Why do Primitive Quakers cling to tradition? Is it a comforting way to be with one another and speak and practice comforting, known, already practice methods of socializing? I do not know where Primitive Quakers feel that "tradition" leads them and would very much like to understand how what feels very much like a "retro" approach is helpful in one's spiritual life which, I always assumed, meant exploring spiritual insights which had not been achieved before.

The idea of returning to a previously achieved spiritual experience in order to re-experience it is new to me. Or, have I misunderstood?

-- Jean Yeager

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Good Morning Friends:

Howard, thanks for the kind remarks.  Much appreciated.

Jean, I think there is another way of looking at customs and traditions among traditional Quakers.  Let me use the example of Buddhist monasticism to illustrate what I mean.  Buddhist monastics wear distinctive clothing; wearing such clothing is required, it is part of what it means to live a life as a Buddhist monastic.  Now, I never met a Buddhist monastic who thought that wearing monastic robes would make them enlightened.  Wearing distinctive apparel has a different function.

First, such clothing functions as a reminder to the monastic that they have decided to focus their lives in a certain direction.  Second, the distinctive clothing is a living demonstration to ordinary people that it is possible to live life in a different way.

I think something similar is going on for traditional Quaker practices such as plain dress and plain speech, etc.  Plain dress doesn't guarantee that I will dwell in Presence; but it does remind me that this is the direction I want to establish in my life.  Plain dress acts as a reminder of that Presence and its significance in my life.  It is easy to forget that given that the world at large is completely uninterested, and even hostile towards, a life rooted in presence.

Second, plain dress serves to signal to others that it is possible to live a life that is not enslaved to fashion and constantly concerned with the latest trends.  In other words, something like plain dress has an evangelical function; it is a way of evangelizing without proselytizing.  In other words plain dress has many virtues.

What I have noticed is that there is a tendency to analyze traditional Quaker customs and practices in political terms.  For example, plain speech is often configured as a way to counter class distinctions prevalent in England at the time in which it arose.  No doubt this is true; but I would suggest that the political meaning is secondary and not of primary significance.  The primary significance is spiritual and has to do with one's life being a testimony to the Light. The Light of the Lord is not a political position or platform; it is what I call 'the presence of eternity'.  The function of Quaker distinctives is to remind us to turn to that Presence when we forget to do so.  I think there is great beauty in this; they are a kind of bridge to that Presence.  Instead of looking at them as 'retro', perhaps we should honor them and those who choose to adopt these demonstrations of commitment to the Presence of the Light that lies within us all. 

Best wishes,

Jim

What I see as essential in our tradition is not externals such as dress and language peculiarities but our mode of worship and our commission. We have a distinctive and traditional form of worship, which is to gather together to wait upon the Lord. Why do we "cling" to this traditional form? Because there is a promise to us (and has been since the apostles' days) that we "shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon [us]" (Acts 1:8), and we (some) have found this to be so.

Although the form of worship in Liberal meetings outwardly resembles the apostles' waiting and the first Friends waiting upon the Lord, it is not the same: the worship time is regularly given over to participants' sharing of their thoughts and feelings, rather than the proclaiming and oracular ministry of the Word of God that teaches us righteousness. Worshiping in spirit and in truth becomes problematic when people don't believe that there is such a thing as Truth, and apparently waiting upon the Lord leaves Liberals feeling as pointless as waiting for Godot. 

I do not think that the apostles gathered around "a shared experience" at Pentecost, Keith, but instead around Jesus's instruction and the promise of the Father. In short, they needed guidance and instruction from Jesus to prepare them to receive the "unction in them from the Holy One, so that they should not need any man to teach them, but as the anointing doth teach them" [Works of Geo. Fox, II, 192-3). Although the tradition can't be compared to Jesus's teaching itself, it does record his and other prophets' teaching and thus provides some helpful guidance. And when the Word is received and ministered, then we receive the thing itself, which is one of the main purposes of the tradition's teachings. 

A brief P.S. to my previous post:

Jean writes, 'What about freedom?'

Well, what about it?  The implication here is that traditional Quakers are, in some sense, unfree, or have limited their freedom.  I find this a problematic way of framing traditional Quaker Faith and Practice.  Are Liberal Quaker traditions any less restrictive? 

My suspicion is that Jean equates 'freedom' with individual self-expression and that any restriction on individual self-expression is considered a bad thing.  Yet, in life, individual self-expression is routinely limited.  If I dislike a movie I don't stand up in the theater and offer a lecture about how bad it is, even though that image might pass through my mind.  If I am at a concert I behave in a manner that does not disrupt the event for others.  If I am playing chess, I abide by the rules.  The examples are really endless.  If I go to a Liberal Quaker Meeting I conform to the standards of behavior that the Meeting holds to.  If I go to a Catholic Mass, I do the same.

