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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Barbara, I've met Christians who do think about God in this way, a sort of benevolent micro-manager who responds to prayer.  But how do you think about God?  You seem to be saying that God has no power to intervene but is rather something we can connect with?  

And by the way, the human ability to empathise can be explained in evolutionary terms and doesn't require the existence of God.

Barbara Smith said:

What you are looking for in a loving God seems to be a God watching us as a pet owner might watch a cage of little animals and reaching in to stop them from hurting each other when they are acting like animals etc. I don't know of anyone who is saying God is like that. 

I agree, Forrest, and I think all religious traditions develop over time, often prompted by dialogue between different sects and traditions.  Though of course change is always resisted by conservatives and welcomed by liberals.  

Forrest Curo said:

Neither 'Buddhism' nor 'Christianity' come in one official flavor. Both form sects and have adherents who don't fit in the sects either. One description of religions in China points out that practically no one was 'a Taoist', 'a Confucian', 'a Buddhist' but that most people freely used whatever made sense to them -- and despite the terrors some Quakers experience about the fact that we're doing that too, this is simply how people and religions progress over time.

 

First, let me say that people, as we all know, have all kinds of ideas about God that are not real - like the idea that God will punish entire countries for past sin - or that He only accepts those who take Communion, or have been baptized etc. - but that does not make Him any less real.

I'm not saying God does not answer prayer. That is not the same as preventing people from carrying out the evil . I have many times felt myself overtaken as it were by anger and God is not going to stop me UNLESS I suddenly realize His support is right there and that I CAN stop and access that Peace right then and there. But until I realize that I can be swept away with anger and do all kinds of horrible things. As far as God answering prayer goes my personal experience, and what I have read from many others, is that God does two things (actually of course He does countless things but these are ones I am familiar with). One is to put leadings in people and again it is up to those people to sense the leadings and carry them through, often with amazing almost miraculous results. Connected to this is the other, which is opening the way for us when we are either following a leading or trying to accomplish something or trying to make a decision. I have experienced these two things many times, though for years I continued to attribute them to chance until I accepted the fact that they couldn't logically be due to chance and that there was a pattern.

Another way God "intervenes" in the world is by speaking with us in our prayer, or worship, or whatever you want to call it. I would not call this always an "answer" to prayer because it is often on a topic we did not ask to talk about. In fact it seems it is often on a topic we did NOT bring up and to me that is a sign that it is God and not my own mind wandering around. He makes suggestions, opens our lives to us, points out where we are off the path, pushes us to improve or whatever.

And the most powerful way God intervenes in our lives is to be the voice that is always with us, but we can easily overlook, that directs us to the Way - that is into the road that leads to Life and away from the road that leads to Death. Again it was not until a few years ago that I noticed this voice that would interject annoying comments when I would think or do something uncharitable. The voice always said "Well, you do that too!" or "Well, your like that too!" It was not until AFTER my physical experience of the Spirit surrounding me in a cloud for a full three weeks that I connected that voice with the Inner Light and the voice of Christ. And then I read about it in the Bible as the Spirit that convicts us of our sins. I had always thought of that as something other, like something more supernatural and amazing, not like a voice that all of us actually have and never noticed much. But that is the voice that all the Early Friends urge us to not ignore - heeding that voice IS the path to salvation.

So when you add up all these ways that God can intervene in the world I can see that it would be a very different world - in fact it would be nirvana - IF humans would learn to hear and follow Him. But that part is up to us. He has already made that world possible through giving us the Spirit to guide us, and now it is up to us, not Him, to follow through.

To anticipate the question of why I see this Guide as a person instead of just a force i guess it is because first everything I have experienced about Him (It) matches the experiences of those in the New Testament and also Early Friends as well as mystical Christians throughout the ages. So just like when you are looking up a flower in a field guide if it has all the characteristics of the flower in the book you would assume it is that flower. Second because I feel Him now, I didn't earlier, as a Person I can lean on and gain strength from. Also I  now know it is Jesus because I heard that in my prayer time, and that is that. I have seen no contradictory evidence yet. In fact so much of my spiritual life now makes sense where it didn't before - unless I figured I was mentally ill, which I'm definitely not.

