What is keeping YOU from coming to Christ-centered Friends gatherings?

Hi, Friends! My name is Adria Gulizia, and I'm the "new media" coordinator for "Follow Me," this year's Annual Northeastern Christ-Centered Friends Gathering, which is happening at Powell House in upstate New York over Labor Day Weekend. I want to not only invite people who are curious about or committed to Christ to join us, but I would also like to know, for those of you who will not be joining us, why not?

I'm hoping Friends will tell me:

  • If you have come to Christ-Centered Friends Gatherings in the past and you aren't coming to this one, why not?
  • If you have never been to a Christ-Centered Friends Gathering, why not?
  • If you've been to Christ-Centered Friends Gatherings in the past and you ARE coming back, why do you keep coming?

Please be candid, Friends! I really want to know what you are thinking.

Thanks,

Adria

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Hello again to all who have contributed to this dialogue.

I find myself reflecting on how I've reacted to announcements of Friends' gatherings centered on convictions or interests that I don't share.  From time to time I hear of Friends who consider themselves "non-theists".   I know, respect, and love many such Friends, but have never seriously considered attending an explicitly non-theist event.  I don't necessarily think I'd feel unwelcome there - but I don't think I could wholeheartedly participate.  After all, I'm not a non-theist.  I'm a theist.  Maybe if I'd read a non-theist's question phrased like Adria's "Why aren't YOU coming" I'd be a bit put off at first, but if it turned out that the intent was just, as Adria's was, to see if they could do something to make their gathering more inviting, then I hope I would not take offense.  I'd just go ahead and do whatever I already planned to during that weekend.

The issue of whether the people in such a group would think I was "not good enough" is a separate one and can affect our interactions back in our home meetings where we rub elbows with people of various views.  I think some non-theists might think that way about me, but not most of the ones I've known.  I don't think most Christian Friends I've known would feel that way about non-theists, either.

That said, these issues go pretty deep and there is a lot of history behind them.  People who call themselves Christians have been top-dog in most of the western world for nearly 2000 years and their (our?) track record in dealing with other religions and with non-religious people has not been good for most of that period.  That may account for some of the wariness that others feel when a few of us self-identify as "Christ Centered" and hold an event with that focus.

I have been active in my unprogrammed meeting for about 40 years and have considered myself a Christian during most of that time.  I'll confess that I would like my Meeting to be more Christ-centered and more aware of the uniquely Quaker version of Christ embraced by early Friends, notwithstanding that I nevertheless love the Friends in my Meeting now just as they are.  I do try in my own way to be a witness for Christ within the Quaker context.  At the same time I feel very deeply that Christ is not the leader of a faction and doesn't want me to start acting like a partisan.  Therefore I try to live my beliefs as least as much as I speak about them, and when I speak, I try to talk more about what I do believe than what I don't believe.  Trying to argue others out of their own convictions doesn't seem to me like a good way to promote the gospel.

Not sure I've been clear about what I'm trying to say - but it's late and I need to get to bed. 

Peace and Friendship,

Rich

Friend Andria;

 

Wow.  What you began as what seemed a pretty straight-forward, simple question blossumed into this marvelous discussion.  How wonderful!

 

I have found all the comments here enriching, especially the deeply moving story by Friend Aaron.  I am most hopeful about any "big tent" approach to gathering as Friends.  My personal vision for the RSoF would be use the gift we have been given as a sort of 'microcosm' of religious faith to embrace and welcome that conversation about what our experiences of God are - and when they expressly include Christ to include what we understand that to mean to each of us.

 

But this idea of an Inclusive Faith - that EVERYONE is welcome at the table - that is what draws me.  And thanks to everyone for this engaging conversation!

Responding to Paula, the only way for you to know the diversity of Christ-centered Friends is to join us! You don't have to take my word for the range of beliefs- you could come and see for yourself!

Following Jesus as the Christ, or "Anointed One," does not resolve the question of his humanity or divinity- that's why there was a felt need for codification of doctrine by the Council of Nicaea, the results of which have been regarded by Friends with some suspicion. When I say there are people who believe that Jesus was a "mere man," perhaps it gives the wrong impression- what I mean is, there are those who hold the view that Jesus' status as the son of God is not any different from how you and I can be children of God if we give our lives to God by following the prophetic teachings of Jesus (on love, humility, faithfulness, generosity, meekness, boldness, etc.).

In my (very limited) experience, people don't tend to go much into theology at the annual NE Gathering, preferring to focus on the experience of worshiping the indwelling Christ in community.

With that said, as I mentioned to David, one of the first people who responded to my questions, if you have a very different theology and are not sufficiently curious about following Christ to spend time and money exploring it, you have a VERY good reason not to come join us.

I don't mean to make anyone feel bad, or feel like I think they are deficient, for not following Jesus; I merely want to gather information about the extent to which people who MIGHT come AREN'T coming, and why.

If an explicitly Christ-centered, weekend-long gathering of Friends does not seem like it would be nurturing for you, Paula, then of course you should not come! Just know that, if you ever change your mind, I think you would be welcome. 

