Question 3: What is too intellectual and why is it a problem?

I'm hearing and reading that messages and bible discussions or other programming shouldn't be too intellectual.  I get that prior preparation may be too much to ask, but what exactly is meant by too intellectual that Quakers would dislike?  I personally love to learn as long as I am well rested.  Some attendees may be "nerdy" types, for lack of a better word, that spend a lot of time with books and thoughts and may communicate on an intellectual level on a regular basis. What is the origin of Quaker's disliking the intellectual, if they do.  Is there any chance this apparently fundamental part of quakerism could be erroneous? Or are we just talking about considering the audience as best you can to reach as many people as possible using simpler words, the way Hemingway wrote his books. Thanks for any response.

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Hello, Sherry Chemler!  I have a paper scheduled to appear in *Quaker History* this fall: "Ann Branson and the Eclipse of Oracular Ministry in Nineteenth Century Quakerism."  I believe that the following passage from my paper speaks to your question. 

"Unlike the Gurneyites, liberal unprogrammed Friends often claim that they have retained  the original style of worship and ministry.  But their interpretation and practice are far different from the tradition as Ann Branson knew it.  Over fifty years ago, Lewis Benson lamented that “[Friends]  have now become largely uprooted from the soil of prophetic religion.”[i]  J. William Frost wrote recently that “ministry is now less speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit than seeking for the truths discovered in thought, or study, or by meditating.”[ii]    Ben P. Dandelion elaborates: “ministry  comes from the heart or the head but from the person, not God. Quakers thank each other for their  ministry, not each other for being faithful vessels. Thinking is the most popular activity in Meeting, not dying to the self.”[iii]   And, I might add, spoken prayer has become a rarity in many unprogrammed meetings."



 

[i] Benson, Lewis, Comments on Howard Brinton, “The Quaker Doctrine of the Holy Spirit,” Quaker Religious Thought. 1#1, (Spring, 1959): 13.

 [ii] Frost, J. William, “Modernist and Liberal Quakers, 1887-2010,” Angell and Dandelion, Eds.,   Handbook of Quaker Studies, 91.

 [iii] Dandelion, Pink, The Liturgies of Quakerism, (Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005), 125.

I like the dying to the self reference, which I have not previously heard. 

I agree (& likewise regret) that spoken prayer is virtually unheard in LiberalFriendist Meetings; of two such Messages I can think of, one of them was mine.

Whether or not one has thought about & studied a matter, meditated on it, or had a Message arrive full-blown with sudden insight -- I would say that the key distinction is whether or not the speaker is relying on God to guide his thought and his speaking.

When I find, posing a question of discernment to a committee or a business meeting, that everyone's initial reaction is to start "figuring it out" -- then these are clearly typical modern people having a typical secular conversation, no matter how reverently serious they're trying to be.

It's not really about how _much_ someone thinks (although many people deeply resent anyone else having thought out anything more deeply) -- but how much they're _merely_ thinking. In "worship sharing" groups people are fairly consistently advised to eschew 'ideas' and talk more about personal feelings (I think because generally what people believe to be their ideas turn out to be emotional reactions, which they'd do better to deal with openly.)

The ideal would be to approach everything from a spiritual level. This doesn't mean that anybody would stop thinking, feeling, or physically sensing -- but that we should be relying on God to provide answers, to help us distinguish emotions which should be honored from those which really ought to be 'gotten-over' -- and to deal with "real"-world problems.

This is great advice and I appreciate your candidness.



Sherry Chemler said:

This is great advice and I appreciate your candidness.



Annie Haught said: I like the idea of turning my will and my life over to God. This doesn't mean I check my brain in at the door, but I do feel that God "relieves me of the bondage of  self", or  my ego if you will.



Sherry Chemler said:

This is great advice and I appreciate your candidness.

Concerning Bible study getting too intellectual, I think Michael Birkel describes it nicely: Early Friends "spiritual experiences shaped their reading of the Bible, and their reading of the Bible shaped their understanding of their experiences...the Bible was not just an exercise in information. It was an invitation to transformation."

I've been in Bible studies that got bogged down in the minutia of first century BCE history in order to avoid any potentially messy issues of Spiritual nurture and growth in the here and now.

I've read things about the Bible that were pretty good for purposes of spiritual nurture & growth -- but painfully inaccurate about the actual historical situation --

(perhaps to avoid potentially messy contemporary political implications of what Jesus was saying, to whom and for whose sake, about the economic idolatries and cruelties of the present?)