Hope that helps,

Barb


Spiny Norman said:

Barbara, I've met Christians who do think about God in this way, a sort of benevolent micro-manager who responds to prayer.  But how do you think about God?  You seem to be saying that God has no power to intervene but is rather something we can connect with?  

And by the way, the human ability to empathise can be explained in evolutionary terms and doesn't require the existence of God.

Barbara Smith said:

What you are looking for in a loving God seems to be a God watching us as a pet owner might watch a cage of little animals and reaching in to stop them from hurting each other when they are acting like animals etc. I don't know of anyone who is saying God is like that. 

We all have an internal dialogue, Barbara, and the mind is quite creative in making connections and arriving at intuitions. 

So how do you decide which voice(s) are your own, and which are Gods? 

Barbara Smith said:

Another way God "intervenes" in the world is by speaking with us in our prayer, or worship, or whatever you want to call it. I would not call this always an "answer" to prayer because it is often on a topic we did not ask to talk about. In fact it seems it is often on a topic we did NOT bring up and to me that is a sign that it is God and not my own mind wandering around. He makes suggestions, opens our lives to us, points out where we are off the path, pushes us to improve or whatever.

Spiny - One thing I am learning is that the spirit of contention is not God's Spirit. God's Spirit leads us to sincere seeking and listening and learning. Not to idle discussion or questions asked out of mere curiosity. I do not detect that thee is asking these questions in a spirit of sincere seeking, though I may of course be wrong. But this last question cannot be out of a desire to learn to discern the voice of God for thyself as thee does not believe in God. I would be happy to share my experience on this very complicated and personal topic at a point when thee is sincerely struggling to learn this very important discernment.

Best wishes,

Barb

"And by the way, the human ability to empathize can be explained in evolutionary terms and doesn’t require the existence of God."

Spiny Norman: This may be true. The human ability to empathize may also be explained by neurotransmitters, genetic predispositions, or sun spots for all I know. But these will not be able to explain in our personal experience why we choose, in each moment, to follow the better angels of our nature, or the demons of our darkest nature. Both are within us. Both are available to us. Whatever evolutionary programming we may attribute our empathetic impulses to, it appears they are a pretty poor nail to hang our hat on judging by, oh, say the last hundred years of human history, for example.

There are these wonderful parables in the Gospels about the demons which take possession of people and how Jesus calls them out and drives them away. If this is the nature of God - the desire to drive out our darkness and fill it with Light - then perhaps this is what many seek when they search for God. It’s not a god of wish-fulfillment, like a genie in a bottle, because most of what we want is mostly what we don’t need. But it may be a God that seeks to cast out the things which enslave us. This, I think, is what some of us mean when we speak of God.

Barbara, I'm not an atheist, so there is really no need to be defensive.  I am genuinely interested in how you make the distinction between innate wisdom and God speaking to you.  To ask the question another way, why do you attribute some experience to an external influence?

Barbara Smith said:

Spiny - One thing I am learning is that the spirit of contention is not God's Spirit. God's Spirit leads us to sincere seeking and listening and learning. Not to idle discussion or questions asked out of mere curiosity. I do not detect that thee is asking these questions in a spirit of sincere seeking, though I may of course be wrong. But this last question cannot be out of a desire to learn to discern the voice of God for thyself as thee does not believe in God. I would be happy to share my experience on this very complicated and personal topic at a point when thee is sincerely struggling to learn this very important discernment.

Best wishes,

Barb

I agree, Randy.  But like I said before, events like the Holocaust raise uncomfortable questions about the nature of God.  

Randy Oftedahl said:

"And by the way, the human ability to empathize can be explained in evolutionary terms and doesn’t require the existence of God."

Spiny Norman: This may be true. The human ability to empathize may also be explained by neurotransmitters, genetic predispositions, or sun spots for all I know. But these will not be able to explain in our personal experience why we choose, in each moment, to follow the better angels of our nature, or the demons of our darkest nature. Both are within us. Both are available to us. Whatever evolutionary programming we may attribute our empathetic impulses to, it appears they are a pretty poor nail to hang our hat on judging by, oh, say the last hundred years of human history, for example.

