Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Thank you for this question. I too would like to feel free to say God without feeling the mass of knee-jerk reactions around me which seem to interfere with my own ability to simply be in the moment with that Light (of God). Simultaneously though I am aware of the legitimacy of this knee-jerk reaction: the Christian faith as expressed in our society has been on the whole egotistical, insensitive, shallow, fear-based and power-hungry thing for many, many people.... saying God to them is like saying something that is of darkness instead of light and we have to recognize that as people of sincere faith.
What was most helpful to me personally was years ago to have someone in my life who had integrity and a profound faith, who noticeably shut up when around me, because she knew that I wouldn't respect or appreciate what was Sacred to her. Over a long period of time I went from being irked to at least being glad i didn't have to hear the shallowness, to eventually realizing that she had something I didn't and that I wanted to learn from, ultimately realizing that God and even "the Lord" was a profound and crucial faith stance and there was an amazing power on the other side of that. She helped all this along by clamming up with conviction, not by speaking. It doesn't work online -- but it does work in the real world.
It sounds like you need to find another meeting, where folks can be counted on to feel safe around you and you can feel safe around them!
I try to see the wounds that people carry. There is no doubt that the Christian religion has been used as a weapon against many. We who are Christians must carry the guilt for that, even if we personally have not done it, for if it was done in Christ's name, it was done in ours. I pray that these folks will be healed, whatever form that may take, and that I may serve them, in whatever form it may take. I know the feeling of being shunned because of expressing your own faith, yet we are all better off when I don't make it too much about me.
Perhaps it's like marriage and childhood; we end up painfully attached (sometimes) to people who matter a lot to us, but will likely be difficult to understand and be understood by.
That's the point of "community", really-- not to have "someone to hold ___ ['me' or 'those people'] accountable"-- but to have these really difficult interactions with people we care about.
Sometimes our directions and theirs are just too divergent: we're going different ways in the sack race. Sometimes we simply belong together; and splitting up just doesn't become an option.
When people live in two different worldviews-- The best, most profoundly accurate things we have to say are going to sound like nonsense. And we're going to sound to them like deluded fools. And they'll try to figure out how we can think anything so stupid-- Sometimes this will be about what they think we're thinking, and sometimes it'll be about the straight truth we happen to know. Through no particular virtue of our own.
But we know that God's at work in there. God can tell us when to speak up and when to let things be... and can convince them, when it's time, better than we could, trying to persuade anyone by our own power.
I ask myself the same question regularly! I'm not able to attend meeting, but have encountered the same problem in reverse! If I refer to "nature" or "the divine"- as "God" does not fit my understanding- walls are instantly thrown up! It must be even more frustrating in your own faith community. I too ask myself, why the words we use mean so much to others. Shouldn't we be knowing each other by our fruits?
Here's a question to ponder.
What happens when ONE person in a Meeting decides the whole Meeting should change their way of thinking to his way of thinking, even though it is outside of the Testimonies?
I know how I'd answer this question, but I'm curious about how others would deal with this.
peace & blessings,
I ask the question above, because for some reason many Friends say they don’t feel safe if I use “God” language in their presence.
I think that many non-Christian Quakers don't like to be reminded how deeply rooted in Christianity the Quaker tradition is. It seems acceptable to use language like 'The Tao', or 'Nature', or etc., because they don't carry with them the Quaker past and it is the Quaker past that some wish to disregard.
I have been reading various editions of 'A Guide to True Peace' and have uncovered something that, I think, speaks to your post. The first edition was published in 1813 and there have been many editions since then; including several new ones in recent years. Each edition makes some editorial changes. Over time, by comparing passages, I have observed a decrease in God-talk. This is done by substituting some euphemism for God. Here is one example from Chapter 17, the closing chapter:
"Now heaven represents the centre of the soul, wherein, ere the majesty of God appears, all must be hushed to silence." (1816, 1818, and 1846 American Editions)
"Now heaven represents the centre of the soul, wherein, ere the divine Majesty appears, all must be hushed to silence." (1946, 1979, 2000 American editions)
Note the substitution of 'Divine Majesty' for 'God' in the later editions. From my perspective the word 'God' is a larger concept and it is also more intimately connected to how Friends spoke and understood their experience. The term 'Divine Majesty' isn't exactly misleading, but it is less truthful to Quaker history and experience.
