Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
First a bit about my perspective. I was born into the family of a Pentecostal preacher in 1963. Pentecostalism actually borrowed a significant amount of its practice and theology from Quakers, especially the Wesleyan wing of Friends.
In 1983, I was asked by my father to stop attending his church, due to my "radical" ideas. I was a newlywed, interested in pursuing ministry, and trying to redefine the faith I'd inherited. Especially influential on me were the "Jesus Movement" of the 70s and its rock music and hippie lifestyle and the "evangelical left" such as Sojourners Magazine.
My wife and I moved to Dallas, TX. and eventually I found a Mennonite church that supported at least some of my new ideas, especially pacifism. Reading John Howard Yoder helped my ideas mature greatly. A group of us in the church formed a house church, hoping to live out a radical faith together in community.
My own leading at the time included a desire to be part of a Christian commune and when it became clear that the house church wasn't heading that direction, they supported my search for an existing community to join. We chose Reba Place Fellowship of Evanston IL. in 1986, a Charismatic Mennonite church-community that was founded 1957. The years we were involved there were powerfully important in my healing and growth.
I left that community in 1996, as my path changed to a post-Christian direction. I found my way to a liberal Quaker meeting and have been happily engaged there ever since.
Recently, I have reconnected with some folks from a sister church of RPF and discovered that the path I was following from a conventional Christian background towards a radical faith is still attracting lots of new young Christians. While the Mennonite church is uniquely positioned to reach such seekers, it is my hope that a renewed Christian Quakerism might also reach them. Especially in the case of Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians, Quakerism has a lot to offer.
Charley, I am in full agreement with you. I've come to Friends from the "other side" of Christianity, the more watered down mainstream protestant denominations, and I believe that with our way of meeting people where they are on their journeys, and helping them seek, we meet a unique need.
Our small meeting has been experiencing growth as we build community while doing the daily ordinary tasks of raising funds and repairing our building, celebrating 275 years of being in constant worship in the Shenandoah valley, conducting public talks for outreach, and this spring conducting a peace fair and other events for more fundraising. At first I felt we were so myopic, only attending to our own small needs, but then out of the small Seekers group, began to come questions of social conscience.
Then from the floor of Meeting for worship for business came the question, "If we can raise this kind of money to repair our meeting, why are we not doing it to support the social causes we care most about?" Our meeting is taking on a kind of vibrancy it has not had in quite a few years.
Parker Palmer talks about building true community in his book the Promise of Paradox. He says true community is found when we are open to receiving the people called to be with us, not just the people who are all the same as us. As we work through our differences and learn to live together with all our diversity, we are truly learning to live as 'God's kingdom' and creating that world here on earth.
As Quakers, we have the tools in our tradition of ongoing revelation, and in the traditions of our manner of living, we have our strength in our belief in peace for the world, we have the Light and Love of God -- do we have the courage to live as God calls us to live, to build peace by learning to build it amongst ourselves?
I truly believe that the Quaker vision of Christianity would fit most of these seekers. It was a fit me. The question is, how welcoming would most liberal Quaker meetings be?
I've been either a member or an attender at 4 liberal meetings. Three would have been welcoming, albeit with some hesitant individual members. One would have been covertly hostile.
A fellow Friend once described liberal theology as ABJ - anyone but Jesus.
I've seen changes that give me hope, both here and in Friends Journal. Within my own yearly meeting, it's still a struggle.
I agree that many, if not most, liberal meetings are ill-equipped to be a good fit for Christians seeking a deeper more radical faith-community. My liberal meeting is a bit ill-equipped to be a good fit for a post-Christian nontheist such as myself. The Christians in my meeting find my nontheism puzzling and so are unable to minister to my condition at that level. The non-Christians are mostly theistic, so there is still a lack.
However, I continue to be a liberal Quaker - passionately so - because I believe in diversity and the enrichment that diversity brings. The world we live in is divided between Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, and many others. I seek to live in that division, to sacrifice my specific convictions in favor of building a community that can embrace all those differences.
However, that is not what many Christians are called to live for. They want to grow into a deeper expression of union with Jesus Christ. Quakerism has a grand and wonderful tradition that can offer that depth to such seekers. Most liberal meetings will never be able to bring all that richness to bear.
So, I believe that the fulfillment of the mission of Quaker Christianity lies beyond liberal Quakerism. In some places, Christian Quaker meetings can work within a liberal YM or Quarterly, in others they will have to draw their resources from a greater distance.
In Chicago, there is a meeting for worship in Jesus Christ that meets irregularly, though in the past they met more often. I heard of them within Quaker circles, but I wish now that I had tried to encourage more of my Christian non-Quaker friends to attend that worship. If it begins again, I definitely will make that a priority.
Peace & Love! Charley
I suspect I'm misreading you. Are you saying that Christocentric Quakers should not expect a place at the liberal branch's table?
By any chance, is thy middle name Pollyanna? I see a "J" but maybe it is a silent "J"? Jpollyanna?
I think thee speaks of an ideal, but one that is not always observed on the ground and in the monthly meetings. In the end, all it takes is one wounded former Christian to react badly to Christian language for an entire meeting to feel ABC (anything but Christian) to the Christian Friend.
Then I think this is an issue that the whole Meeting should deal with as a community. Unfortunately, many meetings, being not so good at conflict resolution, run from such conflict and hide, and that is how such meetings get the reputation of not being good Christians.
No my Friend, I am not Pollyanna, and I am not one to run from conflict. I am one who is standing in the middle of a liberal Friends meeting and greeting and meeting diverse Friends every day and challenging them to learn how to live together in the midst of the diversity.
I think that learning how to do such a thing is the way that Jesus is calling us to learn to live in the paradox of the world we are in in this moment. And yes, it is difficult. I have no illusions that it is not.
I have many differences with others around me. I think that Jesus calls me daily to struggle within and without myself to find where I should stand in peace with my many Friends. He calls me to stand in Love even if it is the hardest thing I ever do.
It certainly was the hardest thing he had to do.
It is the least I can do.
Since joining Quakers I have always worshiped with Liberal meetings. I've had my own hurts and struggles with Christianity, coming through it with a new found commitment to my Christian roots. The final result does not easily fit into any other context than the Liberal branch.
That is why I reacted to Charley's comment, "So, I believe that the fulfillment of the mission of Quaker Christianity lies beyond liberal Quakerism. In some places, Christian Quaker meetings can work within a liberal YM or Quarterly, in others they will have to draw their resources from a greater distance."
Although I don't think it was intended that way, it felt like another ABJ message.
I truly believe that there is a place for Christianity within Liberal Friends meetings. Unfortunately, I've encountered one too many liberal Friends who would rather that Christocentric Friends either go away or at least be quiet.
I am fortunate to have found a meeting that, with a few bumps along the way, supports each persons relationship with God and expects members have respect for our diversity. So, I will continue to be a Christocentric Liberal Friend. I will embrace and grow from the diversity around me. I will expect others to allow me to speak from my deepest experience of God and even occasionally use the J word.
Since posting this, I have discovered there are numerous definitions of being a pollyanna. My thinking is in alignment with Wikipedia: "a popular term for someone with the same optimistic outlook." Having read the book and enjoyed it and its cheerful heroine as a child, I hadn't really considered what other things had become attached to it. Elsewhere, I see things like "excessively optimistic" and "unreasonably or illogically optimistic" which are not what I meant.
My apologies if it came across as harsh, which was the opposite of my intention.