Sunday, January 15, 2006

Faith Enough to Be Outrageous

Friends, I have found that I have a concern about the life and energy of our meetings for worship, and the life and energy of all members of our monthly meetings. Many a First Day these last few months I have come away feeling distraught, concerned for the inner understanding of the meeting, concerned for spiritual accountability. A couple months ago I posted a query that arose from this same concern: Do we strive for authenticity in our faithfulness as individual Friends and as a community?

My conception of faithfulness has grown much deeper since I first posted this query, though I do not discredit my then meaning. Then, I was querying about being faithful to the Inner Guide in terms of decision-making in our daily lives, and as meeting communities. Today I re-post the query with more than just decision making in mind; today I query in terms of Holy Obedience.

Thomas Kelly, in his lecture entitled Holy Obedience, (also found in his book, A Testament of Devotion) reflects the concern I have today:

Many of us [Friends] have become as mildly and as conventionally religious as were the church folk of three centuries ago, against whose mildness and mediocrity and passionlessness George Fox and his followers flung themselves with all the passion of a glorious and a new discovery and with all the energy of dedicated lives. In some, says William James, religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever. Religion as a dull habit is not that for which Christ lived and died.

The earliest Friends had such fiery passion. They did many outrageous things to spread the Quaker message; they would even interrupt sermons of other congregations, hoping to point them toward Truth. A few Friends even felt led to "go naked as a sign" - appearing unclothed in public. I'm not calling for Friends today to interrupt other congregations or practice spiritual nudity, I'm calling for a return to the same fiery passion that led these early Friends to have faith enough to be outrageous, if so called. This fiery passion was from a deep dedication to God, from a deep holy obedience to the stirrings of the Inward Guide. These Friends turned their entire lives over to the great cause of the Spirit. Again to quote Thomas Kelly, Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life (A Testament to Devotion, pg 1). Friends, I must ask, how many of us by this standard are truly living?

John Woolman is another example of an early Friend with such inward dedication. He didn't go preaching in other people's churches, but he was deeply faithful to the Inward Teacher, reorienting his life about God such that he needed not to contradict in his daily life his leadings, his inner conscience, his dedication to the Holy Spirit. His life is a powerful testimony to what true faithfulness brings.

Also in his Holy Obedience lecture, Thomas challenges Friends to re-kindle the embers of faith:

Little groups of such utterly dedicated souls, knowing one another in Divine Fellowship, must take an irrevocable vow to live in this world yet not of this world, Franciscans of the Third Order, and if it be His will, kindle again the embers of faith in the midst of a secular world. Our meetings were meant to be such groups, but now too many of them are dulled and cooled and flooded by the secular. But within our meetings such inner bands of men and women, internally set apart, living by a vow of perpetual obedience to the Inner Voice, in the world yet not of the world, ready to go the second half, obedient as a shadow, sensitive as a shadow, selfless as a shadow—such bands of humble prophets can recreate the Society of Friends and the Christian church and shake the countryside for ten miles around.

Friends, this is no easy challenge, but we were not put on earth to have easy lives. I too am struggling with this, always trying to discern where it is and how the Spirit calls me to be. Reorienting one's life about the Spirit could have heavy implications for some, a change in vocation or location. For others it may be mostly inward, having been faithful enough to end up already where they need to be. Where we each need to be in our lives, and where we need to be as a whole community, is wholly dependent upon our leadings from the Inward Guide, the [Holy] Spirit, God.

I challenge us (myself included), to live with such faithfulness.

Love and Light,
Claire

10 Comments:

Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Two words come to me, words that will strike different Friends with different degrees of discomfort. Both have become central to my ideas about Christian community.

Evangelism. Evangelism with integrity, rooted in deep, meditative study of the Bible, made credible by a commitment to honesty, fueled by a sense of urgency of the Lamb's war against all oppression, guided by a mutually respectful division of labor within the meeting (one that recognizes that we're not all called to this ministry) and made fun and lively by creativity.

