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Possible nontheist Friends interest group at New England YM

As mentioned last post, at the last minute I ended up being unable to go to Canadian Yearly Meeting, so a few days ago I registered for trusty old New England Yearly Meeting. And though I’ve found much to like about the schedule (as usual), there seemed to be a little underrepresentation of the more liberal and universalistic thread within Quakerism. So I’ve felt led to try to organize an evening interest group on nontheism, Lord willing. I’ll post details here if it works out.

The signatures of early Friends

The irrepressible George Fox
Recently I came upon number of reproductions of early Friends’ signatures, which I uploaded to Quakerpedia yesterday. MORE »

Science vs. soul in Russia

In the NY Times Book Review this morning there is an interesting review of a book on Russia’s complicated relationship with modern Western ideas, which has various resonances for Friends and religious people generally, I believe. Excerpts:

There is a joke about the Russians, sometimes told by Russians. A young man from the provinces, inspired by a local doctor, travels to St. Petersburg because he wants to study “life.” He reads, he writes and eventually he enters medical school. On the first day of class the professor enters the hushed auditorium and announces, “Gentlemen, today we will discuss the pancreas.” MORE »

Summer plans update: Canadian YM + Olympia

Fort in Windsor, Nova ScotiaIt looks like my summer plans are settled now:

First I’ll be going to Canadian Yearly Meeting in Nova Scotia beginning next week on August 3, at the suggestion of a dear friend from Toronto (whom I met at the Burlington YAF gathering). There’s a day-long silent retreat before sessions officially starts, and the schedule seems more geared towards worship than workshops. I am also pleased that they have a co-op food option where everyone helps with cooking and cleaning, which is cheaper and I expect more environmentally sound than the cafeteria option.

As for business, they’ll be dealing with some heady issues, largely arising from the reports of the Consultation & Renewal Working Group (which reminds me of Britain YM’s RECAST group), which I’ve only skimmed so far. It includes a recommendation that CYM leave both FUM and FGC, as well as some slightly wonky structural recommendations. Erin (aka Quaker Scholar) posted about this back in February.

It runs until the 11th, but I have to leave on the 8th so I can catch a plane to Olympia, Washington to visit my sisters until the 14th. Yesterday I emailed Olympia Friends Meeting, and hopefully I will hear back soon. No California on the horizon, and New Mexico will probably be delayed until the fall.

New humanist blogroll

Keen observers of this blog (all five of you) may have already noticed that I’ve added sections for humanist and atheist blogs to my sidebar under all the Quaker links, as well as a section for Unitarian Universalist blogs. I may blog a bit about UUs soon, after I visit my third UU church, though in case you’re wondering I’m not thinking of joining them.

But right now I’d like to highlight a few of the humanist blogs, since they’re fresher in my mind. The New Humanist Blog is a blog of the UK magazine New Humanist, and seems to be good as a source of meat-and-potatoes news. On a more philosophical note, The Spiritual Humanist seems to be taking a step in a good direction, as does Glittering Muse, which has an excellent recent post called “Can atheists be spiritual?”:

The problem, of course, is how you define spiritual. I know, it sounds like Clinton saying “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” So why dwell on this confusing word “spirit” when we believe there is no god? Because it’s a useful term with resonances in great and wise traditions. The problem with atheism is that it tends to throw the baby out with the bath water. My intention is to freshen and balance spirit’s meaning between the wisdom of ancient intuitive thinking and current knowledge. I also like the idea of reclaiming it for modern secular use.

We often use the word spirit in secular vernacular to mean a general quality of a person’s demeanor: “He’s in poor spirits.” We all know exactly what it means. There is no need for an atheist to refute its validity. We know that something is causing that “poor spirit”. You could argue it’s the same as saying “He’s an unhappy person right now.” But what is unhappy about him? Is it his mind, his body? The word spirit fits because it describes something else, neither mind nor body alone. I propose that spirit is a relationship or connection between parts, between mind and body, between self and other. This idea can be expanded further. [This is basically like how I think of it; the metaphor I like is the tuning of a guitar.]

I also quite like philalethia, and find Pink Prozac charming, not least of all for the cute photo and pink background. Beyond that, there are more blogs listed on Planet Atheism and Planet Humanism, though one should be warned that most atheist blogs, and even some humanist-identified ones as well, tend to obsess on the negative, something I try (not always successfully) to avoid.

Of course, in a similar vein there’s also Mind on Fire, reaching for the light and Nontheistfriends.org, but they’re already in the “Quaker” sections…

The universe keeps surprising me

Briefly — My perspective on evangelical Friends changing, in part after reading more about Freedom Friends church, though I should say I’m not sure how representative they are of evangelical Friends generally; they aren’t even a part of Northwest YM. I’m not ready to say much more about this topic yet.

It’s partly explained by my feelings on good and evil, spiritual transformation (paid leadership and other ways of being more structured than most liberal meetings are.

More on understanding Quaker business meeting

(On second thought, I’m posting this separately from the note on Progressive Friends.)

A followup to the last post about better understanding what goes on in meeting for business will probably take more than a few weeks, but it’s on the way. I feel like I need to do more reading before I do more writing. Really appreciating Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 years, even if I don’t agree with everything he says. Chapter 6 on business meeting (”Reaching Decisions”) is available for free download (PDF) from Pendle Hill.

Participation in meeting for business as a function of meeting sizeI’m also really appreciating an article by a New England YM young adult named Ethan Mitchell, who may or may not identify as a Friend; I met him probably in 2003 at NEYM, and bought a CD of his sister’s music from him, but haven’t heard tell of him since then. The article is called “Participation in Unanimous Decision-Making: The New England Monthly Meetings of Friends”. On the one hand, he and I are wanting to do very similar things — understand Quaker meeting for business better, not necessarily on traditional Quaker terms:

I want to invoke the anthropologist’s privilege to dutifully note, and then respectfully ignore, a group’s self-analysis. However we relate to the spiritual aspects of Quaker unity, it is manifested in a social process that we can observe, and in this case even quantify, to good purpose.

On the other hand, I don’t think he actually succeeds in capturing all the subtleties of good Quaker business process, starting with the title. More on that later perhaps. I still appreciate a lot of the article though, both the quantitative analysis and the commentary.

Hyphenated Christians. . . coming to a church near you

Briefly — sooner or later, it had to happen. Last month, an Episcopal priest in Olympia, Washington came out as a Muslim Christian, and now her bishop is giving her a one-year timeout.

More food for thought in the perennial question of “hyphenated Quakers” (about whom Richard had an interesting post recently).

Progressive Friends on Quakerpedia

I’m excited that a very knowledgeable Friend from Ohio YM is now posting material to Quakerpedia. The topic that is rocking my world the most is Progressive Friends, which I didn’t know much about until a few days ago reading some vintage Chuck Fager.

In 50 words or less, Progressive Friends were a movement that resulted in several separations within the Hicksite branch (what? intra-Hicksite schisms?), and though they died out they basically were the forerunners of modern liberal Quakerism. More at the link above.

Centre Greene Community Centre, home of the Montreal Quaker Meeting

Centre Green, home of the Montreal Quaker Meeting




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

    A Portraiture of Quakerism (1806) by Thomas Clarkson


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