Why call yourself a Quaker? Why go to a Quaker Meeting House building?

Replying to comments by Martin, Callid, Wess below a previous post, on Scott McKnight's stuff about community.

I'd agree we have to be willing for everything to be pruned away, whilst we hold to the cross which we can rely on. My model is that "being a Quaker" is living in that willingness to give up everything, to be re-formed by Christ amongst us into the church God intends us to be. That's what I mean when I use the word, what do you mean? Sounds like you want to use the Quaker banners on this site to hijack the name Quaker and set up yet another a new set of splinter groups in the U.S.A.? You don't find that embarrassing? I don't live in the situation you folks are in so I don't know.

Do you not have a Meeting to live amongst? What's so wrong with (us) other folks? What happened to the eye and the nose not telling each other they're not required? I guess I think the core practice of being the Body is to be one body not keep dividing like amoebae, but that's the perspective of a "rest of world" Quaker where I think we don't in general have all those splinter groups I gather you're cursed with in the U.S.A..

I mentioned that thing about "twice the number of Quakers" because I've found a Meeting to live with here, we try to do the Quaker thing. I brought that particular one up as an example of some habits we used to have (like that one of not actually including newcomers) that worked against our collective ability to live up to the Message we've been given. I've learned a lot from what Martin's written about outreach - my parents were both convinced Friends in their early twenties so wondering whether I'm living gospel order such that similar people of their age now would get included is a useful test with special meaning for how I go about living my life and being part of my Meeting community.

Are you U.S folks starting yet another branch of your tradition of Quaker separations or what? I guess I know how much I gain from seasoned Friends who have lived many years in this same Light we're talking about, people who travelled the world preaching the gospel or picking up the sick and dying or just getting their possessions bailliffed because of the Light they live under. It is so unusual that the stuff you're talking about Christ, communities of resistance, scripture study, and living in the presence, people have been preaching this gospel to me since I was a teenager? They mostly say they have to suffer for it as a lot of people find it hard to hear but I got the impression that since our leader led all the way on that one and it worked to bring the Roman Empire down we could trust in the grace God gives?

The New Foundation fellowship turned out a lot of folks in the UK who had a really clear message and lived it in Meetings, they were the ones who brought me into this Quaker thing - I guess I got the impression that was the natural foundation of the Quaker thing, living the gospel. It's what I found when I started swimming upstream to find where the gifts of peacemaking and resistance to consumerism and fashion and so on came from: the folks who were doing it were the ones who would tell me about why following Jesus meant they had to do it that way. We have been managing to struggle along, e.g. homophobic and gay people side by side mostly without throwing out the either the bible or the waiting worship, I guess I assumed that was there everywhere if you looked for it, maybe I'm wrong about that as well.

Maybe it is really different for you, Martin, Callid, Wess, in the United States than it is here in the UK, or maybe I just don't get what you're on about! Likely, I know my brain is not in the best shape. Quakers are almost all one group here in the UK, not at ease but nothing like two churches in one street. As far as I know, we struggle together to understand ourselves as one Body despite the huge differences between the worldviews: from the spiritually wounded who may just have come for the shelter of a church that might love them and celebrate their gifts, to people who know they have been called to live in the cross but don't always know how to express it or help the wounded find healing and hope.

I'm not so attached to the name Quaker as I am to the community, the gospel and the praxis of it. I guess I'm writing this because it comes across a bit to me like you are building and you've looked at this foundation stone and said to yourself, nah, I can find a better one why should I start here? Have I got it wrong? I think all you guys are gifted so I can well see it might be that I am not seeing what you are trying to show me.

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Comment by Martin Kelley on 6th mo. 4, 2009 at 12:11pm
Hi Alice: Huh? No one's been talking about splinter groups here.

Any healthy religious community has to balance the tensions between community and meaning. If one or the other side of this equation gets too stressed, the group starts to fall apart. At times, the meaning side has been too strong, and a kind of intolerant head-focused Quakerism has prevailed and injured the community. That's not the case now. The last swing took hold in the 1950s, when a pretty conscious decision was made to stop talking about theology and just let Friends live together as a community. It helped a lot. It let the two splits of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting come back together. Howard Brinton was one of the healers, and in 1952's "Friends for 300 Years" he wrote that the most important qualifications for membership weren't belief or practice but rather one's fit in the community.

