Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A United Religious Society of Friends

I can't help but begin to bring together many posts (or at least pieces of them) I've seen in the last few days. They may use very different words and different examples, but I feel a strong sense that they all speak of the same thing. (If any of the Friends I quote or summarize below feel that I interpreted incorrectly or wish not to be included in such a post, please let me know and I will modify this post to accommodate.) Though I lift up certain pieces of a number of posts, I do highly recommend reading each one in their entirety.

Shortly before or after I made my last post, Amanda also posted in response to a question a commenter had asked in a previous post of hers about what the non-negotiable central tenets common to all Quakers are (if there are any). In her post, Amanda quoted Friend James Healton who said that (among other things), there is a powerful unity and purpose underlying all the elements that go together to make the basic contours of Quaker theology and practice.

Amanda says also, We believe that not only is God here, but that there is that of God in each person, which makes them Holy, and Precious and Sacred, which can lead them into the fullness of expression of Divine Love. If we believe that God is in others, we can do them no harm. If we believe that God is in ourselves, we must discipline ourselves to be faithful to his Inward leading and teaching. (Emphasis mine)

In a comment to this post, Lorcan said, I would add to thy excellent start, that to be a Quaker is to be constantly learning to empty thyself and invite God to fill thee.

In a different blog, AJ Schwanz spoke of being wary of doing things out of fear rather than love. Many times choices in ministry are made out of fear rather than a God-placed compassion, she said. Also a line from her post which was also lifted up in the comments to it: Just because it’s a good thing doesn’t mean that I’m called to do it. We must listen for God.

Over on the Quaker Renewal Forum there's a post entitled A Foundation of Listening and Hearing - very much appropriate here. In it there's a paragraph which very much speaks to me and part of what I'm trying to tie together here:

For us as individuals and meetings, we find the solid ground when we become people th[at] are a listening people. Not only that, we are willing to put into practice what we hear. Since this little comparison by Jesus follows on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount, I find that a solid ground life is built when we listen to the words of Jesus as found in that Sermon and are willing to put them into practice. In other words, we listen to God's heart and God's dream and put into practice what we hear. We live out Kingdom values. We live out the values of God's dream. We live out the presence of Christ in our life. (emphasis mine again)

In my last post I spoke of being asked the question, "What is the essence of Quakerism?" Instead of going into an extended explanation about how everyone practices differently depending on the branch, or how it depends on who you are, I gave the brief disclaimer that, well, though everyone would describe it differently, in my experience the essence of Quakerism is about being attentive and faithful to where one is lead or called in life. (Goodness, I just quoted myself.)

What is the foundation upon which we build our spiritual homes? What is the "essence of Quakerism" [if there is one]? What are the "non-negotiable central tenets common to all Quakers" [if there are any]? Personally, I feel that there is an "essence" of Quakerism, or something like a "central tenet", or in the words of James Healton as quoted above, a powerful unity and purpose underlying all the elements that go together to make the basic contours of Quaker theology and practice. If we don't, then what exactly holds all of us together as a Religious Society of Friends? How do we live our lives as individuals and communities of Friends?

I have a growing sense that we all know what this powerful unity and purpose is, though we all use different words, practice it differently, and tend to get caught up in different sets of details. This may seem a little redundant, but I feel the need to lift these pieces up once again:

If we believe that God is in ourselves, we must discipline ourselves to be faithful to his Inward leading and teaching. (Amanda)

to be a Quaker is to be constantly learning to empty thyself and invite God to fill thee.
(Lorcan's comment on Amanda's post)

Many times choices in ministry are made out of fear rather than a God-placed compassion.
(AJ Schwanz) We must be careful to listen for God.

We live out the presence of Christ in our life. (Quaker Renewal Forum)

in my experience the essence of Quakerism is about being attentive and faithful to where one is lead or called in life. (there I go quoting myself again)

These voices I've quoted and summarized have spoken of what I sense to be the heart of Quakerism. These speakers are of multiple "branches" of Quakerism and use different language and have different ways of practicing or worshipping, but all are part of the whole Religious Society of Friends. In speaking with other Friends, in experiencing the most recent Central Committee meeting of Friends General Conference (FGC) (Central Committee is "the governing body of FGC"), in reading these blogs, and in my own heart I sense a growing movement to build bridges among these "branches", that we might come together as a single tree of Friends with deep and mutual roots.

