The place of the past in the Quaker present

(or, Remembering Tomorrow’s Retro Quaker Future…)

I recently joined and introduced myself on the Nontheist Friends email list, and there’s been some interesting discussion on early Friends and the “Conservative leaning liberal” movement that is a major feature of the Quaker blogosphere.

I’m going to post two messages of mine from the discusison (lightly edited).

First, a response to a question from James Riemermann, on why I felt strongly drawn towards traditional Quakerism for about a year, and then sharply returned to the “liberal liberal” fold, as I had said in my introduction. I’m not sure what I say is right, fair, or even consistent, which is part of why I post it here where a broader audience might read and respond.

A story

Most of what motivated me in my “traditionalist” period was the feeling that earlier generations of Friends were, at least in some respects, more spiritually grounded and empowered than many modern liberal ones are.

I see nothing wrong with this concern in itself (in fact I still share it, which is why I am perennially interested in earlier Friends); it took some further developments to make it crystallize into a sort of Quaker neo-primitivism.

The main development was discovering, while studying the early Quakers at Oxford and on my own, a neglected, virtually forgotten aspect of Quaker experience that I think is an important key to understanding early Quaker spirituality: the Light as not just ethics, but also truth; not merely something that gives imperative, counterfactual commands which we should listen to and obey (being “led,” feeling a “call”), but also as what shows us our true condition, what “declares all things as they are” (Nayler). In addition to finding this intellectually compelling, once I started trying to experience the “Light” this way I had a number of profound experiences during meeting, which convinced me it was something significant.

So to make a long story short, I felt I had found “the Truth” about Quakerism, and by extension Christianity (an even bigger fish!), and from there it’s no surprise that I began to regard all modern Quakers, even those called Conservative, as woefully apostate. Over the next few months I made a few enemies in online liberal Quaker forums, and I daresay worried a few Friends at the Oxford meeting. I even, I am embarassed to say, seriously considered performing an old-time “sign” on the Cornmarket (the main market street) – not sure if it would’ve been preaching naked or with flaming coals on my head

But at the same time, my natural critical temperament continued to eat away my confidence in the religious as supernatural. And my newly-created Quaker ideological fortress was unable to put up much resistance, because a Quakerism that emphasizes “learning to see what is really there” is quite compatible with a naturalist view of the world. (This is, incidentally, one reason I would commend this way of looking at Quakerism to nontheist Friends.) Six months later I was still wearing plain dress, but had stopped believing in the afterlife, and here I am a year later on the nontheist Friends email list. :-)

Which leaves me today in a paradoxical place: a nontheist liberal Friend with a keen interest in early Quakerism (as well as early Christianity) as an entirely human phenomenon. I certainly don’t think we must forever confine ourselves to doing variations on Fox, and I love much about modern Quakerism on its own terms. But I do still see modern Quakerism as “embers of the original Quaker flame” (Marcelle Martin), and in that sense I still have sympathies with this broader “Conservative-leaning” tendency.

Where I break with it is thinking the cure for what ails modern Quakerism has nothing to do with becoming more dogmatic, as many tradition-interested Friends appear to think. We are not a dogmatic religion; we are a practical, spiritual religion, and I don’t think anything will lead to “Quaker renewal” but greater attention to our practices and spiritual life.

Zach Alexander
Boston

PS – I touched on a number of these points in this comment on A Place to Stand.

Points of agreement?

Some lively discussion of the place of the Quaker past in the Quaker present has followed (which I won’t reprint here). I just sent the following email, asking if we’ve come to any kind of consensus:

Goodness – I agree with everyone! :-D

Seriously though, I’m not sure what I think about the finer points of this discussion myself, but I think we might be able agree on a few things:

  • As James put it, the words and history of early Friends can serve as enriching resources for many modern Friends, but are in no way necessary for being a good Quaker.
  • Simply as a matter of integrity, when anyone talks about Quaker history, we should let it be what it is, and not try to fashion it into a mythology (orthodox, liberal, etc.) to justify our own beliefs or party.
  • It’s good for there to be Friends around (of whatever persuasion) who know enough of the actual history to respond when other Friends (of whatever persuasion) fall into this trap.
  • It might even be good for there to be specifically liberal/radical Friends able to combat the “orthodox” Quaker story, which sometimes seems to be advanced for the purpose of excluding people – though this carries the risk of falling into fighting over “who gets Fox’s blessing,” which should be avoided.

How does that sound to everyone?

I look forward to reading people’s thoughts.

Much love,
Zach.

41 Responses to “The place of the past in the Quaker present”


  1. 1 Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) Dec 4th, 2006

    I don’t understand what this “orthodox” Quaker story is that you’re aiming to “combat”. The old Rufus Jones / Howard Brinton picture of Quakerism, emphasizing liberalism and mysticism? The later Christopher Hill / Hugh Barbour counter-picture, emphasizing the Puritan absolutism? The still later Lewis Benson / John Punshon picture, piously Christocentric? The revisionist picture which now dominates the field, provided by historians as Richard Bauman, Leo Damrosch, Doug Gwyn, larry Ingle, and Rosemary Moore, who seek to emphasize the warts and the complexities? That last is the closest thing there is to an “orthodoxy” just now, but I’m not clear why you’d wish to combat it; you seem to subscribe to similar views yourself.

    I also hope you will give some thought to the nature of the spirit that is leading you in this desire to “combat”.

  2. 2 Pam Dec 4th, 2006

    Marshall-

    I read Zach’s comment to be about the tendency to claim that Friends must be christian, or must base their faith in the Bible, since early Friends were and did.

    I didn’t realize there were so many battles for who is entitled to “orthodoxy” - but I think that that was the larger point to this post (and the similar thinking that I’ve been doing) - Even if we could prove that George Fox or some other ‘worthy’ early quaker thought of quakerism in exactly the way we do, does that make it “right” somehow?

    What enraptures me about quakerism is how dynamic and changing it is, how much more interested in truth and revelation as we experience than in dusty old books. Of course the dusty old books can be great guides and references (and footstools!) - but there is a question of where we center the heart of our faith…

  3. 3 Marshall Massey Dec 5th, 2006

    Hi, Pam! You and I certainly have differing impressions of modern Quakerism.

    I would say most modern Friends seem less interested in truth and revelation than the early Friends were, and more inclined to simply hang on to preconceived notions (such as liberal unprogrammed Friends’ notion that secular humanism is right in its tenets, or pastoral Friends’ parallel notion that conventional U.S. society is right in its tenets). Relatively few modern Friends seem to me to be visibly driven by an experience of convincement to question their preëxisting beliefs about what’s right.

    Early Friends were also not dismissive of “dusty old books”. Quite the contrary: they seem to have been quite eager to sit at the feet of the ancients and learn from them, and saw no conflict between doing this and learning from their own experiences. Fox himself had an extraordinarily large library for his time, with several hundred volumes. Early Quaker writers excitedly shared their discoveries of what old books had to say about what Christianity had been like in its first days, as can be seen from their many citations from such books in their writings.

