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 Smith said:

Forrest - I agree that not everyone recognizes the reality pulling them or instructing them or whatever as Jesus. This is curious to me.


What I have found is that God serves the dishes of this banquet when my appetite is ready for them. When I'm not ready for something, it doesn't nourish me and I don't care for it.

For many years after God got noticeable hold of me I couldn't read a "Christian" book. I knew Jesus was for real; I was fascinated with any honest attempt to understand and explain what actually took place in his life in this world; but "Christian" books took too many of the wrong things for granted -- for example, their feeling that God favored people with "Christian" beliefs over people of other religions, had given them the Truth and left everyone else in Darkness. Or their weird notion that Jesus had been a "Christian" as they understood the word.

I like the story of the Zen teacher who found his students had picked up a 'New Testament'. "Read me some," he told them. So they read him a chunk of the Sermon on the Mount and he said, "That's what I've been trying to teach you for years!" He might be surprized that anyone fails to recognize the spirit behind that teaching as 'Buddha.'

Jesus gave the pagan West the essence of the Jewish revelations of God. His followers since then have developed insights and misapprehensions of their own... This has not been the only revelation of God, but it's been the one most available to us here -- and I agree that it suggests perspectives which other religions have tended to miss. (The existence of these other religions does not seem to me to be either accidental nor mistaken; they too are creations of God intended for human illumination. To deny this would imply a view of God far different than what Jesus gave us!)

The story Anthony Bloom tells of first meeting Jesus... Bloom simply knew that Jesus was in the room with him. But this took place while he was reading the Gospel of 'Mark' for the first time. Without that, Bloom wouldn't have quite understood "Who is this [person] anyway?" It isn't that people of other religions haven't had their own encounters with God -- but they haven't started with the same context; and God's courtship seems to take a long introduction, a long period of coming-to-know for everyone.

What to conclude? I'd encourage more people to read the Bible -- both deeply and critically (which doesn't mean 'with Skepticism' but does mean 'without fudging'.) To read it strategically: not to dismiss it as absurd (or gloss over its absurdities) but to seek whatever truth and wisdom one can find there.

One Easter, a good friend of mine started thinking about the resurrection stories -- and it suddenly occurred to her: "What if he really was resurrected?!" Not "I'm supposed to believe this" but "Hey, this isn't the way I thought the universe works... but what if it's really like that?" Not to believe everything in there at face value -- but to wonder, "What did He mean by that?" and "What does this say about what's really going on here?"

Good point, Forrest, it's important to look at the spirit of teachings, not just the literal appearance.  But of course Buddhism is non-theist.  

Forrest Curo said:

I like the story of the Zen teacher who found his students had picked up a 'New Testament'. "Read me some," he told them. So they read him a chunk of the Sermon on the Mount and he said, "That's what I've been trying to teach you for years!" He might be surprised that anyone fails to recognize the spirit behind that teaching as 'Buddha.'

I find the traditional idea of "God" to be an over-simplistic and flawed explanation for spiritual experience.

Forrest Curo said:

-- is there an attribute of God you find indigestible? 

Forrest - Great post! I especially agree with the encouragement of others to try really reading the Bible in the spirit of "What if this is really true?" I too had many years of inching my way into Christianity, understanding God but having no place of Christ, and being what felt like stuck in that direction. And I appreciate the thought that God approaches us as we are ready for it and able to get it. Or rather he gives us what we need maybe. However, I can now see in retrospect that he had been approaching me for several years before I really GOT IT! And my biggest amazement then was that the whole Christian story was REAL but not in the way most Christian churches interpret it. In other words, it is just describing daily life and experiences we all have all the time and NOT what goes on in churches, if that makes sense. The Inner Christ is that voice I had been hearing all my life and ignoring, not something I had to go to church or read a religious book to find or learn about.

This is to me the essence of Quakerism and actually of New Testament Christianity, and when I went back to look it is in fact what the New Testament teaches! When John said "... the anointing [Spirit] which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing [Spirit] teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him." (1 John 2:27).

Interesting that 99% of Christian churches have ignored so much of the NT and in so doing have put their own stuff in its place causing true Christian Life to be buried under masses of misleading stuff!

I hope people can be brave enough to dig deep and see through all the junk and not throw the baby out with the bath water!

Barb



Spiny Norman said:

I find the traditional idea of "God" to be an over-simplistic and flawed explanation for spiritual experience.

Someone else's idea of 'you' might well be inadequate -- especially their first impression.

