

  • Kevin: The ads on the tube seem like a wonderful, non-intrusive way of informing the public. I happen to get immediately turned...
  • David M.: Your link doesn't work. Great picture, by the way.
  • Jim: I, like many humans, feel a need to connect. In my case, that connection must include growing ever more inclusive of t...
  • Judy: In response to Nils, I think we may have met through NYM; I'm in Milwaukee. Anyway, you might want to look at the ...
  • Michael: Friend Zach, I am very grateful to you for sharing your post-Quaker, nontheist quest in this blog--as well as in your...
  • Nils: Zach, I find this idea, of creating a positive alternative to 'magical-thinking' religion, very appealing, even thoug...
  • Kirk: Over and over, I see Quakers as emphasizing process over product, and that's a good thing. But process is much harder to...


  • 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

Last two