It seems to me, tonight, that the function of a church is to provide people whom you can 'believe in God with.'

 

All the other stuff, which may or may not help sometimes, is secondary.

 

It also seems clear that this has to include permission for people to freely disbelieve in God.

 

Example: When Anne & I asked a pastor we know: "Do you believe in God?" he replied:

 

"I suppose so. That's my job, isn't it."

 

So far as "belief" has to be on that kind of basis, it can be quite difficult to know what a person truly does, or doesn't believe. So it can't be a matter of people stirring one another up into expressing a faith they might not  entirely possess.

But it should be a place to find people, where there's an implied agreement between you: "Faith in God permitted here." That you can believe, and talk about it, and expect to have what you know considered an appropriate description of the way things truly are.

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That works for me. What I know I don't want is a group of people telling me they know the 'truth' and that I need to work at learning to believe the same thing. Inclusiveness is very important to me.

Ken Baxter said:

That works for me. What I know I don't want is a group of people telling me they know the 'truth' and that I need to work at learning to believe the same thing. Inclusiveness is very important to me.


It isn't clear even to me why I see a difficulty in practice, so I'm going to need to look at this from farther back...

Religious organizations have been functioning as instruments of social control for a very long time... and people had to share at least some beliefs for this to work. Also, behavioral norms were part of the package: "Behave like a proper ___ or we'll kick you out of the community." Christianity leaned towards maintaining the required beliefs; Judaism towards righteous behavior; but this was mainly a difference of emphasis.

Christianity especially has been misinterpreted as being about "How to have a nice afterlife..." But in any case, in practice it's always included at least a nod towards the prophets and what they said about what God wants of people. [For anyone paying any attention to what Jesus actually said, the need to include that was obvious.]

So, in most Christian churches 'The Day of the Lord' morphed into 'The Last Judgment' and both were taken to mean something like an entrance exam for Heaven. Initially this was conceived as in the 'Sheep and Goats' parable, as a judgment of people's lives; but ideas about "faith" -- taken to mean agreement with one theology or another -- came to receive considerable emphasis.

And, some time toward the 20th Century, a great many people ceased to believe in the actual truth of any of it -- sometimes, only after considerable mental conflict. So that it was a great relief to many of them to realize that many religious authorities were on record, having said that God would only judge them on whether they'd "been a good person." [Of course they had!] And they didn't believe a word of it anyway, so there!

People generally have reacted like typical students: "This isn't going to be on The Exam? Doesn't matter, then." Modern liberal Friends seem to be going on the assumption that there might be some sort of Ethics Lab Quiz.... They don't really believe in that, either -- but wanting to be Good, if it isn't too much trouble, is a fairly universal human desire.

Among people with that sort of attitude -- I feel like a very odd duck indeed. We've gotten pretty fond of each other over the years; but if I'm looking for anyone wanting to do intelligent Bible study, I have to drop in on the Episcopalians. Inclusion matters... but without a shared basis for communication, I feel included as a token alien. [This is not new; with my own family I tended to feel like a changeling.] Am I entitled to feel any other way? -- I don't think I am -- but the lack sometimes bothers me. Shouldn't, does, oh well! Is there really anything much to say about this?

Forrest said:

Inclusion matters... but without a shared basis for communication, I feel included as a token alien.

That's an important line for me. Does inclusiveness mean no boundaries? Does it mean a refusal to define the shared appproach of the community?

From a biological standpoint, a cell needs the boundary of the cell wall. The wall or boundary needs to be porous in order to survive, but without the wall, the cell ceases to exist.

 

I guess I see the inclusiveness as bounded by genuine desire to seek God and guidance from God. For most of us, that is greatly influenced by Christianity; however, in my view, there can be many other directions to come to that seeking from. I think maybe even atheism if that person is still open to the possibilities. Personally, I would find it difficult to exclude anyone willing to come to meeting, approach it sincerely, and attempt to live a life aimed at the perceived good. 

Please all know that I am not a theologian at all and lived a great deal of my life in a somewhat agnostic way. Also, I am fairly new to Quakerism, but treasure it in my life and appreciate deeply that these kinds of discussions go on. I hear some express concern or dismay about the long decision-making process among Quakers and the extended discussion. Personally, I am comforted at the least and my perception is so far that this is a pretty good way to handle things. 

On the Bible: I believe one has to be very careful about basing actions on the Bible. The Bible is as far as I can tell one of world's most read and least understood books. We have been given rational minds and the ability to gather information and manipulate it. This includes the Bible and all the other great works. I think the early Quakers had an excellent point when they cautioned against treating the Bible as an idol and worshipping it instead of God. Probably my biggest problem with most Christian denominations is the propensity to quote the Bible as the absolute, literal Word of God, and then expect all others to accept whatever interpretation they have put on it. There are also history and context and translation issues. These need to be considered. Yes, I can accept the Bible as the Word of God; but in the same way that I can accept Origin of Species as the Word of God. 

