Four ways to make your meeting Christian

I just said I wouldn’t be posting. But I am, because during my readings of other Quaker blogs, it has surprised me how much some Friends in liberal meetings seem to not fully appreciate which branch they’re in, where it’s headed, and what that all means.

The problem

To cut to the chase, Christianity is no longer mandatory in the liberal branch, certainly not at an individual level, and only slightly less at a corporate/YM level. The same may soon be true of theism, though it’s too early to tell.

Love em or hate em, them’s the facts.

And Marshall, for one, recognizes this. Yet two posts I’ve seen recently seem to be in denial, unless I’m reading them wrong:

  • Paul L was recently surprised when someone at his meeting didn’t think he should be able to tell the children “Jesus is our great teacher” (emphasis mine).
  • And Martin Kelley recently said that non-Christians should still be admitted as “individual members,” but not given a say in a meeting’s “public identity,” which he indicates should be “the kind of strong liberal Christianity that Friends have practiced for 350 years.”

I’m not too concerned to speak against these calls for re-Christianization, because I don’t think I need to. As I commented on Martin’s post, that train already left the station. Christians will always (and should always) be a part of liberal Quakerism, but as one part among many.

Rather, I want to try to help figure out the best way forward for all involved. And my main suggestion at this point is that anyone who finds themselves unhappy with the post-Christian-ness of a given community should leave it.

Not because you’re not welcome personally — individual Christians should be welcome in liberal monthly meetings, and Christian meetings should be welcome in liberal YMs — but because trying to make a whole community re-embrace Christianity is only going to make you frustrated and unhappy. It’s as futile as trying to hold back the tide.


So why not instead do something with a chance of success, like:

  1. Start a worship group within your current liberal meeting, which would formally state (or informally expect) that “this is a Christian worship group.” Unless your group doesn’t want to be subordinate to your liberal meeting (or if they don’t want to have oversight of it), in which case…
  2. Why not start a new meeting? I’ve never done it, but I can’t imagine it’s that hard. You could even stay affiliated with your current yearly meeting. Unless you don’t want to be, in which case…
  3. Why not affiliate with a Conservative YM? One of the Conservative YMs has taken a meeting in Greece under its wing, and I doubt they would object to doing the same for somewhere closer.
  4. And if that doesn’t suit you, why not stay independent? Independent Quaker meetings have a long and distinguished history, and there’s not a thing wrong with more of them. I believe Liz Opp’s worship group is currently independent, though also considering affiliation with Northern YM (liberal) or Iowa YM (Conservative).

(There’s of course another option — learn to be OK with being in a community where the outward profession of Christianity is optional — but I respect the fact that this isn’t for everyone.)

In fact, these are all gestures I’m considering myself to find a spiritual community that is more what I’m looking for. (Yes, a nontheist Friend who is also dissatisfied with liberal Quakerism!) Because it seems a lot more productive than arguing.

Update 4/15

I noticed that this post was added to QuakerQuaker recently by Liz Opp, for which I am grateful, but I want to point out that her title is misleading. Her title is “Zach suggests that Christian Friends in liberal meetings consider some options”, as though I’m addressing all ‘Christian Friends in liberal meetings’ in this post, while in reality I’m only addressing a subset of that group – Christian Friends in liberal meetings who are uncomfortable with non-Christians being full members of their meetings.

With all due respect to Liz, it’s a pretty big mischaracterization, though I have no doubt it was unintentional.

For the record, I would be quite sad if all Christian Friends left liberal Quakerism or segregated themselves within it. As I said in response to Diane’s thoughtful comments below, many of the Friends I love and respect the most happen to be Christian! This would include many of my friends in the Boston area, many wonderful people I met at the YAF gathering in New Jersey, the wonderful Friend-in-residence at my local meeting, and countless others I have been blessed by over the years – most of whom, like me, are perfectly happy to be a part of a liberal Quakerism that includes Christians and non-Christians alike.

26 Responses to “Four ways to make your meeting Christian”

  1. 1 Cat Chapin-Bishop Apr 6th, 2007

    Hi, Zach,
    I’m glad to see that you have posted again… I feel as if I only just discovered your voice in the Quaker Conversation, and I want to go on hearing it.

    OK, as a non-Christian Quaker, I’ll admit that your words here are welcome to me in part because they are what I want to hear. But as a Quaker period, your words are welcome because they are strong but not heated, something I’m really happy to read. Though I actually like the ways Martin Kelley, for instance, challenges me, I have not been able to find a way to respond to the comments of his you mention here that doesn’t seem either mealy-mouthed or defensive in my own ears. (Not for lack of trying, I must say.)