The problem is that we've been stressing community for a half-century. Our definition of Friends has defaulted to a tautological "we are who we are." Brinton himself knew who we were. He just wanted us to stop bickering about it. The most distributed piece of outreach material we still hand out is a 1950s talk he gave on "What Friends Believe."

Those of us interested in outreach need to be able to talk about the principles behind Friends beliefs and practices so we can invite others to share it with us. If we skip that step, our outreach is a demographic one that targets people who look and talk like us. Some recent outreach efforts have been aimed at upper-middle class, middle aged white liberals with advanced degrees and a distaste for strong emotions. Yeah, that describes our meetings, but is that what Friends area about? These are the last folks either Jesus or George Fox would have ministered to.

Our old time Quaker toolkit has a role for those of us who think primarily about meaning and articulating our purpose: it's the recorded minister. They (we) are kept in check by elders, who are primarily concerned about maintaining unity and charity in the meeting. You specifically called out Callid and me. Both of us are embedded Friends. He's working with the young adult program at the Pendle Hill retreat center this summer. I'll be working with my yearly meeting high schoolers in August and co-leading a workshop at Pendle Hill next winter, and I've just been invited to talk at a quarterly meeting in September. My meeting(s), monthly and yearly, doesn't always seem to quite know what to do with me and vice-versa but we're still all liking each other and on good terms. I think we'll figure out this relationship better over time.

In the meantime, there are some of us with the disposition to say "it's not just about community," a voice that I think is its own gift to the community.
Comment by Alice Yaxley on 6th mo. 4, 2009 at 12:37pm
Ahah, that makes more sense to me. Thanks. I'm glad for your teenagers, I know I was blessed by folks like Doug Gwyn and other visiting ministers when I went to study Quaker stuff at that age.

This community thing is a new insight for me, so the live point where I am at personally is about community - the people God wants gathered and accompanied, those who are thrown out of the other parties, how am I being led to live in relationship. That's new to me, it probably sounds like old news for people who are not where I'm at.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 4, 2009 at 12:53pm
There's a quote in our Faith&Practice by one of our heavy hitters, Robert Griswold: "The meeting must be at heart a spiritual quest and the people who are members must be seekers after the life of the spirit. This doesn't mean that they will do nothing else, but everything else should be grounded in this spiritual seeking."

A meeting that isn't like that is an obstruction. I think your friend was right, that people who obstruct our hopes may be doing us a great service, but it isn't easy learning to use the sort of spiritual muscle it can take to move them!
Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 4, 2009 at 6:08pm
The ultimate extreme of universalism... is probably implied by "Hear, oh Israel, the Lord thy God is one!" If you follow any religious faith/practice to its end, the Spirit you will find animating you individually, and all the stage-props of the world--will turn out to be that very same God. But where people haven't gone deep enough, they see differences in the descriptions instead.

I've used and quoted from Chuck Fager's piece on conceiving Quakers as a people, and still find this description compelling:
"... An even more important passage, I think, maybe the central one, was in John Chapter One, verses 4,5 and 9:

"' In him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it...This was the true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world.'

"Next to this is one we read earlier, John 4:24: 'God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.'

"If I had to pick one Bible verse to sum up Quaker peoplehood, I’d refuse, because I don’t think I could let go of either one of these.

"In other words, these verses suggest to me that the Religious Society of Friends is a people raised up to bear witness to the universality of the divine light in all, and the priority of the spirit and truth as the basis of religion over forms, hierarchies and doctrines.

"By themselves, there’s nothing really new in any of our specific points of witness; it’s all there in scripture. But it is the combination, our particular take, our selective interpretation, under the leading and calling of the spirit, that shows our character as a peculiar, chosen people."
I find myself sure that "Christianity" matters a great deal, and matters not at all. We can't get away from it, and shouldn't try, but we shouldn't imagine that people whose spiritual experience has a different flavor are, or should be, in a different conversation.

