I am reading To Be Broken and Tender by Margery Post Abbott right now and am thoroughly enjoying it. In it she spends a lot of time discussing the conflict between evangelical Friends, liberal Friends, programmed meetings, unprogrammed meetings, etc.

I've also read quite a few other books, postings on Quaker Quaker and other Quaker blogs. 

One of the things I've loved and appreciated about getting more into the Quaker faith is that it's about an individual's experience of God / Divine / The Light. I grew up within a variety of religions and associate much of the traditional Christian language and acts negatively. Through Quakerism, my comfort with other people's language around Christianity has been eye opening, and I find myself disassociating a person with their words around spirituality and focus on their actions and their spirit.

All that is to say, I personally fall squarely into a non-theist liberal Quaker camp, but have learned the skills to appreciate anyone's spirituality (Quaker or otherwise) and spiritual language. 

What I don't understand is the rift between the various Quaker communities. The testimonies are the same, and key tenants like a person's inner relationship with God, and the idea of that of God in everyone. I just don't understand how anyone who would self identify as Quaker, question the authenticity of a group because of language or spoken beliefs. I know I am not the first to struggle with this, but I would really like to understand more and hear more people's thoughts.

I realize that the unprogrammed "liberal" Quakers are the vast minority (around 11% of the Quaker population), so that may play a part, but that doesn't seem like that is enough.

It just seems to me that the word in English for table is "table." In French, the word is "table," but with very different pronunciation. Still very familiar to the English speakers. In Danish and Norwegian, the word is "bord" and we may even understand it easily as a table is made of boards. In Spanish, "mesa," so rather different, but in Chinese, it's 桌子, loosely pronounced "tous schu." 

At no point do we spend much energy discussing whether or not the Chinese have a better or worse grasp of what a table is. Or whether or not a table is something different because it has a different name. The idea that another culture, no matter how foreign the customs or how different the language, wouldn't be talking about the same thing, used in roughly the same way, is silly to think about.

 

So why do many Quakers do that? I don't understand and maybe you can help.

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I use non-theist versus atheist because for me, atheism is about "there is no God," and I often associate that with "your experience of spirituality is null and void because of your beliefs" where nontheism, for me, I associate with accepting the language and beliefs of others as valid ways of experience spirituality.

Patrice Wassmann said:

so a non-theist is basically an atheist then. Thank you. Atheism I understand fairly well, having grown up with a very outspoken atheist for a father! Who is still challenging me at the age of 84!

John - i can relate strongly to what you are saying as I said those very same things a few years back. I even led a program at our non-denominational church (not Friends) on the subjectivity of our experiences of Truth and that it is just our various perspectives, or words, or differing backgrounds etc. that make it seem we are talking about different things when in fact we aren't.

Then I discovered that in fact there is a Truth that is NOT subjective!! That when people experience this Truth they describe it in amazingly similar terms across the millenia! The writers of the New Testament describe their own experiences of God, and seeking and finding God, in words that the Early Friends used, and in words that I used (BEFORE I read their experiences!). It is as if there is a single path, not multiple paths as I thought, to the re-birth experience that brings us in unity with God. Of course we all start at different points, but when we find the Holy One of Israel it is by the same basic path - the path of conviction, repentance, forgiveness, obedience, and finally unity with God in Love. One of the reasons I knew my experience was real is that it was echoed in the journals of the early Friends, almost as if they were writing my journal, and also in the Bible. That is not a coincidence! This leads me to the conclusion that my experience was not subjective or personal to me, any more than the color of grass is subjective. We all know it's green.

For me I think the reason I had the feeling that spiritual experiences were subjective was that I was exploring, as it were. I had many openings, many spiritual experiences etc. but I had not yet arrived on THE PATH. I explored for 57 years for some reason when God finally decided to overwhelm me with an experience I could not ignore and could not explain away. I was born again! to liberals it is not PC to imply that there is ONE PATH, but this was the message of Early Friends! There is one path to the Light, Seek the Light, etc. meaning of course the Light of Christ, or the Holy Spirit.

As for the different branches of Friends, I suggest you do more reading if you really want to understand all this. First, there are three main branches, not two: programmed (evangelical in the loose sense), Conservative (Christian unprogrammed), and liberal (unprogrammed). There are individual meeting that cross boundaries but this is the general plan and how it fell out historically from the splits. I am a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting, which is Conservative. I am pretty sure that the smallest group of Friends are the Conservatives, not the liberals, but I'm not positive.

OYM has only around 600 members worldwide. If you want to understand more about the Conservative Friends  you can read any of the Tract Association pamphlets. These are not all written by Conservative Friends, but these tracts give the flavor of Conservatives and are all wonderful and inspiring reading. They are on the Tract Association website for download, or purchase.  http://www.conservativefriend.org/

It is only partially accurate to say that all the Quaker groups share the same testimonies. I cannot speak for the Evangelicals but among Conservatives the primary focus is on obedience to the Inner Christ, NOT on the testimonies. The testimonies do not play the role they do among liberal Friends. The Bible and personal obedience to Christ take supremacy. The spoken testimony in Meeting for Worship is heavily Bible based and completely unashamedly Christian. In my experience there is a level of seriousness surrounding the responsibility to obey God that is not there among liberal Friends groups (of course there are personal exceptions).