At some point it does have to matter:

to what extent are we talking about events that really happened (and/or didn't, however distorted they might be by elements of legend and sheer cultural miscomprehension), that really imply something about God's concern for that majority of human beings who are chronically injured, shamed and robbed by our prevailing socio-economic-political arrangements?

There have certainly been writers who got their history wrong -- but conveyed the spirit of what Jesus was saying very well. And there are good books about the Bible which utterly fail to realize why on Earth anyone would want to read this stuff.

But still, when Jesus echoes the Shema, recommending that we love God with  "all your heart, and all your mind ..." That suggests that in devotion to God, and to digesting 'His' myriad messages (in the Bible & elsewhere) we aren't called to leave out any human faculties...
& again the issue seems to be: How open are we to God getting a word in past our mental chatter, potentially overturning whatever ideas we've become used to in our lives so far? My favorite John Humphrey Noyes quote: "If you don't get in a rut, the Devil won't know where to find you" -- seems to apply.

Here's a meditation on a query directly related to your question:  http://bit.ly/211iWw0

Excerpt:

On Sun, Jun 5, 2016 at 6:00 AM, Bradford Hansen-Smith wrote:
One old guy asking another, what does smart mean? Is it just accumulated knowledge or does it include life experience that together progressively generates understanding sometimes called wisdom. Maybe this term is not part of a deterministic world of computers and machines. It would be good to know if we have discarded the concept of wisdom having simply given it over to the functional value of a programmer's skill.

Useful query.  This being a Sunday, renamed First Day in the Quaker namespace by Puritan intruders who had a problem a so-called "pagan language" (real Quakers don't -- but sometimes say First Day anyway, finding it charming), I'm in the mood to ponder a query such as the above.  Means:  open ended question.

... Sunday, renamed First Day in the Quaker namespace by Puritan intruders who had a problem a so-called "pagan language" (real Quakers don't -- but sometimes say First Day anyway, finding it charming)

Okay. A lot of interesting business packed into a very small space.

Frstly, you are claiming that language such as "First Day" for the more generally accepted "Sunday" is Puritan infiltration of the Quaker community. That would be a historical claim. It's a new one to me. Do you have confirmation in either primary or secondary source materials?

Secondly: you make claims about what "real Quakers" don't have trouble with (namely "pagan language"). Who or what counts as a real Quaker? And who decides? "Real" is a metaphysical label but underneath the metaphysics there is generally politics and economics. In other words, who gets to be judge of what counts as real or not real Quakers? This is a real concern (cue sarcastic snickering) in a world where North Carolina Yearly Meeting appears to be splitting asunder over that very issue — what counts is a real Quaker?

If I seem to be playing with language here, apologies — it's what I do best! But I am a person living with disability and have been at various points in my life journey marginalized on that basis. And while that is mostly a part of my distant past I do carry around with me still. And I have also at certain points in my life history been told that I'm not "really disabled" by people who deemed themselves able-bodied but who knew people who were "really disabled". In each case what the person intended to mean was closer to something like, "your disability doesn't prevent you from functioning in society". And there are a whole mess of ablest presuppositions behind that kind of meaning — including the presumption that I haven't been marginalized in my life. Or that I have no right to complain.

The word "real" makes me fussy!

BTW:  https://feastofstephen.wordpress.com/2016/05/21/lets-get-real

David McKay said:

... Sunday, renamed First Day in the Quaker namespace by Puritan intruders who had a problem a so-called "pagan language" (real Quakers don't -- but sometimes say First Day anyway, finding it charming)

Okay. A lot of interesting business packed into a very small space.

Frstly, you are claiming that language such as "First Day" for the more generally accepted "Sunday" is Puritan infiltration of the Quaker community. That would be a historical claim. It's a new one to me. Do you have confirmation in either primary or secondary source materials?

Could be a mix of historical, as well as applying a retroactive spin to the word "Puritan", much as "Liberal" has been spun to mean something different. Word meanings trace trajectories against the backdrop of the generations.  We didn't have words like "hypertext" in common circulation barely thirty years ago, whereas now we have http:// all over the place ("h" is for "hypertext").  Words like "Puritan" are not copy-protected against recycling, "Liberal" either.

As to the timeline dimension (historical) I'd skip ahead to Prohibition and its repeal, acknowledging that investments in chocolate were a means whereby well-to-do anti-demon-alcohol families could invest in sugar but not rum.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8467833.stm  Were there not Quaker beer makers then?  Say in Richmond, Indiana?  I'm suggesting the Puritans be more closely identified with the teetotalers who saw bars and taverns as "dens of iniquity".  Jesus was quite a drinker himself, plus made wine plentiful for others (various citations).

