It's not a secret that I am an ex-Christian liberal Quaker. I didn't leave the faith as a wounded soul with a grudge against every believer, though I acknowledge that there are many out there with that sort of experience. I was raised in a very dysfunctional Pentecostal family and escaped from that drama in my early 20s to a Mennonite intentional community for 10 years.

That community was a most wonderful experience in nearly all respects. If you'd like to know more about them, click here. At the end of a long journey of healing, I came to a point where I no longer believed in the traditional doctrines and over time that developed into nontheism. However, my core formation as a Christian, in both Pentecostal and an Anabaptist peace-church tradition, will doubtless remain as part of my memories and life forever.

From Pentecostalism I gleaned a commitment to experiential spirituality that is quite consonant with Quakerism. From Anabaptism, I lived out the ideals of a peacemaking covenant community. I've been going to a liberal Quaker meeting, Northside Friends in Chicago, since 1997.

As I was leaving the Christian path, I needed something that was both familiar and new. Liberal Quakers fit the bill. I was able to explore this new direction with a freedom that simply didn't exist in the confessional Mennonite milieu, but also with some of the familiar peace church culture that had been so life-giving while among Mennonites.

Although I am happily non-Christian, I realize that in a majority Christian culture, most of the people who come to a Quaker meeeting will likely have some sort of experience with Christianity. If they've had a positive experience with it, they may expect liberal Quakers to be more Christian than we really are. If they've had a wounding experience, even the fairly modest expressions of Christian norms that some meetings have may trigger a negative response.

Some meetings do fall into a hostility to Christianity, in part as an honest reaction to the authoritarian version of the faith that prevails in the USA. To persist in that hostility is unhealthy at best, and destructive at worst. Last week I posted a blog that was sharply critical of some Christian Quakers, which I won't reiterate here.

I don't feel most Christian Quakers deserve that criticism, but it is fairly easy to be misunderstood as criticizing all Christian Quakers, which isn't my intention. I simply have a solid conviction that liberal Quaker meetings should have the freedom to approach Christianity in the manner that arises organically from within that meeting and its participants. Yes, that may lead to some meetings falling into the unhealthy hostility that I describe above, but working that out is the calling of that specific meeting, and can't be imposed from outside.

This past Sunday my meeting had the first of series of Second Hour discussions on Jesus. It wasn't my idea, but I had actually considered taking up one of the gospels in our bi-weekly reading group. The moderator of today's conversation was one of our weighty members, Tom, who was raised Roman Catholic and still has a strong personal faith in Jesus.

In a wonderfully open, and occasionally salty, manner, he led us through some of the traditional titles of Jesus, such as Christ, Messiah, Savior, Logos, Son of God, as well as roles like Healer and Teacher. We then had a worship-sharing time where each was able to speak from our personal experience with Jesus, negative or positive. I was able to express my own "title" for Jesus that in fact had been the visionary idea that had lead me to leave my Pentecostal home and journey to something different - Counter-cultural Radical Community-Builder.

In the early 1970s, the small-town church my father pastored hosted a visit by a group of "Jesus People" from California. They were an amazing hippie expression of following Jesus, which seemed just a perfect fit to my childish mind. A few years later, I was listening to Jesus rock music and reading about Christian communes, which led to my decision to join Reba Place Church years later.

Although I may never go back to Christian faith personally, I hope that our meetings can maintain both an openness and respect towards non-Christians, a willingness to affirm our Christian roots, and even take on the time-honored prophetic role that Quakerism has served within Christendom as a whole.

Peace! Charley

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