  4. 4 Pam Dec 5th, 2006

    Hey Marshall

    I think there’s been some misunderstanding.

    In no way do I think that modern Friends are more spiritual, more focused on truth, etc, than early Friends, not at ALL!

    I totally agree that there is something calling us (God? Our own hearts? The ghost of George Fox?) to deepen our relationships with each other, our willingness to be transformed (and our openness to it, which may be another thing), our listening, our fire…..

    What I DON’T agree with is that part of the path there is to weed out folks who don’t follow a certain orthodoxy. I don’t think that we need everyone to be christian, or in love with the Bible, but to be true seekers. It’s a very different thing.

    In terms of “dusty old books” - I love them too, and read a lot. But I find more spiritual insight in Alice Walker or Mary Oliver than I do in the Bible (though I have found some pretty cool stuff in the Bible too, it just doesn’t have any sort of unique authority for me.

    I didn’t mean to dismiss them, but to bring up the question of in which soil do we root our faith? Do dusty old books have ultimate authority? To me that’s like using an old map to travel - it can be incredibly helpful, but if you get to a road that wasn’t there before, or has been entirely overgrown, that truth “trumps” the map - at least for me.

    And again, my whole point here is:

    1) What early Friends did ALSO doesn’t have ultimate authority for me, even as I call myself a Friend. It is of interest, but if they did something which further revelation has shown me isn’t in keeping with the spirit (like owning slaves!) Their choices have no weight for me.

    and

    2) early Friends did a lot of things. Some because of their experience of the Light, some because of their culture, some because of the time they were born into. Some hold immense power and teaching for me, some don’t.

    3) If early Friends jumped off a bridge, would you?

    :)

    Peace,

    Pam

  5. 5 Zach Dec 5th, 2006

    Hi Marshall,
    To respond to your comment, in the email you are responding to, I was primarily talking about popular discourse on Quaker history — the Quaker blogosphere being a perfect example — rather than the academic discourse that you cite examples of. So by “orthodox” I intended what is sometimes termed “orthodox Quakerism” rather than any of those academic positions (though of course there may be connections).

    What I was saying was that every branch of Quakerism has a partisan interest in telling the story of early Quakerism in such a way that it supports their claims to legitimacy as the truest or best Quakers (bullet two), and that we should resist the temptation to spin the facts in order to accomplish this (bullet three) — we are after all Friends of the Truth. This goes for “orthodox” Quakers as well as liberal ones, as I said.

    The last bullet singling out the possible need for liberal/radical Friends to combat this tendency when it appears among “orthodox” Friends was simply a result of my audience in the email being made up of liberal Friends, who are the ones affected after all. I almost edited it out for the blog here, but since I was presenting the post as a copy of an email it felt inappropriate to make such a big edit.

    As for your questioning of my motives, I know there is a part of me that sees people I disagree with as “enemies” and wants to “beat” them, and perhaps words like “combat” encourage this way of thinking and should be avoided.

    But I think the greater part of my motivation in speaking out against oversimplified tellings of Quaker history is a love of the truth, and that insofar as I do that especially with regard to oversimplifications coming from orthodox(-leaning) Friends my motivation is love of my fellow Friends whose status as Quakers is regularly and unjustly called into question, as “Ranters” or “Non-Quaker Friends” and so forth.

  6. 6 Marshall Massey Dec 5th, 2006

    Hi, Pam!

    Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to clarify the points you were making in your previous comment.

    I share with you your belief “that we [don’t] need everyone to be christian, or in love with the Bible”. However, I do believe that God wishes everyone to be “convinced of sin”, as the old Quaker phrasing puts it, and I do believe it is a dangerous move, and usually an error, to admit an applicant to membership in our Society when she or he has not gone through a convincement. And I suspect that you and other liberal Friends will not agree with me on those points.

    I don’t argue that the Bible has unique authority, but I am surprised that anyone would find “more spiritual insight in Alice Walker or Mary Oliver” than in the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon at the Last Supper.

    Actually, your whole concern about what has “ultimate authority” is strange to me. In my personal understanding, the path of Quakerism has nothing to do with “ultimate authority” and everything to do with charity, righteousness, lovingkindness, devotion to God and Christ, and a willingness to be taught by the Spirit and each other. “Ultimate authority” strikes me as an awfully cold fire to be trying to warm one’s hands by, and I am happy to leave the pursuit of it to the fundies, the fascists, and the free-market libertarians.

    Finally, your question, “If early Friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”: That sounds to me like a logical fallacy in the same category as the question, “Have you stopped beating your spouse?” — it makes a presumption that cannot rightly be presumed. The spouse-beating question wrongly presumes that you have been beating your spouse in the past. Your own question wrongly presumes that early Friends would have jumped off said bridge.

  7. 7 Pam Dec 5th, 2006

    Marshall -

    Your post made me smile,

    But I was trying to wrap my brain around what you said at the end, I certainly don’t presume that early Friends would have jumped off said bridge, but I DO presume that some of them occasionally did something that wasnt’ the highest example of living into the light. That was more to my point, and I wonder if you would disagree (slaveholding is sorta the “gimme” here, but there are probably plenty of less extreme examples)

    The question for me is much more about whether we do things because early Friends did them, or because they seem to be the right thing to do (though a combination of ethics, revelation as we have experienced, study of many sources(including early Friends and/or the Bible), our own emotions and intelligence, and perhaps more)

    I myself cringe at the idea of doing something because of what I would call orthodoxy or dogma (because it’s in the Bible, because early Friends did it) And that’s what I was trying to communicate.

    Also, what is “convincement of sin”? (I know very little about early Friends’ writings) - on the face of it it doesnt’ sound like something I’d agree with, but it does sound like something I might embrace the spirit behind were I to understand it better.

  8. 8 Marshall Massey Dec 5th, 2006

    Hello Zach!

    Thank you for your clarifications! For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that when you spoke of “the ‘orthodox’ Quaker story”, you were speaking of capital-O Orthodox Friends. I must be getting stupid in my old age!

    I would gently remind you, if I may, that I myself am an Orthodox Friend, as the Conservative Friends (to which I belong) are a subset of the Orthodox. So when you speak of the Orthodox as being “enemies”, and of their “story” as being something “specifically liberal/radical Friends” might “combat”, you are speaking of me and what I believe in.

    I myself, though, feel no need to “combat” liberals or liberalism or you. I am very interested in clarifying the factual record as best I can, in dialogue and coöperation with such honest seekers as yourself, in order to uphold what I regard as the great insights of early Quakerism, and to support the practices that flow naturally from those insights. But if the differences between my poor understanding of these matters, and your own, lead you to a desire to “beat” me — well, it will be a very one-sided “combat”, because I am mindful that Christ counseled his followers not to resist. So you will find that your dialogue with me becomes a monologue –

    I do not deny that anyone is a Quaker who is a recorded member of a recognized body within the Religious Society of Friends.

