I am feeling frustrated with Christian Quakers in the liberal branches (and liberal meetings, wherever they are) within the Quaker world. I say these things as a crazy liberal myself...and I believe I am actually making a complaint here that is far bigger than Quakerism but is afflicting the Quakers as much as it is other people of faith.

I've been hearing a recent stream of examples (in a much longer-term stream of examples) of Christian Quakers who feel that there is no place for them to get their nourishment among the Quakers or among the liberal ones anyway, and they feel like a black sheep or feel vilified or lonely or...whatever it is in their case.

I feel for that, I really, really do. And I know what it's like to feel that. AND I also really believe that we need to get our spiritual needs met and not give that short-shrift.

But that said...this keeps feeling like something is wrong. Essentially: Christians aren't here to get their needs met. This is not the spiritual path for "getting my needs met." This is the spiritual path by which our lives of service to others, wherever God sends us, transcends whatever we thought we needed...and gives us a joyful and redemptive life in which epic experiences unfold by a power greater than ourselves.
I know that some people who crave more Christian expressions of their Quaker faith are seeking exactly this: "the life of service to others, transcending (personal needs)" etc. But others (probably most of us Christian human beings) would much rather go somewhere with enough other Christians around who say the same things we would say or believe... and that's not living the life Christ calls us to live.

Right?   I mean...Isn't that the gist of it? Please tell me if I'm wrong.

If what I'm saying here is accurate, then when we feel an ache in our gut, or feel vulnerable, or experience a wave of loneliness (or a whole bunch of waves, persistent loneliness!) then I believe God is calling us to really sit and murk around in that and just feel it, just ache and tell God all about it and ache some more, just letting it all be known to us and wherever that ache leads us... and we're supposed to ache... But this doesn't mean that we're supposed to be relieved of duty.

Our society has taught many of us to be consumers, and even our Quaker upbringing or other experiences may not have been able to heal us of this consumer impulse entirely. One way this can show up of course is that we think we are to go to a church or meeting that meets our needs. This is (most likely) consumerism or a calling to be a hermit and replenish the self...but is not the Christian directive on the whole. It just may be that we are being led to go to a church or meeting that fails to meet our needs and makes us restless until it requires us to begin to meet our own needs there, among these people!

Perhaps our willingness to meet our own spiritual need among the people God has put us with will lead us to acts or activities that become our ministry to others.

OR perhaps our willingness to feel unsatisfied by other people will (as Mary Glenn Hadley suggests) lead us inward toward Christ who wants to be the only one to meet those needs anyway.

Perhaps we will be called, as Mike Shell alludes to in the beginning of his post on Christian Universalisms, to grapple with and gain insight about our "belief systems and their enforcers (that) may have reinterpreted (Jesus') ministry to suit their own theological or political notions."

We may have to learn to see God in people who call their faith something we are not comfortable with, such as "nontheism" perhaps. If we feel we "must go to a better church" we may be called instead to sit there, in this same exasperating community, hating it and hating it until it dawns on us one day the judgment that is in our own heart masquerading around as some sentiment like "YOU PEOPLE aren't of God and it's getting on my nerves!" Only after we wrestle that out of us might we find that Christ was in these people all along and we couldn't see it...

There are a zillion versions of this that could play out and I suspect that the majority of them involve what happens if we stay right where we are.

I'm not recommending stagnation. It's important that we come to know what is within us and let is rise up and slowly get cleared out to make room for God's new ideas. We should not assume that God has placed these irksome people with us due to some arbitrary mistake that we have a right to correct. You never know who may turn out to need to be set straight -- it may be us. In fact whomever else it is too, it IS most likely us that needs to be set straight.

Underneath all this need of processing our grief or coming to know our judgement or loneliness or fear... on the other side of that discovery... I feel very sure is what our ministry is actually supposed to be among this crowd.

This is what troubles me.

Because while we don't do the inner work and stay with the wider community and humble down... the wider community ultimately fails to get any benefit from our Christianity.

