Admiting I'm not marginalized: The blessings of dual membership

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.

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Comment by Raye on 1st mo. 13, 2010 at 10:16pm
"is that an appropriate response to someone whose life has been saved, and changed dramatically, through the experience of divine particularity?" This is a question that applies to me, too! And, as a Conservative Friend, who heard most of thy presentation at Yearly Meeting, I was very happy to hear it. It opened my spirit to a much wider horizon, and still gives me much to think about. I pray thee and I can talk more about this face to face some day. In the meantime, thanks for sharing thy thoughts and parts of thy life with us.
Comment by Elizabeth Bullock-Rest on 1st mo. 14, 2010 at 10:17am
Friend Scot,
I feel blessed that in my liberal meeting in Fayetteville Arkansas there is acceptance for my and other Friends' Christian orientation. My family is also blessed in that Friends here have been very accepting and supportive of my Jewish husband and our children who were raised in both faiths. My sense is that Fayetteville Meeting works hard to carry out Jesus's quest that we "love one another."

It makes me happy to read your post about the blessings of dual membership. All peace and joy to you, Friend.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 1st mo. 15, 2010 at 5:38pm
You words resonate for me. I also find a personal relationship with the Christ within, although not in a sense that any fundamentalist would recognize.

I have been fortunate enough to find a liberal meeting that is tolerant of my path and language, though not embracing of it. There are no conservative Friends meetings in my area, and though I have wanted to explore that branch, I also fear I would not find welcome there.

Your ability to find strength and growth in the center is truly a grace. I believe that we find the most meaning at the borders and margins of whatever groups we join. The center is too comfortable and I do not think we are called to inhabit the center.
Comment by kevin roberts on 1st mo. 17, 2010 at 6:26pm
Keep exploring, Scott. Conservative Friends have a greater diversity of theological and social outlook than you have so far been able to experience.

Often the quickest to speak have the least to say.

Comment by Javaughn Fernanders on 1st mo. 18, 2010 at 1:54am
friend speaks my mind
Comment by Craig Fox on 2nd mo. 3, 2010 at 6:31am
Friend speaks my mind as well.
Comment by Walt Marston on 2nd mo. 3, 2010 at 2:19pm
Thanks, Scot. Well said. This helps me as much to read as I am sure it helps you to write.
In reply to your message, yes, I think we could call the GR Friends Mtg "convergent," although some would interpret the meaning in different ways. To me, that is a strength of our Meeting. Best. Walt
Comment by Margaret Bienert on 2nd mo. 10, 2010 at 12:10pm
I so needed this message. Thank you.
Comment by Justin Meggitt on 2nd mo. 26, 2010 at 10:03am
A lot of what you write echoes with my experience. Although I am conscious of the faddishness of much biblical scholarship, as someone who teaches NT in a university I certainly don't hold to such things as Pauline authorship of many Pauline epistles, nor that blood atonement is actually a dominant or central idea in the faith of the early Christians (they had plenty of other metaphors for understanding how Jesus' life, death and resurrection brought and brings salvation etc. I would be a hypocrite to pretend I thought otherwise. I am very conscious that Friends, from the first, had a love of Scripture but had no problems wrestling with its meaning and even engaging in critical scholarship (Samuel Fisher springs to mind here but he was not alone) - and such Friends were at the heart, not on the periphery, and obedient to the light of Christ. Indeed, the early Friends' claim that the Bible was not the Word of God, but that Christ was the Word, and the text the words of God, led them to clash with their contemporaries over exactly such matters.

Anyway, I did not mean to ramble on but to say I agree with much that you write and to thank you for writing it.
Comment by Robb Yurisko on 4th mo. 3, 2012 at 10:33pm

I feel your words here Friend Scott!  I feel we see things in a very very similar fashion.  I hope you can make it to LEYM this year so I can spend some time with you in discussion and Worship.  Your daughter came to the Teen Retreat at Earlham last month that I coordinated.  I hope to come to Michigan for our Teen Retreat in the fall.  In Christ, Robb


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