    I’ll try to be patient if it takes you a while to come back from hiatus. But I’ll certainly be keeping my ears open for your voice, now that I’ve found it…

  2. 2 Lorcan Apr 11th, 2007

    Hi Zach:

    Thy piece really gives voice to my discomfort. There are, in my meeting, a separate worship group which meets “in the name of Christ.” I think it might be why the tensions are lessened in our meeting. But, also, most of the Christocentric Friends in our meeting are older Friends, and as such, might have learned that zealousness which divides is counter productive to that part of God which is expressed by the unity within a meeting.

    I would suggest another path other than creating new meetings. I think that all of us might consider that we Quakers where founded as an expression of that eleventh commandment which Yeshua spoke… “and I give you one more commandment, that you should love each other… ” I think, more than insisting that Friends agree on the nature of Jesus, we should spend much more time defining and considering the meaning and nature of love.

    There are Friends in our meetings who deny the need and importance of love. Unconditional love, love ever childlike, love which makes all things new… I have heard a member of Ministry and Worship in my meeting object to us calling our gathering community, the beloved community, as she does not love all of us. This is a tragic outcome. Without love, there is no God in any form. There is no reason to draw together for non-theists, there is a sterile — dog eat dog world without meaning.

    I am very cautious about denying a say in unity to anyone in a Quaker meeting, but I would really consider that a Friend who does not have the intention to love, should likely reconsider their convincement. For someone to say they believe in some special relationship to Jesus, and turn away from Friends, deny clearness, write hateful words, attempt to divide our society, such Friends might be well served to wait faithfully, and consider that commandment to love.

    Thine, dearly in frith and fFriendship

  3. 3 Diane Apr 11th, 2007


    Why are you thinking of leaving Friends? What makes you feel dissatisfied?

    You wonder why Christ-centered Friends stay in liberal meetings if it makes us unhappy and frustrated. Some of us stay because we feel called by God to be there. Because we try to live in obedience to that call. Because we realize that everything is not all about us and our convenience and that there’s a larger picture and plan that we might only dimly understand. Because we believe sometimes we have to make sacrfices for our faith. Because we respond deeply to the passionate and radical Christ-centeredness of Quakerism’s historic figures. Because we believe that Quakerism is an authentic form of Christianity that shouldn’t be allowed to die. Because we believe it will die if it is not animated with the spirit of Christ. All of these reasons probably sound alien to a nontheist but are nonetheless why some of us remain.

  4. 4 Zach A Apr 11th, 2007

    Cat, thanks for you kind words.

    Lor, thank you for reminding us of the importance of love. The anecdote you share is a sad one. This sort of thing is part of why I think we should become more OK with “local creeds” or vision/purpose statements in our meetings, which could include something like “this community affirms the importance of learning to love each other.”

    I’m not thinking of leaving Friends, but creating something in addition to Friends. I suspect I’ll always be an active Quaker. I explain most of why on my previous post, though a lot of the structural specifics have changed in my mind since then.

    It would be a little uncharitable to assume nontheists understand nothing of sacrifice and leadings that are uncomfortable. I was a Christian for many years, you know. And identifying as a nontheist has actually been one of the more uncomfortable leadings I’ve followed, in part because of what people assume about you. So yes, I can very much appreciate someone having a sense of calling to stay in a liberal meeting as a lone Christian Friend; I’ve been in that very position for most of my Quaker life, in fact.

    My point is simply that the desire to have a unified Christian community (which is more than simply the desire to stay within a non-Christian community) will probably never be realized within liberal Quakerism. And so those who have that desire — and I’m not sure you are one of them; do you wish there were no non-Christians in the SoF? — should consider leaving it rather than trying to achieve the impossible. And I’m not saying “leave Quakerism,” but something much more modest — start a worship group, or a new meeting, and if your YM still bugs you affiliate with a better one. These are all much more viable ways to keep living out Quakerism as an authentic form of Christianity than staying within the liberal branch unhappily. (And I reiterate, I would love it if you or anyone else could stay in it as a Christian happily.)

