Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
My impulse is to have great compassion for every Friend everywhere, for the choices they have to make, and the communities they try to build. Thinking about how Friends should be doing this or Friends should be doing that seems disrespectful of Friends' abilities to accurately discern what Christ is calling them to do. We can think they should do some particular thing, but perhaps that just isn't what Christ is concerned about in that Friend's life.
I think most people seek ideological comfort because they are so tired of conflict, and without tighter social bonds to make it worth engaging with people of differing viewpoints, we mostly avoid it as much as we can. In the small town I grew up in, one could not afford to only associate with like-minded people. When a blizzard came, one needed all the neighbors to pull together. One, by necessity, had to work side-by-side with whoever was there. One would also learn respect for people who differed drastically, moderating partisanship, because their gifts as human beings became as evident as the issues of disagreement. But small-town life is not where most American Friends live, and the situations in which we could "pull together" on something are few and far between. As Friend William said here, communities need a common basis from which to function.
Friends are no different, and accusations of seeking ideological “purity” during schism might more helpfully be described as seeking ideological rest. People just get tired of defending what is important to them and fighting for what is important to them. Peace is not a trivial thing to achieve across differing moral viewpoints. It feels like a zero-sum game, and no one wants to be the recipient of the zero.
Fundamental things like where a person places moral authority feel too important for people to set aside or ignore in the interest unification.
What we must seek is not an ideal of unification, but a Holy-Spirit-guided connection. All efforts in our own will are doomed to fail, but when we feel the stirrings to reach across the boundaries, we must be obedient. That is the challenge. Not to find some program for making it happen, but for strengthening our fellow Friends who have that gift and feel that call.
Paula Deming said:
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.
Isabel, thank you. I can't tell you how grateful I am for your answer.
What thee writes is a lovely expression of the utopian, unconstrained vision. I can feel the hope in it, the love in it, the desire for Truth to win its victory.
Unfortunately, it presumes a few things. For one, it presumes that what thee finds and nourishes in worship is what everyone seeks and seeks to nourish in worship, that God is calling everyone to silent worship and to no other. As a writer from the programmed tradition writes in the latest issues of Friends Journal, silence is awkward for many. Think about how uncomfortable Liberal Friends can be with programmed worship that is Christ-centered. The Christian hymns. The arms up in the air for the Christian hymns. The Bible readings. The standing up and sitting down. Now reverse it. That is probably a good approximation of how an Evangelical Friend could field just sitting in silent worship for an hour. Also, if what thee says is true, Friends must have split in all our previous permutations of schism due to failure to worship together in silence. There is no evidence for that. To be a Friend in good standing in the 19th century (the times of the biggest schisms), one was required to attend mid-week as well as First Day worship. Instead, Friends split despite worshipping together, in waiting worship under the headship of Christ, twice a week.
If thee is seeking a discipline, I challenge thee to go to a programmed meeting on a regular basis for many months. I think thee will find that the Spirit is there also, moving people to greater love in His name. Programmed worship isn't where I find spiritual nourishment, and I find it challenging (it just doesn't feel like worship to me, but more like an extended and really good Christian education session), but after spending many months with Friends there, it is clear many people do experience it as worship, experience the Holy Spirit there, and feel strengthened in their lives and in their lives in Jesus Christ. The stereotypes of unloving dogmatism are not accurate in the sense that I see no more unloving dogmatism there than I have experienced in liberal meetings and in conservative meetings. Unloving dogmatism is part of the universal human condition. I see no way I can claim that the programmed form of worship closes them off to the Truth. I have learned a great deal about being a Christian, and witnessed a loving, supportive community seeking to do good, to be good, and to know good.
I think thee will find there are more differences than just a label. There are differences in culture. When I was at the liberal meetinghouse, I witnessed an exchange where a first-time attender was talking to an older member. She mentioned she was a cashier at a near-by grocery store. The member said something about, but she was going back to school, right? The visitor's face got this strange frozen, kind of sick look as she explained that was unlikely. At the evangelical church-building I heard a woman share that she got a job at McDonald's, and there were congratulations all around. There are also differences in where to place moral authority. Evangelical Friends place great weight upon the Bible as a moral authority that many Liberal Friends would find repugnant. Conversely, Liberal Friends place moral authority in the individual in a way that Evangelicals would find baffling.
I just think what thee is really suggesting is that, in the end, can't we all just be Liberal Friends? And the answer to that is no.
Howard Brod said:
This past Sunday we had a wonderful worship at meeting with messages about the Light of Christ being more powerful than just a label. This gathered meeting affirmed that that power IS - no matter what one calls it. Do we really think the "ALL" of the universe needs our labels to be a Force and Power that permeates all and is within all?
