Some of the earlier parts of Adrian's post were very thought provoking on just what one means by "liberal". To push our thoughts a little more, I notice that in Chuck Fager's book Without Apology he quotes from Isaiah 32 verse 8: "But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall stand". In the margin of my Companion Bible it notes synonyms for this word in Hebrew are: "noble, freehearted, freehanded". In some ways this seems to touch on a significant part of being liberal, i.e. a freeheartedness in living, acceptance of others AND a willingness to "devise" ways of acting on this liberal spirit. Liberal, unprogrammed Friends have helped me immensely at just this point: how to passionately embrace what I personally believe while at the very same time making room for others who disagree strongly with my 'free heart'. I have too often tended to tribalize my faith perspective. With the help of my Meeting, I hope to keep learning! Mike

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'Practice' doesn't make that great a 'defining characteristic' either. You might say that pushing the 'power' button on your tv was a defining characteristic of 'watching tv'; but first of all you'd need to be sure that the nasty machine in question was plugged in, worked via battery etc-- was connected to something. The brand name on the power source (ie 'belief-system') wouldn't matter as long as the voltage etc was compatible with the device... but without connection to actual electricity nothing happens.

Practice comes down to having what some Christians call 'sacraments', or to what's called 'a yoga' in Hindu religions, something that God has made available for people to do in search of divine connection. No number of cookies, no number of blessings on a biscuit, no number of asanas will do the trick in the absence of devotion, ripeness, willingness to have it happen.

And no number of hours in Meeting guarantees anything either. There was a response, eventually, to my first Meeting, years ago... I was an atheist then, but my best friend in high school had invited me, while giving God a chance to speak for Godself seemed like a great alternative to listening to human beings putting words in God's mouth-- but I was still an atheist at the end of that Meeting, and so I didn't return to Friends until years later. The response came outside Meeting, as I met more people with actual knowledge of God, and found Divine Fingers at work stirring up my life.
My experience has been that the more spiritually grounded a person is, the less the path which was taken to reach that Spirit Centered place matters.

There are people who are plugged into the Spirit of God... whether they are Mormon or Moslem or Jewish or Evangelical... or Liberal Quakers... and the deeper their connection, the more open and loving they are.

When there is contention over ISSUES and the sound starts coming out like

then I assume that the group .. or person ..,, is not very well grounded spiritually,

For me.. the core of Quakerism is that we all have access to the Divine,

From that, I assume that your Inner Guide will tell you what is right for you to do.

I have confidence in that process.

I will meet with you and sit and thresh and mirror and query to help you reach your own Guidance.. but that it between you and God.

I respect that each of us is our own spiritual authority.

We had occassion to deny membership to one seeker. Sadly, I had to meet privately with some of the elders to express my objections because the person was not honest in his dealings with the community,

I said that as a Meeting I thought that we had two corporate responsibilities.. Membership and Marriage.

That if I accepted this man as a Member, I would be saying to all other Friends, everywhere in the world that I personally vouched for his integrity, that they could leave their children, and their possessions in his care and he would be honorable. I could not do that for this particular person.

I know that much of our division as Friends has been over the LGBT issue and it saddens me.

For me, the issue is simply none of our business.
Thanks, Elizabeth, for your thoughts! You seem to get at the essence of liberal Quakerism (and it is a very good essence!), at least from my perspective. Individual experience of the Spirit of God and a strong sense of Friends' process together as a meeting, a body. Mike
Good Morning, CQ! I found your post very thought provoking. It sounds as if the similarities are greater than the differences between BYM and FGC Friends. Since we're a couple hundred miles from home this week visiting our daughters and families in Columbia, Missouri, I enjoyed Meeting for Worship with the Columbia Friends, who are "liberal, unprogrammed Friends" in Illiniois Yearly Meeting. During the Meeting, I noticed that a couple of folks were reading their Bibles quietly while quietly waiting/worshipping. And, during the meeting, we listened to a message concerning the fire burning in the fireplace vs. the intensity of the fire burning in our lives with several Biblical allusions. The final message was loosely based on the Grinch stealing Christmas and whether Quakers would notice. So, it was a somewhat uneven, but still uplifting time of worship. But, it may be that, in mid-America at least, we are somewhat more "traditional" liberals? I loved hearing about the "growing appetite" to address the lack of spirituality in some of the Meetings there. One other personal difference in our experiences: when my wife and I finally requested a Clearness Committee to explore membership in our Sunrise Meeting, it felt like a pretty rigorous process! Over several months, we wrote letters and listened together to questions about the Spirit's leading, etc. I did notice that there were really no questions, however, about what might traditionally be called "doctrinal" beliefs. This was a stark contrast to the evangelical Anabaptist background that we came from. At this point in my life, I'm learning to be able to firmly adhere to understandngs of God and Life and Truth, without needing to condemn someone else who differs. Sounds so elementary! But... Thanks again for your post! Mike
CQ, I agree with you that liberal Quakerism has been characterized, if not defined, by its "rejection of beliefs, creeds and dogmas in favor of values and principles." I see this especially in how we approach first day school, and in fact, Quaker education in general. We have a lot of Quaker schools here in the Philadelphia area; only two have religion faculty; only one actually teaches a course on Quakerism, and that course is, apparently, largely about Thomas Berry's new cosmology, which isn't Quakerism at all. Their religion curriculum is very good on comparative religion, though; and they do an excellent job of teaching Quaker values. So also with our conference centers, which tend to emphasize (rightly, I think) an experiential pedagogy and programs for spiritual nurture and expression over transmission of our tradition. In my experience, adult religious education programs often amount to comparative religion programs, also, and tend to emphasize values and testimonies over content.

But I want to say again that I don't think this is a good thing. For one thing, it's too either/or. Both faith and practice matter. I think we all agree about creeds and dogmas—fie on them. But suppose for "beliefs" we say "content"? By "content" I mean, what do we have to say? to inquirers about Quakerism? to our children? to new members? How do we explain our practices, our values and principles—why we adhere to them, where they came from, what we are trying to attain when we do them? A religion without content, without something coherent to say, is in danger of losing its identity altogether. And so we are, I think.

Many liberal Friends are nervous about "beliefs" because "beliefs" seem to engender strife, because they may have been wounded in the name of belief in some other community, and because they want to be free to believe what they will and still share in religious community. So they don't want the community to define itself too strongly in terms of belief. But we still need to be able to say something about our path.

I have a simple formula for what we can say that you can unpack to talk about virtually all aspects of Quaker belief, practice and experience. I say that Quakerism has four legs, a body and a heart.

The four legs: First, we believe (and have experienced) that we each have (or can have) a direct, unmediated relationship with G*d (meaning the Mystery Reality behind our religious/spiritual experience, whatever that experience is). Second, we believe/experience that the meeting—the community—also has (can have) a direct, unmediated relationship with the Divine. Third, we believe/experience continuing revelation: this direct connection with Spirit is always present, guiding us, healing us, correcting us, inspiring us. And fourth, we believe that we should live our lives as outward expressions of our inner experience of G*d, of the measure of truth we've been given, of the revelation we have received, and so we have testimonies.

The heart of Quakerism is the commandments of love: to love each other as we love ourselves, to love G*d as deeply as we can.

And the body is our experience, as both individuals and as a community—what canst we say? We believe that we should build our religious lives on what we ourselves have experienced, rather than on some inherited legacy or set of abstract notions, though that legacy of faith and practice is to be known and respected as the faithful testimony to the experience of Friends who have gone before us.

Does this work for thee?


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