Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I'm looking for support ... and for the first time publicly describing my faith on an open internet forum using my real name. That's pretty frightening in itself... but here goes....
I was brought up as a (liberal) Quaker in Britain Yearly Meeting and stopped attending at the age of 21 - for several reasons, including a sense that in the meeting I attended then much of the ministry was politically rather than spiritually inspired and a personal "run away" from God after I ignored a leading. At 34 (just over a year ago) God told me to return to Quaker Meeting, which I did.
My new meeting (also liberal within BYM) is much more suited to me than the one I went to as a student, and much more spiritual; in many ways I'm very pleased to have returned. But... God has also been drawing me towards Christianity and I've started reading the Bible. As this has happened I've become increasingly unsatisfied by the non-theist direction of British Quakerism, and I don't know where to turn.
In the confusion that this has inspired, I've had two friends - one evangelical Christian and one Muslim - who are actively trying to convert me (for all the right reasons). This has added to my confusion - I sense God in what they are (both...) describing, though the Christian message is easier for me.
What I want is to follow God's lead in all this - but it's not clear to me at present where that lies. I'd like to know how others (especially Christian Quakers) gained confidence that they had found God's lead. I'd like to know whether it's possible to be Christian within a liberal Quaker tradition and what people's experience of this is - especially at times of confusion when the multitude of other interpretations can muddle you further! There are times when I wonder whether to give up the Quakerism side and go to a more 'mainstream' church... but yet that doesn't seem right either.
ps. To add to my confusion, I currently have a 5 week old baby and am seriously sleep deprived. I do have the opportunity of maternity leave to spend a lot of time in prayer and reading, though. I did manage to get to MfW last Sunday, with my baby, but it wasn't easy and his gurgles distracted me (though others were nice about it). I certainly am not up to travelling to one of the few conservative Quaker meetings in the UK.
God led me to Quakerism through direct experience. Experience aside (it is long and quite miraculous but doesn't really have anything to do with what I want to say), as God led me, I had to learn to accept, at times, ideas, thoughts, feelings and leadings that seemed to be contradictory. At first, I was beside myself, constantly asking myself how can this and this both be true, they contradict. People were always pleased to point out how I couldn't reconcile things or how I couldn't possibly believe in two contradicting ideas at the same time. But the more I embraced everything the more I began to grow. Embrace your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc. Know that they are from God. Feel free to embrace Christianity-and Islam--if that is what your heart believes God is leading you to do. Seek discernment from others but do it with an open mind and heart. Read everything you can. As much as you can with a new baby, seek direct experience with God in silence. Pray. Laugh. Dance. Love. Slowly--we are humans--God will reveal to your heart.
I know this is long, but let me give you an example. As I became a Quaker, I also became a pacifist. However, I was still not convinced that war wasn't sometimes necessary. After all, in WWII war liberated the Jews. Some wars save people from horrible fates. Quakers actually served in some wars, such as the Civil War, because it served a "greater good". So, I kept asking---for years---to be led clearly about war. I read, prayed. thought, listened. People said, "Well, you can't be a pacifist and believe that war is sometimes just." (BTW, yes, you can, I did for years) Then one spring day, when I least expected it, I came to meeting and there on the wall was a poster that read "Truth without love is violence." My heart leapt. THAT is why war is wrong. Even the most just war is truth without love. So, I held these contradictory views in my heart, allowing God to lead me.
Lastly, I belong to a very liberal branch of Quakerism and go to a very liberal meeting and worship with a man who is evangelical. I love him dearly and everything he brings to our meeting and he feels the same about me who is liberal.
Good luck with your journey. Feel free to contact me at anytime. In the Light....Marianna
You have come to the right place. This forum is filled with seekers, people wrestling with their faith.
I have found the term "Convergent Quaker" to be reassuring. Robin Mohr defined it as "Friends who are seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life in the kingdom of God on Earth, radically inclusive of all who seek to live this life...."
The longer definition, which you can find at ConvergentFriends dot org, includes the following refinement:
It includes folks who aren’t sure what they believe about Jesus and Christ, but who aren’t afraid to wrestle with this question. It includes people who think that a lot of Quaker anachronisms are silly but who are willing to experiment to see which are spiritual disciplines that still hold life and power to transform and improve us.
That first sentence really speaks to my condition.