  9. 9 Pam Dec 5th, 2006

    Marshall-

    ps - perhaps I should have said that I more often find something, or find something new.

    Certainly the sermon on the mount is amazing.

    But much of what I find important in the Bible is now threaded through our culture.

    I havne’t read the bible extensively, but I sat down and read the gospels a few years ago and was surprised to find that they were much less hateful than I had expected (based on what I most commonly experience from “christians” these days) and also that so much of what i think of as generic cultural wisdom actually comes from the bible.

    But one doesnt’ have to do daily bible readings to take tne sermon on the mount to heart.

    Maybe what I meant is that I find myself more likely to be struck by a piece of writing that I haven’t heard before if I randomly open a book of Mary Oliver’s poems than if I open the bible.

    does that make more sense?

  10. 10 Zach Dec 9th, 2006

    Marshall,
    I think you’re misunderstanding what I was saying, and I would gently nudge you to read more carefully next time.

    I am talking about the tendency for Friends in each branch to distort the historical record to support their position, not about Quaker branches/schools of thought per se, as I emphasized in my last comment. These are two distinct, separable things. So in context, speaking of combatting the “Orthodox story/mythology” refers to combatting that tendency as it occurs in the Orthodox branch(es), not combatting Orthodox Quakerism per se, let alone you personally.

    Along the same lines one might talk of the need to fight the same tendency in the liberal branch – e.g. selectively reading early Friends so they sound like modern liberal ones – but not fight liberal Quakerism per se.

    Do you see the difference?

    I hope this resolves your continued concern about the word “combat”, because in this light it is not directed at people or earnest viewpoints, but simply at wishful thinking. I presume a Conservative Friend such as yourself would not object to that any more than to “the Lamb’s War”, or Fox’s instruction to “Spare no deceit. Lay the sword upon it…”, though we might agree, as I said last time, that there are good reasons to avoid even metaphors of violence.

    As for who counts as a Quaker, I have some quibbles with the membership definition. But I am glad to hear what I think is the spirit behind your saying it.

  11. 11 Craig Dec 11th, 2006

    Zach,

    You write, “Where I break with it is thinking the cure for what ails modern Quakerism has nothing to do with becoming more dogmatic, as many tradition-interested Friends appear to think.”

    Having heard quite a few horror stories of how Christian Friends have been treated in some liberal Quaker meetings leads me to believe that rigid dogmatism is not the sole property of “tradition-interested Friends”. Sadly, I find that the more Conservative Friends tend to be an embarrassment to liberal Meetings, as you yourself seem to indicate.

    God’s peace,
    Craig

  12. 12 Pam Dec 12th, 2006

    Craig -

    I feel like your post should help me understand something more deeply about this conflict, but I’m still struggling to do so.

    Coming from a perspective quite like Zach’s (I think) I don’t see that he was saying (or I or any other liberal Friends I know) think conservative Friends are “an embarassment” (though I have heard some stories, so I don’t mean to dismiss anyone’s experience)

    I agree that anyone can be “dogmatic” - Christians dont’ have any exclusive license…. And it’s good to remember that.

    At the same time, I feel like I have definitely heard people imply that what we need to do is exclude from membership anyone who doesnt’ believe…… (in Christ, or in God, depending) Though they’re more likely to say that in positive terms (I can’t think now of how you say “exclude these people” in positive terms, but I’ve seen it done)

    On the other hand, I have NEVER heard the more “universalist” among us claim that the salvation of quakerism will be in excluding anyone who DOES believe in God.

    Now, perhaps it seems to some that the idea that we should not exclude anyone based on theist belief (as opposed to, say, embracing violence) is somehow dogmatic. IS that what you’re saying?

    I suppose the difference is that it seems to me that either a christian or a nontheist might have someone walk up to them after a meeting where their ministry was infused with that belief system and say “that made me uncomfortable, you should stop” or some variation thereof, no one is taking a stand that the society as a whole should decide to exclude christians, while many seem to be taking that stand on nontheism.

    (and yes, of course, historical quakers identified as christians and not as nontheists, I cede that point, but I think the original point of this post is that if you delve a little deeper that’s not patently clear, and what’s more important, what historical quakers did is not binding on us today - the spirit continues to move, does it not?)

    peace
    Pam

  13. 13 Craig Dec 12th, 2006

    Thanks for your response Pam. Perhaps I should have said that Christian Friends are an embarassment to some of the more liberal Meetings. This assertion comes from a number of sources specifically some of my Christian f/Friends who attend liberal Meetings.

    You seem to be talking about excluding folks from membership in a Meeting. I didn’t really mean membership per se, because I feel that one can be excluded from any group by the way they are treated. One can be a member of a liberal Friends Meeting and be treated like an outsider.

    But, since you mentioned it, I think it important to at least agree somewhat with what your Yearly Meeting holds true if one wishes to be a member of the Society. The Faith and Practice of each YM is not a creed but does contain the Truths that have been found as in community. This from a F&P in 1656 says it best:

    “Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with a measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

    My own Yearly Meeting, NCYM-Conservative says this regarding membership:

    “It is the position of the Yearly Meeting that persons may be accepted into membership who are willing to listen for and give expression in their lives to the promptings of the Inner Spirit in all areas of personal discipline and service to others. Some applicants may not yet profess complete adherence to all Friends doctrines and testimonies, but will indicate a readiness to wait upon the Lord and to seek Divine Guidance in those areas where they may not yet be convinced that the Quaker way of life is right. Members of the Meeting should guard constantly against dilution of the strength of the Quaker message. We insist that all members seek to live by the principles set forth in this book, and that they seek to work toward attainment of the truths implicit in the Queries and Advices for individuals and Meetings.”

    I’m not sure if Friends who wished to join NCYM-Conservative could do so with integrity if they did not feel in unity with the above statement. I realize there are many other YM’s which have a much broader statement of membership that this one and I am glad there is a place for those Friends who feel they cannot “seek Divine Guidance”.

    For me, (note: FOR ME) it is important that I be in community with folks who share the same language when talking about thier faith path. The Christian language that is used in my Meeting (mostly,not always, however)is a language with which I am comfortable and which can convey to the Gathered Community the deeper things of the Spirit.

    I most certainly believe that Hindus, Buddhists, humanists, atheists can experience, for lack of a better word, the Holy Other. But I don’t understand the language used to convey that experience. It does not resonate with me. It’s not that it is untrue, it is just not a language with which I can relate.

    And yes, I understand that there are people who can be fed in a pluralistic faith community. My partner and I for many years were members of a Unitarian Universalist Church and continue to have many friends who are UU.