  5. 5 Lorcan Apr 12th, 2007

    Hi Zach:
    I agree with thy statement on a unified Christian community will not be realized in Liberal Quakerism, but more, history shows that a unified Christian community did not happen within the Orthodox community. The Hicksite community remained a single unified diverse community through out the schism, where the Orthodox community split again and again into smaller subgroups. The point of liberalism is that diversity is the human condition, and that there has never been a single human organizational ideal which held out the hope of world wide unity, other than acceptance of diversity … ambiguity works.
    In two thousand years, the attempt to create a catholic Christian church (small c mind thee) has not worked - I think because of the concentration on the idea that there is no tribe IN Christ, rather than understanding that when accepting the ideal of love, Yeshua taught, unconditional love, tribes melt away.
    Some Friendly Blogers go on and on about being more Quaker than thou, while ignoring love in their lives. Well, another way to say, ” the proof is in the pudding” is to say, “let thy life speak.” One cannot be a peacemaker while seeking to divide the world into them and us … it ain’t rocket science. To such Friends it is a world of old and young, Christian and all others, of changing the world by looking for trouble makers with a telescope rather than a mirror.
    I agree that there should be standards which define us, but the standard should be the love taught by Yeshua, rather than the mantra “in the name of Jesus.” But, rather than looking for folks to call non-Quakers… I would say, it is about process. None of us are perfect. As long as we are moving towards love, open to growth, that is what it is to be a Friend, not believing slavishly, everything Fox spoke 350 years ago.

    Thine in frith and fFriendship (and a good dose of anarchy)

  6. 6 Lorcan Apr 12th, 2007

    PS Let me offer some voices from young Friends of 1966. The View From the Back Benches, was an attempt to create an appraisal of where Quakerism was, and where it was going. Many of these issues where being discussed then, and in the interest of not being a rootless community, I urge Friends to read and consider the following… I posted each chapter separately, so folks can add to the conversation started back then. One of my Friends in the Meeting, was one of the original “Back Benchers.” I have a deep hope that we might carry on this analysis in this generation. I remember when the original pamphlet hit our meeting … it was like lighting a fire under us. So, some of us are speaking about a new Back Bencher group, hopefully one of many in many Meetings someday soon, to write a new appraisal of the society. So far, the group includes an elder, original member of the 1966 Back Benchers, some of us who were kids at the time, and some young Friends to carry the process on into the future.

  7. 7 Diane Apr 13th, 2007


    I have a couple of questions and please bear with me if they sound offensive, as they are not meant to. 1. I understand, at least dimly, that nontheist is a broad category that includes atheists (I think) and people who aknowledge a prime mover who started the unvierse but believe that forcde isn’t involved in it anymore and also people who reject crude formulations of deity, such as “God as Jewish Zeus on a throne” or any personified notion of God. The latter group, who acknowledge God, but reject the word God or the concept that God is knowable, align very closely to my mind to the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition, which affirms God’s mystery, so much so that Jews forbid depictions of God or even spelling G-d’s name. The Bible has over 100 names for God, speaking to the elusive nature of that entity and the enromous challenge of groping towards an understanding. In any case, the thread I pull from nontheism is the unknowbility of what has traditionally been termed God. So how do you deal with leadings? Supposedly they come from a God who is in some way knowable (you can discern, at least dimly, that you are being led). To you, are leadings revelations of unconscious parts of your psyche? Or something else? If God is unknowable or nonexistent, why bother with them? Why not just apply your own logic and forget the superstitious mumbo jumbo?

    2. I read your post about wanting a communty like the Quakers but spiritually deeper, though you say you now have some different ideas now on how it would look. I am with you on craving a deeper spirituality in Quaker meeting. No matter how deep a religious community, I would always crave to go even deeper. I have found, though, that other Quakers can get very, very offended at the idea the meeting should aim to go deeper. It’s almost a taboo subject, though you would think it would be a core discussion in a religious community. I think any spiritual community should be profoundly concerned with deepening its spirituality, and not be satisfied with the status quo. However, it may be touchy in Quaker circles because then comes the question of whose spirituality and how? And I ask that question of you. If you gather together a group of Pagan,s Earth Practioners, Buddhists and Nontheists, say, who want to go spiritually deeper and each takes their faith path very seriously, how do you resolve the contradictions? A serious Pagan will want to worship mulitple Gods and a serious Buddhist will want to self-empty of that illusion. … and the beat goes on. I would argue that the problem with contemporary universalist Quakerism is that the very diversity of beliefs makes spiritual deepening a very, very challenging task. Which is why Quakers tend to opt for the easier path of staying on the surface. (People will say: Buddha and Jesus said strikingly similar things so all the religions are really the same. Well, that may be, but what do you do with that factoid? And what about the differences?) Or people say, we’ll “do spiritual disciplines” but not talk about what they’re really pointing towards because that would offend. My question through all this is have you come up with any ideas about how a widely spiritually diverse group of people can deepen? I’m more with you on Christian Quakers forming their own meetings and think perhaps that should be looked at more seriously, but if we go, a. diversity and wilfulness will remain b. Quakers will lose their whipping boy. (I hope that’s not offensive, but that’s how I see it.)
    While I agree with you (though, being Christ centered, I believe God can perform miracles, so I don’t see a Christian revival as impossible) that it is unlikely that universalist Quaker meetings are going to embrace their profoundly Christian roots, and while I agree that Christian meetings might be the better answer, can you see how, as nicely as it’s all put, you’re engaging in a power play and trying to run us off the playground? And I’ll push back with, what I have heard others ask, but which I have never heard an adequate response to: why not go UUA? They preach unversalism, tolerance, caring, are totally on the same page with each other on gay issues … I am really interested in your reponse.