We can't "outreach" with slogans. We aren't trying to manipulate people even for their own good-- but we need ways to let them know that we've found a good thing, available to them also. Christian terminology will reach some people, repel others.

But there's another consideration, what Fager said about "by themselves, there's nothing really new in any of our specific points of witness." Those points, some of them, go back a very long distance, and have permeated the outside world as thoroughly as the violent faithlessness that appears so strongly on its surface. Some outsiders are already essentially Quakers, and would join us eagerly, if only they saw some value (to themselves or others) in doing so.

I think we can facilitate this, but it requires us to radically subvert the Meetings we are spiritually 'married to', which means we need to willingly risk considerable flak. Our opponents, on some level, want us to spiritually "seduce" them--though spiritual "date rape" is out! We've got to claim our own freedom to get passionate, while remembering that integrity is often a factor in their resistance to passion. They are as internally conflicted as any of us! There's no method to this; we need to be truly open to God's leadings on how, when, whether to push at all. If this is what we believe--as I think it is--it shouldn't have to be as difficult to trust as I've sometimes found it.
Comment by Martin Kelley on 6th mo. 4, 2009 at 9:49pm
At some point I should put out that none of you are the primary target audience of QuakerQuaker.

Read up on the Emerging Church movement. There's a hugh groundswell of Evangelical Christians who have been turning away from the showiness of places like "The Rock." The Wikipedia article's a good place to start, though it's pretty academic. Skim it, then check out sites like Emergent Village, Internet Monk, and Presbymergent. It was Canadian Methodist Jordan Cooper who turned me on to a lot of stuff five years ago but lately some of the leaders like Mike Morrell, Steve Knight, Bruce Reyes-Chow checks in on Quakers pretty frequently. A lot of folks are looking for something like Friends. They're looking for ways to live in community and I'm pretty sure that the traditional Quaker practices (the "Quaker toolkit" I talk about) would be something they'd love.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine was hosting a party mostly attended by fellow members of Circle of Hope, the Philly emergent church she attends. They're young, open, involved in their urban community. I asked one of the party-goers about his church and he described it as "primitive Christianity revived." "Ha!," I wanted to say, "that's our line!."

But of course, there's not a Friends Meeting in the City of Philadelphia today that would unite behind William Penn. Circle of Hope is only a decade or so old but it has a more-closely knit community than any of the Philly Meetings I know.
Comment by Richard B. Miller on 6th mo. 4, 2009 at 10:48pm
Ok, so what if Quakers actually reached out to the emerging church movement? By reaching out I mean finding out where they worship and visiting them. Has anybody tried this?
Comment by Alice Yaxley on 6th mo. 5, 2009 at 6:35am
By reaching out I mean finding out where they worship and visiting them. Has anybody tried this?
Umm do Martin Kelley, C. Wess Daniels and so on not count in your "anybody", Richard B. Miller?

I visit with my local Vineyard, I love their youth, energy, creativity with worship forms, enthusiasm for scripture study and so on, I've been really inspired.

I try to concentrate on living the gospel, I think if other people get as inspired by this toolkit as we are, we need to see if we can live it. I'm trying to make sure I am living it in my Meeting. Folks come looking for us, I am trying to be there so they can find me, I definitely want to know them and I hope we can support each other in this Living for God project.

Martin writes But of course, there's not a Friends Meeting in the City of Philadelphia today that would unite behind William Penn.
Wow, that seems nuts to me. I mean I don't know exactly where William Penn is at these days but you're right that I'm finding in myself a determination to struggle for unity and charity, a conviction that if we are willing to conflict creatively together God will reveal a larger truth to each of us.

