I'm interested in hearing what Quaker books you're reading and really enjoying right now and why?

Three I've recently ploughed through and have loved:
a) Catholic Quakerism - Benson
b) George Fox - Thomas Hodgkin
c) Through Flaming Sword - Arthur Roberts

I'm really impressed with all three of these books for different reasons. The Hodgkin book is particularly well written and insightful, I've never read any of his stuff before. Steve Angell told me about him this summer and suggested I check him out. I'm glad I have.

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I don't have enough commuting time in my life these days to read as much as I'd like.

a) Carole Dale Spencer's "Holiness: the Soul of Quakerism" (slowed down @ p. 73, hopefully will pick back up)
b) Seth B Hinshaw's great "The Spoken Ministry Among Friends" picked up again. Like most good book's it's about more than it's title suggests.
c) Robert's "Through Flaming Sword" has come in the mail and want to give it at least a thorough skim.

After that I have three bookshelves full of great Quaker books and I always need to get into a better Bible habit. Blog reading is great but too much of it keeps me from keeping the eyes on the prize.
Martin Kelley said:
I don't have enough commuting time in my life these days to read as much as I'd like.

a) Carole Dale Spencer's "Holiness: the Soul of Quakerism" (slowed down @ p. 73, hopefully will pick back up)
b) Seth B Hinshaw's great "The Spoken Ministry Among Friends" picked up again. Like most good book's it's about more than it's title suggests.
c) Robert's "Through Flaming Sword" has come in the mail and want to give it at least a thorough skim.

After that I have three bookshelves full of great Quaker books and I always need to get into a better Bible habit. Blog reading is great but too much of it keeps me from keeping the eyes on the prize.

Oh glad you're reading Spencer's book - I read it earlier this quarter, she's really done her homework! I too need to get into a better Bible reading habit, I'm slowly picking it up more. It's funny but Seminary kind of fried me on daily reading, it felt too much like doing homework.
I've just been reading A S Byatt's early novel The Game (first published 1967; my second-hand copy from Oxfam is a King Penguin from 1983). It's about two sisters, Cassandra and Julia, from an upper-middle-class liberal Quaker family in the north of England - the background of Byatt herself and her sister, the novelist Margaret Drabble, which is not necessarily to say that it’s autobiographical.

There are lots of novels that feature protagonists struggling to free themselves from strict, oppressive religious upbringings. This one is rather different though – the sisters are oppressed by an absence, a hole where a moral education should have been. Their father “had laid down no laws, exerted no pressure, expected nothing, left them to make their own choices.” As an adult, Cassandra muses:

“And out of all this liberalism, extremism grows. What was in fact given to us was space to discover violence. It was too hard for us, all this choosing, we lacked the enclosing warmth of anything either to rebel against or to welcome in weak moments as absolute restriction… with us, make your own decisions, anything reasonable is permitted, shifts so easily to everything is permitted, any decision is possible. The Inner Light can indicate the edges of a limitless darkness. Better to grow up believing that it is, de fide, not so.” (p41)

The sisters compensate for this lack of warmth by developing, like the Brontës, a shared fantasy life, the Game of the title, inspired by Arthurian romance. Cassandra goes on to become a scholar of mediaeval literature at Oxford, rejecting Quakerism very publicly in favour of High Anglican worship. Julia marries a hard-working, do-gooding, idealistic Quaker who resembles her father. She becomes a successful novelist and entertains herself with extramarital affairs in the bohemian world of the London mass-media. Eventually her husband burns himself out and smashes up the family home in a violent outburst. Julia proves much more destructive in her way: prying, selfish, self-pitying and manipulative, she exploits those around her as material for her fiction.

