Toward Collective Quaker Witness

I’m interested in the concept of “convergent Friends” that Robin M. has recently posted about on her blog.

I’m also interested in Amanda’s essay on Halloween, about how she likes frivolity, and wonders whether and how that can be of service to God, too.

I'm definitely encouraged by the seeking we are doing together here on the Internet, as well as the reports from Friends about what's going on in their home meeting or church, in FGC workshops, and at some yearly meetings. And my friend Chris Moore-Backman just led his workshop Walking with Gandhi at Ben Lomond Quaker Center a week ago; he'll reprise it again in late January. He briefly reported it went well. (He was carrying his 2-month-old daughter who was napping and I was chasing my own boys, so it wasn't an ideal time to catch up!)

To me, these are all signs of an interesting ferment happening among and around us toward a larger and clearer sense of the Religious Society of Friends.

Yet, underlying this, what strikes me about individual Friends’ attempts to figure out their approach to witness to the love of God is just that: It is very often individual in nature. A familiar example in the blogosphere is through consideration of plain dress for our times. Of course, many Friends benefit from a group clearness process, but that process is usually framed as testing the leading of an individual Friend. How often have those clearness committees gone back to the community as a whole and said, "Friends, we believe we must strongly consider whether this Friend's leading applies to us all"? Not too often!

Even plain Friend Scott Savage, author and former publisher of Plain magazine, said that he and his family stuck out a bit in their meeting community in Ohio.

So: How do we discern our corporate witness together? When we gather in meetings for worship and meetings for worship for business, how do we allow the Spirit to move through us as a group? Do we even really try?

And: How can we discern at that level when we are like spiritual strangers to one another, even within the same unprogramed monthly meeting? (I won’t presume to speak for people’s experiences in Friends churches.) When we come from different spiritual environs and different traditions and different individual interpretations?

Paul’s letter to the Romans gave me some inspiration on this topic recently.

(Tangential Note: I’ve been reading the Greek Scriptures in reverse order, which is a fascinating way to read them, for me. The later books of the scriptures remind me vividly that apocalyptic, fundamentalist Christians have a lot of textual support for some of their positions. I tend to forget that, since I’ve always paid more attention to the Gospels, Acts, and the “authentic” Pauline epistles than the later epistles and Revelations.)

Anyway, Paul reminds us that new ways are opening: “We are released from the law, to serve God in a new way, the way of the spirit in contrast to the old way of a written code.” (Rom. 7:6)

Just as Paul was saying he was released from the Mosaic law to enter into a new and always-present relationship to God, modern folk should see themselves as released from whatever their written code may be, whichever tradition it may be from, to live into this new relationship to God and to each other.

Paul writes, “The universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and is to enter upon the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Friends, let us live into that liberty, the glorious liberty.


Journey toward Convincement

I started this blog by writing about Jesus Christ Superstar because that piece has meant a lot to me for a very long time. The connection to Quakerism, or more specifically the connection to the content of the Quaker blogs that I follow, was not clear.

Yet in thinking about how I got from there to here, I thought it might make for an interesting story. In reading this version of a spiritual journey, perhaps other people will be inspired to write a bit about their own. In some ways, I’m skeptical of “Sharing Our Spiritual Journeys” types of workshops. It almost seems like such workshops can present a “lowest common demoninator” approach to Quakerism, in meetings where the only thing we can all agree on is that we all have a path to travel—as individuals!

Don't get me wrong: It is absolutely vital for us to talk to one another about the individual paths we're traveling, both in person at our meetings and here in the blogosphere. Of course, that's sometimes hard to do over coffee after a deep meeting for worship: "Hey, how's your soul faring? Whoops, my three-year-old just spilled his juice! Bye!" It can be easier via the blogs, I think that's one of their attractions: the conversation is set up for focus and insight.

So while that discussion is vital, I’m more interested in exploring our common path together as the Religious Society of Friends.

That said, sharing our stories or autobiographies does help us gain new appreciation for one another as human beings and as fellow travelers. And that can help point us down the common path toward forming and deepening our collective Quaker identity. (Thanks to LizOpp for the phraseology, of course.)

So I’ll start this as an occasional series, and see where it goes and how way opens or doesn’t.

For now, I'll just say I started in life as a Presbyterian, nominally. We went to church in a very modernistic, almost cubist church constructed in the late 1960s, and which was somewhat controversial in the suburban neighborhood. I have a number of fond memories from that time, including having as a Sunday school teacher Patty Gauch, a children's book author and editor, and who read us her book This Time, Tempe Wick? right after it was published; being chewed out by Big Sister 1 for going pee-pee in the creek nearby; and being crushed when I missed a documentary film on the Dead Sea Scrolls, because I thought it was about some monsters, the "dead seescrolls"!

By the time I was about 12, though, my mom asked if I wanted to go to church any more, and I said no. By then my parents were kind of burned out on the church, too, I think (my dad had been an elder for a while). I was pretty sure I couldn't believe in the God-of-Heaven-above as per the stereotypes, but I didn't really think about it much, either.

In any case, I'm grateful to have had some exposure to the church community at a young age, and I still have my Revised Standard Version of the Bible I got when I was 10 or so. But it lay mostly untouched until I was a senior in college. I hope to say more soon.