  8. 8 rudyz Apr 13th, 2007

    It’s helpful to me to compare Quakers to other religious groups around the world - I am thinking particularly of the Sikhs.

    The Sikhs religion is syncretistic, sort of a mix of Hindu and Islamic
    ideas, and their scriptures are based on the hymns and sayings of their founders.
    They also revere religious writings from Islam and Hinduism.
    They preach and practice the equality of men and women, and their religious
    service is based around reading their scriptures, and eating a meal together.
    For an inspring article about a Sikh food kitchen, see, Lunch at the Langhar.

    Roughly, I’m comparing “Sikh syncretism” with Quaker universalist ideas, the writings of the Sikh gurus with the writings of Fox, Penn, etc., and their religious
    meal with, well, potlucks and coffee breaks :)

    [The Sikh ideals of justice also express themselves in a way that’s challenging to a Quaker: male Sikhs carry a symbolic sword (to defend their faith) and Sikhs have a long tradition of military service. But that’s a whole other subject.]

    Is there room for an Emerging Universalism, the way there is an Emerging Church in Christianity?

  9. 9 Diane Apr 13th, 2007

    But they’re not also trying to embrace Buddhism, Wiccanism, Christianity, Judaism, Nontheism and everything else under the sun. A hybrid of Islam and Hinduism, I would argue, is easier to maintain, especially as Hinduism is a very open faith. What would you propose for Quakerism?

  10. 10 Lorcan Apr 13th, 2007

    Sikhism is not simply a mix of Hindi and Muslim ideas. In fact, they reject the polytheism and ritual of Hinduism. An example is Guru Nanak seeing Hindus standing in a stream throwing water to the East, he entered the water and began to throw water to the West. The others asked what he was doing, and he said, watering his fields what were they doing? They told him he was crazy, they were throwing water to their dead relative’s spirits. He then replied his fields were much closer than the spirits of their relatives…

    Sikhism sees all monotheist writing as inspired and in many ways is very like Quaker universalism. I think … this search for a single faith or politic to save the soul and the planet is worrisome. What it presupposes is that in all of human history, we have just not said it well enough. So, with the world being destroyed by the waste of lack of cooperation around us, we are arguing about the nature of God, rather than worshiping and working together. The folly of this, I am convinced, would make Jesus weep … and Buddha, and Nanak and all… If one must say, “in Jesus’ name after each prayer, do, and all should make them equally welcome, but the price of love in a society that allows for that, is to understand that Friends who say we should not objectify the Rabbi Yeshua, must be tolerated and listened to, with equal love and welcome, and if we can’t be civil with each other over the diversity in our faith and the world, then we are, in fact, damned.

    That there is love is everything … without love of those hardest to love, we might as well all go home and wait for the end.

    Thine in frith and Friendship

  11. 11 rudyz Apr 13th, 2007

    Some takes on Hinduism are monotheistic, although I know even the defintion of Hinduism is contested territory. My impression is that Sikhs got monotheism from Islam but retained reincarnation spirituality from Hinduism. The emphasis on human equality probably came from Islam but I am not sure about that.

    Diane, it may be that some of the religious streams you mention - and maybe some of the others under the sun :) are incompatible with Quakerism. I don’t feel drawn to Wicca, but I have found myself reading and thinking about ideas from all the others (and maybe I just haven’t found the right book on Wicca). It’s true it seems a harder chore to hold all these together but we know more about them too - and can see connections that we wouldn’t have known about before. The Asian scriptures were only translated into Western languages 150 years ago on average.

    I like the idea of the shared meal as a spiritual gathering place - that is something we should do more of in Quakerism. Maybe Zach’s big tent should be a big kitchen.

  12. 12 simonstl Apr 13th, 2007

    There’s a great typo near the start of this message that’s worth some consideration:

    “during my readings of other Quaker bogs”

    Bogs, blogs… both can be difficult walking, with much interesting along the way.

