Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Kirby Urner asked "what is a Quaker meeting?"
My answer: a Quaker meeting is, at its best, an encounter with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a burning bush experience. In a Quaker meeting, this encounter takes place in the fellowship of believers, the community gathered in Christ. It is not a private experience.
No "private" experience is 'a private experience,' because God inevitably participates in some way...
Anyway, we seem agreed that a 'Meeting' is not an administrative structure, no matter how thoughtfully that might be engineered, but requires some real interaction with The Who-It-Is.
Although not just referring to Quakers, I like Friend Jim Corbett's description of a covenant community:
"The new covenant turns out to be the primal Covenant continuing to reveal itself, a light shining in the darkness throughout the Creation, from the beginning."
"the covenanted task task remains the same, to become a people whose way of life hallows the earth."
My own answer was to define what I'll call "the Quaker playground" is if reading the rules on the box having taken a board game off the shelf. Not all Quakers play be these same rules (e.g. some are pastoral).
Having a shared operating manual (Faith & Practice, job descriptions) is really important though. Just paying attention to what's going on in your own head, spirit-wise, is too introverted for most committee work -- let Nominating know if you're just into head trips and/or don't play well with others.
I've been playing in such playgrounds for some 57 years (though not always in Portland), learning a lot from God's Tao (mysterious ways) -- if that's not too redundant.
More of my Friendly adventures within our highly structured (business-oriented) sect:
(more about structure).
How Quakers interact with non-Quakers is a matter of primary interest to me -- going back through time, not just in the present. One is defined by one's relationships to others in great degree.
Kirby, I guess that you think a shared belief system isn't important for a meeting to have but, in my experience, it is very important.
The meeting I found most satisfying from a spiritual standpoint was an orthodox, rural, working-class, heavily kin-based and very traditionalist Quaker group. By "traditionalist" I mean such things as separate seating of men and women, intoned preaching and the supplicant kneeling for public prayer. This constellation of traits is quite rare, so most Friends have probably never experienced the old kind of Conservative Quaker worship, even rare in Conservative meetings! It was in this meeting that I most frequently experienced the burning bush, although this intense corporate sense of the presence of Christ may be felt elsewhere. I have experienced it even in Old German Baptist worship.
"Committee work" and church business just couldn't compare!
I'd like to recommend, very highly, Margery Post Abbot's book To Be Broken and Tender. For some time now she has been working to bridge the alienation between members of Evanglical Meetings and the 'Unprogrammed' variety. She has experienced, often does experience the reality of God at work in and around her -- and finds awareness of that tacit Presence commonly experienced by people with a wide variety of different ideas of 'What' or 'Who' is at work among them, and whether to call that 'God,' 'Christ', 'Jesus' or something else.
There are too many terms and conceptions of 'That' which utterly fail to convey the nature of God-at-work and what people could be, and should be hoping for -- if only they dared put their trust in God's power and love, if that very idea had not become so very unfashionable. So I can't truly say that 'The terminology doesn't matter,' or 'The concepts don't matter.'
But if God needs to sneak in through the servants' entrance to be allowed in, that too is within God's mercy.
William, I AM the burning bush experience daily and moment by moment wherever I may be ... whether gathered with others or alone. The flaming of the bush is not conditioned or conditional ... at least not relative to a particular place or a particular time.
Margery Post Abbott is depicted in at least one of those Disarm Day dove puppet pictures I shared earlier in my QQ posting stream, let me find it: https://flic.kr/p/wJHbUS (Marge in purple).
Marge invited me to join her ongoing consulting committee years back, on a couple of her writing projects, plus I've sat for their dogs in chapters past. She's often not around having achieve the coveted "released Friend" status (aforementioned). NPYM is disproportionately a source of Quaker celebs, including two past FWCC general secretaries.
As for myself, I'm a Princeton-educated returned-to-Portland expat with an interest in New England Transcendentalism through Margaret Fuller (Dial magazine) to her grand nephew "Bucky". I'm a big fish in a small pond in some circles. My web domain grunch.net is meant to continue the Fuller legacy rather directly (you'll find a pithy entry under Grunch in Robert Wilson's encyclopedia of conspiracies: Everything is Under Control, with a link to an earlier URL of mine, since superseded).
https://books.google.com/books/about/Everything_Is_Under_Control.ht... (fun tome)
My influence within the Religious Society is sufficient i.e. I'm satisfied with the power that I have, and I do not thereby use the word "power" guiltily as if confessing my corruption. On the contrary, I am grateful to Quakerism for providing opportunities for "clean use of power".