I am just trying to give the flavor of Conservative Friends to show that they are not just using different words for the same life. Jesus is Lord of my life and there really aren't any other words for that!

If you are interested there are two other websites that I found helpful and they are

http://michiganquakers.org/library, which is the website of Crossroads Friends Meeting in Michigan. Particularly interesting are the writings of the contemporary Friends on the right side bar.

the other is the outreach of Stillwater Friends Meeting and it is here:  http://www.conservativefriend.org/

Again there is lots of reading there that may give a flavor of Conservatives beliefs and practises.

I hope this is helpful.

Blessings on your journey,

Barb

John Vechey said:

I use non-theist versus atheist because for me, atheism is about "there is no God," and I often associate that with "your experience of spirituality is null and void because of your beliefs" where nontheism, for me, I associate with accepting the language and beliefs of others as valid ways of experience spirituality.

So, what is the actual nature of this [stuff?] called 'spirituality'?

If people see an underlying, trans-physical order that holds the universe together -- something that doesn't just give us nice experiences but a reality available to human experience because it's as much there as a chair... [to be accurate, more so]

the basic religious discovery is that this lives in human beings, that in fact it is the life which lives as us, beyond whatever surface peculiarities we call 'ego,' 'identity', 'personality' etc. Quakers have historically used many names for this, but I don't see any good reason to shun the customary three-letter 'G word' -- except to deny various attributes people have observed in their encounters with God over the centuries.

Aside from the fact that the universe is a big Gulp to take in all at once... and people do seem to misunderstand from time to time -- is there an attribute of God you find indigestible? Or is there some other reason for this label 'nontheist', something that I've missed?

Now this an analogy I like! I like the way you think. But I am still curious...if you don't believe in God than what is it that you are looking for in a Quaker meeting that you could not find elsewhere? Why Quakerism? Why not Buddhism, or the Ethical Society, etc? What is it you are seeking? 

John Vechey said:

Another analogy this brought up is art.

My experience of a piece of art is very different than someone else's experience. How it moves me, how I interpret it, whether I like it, etc. But it still is the same piece of art. Subjective experience over unified object.

So I am not saying God is whatever we make it, but that God is the same, we experience and discuss God differently, and that I believe Quakers have a way of experiencing and getting close to God that ends with similar results, regardless of the belief spectrum. So my confusion comes in when I see different Quaker groups (or any group really, but am surprised by the Quaker side) holding "ownership" of the experience, or belief (in either direction).


Forrest Curo said:

Spiny Norman said:

http://www.quakerquaker.org/forum/topics/a-table-by-any-other-name?

Forrest, I'm not saying that spiritual experiences don't occur, I'm saying that how those experiences are interpreted will depend largely on a persons upbringing, culture, conditioning, beliefs and assumptions.


It does matter "how these experiences are interpreted" but that isn't what matters most.

What are these experiences experiences of? Different people of course will answer that differently, but what is the underlying reality of the situation?

Barbara, thanks for this insight into the various groups of Quakers. I think I would definitely fit into the "Conservative unprogrammed" group. Sadly I doubt that there are any of those anywhere near me. But when I finally get to a meeting maybe I will be surprised! I know for myself, the Light I seek is definitely the Light of Christ. John, keep seeking with an open heart and mind and you will find what you are looking for, however it is a life-long journey, at least in my experience!

Barbara Smith said:

John - i can relate strongly to what you are saying as I said those very same things a few years back. I even led a program at our non-denominational church (not Friends) on the subjectivity of our experiences of Truth and that it is just our various perspectives, or words, or differing backgrounds etc. that make it seem we are talking about different things when in fact we aren't.

Then I discovered that in fact there is a Truth that is NOT subjective!! That when people experience this Truth they describe it in amazingly similar terms across the millenia! The writers of the New Testament describe their own experiences of God, and seeking and finding God, in words that the Early Friends used, and in words that I used (BEFORE I read their experiences!). It is as if there is a single path, not multiple paths as I thought, to the re-birth experience that brings us in unity with God. Of course we all start at different points, but when we find the Holy One of Israel it is by the same basic path - the path of conviction, repentance, forgiveness, obedience, and finally unity with God in Love. One of the reasons I knew my experience was real is that it was echoed in the journals of the early Friends, almost as if they were writing my journal, and also in the Bible. That is not a coincidence! This leads me to the conclusion that my experience was not subjective or personal to me, any more than the color of grass is subjective. We all know it's green.

For me I think the reason I had the feeling that spiritual experiences were subjective was that I was exploring, as it were. I had many openings, many spiritual experiences etc. but I had not yet arrived on THE PATH. I explored for 57 years for some reason when God finally decided to overwhelm me with an experience I could not ignore and could not explain away. I was born again! to liberals it is not PC to imply that there is ONE PATH, but this was the message of Early Friends! There is one path to the Light, Seek the Light, etc. meaning of course the Light of Christ, or the Holy Spirit.