  13. 13 Cat Chapin-Bishop Apr 14th, 2007

    I’m not a nontheist, so I can’t pretend to speak for them. But, as a Pagan and a polytheist–not too few gods, but too many for the comfort of some (smiling)–I can at least take a stab at your question, “which I have never heard an adequate response to: why not go UUA? They preach unversalism, tolerance, caring, are totally on the same page with each other on gay issues …”

    As you may know, Pagans have been accepted within UUA for many years–the association, CUUPS has many enthusiastic members. As you point out, all the values that you list are in place among the UUs. So why, if I felt the need to affiliate with any body other than one exclusively Pagan, should I go farther than the UUs?

    It’s because of the important Quaker things that UUs are _not_–the UUs have marvelous but utterly secular approaches to all kinds of things. Whereas Quakers listen for God (difficult though I find the word, with its monotheistic implications, to use) in worship and in business. UUs think many nice thoughts. _Quakers_ seek to _experience_ their God, and to look beyond mere human notions to act in the world on such important matters as the peace testimony.

    Lots of Pagans live and worship in their heads, in a very notional manner. Even more UUs do so, but few Quakers do. I find I have some very important things about how I experience my spiritual life in common with Quakers–far more than I do with members of the UUA, and even more than I do with many Pagans–though that group of religions is at least in theory, based in practice rather than in creed or abstract belief, the reality is that most Pagans have come out of far more notional religious backgrounds, and find the experiential and spirit-led aspect of that religion difficult. Quakers have had 350 years to learn to get it right, and they do so far more often.

    Quaker worship works for me. The UUs are an intellectual exercise… when I want one of those, I watch NOVA on PBS. (_Good_ Pagan worship also works for me, but is far harder to find, though I certainly go out of my way to find it when I can.)

    Does that help?

  14. 14 Diane Apr 14th, 2007


    Yes, that is very helpful. Thank you. I understand fully how a person who believes in God or gods would crave a spiritually deeper community.

  15. 15 Bob Apr 14th, 2007

    I am a Christian Friend in a liberal meeting in the midwest. I have received nothing but friendship and care from my meeting and have never been pressured or felt a need to pressure others to change. The habit of waiting worship is that people make witness of things, and if the “message” is not for you, it’s not for you. Maybe someone else needs it.

    Likewise when other Christian-centered Friends rise to speak at meeting, there is nothing but loving acceptance of their witness. And if a non-Christian Friend sees it as “not a message for him”, then so be it.

    Considering the political company we often ALL find ourselves in, I think if we don’t hang together we WILL hang separately.

    Besides, my feeling is that when we REQUIRE others to believe as we do (from whatever point of view or belief) regardless of where someone else may be standing on the seeker’s path, we cross a line we have no business crossing, and render our personal beliefs as no better than mere ego.

  16. 16 Zach A Apr 15th, 2007

    Thank you for your comments, and I look forward to reading the Back Bencher blog… As Chuck Fager has observed, a lot changed in liberal Quakerism in the 20th century, but we aren’t really aware of it, so reading something from the 60s will be interesting.

    Your questions aren’t offensive at all. I hope I wasn’t too prickly last time :)

    There is one thing that is rather worrisome though – you seem to be conflating two groups that I see as very different, at least for the purposes of our topic: (1) Christian Friends who embrace the doctrinal diversity of liberal Quakerism, and (2) Christian Friends who wish to curtail it. If the latter group decided to leave, there would still be many Christian liberal Friends (group 1), some of whom are my “favorite Quakers”! I would welcome them, and would be among the first to speak out if any double standards (like allowing people to cite Koranic verses but not Biblical ones) arose in the meetings I’m a part of.

    So let me give you this query: How much are you responding to what I’m actually saying (suggesting that Friends in group 2 leave), and how much, if at all, are you responding to something I’m not saying (suggesting that all Christian Friends leave)?

    Responding to your other comments, you ask, “So how do you deal with leadings?”

    I suppose one could ignore one’s leadings, either as a nontheist or as a Christian. But there’s nothing inherent to atheism that requires that I take the “promptings of love and truth” in my heart to be mere rubbish. On the contrary, I have become convinced that following these promptings is, in fact, the way to abundant life. They are the most important thing in the world for me to pay attention to. I trust them.

    I take it that you see their source as being God, but to me this seems like (a) nonsense if taken literally and yet (b) exactly what I believe in its practical upshot: these are vitally important, they lead to our ultimate well-being, we must trust them, we must follow them. I am not an emotional person, but my eyes are welling up as I write this, knowing you and many other Friends care more about whether someone uses the same names and metaphysical concepts than about whether they share the same inward bearing.

    And that, in short, is what I’m looking for, and what I think Quakerism is at its best, and what I think the world needs – communities that seek to help each other heed those leadings of love and truth and act on them.