Civil disobedience. I've been in two communities that empowered civil disobedience as a spiritual response to reality: one, an ecumenical Bible study based at Beacon Hill Friends House in Boston, Mass., USA, with a regular presence at a nuclear weapons guidance system lab in nearby Cambridge. The second: First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, which minuted its support for those of us conducting war tax resistance. More recently, I have not been active in civil disobedience, for a number of reasons, none of which now seem all that persuasive.

These themes (evangelism and civil disobedience) are not usually linked, and don't need to be, but at least some of what we need to do to shake the countryside involves the way they potentially strengthen each other.

Johan

16/1/06 8:12 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Claire,
All I can say is "whoo-hoo!," tell it like it is. We need this kind of challenge.

Johan brings up civil disobedience, specifically mentioning war tax resistance. Great, I've been a WTR all my adult life but I receive no moral, spiritual or corporate support for it from my monthly or yearly meeting. At yearly meeting level, the WTR committee is a cozy little group of the same few people who have been doing this for 25 years and they passively rebuff supporting anyone new (I can't even get on the mailing list and didn't hear when the yearly meeting hosted the national WTR group last year until the event was over, even though I'm very visible through my work with Nonviolence.org). I really feel like the Quaker bodies I'm associated with wouldn't mind letting us younger witnessers flap in the wind if something happened. I would love company ("more for the yardarms, mateys!") but I would still caution younger Friends to think two, three, four times before embarking on serious civil disobedience in the name of Quakerism.

Evangelism is a great idea too, but again those of us in liberal Quakerism need to simulataneously be build support networks of ministers to care for one another at the inevitable setbacks and also to do the "inreach" needed so our meetings will be ready to take on new people full of fire and not afraid to talk about "Lamb's Wars," grin!

Claire, I'm glad you're in Thomas Kelly. What a fountain his writings are. I'll always remember the Wednesday of last year's Gathering workshop when Zach and I just kept laying on the Kelly quotes thicker and thicker till I thought we'd all explode with the zeal. What would it look like to really shake the countrysidy and how do we go about it?

16/1/06 9:33 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

Amen, Claire. Great post.

Claire said:

I'm calling for a return to the same fiery passion that led these early Friends to have faith enough to be outrageous, if so called. This fiery passion was from a deep dedication to God, from a deep holy obedience to the stirrings of the Inward Guide.

Martin said:
Evangelism is a great idea too, but again those of us in liberal Quakerism need to simulataneously be build support networks of ministers to care for one another at the inevitable setbacks and also to do the "inreach" needed so our meetings will be ready to take on new people full of fire and not afraid to talk about "Lamb's Wars," grin!

I say:
I think so much of this depends on being willing and able to testify to the power of God working in our lives. That's my definition of evangelism -- to share our personal experience of Truth. Yes, we need to do that in the world, but we also need to do that in our own faith communities.

In the Liberal side of Quakerism, we are shut up, afraid to talk about our own faith experience, and how IT prompts us to witness. It's easier for us to stake our call to obedience on shared progessive secular values, rather than our encounter of the burning Seed placed within our heart.

I believe that there are many Friends out there who experience the power of the Living God, whose lives have been reordered around the divine Seed within, and who have felt the promptings of that Spirit to work in concrete ways to bring about the Kingdom. I believe that to find the fiery passion Claire urges for, we must not only support each other in witness, but we must share with others just what it is we are a witness to.

16/1/06 11:50 PM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

Amen, Claire. Amen, Johan. Amen, Martin. Amen, Jeff. So be it!

Claire wrote:
Friends, I have found that I have a concern about the life and energy of our meetings for worship, and the life and energy of all members of our monthly meetings.

I have felt that, too. I remember one meeting for worship about seven years ago when I looked around and just had this terrible weight of how sad and depressed the majority of people there were. Today, in the same meeting I don't get that same sense. There is a much lighter feeling, and yet deep and awe-full, sometimes approaching joy.

Speaking of civil disobedience, our monthly meeting has several people who are seriously encouraging everyone in the meeting to consider war tax resistance. I'm sorry to say that they are offering "simple, low-risk ways" to get started. Somehow, the message there is way off. More important, the meeting has not taken time to discern together if this be the will of God for us at this time. It's a great idea, in a progressive political sense, to up the numbers and increase the peace witness, but it's not feeling God-inspired. I think we'd be better off with a sabbatical year, because another 20 or 30 tax resisters is not going to change what's happening in Iraq, but if we sat quietly together waiting, we might get new answers and promptings bursting in.