Secondly: you make claims about what "real Quakers" don't have trouble with (namely "pagan language"). Who or what counts as a real Quaker? And who decides? "Real" is a metaphysical label but underneath the metaphysics there is generally politics and economics.

Basically I'm exercising my strictly limited authority as an equal among Friends to inform newbies of views that unmistakably pigeon-hole me as probably NPYM (that's right!) or one of those.  Obviously I'm not the designated spokesperson for the Religious Society as a whole.  We consult with bodies beyond the Yearly Meeting but are not "under" anything "higher" (no Pope or Caliph need apply). 

My style is provocative (humorously polemical) precisely because it's not with the benefit of title or credential, is just some Friend speaking his mind, sounding off about fashion, the value of "smarts" or whatever.  Obviously it's chicken and egg, as if newbies believe me and on-board on the basis of my representations, we'll end up with a Meeting more in my image.  Is that so selfish of me?  I see others doing it.

In other words, who gets to be judge of what counts as real or not real Quakers? This is a real concern (cue sarcastic snickering) in a world where North Carolina Yearly Meeting appears to be splitting asunder over that very issue — what counts is a real Quaker?

I think each one of us needs to take a stand on that (what an authentic Quaker is) with the testimony of our own lives.  I'm not trying to play Survivor here, where we kick people overboard, saying they're not on our pirate ship.  But that doesn't keep me from strutting around on deck with a peg leg (figuratively speaking in my case, knock wood).

If I seem to be playing with language here, apologies — it's what I do best! But I am a person living with disability and have been at various points in my life journey marginalized on that basis. And while that is mostly a part of my distant past I do carry around with me still. And I have also at certain points in my life history been told that I'm not "really disabled" by people who deemed themselves able-bodied but who knew people who were "really disabled". In each case what the person intended to mean was closer to something like, "your disability doesn't prevent you from functioning in society". And there are a whole mess of ablest presuppositions behind that kind of meaning — including the presumption that I haven't been marginalized in my life. Or that I have no right to complain.

I worked closely with Wayne Y., of Corvallis Meeting, on issues of accessibility vis-a-vis different forms of disability.  We had a Lightning Talk on that at Pycon (just completed) which I appreciated.  Engineers who write software take classes in "Front End Usability" but don't always know what that means, or who their audience really is.  Quakers should help software engineers get it right, and when I say that I don't picture a bunch of only-men, that's a very dated stereotype.

Hey, I own up, I was writing in a provocative manner, no question.  Some might say I was being snarky.  However in my collection of Quaker journals I find many a deceased Friend openly professing to indulge in satire and sarcasm, on purpose mind you.  These were not rhetorical tools denied these earlier Friends.  Their goal in life was not to remain inoffensive to all, but to stand for something.  Indeed, I think when one forsakes resorting to outward weapons, it behooves one to work on other maneuvers, diplomatic and otherwise.

I actually agree with you. My way back to reading the Bible was through the lens of Liberation Theology. 

The minutia the bogs down is the more along the lines of how many scholarly opinions can we fit on the head of a pin. 

Forrest Curo said:

I've read things about the Bible that were pretty good for purposes of spiritual nurture & growth -- but painfully inaccurate about the actual historical situation --

(perhaps to avoid potentially messy contemporary political implications of what Jesus was saying, to whom and for whose sake, about the economic idolatries and cruelties of the present?)

At some point it does have to matter:

to what extent are we talking about events that really happened (and/or didn't, however distorted they might be by elements of legend and sheer cultural miscomprehension), that really imply something about God's concern for that majority of human beings who are chronically injured, shamed and robbed by our prevailing socio-economic-political arrangements?

There have certainly been writers who got their history wrong -- but conveyed the spirit of what Jesus was saying very well. And there are good books about the Bible which utterly fail to realize why on Earth anyone would want to read this stuff.

But still, when Jesus echoes the Shema, recommending that we love God with  "all your heart, and all your mind ..." That suggests that in devotion to God, and to digesting 'His' myriad messages (in the Bible & elsewhere) we aren't called to leave out any human faculties...
& again the issue seems to be: How open are we to God getting a word in past our mental chatter, potentially overturning whatever ideas we've become used to in our lives so far? My favorite John Humphrey Noyes quote: "If you don't get in a rut, the Devil won't know where to find you" -- seems to apply.

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