I don't mean to even hint that we are ever supposed to evangelize to others. But I see that we are called to be exactly who we are, in exactly this place, among exactly these people. We are called to be dissatisfied here, and to be fools here, and to be grace here. I believe that when this is done authentically and humbly, it has natural power to heal others or minister to them in some needed way.

If our own Spirit lacks power to minister to others....that is feedback then about the condition of our own Spirit. Perhaps Christ is not flowing through us as fully as intended, out into the world. No matter how clear we may be to the contrary, we may not be ripe yet, we may not be humble enough yet, we may not be transparent enough yet, or broken enough, to let the Light shine through and minister to others.

But what is achieved by skipping that whole journey and going in search of less exasperating people...an easier community that already believes what we believe, in the hope that we don't have to BE THAT to others?

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"Blessed are you when people say all sorts of nasty things about you, for standing up for me, because that's how they treated the prophets before you." [paraphrase from those beatitudes I'd just gotten to at http://kwakerskripturestudy.blogspot.com/ ]

Hmmm! So, even in 'church' Christians should expect to be dissed...? ~'It might be a sign that we're doing something right; and we shouldn't be seeking our warm fuzzies from other humans anyway'?

Wow! I mean, yes, that does make some sense -- but I used to hope that Meeting could be a place where people helped each other find our way better; at least that used to be part of what a Meeting was expected to provide!

One of Barclay's ideas was that gathering a group of live ones together would help us all glow more brightly and strongly; and that was certainly something I observed at yearly meetings and at Pendle Hill.

But in our weekly meetings? -- We'd hoped to meet colleagues; but mostly we find ourselves trying to raise the dead -- and that's simply our task? We shouldn't jump to conclusions about folks we don't hear breathing?

Well, we are supposed to fit ourselves a little more smoothly into what God is doing, and to let God do that, rather than demanding some other outcome we think we'd like better. If I'm supposed to just sit there falling asleep with the rest, no messages to deliver or receive, while I wait for grass to grow... Something is developing, I do recognize that -- but I do have to wonder whether Meeting is still a part of that, or has become a distraction.

Wow, Olivia and Forrest, what a large serving of food for thought, and so early in the morning (here in Virginia)!  (Forrest, your usual witticisms brighten what might otherwise be a depressing discussion!)

I have been in exactly the situation you are addressing, so I know a little whereof I speak.  I have also watched other Christians struggle, sometimes for years, in meetings that were unsympathetic, nay--even hostile, toward their faith in Christ.

I don't think it all boils down to a desire to surround oneself with like-minded people!  Aspiring to be part of a Christian fellowship reflects a desire to experience "the fullness of Christ" in an intimate church community, with all of the richness of worship and fellowship, and operation of the gifts of the Spirit, that come with being gathered into one Body in Christ.

Is every Christian meeting a wonderful expression of this ideal state of affairs?  No, not by any means!  But how does one find communion with other believers in a meeting where some or many do not even believe in God, let alone seek a living relationship with Him?  Some folks can tolerate such spiritual incompatibility for a while, but it eventually wears very thin.

My observation is that Christian Friends who find themselves in an incompatible and unsympathetic meeting eventually leave, or alternatively,  join the ranks of the non-Christian majority in the meeting.

My wife and I belonged to an ostensibly Christian meeting, with only a handful of members.  They found us so unwilling (passive resistance, not active dissent) to fall into line behind their "program", that they disfellowshipped us!  Fortunately for us, a new Mennonite mission in our community welcomed us warmly into their fellowship, even though we did not give up our Quaker denominational loyalty.  It has been our church "home" ever since; my wife and son are buried in their cemetery, as I expect to be ere' long!

The conclusion of the whole matter: if your meeting is unsympathetic to your Christian faith, look around and find a fellowship where you can experience unity in Christ.  For many Christians, the alternative is to leave the Society of Friends, not living indefinitely as a "lone ranger" in an unsympathetic meeting!