I agree with our Friends who believe this was the beautiful message of early Friends who seemed to recognize this reality. Our whole trust in the sacrament of silent worship is that it WILL bring us in communion with that same Spirit that early Friends experienced. That Spirit is just too universal to be limited to a label.
This is not to say that a label can't be useful to focus us on that Spirit. But we must use labels with humility, knowing that they are merely vehicles to help us focus on the real thing that's behind the label. And if we have that humility we can have communion with others who are experiencing the same reality that we are, but just through another label or no label at all.
I believe the bigger hindrance to Quaker unification is that modern Friends, for the most part, do not avail themselves of silent worship regularly. A 'hit or miss' attendance at worship does not make available the full benefits of silent worship and it's power to transform one's life. If Quakers from all traditions had the discipline to come together each week on a regular basis for many months into silent worship, they would eventually be joined together by a common experience of the Spirit. And yes, that powerful Spirit is the Christ, the Buddha, Love, God, the Nothingness, and any other label we might want to put on it.
I found your post insightful and helpful. In response I'd like to share with you something similar that happened while I was a Buddhist. I was aksed to give monthly talks for several years at a Buddhist group that claimed it was non-sectarian; meaning that they did not consciously line up with any specific Buddhist tradition that has been imported to the West. In other words they did not self-identify as Zen or Theravada or etc. They would gather once a week for silent meditation. Their view was that silence would allow for each participant to practice whatever form they wished and that therefore silence was all-encompasing, allowing for participation from all the different Buddhist traditions.
I pointed out that the largest groups of Buddhism do not practice silent meditation, they practice chanting meditation. Pure Land Buddhism is by far the largest form of practice in East Asia; and they practice chanting a brief phrase as the central act of their devotional form. Nichiren Buddhism also practices chanting and it outnumbers the silent meditation groups in Japan by a large margin.
What the group had difficulty seeing was that the practice of silent meditation would be perceived by Pure Land Buddhists as excluding them from participation, because they wouldn't be able to chant. I see your analysis of the situation among Quakers as being similar. And incidentally, there is also the socio-economic differentiation you allude to. If you go to a Pure Land or Nichiren Temple it is much more blue collar than what one will find in a Zen setting (I'm referring to the West). You can see the difference immediately between the two groups.
It seems to me that if there is to be a regathering of Quakers into some kind of unified purpose it would have to come with each camp recognizing the validity of the other's forms, rather than insisting on the validity of their own form over others. That is to say those practicing gathered silence, like myself, have to let go of that form as a normative standard through which other forms are evaluated.
When I was studying in Korea the Korean Chogye order, the largest Buddhist organization in Korea, accomplished exactly this kind of gathering. Under the Chogye umbrella one could find Pure Land practitioners, Zen practitioners, those who were devoted to scriptural study, etc. And they all recognized each other as part of the same organization. It seems to me that this is a kind of model, or template, for a regathering of Quakers, if such a regathering can take place.
Thy Friend Jim
Yes, while I do trust that God is working on everybody, whichever label (or anti-label label) they place on their practice or lack thereof -- as Howard Brod is saying -- How people label their practice is bound to influence their intentions and expectations -- which will in turn affect how much importance they give to the practice and maintaining it frequently.
This Sunday it seemed to me, unlike what he experienced at his Meeting, that I may well have been the only person there with the explicit intention of attending to God. No limitation on whether God can influence me -- but what does this do to the amount of energy the group brings together for that purpose?
And what does this do to newcomers? Encountering with a large, dead space? -- I don't know, but I increasingly feel that this is what drives them away after one or two visits.
The formal form of worship I found most complete -- was at the Jewish Renewal synagogue in Philadelphia (where our Pendle Hill gospels' class teacher brought us one rather overwhelming Saturday morning, after which Anne & I returned as often as we could!) Chanting, Torah study, and a brief period of silent standing worship, in the Amidah, thought of as standing before God. This was a free (details to-be-arranged) form set into a very ancient framework.
The chanting being in simple Hebrew (which I don't speak) was probably helpful; the translation was there and I knew what I was chanting was generally true and wholesome -- less of the "Quakers can't sing because we're too busy reading ahead to see if we agree" syndrome.
Anne and I both found much to like about the black apostolic church we also attended for awhile -- but there was a whole lot more taken-for-granted theology and little time for God to get a word in edgewise. (She has for now 'gone off to get religion' from a down home local Episcopal church, where I stop on my way to Meeting for their adult Sunday school -- an appetite no one else at Meeting feels the need for.
The trouble with silence always starts when people open their mouths... but that's not an affliction; it's something we need each other for!