Paula Deming said:

Also, Adria, I must disagree with the following statement:

As you probably know, Paula,"Christ-centered" is a very big tent. It includes people who follow Jesus as the anointed one, son of the living God and savior of mankind, but it also includes people who see Jesus as merely a mortal man, who was a wise Teacher with a powerful and challenging message for the world that they want to respond to in their lives.

I am doing my utmost to be totally obedient to God. I prescribe to "Primitive Christianity Revived." I am really not hung up on any theology surrounding Christ, but for those Christ-centered Friends who consider me a problem, it is a very big deal. I really doubt that they would agree that "Friends who see Jesus as merely a mortal man" could possibly be labeled as "Christ-centered." I can't see it either.

I feel that you may need to contemplate just what you wish to have happen at your event, Adria. There was Christ-centered worship at the last FGC Gathering, and I attended that, and felt welcome. But that was just a small slice of the Gathering, rather than an event lasting several days, and that requires travel. I just wouldn't--couldn't--attend your event. But I can and will attend Quaker Spring.

 

Wow, Aaron. The sensitivity and love in this statement are humbling. Thank you for this.

Aaron J Levitt said:

I obviously can't speak from personal knowledge, but I've been disturbed to read about (and occasionally hear from) a number of Christ-centered/Christian-identified Friends who feel isolated or unwelcome in their Meetings. I think it's incumbent upon me, as a non-Christian who has encountered the Spirit in meeting, to remember that the Society I have come to value was raised up by fervent Christians, and I owe them a debt for that creation. It seems a great shame that Christ-centered Quakers, those founders' most direct descendants, should feel isolated or unwelcome in what is in some sense their forefathers' house. If I should ease my own encounter at the cost of burdening theirs, that is, perhaps, even worse...bordering upon the theft of an inheritance. 

 

Boy, all you guys are the greatest!

Rich, thank you so much for your remarks about a non-theist gathering. I definitely wouldn't go to something labeled as such. And I especially resonate with what you wrote in your last paragraph, so I hope that was what you meant to say and that sleepiness didn't negatively affect your remarks!

 I do try in my own way to be a witness for Christ within the Quaker context.  At the same time I feel very deeply that Christ is not the leader of a faction and doesn't want me to start acting like a partisan.  Therefore I try to live my beliefs as least as much as I speak about them, and when I speak, I try to talk more about what I do believe than what I don't believe. 

Randy, yes indeed, I, too am drawn by our inclusiveness, which is one reason I find it so distressing when someone tries to exclude me, without even being willing to listen to my story. I came to Friends as a frightened agnostic. I was included and loved. I can't imagine any other place where someone like me could grow in faith and be set up to tumble into the lap of God. Any meeting that cannot love a Friend as s/he is limits that Friend's spiritual growth.

 

Friend Rich;

 

Your statement that you do not see Jesus as "the leader of a faction and doesn't want me (/us) to start acting like a partisan" speaks my mind.  I am reminded of a statement by the brilliant social anthropologist Rene Girard is his book, "Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World":

 

"Jesus is not there in order to stress once again in his own person the unified violence of the sacred; he is not there to ordain and govern like Moses; he is not there to unite a people around him, to forge its unity in the crucible of rites and prohibitions, but on the contrary, to turn this long page of human history once and for all."

 

That is the Jesus that I seek.

This has been a remarkably helpful discussion for me to follow - thank you all.  The recent comments of Friends Rich and Randy particularly speak to me. For me Quakerism has always been such a different/radical (in the sense of back to the root) form of christianity that none of the "usual" christian theology or terminology fits for me. I am happiest in a meeting or YM (and in my own home/family) where I can comfortably refer to Jesus as my inner guide while along the same bench another Friend refers to herself as a Jewish Quaker, another uses Pagan references, another First Nations spiritual terms. I do identify more as a Quaker than as a Christian.

As I read the references to being Christ-centered or committed to Christ I realize that although I don't think there has been a day in my life where Jesus has not been alongside for me, the Christ is there as my Guide to God and to  commitment is to God rather than to Jesus. That same Christ is alongside me as I explore and find spiritual guidance from other sources and traditions. It is the commonalities that strengthen me and give me food for the journey.

So to return to the original question again I wonder how I would find a gathering of Christ-centered Friends. If it was right nearby would I go? Possibly but I am not sure how I would respond if much of the language and theology was evangelical in nature. Hmm...enjoying this discussion.

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the tip. I wasn't aware of Campbell's book, which sounds extremely interesting; I'll definitely check it out. When I did some digging into the mystic underpinnings of Chasidism a few years ago, I was fascinated and truly astonished to find that core material can be traced back through hundreds of years of intertwined Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystic/gnostic thought, and even further back to Plato's Timaeus. It's an extraordinary chain that speaks to how much we share across these traditions (and how hard we sometimes work to pretend otherwise).

I'll keep an eye out for Powell House possibilities.  :)

Aaron


William F Rushby said:

Hello again, Aaron!