    As I see it, there is a definite “Quaker path”. Not that we have to rely on the old writings of our foreparents, but they do serve as a guide. I suppose it would be like the Sutras serve as a guide to the Buddhists or the Upanishads for the Hindus.

    Many folks would not agree that there is a “Quaker path”. Some would agree but disagree on what that path looks like. I think we all might agree that this Path is not one that is walked in isolation but this Path is walked with others in our Monthly Meetings, Yearly Meetings, etc. We come to Truth in community with others. Those “others” are not only those Friends we have sitting beside us in Meeting, but include those women and men who have gone before us.

    Anyway, thanks for reading my ramblings. If you are open to receiving Truth and believe that revelation continues, then I am proud to call you, Friend. And that, Pam, I feel sure is the case. It is my firm belief that the Inward Light will lead us all, individually and corporately, to Truth. Who knows, that Light may lead me to an understanding that there is no God. But that same Light might lead you and others to a place where there can be no denying that there is a God and that this God loves you unconditionally. May we both have open hearts and open minds.

    Peace,
    Craig

  14. 14 Craig Dec 12th, 2006

    One more thing, I see on your profile that you are “family” and that you are vegetarian and work for animal rights. We even like the same kind of music. We have more in common than not.

    I do hope you are planning to come to the Mid-Winter Gathering in Greensboro in 2nd Month (http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/). Okay, that was a shameless plug for our 2007 MidWinter here in Greensboro :-).

  15. 15 James Riemermann Dec 12th, 2006

    Craig,

    It seems to me that you have expressed a preference, though in carefully measured language, for the exclusion of Friends based on beliefs. You write: “I think it important to at least agree somewhat with what your Yearly Meeting holds true if one wishes to be a member of the Society.” And the quote from your Yearly Meeting seems fairly clear in its intent to exclude those with non-traditional theological understandings from membership.

    Now, your meeting has a right to do this. But there is a huge difference between excluding those who don’t share your beliefs (as you seem to endorse here), and feeling like an outsider because the people around you don’t share some of your beliefs. My very liberal meeting is clearly and genuinely open to Christian Friends; many of our members describe themselves as Christian (and many do not). Some of them might feel discomfort in our meeting because it is not explicitly Christian, or they might even sometimes (rarely, I think) hear the unfriendly denigration of Christianity by non-Christian Friends who mistake fundamentalism for Christianity as a whole. This is unfortunate and deserves attention. But it is very different from explicit exclusion of human beings from community on the grounds of theological beliefs.

    You write: “For me, (note: FOR ME) it is important that I be in community with folks who share the same language when talking about their faith path.” I accept that. But for me it is important that I be in community with people who DO NOT share the same language when talking about their faith path, but rather speak from their own, direct experience of living in the world. When I hear folks describing their beliefs according to what they have read in books or been taught by others, I think, where can I find YOU in all that borrowed language? Contrary to John 1.1, I believe the spirit came before the words, and the words we use should come from that spirit, and not vice-versa.

    That is why I am a liberal Friend, and not simply a Friend.

  16. 16 Craig Dec 12th, 2006

    Actually, I think the key passage to our YM’s Faith and Practice quote is this: “Some applicants may not yet profess complete adherence to all Friends doctrines and testimonies, but will indicate a readiness to wait upon the Lord and to seek Divine Guidance in those areas where they may not yet be convinced”

    I would have a problem with anyone joining our Meeting who is unwilling to listen to the Inward Light including a Christian who is not open to continuing revelation. Anyone who is willing to be open to new ideas and Truths, should be welcomed.

    In fact, when my partner joined our Meeting he was a self-descibed non-theist. I laughingly said at MM that “I stand aside” on his membership acceptance but that was only said is jest (yeah, I know…not very Quakerly). The reason I had no problem with him joining was that he was/is open to continuing revelation.

    Yeah, I’m a theist and a Christian, but I am also a universalist. Now there’s an interesting combination…just piss everybody off :-).

    And the best thing of all is that I am just one person in my Monthly and Yearly Meeting and there are others who DO see things differently and they challenge me to continue to listen and learn. I assure you, James, that I am not the holder of all Truth, but along with my faith community, I continue to seek that which is True.

    Enough rambling…

    Peace Friend,
    Craig

  17. 17 James Riemermann Dec 12th, 2006

    Dear Craig,

    I agree, being open to new light is central to the way of Friends, in fact is central the way of anyone who wants to grow in understanding. And I appreciate the openness you express in your last post, both in your meeting and in yourself.

    I may well be misreading the small portion of your YM’s Book of Discipline you first quoted. Nonetheless, the tone of the language struck me as, the doctrines we lay out in our book are the truth, and we will accept you as long as you are moving toward that truth. Whereas my view is, as there is truth to be found wherever we look, so is our capacity for self-deception. This capacity for truth as well as falsehood is in me, in you, in all Friends in all centuries, and in every Quaker tome that has ever been penned. We need to keep looking, questioning, moving forward. I don’t presume to know what direction we need to move in, but we cannot simply rely on tradition. We have to examine our selves and the world with an open but critical heart and mind.

    Anyway, thanks for your reply. I have a little better sense of who you are, my Friend.

    james

  18. 18 Zach Dec 12th, 2006

    Craig,
    I would resonate with Pam’s response to your first comment. Let me just add two things:

    I wouldn’t be embarrassed in the slightest to be in a meeting (or elsewhere) with you, first of all.

    Second, I think you raise a worthy aspect of the general topic, which I am happy to discuss and see others discuss, but for the record I think you may have been responding as much to Friends in previous disputes as to what I wrote here. What specifically made you think I find Christian Friends an embarrassment? There are things often associated with Christians that I find embarassing (e.g. easy supernaturalism, homo/transphobia, triumphalism), but I’m aware there are many Christian Friends who aren’t affected by these things, and non-Christians who are…

  19. 19 Zach Dec 12th, 2006

    James,
    In Craig’s defence (it might be moot now, but I wrote the following earlier in response to your first comment) — As I understand him, he’s willing and proud to call anyone Friend who is open to receiving new truth, which to me amounts to the liberal position (sorry Craig ;-), or at least a liberal position of a sort. But he also wants his immediate community to be composed of Friends who outwardly profess Christianity, for what seem like practical reasons rather than theological ones – “It’s not that it is untrue, it is just not a language with which I can relate.”

    Assuming that this entails respectful, friendly and cooperative relations with non-Christian Friends, (which it seems to for Craig, though I don’t know much about NCYM-C’s corporate relations with other Friends), I don’t find anything in me that really objects to this.