Spiney: It is indeed ironic that "God" is sometimes used as a simplistic answer to anything, when the search for God is the most complex life-long quest available to human beings.  Perhaps its just another of those staggering paradoxes of the spiritual life - and for those of us propelled by paradox, it is also quite facinating.

 

As far as the "paradox" of evil in God's good creation, this is the eternal question with no easy answer.  I was helped with Dorothee Solle's remarkable book, "Suffering," as well as the challenge of Job.  But it a good question and one that we should never dismiss even if we never really find the answer to it, at least on this side of the grave.

Peace and Hope.

Spiny Norman said:

Barbara, I'm not an atheist, so there is really no need to be defensive.  I am genuinely interested in how you make the distinction between innate wisdom and God speaking to you.  To ask the question another way, why do you attribute some experience to an external influence?


God is not [entirely] 'an outside influence.' Erich Schiffmann [a yoga teacher] suggests 'listening' for divine guidance -- but points out that whatever thoughts come as a result are going to be thunk in your own mind; that's the mind you have to think them with.

Distinguishing your "own" thoughts & wishes from those of a higher source -- is a question for quite a few pages. Spiritual 'practices' like yoga help...

What came to me once: Even though I can easily be making a mistake in my following, God isn't making mistakes in guiding & aiding. The more attentive I can be, the fewer false trails I can take and the less time I need to spend on them!

Forrest - thanks for your thoughts on this. I can relate to all of what you say. Especially:

'What came to me once: Even though I can easily be making a mistake in my following, God isn't making mistakes in guiding & aiding. The more attentive I can be, the fewer false trails I can take and the less time I need to spend on them!"

I would add to that a few thoughts.

1. Which is better, to think it is God guiding you and it turns out not to be, or to think it is just your own thoughts and it turns out you missed God calling to you? (This of course is assuming that the message you are receiving is leading you further into Goodness and not away). I will take mistakenly thinking it is God when it isn't. As Isaac Pennington said in answer to this dilemma, what does it matter if you are being guided into Love and Life and you find it was only your own thoughts? It is better to be obedient than to stand still waiting for "absolute proof" that it is God.

2. We learn to distinguish the voice of God over time. It takes much practise and trial and error, but God is patient and doesn't give up contacting us. We just have to remain open and sincere in our attempts to hear Him. And it does get easier.

3. I do not have a dialogue in my head, it is a monologue. When it became a dialogue was when the Spirit of Christ entered in. I am beginning to distinguish between his voice and mine by the following: mine is chattery, wandering, repetitive; His is sure, succinct, calm and definite and seems as if a brand new idea is dropped into my chattering mind from above. There is no arguing, no discussing, it is just suddenly presented as the way to go etc.

4. Following that voice leads always to Peace, harmony, selflessness, love of others, inclusiveness, steadiness, and so on. My own choices do not necessarily produce any of these.

As you say this topic is huge and takes a life time of experience to cover. It seems super important to me to keep trying to become more sensitive to that Inner Guide so I keep working on it. I am very interested in hearing from others on their experiences on this topic as we can indeed learn from one another to identify His voice.

Barb



Barbara Smith said:

...Which is better, to think it is God guiding you and it turns out not to be, or to think it is just your own thoughts and it turns out you missed God calling to you?


Trying to follow an idea of 'what God said' can lead to disaster; there's a great deal of history to demonstrate that.

What seems to be presently being received from God should be much the same -- but my feeling is that there's a significant difference, that 'presently received' is not 'less objective' but more so... and that when I get into trouble is not when I've been following that, but when I think I've figured out what to do. (Trying to follow 'what God said once' puts the decision into that treacherous 'figuring-out' mode; it isn't 'listening.' Faith may certainly hold to truths received in the past -- but it makes something else possible: trusting God to verify or correct.)

There's a difference in attitude; I'd expect God to be equally concerned and helpful regardless of my attitude but a heedless attitude weights the probabilities in a bad way.

If you're interested in experiences of this, there was a wonderful example in the first issue of 'What Canst Thou Say.'

I'd like your comments on
this piece
re an event which seems to contradict this but really doesn't. (I'm hoping they'll help me finish saying it...)

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