A post by Robin a few weeks ago also spoke to this movement in a post entitled Quaker History as a Uniting Force. Here, Robin spoke of a movement that seems to be arising in [at least] a few branches of Quakerism, that we all need to learn more about each other, respect each other (or if we're like Aretha Frankin (as Robin put it), R-E-S-P-E-C-T each other). Robin said, No more secretly believing that *we* are the only true heirs of Quakerism, just because we practice more silence than they do or because we proclaim Christ as king more loudly than they do.

We will have to travel and meet each other more.


- and indeed, if we are faithful, we will.

Love and Light,
Claire

5 Comments:

Blogger Nancy A said...

Claire, this Friend speaks my mind (as we say).

What we notice through dialogue and listening, especially on the Net, is that the core questions, concerns, and insecurities are common to all Quakers. It's in the outward forms and language that we differ. Thomas Carlysle described this effect in his Victorian novel Sartor Resartus: that religion and spirituality are invisible, so we must clothe them to see the form beneath; but we then become preoccupied with the clothing and identify the clothing with the form beneath.

It's surprising (to me) to discover how similar the different flavours of Quakers are.

17/11/05 7:12 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Claire,
Thanks for pulling all these blog threads together and adding your own piece (I like when you quote yourself).

I totally agree that there's a lot to unite us all. As individuals it's easy to cross the denominational boundary lines and revel in that shared "unity and purpose" that we recognize in one another. An important part of my spiritual work is to look past my institutional affiliations. I personally sense I would feel (almost) equally at home and (almost) equally not at home in any branch of Friends.I do not serve a particular branch of Friends, I serve (or try to serve) God and I'm on that journey with other types of Friends, other types of Christians and other types of people of faith throughout the world.

Okay: but how does this look on the ground? There's no way this unity we feel will translate into an organizational unity any time soon. And I'm not sure that unity for its own sake is necessarily good: I feel kind of jealous for the parts of the US where there's multiple branches of Friends with their distinct identities even though I would personally be torn where to put my membership.

So why is it simultanously so easy and so hard to see or even imagine a wider unity? I have no answers, I'm just asking out loud...
Your Friend, Martin

19/11/05 9:34 AM  
Blogger david said...

I reiterate my stand that the things we dismiss as ephemera -- like herb tea at coffee time, or fair-trade coffee, or bringing vegetarian cassroles to potlucks are as much or more of Quakerism's essentials thatn the high minded ideals. They relate deeply to your concerns about R-E-S-P-E-C-T but they are are also the ways we give expression to it in practical form.

The conservatives get one thing right: maintaining a distinctive Quaker culture has its advantages -- it gives us the strength of a community to support being different from the mainstream. It allows us to be critical of things that are invisible to others.

And unfortunately -- it has it also has the tendancy to put the brakes on good change as well -- as Nancy points out on her recent blog posting.

20/11/05 7:38 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Nancy - thank you for lifting up the analogy that Thomas Carlysle described; it's a really good way of putting it!

Martin - You say I'm not sure that unity for its own sake is necessarily good. There is an important distinction to be made here; it's not necessarily unity for its own sake, but unity because we are called to unity. Also, unity does not necessarily mean homogenization of practice; I can envision a united RSoF with just as much diversity as there is now. (I'm not sure if that's quite what you were talking about, but it's important to say anyway.)

Kwakersaur - I must admit that I'm not quite sure what you mean. You say, I reiterate my stand that the things we dismiss as ephemera -- like herb tea at coffee time, or fair-trade coffee, or bringing vegetarian cassroles to potlucks are as much or more of Quakerism's essentials thatn the high minded ideals.

Are you saying that the little things Quakers do that are distinctive are more essential than.. well, I'm not quite sure I even get that far.

I don't believe I was speaking of high minded ideals - I don't believe high minded ideals are at all the heart of Quakerism, especially not the ones that are held because they seem to be the "Quakerly" ideals to hold. I speak of the faith, the core of all that we strive do and why - the inward leading, the Divine calling. Quaker culture is important, yes, but I am seeking to grasp that which transcends culture and practice.

If I sound defensive or accustive, it is really not my intention and I apologize. I just am trying to understand better what you mean.

Love and Light,
Claire

20/11/05 2:28 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Nice way to pull all this together, Claire. Thanks for the work you put into doing so.

More later. Life's busy...

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

27/11/05 4:00 PM  

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