But it’s Cassandra, outwardly the most damaged, inadequate character in the novel, who is able to bring healing to an anguished friend through her insight and empathy. Anglican-Catholicism may not bring her much solace – it’s rare to find a modern British novel that’s sympathetic to religion, and this is not one of them - but it has perhaps enabled her to confront evil and suffering rather than deny and repress them. Julia is amused when Cassandra’s crucifix gets entangled in spaghetti and tomato sauce during dinner at her college Hall, a grotesque image that duly appears in one of Julia’s novels. A telling detail: isn’t it precisely the Cross that has disappeared from modern liberal Quakerism, and the secular liberal world that it embraces? Christ crucified is foolishness to liberal moderns just as it was to the Greeks of Apostle Paul’s day.
Alan Paxton said:
isn’t it precisely the Cross that has disappeared from modern liberal Quakerism, and the secular liberal world that it embraces? Christ crucified is foolishness to liberal moderns just as it was to the Greeks of Apostle Paul’s day.
Why the gratuitous swipe at Liberal Meetings, some of which may even fit the description, but many of which do not? It seems a long jump from the problems of children too immature to see that rules should have reasons to blaming "liberal" ideas for a failure to see the value of the incarnation. Boundaries do not in themselves produce the "warmth" that seems to have been missing from the characters lives, and inclusiveness does not in itself denigrate Jesus' life and ministry.
In His Love,
Nate Swift
Hi Nate

Thanks for your comment. My post was meant to be a loving criticism of liberal Quakerism (which is pretty much the only kind of Quakerism we have in Britain), not a gratuitous swipe at it, but maybe I didn't make that clear enough. And I should have said that I meant British liberal Quakerism, the sort I'm familiar with, although I've read enough American Quaker literature to be aware that similar dynamics exist in at least some liberal meetings in the US. The criticism that Quakerism, especially in its liberal forms, is weak on the Incarnation seems to be a common one on both sides of the Atlantic.

I should also add that Byatt is writing a novel, not a densely-argued theological or sociological tract. Like many novelists, she chooses an extreme example to make a good story. I don't think she's saying that all liberal Quakers are like this particular dysfunctional family, rather that this is what can happen when a religious tradition comes unravelled through tolerance becoming indifference. I don't think she's just criticising Quakers, either. I can see similar processes in my own liberal Protestant background, although I did receive a moral education from my parents. Byatt is one of those novelists who is describing the moral void left by the passing of Christianity in Europe, but doesn't think that a return to Christian tradition is credible - I detect the influence of Iris Murdoch here.

I do believe that the way of Christ is still transforming and life-giving, and that its Quaker form has particular strengths and virtues, which is why I spend time here at QuakerQuaker. When I look at my Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and non-believing friends and neighbours and colleagues I can also see that Christians have no monopoly on the good and moral life, so in that sense I am not 'exclusivist'.

I do, though, struggle with the tolerance-bordering-on-indifference of some Friends and attenders at meeting, and with forms of pacifism that tend to deny the reality of evil, and here Byatt's criticisms seem to me to have much force. I also think that when liberalism shades into pluralism, as it does for many Quakers over here, it does become difficult to tell the story of Jesus and affirm its value. What if Jesus wasn't really nailed to a cross, but that someone else who looked like him was crucified instead, as the Quran asserts? What's so special about the incarnation of Jesus anyway, as opposed to those of, say, Krishna or Siddhartha Gautama? Other faith communities do not undermine their own valued traditions and narratives in this way, so why should we?

With regard to 'boundaries', I do think that the compassionate setting of limits is part of good parenting, though it isn't, as you rightly say, enough in itself to provide the emotional warmth that children need to develop to maturity.

Is this a transatlantic misunderstanding? In England, Christ-centred liberal Quakerism is threatened by anything-goes indifferentism. In Oregon, is it under pressure from conservative evangelicalism?