There are some modern editions (1999) which have restored the term 'God' to this passage because they are based on the 1815 British edition. But the most widely distributed edition in America, the 1979 Pendle Hill edition, contains the substitution. And there are many additional examples like this.
Thy Friend Jim
Dear Friends all,
I appreciate what all of you have written. I just feel so sad about this. I think the problem came to a head for me a few days ago, when I was reminded that long-time Friends still view me with apprehension, or even hostility. I humble myself, explain myself, offer my love, i.e., reach out to individuals and the meeting as a whole. Sometimes I just feel so low.
I am not asking others to follow me. I just would like to be able to speak without fear of inadvertently offending someone. I don't believe that such an atmosphere of fear helps anyone in the meeting.
Beth, your experience is very typical, and I believe it is one of the reasons our meeting has this dynamic. Friends have felt so threatened by intolerant Christianity that they have found a refuge here. I don't wish to deny them that. I'm sure you haven't come to your meeting wishing to deny Christian Friends their experience, either.
Betsy, I have talked with many Friends about the situation you present. We are here to offer people spiritual hospitality. (I think that is a wonderful way to describe what we do, and I thank my spiritual mentor for that phrase.) If we think about what we do in such terms, we can see that our guests are welcome, but that they really don't have the right to insist that we change the menu to something they like better. Am I making that demand? I don't think so. At least, I am doing my best to say that I welcome and am not threatened by language that anyone else uses. Who am I to judge another's faith journey?
Jim, I appreciate the history lesson. I believe that Liberal Friends have done quite a bit to gentle down the God talk for seekers in distress. I think it is important to remember our history, and at the same time help seekers settle in and feel safe. I know that Liberal Friends aren't big on God language (and I certainly found that helpful when I arrived 25 years ago as a frightened agnostic). But that doesn't mean we must throw out the baby with the bathwater. Loving Friends don't use any sorts of bludgeons, after all.
Yours in Faith and Love, Paula
Ive had the same problem. Ive been told that religion was "fantasy" at one meeting, to which i will never return. If people dont like the word God, why do they not become Taoists or Buddhists or Humanists or something? Why join a religion in the first place? If you dont believe in God, what are you doing in the RELGIOUS society of Friends? I seriously dont feel that one can be a Quaker and not believe in God in one form or another.
If you do not feel the peace of God at the meeting leave and find another meeting. It's all about His presence. When the Spirit decides He is not welcome someplace and is not wanted there He will leave and you should follow him. God is in you but you are supposed to be about His work and not Him about your work. In the latter case you will not feel peace.
Been there, done that.
Friends, I have been sent to this meeting. The message I received was that I am to bring my own meeting with me. I prepare before I enter the doors. This is not about my own comfort level--after all, there is that line about afflicting the comfortable. I do not have permission to leave out of personal frustration. And perhaps this situation is intended to be a test of my faithfulness and willingness to witness for God's love.
My spiritual journey took me to Taoism and Zen (very briefly) before I felt comfortable enough to handle Christianity, the religion of the west. It was because of the tolerance and love of my meeting at the time that I was able to explore religion and be opened to God in the first place. Thus I am not to shoo anyone away based on their beliefs. I do wonder what one "worships" if one is atheist, but that is not for me to question.
But I must protest if someone tries to silence others or push them out. That is not of God.
Incidentally, Jim, just yesterday I was in community with several people at a local Methodist Church, and that passage about shaking the dust from our boots came up. This is a difficult passage for me: I am not to judge. That's God's job. Perhaps if I feel unwelcome by EVERYONE--which is not the case at all--I will find myself thrown out on my ear, and I have no other choice than to shake off the dust, from my boots and from my ear as well. And yet, there are those Quaker martyrs who were threatened with death if they returned to New England, and they returned anyway. It is easier if I just listen to what God has to say to me, rather than look for answers in scripture.