My God, My God – Why hast thou made me so different!
To begin with, I have never felt a love like I feel from the Creator God. I have never felt drawn to be close to anyone in a healthy way until I could accept that I was loved. YHWH’s love for me made it possible for me to love others, even my enemies. I know YHWH and the divine desire for my life because of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who I deem as being the person in history through whom salvation comes. I believe this salvation is universal.
To share this in a liberal meeting might mean spiritual marginalization. It’s not that folks won’t accept me for where I am at spiritually (at least most folks will), but that, because I have found a path for myself, and am able to express it in meaningful ways through the use of a specific language, I feel that I am suspect in the eyes of most “seekers.” How often have I heard it said that “there are many paths to the divine.” That may be true, but is that an appropriate response to someone whose life has been saved, and changed dramatically, through the experience of divine particularity? Where is it that I get support for my particularity in the FGC expression of Quakerism? Where do I find a place in the context of the Religious Society of Friends where I feel like I am worshipping the same God as others in the sense of a truly gathered meeting?
I found support for my particularity in Conservative Friends, and my family travels the width of the state of Michigan once a month to participate in worship in the name of the Christ, Jesus. Our family’s leading to dress plain, and make specific use of the biblical narrative, in coordination with Christ-centered waiting worship, is buoyed by our relationship with Crossroads Meeting in Flint, where we are affiliate members in Ohio Yearly Meeting.
However, I am feeling like I exist on the fringes of Conservative Friends because, as I presented at Yearly Meeting this year, I do not believe in the blood atonement. I am not a believer in a virgin birth (I do believe firmly in resurrection), or am I a believer in the infallibility of the Scriptures. In fact, while I have a deep and abiding love for Scripture, I am often the recipient of leadings by the Holy Spirit that stand in firm contrast with parts of Scripture. Am I alone among Conservative Friends in an understanding that Paul did not write many of the letters attributed to him, or that I can disagree with Pauline theology even though I value it, or that, in fact, Paul was just wrong about some things? When I presented at Ohio Yearly Meeting, someone immediately spoke aloud that my theology resembled that of Elias Hicks. I wonder what Conservative Friends think of my support of same-sex marriage. I must admit, I haven’t brought it up.
Of course, I am not Elias Hicks, but I deeply value the relationships that I have forged within my Hicksite meeting in Grand Rapids, where my family has full membership. Regardless of our differences, I know that I can contribute to the health and direction of the meeting, and that it has been one of the most valued spiritual relationships of our lives. I also enjoy that it allows me an opportunity to explore theological leanings without perceived burdens.
On the other hand, I value the community of eldering that exists in Ohio Yearly Meeting – the stability of knowing that the biblical narrative is being lived out in the manner of Friends as it has been for a few hundred years – with Jesus at the core.
As I began to write this, I felt like I was on the margins of both groups of Friends, but now that I think of it, I may have the best of the spiritual world at my fingertips. Perhaps God has brought me to a space in the middle because I can learn valuable spiritual truths from both groups. Perhaps I can serve as a reminder to Friends of one persuasion that the biblical narrative is a valuable asset to our community, and to Friends of another persuasion, that the roots of apostasy were laid in the First Century, and remind Christ-centered Friends that the “doctrines of men” are just that. The Bible informs our faith, but the Holy Spirit waters our spiritual seeds. Blood atonement, and indeed, all of Christendom, might be at the end of their long run.
In the words of some Friends, I am a (Quaker), not a Christian – But I am thoroughly Christ-centered, believing in the salvific work of YHWH through the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and if the middle is where I must be, than I guess I will just have to continue to reap the blessings.