Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Where Liberal and Conservative Friends have formally met for worship, I understand they've found a lot of mutual recognition.
It's when we open our mouths that the trouble starts. [I think such trouble needs to start; it just isn't always easy on those involved.]
And it isn't always easy to get through this in a way that enhances mutual understanding instead of burning everyone with Friendly fire...
The theology of Early Friends seems, to me, overly influenced by the Puritan movement that they formed one stream of. But one element is key: They were 100% "Christocentric" and 100% "Universalist". They saw no contradiction, but more-or-less realized that either one implied the other.
Opponents frequently accused them of disparaging the man Jesus in favor of a universal principle in everyone. aka "Christ"-- "who enlightens every one who comes into the world." Early Friends would deny this (and for any hope of being understood, needed to), but it's not clear that all of them would have. I think they saw that "the man Jesus" and "the Spirit in each person" would turn out to mean the same thing, when they came see deeply enough... but individuals probably found one emphasis or the other more suitable to their personal understandings.
"Someone's experience" is not "part of my worldview." My worldview is how I actually believe the world works. It certainly includes the possibility that someone sees things from a valid perspective I've missed-- and also the possibility that someone has flat out made a mistake.
When I've considered whether I might have "flat out made a mistake" myself, on that one issue that counts-- Well, no.
My evidence is here, typing this. It will be there, reading this. When I saw that I was "The Seeing" that was seeing... I might make a million mistakes, but what I Saw, and 'see' ["like seeing the process of seeing itself" as 'God' put it in a Raymond Smullyan dialogue] is literally self-evident.
I have simply followed this, and what it's shown me over my life, coming gradually into the implications and the coherent pattern they form.
It is the witness of Early Friends that this Reality is available to reveal itself to anyone who asks. Delivery times may vary...
So I am in this bind of recognizing that whatever this Christ-energy is is huge and answers to many names but simultaneously many people (and I notice them within the Liberal tradition because that's where I am) find ways -- just naturally, like it's the human condition -- to evade the idea of really this Core Christ by whatever name being "all that."
To the degree that something makes us leave our faith biases behind/give them up and be open to whatever God turns out to be in that powerful Silence, then all is well and reaching its full potential. But we don't do that. My experience with myself, with plenty of others, and through studying energy medicine is that healing is uncomfortable. It is different than whatever we've already been doing in our lives, and we find it uncomfortable. Unless we are made aware of this by others or life and given the opportunity to say YES consciously....we don't choose it.
And maybe in terms of getting over our resistance to the Christ-energy --- by whatever name -- (even though we have hangups from childhood about it) we can be faced with this needed healing by having Conservative Quakers in our faith community... ???
The merging of liberal and Conservative (or Orthodox unprogrammed) Friends was the great vision for the future of Friends during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Olivia wrote: "At the moment, I trust the Conservative Quakers and the Liberal Quakers enough individually to believe that both sides would be changed by being together and that would not be a bad thing..."
I don't know that liberal Quakerism in these merged groups was particularly changed, but the Conservative/Orthodox Friends were changed; they quickly disappeared! That's why we seldom hear anymore of the Orthodox Friends in Philadelphia and Baltimore Yearly Meetings, or of the Conservative/Primitive Friends in New York, Canada and New England Yearly Meetings.
Merging the remaining Conservative groups into the Friends General Conference would be a program for the extinction of Conservative Quakerism!
William, thank you for your observations. I have been contemplating what Howard wrote and have felt for a long time that it would be grand if we could all be Quakers without explanation or hyphens.
But what you have written makes more sense to me as time goes by. I am very sympathetic to your viewpoint.
My own observations as I am exposed to different varieties of Friends is this: My current meeting is of the kind that many Conservative Friends would find uncomfortable. But other FGC Friends I've met are much more Christocentric, and I have generally noticed they are part of re-united meetings. I have to believe that the re-united meetings have had an impact on some so-called liberal meetings. But that’s because I am more liberal than Conservative Friends, although liberal Friends think I’m conservative. William, until recently, I might would have misunderstood you and said something pollyanna-ish like, “Can’t we all just get along?” Isn't that what answering to that of God in each other is about??