    If I may bring out the trusty science analogy, this seems less like dogmatically holding to certain scientific theories (which a true scientist cannot do), and more like the formation of different “research programs.” If a group of scientists are trying to cure a certain kind of cancer, and some become convinced that one strategy is the most promising but the rest do not, there’s nothing wrong with them forming a subgroup where they will pursue those avenues, and not collaborate in their day-to-day work with other scientists, while still sharing an overall purpose and vision and method. The moment it becomes a dogma – “This is the only way this cancer will be cured” – scientific integrity has been lost. But I think Craig has clearly expressed in his last beautiful paragraph (in his previous comment) that he is remaining open:

    If you are open to receiving Truth and believe that revelation continues, then I am proud to call you, Friend. And that, Pam, I feel sure is the case. It is my firm belief that the Inward Light will lead us all, individually and corporately, to Truth. Who knows, that Light may lead me to an understanding that there is no God. But that same Light might lead you and others to a place where there can be no denying that there is a God and that this God loves you unconditionally. May we both have open hearts and open minds.

  20. 20 James Riemermann Dec 12th, 2006

    Thanks, Zach, for calling my attention to that paragraph, which is lovely and every bit as open as you say it is. It is not the first time I have missed something important.

  21. 21 Craig Dec 13th, 2006

    Zach writes: “What specifically made you think I find Christian Friends an embarrassment?”

    I didn’t mean you personally, Zach. I was responding to a couple of recent stories I had heard that took place in liberal Meetings. One story related how someone was eldered for giving vocal ministry that was “too Christian”. And that was my point…both liberals (including myself) and Christians (including myself)can be dogmatic. This is especially true of those of us who grew up in fundamentalist homes. For us, even though we know better, the world is sometimes seen in black and white. Hopefully, someday, I can put that mindset away for good and see only (Quaker) gray :-).

    Thanks for the wonderful dialogue ya’ll.

    -Craig

  22. 22 Pam Dec 13th, 2006

    Yes

    Thank you all for this dialogue

    Craig - I do think that we have more in common than seperating us. (and I DO hope to get to midwinter - I am trying to figure out the train, as I like to keep flying to a minimum)

    I appreciate that you seem to allow that the openness to listen is, in the end, more important than any finite conviction about what you are listening to - and the ackowledgement that some folks who can throw the word “Jesus” around with ease aren’t actually listening (while many are!) and the same is true of people who don’t find their spiritual center associated with Jesus (after all, wasn’t he the one who said that saying “lord! lord!” isn’t really worth a hill of beans compared to how you live your life (slight paraphrase)

    :)

    I do find the passage you quoted a little anxiety-provoking. Like James, I heard in it an implication that the truth is already determined and that as long as people are working toward a known truth (rather than truth, which I would claim is unknown in its fullness to all of us) they can join the club. But I can see how it can easily be interpreted otherwise as well.

    I sense that I’m rambling a bit extensively!

    Pam

  23. 23 Lorcan Dec 15th, 2006

    Hiya, Friends:

    These conversations seem to take the same path, often, and I really think it would be a good thing to get together someplace easy to accomodate us all, and wait on the Lord together, over eat… bask in the sunlight, and in have a great talk. I have a great fear that in these days, there is a potential for, if not a full blown schism, again, at least a growing appart of Friends, at a time when we should be growing closer. These are really rather dark days, ( read my blog about the Left Behind game… )
    I think talking together we get past the things which hang us up in writing to each other… we are a society based in love, and seeking, and frankly, I’ve been feeling rather low, this past year, and a good get together would be a nice chearful thing, I’ll even bring the Uilleann Pipes…
    Serriously, I do think we need a Friends conference on unity of spirit, rather than unity of doctrine.

    Thine, ever so dearly in the light
    lor

  24. 24 Craig Dec 15th, 2006

    Lorcan,

    Perhaps that is a good idea, but the schism would only be within the ranks FGC I think. We, Conservative Friends, are already seperated from other groups as an institutional entity. I’m not making a judgement on that as being good or being bad. It is just fact.

    There is quite an amazing unity and sweetness of Spirit among Friends in our Yearly Meeting and for that I am thankful.

    The dialogue and fellowship that is going on these days is being done through FWCC. This is an amazing group and if you haven’t participated in any of their meetings, I would highly suggest you do. Perhaps they are doing that of which you speak.

    We had a couple of Friends give a presentation at our Meeting a few months back on the FWCC World Gathering…very impressive! Not only is dialogue taking place among FGC factions or FUM factions…dialogue is taking place between FGC Friends and Evangelical Friends! Now that, Friend, is indeed a move of the Spirit.

    Take Care Lorcan,
    Craig

  25. 25 Lorcan Dec 16th, 2006

    Hi Craig:

    We are not completely devoid of dialogue between Evangelical, Wilberite and Hicksite Friends here in the NYYM, where I do find a get together would be helpful, is here among on-line Quakers, we bloggers, as simply writing seems to create less understanding, than, meeting together.

    As to the institutional separation between thy meeting, and those Friends who sought to heal the schism, well, I am rather sad about that, I know that has happened, but it leaves me without much hope of peace in the world, and seems to me to be a form of idolitry, that we Friends place the images of our faith before the love in which we were all founded back when…

    Thine, dearly in the light

    lor

  26. 26 Lorcan Dec 16th, 2006

    PS One friend from out meeting, when to the FWCC events this year in South America, or was it Central America, brought back wonderful reports… I am not in great shape financially to go to South America these days, but do feel free to email me about FWCC gatherings in the US, cheers lor

  27. 27 Marshall Massey Dec 21st, 2006

    Pam, bless you for your kind response.

    You wrote, “I certainly don’t presume that early Friends would have jumped off said bridge, but I DO presume that some of them occasionally did something that wasn’t the highest example of living into the light. That was more to my point, and I wonder if you would disagree (slaveholding is sorta the “gimme” here, but there are probably plenty of less extreme examples).”

    To answer your question directly, no I wouldn’t disagree, Pam. It’s pretty obvious that the first two generations of Friends were not always perfect in their faithfulness to the Light.

    Friends’ own records show how some of their leaders (such as the extraordinary James Nayler and the gifted George Keith) fell away from straightforward listening and obedience to the Light’s guidance, into notions that did harm both to themselves and to those around them. Friends’ records also show how some of their converts fell away from complete faithfulness to the righteous pattern of life that the Light reveals, into wrongdoings such as marital infidelity, thereby compelling Friends to disown them.

    And something similar happened in the case of slavery.

    The first Friends’ (seeming) tolerance for slavery looks inexcusable to us moderns because, when we think of slavery, we think of slavery as it existed at its ugliest in the United States in the nineteenth century (and as it existed in similar inhuman forms elsewhere). We cannot believe that the first Friends would not have condemned such a thing outright.

    But the problem is twofold: First, that what we moderns think of when we think of “slavery”, is not what early Friends meant when they used the word. And second, that what we think of as their tolerance for slavery, was not at all what we think it was.