Olivia, I found this a moving and heartfelt post.  It seems to me the question is if God has called someone to be in that difficult context.  If so, then it is ultimately a good thing to be there. 

Like you and others, I have given this question much thought.  Some of my thinking has to do with what I am calling 'liberal atmospherics'.  This is tentative, as I am still kind of sifting and churning these observations, but my sense is that the atmospherics of liberal meetings are in a thoughtless kind of way problematic for someone who is centered in Christ.  Individual meetings vary, naturally, so my comments may not apply to a specific case.  By 'atmospherics' I mean a kind of givenness as to what is going to be allowed or acceptably decalred in a liberal meeting context.  For example, if someone comes to a liberal meeting and declares that they are a Buddhist, or a Pagan, or a non-Theist, this is viewed as at least acceptable.  However, if someone declares their commitment to Christ, this is viewed with suspicion.  I have observed, for example, that Pagan identified Quakers feel free to suggest that referencing the Bible should be restricted and this is not viewed as problematic. 

Another aspect of the 'atmospherics' is the intense, and time-consuming, focus on activism.  At meetings much time is used up in political commitments.  The consequence of this is that there is almost no time left over for contemplation, scriptural study, and the cultivation of holiness.  This is a problem for American religion across the board, as far as I can see; it is not peculiar to Quakers.  I believe it is one of the main reasons for the decline of membership in mainline denominations which the most recent Pew Research poll reveals.  My view is that meetings should in some sense be a refuge, a sanctuary, from the world, a place where people can, for an hour or so, free themselves from the concerns of everyday existence.  Activism creates an atmosphere which is more like wandering into a life-action Hugginton Post than finding a sanctuary and a place of rest and renewal on a spiritual level. 

None of these comments are put here to negate your observations, which I think are spot on.  Thanks for being so eloquent and taking the time to post them.

Typo Alert:

That should be 'live-action Huffington Post'.  Sorry

Jim

Again, we're reading right along (for now) in step with that Bible study: http://kwakerskripturestudy.blogspot.com/2015/05/matthew-513-16.html :

A Meeting shouldn't be just 'a refuge and sanctuary from the world', though many people use their Meeting for that purpose (and who could blame them?!)

I don't think Olivia or I have been told not to reference the Bible; what we run into in our own widely-separated Meetings is more a sense that doctrinal matters don't interest anybody and are not considered a serious topic. Certainly, as you say, it's an atmosphere of political activismism, whether or not everyone is participating.

Hey All,

Thanks for these initial comments.   My original post is totally intended for whomever it lights a fire under or speaks truth to.  I'm not much concerned with making more of a case for it to anyone who does feel that they needed to leave the type of liberal Quaker meeting I reference.  That's certainly between you and God and I sincerely defer to that.  

I think one thing that I feel in all this is that there's a culture of Christianity.  We are a part of a larger culture of Christianity.  And that culture had done a lot of (bleep) to a lot of people....offensive stuff, discrimination, hypocritical behavior...we have fallen, collectively, absurdly short of the glory of God and we collectively deserve not to be taken seriously. 

That said...if you don't want the collective guilt of society's choices, I get it.  

But I think that's what's underlying all of this for me.  I have read a book somewhat recently called "Unchristian" which I can really recommend, even though we are not its intended audience.  It is speaking to the mainstream culture of evangelical Christians about what non-Christians think about them, based on data gathered by some Christian organization or other.   I bring this book up because one thing they emphasize is that in extensive polling of people in our culture who reject Christianity, the strong majority of them don't actually have a problem with Jesus. 

May I say that again?  I love that sentence so much:  in extensive polling of people in our culture who reject Christianity, the strong majority of them don't actually have a problem with Jesus.