Several comments in this thread suggest that the differences among various types of Friends boil down to the use of different "labels". I don't think that such differences are that simple.
When I profess to be a Christian Friend, I am indicating that I follow the PERSON of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God and my Lord and Savior! And my faith journey has an historical context: the Bible and the lives and writings of "the great cloud of witnesses" who have gone before. I do not follow an abstract "force" or "power", but the God of the Bible and His son. My faith cannot be reduced to a label!
David Seaman: I will probably never read Janet Scott's Swarthmore lecture. Modern liberal Quaker authors begin with premises so different from my own that I find most of their work irrelevant to my life and faith journey.
The main exception would be the work of Chuck Fager. He is not a "professional" Quaker in that that he is on the fringes of the Quaker establishment, and is not a full-fledged academic. Chuck is a man of endless opinions, most of which I don't resonate with. BUT, if one sifts all of those out, one can find some real insights in his historical essays and in his commentaries on the current Quaker scene. I urge others to read his work, but not to swallow it whole!
Most of the Hicksite works that I read are ministers' journals and memoirs from the period between 1825 and 1925. In particular, I recommend the Life of Samuel J. Levick, Late of the City of Philadelphia, a wonderful minister's journal by a Friend on the conservative fringes of the Hicksite movement.
I also find some of the observations about the "State of the [Hicksite] Society" in the Friends Intelligencer of great interest.
David, I wish you the best!
My wish is for us to be Friends. I want to visit as cousins and also as brothers and sisters. I feel there has been much healing since Friends were throwing each other out of the meetinghouse windows in 1828. We have the new technology that allows us to engage online with each other. This is GOOD. It certainly has helped in my personal faith journey, as well as helped my understanding of others. Since this was the purpose John Woolman cited in visiting the Indians, I am happy to simply hope for love and understanding, without intending for anyone else to be changed.
To all Friends: I am yours in God's Love, Paula
A thought did come to me in response to your following comment:
"Also, if what thee says is true, Friends must have split in all our previous permutations of schism due to failure to worship together in silence. There is no evidence for that. To be a Friend in good standing in the 19th century (the times of the biggest schisms), one was required to attend mid-week as well as First Day worship. Instead, Friends split despite worshipping together, in waiting worship under the headship of Christ, twice a week."
I would surmise that those 19th century Friends did not persevere through the difficulties and tensions they were having. By simply continuing to hold each other in the Light in silent worship over time without giving up, I think eventually things would have worked out. For instance, in Britain the same diffculties and tensions were occurring (indeed, they were generated in the U.S. from British Friends), and although they almost experienced schism, they didn't because they held their Quaker society dear and continued worshipping together. Experiencing worship together eventualy healed them.
I consider it unfortunate that Friends in the U.S. back then did not consider their Quaker society as a dear marriage, where at its best you stick out the rough times for those greener pastures down the road.
I do believe in the power of silent worship to heal, if Friends will only discipline themselves to practice it. I've seen it heal the most horrendous situations and conflicts.
The mostly-liberal mixed FUM/FGC meeting I attend (same as the one Olivia attends, actually) has hymn-singing before MfW on the 3rd Sunday of the month. We also hosted BYM's Sing-In last weekend. I found myself wishing we were singing out in the front garden where passersby might be inclined to join us or at least realize we actually exist!
While I would not, personally, be interested in a fully programmed service complete with sermon and all, I have found that the layout used by Capitol Hill Friends of singing a few hymns before settling into silence is quite pleasant. Despite years of atheism and now some sort of pantheistic outlook, I still enjoy singing hymns. I was disappointed to find out that one of my favourite hymns ("On Eagles Wings") is not in Worship In Song though.
Howard Brod said:
So, Friends, I am hearing and sensing in my own heart that reunion of the various branches of Friends is likely not possible - based on the realities we all hold so dear. It appears that each has certain practices and beliefs that they would not be willing to give up. I concede that even the liberal meetings I am familiar with that are embracing of entirely Christian Friends at their meetings, would not be willing to give up unprogrammed worship. This is because it is a cornerstone of the liberal tradition, which insists that the Spirit must be unfettered in order to provide us with the Light of truth with the least amount of institutionalized norms getting in the way. And I understand that the Christ-centered traditions hold the same level of importance to the personage of Jesus Christ.
So, we are where we are, and must settle for loving each other from afar. Which is not such a bad thing.
I do want to assure Friends that I am not claiming that Spirit can not be present in programmed situations. The Spirit; i.e., God, is like water, in that it is always seeking entree into our lives.
I also believe that "beliefs" can be wrong, and so I pray I am always open to the Spirit to be corrected.