Risktaking for peace in a time of crisis was the theme of our one-day College Park Quarterly Meeting Saturday in Berkeley. It opened some deep questions and ideas. One Friend also made it clear that not everyone has to take the same risks, outward ones anyway, that some are needed "back home" or in supportive roles. And so I was glad to see how clearly Johan articulated the need for a division of labor in that regard.

Anyway, maybe I'll take these questions and thoughts back to our meeting. Where is the heartfelt faith that opens us to be outrageous, to be risky, to do something for the love of God and our fellow humans and creation? Not just for the sake of "doing something, anything" but because we truly feel led to do it?

17/1/06 12:06 AM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

PS I meant to refer you to Carl Magruder's blog, Confessions of an Earth Quaker, if you haven't seen it yet. He's one of the most on-fire Quakers I know. Lloyd Lee Wilson even refers to Carl's environmental witness in Wrestling with Our Faith Tradition.

17/1/06 12:16 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Johan, your mention of evangelism struck something within me that was itching to burst forth. I have since, with great passion and a sense of the Inward Guide, written another post on the matter.

Martin, you bring up an incredibly important point - we must be ready as a community to support each other in true leadings, especially those that involve risk such as War Tax Resistance.

Jeff, Friend speaks my mind. We most definitely need to share our own experiences of the Truth within our own communities - must we re-examine the meaning of "corporate"? Without such sharing, what are we doing as a community that is grounded in faith?

Chris you also bring up a very important aspect of action. Neither can there be faith without action, nor action without faith. So often Friends do things because it's the "peace activist" thing to do, or the "Quakerly" thing to do, without careful and fully trusting discernment in the Light about what it is we are called to do.

The mention of evangelism prompted me to flesh out a deeper nudging of mine in a new post, otherwise I would speak to it more here.

Love and Light,
Claire

17/1/06 12:38 AM  
Blogger cherice said...

Claire,

Thanks for your post, and your comment on my blog. It's so good to find kindred Quaker spirits across blog-dom. =)

My question is, what is it that this Inner Guide/Spirit/God/whomever we want to call it---what is it that s/he is calling us to as Friends? And how can we get behind something as a community together?

What is it that Friends stand for today, anyway? It's great that we're diverse and all, but what are we truly about?

~Cherice

21/2/06 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Friends, I appreciate many of your thoughts, but missing are thoughts supported from the scriptures. What really matters is what God says, not what we "think." The Bible says we are to have the mind of Christ. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Bible gives us clear instruction on the power of and what the scripture should do in our lives. I have found that unless you are a student of the Bible, you can not be grounded in the faith. Also, unless you are a Christ follower, you can not really understand scripture. The Bible is foolishness to the "natural" man. God bless you all as you seek.
This is my first blog, and I am not sure how to close or sign or if this will be received by anybody.
L

8/5/06 6:42 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

Hmm. As a seeker, I like this post. Most of my questions are because in my first meeting I experienced the Light and since am wondering if it manifests in practice. That's why I'm ambivalent about membership.

I am outrageous. I'm also 25. There's nothing young people do better than criticize their elders. I do want to learn from them, but it seems to me there needs to be some fresh blood.

13/11/07 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Allison said...

You wrote:

"In some, says William James, religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever."
and "So often Friends do things because it's the "peace activist" thing to do, or the "Quakerly" thing to do, without careful and fully trusting discernment in the Light about what it is we are called to do."

Any of the things I've felt called to do involve shaking things up. I'm trying to find a loving way to do that without letting my age, youthful pride and frustration take over, but sometimes they do. I have the acute fever. I don't want to talk about God because I know I already have a lot of faith. I want to be outrageous, radical, hardcore. I feel like being a newcomer to Quakerism hurts me in that way because people don't know where I come from or what I believe in.

www.rainbowfriends.net

11/1/08 5:01 PM  

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