They simply don't like what people have done with the faith.  AND, the book helps us to see, these people essentially feel that the Christian lives around them are actually... Un-Christian.  They have the sense that the Christian ideal is a fine and good one.  The message of this book is at least partly that these dissenting voices need to be honored and are based in truth -- that these people who distance themselves from Christianity see and are aware of a culture of hypocracy among Christians, a false / proclaimed "perfection" among Christians who are actually judgmental and still flawed themselves, and they see also a Christian culture that acts just like everyone else...  These people who reject Christianity and still regard Jesus KNOW that Jesus actually called people to have lives that looked different and felt different and created miracles and lives that were sincere and were filled with spirit and kindness, filled with love of their neighbor and sacrifice, etc.

I feel much respect for this truth.  It seems that if we Christians want to be able to say bible verses without being condemned by others, or use catch phrases of our faith like "bible study" and "Easter Sunday" etc etc  we really do owe it to God to recognize that the non-Christians who hear these things have essentially an accurate cultural bias against them and don't owe us anything.  We are here to model something better than what they've seen perhaps.  But we're not here to "get our needs met" and be able to speak Christian insider language and do Christian insider things without any pushback from anyone.

So my feeling is that we are called to live the humble essence of our faith, not to keep TALKING ABOUT IT and using its insider language and getting to "have enough" when this is not okay with others.  What if our job is to simply be grace, truth, Light, kindness, miracles...  No one is taking that away from you.  No one wants to get rid of that.    What they may hate is the doctrinal, the dogmatic.  But there's plenty of call from them for us to be gracious to them, for us to be willing to suffer with them, care about them, and do the rare amazing things of metaphorically "washing their feet".   BEING A CHRISTIAN. 

I think these people that offend us with not wanting Christians around still are very much open to someone seeing Light in them, suffering with them, caring for them in the hard times when they seem irritating to other people, giving them the benefit of the doubt in all cases, and other acts that really ARE what Christianity is supposed to be about.   Isn't this what we are called to do, really?  

We don't need to commit to words that hurt others by our blindness to society's "sins".  As humans, we don't WANT to be responsible for making this change outside of our favored practices.  But it seems right to me that we should and that that's what actually being Christian must be, in this dynamic we find ourselves in.  I don't see that we are asked by God to keep requiring dogmatic solutions to our spiritual needs when the essentials of our faith (acts of the spirit) will speak volumes still...to all the people who irk us. 

(I hope my soapbox hasn't worn your ears out too much. I'm sure I'll get off it soon!  And PS.  Forrest, I'm glad that there is or was some synchronicity.  Must read your blog discussion next.)

I have to say that for 20+ years I've being doing what you are advocating.  My profession also involves working with groups of people who have been abused by people calling themselves Christians. So I'm not naive about how damaged people may be.

While my work has never burned me out, my meeting did. My profession requires giving and not expecting to get much, if anything, back. That's OK because it is my work and not my community.

A healthy religious community shares the same attributes of any healthy relationship. If we are truly in community, then there is a rhythm of give and take. There is mutual respect and accountability. 

I came to realize that my lopsided relationship with my old meeting was unhealthy.

I am now attending a liberal meeting where messages may be political, sometimes nontheist, more often God entered, and occasionally mention Jesus.

There is room for everyone, even a Christocentric Quaker like me. That is radical inclusivity and love. Anything else is just an illusion.

Forrest wrote:

"Wow! I mean, yes, that does make some sense -- but I used to hope that Meeting could be a place where people helped each other find our way better; at least that used to be part of what a Meeting was expected to provide!"

Jim wrote:

"This is tentative, as I am still kind of sifting and churning these observations, but my sense is that the atmospherics of liberal meetings are in a thoughtless kind of way problematic for someone who is centered in Christ. "

Yeah, so I guess what is behind my post and response above is a call of: no-matter-what-other-people-do, what-are-you-called-to-do?    I agree with Jim that ultimately this does have to be about whether someone is called to this or not.   But at the moment I'm placing myself at the vantage point that ALL CHRISTIANS have this call.   It is certainly up to individuals to decide if this is the case for them or not. 