I would like to digress for a moment to illustrate how my understanding has just shifted. It has its roots in language. There's a reason I wrote "so-called liberal," and why I used lower-case rather than upper-case for "liberal." The scales have recently fallen from my eyes and I see more clearly how our naming ourselves and each other can affect how Friends view each other. Two points:
#1. I have in front of me my subscription renewal card to Friends Journal. I am asked to help the Journal "learn more about our subscribers" by choosing my "primary faith community." Look at my choices:
--Unprogrammed Quaker (e.g. FGC)
--Programmed Quaker (e.g. FUM)
--Conservative Quaker (e.g. OYM)
--Evangelical Quaker (e.g. NWYM)
--Other Christian (e.g. Mennonite)
--None of the above.
Well, I guess I'm an unprogrammed Quaker, but I don't think of myself as anything but Quaker. But, look here, there's a category for "Conservative Quaker." This is part of the name of several yearly meetings, but Conservative Friends may use that to distinguish themselves from ... gee, what is the so-called default Quaker? Might they prefer that I use the word "Liberal" (notice the upper-case), rather than plain old Quaker? Who am I to claim to be the default? Friends Journal has given me the default "Unprogrammed," even though Conservative Friends are also unprogrammed. Is that fair?
I also notice “Evangelical Quaker,” although I know that members of our local Friends Churches don’t usually call themselves Quakers. Are we defining them differently from their chosen term? What does this do?
#2. Isabel Penraeth just wrote an excellent piece that appears in the latest issue of Friends Journal. As I read it, the scales fell from my eyes. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I felt it terribly unfair that "man" was used to describe the human race. My father, bless him, tried to make a case that women got their very own descriptive word, whereas men had to share theirs. We all know that when we use "man" to describe all humankind, women seem to get edited out of the picture an awful lot.
So. Why should I think it's all right that I should be able to use the word "Quaker" without qualification, when my conservative kin feel their theology gets edited out of the picture? William feels that re-unified meetings had edited him out, and I am not going to argue that he's wrong, just because my experience of those meetings is that they are more conservative than my meeting. “Conservative” goes away, and the default position assumes “something else.”
I keep writing more, and keep editing it out. So I guess I should stop here and see what Friends have to say. If you haven’t seen Isabel’s article, please try to track down this issue of Friends Journal, as it is great. Isabel has written to me before about language, and I hope she takes heart that I am starting to get it--finally!
So then are we utterly failing to be Ourselves......IN COMMUNITY ??
When faced with the fact that we are different from one another, and the fact that we want to hold to our own values, is the only option we can come up with to splinter off?
I don't dispute what you guys are saying but the fact that it's true seems ridiculous. It makes me feel we have devolved into a society of babies (not meant as a perjorative but a description of our maturity level). People used to have to live together, and could certainly choose to be so, authentically, with their personal values intact. In fact, when this was required as a simple fact of life, people CHANGED as a result of bumping into one another. They either learned that their values didn't account for the wideness of life experiences and reached out with understanding that they wouldn't have before....or they brought their powerful and important values to their interactions with others who were themselves then changed over time....
.... OR they hardened into a solid core instead of learning or being or adapting in the spirit of community (and I admit that probably a frequent choice).
We need to all be in recovery from this sick society we live in. This culture would have us believe that we have to parcel "people like us" off into similar groups. In the process we seem to lose the genetic ability to be community. Is this what we are dealing with now if we can't even think about being unified?
My personal vision of this "unified" -- any degree of unification -- is that whomever is involved in it would be either changed or changing others. The whole community would have to be built on these concepts in our Society of consensus and speaking (our) Truth to power.
I feel like I could take the low road and decide that "I too find it easier to not be in community with y'all" -- but what does that really get us? I think we're trying to avoid the hard work that is Reality...and with Reality comes Vulnerability. Who wants that?!