    This is why I sometimes sympathize with the critics of liberal Quakerism, because I think it has failed to be such a place as much as it could be. And as you suggest, I don’t think there really is any clear way to go significantly deeper spiritually with a community such as liberal Quakerism that has no common focus (some here for the peace, others the people, others the silence, etc.), which is why I am now thinking about starting something inspired by but different from it (e.g.).

    But this is also why I think any liberal Quaker ‘back to Christianity’ movement would be ill considered. Requiring that any given group of people use the same words and concepts will have basically zero effect on their spiritual depth. They’re just two entirely different questions. If any want to try it, go for it, and I’ll be interested to visit and read about it, but trying to do it by turning back the clock on liberal Quakerism seems both unwise and practically impossible.

    As for power plays, I realize I’m being a little bold here, but I don’t think there’s anything unjust about it. Non-Christian Friends have a legitimate place in the liberal Quaker community. Some people seem to want to take that away from them. I’m asking that such people consider going to the “Christians Only” parts of the playground and letting us be.

    And for the record, really we are all each other’s whipping boys.

    I don’t know much about Sikhism, but it does seem an interesting point of comparison…

    Thanks for the tip. Sometimes when I’m blogging I feel like I’m walking through a bog… :)

    “The UUs are an intellectual exercise… when I want one of those, I watch NOVA on PBS.” Well put :-)

    Warm regards,

  17. 17 Zach A Apr 15th, 2007

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience in your meeting – it gives me hope to be reminded that there ARE meetings where everyone has learned to get along…

  18. 18 BillSamuel Apr 15th, 2007

    I’m one of those Christian Friends who left. I did work with others to build a Christian meeting, but that didn’t happen. Perceiving a lack of a center in Jesus Christ among Friends in my area, I eventually resigned and joined Cedar Ridge Community Church. For more on my leaving, see On Resigning from Friends Meeting.

    On looking at the new Directory of my former Meeting, I quickly found three names of people that are now active members of my Church. And I know many others who have left this and other meetings because of the lack of a Christian center even though the individuals identified with the Quaker understanding. So it’s a common phenomenon.

    The “emerging church” movement, sometimes identifies itself as post-modern, post-liberal and post-conservative. To that, I add post-Quaker.

    Interestingly, our Church’s revisioning process disclosed that one of our highest values was inclusivity. But we don’t find that incompatible with a center in Jesus Christ (one that doesn’t require people to subscribe to a particular set of doctrinal formulations).

  19. 19 Francis Drake Apr 16th, 2007

    I’m taking the liberty of turning this into a query:

    “(Do certain) Friends care more about whether someone uses the same names and metaphysical concepts than about whether they share the same inward bearing (?)”

    Friend speaks my mind.

    While I dignify certain of my notions as a worldview (which I sum up as “panentheistic universalist” — clumsy but like the apostles one has to say *something*) what I’ve arrived at is that if someone joins deeply in the worship experience with me I really couldn’t care LESS if they believe in no god or twenty (as Parker Palmer might say, I at least try and respect that aspect of their boundaries as I trust they will attempt to respect mine). As expressed so well in one of my favorite keeper quotes from Michael J. Sheeran’s “Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Religious Society of Friends”:

    … One evening, the writer was sharing supper with two friends in their late seventies. He mentioned he was curious how Friends understood God. One of his companions paused and remarked: “Well now, I guess I don’t really know. I know what I think.” Then, turning to his comrade, he said: “Thee and I have been worshiping together for almost fifty years. I don’t know what thee thinks about God. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it.” The other grave Friend agreed, adding: “I really don’t think it matters much, either. ***If thee shares the experience in the worship, it doesn’t much matter how thee puts it into words.***” (p. 81)

    In the Light…

  20. 20 Cat Chapin-Bishop Apr 17th, 2007

    Oh, I like that quote, Francis Drake! “If thee shares the experience in the worship, it doesn’t much matter how thee puts it into words.”

    OTOH, too little sharing of words about what we experience in worship, and we risk having Friends feel that sharing experience from a subjective point of view, outside of worship, is somehow wrong or not allowed. What’s more, it makes it hard to communicate what is different between messages that rise out of the Inner Seed, and those that come out of my own subconsious or emotional being. (I’m not clear, Zach, on whether or not you would feel that it makes a difference? I think it does, and I can easily imagine non-theist ways of worship that would make a distinction between the Inner Seed and whatever rises from subconsious impulse… but I’m not sure if you’d agree with that.) The fact that a message is not a speech given from one human’s perspective does seem to me crucial, and without being willing to discuss in some kind of language what’s going on in worship, I’m not sure how to make that clear.