The difficulty (one of them anyway) is that yes, we do need to get our needs met.  And yet, I believe that what I'm proposing is a way for this to occur.  This is about stepping into the path of divine abundance and God giving us the resources we need for whatever God wants to do in our lives.  I am not advocating for scarcity.  It may sound like it because I AM advocating for giving over our fears and our clenched hands and our grubby feelings of "what about me??"  "what about my needs??"    But I don't believe for a moment that doing what God calls you to do will leave you with nothing.  Certainly on the other side of  being broken before Christ, accepting those terms, we find divine synchronicity, a Way opening, etc etc

Please DO confirm what feels right in your case, and where that flow is leading you.

Stephanie,

Thanks for sharing your experience.  Please share more if you like, or if I'm seeming not to grasp something.  I think I'm just relating to what you say...

- Your work sounds like wonderful, much-needed work.  I'm so glad you were called to that and I know it isn't easy but is more like being willing to suffer with people and help them realize that there are alternative ways to live.  Thank you for being that grace for them...

- I like when you said "There is room for everyone, even a Christocentric Quaker like me. That is radical inclusivity and love. Anything else is just an illusion."

I think this is the hard and beautiful thing I keep running up against at my own Meeting. This seems to be about humility toward our own role and what the goal is.  Folks at my Meeting won't all become what I would wish them to become -- but if I hang around I find that they reallly, reallly, really do let me become whatever I am (when nobody else would). 

This amounts to me being willing to be "smaller".  I think. 

Now I am "bringing it" without this meaning "bringing my insistence that they be different" or that they let me introduce certain activities that I feel would feed me for us to have there, etc.    I'm now just "bringing" Spirit, myself, cultivating Spirit, seeking peace and Spirit within, and slowly pulling it off!  Nothing short of that being my own job, not anyone else's responsibility. 

In my dynamic in this Meeting, I believe that the Spirit is prospering between us finally, in a way that wasn't available to me when I was trying so hard to change things or wish people were different.

It's easy to feel that we are disappointed in the community for not filling our emptiness...but that really doesn't at any point make it right that we wanted them to do that, when we couldn't.  (shrug)    Community is a Quaker value, but we all accomplish it imperfectly and it's still messy because we are still messy individuals.  I find it to be liberating (though hard work!) to take responsibility for one's own messiness and to stop expecting others to clean it up if they are "a good church community" (or meeting). 

At some point the old dynamics I had with them appear to have fallen away -- while the same people are still present, me and them!  I'm no longer blaming them for what they don't give me. I'm taking personal responsibility for my own needs, and also slowly finding that they accept me doing so, among them, and however that makes me turn out. :-) 

(You know, it's a hard journey for some of us, who need to move from "feeling like a victim of other people", through "i'm not going to be a victim of them now because i'm going to ask them for the needed changes",  and through even "i'm going to meet my own needs!"....to this Whole Other Space which is where one actually feels in divine flow and gets their needs met, organically.   This Whole Other Space seems to be where this community finally receives what I have to give, and does so organically.  And my own needs are met by God, not by individuals there except as part of this overall flow.  The freedom from the old story line in which I was the victim of an unkind people...is a profoundly good shift.  They seem to be agreeing, in that they are acting like I'm actually grace and goodness and have something to contribute to their lives.  I can't tell you how rewarding this was one First Day recently: it's like people will really allow you to be filled with Christ among them, every single one of them will. It's as if they were always open to me Being that, always.  Were just not equipped to meet my needs themselves.)

All christians have which call? --

to butt their heads against every stone wall?

to persist trying to resurrect every corpse?

or is it just to keep on moving into the Kingdom while inviting along anyone who might respond?

There are certain purposes a Meeting is supposed to serve; this isn't just a matter of being needy, but of needing some good reason for a bike ride that's always uphill coming back. 

For me, for now, that needs to be the hope that some more live ones will show up and be willing to stay until a spark catches...



Forrest Curo said:

All christians have which call? --

to butt their heads against every stone wall?

to persist trying to resurrect every corpse?

or is it just to keep on moving into the Kingdom while inviting along anyone who might respond?