I'm with you, Olivia. I agree. I have no answers. And others may say I'm all wet. It's just that I finally understand things as I wrote them.
How do we come together? I feel we have to be able to loosen up our personal boundaries a bit. I don't feel that is what is valued in American culture, which is in love with individualism. There are reasons that religions proliferate and divide in America. As communities dissolve or weaken their bonds, their hold on individuals fail. People no longer need to toe the line. They will shop around for where they feel most comfortable and will drive long distances, instead of going to the local church.
The flip side: Think of the Catholic Church, which has had to be flexible in order to be a big tent. That means that you will find different flavors of Catholics the world over. That's good. But the powers that be have always been on the lookout for whiffs of heresy. Medieval mystics had to be careful in how they described their visions so that they didn't sound too outside the canon.
I have worshipped with Conservative Friends who recognize me as kin, looking past our outer liveries. Other Conservative Friends have told me I'm OK to a point, but they'd rather worship with those who believe exactly as they do. Professed Christians only (belief in Jesus Christ as savior). And among liberal Friends, many like me, and others reaaally want me to stop talking about religion, because they feel uncomfortable with it.
So, how much are we willing to give up to live in community? How much autonomy do you insist on? It isn't just personal tolerance levels for each other, but how much our local church authority will tolerate our individuality. Elders? Ministers? Disciplines? I heard someone in our meeting say that queries are designed to make us feel bad about ourselves. That's the other end of the community in charge.
Okay, what about this version then:
Anyone who WANTS to join together, and do the hard work of being in community together, AUTHENTICALLY...
That's all. People who don't want it, don't have the umph needed to work with community anyway. They can and should stay in their hermetically-sealed compartments where they are not ministering to anyone different from themselves and get to feel good about themselves anyway.
My response to your comments is that a collection of people called Friends who want to function as a community would need to find some common basis for doing so.
Those who are Christians would come to meeting with the intention of sitting together at the feet of Christ, to learn of Him. Those who are non-Christians would come to meeting with something else in mind; I am not sure what!? Some of them would probably believe in God, but not in the Son of God. Some would be followers of other deities or, more likely, of no god at all! Some would come because they want to practice a technique called group meditation. Some might come simply because they enjoy sitting in silence with other people. Some would come to participate in political dialogue. What would be the common ground for these various categories of people? And how would they function as a community? My experience is that they would have very little in common, and that their experience of community would be very shallow.
One might say that these various groups could meet on the basis that they are all human; that would certainly be common ground. But what would be distinctively Quaker about it?
In my experience, there is nothing else in the Society of Friends that would even come close to the experience of being gathered together, devoutly and humbly, at the feet of Christ, to learn of Him. This doesn't mean that I would refuse to be friendly toward Friends of other persuasions; I would not! But I could not function in close community with them.
George Fox made a statement while inprisoned in Lancunstone jail that can perhaps be a bridge for both Christ centered and Liberal Friends in the shared experiencing of God. Fox said; "Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you choose, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone. "
One of my new favorite "dog eared" Quaker missives is from Janet Scott, taken from the Swarthmore Lecture Series of 1980, titled "What Canst Thou Say ? ":
"Thus we may answer the question "Are Quakers Christian ?" by saying that it does not matter. What matters to Quakers is not the label by which we are called or call ourselves, but the life. The abandonment of self to God means also the abandonment of labels, of doctrines, of cherished ways of experiencing the truth. It means the willingness to follow the spirit wherever it leads, and there is no promise that this is to Christianity or to any happy ending except the love, peace and unity of God. Like the sword which Fox told Penn to wear as long as he could, we take our religion and beliefs as far as we can, we take our morality and goodness as far as we can, we take our ideas of truth as far as we can. All these are good. But they are not what we seek. In the end, we place them into the hands of God, in trust, to make or break, to crown or destroy, for they are nothing in themselves, but God is all in all."
Might one suggest, is there not, a Quaker in every Christian, and a Christian in every Quaker ?