    It troubles me when the errors of some small group of early Friends — such as the followers of James Nayler, or, in this case, the Quakers who were slaveholders — are used to denigrate the early Quaker movement as a whole. It troubles me when the fact that George Fox and the elders at Balby didn’t go to Barbados and stamp out Quaker slaveholding, is used to dismiss or denigrate their wisdom.

    I am certainly not saying that you have done this with your criticism of those who root their faith in “dusty old books”. But down through the last thirty years, a good number of others have done it within my hearing.

    The whole issue is, alas, just too long to be dealt with adequately in a comment here. But Quaker slaveholding, in particular, is a matter I’ve been meaning to address in an essay for some time, and your comment here has finally provoked me to sit down and try writing the thing.

    So I guess I need to thank you for your friendly provocation — does this mean I can refer to you as my muse? — and I’ll be posting the essay to my journal site, in bite-sized pieces, starting this evening about three hours from now.

    You’re welcome to read it there, should you feel so moved.

    On the other issue you raised — “what is convincement of sin”? — that’s a very good question. too. And a big one: I could answer with a short definition, but I don’t think a short definition would mean enough to satisfy. I’ll try to give an answer you can work with some time soon.

  28. 28 Lorcan Dec 21st, 2006

    Marshall, my dear brother in the light:

    I have spent a lot of time examining slavery from the first terrible voyages to the “New World.” Slavery did change. After Bacon’s revolt the place of the indentured servant was elevated and the African slave declined. However, I must agree with Elias Hicks, that no African ever walked up the gang plank of a slave ship, and each of our ancestors in our faith new this fully. It is a shameful thing that Fox saw the real horrors of slavery and did not thunder against it’s wrongs. It is one of the things, however, which is a gift to us, making him human, with our frailties.
    There are Friends who from the first moment of thought on slavery, condemned it for what it was. We, in meetings with many Black members, must bear the responsibility for proclaiming loudly, the wrongs of our own families, even those of us who never owned another human, but did not enough to stop the institution, in the same way we today bear the weight of our lack of attention to questions like the horrors of Difor today, and places whose names are seldom spoken - how many of us stand with the raped women of the Chitagong Hills?
    But, slavery was not only here in our back yard, it was in our house as Friends.
    Today, I know of Friends who gleeful tell of vacations at Disneyland, turning a cold eye to the horrors of the factories where Disney creates the toys with which their children will play. We Friends must tread lightly on the earth, as Native friends say … be watchful of what we use, what we take, buy, and where we have been.
    This is even true of our expressions of faith. When a Quaker Pastor says to me that God came to earth as Jesus, because the patriarchs did not get it right, the Hebrew profits did not fully get it right, so God came down to give them the rest of the message … well … how can I as a Quaker, resolve that with those of my mother’s blood, the tribe of Yeshua, who for almost 2,000 years were oppressed and killed in Jesus’ name. The whole issue of prize goods, is very important … that which we take and use, when we take it from another … brings with it certain responsibility…

    Thine in the light
    lor

  29. 29 Marshall Massey Dec 23rd, 2006

    Lorcan, my new essay was written specifically to address some of the very beliefs and judgments about early Friends (in my humble opinion, mistaken ones) that you are repeating here. Your comment appears to me to be a statement that you don’t think you need to read the essay because your mind is already up.

  30. 30 Marshall Massey Dec 23rd, 2006

    – That should read, “because your mind is already made up.”

    Sorry.

  31. 31 Pam Dec 23rd, 2006

    It seems to me that the two of you are talking a bit past each other.

    I read what Lor was saying to be (mostly) of a different bent - that slavery (even the “kinder gentler” slavery that early Friends might have been more familiar with) is abhorrent, and that it’s significant that so many Friends didn’t see this (I myself would say something similar about the incredible dearth of modern day Friends who are vegetarian, or, as Lor recently pointed out, boycott Disney) - There are plenty of excuses, and even explanations, and it doesn’t make us BAD PEOPLE, but it does (and SHOULD) muss up our qualifications for sainthood.

    I am glad if I nudged you to write about something that’s important to you, Marshall, but I must say I cringed to see my reference to slavery get picked up on there. I shouldn’t have even mentioned it, because it wasn’t really my point. My point is that early Friends were not any closer to the Light/Truth/The great whatsis than we are today. They weren’t farther, they weren’t demons, and it can be quite useful to read their writings and get another perspective on the whole thing. My point, however, was that I don’t vest them with any special authority, more (actuually) just because I don’t believe they had it (even if they HAD been saints) than because they clearly muffed up some stuff and could be shallow, and contentious, and annoying just like we can :)

    (The guy in my meeting who I think of as our big time christian, but still a universalist, did an adult ed that touched on “what we believe” - and read the greatest quotes from surveys of early Friends about what they thought major concerns of the society were - how to keep people from falling asleep in meeting was right up there. I loved it!)

  32. 32 Lorcan Dec 23rd, 2006

    AH no Marshall:
    I will read thy piece with great interest! However, I will also read it with some historical context, that people who are enguaged in doing wrong, seldom are compeletly honest, even with themselves.
    There are few who are as honest, as say Patrick Henry, in his private letters, where he ackowleges his fear of addressing the wrong in his life. From the first days of slavery there where some strong enough to not only see the wrong of it, but witness to it in their hearts as well as their actions.
    I hope that thy essay sheds new light, frankly, I found Fox’s writting on slavery to be an accomodation. It would be nice to be shown otherwise.

    Thine in the light
    lor
    PS Marry Christmas and a bright new year.

  33. 33 Lorcan Dec 24th, 2006

    Dear Friend Marshal:
    I’ve read thy piece, as far as thee has posted so far, and am not yet convinced that Fox, for his luke warm reaction to slavery, and early Friends who bought and sold African people were at all justified by their times in their actions - or more to the point, that their sins of omission or greed were mitigated thereby. Rather, however, I am thankful for their lacking, as it reminds us why we have no cleargy.

    Several Friends use as authority for their points, “Well Fox said, XY or Z”. I prefer Mary Dyer’s pronouncement, “truth is my authority, not authority my truth.” Even among people known as Friends, we have very classic sins for which we are called upon to atone, in each of our lives and in our history.

    We cannot ignore the Black Attender benches in our meetinghouses well into the 19th century, each one of us owns the responcibility for that, and cannot address our own unconcious failings on race until we claim responsibility for the historical negatives in the patrimony and matrimony of our institutions.

    Slavery, and the fifty five million souls murdered in the middle passage is one part of the burden of genocide our people bear. In order to atone, I believe we must embrace it in full, and in those times in our lives when rememberance is called for, atone with a complete sense of ownership, it was our faith that did this.

    There are no saints or saviors, only God and this weak flesh who He led here to try very very hard. Our acceptance of our sins, is not so that we might wallow in a feeling of evil, corruption, of being lesser than that God intended us to be, but in the culture of Yeshua, to try hard to make good on our promice to atone for our sins, and forgive others their sins.