I agree with Marianna when she wrote, "...seek direct experience with God in silence." Some contradictory ideas will stay contradictory. Just rest with that. It will be OK. Way will open. And being in meeting, even if it isn't as conservative as you might like, will still give you nurture. It's better than being alone; don't isolate yourself. I learned that the hard way. Eventually you may have the opportunity to travel among Friends, but in the meantime come to Quakerquaker for companionship in your journey.
I wish to offer caution on one point: I am troubled when people are actively trying to convert another, regardless of whether it is for the "right" reasons. Listen for the Eternal Truth.
Yours in the Light, Paula
Thank you both very much - your comments are reassuring to me!
I should probably clarify that I am happy with the meeting I attend now - and most of the time it's a very positive experience for me. But ... I have these waves of complete confusion (and perhaps a fear) and during those I find the open-minded liberal approach too much. Perhaps this is like my young baby wanting to be swaddled and my toddler needing the boundaries of rules and routines - sometimes freedom can be too much and too much open-mindedness at stages of development can be frightening rather than liberating. I'm going through one of those times at the moment.
I should also clarify that I think my friends who are 'converting' me probably wouldn't put it in those words (though I don't dare ask) ... I suspect they know they have found the Truth and want to increase the chance of me finding it too (they probably worry that someone they care for is likely to go to hell). They've both asked me to read their scriptures prayerfully - advice I can follow - and they do trust God to do the rest. In some way, I do too ... and yet I still get angry in response to the pressure.
Thanks for telling me your stories.
If I were you... and even as I'm not-- I'd leave this notion of "going to hell" out of it. It doesn't sound like anything I know of God; in fact I was pretty relieved the time when I finally, very shyly, asked God: "You don't do that to people, do you?"
What it means to be "Christian"?== "to want what's in 'The Lord's Prayer'," I suppose. That God comes to palpably rule this Earth as God rules in Heaven... To be asking God for all the nourishment you need-- not just physical bread, but the "openings" that come when you know you need God to clear matters up. To duck out of The Judgement by (so far as possible) not bringing any Prosecutions of one's own...
I'm not sure what going to a Meeting adds to that, aside from the reminder to weekly minimal silent prayer, plus the opportunity to forgive people (including yourself) for not being what you may have hoped!
Me, I learned about God from a Unitarian! & then couldn't stop trying to find how where/how Jesus fits in! Maybe as the man most likely to be voted "unChristian" by any typical Christian church... but religion without what I learned from him-- would still be gnawing that nasty aftertaste of "Knowledge of Good & Evil."
I was raised a Baptist. I stopped attending church regularly in high school, tried first to become an agnostic since all of my friends were and Christianity seemed very unfashionable and even seriously considered converting to Islam for a while (what a beautiful religion!). But eventually I realized that, try as I might, I couldn't stop believing that Jesus Christ was the perfect lamb of God, that people were steeped in sin, and needed Christ's intervention to escape the prisons we build for ourselves and become children of God.
However, I just didn't agree with the doctrines or the "vibes" that I picked up as I was church-shopping. Eventually, I started regularly attending a liberal Friends meeting and reading up on Friends' theology. Wow! What a revelation! After a few weeks, I knew in my heart that I was a Friend, though I didn't get my membership until nearly a year later.
My meeting was so warm and wonderful. I started going to the religious education events, book groups and even clerking a committee. But I started feeling uneasy. While I found myself learning incredible amounts from many of the Friends in the meeting, I found some messages' pantheistic or pagan tone more and more jarring. I moved from the midwest to the east coast, where I have found that there is less of a sense of community and a higher proportion of Friends with anti-Christian leanings. I'm currently in somewhat of a crisis. I know that I'm a Friend, but I need something more than what I currently have as far as far as religious community.
The dichotomy between liberal Friends and the Church is beginning to challenge my integrity. For example, liberal Friends often believe that anything that happens between two consenting adults is okay, whereas members of the Church are called to encourage each other to refrain from unchaste behavior. When very few members of a meeting are members of the body of Christ, the lines of accountability that were part of why I wanted to become a Friend blur and break. Is it wise, or even honest, for a Christian to unite herself to a non-Christian religious community? I think that it can be, in the right community.
