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.


Anonymous said...

An example of how this matters:

Many Friends, even ones who don't dress "plain," are concerned about how their clothes are manufactured. Were the workers paid a living wage? Were they treated decently, etc? However, if we continue to discern our actions regarding this on an individual level, we may feel better about ourselves but we will not actually impact the garment industry. Changing the way clothing is made will require action on a systemic level, a corporate discernment and witness.

Lorcan said...

Well... I stood out quite a bit when I went from dressing plain to dressing formally plain, broadbrim, etc... more was made of it than of Friends who showed up for meeting wearing military jackets, hmmm... Well, I think these times are calling more to this witness and I think it ... well... feels comfy! I don't think plain dress will make huge impact on the garment industry, but to witness is to plant seeds, others will find other ways to impact...
Glad to have discovered thy blog through Amanda's. I'm adding thy link to my blog's links...
Thyne in the light

Liz Opp said...

Glad to stop by and read this post, Chris M. Thanks for guiding me to it!

You are right that you and I seem to write about a similar theme, the corporate or collective nature of Quakerism.

You ask some wonderful questions about the nature of discerning leadings, how a meeting might "come under the weight" of them, and what the responsibility is of a clearness committee that wishes to bring something to the meeting for its consideration.

And, like you, I am "encouraged by the seeking we are doing together." I would add that I am encouraged by the finding we are doing, too!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Anonymous said...

"The later books of the scriptures remind me vividly that apocalyptic, fundamentalist Christians have a lot of textual support for some of their positions."

Would you/they have anything other than Biblical support for some of your/their positions? I would suggest that you have the flaming chariot before the horse here.

Lorcan said...

I am sorry if this is off topic. There is an emergeny in the Quaker community, please read the following, thy Friend - lor

http://freethecaptivesnow.org/ <- click the hot link

-----Forwarded Message-----
From: CHUCKFAGER@aol.com
Sent: Dec 2, 2005 12:15 PM
To: qpr@quaker.org
Subject: Free Tom Fox! New Website & ACTION Steps

Dear Friend--

We are Quakers and admirers of Tom Fox, kidnapped in Iraq with three other
peaceworkers on Nov. 26. Please join us in taking action aimed at helping free
them, safely and soon. Joining together through the web, we can keep their
plight and innocence before the world, and their captors.

To this end, we have put up a new website: _http://freethecaptivesnow.org/_

We believe that the most help those outside Iraq can be to these prisoners
is to make clear to the world, and especially their captors, that they were in
Iraq NOT as spies, military contractors, or even missionaries, but as
unarmed advocates of peace, justice, and reconciliation.

They have done no wrong, and deserve to be free and safe. We call on their
captors to let them go, now.

If you agree, here are the specific steps we advocate. Time is of the

1. Visit the website: _www.freethecaptivesnow.org_
(http://www.freethecaptivesnow.org/) There you can sign a special petition page, aimed at the captors.
You can also link there to Tom Fox's Iraq blog.

2. Hold a public vigil or prayer service focused on the call, expressed in
your own words, to release the captives, end the occupation and stop torture.
Join with like-minded groups, and invite the media to attend and report on
your action.

3. Write to newspapers, call in to radio shows, and tell them of the
innocence of these peaceworkers and your support for their immediate release.
Mention the website!

4. Send emails to the feedback pages of media such as Al-Jazeera, Al Arabiya
and other major national and international media, especially in the Gulf
region (any other links??), repeating the call to free the captives.

5. If you are part of a group or church with a peace and justice emphasis,
ask them to join this effort in whatever public way is appropriate to their

6. Let us know what you are doing.

7. VERY IMPORTANT - Pass this message on! Tell your friends about the
_www.freethecaptivesnow.org_ (http://www.freethecaptivesnow.org/) website,
petition, and action suggestions..

With your email help, we can quickly reach supporters of peace and justice
throughout the world. Together our voices can make a powerful chorus for
freeing the captives and ending the war.

As this urgent effort continues, we'll be updating the site. They have done
no wrong, and deserve to be free and safe. We call on their captors to let
them go, now.

Thank you and Peace,

Chuck Fager & John Stephens


From Lorcan Otway

Please pass this along, if any can translate the following into Arabic, please do me the honor of so doing. I am placing this letter into many hands, in hope it will reach those for whom it is intended.

An Open Letter to our Brothers holding Tom Fox and other CPT members in Iraq:

Dear Brothers in the one God:

It is early morning in America. I am a Quaker and I am trying to find words to stay your hand. I can only say that hatred is blind and love is unconditional.

Many people from our nation have come to your nation in blind hatred and killed innocent people. Tom Fox is not one of these people. He came to your nation with all his human fears, because his love was unconditional. He came to ask his own people not to kill you. He came not to judge you, innocent or guilty, but to say live together in peace and find a better way. He did not come to change your government, but to change our own people's hearts towards you.

He came to your country in the same light that Rachel Corrie went to Palestine to stand in the way of Israeli tractors destroying Palestinian homes. To spare Tom Fox and his companions is to show the Israeli people that it was wrong take the young life of Rachael Corrie.

I ask you to stay your hand, because we will still love you, no less or no more, if you break our hearts by taking the life of these good people who love you.

I ask you to stay your hand because you can. When you stand before your God, next to the American who wore an army uniform, next to the one who drove the tractor that killed Rachael Corrie, and our God asks each of you, why have you taken the lives of innocents, what difference will there be in your answer? When, some day, and I pray after a long life of loving works, Tom stands before our God and is asked why he placed his life in your hands, I think you know his answer. Because hatred is blind and love is unconditional.

"Whoever has saved a life, it will be as if he has saved the life of all mankind" (Quran 5:32)

Gods love and mercy to thee

In unmovable Friendship

Lorcan Otway

A member of the committee of Ministry and Counsel for the New York Quarterly Meeting
of the Religious Society of Friends
also known as Quakers.