The twofold mission of Friends (Marty Grundy)

I had a conversation with a Friend today who had led a book group at our meeting recently. They read God's Politics by Jim Wallis. She said there was a regular group of about 12, a third of whom were into the politics of it, a third of whom despaired of anything to do with national or global politics, and a third of whom didn't believe in God and wanted to criticize anything to do with organized religion!

It struck me as odd that a person who was so disgusted with organized religion would (a) show up at a Quaker meeting regularly, and (b) read a book called God's Politics.

The answer to (a) is that we unprogrammed liberal Quakers are the least "organized" of the organized religions. Sometimes to our detriment, like when we do a worse job of organizing a Quaker children's program than we would a political rally for children's rights, but that's a different rant.

My Friend's answer to (b) was that, hey, they wanted other people to talk to and this was a nice group of people to hang out with.

I was left thinking about the creative tension involved with being a hospitable, welcoming place, including for "religious refugees," while at the same time being a community where we can support, both individually and collectively, growing together in the Light, to quote Will T.

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I typed the following passage up some time ago to hold in reserve. I'm publishing it now in light of the conversation today.

It's by Martha Paxson Grundy, from an essay called "Christ Teaching Us," published in Walk Worthy of Your Calling, edited by Peggy Senger Parsons and Margery Post Abbott, p. 130. (Buy it at Quaker Books of FGC!)

My vision of the mission God has given to unprogrammed Friends has been twofold. The first part is to provide a "gateway" for seekers and social activists....

But the other half of our mission is to invite those who enter the "gateway" into a growing, deepening experience of a Quakerism that is more than an absence of the things some seekers have rejected. We have a vision provided by our seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors whose lives were radically changed because they moved into increasingly compltee obedience to Christ.... The half of our mission that involves living into this vision is not done very well. I meet people who are hungry for increased authenticity--for posessing God's Truth and not just professing it, or assuming that because we are Quakers we automatically have it. If our meetings are content to stop at the "gateway," these people will go elsewhere, because they will be fed. That breaks my heart because the Quaker vision, as it was experienced and can be lived with newness now, has so much that answers the anguish of our times.

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Simon St. Laurent is posting excerpts from H. Larry Ingle's First Among Friends over at Light and Silence. I found this post to illustrate how early Friends answered the anguish of their times.

I find many of the Quaker blogs to be living into the search for authenticity that Marty writes about. Some use the language of Christianity. Some use the language of the Light. Some use the language of non-theism, or "atheology" as James Riemermann called it. I'm not so bothered by the differences in language. I'm excited by the willingness to reveal, to share, to be vulnerable, to seek together in love.


Physical Mental and Spiritual Health of Children

A week ago Friday I attended the annual regional conference of the Bay Area Open Space Council.

One featured speaker, Ray Minjares, is a grad student at UC Berkeley in public health. He gave a talk on the public health costs of poorly planned growth; i.e., Sprawl! (See my post Supersize Me! The Housing Problem as a Spiritual Matter, too.) This is a necessary and important conversation for the environmental community to be having with planners and with public health professionals.

Another featured speaker was Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder..

He was an unassuming but very powerful speaker, thanks to his ideas. And slogans! He said he resisted the publisher's desire to take the phrase "nature deficit disorder" from the book and elevate it to the title. "That just shows how much I know about marketing," he said.

Another great slogan: "No child left inside!"

Cheers and clapping. "That's my only guaranteed applause line," he said.

He finds this issue resonates with nearly everyone. A "doorway issue," where people can walk through the door together even if they don't agree on much. And a "wedge issue," where environmentalists can peel off support from people who would otherwise appear to be opponents.

Louv related a story about the woods near where he grew up, how he felt he owned those woods. Yet he had no idea those woods were in any way connected to any other woods, or that there might be forests in trouble in other parts of the world. Today, the reverse is true: Lots of kids know about the problems of the Amazon rain forest, but few of them could tell you when they last stood in the woods and simply looked at leaves.

Louv also talked about writing a chapter on the impact on children's spiritual health of not having enough nature nearby. He said he was very careful how he wrote it, because he didn't want to offend Christian conservatives (and thereby have them miss the point of the book). He had a neighbor who is a conservative Christian read it, and she liked it. He hasn't received any negative comments about that chapter yet.

I was browsing through Flickr today for photos of where I grew up, and found some lovely ones here and here. I was blessed to live in an exurb where there were still small working farms nearby, and woods in the backyard. Now, I count my sons lucky that we live across the street from a park where there is a variety of form: tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields, playground, and also hills, paths among bushes, and lots of trees.


Describing Quaker Faith

I knew a birthright Friend on the East Coast a dozen years ago who had grown up in the Albany area, and was then living in Manhattan, just a few blocks away from me. We were near the 15th Street Monthly Meeting. Yet he didn't attend much if ever. In fact, I met Michael at a Friends Committee on National Legislation meeting in Washington, DC.

I'll never forget the intense conversation another Friend and I had with him as we walked around the neighborhood near the conference center one evening. We were talking about some aspect of Quakerism.

"I have friends who are not at all religious, but I know they are saved!" he said fervently at one point.

I almost wanted to back away from him. What was a person who'd grown up Quaker doing talking about whether people were "saved"? And feeling so intensely convinced of the Truth he was conveying -- they were saved -- and that it mattered so much to him? His energy and intensity and conviction burned into me. We never did have much contact, but I do remember that encounter.

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Over at Growing Together in the Light, Will T. writes in this post, "I do not mean to imply that we should have a creed or statement of belief but that we need to find a core understanding of Quakerism that we at least agree to wrestle with to be able to continue as a religious community."

I agree! And just how are we to define that core understanding, when many of us have such different vocabularies? Most of the time I think we're describing much the same thing, from different vantage points. But are we? It seems like all of us wonder, at times.

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I recently re-read Samuel Caldwell's 11/1998 evening talk at Pendle Hill, "The Time Has Come to Choose." The choice he posits is between Quaker faith, as against Quaker culture (full text available here). I liked what he had to say so much that I hand-wrote it into my journal, and now I'm retyping it rather than copy it:

God gives to every human being to every human being who comes into the world – regardless of race, religion, gender, or station – a measure of the eternal Light to be inwardly guided by on a daily basis. That Inner Light is supernatural, personal, universal, saving, eternal, persistent, and pure. The chief end of religious life is to learn to listen to and act upon the promptings of this Light under the authority of God and within the bonds of human community. Those who learn to heed the promptings of this Light come to be “saved” – that is, they come into fullness and wholeness of life and right relationship with God, themselves, the universe, and one another. Those who resist, ignore, or otherwise deny the workings of this pure spirit within them, though they profess themselves to be religious, are “condemned” – that is, they become alienated from God, from themselves, from the universe, and from one another.

That’s it. That’s the whole enchilada.

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It was Caldwell's definition of "saved" and "condemned" that had me remembering Michael from New York. These are terms I resonate with. And the agency of free will in choosing one over the other is clear. God has given us that ability, and waits in expectant worship for us to find the Way.

Similarly, Will T.'s "This is Eternal Life" speaks to me in a way I might not have been able to hear well a dozen years ago. I found it breathtaking.

What do you think? What is your core understanding? Where do you find the Life, the Truth, and the Way?