    Of course, all of our words for our understandings of what we touch in worship will be no more than pale echoes of the reality. So a certain humility and openness to different ways of voicing a perception is important, too. Here’s a place to be careful not to confuse the map (the human words) with the terrain (whatever the ultimate reality might be)>

    Zach, you say that you “don’t think there really is any clear way to go significantly deeper spiritually with a community such as liberal Quakerism that has no common focus (some here for the peace, others the people, others the silence, etc.)” I think there’s something a little off about that perspective. It seems to me that the real deepening of all of our spiritual work comes about in the context of living community. And one thing that 20 years in various spiritual communities has taught me is how full of failings they _all_ are. Still, I’m pretty sure that we’re called to find our depth in just that context–a diverse and struggling group of sometimes silly or shallow or selfish human beings. In computer engineering jargon, “it’s not a bug; it’s a feature.”

    And looking around my own meeting this week, I became aware of the ways that all the very different people, there for such different reasons and with such different gifts, each contributed something irreplaceable to our gestalt. Let me give a fictionalized portrait of what I saw.

    This one, whose messages sometimes seem to ramble, models for all of us a life lived with great integrity…. And this one over here, who has never given vocal minstry in all the years they have been attending, holds the memory of raising children and grandchildren in our meeting… Her is a Friend who sits with a silence that somehow rings like the tones of a bell wrapped all around him, and brings us all deeper just by being there… here’s a member whose words sometimes cut me, but who visits sick members whenever needed. This one has a gift with children. That one seems silly to newcomers, but those of us who have been here long have been fed (literally) by his generosity at potlucks.

    In other words, some gifts of Spirit that are part of a whole community are not neccesarily very “spiritual” looking at first glance. But I think a spiritual community is a lot like an ecosystem, that actually needs a lot of diversity to be healthy and strong.

    Maybe this is a theistic concept. But I do think that there is a way in which meeting communities call forth what gifts they need–maybe not always, but often enough to be sustaining. But those gifts may not look “deep” or exciting, any more than plankton looks deep or exciting. But you can’t build an ecosystem without it… Furthermore, if the tales I hear from longtime Friends are true, it’s hard to be sure which days any of us will be called to be the whales, and when the plankton.

    I think I’m saying that it’s a mistake to get too lofty about getting deep. I’m not trying to say that it’s wrong for Friends to form various kinds of spiritual nurture groups, ’cause I think that’s good, or that there’s anything wrong with attempting to get as deep and centered as we can ourselves. But I do think that certain kinds of spiritual maturity can only come from working and loving within sometimes ornery, silly, or just plain annoying ordinary human community.

    I’ve probably said this badly. Forgive me if I sound pretentious–I’m really thinking out loud here, trying to find words for the first time for concepts that I haven’t really voiced before.

  21. 21 Zach A Apr 22nd, 2007

    Hi Cat,
    You don’t sound pretentious at all — in fact you sound like James Riemermann, which in my book is high praise :)

    I mostly agree with what you’re saying, but I don’t think it really contradicts what I was saying. It’s true, profoundly true, that “certain kinds of spiritual maturity can only come from working and loving within sometimes ornery, silly, or just plain annoying ordinary human community.” And I’m fine with that, and will become worried if I’m ever in a community that is anything else.

    But it’s one thing to be in a spiritual community filled with real people, and another thing entirely to be in such a community without any common understanding of what the community is about. I have no problem with the people in liberal Quakerism; if anything I wish it was a more diverse and difficult crowd. But I do have a problem with the way that it’s a community that isn’t very serious about spiritual growth and transformation. Some liberal Friends care more about the politics, or the folkways, or the theology. And I think that’s fine, but that kind of “loosey goosey” community isn’t really what I’m looking for anymore.

    As for your other point, for me, I don’t see the subconscious or even the emotional as being necessarily inappropriate sources of vocal ministry. If there’s a sector of the brain that is generally a bad source of messages, I would say it’s reason, but even here I would hesitate to say always. Nor does “being from one’s human perspective” seem like a reliable criterion. Sometimes a message strikes me as bad because it is “human, all too human,” but it’s also true that some of the most profound things I’ve heard seemed to come very much from the speaker’s human perspective!

    I don’t claim to have a clear set of criteria as to what constitutes a good message, but I don’t think Quakers generally have ever adequately answered that question…

  22. 22 SuperQuaker Apr 25th, 2007

    I think Friends need to be careful about telling other Friends what is and isn’t a Friend. I might know darn well when I am being Friend-like, but cannot know for sure the state of another person’s soul, which is darn close to what this emphasis on the question of “are you a christian or aren’t you” seems to be. It’s quite the dangerous litmus test I think. I love my Christo-centric Friends, I love my Catholic parents - I would never try to convince either to believe other that their hearts have convinced them. I would hopoe that they would have the same respect for me, and for the body of Friends. We need not follow the same path to seek the Light.