So why would agreeing to abide by the behavioral standards of traditional Quaker Faith and Practice be considered an impingement on someone's freedom?  I ask that seriously because I think this is another example of a framing of the question which presupposes certain understandings about freedom and conformity and standards of behavior which, when applied, make traditional Quakers look bad.  But, it seems to me, that traditional Quakers are not demanding any more than what is demanded at a standard Liberal Quaker Meeting, or, for that matter, any gathering of like-minded religious practitioners.

Hi Patricia,

I have to take issue with your portrayal of liberal Friends worship as "problematic when people don't believe that there is such a thing as Truth, and apparently waiting upon the Lord leaves Liberals feeling as pointless as waiting for Godot".  Just as many liberal Friends do not understand the point of conservative Friends adherence to a well-defined Christ-centeredness, I suspect from your comment that you don't really understand the power of worship as experienced by most liberal Friends.  After 30 years of worshipping in many liberal Quaker meetings, I have never heard nor sensed that any liberal Friend believed there is no such thing as 'Truth'.  I have attended several conservative Friends meetings many times, and the power I, as a liberal Friend, felt during their (and my) worship was the same as I've experienced in liberal Friends meetings over and over again.  And the vocal ministry came from the same deep place in both types of meetings.

The search for 'Truth' is at the core of worship for liberal Friends.  Additionally, the spirit of waiting worship is quite powerful for both Christ-centered Friends and universalist Friends who fill liberal meetinghouses (yes, there are many Christ-centered Friends who prefer a liberal meeting over a conservative meeting for various reasons).  Just because you don't 'get' the liberal Quaker experience doesn't mean it is not powerful and real for the thousands who do 'get' the experience.  Just because many liberal Quakers choose not to label the experience they encounter as "Jesus in their midst" doesn't mean it is not that same Source of Light who is present in their worship.
 
Patricia Dallmann said:

What I see as essential in our tradition is not externals such as dress and language peculiarities but our mode of worship and our commission. We have a distinctive and traditional form of worship, which is to gather together to wait upon the Lord. Why do we "cling" to this traditional form? Because there is a promise to us (and has been since the apostles' days) that we "shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon [us]" (Acts 1:8), and we (some) have found this to be so.

Although the form of worship in Liberal meetings outwardly resembles the apostles' waiting and the first Friends waiting upon the Lord, it is not the same: the worship time is regularly given over to participants' sharing of their thoughts and feelings, rather than the proclaiming and oracular ministry of the Word of God that teaches us righteousness. Worshiping in spirit and in truth becomes problematic when people don't believe that there is such a thing as Truth, and apparently waiting upon the Lord leaves Liberals feeling as pointless as waiting for Godot. 

I do not think that the apostles gathered around "a shared experience" at Pentecost, Keith, but instead around Jesus's instruction and the promise of the Father. In short, they needed guidance and instruction from Jesus to prepare them to receive the "unction in them from the Holy One, so that they should not need any man to teach them, but as the anointing doth teach them" [Works of Geo. Fox, II, 192-3). Although the tradition can't be compared to Jesus's teaching itself, it does record his and other prophets' teaching and thus provides some helpful guidance. And when the Word is received and ministered, then we receive the thing itself, which is one of the main purposes of the tradition's teachings. 

Well, actually Howard, I've been a member of a Liberal yearly meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) for over 30 years, served as an officer or clerk on Worship and Ministry committees in both the yearly and monthly meetings for a good many of those years, and the number of weekly meetings for worship that I've missed during that time could be counted on one hand. I have traveled and worshiped with most of the 100 plus meetings in PYM, so I have a great deal of experience among Liberals and a good understanding of what goes on in a Liberal meeting for worship and also for business. I stand by my assessment that most of what passes for ministry in Liberal meetings goes no deeper than the thoughts and feelings of the speaker, and that is not gospel ministry. You might want to listen to Ben Pink Dandelion's Swarthmore lecture to get a clearer picture of what some others are also seeing in Liberal meetings.

Much of this seems to me to be about "words used to describe" rather than about what people are experiencing.

Gist of Jesus' teaching seems to be that God is present to each human soul, loving us more wisely than we recognize, opening eyes rather than punishing blindness. When the blind lead the blind, a ditch is simply the natural destination, not a 'punishment.' So where Meetings (of whichever persuasion) drift from reliance on God, a certain heedless ossification is the logical consequence. So far as there is faith among us, God responds -- to that extent we are "expectant" and ready to receive.

It has sometimes been painful to see how little faith, how much misplaced faith, a LiberalFriendist Meeting can sometimes achieve. Likewise, from their words, it often seems as if more traditional Friends are misplacing their faith in a different place, showing too little faith in God's power to act outside of traditional forms. There seems to be very little value in accusing each other.

The Pendle Hill rule-of-thumb went, roughly: Use your own religious language when you speak, listen to other people, so far as you can, in their language.

In the story of the Tower, people's languages became so confused that they no longer understood each other, because the people were relying on their own human effort to reach the Heavens. Alan Lew described that confusion as a mercy, God's way of restraining people from the damage they would do if they persisted in such a project.