My approach here is to pray, live as I have to, trust God, and more and more I find I am on board with the rest of the Meeting here. I had to go through a lot of change to understand how to live in my Meeting and the people in the Meeting changed quiet a lot as well, I think we are all still adjusting. God can make these things shift faster than we can understand. I guess all situations are different and it's hardly a new event in the record for people who love God to find that other people are hardening their hearts. Heartbreaking though! Is every person in the city seriously so set against the divine? Sounds like disaster for them, and I hope God sends you your companions in faith soon, I can hardly bear to think of you in a wilderness as one family alone.
Comment by Richard B. Miller on 6th mo. 5, 2009 at 8:49am

Did I miss something? Did with Wess or Martin say they were visiting emerging churches? Martin mentioned attending a party he was invited to and meeting some emerging church people at the party. This isn't the kind of visitation I have in mind. I'm thinking about conscious deliberate repeated visits. There is a divide in this country between mainstream liberal Christian and evangelicals. The former tend to be politically liberal and the latter tend to be politically conservative. The country is polarized socially as well as politically. "Red" Americans tend not to socialize with "Blue" Americans. Liberal Quakers who make up the majority where Martin lives are very "Blue." The emerging church movement is a little different from your typical evangelical American christian. Those folks are somewhat skeptical that politicians have successfully highjacked their churches to exploit them for political ends. They are more apt to see themselves as apolitical. Yet their roots are in "Red" churches and all their friends and family are "Red." So they have great suspicion of anyone "Blue" which includes almost all Quakers who still worship in the traditional style of waiting worship. I don't think there's a better way to reach out to these people than to get to know them personally and I don't think American Quakers are doing that.
Comment by Alice Yaxley on 6th mo. 5, 2009 at 9:07am
Isn't Wess an evangelical pastor? Martin spends a huge amount of his life on outreach as far as I can tell. I'm sure I'm not the only one he's helped with learning about Quakers and getting my own faith sorted out. I think the point about the emerging church scene is they are not obsessed by whether someone "is a member of our meeting" or not, they are much more about living and doing. It's more about getting involved with others and living a life of faith, it's not like they/we are to be found at a particular place once a week, we/they are mostly floating around looking for a way to be part of what God is doing in the world. I really want Quakers to be awake to that so we don't miss out on all these smart, motivated, gifted young folks when they/we turn up at a Meeting house once in a while.

I guess the most Quakers I have met from the States have been at the World Gathering of Young Friends in 2005, at FWCC triennial when it came to the UK in 1997, and visitors. I guess I got the impression those people were all pretty keen to do what God wants us to do, and live listening for the Word. We had waiting worship at both those big gatherings with folks from all over the world, from all traditions, is that so unusual? I think the difference between Meetings might mostly be the noise and energy level, I get the impression that the folks from pastor-led Meetings were more likely to lead and enjoy singing and less space between messages. I love that, can't wait for my Meeting to be a bit noisier.
Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 6th mo. 5, 2009 at 9:48am
Since my worship group meets once a month on a Fourth Day, I go to a different church each First Day. Some are mainline, some are evangelical, a couple have seemed to be what everyone is calling emergent. It may be shocking, but what I find are fairly homogenous groups of people who are fairly happy with what they are experiencing spiritually. It seems a bit strange to seem to be asserting that we would be saving people from something. In my experience, Quakerism is most helpful to people who are being challenged spiritually. For instance, I have had great "outreach" with former ministers who have been burnt out by their experience of institutional religion. Really, chewed up and spat out comes to mind as the proper phrase. My experiences with this group has really affirmed for me the wisdom of the Quaker testimony against hireling ministers. It ain't good for the ministers . . .

I don't think it is a coincidence that Quakerism rose out of a dangerous time of societal upheaval. Only when people really really *have to* do large numbers of people finally turn to the bedrock of their True Source. Most First Days, my outreach ends up feeling like casting bread upon the waters.

I did want to add that I think the idea that Quaker worship won't appeal to people of certain ethnic backgrounds because of their "culture" is flatly racist. If that were the basis for things, Quakers would have made great in-roads in Asian cultures . . . "Paget Henry, Sociology and Africana Studies at Brown, who has studied, among other things, the contemplative practices of African and Afro-Caribbean religion." "Monasteries of enclosed Carmelite nuns exist in Italy, Ireland, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, Peru, the United States of America, Finland, Kenya, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic. Hermit communities of either men or women exist in the United States of America, France, Italy, Indonesia and Brazil."


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