  23. 23 Zach A Apr 30th, 2007

    Hi Bill,
    I just want to apologize that your thoughtful comment of April 15 wasn’t posted earlier — the links made my blog think it might be spam, and I didn’t notice and greenlight it until just now. Your story is among the things I’m pondering these days as I consider whether I should make my own exit, for reasons that are very different, and yet very similar.

    Warm regards,

  24. 24 Lorcan May 4th, 2007

    Hey Zach:
    I am saddened to see that thee is considering leaving the SOF. We dearly need young Friends who are committed to pluralism, which I think is the most important lesson of the history of our faith, it is what makes us other than just another voice trying to state that we have the single answer, which, if every one sees the wisdom of… the world will be alright. We offer a model to get past that, and work on the real problems of survival the world is facing. I think we need as strong a voice for pluralism among young Friends, organised, as well as the Convergent Friends are doing, to state that the future of our faith includes open minds and loving spirits.
    I sent a few copies of James Mitchner’s book Chespeke to Friends in your neighborhood recently… I am still looking for more copies. I urge young Friends to read it, to connect with the moral story of our history… how we became who we are. Ask Rob and Amanda if they are done with their copies, or not reading it at the moment, and do consider reading it. I really hope young Friends begin to connect with that spirit of openess, of pluralism, which made it possible for us to be vital in the struggles against slavery, war, poverty. The lesson of Tom Fox is that there is green wood in this tree yet… and it lies, not in a theological stand, but in love.
    Please stay, dear fFriend
    in frith and fFriendship
    PS Forgive me not spell checking.

  25. 25 Anna Jun 7th, 2007

    Hi Zach
    I know I’m at little late on the scene but I would like to add my voice to this discussion. I am an young adult Friend a Queer Friend and a very active Quaker. I come from NY Yearly Meeting, which for those of you who don’t know considers itself a very liberal yearly meeting despite it’s double affiliation with FGC and FUM. When I’m in NY I divide my time between my home meeting Binghamton Community Friends and Ithaca Quaker Meeting. Ithaca Quaker Meeting is rather known for being one of the first meeting in NY at least to be made primarily of Pagan, Wiccan, and Nontheist Friends. However this is my catch. I am very much a Christian Friend. To only am I a Christian Friend but I am fiercely traditionalist when I comes to Quaker theology and practice. Many Friends I have told me I have more in common with Conservative Friends then Liberal Friends. I remain however a liberal Friend because I was raised that way and because I believe it is important for their to be Christian Liberal Friends. I do not nor ever will deny the right of non-Christian Friends to attend Meeting. I do not want to purge all Meetings of non-Christian Friends. But I am concerned about the possibility that Liberal Quakerism is loosing it’s Christian roots. That is what I hate that is what I see as the problem. I don’t want Liberal Quakerism to become “just like the UUs” as most non-Quakers constantly tell me that we are. I don’t want to see Quakerism become so open and willing to bend to every whim of every Friend who walks into a Meeting house at it becomes a secular religion.

    So does this post apply to me? Do I fall into the category of Friends who should give up and form our own meetings? Or is it more complicated.

    PS: Yes Zach I did read poetry at the NJ YAF conference! :~) Nice to be recognized, on line can be tricky. I would also love to hear from you, maybe privately, about your faith journey thus far and why you feel called to be nontheist. my experience is almost exactly opposite so I am curious.

    Peace and Joy,

  26. 26 Zach A Jun 25th, 2007

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks for your comments, and sorry for the delay in responding, which has been mostly due to a sort of family emergency this past few weeks.

    To answer your question, I’m not sure I can say whether the post applies to you. Like I hope the post made clear (even if it wasn’t the focus), I appreciate and value what Christian Friends bring to the table, and would be saddened if Friends like you, who are Christian but welcome non-Christian Friends, decided to leave.

    But I’m not entirely sure what you mean by liberal Friends losing our Christian roots. Can you be more specific? On the one hand I think it’s valuable for even the most non-Christian Friends to have a general sense of how we got to this point, and a basic fluency in Christian and traditional Quaker language, which maybe is all you mean.

    Warm regards,

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  • I am separated, as to bodily presence, from you; but I cannot forget you, because ye are written on my heart, and I cannot but desire your peace and welfare, as of my own soul.

    And this is my present cry for you. Oh that ye might feel the breath of life, that life which at first quickened you, and which still quickeneth, being felt; and that breath of life has power over death; and being felt by you, will bow down death in you, and ye will feel the seed lifting up its head over that which oppresseth it.

    Isaac Penington
    To friends of truth in and about the two Chalfonts

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