So can we please relent a little, on our personal projects? -- Content ourselves with letting God fit us into God's plans without trying so hard to fit those plans into our assumptions?

Thank you Patricia for the information regarding your experience with liberal Friends in PYM. It is helpful.

I guess my experience within BYM (as in "Baltimore", not "Britain") has been different than yours in PYM - or - perhaps I am just one of those not so spiritual Quakers you speak of  :-)   All I know is that I have been touched at a deep spiritual level by liberal Quaker theology, enhanced personally by my association with liberal Friends, and inspired by the vocal ministry provided by liberal Friends. I have figuratively been 'born again' due to my experience with liberal Quaker worship.

Just as two children reared by the same family experiences might have different views about those experiences, our shared experience with liberal Quakers could certainly be perceived differently by each of us.  After all, it is all about what's going on within, where the divine may be found.

I am not coming to my perceptions from a Christ-centered foundation (although I originally came from that religious tradition), whereas from what you've written here I am hearing that you are.  And from that  foundation, I can see where you would consider liberal Quaker meetings as "light weight".  

I am looking for relevance to my modern life that brings me to a deeper place that unites my being with the eternal Spirit (Light) that is within us all.  And I don't care if the words I hear are biblical, Christ-centered, Taoist, universalist, secular, or whatever.  I just want to be moved to have an inner experience during worship with those I am gathered with.
 
Patricia Dallmann said:

Well, actually Howard, I've been a member of a Liberal yearly meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) for over 30 years, served as an officer or clerk on Worship and Ministry committees in both the yearly and monthly meetings for a good many of those years, and the number of weekly meetings for worship that I've missed during that time could be counted on one hand. I have traveled and worshiped with most of the 100 plus meetings in PYM, so I have a great deal of experience among Liberals and a good understanding of what goes on in a Liberal meeting for worship and also for business. I stand by my assessment that most of what passes for ministry in Liberal meetings goes no deeper than the thoughts and feelings of the speaker, and that is not gospel ministry. You might want to listen to Ben Pink Dandelion's Swarthmore lecture to get a clearer picture of what some others are also seeing in Liberal meetings.

I am close to finishing revision of my paper on "Ann Branson and the Eclipse of Oracular Ministry in 19th Century Quakerism."  I quoted, toward the end of that paper, J. William Frost and Ben P. Dandelion on ministry in liberal unprogrammed meetings.

Here's what they wrote:

.   J. William Frost: “ministry is now less speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit than seeking for the truths discovered in thought, or study, or by meditating.”[i]    Ben P. Dandelion: “Ministry comes from the heart or the head but from the person, not God. Quakers thank each other for their ministry, not each other for being faithful vessels. Thinking is the most popular activity in Meeting, not dying to the self.”[ii]   


 [i] Frost, J. William, “Modernist and Liberal Quakers, 1887-2010,” in Angell and Dandelion, eds., Handbook , 91.


 [ii] Dandelion, Pink, The Liturgies of Quakerism, Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005, 125.

I report with regret that spoken ministry in many Conservative meetings is on about the same level of inspiration. 

yep. pretty much.  I don't know if I will ever try to attend a liberal meeting again.  I just feel empty and heartbroken, walking out with a gaping hole all the way through my being.  This must be what hell is all about.

It has been the same for me. Christ is the center of my faith and often I have found He does not seem to be acknowledge in Liberal Meetings, well at least not in the way I see Him within scripture. I can see by reading posts here in this topic that there are Friends who have gained much out of the Liberal tradition, so this is just my experinace and is in no way met to offend.

There's a  somewhat prayerful  Van Morrison song,  "It's so quiet in here.  .    . this must be what paradise is" (a paraphrase) That's what I am bouncing off of when I say,  "This must be what hell is like".  It's so quiet in here, so, quiet in here, so empty in here, this must be, this must be.   .   . what hell is .  .  " 
 
Shane Moad said:

It has been the same for me. Christ is the center of my faith and often I have found He does not seem to be acknowledge in Liberal Meetings, well at least not in the way I see Him within scripture. I can see by reading posts here in this topic that there are Friends who have gained much out of the Liberal tradition, so this is just my experinace and is in no way met to offend.



Laura Scattergood said:

There's a  somewhat prayerful  Van Morrison song,  "It's so quiet in here.  .    . this must be what paradise is" (a paraphrase) That's what I am bouncing off of when I say,  "This must be what hell is like".  It's so quiet in here, so, quiet in here, so empty in here, this must be, this must be.   .   . what hell is .  .  "   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qrG26-R__s     Paradise in the song abut human love,  perhaps, but, the link, tells it better, maybe.  The fullness of communion with Christ, this must be what its all about.
 
Shane Moad said:

It has been the same for me. Christ is the center of my faith and often I have found He does not seem to be acknowledge in Liberal Meetings, well at least not in the way I see Him within scripture. I can see by reading posts here in this topic that there are Friends who have gained much out of the Liberal tradition, so this is just my experinace and is in no way met to offend.

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