Buddhism isn't so much "nontheistic" as much as it tends toward the position of "Leave that question alone until you can see for yourself!"

But Buddhism very much implies a structured unity to the universe, an underlying lawfulness in which the practice makes sense and can lead you somewhere -- not some chaos to be overcome by sheer ego-fueled striving. And that's a spiritual unity.

If that Unity ("Buddha") gets personal by becoming each person, is there a reason it shouldn't be personal to us?

In any case, if you're paying attention it can introduce itself, let you form or not-form whatever idea best fits. The word "God" doesn't mean the same to everybody -- but aspects of the traditional idea turn out to apply pretty well, as in 'bigger & wiser & kinder than our conscious mind'. People seem to have a hard time recognizing such qualities, preferring to imagine themselves as strong separate individuals, wise enough to know what 'kindness' looks like to a Being who sees deeper than we do... One who could whack a person in the right way at the right time & leave them gibbering with Enlightenment, ne?

Friend John:

Here are a few thoughts generated by your inquiry.  Your idea is that all the different modes of describing the ultimate are equal in the sense that they all can be efficacious for those involved with them.  First, I am not sure that is true; I would not assume it is true unless I had personal experience with the traditions involved.  In other words, I would not start with the assumption that they are all equal; rather I would want to see that demonstrated.

But let's assume you are right; that a table is a mesa.  Why does it follow that the manner of speaking isn't significant?  If I do not know Spanish (I don't), it isn't helpful for me to be in a room full of Spanish speakers, not matter how insightful they are.  Anything they say will go right by me.

In a similar way, even if it is true that the Christian way of speaking, and the Buddhist way of speaking, and the non-theist way of speaking, all refer to the same thing, it doesn't follow that it is helpful to have a room full of people speaking in these different modes.  In fact, it seems to me that such a situation will actually undermine communication in the sense that one or the other mode will inevitably dominate, making the others feel left out (like me being left out of a Spanish conversation).

Another way of looking at this is to use an analogy.  I'll use the analogy of a rose society.  Suppose you are a member of a rose society, dedicated to the propagation of roses.  Someone joins and insists on talking about apples.  All the time.  Another person joins and insists on talking about geraniums.  All the time.  When you object, because this is a rose society, they respond by asking you what you have against apples and geraniums.  They are all plants.  What's the big deal?  The geranium guy invites other geranium people and they form a faction.  They hold workshops on how advanced they are, how much more broadminded they are, than those narrow rose-0nlyists.  Acrimony ensues.

My point is that even if you believe that Buddhism, Paganism, and non-theism are efficacious and worthy traditions, it doesn't follow that their presence is non-disruptive to the Quaker spirit.  It's a matter of function.  If you want to play tennis, and someone insists that training time also include training for baseball and golf, there is no question that tennis training will suffer.  It's not that baseball and golf are inferior.  It's just that you can't have everything; choices have to be made.

Thanks for bringing up these issues.

Best wishes,

Jim

I see the point you're making, Jim.  But it depends on what we understand by the "Quaker spirit", and whether we define this narrowly or more broadly.  And I'd suggest the same is true of our ideas about "God".  

The problem I have with the narrow ( traditional ) definition of God is summarised by this question:  "Why would a loving God set up and preside over an existence with so much suffering - genocide, cancer, child abuse, etc etc.?"   I've never heard a convincing answer to this question.

Jim Wilson said:

My point is that even if you believe that Buddhism, Paganism, and non-theism are efficacious and worthy traditions, it doesn't follow that their presence is non-disruptive to the Quaker spirit.  

Interesting, Forrest, though I think you're trying to view Buddhism through a theistic lens, which is bound to be problematic.  Though to be fair, I'm probably trying to view Quakerism through a Buddhist lens!  


Forrest Curo said:


Buddhism isn't so much "nontheistic" as much as it tends toward the position of "Leave that question alone until you can see for yourself!"

But Buddhism very much implies a structured unity to the universe, an underlying lawfulness in which the practice makes sense and can lead you somewhere -- not some chaos to be overcome by sheer ego-fueled striving. And that's a spiritual unity.

If that Unity ("Buddha") gets personal by becoming each person, is there a reason it shouldn't be personal to us?