I keep getting back to something my wife said: "If you're expecting something from some other human being that you can only get from God, you could end up hating them."

There must be something we are Intended to get from other human beings -- or why be here with each other?

Sometimes the right words, from a person or a book, leads to a new insight, or serves as a helpful reminder that I, and this world, are developing under God's wise love. That I don't need to fuss so. But I am supposed to know these things myself...

And given that I've seen these things many times already, why is it such a drag to go to Meeting and find no support for them there? To find no one else showing any signs of even wanting to know?

"I found them all drunk; there was no one athirst among them." But that quote continues: "When they shake off their wine, then they will repent." I can get impatient for that, but why?

I'm not advocating exclusion. My metaphor mentioned the cell's boundaries being porous. I am advocating being clear about who and what we are and maintaining that integrity.

Using atheists as an example. They are welcome to attend, but they should not attempt to stop the use of God language or be dismissive of those who have experienced God.  (This has been an issue at one meeting).

Ken Baxter said:

I guess I see the inclusiveness as bounded by genuine desire to seek God and guidance from God. For most of us, that is greatly influenced by Christianity; however, in my view, there can be many other directions to come to that seeking from. I think maybe even atheism if that person is still open to the possibilities. Personally, I would find it difficult to exclude anyone willing to come to meeting, approach it sincerely, and attempt to live a life aimed at the perceived good. 

Please all know that I am not a theologian at all and lived a great deal of my life in a somewhat agnostic way. Also, I am fairly new to Quakerism, but treasure it in my life and appreciate deeply that these kinds of discussions go on. I hear some express concern or dismay about the long decision-making process among Quakers and the extended discussion. Personally, I am comforted at the least and my perception is so far that this is a pretty good way to handle things. 

On the Bible: I believe one has to be very careful about basing actions on the Bible. The Bible is as far as I can tell one of world's most read and least understood books. We have been given rational minds and the ability to gather information and manipulate it. This includes the Bible and all the other great works. I think the early Quakers had an excellent point when they cautioned against treating the Bible as an idol and worshipping it instead of God. Probably my biggest problem with most Christian denominations is the propensity to quote the Bible as the absolute, literal Word of God, and then expect all others to accept whatever interpretation they have put on it. There are also history and context and translation issues. These need to be considered. Yes, I can accept the Bible as the Word of God; but in the same way that I can accept Origin of Species as the Word of God. 

You're not alone in your experience. Spoken messages often leave my soul hungry.

And yet Quakerism requires community. The individual experience, vital as it is, can lead to Ranterism unless it is balanced by a faith community.

At it's best, a meeting is more than the sum of it's parts. It provides support, discernment and a vocal ministry that, to paraphrase Fox, plows up the fallow ground.

I have had experiences of this and it makes me impatient for more. I'm frustrated when others don't understand. Unfortunately, US culture does not do community very well. I've had this pointed out by  friends from other cultures. In my experience, most liberal meetings fall into this cultural limitation.


Forrest Curo said:

I keep getting back to something my wife said: "If you're expecting something from some other human being that you can only get from God, you could end up hating them."

There must be something we are Intended to get from other human beings -- or why be here with each other?

Sometimes the right words, from a person or a book, leads to a new insight, or serves as a helpful reminder that I, and this world, are developing under God's wise love. That I don't need to fuss so. But I am supposed to know these things myself...

And given that I've seen these things many times already, why is it such a drag to go to Meeting and find no support for them there? To find no one else showing any signs of even wanting to know?

"I found them all drunk; there was no one athirst among them." But that quote continues: "When they shake off their wine, then they will repent." I can get impatient for that, but why?

I'm curious as to how meeting dealt with the atheist situation below. I have to wonder why one attends meeting with intent to disrupt and denigrate. Do you know if that is a common or rare situation??

Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

I'm not advocating exclusion. My metaphor mentioned the cell's boundaries being porous. I am advocating being clear about who and what we are and maintaining that integrity.

Using atheists as an example. They are welcome to attend, but they should not attempt to stop the use of God language or be dismissive of those who have experienced God.  (This has been an issue at one meeting).

Ken Baxter said:

I guess I see the inclusiveness as bounded by genuine desire to seek God and guidance from God. For most of us, that is greatly influenced by Christianity; however, in my view, there can be many other directions to come to that seeking from. I think maybe even atheism if that person is still open to the possibilities. Personally, I would find it difficult to exclude anyone willing to come to meeting, approach it sincerely, and attempt to live a life aimed at the perceived good. 

Please all know that I am not a theologian at all and lived a great deal of my life in a somewhat agnostic way. Also, I am fairly new to Quakerism, but treasure it in my life and appreciate deeply that these kinds of discussions go on. I hear some express concern or dismay about the long decision-making process among Quakers and the extended discussion. Personally, I am comforted at the least and my perception is so far that this is a pretty good way to handle things. 