There are certain purposes a Meeting is supposed to serve; this isn't just a matter of being needy, but of needing some good reason for a bike ride that's always uphill coming back. 

For me, for now, that needs to be the hope that some more live ones will show up and be willing to stay until a spark catches...

Forrest, may it be so!!


To clarify, I did not find any of the positive effects you are describing. People continued to feel justified in their intolerance. At times it felt abusive. 

As I said my first response, it was unhealthy. I think it was just as unhealthy for the meeting.

I don't believe that Jesus calls us to tolerate prejudice and abuse. He calls us to loving resistance.

In the end I started being who I was openly and firmly. I had to go outside the meeting for my spiritual nurture and growth. I found it in the Way of the Spirit program (west coast version of School of the Spirit). I began exploring other meetings in the area. I found a meeting that is truly open and affirming. A meeting that fed my soul.

In the end, there was a meeting for business, where a woman advocated eliminating the word God from our pamphlet for newcomers. Only one person spoke out against it.

At that point I realized that I hadn't the energy or heart to stay. I'm now in a discernment process to transfer my membership.  


Olivia said:

Stephanie,

Thanks for sharing your experience.  Please share more if you like, or if I'm seeming not to grasp something.  I think I'm just relating to what you say...

- Your work sounds like wonderful, much-needed work.  I'm so glad you were called to that and I know it isn't easy but is more like being willing to suffer with people and help them realize that there are alternative ways to live.  Thank you for being that grace for them...

- I like when you said "There is room for everyone, even a Christocentric Quaker like me. That is radical inclusivity and love. Anything else is just an illusion."

I think this is the hard and beautiful thing I keep running up against at my own Meeting. This seems to be about humility toward our own role and what the goal is.  Folks at my Meeting won't all become what I would wish them to become -- but if I hang around I find that they reallly, reallly, really do let me become whatever I am (when nobody else would). 

This amounts to me being willing to be "smaller".  I think. 

Now I am "bringing it" without this meaning "bringing my insistence that they be different" or that they let me introduce certain activities that I feel would feed me for us to have there, etc.    I'm now just "bringing" Spirit, myself, cultivating Spirit, seeking peace and Spirit within, and slowly pulling it off!  Nothing short of that being my own job, not anyone else's responsibility. 

In my dynamic in this Meeting, I believe that the Spirit is prospering between us finally, in a way that wasn't available to me when I was trying so hard to change things or wish people were different.

It's easy to feel that we are disappointed in the community for not filling our emptiness...but that really doesn't at any point make it right that we wanted them to do that, when we couldn't.  (shrug)    Community is a Quaker value, but we all accomplish it imperfectly and it's still messy because we are still messy individuals.  I find it to be liberating (though hard work!) to take responsibility for one's own messiness and to stop expecting others to clean it up if they are "a good church community" (or meeting). 

At some point the old dynamics I had with them appear to have fallen away -- while the same people are still present, me and them!  I'm no longer blaming them for what they don't give me. I'm taking personal responsibility for my own needs, and also slowly finding that they accept me doing so, among them, and however that makes me turn out. :-) 

(You know, it's a hard journey for some of us, who need to move from "feeling like a victim of other people", through "i'm not going to be a victim of them now because i'm going to ask them for the needed changes",  and through even "i'm going to meet my own needs!"....to this Whole Other Space which is where one actually feels in divine flow and gets their needs met, organically.   This Whole Other Space seems to be where this community finally receives what I have to give, and does so organically.  And my own needs are met by God, not by individuals there except as part of this overall flow.  The freedom from the old story line in which I was the victim of an unkind people...is a profoundly good shift.  They seem to be agreeing, in that they are acting like I'm actually grace and goodness and have something to contribute to their lives.  I can't tell you how rewarding this was one First Day recently: it's like people will really allow you to be filled with Christ among them, every single one of them will. It's as if they were always open to me Being that, always.  Were just not equipped to meet my needs themselves.)

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