I have read extensively about the Hasidic movement and the Lubavitchers.  Have you heard of Ted A Campbell,  The Religion Of the Heart: a Study of European Religious Life in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries?  This is the 1991 volume.  See http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Heart-Ted-Campbell/dp/1579104339/ref...

Campbell identifies the Hasidic movement as a Jewish manifestation of the pietism that swept through through European Christianity back in those times.  I think that you would find Campbell's book fascinating to read.

By the way, my own faith pilgrimage was deeply influenced by Professor Abraham Luchins, "of blessed memory" as the Jews would say.  He taught psychology at Albany State when I was a student there, and helped me to navigate through the rocky waters of modern secular scientism.  It took me a few weeks to understand his New York accent, but I found intellectual and spiritual treasures when I mastered his manner of speaking.

Still hoping to see you at Powell House!

Bill Rushby

 

Whereas I might have responded: "I didn't know there were any non-theist events...where do I sign up?"

It seems to me that names struggle to communicate the true essence of even simple objects, like chairs and hats. They are inherently and overwhelmingly inadequate to encompass the truth of a person. And, when one attempts to name ultimate things, the inadequacy of language itself becomes infinite.

I don't care greatly what people say about G-d in a gathering. I'm really listening for the things that remain unsaid, and unsayable.

Rich Accetta-Evans said:

Hello again to all who have contributed to this dialogue.

I find myself reflecting on how I've reacted to announcements of Friends' gatherings centered on convictions or interests that I don't share.  From time to time I hear of Friends who consider themselves "non-theists".   I know, respect, and love many such Friends, but have never seriously considered attending an explicitly non-theist event.  I don't necessarily think I'd feel unwelcome there - but I don't think I could wholeheartedly participate.  After all, I'm not a non-theist.  I'm a theist.  Maybe if I'd read a non-theist's question phrased like Adria's "Why aren't YOU coming" I'd be a bit put off at first, but if it turned out that the intent was just, as Adria's was, to see if they could do something to make their gathering more inviting, then I hope I would not take offense.  I'd just go ahead and do whatever I already planned to during that weekend.

I'm glad this spoke to you, Adria; that was my hope. Please don't read too much into it, though: I just save my insensitive and callous posts for other sites!

Adria Gulizia said:

Wow, Aaron. The sensitivity and love in this statement are humbling. Thank you for this.

We Quakers (and I'm aiming this mostly at unprogrammed liberal Friends) are not immune to our own forms of stereotyping and prejudices.

In this discussion, I've sensed an underlying thread of  'it's OK as long as it's not too evangelical'.

I live an a section of the US where we only have the two most extremes of Quakerism. At furthest edges of each group, there's little communication. For those of us who've ventured across the divide, it's been overwhelmingly rich.

I'm currently part of a small group almost equally divided between liberals and evangelicals. We include a bisexual woman who speaks of the Goddess and an evangelical who praises Jesus Christ her Lord and Savior.

We study together, challenge each other, pray for each other, support one another and hold each other accountable. We come together with all our vulnerabilities and we "listen in tongues".

This is a spiritual depth I have never experience in any of the meetings I've attended in 4 countries and 5 states.

Yes, sometimes I need to be among those who closely share my beliefs so that I can be supported and recharged without needing to constantly explain myself. And yes, I also need to go into those borderlands where the sharp growing edges challenge me and keep my stretching.

Stephanie, I realize that I am probably the person who has expressed the most concern about "not too evangelical". That does stem from some really bad experiences, both personal and professional, with evangelical Christians and therefore I am very wary. That is my personal baggage - however Adria was asking for our personal reasons for not attending such a gathering. Prejudice and stereotypes - well perhaps yes as any assumptions about particular persons that we have not met yet will involve some level of prejudice.

There is a creative tension I think for more than just me between those of us who are...- I am realizing as I write this that the labels and groupings that are used by Friends in the US are not a great fit for me here in Canada so I am struggling with trying to find a way to explain. Trying again...those of us who are Christ centred most of the time in our worship and who are universalist , believing that our way is not the only way or even the best way for all and who not only don't feel the need to evangelize but even don't agree with the practice and between those who genuinely feels called to evangelize, believing that their faith in Jesus Christ requires them to spread the Gospel and bring others to Jesus not matter what the cost to themselves. How do Friends handle this amongst themselves? I have a loving family full of Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals who do not evangelize towards me because" they understand that I am a Quaker" but somehow I am not sure how that tension would look between Friends. Again not something I have encountered in Canada where even in our united yearly meeting I have never personally met any Evangelical Friends.

On a completely side note as I write this I am remembering a family story (for those who may think that a discomfort towards evangelism is a modern liberal Quaker affliction). My grand father and his father in law, my great grand-father, were both sidesmen (responsible for taking up the collection each week) at their Church of England Church. (This would have been early 1900s, pre WWI). One Sunday a year the collection was to go to an evangelical group "The London society for the conversion of the Jews". These two gentlemen would walk up the aisle each year with the collection plates and refuse to hand them down the pews. They were both so against the idea of Christians trying to convert persons of other faiths.  

Yes sharp edges can be good and stretching for all involved. Thank you for the conversation and the ideas.

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