Now that you know a bit about my experience, let me try to speak to yours. Emma, it IS possible to be a Christian in a liberal meeting. Seek out other Christians for advice and fellowship, read your Bible, and pray. Don't abandon Friends because we're in a challenging position right now. My advice, to paraphrase George Fox, is to attend your liberal meeting for as long as you can. If, and only if, you find it dishonest should you move. It seems like it is nurturing you where you are right now. Only if it stops nurturing you do you have to make a choice about whether you need to leave or try to change your meeting to suit your needs. Try to resist the urge to go to a mainstream church whose doctrines you don't believe in because it is less challenging. I think that integrity demands that you stay faithful to the Truth that God has revealed to you. Learn from your evangelical and Muslim friends; if they are wise, they will have much to teach you. But hew to what God has given to you. As I have become closer to Him, I find that my frustrations and disappointments about the state of the meetings I've been attending, along with my other problems, become easier to bear.
I hope this has helped.
Thank you. Adria, you have put in words questions that I implied, contrasting
Is it wise, or even honest, for a Christian to unite herself to a non-Christian religious community?
with a recognition that the "How" of worship is through the form of a Quaker meeting. I'm glad that I have found others who wrestle with the same questions and I think I need the community of this internet group to help me through. But I'll follow the advice here - and try to allow all the contradictory truths to stay.
Good morning, Emma,
I wish to speak to the possibility of a Friend not attending the local meeting (this is why I wrote about "isolation by choice"). So often people will come to meeting, knowing themselves to be Quaker, but determine that the Spirit has fled the meetinghouse. So they leave. Please stay. It is a huge challenge to stay, especially since you come to meeting for nurture. But being a Friend is so much more than that.
It is easy, in our yearning for God, to forget the wider picture. And that is: Being a Friend means being a friend. Friendship is a two-way relationship. If you don't find what you want, you are only taking. That's not what God is calling us to. If you have responded to God's call, that means responding when it is contrary to what you want, not just when you want what God calls you to. And it is the same with relationships with others in life, including among all of us imperfect Friends. We need you too, you know.
Somewhere I read that you take your Meeting with you to meeting. That means preparing before you arrive, bringing your understanding of the Divine with you, centering before meeting, entering the meetinghouse with love for your neighbor. You will be giving the gift of God's love to a meeting that doesn't have enough of it. How can you refuse to do this for Friends?
Yours in the Light, Paula
I agree with Paula. Continue to attend your meeting. The absence of even one Friend changes the meeting in ways I don't fully understand.
I come from a yearly meeting in the USA where people had the attitude of "anyone but Jesus". I become a closet Christian because I was tired of the hassle.
Over years, there have been changes that I never would have anticipated: I belong to a multimeeting Bible study, the Quaker Women's Theology Gathering has brought together liberal and evangelical Friends and it looks like a West coast version of School of the Spirit is going to serve both local yearly meetings.
Don't give up.
After much searching there came a point when God 'spoke to me', and i realized that all i had to do was love God and everything else would fall into place. This is the confidence i have that I have found God's lead. While i have no experience of being Christian in a Liberal Quaker meeting, I do have the experience of being a Christian Quaker among Baptist fundamentalists. I regularly spoke out when the message preached was not Christ's, and in the end this simply became disruptive, and I no longer attended their church. But I can also say that i would be eager to worship with any Quakers, whether Liberal, Conservative or Evangelical, as i am far from any Quaker meeting!
Ken shows us once more how lucky we are to have any Quaker meeting nearby. :)
As a Christian Friend, Ken, you might be severely pained to be in a meeting in which there is open hostility to Christian language, or even to the mention of God. A meeting that feels bereft of Spirit is a sad place to be. Those of us carrying the love of God in our hearts must not flee these meetings but bring that love with us into the meetings. It is from within that transformation takes place.
Paula said "I wish to speak to the possibility of a Friend not attending the local meeting (this is why I wrote about "isolation by choice"). So often people will come to meeting, knowing themselves to be Quaker, but determine that the Spirit has fled the meetinghouse. So they leave. Please stay. It is a huge challenge to stay, especially since you come to meeting for nurture. But being a Friend is so much more than that."
I would instead stay, please stay if the Lord is strengthening thee to stay. If not, then please don't stay, as more harm is done by being in our own will than good that can come of some idea of what the "right" thing to do would be. The Lord knows what thee needs, what the meeting needs, and it is his guidance than will be thee to thy true obedience.
Isabel is right again. She always takes it deeper.
Thank thee, Friend.