On the Bible: I believe one has to be very careful about basing actions on the Bible. The Bible is as far as I can tell one of world's most read and least understood books. We have been given rational minds and the ability to gather information and manipulate it. This includes the Bible and all the other great works. I think the early Quakers had an excellent point when they cautioned against treating the Bible as an idol and worshipping it instead of God. Probably my biggest problem with most Christian denominations is the propensity to quote the Bible as the absolute, literal Word of God, and then expect all others to accept whatever interpretation they have put on it. There are also history and context and translation issues. These need to be considered. Yes, I can accept the Bible as the Word of God; but in the same way that I can accept Origin of Species as the Word of God. 

I think I finally 'got' what this discussion is about. Within any group there is a range of views on how rigidly to define the group and maintain membership and what that means. Personally, I end up in a pretty mushy malleable place. There are probably a whole host of reasons people exist across the spectrum ranging from genetics to social needs to scholarly work to historical inertia. I guess what makes me nervous is when people start drawing lines in the sand: you're a Quaker, you're not a Quaker. I'm not sure it's all that important to have exact lines when we have meeting to achieve guidance on those decisions. Great differences exist from meeting to meeting of course but maybe that isn't a bad thing? 

The nitty-gritty to me seems to be my great hesitancy to reject anyone. I grew up with a Midwestern Methodist background that was often oddly liberal. It was said locally that, 'the Methodists will marry or bury anyone.' My family never regarded that as an insult but as a compliment. I carry that still.

Isn't it precisely the job of a clearness committee to say "You're a Quaker, you're not a Quaker?" Or rather, "you're in unity with us, you are not in unity with us"? Is that bad? Or does it reflect integrity when you say to someone, "We care for you, and we want you to keep coming, but it would be dishonest to say that you hold our shared values  and beliefs, because you don't."

Ken Baxter said:

 I guess what makes me nervous is when people start drawing lines in the sand: you're a Quaker, you're not a Quaker. I'm not sure it's all that important to have exact lines when we have meeting to achieve guidance on those decisions. Great differences exist from meeting to meeting of course but maybe that isn't a bad thing? 

From what I can tell that seems to work most of the time. A great deal depends on the 'clearness' of the clearness committee but I sure can't come up with a better system.

Adria Gulizia said:

Isn't it precisely the job of a clearness committee to say "You're a Quaker, you're not a Quaker?" Or rather, "you're in unity with us, you are not in unity with us"? Is that bad? Or does it reflect integrity when you say to someone, "We care for you, and we want you to keep coming, but it would be dishonest to say that you hold our shared values  and beliefs, because you don't."

Ken Baxter said:

 I guess what makes me nervous is when people start drawing lines in the sand: you're a Quaker, you're not a Quaker. I'm not sure it's all that important to have exact lines when we have meeting to achieve guidance on those decisions. Great differences exist from meeting to meeting of course but maybe that isn't a bad thing? 

I never got the whole story.  The Friend who shared it with me was more distressed by the idea than the subsequent decision.

It is not uncommon for people seeking a community of like minded people to land in Quaker meetings. They are often wounded and vocal about anything causes discomfort.  It can result in conflict or in over accommodation.

Ken Baxter said:

I'm curious as to how meeting dealt with the atheist situation below. I have to wonder why one attends meeting with intent to disrupt and denigrate. Do you know if that is a common or rare situation??

Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

I'm not advocating exclusion. My metaphor mentioned the cell's boundaries being porous. I am advocating being clear about who and what we are and maintaining that integrity.

Using atheists as an example. They are welcome to attend, but they should not attempt to stop the use of God language or be dismissive of those who have experienced God.  (This has been an issue at one meeting).

Ken Baxter said:

I guess I see the inclusiveness as bounded by genuine desire to seek God and guidance from God. For most of us, that is greatly influenced by Christianity; however, in my view, there can be many other directions to come to that seeking from. I think maybe even atheism if that person is still open to the possibilities. Personally, I would find it difficult to exclude anyone willing to come to meeting, approach it sincerely, and attempt to live a life aimed at the perceived good. 

Please all know that I am not a theologian at all and lived a great deal of my life in a somewhat agnostic way. Also, I am fairly new to Quakerism, but treasure it in my life and appreciate deeply that these kinds of discussions go on. I hear some express concern or dismay about the long decision-making process among Quakers and the extended discussion. Personally, I am comforted at the least and my perception is so far that this is a pretty good way to handle things. 

On the Bible: I believe one has to be very careful about basing actions on the Bible. The Bible is as far as I can tell one of world's most read and least understood books. We have been given rational minds and the ability to gather information and manipulate it. This includes the Bible and all the other great works. I think the early Quakers had an excellent point when they cautioned against treating the Bible as an idol and worshipping it instead of God. Probably my biggest problem with most Christian denominations is the propensity to quote the Bible as the absolute, literal Word of God, and then expect all others to accept whatever interpretation they have put on it. There are also history and context and translation issues. These need to be considered. Yes, I can accept the Bible as the Word of God; but in the same way that I can accept Origin of Species as the Word of God. 

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