Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
So then you have a nursery of truth working to apprentice people to their particular tradition so they can interpret it and reinterpret it wherever they travel and whatever they face, second there was an underlying assumption that to be a Quaker was to be a part of a community of truth and third, there was a liberatory, counter-narrative quality, an initially perceived “untruth” to the prophetic, Spirit-led understanding of truth in the Quaker tradition.
The question, like the exhibit, is haunting yet hopeful. “Giving Voices to Ghosts” is made up artwork and poems created in the 1920s by children (all over Germany including an orphanage in Kopenick, Germany, as well as schools in Trier) who were among the millions in Europe—primarily in Germany and Austria—fed by Quaker-led relief efforts after World War I. The children’s artwork was given to Friends more than 90 years ago as a show of gratitude for the food—sometimes just 600 calories a day—that kept them hopeful and alive in their time of need.
When I survey the landscape it seems that the middle way has been all but cut out of Quakerism. There are very few places one could go if they were left-leaning, social Gospel Christian Quakers. I am looking for something like what Dorothee Soëlle calls a “radical, liberation Christianity,” as opposed to a “liberal” or “conservative” one.
Fortunately, during those early days in Canada I also came into contact with members of the Religious Society of Friends. Despite a lifelong aversion to any kind of religion, and perhaps especially to anything Christian, I found myself so moved by the kindness, the thoughtfulness and the decency of Friends that I began to think it might be time to reconsider my antipathy.
Churches removed from Northwest Yearly Meeting and those considering leaving started discussions in February about what a new thing might look like. Two associations – one in California and another in the Midwest – give meetings examples for a way to be together.
Joining the Young Adult Friends (YAF) group was not something I planned. In fact nowhere in my journey did my plans include anything even remotely spiritual or religious in nature. The idea of community seemed irrelevant. The notion of God seemed absurd. Yet one Sunday morning, after an absence of more than a decade, I found myself sitting on the same bench in the same meeting house I would visit as a child.
In recent decades, the facing benches in most places are no longer “marked” for this function, and indeed Friends prefer their seating to be in circles or hollow squares, so that all the worshipers are facing a common center where no human is. This trend reflects a typical reluctance to name and nurture those with “chronic” gifts in ministry or eldership. I note, however, that the gifts keep emerging, and we have such a need for them!
Costa Rican Friends practice various arts. Living in a remote place without theaters or cultural centers, they first provided their own entertainment. Family nights, moved around to various houses, took place, and later coffehouses were organized. Community plays and musicals were put on.
Before I’m condemned by the “spiritually correct” — whom I regard as more dangerous than their “politically correct” counterparts — please note that my anger is aimed at the president, not at those who voted for him. That’s a big change for me, brought about by inner work I’ve been doing since Election Day when I was angry at all of those voters and the horses they rode in on.
For a meeting to offer something substantive and distinguishing to attenders considering membership, the meeting must have a rather deep conversation about its mission, about its role in members’ lives. It needs to be clear with its membership care and clearness committees about what it expects of them. And it needs to be prepared to deliver on its promises if it’s going to make any in the first place.
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