Integrity was one of Fuller's chief interests as well.
William, that experience sounds good for you. As for myself, I'm not seeking any burning bush experience in Meeting, nor do I suggest to newcomers that this must be their intent. The Spirit has a broad repertoire and is not bound by Hollywood's nor even Biblical imagery.
So even if my path may be short on this particular type of intensity, that does not mean my Quakerism is not deep. As long as I'm not defending my faith & practice, my own brand of Quakerism, to Evangelicals and Conservatives on my home turf, we'll be fine. I want my little place in the sun without having to concern myself with such basics as "do we still have Peace and Social Concerns committee"? Of course we do, not negotiable. We're Beanites and such.
Here in Portland, we more look west (actually north if you wanna get technical), to Asia, than east towards the Euro-Anglo states, and it's perfectly fine in our midst if even our members speak less of Jesus and more of Zen. My own wife was cleared for membership with the stipulation she be accepted as not-a-Christian. We have more than a few of those. That's just our zip code demographics. Lots of refugees. There's room in Quakerism for all these branches, which is Good News indeed.
Kirby Urner wrote: "Here in Portland, we more look west (actually north if you wanna get technical), to Asia, than east towards the Euro-Anglo states, and it's perfectly fine in our midst if even our members speak less of Jesus and more of Zen."
"In Christ there is no east or west." One country where Christianity is growing fastest is China!!
Yes, and even right here in Portland (gateway to Asia), Jesus is accepted as a Bodhisattva (savior) and bringer of the Good News of freedom from ignorance (liberation / enlightenment). We're not worried if that's considered "Christianity" or not -- Jesus was never a Christian, obviously, so why should that matter?
There was however the story one woman told a group at Pacific Yearly Meeting a few years ago... She'd been meditating when she suddenly saw Jesus -- and asked him: "What are you doing here? This is a Buddhist place!" He told her, "I need for you to be a Christian."
There's a lot of overlap between Buddhism and Jesus' take on 'sin', 'judgment', etc etc -- but he came out of 1st Century Judaism, and those world-views are not the same -- And he was not teaching how to personally escape subjective suffering, but how to participate in God's quite concrete developing rule over this seemingly-intractible place.
Quelling merely personal desires and shifting focus to a greater will, or way, seems characteristic of both traditions, Christian and Buddhist. That Siddhartha and Jesus had different audiences, back then, is certainly correct, though we might admit a commonality in human nature that crosses time and place. There's no need to make it a false dichotomy of either / or, whether to pursue one set of practices or another.
Judaism and Buddhism have certainly engaged in much worthwhile dialog. Cross-fertilization means stronger strains, not dilution or extinction.
[ Aside: this neighborhood in Portland, where Multnomah is, is sometimes referred to as "the Buddhist ghetto" whereas the higher concentration of Jewish people is nearer the Hillsdale area ]
My queries are more along the lines of how we might synthesize a version / branch of Quakerism that serves to bind together various lineages within the here and now.
These may be esoteric blends with a short half life. I'm not one who judges success by longevity in all cases. Some experiments of the Spirit are flash-in-the-pan and are all the better that way.
Bringing glory to God, transcending merely personal vanity, spreading compassion... these are community-building aims i.e. community builds in the striving for God's "kingdom" (not a word I usually use).
I'm not suggesting we unify in some new Babel Tower, all on the same page, as we know in advance those grand unification schemes don't work -- and besides, mono-culture is the antithesis of diversity, shown biologically speaking, to be the best bet (perhaps what God was saying at that Babel juncture).
However, the eternal multiplicity of namespaces doesn't mean we can't collaborate on more humble projects and I think designing new brands of Quakerism is not heresy by definition.
We're a liberal enough tradition, already in 2015, to actively encourage an ongoing Open Source approach. We will continue to adapt our temporal tools (e.g. our religious language) as the way opens. We don't want to get stuck in a rut, always playing the same old records. Life moves on.