About "On the Quaker Doctrine of the Holy Spirit": Plus ca change...

Spoiler alert: This is the explanation of my previous post. I recommend you read that post and comments before proceeding.

To summarize:

Friend 1 writes a post about his understanding of the Quaker view of the Holy Spirit. Friends 2, 3, and 4 respond in the comments with criticism, praise, explications, and nuances. Friend 1 replies and attempts to address, briefly, the points raised by the other three.

A Quaker blog comment thread, right?

Wrong! As Liz Opp guessed, it's from another source altogether.

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Specifically, it's excerpted from Quaker Religious Thought, Volume 1, Number 1, from spring 1959. Friend 1 was Howard Brinton, author of Friends for 300 Years among many others; Friend 2 the late Lewis Benson (LSB), the founder of New Foundation Fellowship; Friend 3 was Thomas S. Brown (TSB), then the principal of Barnesville Friends School and still listed as an emeritus trustee of the Westtown Friends School (class of '29!); and Friend 4 was Charles F. Thomas, then pastor of Friends Meeting in Winchester, Ind. and who passed away a few years ago at 94.

What struck me was how similar the format was to a blog: Essay, three comments by others, then a response by the original author. And how similar in spirit the content is to some of the conversation in the Quaker blogosphere today.

Familiar names populate the masthead of the journal. Wilmer Cooper, Hugh Barbour, T. Canby Jones, Paul Lacey, and Arthur O. Roberts were all on the steering committee, as were Benson, Brown, and Thomas. The editorial committee included Benson, Brown, and Thomas, as well as Kenneth Boulding, Roberts, and Douglas Steere.

I hope Friends will indulge my experiment that was not quite in keeping with a single standard of blogging. The elevated style of writing was in itself a clue that this was not really a typical blog post.

Oh, and just for the record, Liz Opp and Gregg Koskela are both real bloggers leaving real comments! I know because I've met them both! :)


Quaker Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

In my reading recently, I came across this from a Friend. I hope you will indulge me as I reproduce pieces of the essay. Please also be aware that certain features of this post are ... well, I'll just say, presented in a mysterious and less than straightforward way. I'll explain the mystery in a future post soon, after seeing how this post is received, and what happens in the comments...

The Quaker Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The Society of Friends arose from an immediate, living experience of the Holy Spirit. This was not a new discovery. It was a rediscovery of a truth shared in some degree by all Christians and specially emphasized by many of the reformers in seventeenth century England.

A form of church government based on primacy of the Spirit recognizes no final human authority; God’s Spirit is the ultimate authority. Vocal ministry in the meeting for worship should be exercised only under the fresh and immediate anointing of the Spirit.

The means by which the Quakers, though positing the supremacy of the Spirit, were able to avoid religious anarchy and confusion is little understood outside the Society of Friends.

The Quakers avoided extreme individualism in two ways. Following the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, they identified the Inward Light with the Logos, the Word of God revealed through the Christ of the New Testament.

The second method of avoiding religious anarchy grew out of the experience of the Spirit as inspiring the group, conceived as an organic whole. The revelation of truth to the group took precedence over what an individual might consider to be his own sense of truth. To attain unity in the group a genuine waiting worship and inward searching is prerequisite. This form of church government which places authority in the group as a whole, rather than in any individual, permits the supremacy of the Spirit within individuals and also assures a fair degree of order and continuity in the Religious Society. There should be enough individualism to permit a wholesome variety of opinion, yet not so much as to cause disorder and confusion. The Society of Friends has been in its healthiest condition when there has been neither too much nor too little uniformity.

The terms “Christ Within” and “Inward Christ” have a warmer, more personal quality than the more abstract words such as “Light,” or even “Life.” The same personal quality is characteristic of the “still small voice” of God. Yet the more impersonal terms, such as the “authority of Truth,” are also frequently used.

The same indefiniteness and ambiguities appear in the New Testament. It is possible in Paul, as in Fox, to find more than one theological position. The so-called liberal will stress the Eternal Word and the so-called evangelical may tend to emphasize the Word made Flesh, though both are using the same phrases.


Offensive or Amusing?

You decide:

Of course, you'll want to see how much your blog is valued at. My wife's is worth five times as much!


Scrolls - a Firstday School Lesson

Two Sundays ago I did a lesson on scrolls in Firstday School. I copied a few passages from www.bible.com, found the collection of cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls, cut several long strips of paper from the big roll of butcher paper, pulled out a stapler and the pot of crayons, and we were good to go!

When I said we were going to do a lesson on scrolls, Henry said, "You mean, we're going to eat the scrolls?"

"Actually," I said, "that's exactly what the first passage says! Ezekiel had to eat the scroll." He was stunned and happy about that.

Ezekiel 3: And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel." So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Then he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it." So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
He then said to me: "Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them.

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The four boys, ranging in age from 4 to 13, loved taking the butcher paper and stapling it to two tubes to make long scrolls. They decorated them -- after going through the entire pot of crayons to find the ones that were scented, with scents like "forest green," "baseball mitt brown" and "washed dog beige"!
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Here are the other two passages I read:

Jeremiah 36: Baruch went to them with the scroll in his hand. They said to him, "Sit down, please, and read it to us." So Baruch read it to them. They looked at each other in fear and said to Baruch, "We must report all these words to the king." Then they asked Baruch, "Tell us, how did you come to write all this? Did Jeremiah dictate it?"
"Yes," Baruch replied, "he dictated all these words to me, and I wrote them in ink on the scroll."
Then the officials said to Baruch, "You and Jeremiah, go and hide. Don't let anyone know where you are."
...[T]he king commanded them to arrest Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet. But the LORD had hidden them.