As for the different branches of Friends, I suggest you do more reading if you really want to understand all this. First, there are three main branches, not two: programmed (evangelical in the loose sense), Conservative (Christian unprogrammed), and liberal (unprogrammed). There are individual meeting that cross boundaries but this is the general plan and how it fell out historically from the splits. I am a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting, which is Conservative. I am pretty sure that the smallest group of Friends are the Conservatives, not the liberals, but I'm not positive.

OYM has only around 600 members worldwide. If you want to understand more about the Conservative Friends  you can read any of the Tract Association pamphlets. These are not all written by Conservative Friends, but these tracts give the flavor of Conservatives and are all wonderful and inspiring reading. They are on the Tract Association website for download, or purchase.  http://www.conservativefriend.org/

It is only partially accurate to say that all the Quaker groups share the same testimonies. I cannot speak for the Evangelicals but among Conservatives the primary focus is on obedience to the Inner Christ, NOT on the testimonies. The testimonies do not play the role they do among liberal Friends. The Bible and personal obedience to Christ take supremacy. The spoken testimony in Meeting for Worship is heavily Bible based and completely unashamedly Christian. In my experience there is a level of seriousness surrounding the responsibility to obey God that is not there among liberal Friends groups (of course there are personal exceptions).

I am just trying to give the flavor of Conservative Friends to show that they are not just using different words for the same life. Jesus is Lord of my life and there really aren't any other words for that!

If you are interested there are two other websites that I found helpful and they are

http://michiganquakers.org/library, which is the website of Crossroads Friends Meeting in Michigan. Particularly interesting are the writings of the contemporary Friends on the right side bar.

the other is the outreach of Stillwater Friends Meeting and it is here:  http://www.conservativefriend.org/

Again there is lots of reading there that may give a flavor of Conservatives beliefs and practises.

I hope this is helpful.

Blessings on your journey,

Barb

Patrice - Where are you located? Also, if you reply to my friend request I can let you know where conservative members are located. They are scattered all over the world actually.

In Christ,

Barb

I don't worry about political correctness, Barbara, what troubles me is the assumption you make that the path you have found is the only valid one.

 

Barbara Smith said:

 I was born again! to liberals it is not PC to imply that there is ONE PATH, but this was the message of Early Friends! There is one path to the Light, Seek the Light, etc. meaning of course the Light of Christ, or the Holy Spirit.

I don't know exactly what the underlying reality is, Forrest, though I sense it's presence.  


Forrest Curo said:

Spiny Norman said:

Forrest, I'm not saying that spiritual experiences don't occur, I'm saying that how those experiences are interpreted will depend largely on a persons upbringing, culture, conditioning, beliefs and assumptions.


It does matter "how these experiences are interpreted" but that isn't what matters most.

What are these experiences experiences of? Different people of course will answer that differently, but what is the underlying reality of the situation?

Good point, John.  These nuances are important.

John Vechey said:

I use non-theist versus atheist because for me, atheism is about "there is no God," and I often associate that with "your experience of spirituality is null and void because of your beliefs" where nontheism, for me, I associate with accepting the language and beliefs of others as valid ways of experience spirituality.



Spiny Norman said:

I don't worry about political correctness, Barbara, what troubles me is the assumption you make that the path you have found is the only valid one.

 

Barbara Smith said:

I was born again! to liberals it is not PC to imply that there is ONE PATH, but this was the message of Early Friends! There is one path to the Light, Seek the Light, etc. meaning of course the Light of Christ, or the Holy Spirit.

 

 


Early Friends interpreted 'John': "Christ enlightens every [person] who comes into the world" quite literally, and if pressed they would certainly agree this pointed to a certain human being born in Judea a couple thousand years ago.

But that 'every', they said, necessarily applied to people before Jesus' birth and to others who had never heard of him. "Christ" was an inward reality -- and [whether or not Jesus said so] was necessarily our way there. But people would not necessarily recognize this as "Jesus".

Forrest - I agree that not everyone recognizes the reality pulling them or instructing them or whatever as Jesus. This is curious to me. What causes some to recognize Him and others don't.  I also did not recognize it as Jesus for many years and when I suddenly did it opened up so many avenues of growth that had been closed - partly because suddenly all the Early Friends writings made sense, as well at the New Testament, which had been irrelevant to me previously. These two sources of inspiration have added so much to my life, to say nothing of now knowing the Inner Christ Himself personally!

Barb

Barbara, I am in Lincoln, VT. There is a small unprogrammed meeting just 6 miles from my house, this whole area was settled by Quakers. In fact, my church, in the center of my small village is on Quaker St. In the last century there was apparently a large meeting house on this road. Anyway, this meeting is the South Starksboro meeting. There is also a meeting in Middlebury, VT, the closest "big" town. I have met two people from the So.Starksboro meeting, we actually had them for dinner.They are Jewish, at least in their background. Nice couple much younger than my husband and I. Barbara, are you on Facebook? If so I would love a friend request! Shalom!

Barbara Smith said:

Patrice - Where are you located? Also, if you reply to my friend request I can let you know where conservative members are located. They are scattered all over the world actually.

In Christ,

Barb

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