    I find one of the weak points of latter interpritations of the life of our brother Yeshua’s ministry, the idea that he died to atone for our sins. No, we have the potential to sin in each act of consumption which makes life possible, and as such, the sacrifice we make, is a sacrifice of our ego, our labor, our love, all so that we can make things as right as we can in a world designed for some harm, for much failure, and wrong. I do not either put on Yeshua, my personal need to atone for what my people have done, nor do I try and say our sins were not very great.

    I have much I could do to mitigate my own responcibility for slavery, I am decended from a family who not only had members who stood against slavery in America in the South as early as the very end of the war of 1812, walked into the alone bush in the, then, Belgin Congo to expose the genocide there in the early part of the last century, but, not a single one of my direct ancestors owned slaves*, and in fact, a close relitive openly and proudly married a Black woman in the Islands when slavery was still the law of the land in the States. None of this takes from me, as a Quaker and a more or less White American, the responsibility to atone for the sins of our people, this holocaust of human bondage.
    Well, I don’t say all this, to say that thy deep writing and musing on our past is untrue or not spirit led. It might be part of thine own atonement. Rather, I offer this in the light of plain speaking, to my own condition, my own failings and responcibility to try as hard as weak flesh may, to walk with rightiousness before our God, humbled by my own sins and failings.

    Thine, dearly in the light
    lor

    * My family has other great and dark things in our past of wars and conquest for which to atone.

  34. 34 Marshall Massey Dec 24th, 2006

    Pam, I’m sorry I made you cringe. As I said in the essay, I’m very grateful to you for raising the question, and that was my reason for mentioning your name in it. I will delete your name if you desire.

    Assuming you don’t ask me to delete your name, however, I do plan to carefully distinguish you, as a person gifted with the knack of raising all the right questions, from those people who would reject early Quakerism altogether because of its dividedness on slavery. They are the ones I am contradicting. You are simply the one who very rightly drew my attention back to a matter that needs to be addressed. For you I have nothing but praise.

    Lorcan, I agree that when we read Fox’s writings through twentieth-century eyes, they look like an accommodation of slavery. One of my points in the part of the essay I’ve already posted is that Friends didn’t yet know what “slavery” was going to mean in the New World, at the time the Balby elders and George Fox wrote their best-known statements on the matter.

    Another point I made in the part you’ve read so far is that by the time Fox got to Barbados, and wrote his other known statements on the matter, he was in the same position as the Friends who visited Nazi Germany before World War II and tried to get German approval for their plans to help Jews emigrate: there were certain things that they’d have gladly said, condemning the evils they saw, but that they couldn’t say without alienating their hosts and making forward progress impossible.

    It’s not entirely clear to me why you say you’d rather Fox had thundered against slavery forthrightly in Barbados. Had he done so, it would have gotten his fellow Quakers exiled from Barbados (if not imprisoned and possibly killed), and it would have gotten all their Negro converts transferred into non-Quaker ownership, where they would have been badly abused and very probably killed. There is quite a difference between saying things that might get you yourself killed, as Mary Dyer did, and as Fox did in England, and saying things that might get innocents under your protection killed. Just speaking personally, I am glad Fox was willing to say the former sorts of things, and equally glad that he was unwilling to say the latter.

  35. 35 Pam Dec 24th, 2006

    Hey Marshall

    You are welcome to use my name, I’m all for telling the truth, no matter what it happens to be.

    I cringed only that I had done such a poor job of getting my point across.

    It seems to me that you are addressing a perceived tendency to throw out all the wisdom of early Friends because they were wrong on slavery, which to my knowledge doesnt’ exist.

    I personally, like Lor, think they WERE wrong on slavery (even if it wasn’t as bad in context as we might perceive it to be - as I said, I see things today that make me feel similarly) But that doesnt’ invalidate whatever insights they did have. I have learned great lessons from sexists, racist, etc., who had great insights and yet coudlnt’ see past the culture of their times (how many of us can?) but that neither makes their sexism or racism acceptable.

    But, more to the point, I myself am NOT throwing out the wisdom of early Friends, for one thing. I respect it, I am often surprised or enlightened by it.

    I only refuse to give them special authority, as if they were closer to God or to Truth than I am. I made the unfortunate mistake of pointing out, in this context, that they were fallible, which is easily shown by a support (be it ever so lukewarm) for slavery, which is clearly unacceptable in ANY form in hindsight.

    I don’t think that their support of slavery makes them bad, and requires us to dismiss anything they might have said or written in any context. I do think that it shows that they were fallible human beings, just as we are. But even that is not why I don’t choose to vest them with especial authority, I am simply, as Lor points out, doing as other early Friends did, focusing more on what canst THOU say, and truth as my authority, rather than vice versa.

    I tend to glaze over these days when I read anything that seems “academic” to me, so I don’t tend to do well trying to make sense of historical treatises. It can certianly be worthwhile to explore why Fox might have seemed to support slavery - because he couldnt’ understand the implications or the future, or because he hoped to save some real life people rather than stand on priciple.

    Still, for me, owning another person, even if the relationship entirely lacks physical brutality, for example, is simply not living in the light, no two ways about it. I am a little disturbed by what I am reading as an implication that it was “not so bad” at some point. - True, it went from bad to worse (as far as I know) but that doesnt’ mean it was ever acceptable.

  36. 36 Lorcan Dec 24th, 2006

    Dear Friends:
    I am well knackered, no sleep last night… long time problems of illness, been getting on top of, but last night, even trying to sleep sitting up did not help… so pardon the quick reply…

    Perhaps slavery, like anti Quaker laws would have died before three hundred years passed, and brutality became the out rage it did, though I have to say, that morphological studies on the remains of early slaves show they were worked until mussle was ripped from bone… but be that as it may, if we had gone to jail, as those Friends who flocked to Boston after Mary was hanged, maybe, just maybe, we would have ended this stain on our souls.

    The fact is there was no gentle slavery. We may not have beaten our slaves, but the institution was preserved by deadly force. Slaves running from Quaker masters were subject to the same brutal slave catchers.

    I do condemn early Friends, as lovingly as I condemn myself, we are all subject to the sins of our day. I pay my taxes for fear of jail, while knowing my labor goes to kill hundreds of thousands. I stand condemned with my dear brother George Fox, and William Penn, equal in shame for my short comings, and praying that one day I will find the courage to shake off the fear of these bloody laws, as Mary Dyer did.