In any case, if you're paying attention it can introduce itself, let you form or not-form whatever idea best fits. The word "God" doesn't mean the same to everybody -- but aspects of the traditional idea turn out to apply pretty well, as in 'bigger & wiser & kinder than our conscious mind'. People seem to have a hard time recognizing such qualities, preferring to imagine themselves as strong separate individuals, wise enough to know what 'kindness' looks like to a Being who sees deeper than we do... One who could whack a person in the right way at the right time & leave them gibbering with Enlightenment, ne?

Spiny - I have an answer to that question that you may not appreciate. As you recall from the Bible there is also a very strong force of evil in the world that is apparent to everyone, as you pointed out. That force is what humans are so susceptible to and cannot keep out of without the Spirit of God working in them. Without it the damage humans are capable of doing to each other is limitless. 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. That is a view of God that a little child might adopt but not a thinking adult. There is no doubt that that God is not the super fixer in the sky!

God provides a stream of love that is available to us to live in IF we choose to access it, and NOT available if we don't. Clearly most people in the world do not choose it! And when they don't choose it they remain open to the stream of evil that is almost as strong as the stream of Love.

But my counter question is this. If there is no God, and I am just an intelligent animal, the result of evolution, then why do I feel such a strong impulse to love other people, and why does it bother you so to see abuse and suffering in the world? Where did that impulse come from? My dog doesn't care if I kill another dog, except to maybe decide I am not a safe owner and be scared for his own skin. But he doesn't care about the other dog. Also why does the majority of humanity yearn for contact with God, and always have, if there is no such thing as God. Why would we be made to yearn for something that never existed? Evolution can't produce such a yearning.

For me accepting the existence of "God", whatever form you see that as taking, explains far more in life than not accepting it.

Barb



Spiny Norman said:

I see the point you're making, Jim.  But it depends on what we understand by the "Quaker spirit", and whether we define this narrowly or more broadly.  And I'd suggest the same is true of our ideas about "God".  

The problem I have with the narrow ( traditional ) definition of God is summarised by this question:  "Why would a loving God set up and preside over an existence with so much suffering - genocide, cancer, child abuse, etc etc.?"   I've never heard a convincing answer to this question.

Jim Wilson said:

My point is that even if you believe that Buddhism, Paganism, and non-theism are efficacious and worthy traditions, it doesn't follow that their presence is non-disruptive to the Quaker spirit.  

Spiny Norman said:

... I think you're trying to view Buddhism through a theistic lens, which is bound to be problematic.  Though to be fair, I'm probably trying to view Quakerism through a Buddhist lens!


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.

The Raft Is Not The Shore is a conversation between Thich Nhat Hahn, Thomas Merton and one of the Berrigans. They know they're all familiar with the Big Whatever-It-Is; they get along just fine!

At bottom line we should be less concerned with staying within 'The Official Ismist Rulebook' than with aligning ourselves with Whatever's-Really-Out-There/In-Here. I don't think you're saying there's no such thing?

Friend Barbara;

Your comments speak my mind - particularly about how if we don't choose the "stream of love" we remain open the stream of evil that is almost as strong as the stream of love.  I find this so true in my experience.  We know there is an ocean of darkness because we have been in it; we have felt its pull and sunk into its thick night.  But we have been saved by responding to the ocean of Light, and its that light that draws us, even though the darkness also beacons us.  We are constantly choosing.

But the wonder of that Light (and I use this term interchangeably with Christ or the Holy Spirit - they are of the same, I believe) is that the more we live in that Light, the less (or perhaps the less often) we are tempted by the darkness.  At least I think so.  It has been true for me...now if only I could leave the darkness behind altogether, alas!

I respect those who are not prepared to acknowledge Christ in their life - or even the "existence of God" - because I truly believe God is still at work and an open heart and a searching soul will find something very much like what we call Jesus Christ at the very centre of our being, and I for one do not care what name anyone wants to give that ultimate reality.

Peace and Hope.

"Your comments speak my mind - particularly about how if we don't choose the "stream of love" we remain open the stream of evil that is almost as strong as the stream of love.  I find this so true in my experience.  We know there is an ocean of darkness because we have been in it; we have felt its pull and sunk into its thick night.  But we have been saved by responding to the ocean of Light, and its that light that draws us, even though the darkness also beacons us.  We are constantly choosing."

Friend Randy - Beautifully spoken. And you are right about trusting that God is always at work in others! That is so important to remember, for me it is especially important to remember about my children. It is hard to keep in mind and be patient to allow God to unfold his plan for them when I know what a miracle He has worked in my own life! How can we help but be bursting with the Good News!

In Christ,

Barb

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