Grace & Peace

Alan

Nathan Swift said:
Alan Paxton said:
isn’t it precisely the Cross that has disappeared from modern liberal Quakerism, and the secular liberal world that it embraces? Christ crucified is foolishness to liberal moderns just as it was to the Greeks of Apostle Paul’s day.
Why the gratuitous swipe at Liberal Meetings, some of which may even fit the description, but many of which do not? It seems a long jump from the problems of children too immature to see that rules should have reasons to blaming "liberal" ideas for a failure to see the value of the incarnation. Boundaries do not in themselves produce the "warmth" that seems to have been missing from the characters lives, and inclusiveness does not in itself denigrate Jesus' life and ministry.
In His Love,
Nate Swift
Ah, yes. My point then would have to be that we need to be careful with our phrasing. It does not help communications to lump somewhat disparate groups together under one heading. Yes indeed there are threads and tendencies within "liberal Quakerism" that match your obserrvation. The last entry on the QQ list by Sheffield Quakers is a good read on the topic and a response. Here in the US there is a wider variety by far than you indicate, actually ranging from "fundamentalist" groups to the kind of Meeting in which Christian witness is actively discouraged (much to my dismay). It is also very interesting to me to see that people who come into Quakerism in "pluralist" Meetings may transform from a "Christophobic" perception to a real appreciation of the life and ministry of Jesus when it is not accompanied by all the exclusion and anathema that has been so much a part of traditional Christianity. To answer your question, by far the greatest number of Meetings and of Quakers is "Evangelical," though the local "brand" is more open than most.
I would agree with your assessment on parenting. How and when to make the transformation from rules to understanding is one of them conundrums. Clearly the parents in the novel missed fire somehow.

In His Love,
Nate Swift
I've been rereading Haven Kimmel's novels. Most recently have reread "The Used World." Also a big fan of "The Solace of Leaving Early."
Martin got me on to "Portraiture of Quakerism" by Clarkson. Its a view of Quakers c. 1805 by a sympatico outsider. Fascinating and closely reasoned look at the whys and wherefores of Quaker thought, faith and practice of the time. It gave me a deeper respect and appreciation for this path and has prompted some soul-searching about my own modus vivendi. Also enjoyed Seekers Found by Douglas Gwyn, on the origins of the Quaker movement with lots of context about the religious ferment in England at the time.
I'm in the midst of
>>John Woolman by Edwin H. Cady,
and have been dipping back into
>>Friends for 300 Years by Brinton
(I am really thoughtfully challenged by his reflection on Friends in chapter 10 which starts with this:
"The best type of religion is one in which the mystical, the evangelical, the rational and the social are so related that each exercises a restraint on the others..."
And I would add --exercises an expansive creativity by the Spirit of God on the others.

Anyone know of where I can get full length biographies of Elias Hicks and of Joel Bean?
I've checked Quaker Books but they only refer to a short summary book on Hicks not
how to get a copy of the full biography.
Current favourites of mine are:

a) Truth of the Heart: an Anthology of George Fox by Rex Ambler
contains a translation into modern English, a glossary and a concluding essay 'Making sense of Fox'.

b) An Introduction to Quakerism by Pink Dandelion; a history of the theology of friends with an overview of present day practice across the globe.

c) Listening Spirituality: Vol. 1 Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends by Patricia Loring

Quakers in fiction
"No Shame, No Fear" by Ann Turnbull and the slightly weaker follow-up "Forged in the Fire"
Both highly recommended page-turners.
I'm making a book list from this, so thanks for sharing. Hopefully most of these will be easy to find; there doesn't seem to be a very large Quaker presence in Australia. I've found my nearest meeting house, but I want to do more reading and research etc before I go bothering them.
I am reading Arthur Roberts' book at the moment and find it very helpful. The first half summary of the Journal narrative would be of value to anyone new to Fox. The second half which deals with Holiness and a number of other religious/theological themes contains valuable material and is of more interesting to me. If I have a gripe it would be Roberts' uncritical approach to the man Fox. He is far too 'understanding' of Fox's position on slavery (which Fox failed to condemn as such). In relation to the 'Nayler incident' he is critical of Nayler but fails to mention Fox's questionable conduct throughout (e.g. Fox was only prepared to forgive Nayler once he had bowed down before him and kissed his hands and feet). I guess some would argue that Robert's take on Fox reflects the 'respectable' version promoted by Friends after his death following a process involving both censorship and the alteration of Fox's works and epistles. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the opportunity to read this work in its updated form. I understand that Robert's has been particularly influenced recently by Spencer's work on Holiness, which I would agree with others makes a significant and important new contribution to Quaker studies.

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