Luke 4: He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

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For my lessons, I always compile whatever Biblical quotes I'm using on a page and decorate it with some relevant clip art. The scrolls were fun to find and print.


Postcard from FGC Gathering 2006

During my workshop at FGC Gathering in July, "Finding Ourselves in the Bible," Krista had us write postcards to ourselves. (I can't find the 2006 Gathering on the FGC website any more, so I'll just link to this dispatch I wrote while there.) She faithfully mailed them to us on August 19th. Here's what mine said:

  1. God is, and God is a mystery. Quakers explain the divine in different ways.
  2. The Light of the Divine is available to all humans ("Inner Light") and shines in all creation. Truth continues to be revealed to humans.
  3. From this we develop practices that support individual and community transformation:
    • Meeting for worship
    • Meeting for business
    • Testimonies

Seminar on attitudes toward money

This is the outline of a seminar on Friends' attitudes toward money, held at San Francisco Monthly Meeting, 8/20/06. This Sunday after meeting for worship, I'm supposed to be facilitating a followup session on stewardship of the Meeting's resources -- and of our own personal resources if I have anything to say about it!

So I thought I'd procrastinate instead of doing further planning for that, and post this outline here from the previous workshop instead.

Friends' Attitudes Toward Money

Brainstorm: what one word comes to mind when I say the word “money”? Then after we’ve thrown up fifty or so words, together, we evaluate each as positive, negative, or neutral. If one person says positive and another negative, then it is recorded as both.

  • Positive words: 34 // 8 of which where the word was only positive
  • Negative: 36 // 10 of which were only negative
  • Neutral: 22 // 5 of which were only neutral
Ruth, our facilitator, noted that our meeting is more balanced than some where she has led this workshop. Others have been more noticeably tilted toward the negative.

Small group discussion

  1. Query: What were attitudes toward money in your family of origin? // Discuss // Reportback
  2. Query: Where did your attitudes to money come from? // Discuss // Reportback
  3. Query: Woolman said, “[Let us] turn all that we possess into a channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.” How does this resonate with you? // Discuss // Reportback

There was some really great discussion in our small groups. Each group definitely had more words to add to the list from the original brainstorm. "The Depression" was a particularly important one, reflecting our parents' or grandparents' experience.

Ruth read three quotes: Book of Matthew (where your treasure is, there will your heart be); Mary Cross, from The Price of Faith; and something by Jacob Needleman.
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What do you and your Meeting have to say about money?


How Can We Know?

I recently found a funny little book on the shelf in the SF Public Library. I was there to work in a study carrel after an all-morning meeting downtown and a surprise encounter with a mentor in the library cafĂ© over lunch. I went to the religion section and to browse for “just a bit.” Immediately I saw a thin-spined little book, How Can We Know? An Essay on the Christian Religion by A.N. Wilson. I read both his Paul: The Mind of the Apostle and Jesus: A Life (or whatever it’s called) and enjoyed them. Though he’s not above speculation way beyond what “scholarship” would consider plausible, his imaginative take on Paul, especially, helped bring him to life for me.

Momentarily tempted to continue browsing, I realized I had found what I was supposed to be looking for, and left for a carrel. I managed to wait until after working hours to read it. I share here a few passages that I found relevant to the Quakersphere.

An important part of the essay is a defense of outward communion. Here’s what he has to say about Fox and the Quaker position (p. 58):

“The followers of George Fox, dismayed by the fact that such fury could be provoked by a discussion of the Sacrament, such disobedience to the peacable commands of Christ, abandoned the sacramental life altogether, preferring to commune in their own chamber and be still; to cultivate their own ‘inner light,’ which they called ‘the candle of the Lord.’

“The Quaker silence is surely preferable to the crackling fires that burnt Ridley or Latimer… But Quakerism ignores the tradition which Saint Paul received and passed on to the Corinthians, a tradition recognized by almost all Christian people to this day. ‘Do this for a commemoration of me.’”

Though out of context, I appreciated this quote (p. 99): “The chief thing wrong with Christianity is that it proclaims the existence of an externalised, unbelievable God.”

I also liked this passage about truth (p. 108):
“The mind and heart of man must be loyal to the truth above all things, for truth alone will save us from fantasy, self-delusion and lunacy. It is not religious to pretend things happened which did not happen; nor to claim that things are the case when they plainly are not. And yet many people have abaondeond religion because they thought this was what religion required and did; and many religious people cling to their old certitudes event hought they know them to be untrue. Just as our will are feeble and we can not follow the Way spelt out in the teachings of Christ, so our minds and imaginations are timorous when confronted with the Truth. Following him who is the Way we discover approaches not only to our moral dilemmas but also to the revelation of who we are and of the purpose of our lives. Following him who is the Truth we discover that we must not resist our duty to think, but that thought is not the only process by which we experience the Truth. ‘Christ likes us to prefer truth to him,’ Simone Weil wrote, ‘because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.’”

Reference: A.N. Wilson, How Can We Know? An Essay on the Christian Religion (New York: Atheneum, 1985).