    As to Fox, risking his life for the freedom of his thought, while being, ever so blind to the great harm against others, I will briefly say, too tired to go into great detail, I am sure that Fox had ADHD. Many great invovators did… his intensity, his lack surity in the rightness of his cause, not a bad thing, when he also hit upon the need to center down… but, one thing about ADHD, is that one is rather concerned about the rightness of that which is before thee, and I fear that slavery took a little more empathy than he could spare in his zeal. It took the kind of empathy that say, Bonhoffer had… but none of us are complete. There was a great interview with the Dali Lama, the other day, with Barbara Walters. She asked it he was a God. He laughed and said, no… if I was, I would cure the infection in my eye that is bothering me today. She asked if he was inlightened, he said no, the inlightened know… and he had trouble remembering yesterday. He said he was only a teacher… great lesson in humility.
    Oh, too tired to go on about humility about our teachers… night all… more soon. Have a dear and merry Christmas and a bright and joyous new year.
    lor

  37. 37 Liz Opp Dec 30th, 2006

    Well, Zach, I am not sure why I hadn’t picked up on this post and its many comments earlier. Thanks to everyone who has participated in this terrific exchange. Had I caught it sooner, I might have had more energy to reflect more deeply on what was being said, to see what I might say. As it is, I’ll simply take it in at this point and see about checking back. It’s not my style to insert myself into a conversation that has taken many a turn, touching on many a topic…

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  38. 38 david Dec 31st, 2006

    Howdy Zach. Long time noseeum.

    I am (despite the kwakersaur monicker) one of those conservative leaning liberal Friends who BTW is also on a hesitant trek to finding himself a home in a liberal(ish) mainstream Christian denomination. Like you I found the promises implicit in ancient Friends attractive, like you I had a fascination with their faith and witness, and like you I have found a skeptical methodology slowly deconstructing the whole apparatus.

    I still favour a moderately more dogmatic Quakerism. Not because I believe the First Friends got it incredibly right and liberal Friends got it all wrong. But because corporate witness and corporate commitment demands we be able to agree on at least some ground rules. Muslims, Buddhists, and Pentacostals do not have it horribly wronga nd are not going to be the fuel source for heaven’s central heating system. But just maybe they woudl be more comfy in the mosque/temple/tabernacle down the street — can we give you the contact number, you’re welcome to visit, let’s arrange an interfaith gathering sometime.

    Secondly, and for much the same reasons, credibility outside our incentuous little meetinghouses requires that we hold that truth in religion is possible and that at least some matters have clarity.

    Thirdly my path is Christianity. I do not see the Christian faith as having cornered the market on all spiritual wisdom. But its my path and my way. I seek to practice Christian-do in the same way the samurai seeks to practice bushi-do. Fully aware that there are other paths out there.

    Which one reason I’m drifting from the Friendly camp. I seek a community that will support me in the Christian walk without requiring I join some Christocentric minority within that community dedicated to marginalizing the nontheists and the neo-pagans. I’m getting tired of renegotiating the basics.

  39. 39 Lorcan Jan 1st, 2007

    Happy NEW YEAR Friendlettes!:

    Hi all, reading Dave the Kawkersaur’s comment, I must say, that I think the drift away from Quakerism by seekers, as well as the trend at looking to dogma to define us a spiritual community is a failure of folklore not theology. We, unlike say the Mennonites, have been loosing the next generation, so we do not impart to seekers who come to us, a sense of our history, a feeling of BEING Quaker.
    For those who grew up Quaker, being Quaker is an immutable sense of connection to the generations that came before, so inovation is part of the flow of our history, as is being rooted in a Quaker part of ourselves… I am likely going to write more about this soon, feeling rather sad these days, so I need to be a little more thoughtful first
    Thine in the light
    lor
    PS I also wish to think of what we might do to help pass on the folkloric, cultural aspect of Quakerism… input greatly appreciated.

  40. 40 Zach Jan 2nd, 2007

    Howdy David,
    I’ll be sad if you leave, as an acquaintance and because I think the Society will be impoverished if it loses the Christian Friends like you. Do you really find that Christian Friends generally are so overwhelmingly in favor of excluding ‘nontheists and Pagans’? It seems like many are, but it also seems like I see a fair amount of liberal Christian Friends who sound more like yourself — Friends, this is my path, I don’t require all of you to share it, just please respect it.

    And though it may sound strange coming from a ‘liberal liberal’ Friend, I’m not necessarily against Friends like yourself wanting the sort of ‘moderately more dogmatic Quakerism’ you describe. To me it all depends on whether you want it more exclusive universally, throughout the whole Society, or just locally, in the meetings and groups you are most closely associated with. Like I said to Craig above, if you’re still willing to call me Friend I’m still willing to call you one, even if we wouldn’t fit in to each other’s local meetings.

    Liz, thanks for your comment.

    Lorcan, I am usually a little skeptical of birthright Quakerism, so I look forward to hearing what you have to say on your topic…

    Best wishes,
    Zach

  41. 41 Lorcan Jan 2nd, 2007

    Hi Zach:
    I agree that blind birthright… well, sucks. But, on the other hand, the passing on of our history as a living tradition and folk culture goes a long way to rooting faith in a sense of continueum. Many young Friends become elders in this process from their sence of rootedness and many old Friends never do a good job in passing on this culture of our faith.

    For me, dogma is often a rather poor thing, which does not allow much inspiration, rather holds to the parroting our ancestors of faith rebelled against. Quakerism, for me, is more or a living growing tradition. In the roots of our history we live the karma of our past, in the words of the bumpersticker, my karma ran over my dogma…

    I believe that we used to do a better job of incorporating Friends into this history, and sense of belonging. However, I am not sure there is an easy answer to how this ended. It is not unique to Friends, but rather, youth oriented mass culture today, writes eldership out of the social equation, and then young people wonder at their rootlessness. I’m smiling as I hear one slightly younger Friend saying, “see older Friends have a bee in their bonnet about young Friends… ” not at all. We are the generation that began the process. We forgot that there used to be traditions to mitagate the normal sense of the times of our lives.

    Young adults always believe they are a complete book, and older adults always come to learn how little we ever know… In other cultures, such as the Lakota, there are mechanical ways of teaching this. But it is not about how much one generation knows and how much another thinks it knows. Rather, it is creating a loving family of older Friends and yonger Friends.

    Maybe it is just the grumbling of a rather sad, aging Friend…

    Thine in the light
    lor

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  • Kirk: Over and over, I see Quakers as emphasizing process over product, and that's a good thing. But process is much harder to...

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  • So his initial message was always the same: give up your dependence on doctrines, rituals, preachers and everything else that is external to you, and find the light within you because that will teach you all you need to know. And you already know what the light is, because it's that that makes you uncomfortable about the things you do wrong. So take note of those uncomfortable feelings, and let 'the light in your conscience' show you what they're all about it. If you allow it to, the light will show you the whole truth of your life, and if you then accept that truth, it will set you free – free from guilt and shame, but also free from the powerful desires that made you act wrongly in the first place.

    Rex Ambler,
    Light to Live By p. 7


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