Confusing “Quaker Faith” for God and worshipping ourselves

Some­times my Quak­er Ranter posts dry up for awhile. I con­sole myself that I’m doing enough giv­ing out the “dai­ly read­ing list of Quak­er posts”:/quaker, read­ing through my new old Quak­er book col­lec­tion (Samuel Bow­nas just vis­it­ed the “meet­ing I’m attend­ing most fre­quent­ly these days”:http://www.pym.org/pym_mms/middletownpa_cdq.php!) and work­ing my new “advance­ment and out­reach “:www​.FGC​quak​er​.org/ao job – oh, and of course there’s also “the family”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/martin_kelley/40269563/! But you could also just fol­low my train of thought by look­ing over my shoul­der at com­ments made at oth­er sites. Over the last few days the Quak­er blo­gos­phere has had a num­ber of inter­est­ing posts. Here’s a cobble-together of posts and com­ments that have spo­ken to me about the inher­ent Quak­er snare of con­fus­ing our “Quak­er faith” for God.
Over on Kwak­er­saur, David M “shares some renew­al queries for his year­ly meeting”:http://kwakersaur.blogspot.com/2005/11/consultation-and-renewal.html. “Nan­cy A”:http://nancysapology.blogspot.com detect­ed a “sense an over­all fatigue” in them and “Beppe”:http://beppeblog.blogspot.com/ agreed, ask­ing if the seemingly-simple answers to these sorts of queries require that we first have the much harder-to-come-by “under­stand­ing [of] who we are.”
One of the queries goes “What does our Quak­er faith ask us to DO?” _Eeeyyaa-aa-yaaaaawwwn_. My favorite Quak­er committee-meeting trick of late con­sists of replace all the “we”-like phras­es with _God_. How about “What does God ask us to DO?” (Just a quick tes­ti­mo­ny: I love David’s work and I val­ue his won­der­ful online min­istry. Any time he wants to come down to Philly to tend to our flock with talk of Quak­er renew­al, he’s wel­come!! I’m sure every­one on the Con­sul­ta­tion and Renew­al Work­ing Group is deep­er than the queries would indi­cate and sus­pect that this is an exam­ple of the Quak­er cor­po­rate dumbing-down ten­den­cy that’s prac­ti­cal­ly our modus operandi.)
All this ties into a great post from AJ Schwanz, “Can I Say I’m Emerg­ing If I Haven’t Emerged or Quak­er If I Haven’t Quaked?”:http://ajschwanz.com/index.php/2005/11/07/can-i-say-im-emerging-if-i-havent-emerged-or-quaker-if-i-havent-quaked/,. Here’s a taste:
bq. Part of me has thought of shed­ding my Quak­er pin. How can I use it?: have I ever quaked with the pow­er of God? Shed­ding my dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion label cer­tain­ly would sup­port the idea that “there’s real­ly only one church, but lots of meet­ing places.” Par­tic­u­lar­ly in this town where the Quak­er col­lege is per­ceived as pret­ty insu­lar, would I have dif­fer­ent inter­ac­tions with folks if I sim­ply said “I’m a fol­low­er of Christ” rather than a “Friend”? What would I miss out on? What would be gained?
Paul L implic­it­ly address­es the ques­tion of shed­ding the Quak­er pin in his “review of Punshon’s Rea­sons for Hope”:http://showerofblessings.blogspot.com/2005/11/reasons-for-hope.html, where he asks if “Quak­ers have a unique niche to fill in the Chris­t­ian and broad­er social landscape.”
Are we Quak­er because it’s com­fort­able, because our friends are, because the build­ings are cool and the social hour cof­fee hot? Or the oppo­site: are we Friends because we real­ly liked “Barclay’s Apology”:http://www.quakerbooks.org/get/333004 but couldn’t care less for the messy­ness of flesh-and-blood reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty? Anoth­er Quak­er blog­ger recent­ly sent me a pri­vate email in which he con­fid­ed: “My main ques­tion of late to Quak­ers is: what is so remark­able about Quak­ers? I some­times have to be a pain-in-the-ass in order to ask these ques­tions.” That seems like both a good ques­tion and a impor­tant meet­ing role.
There’s some­thing about liv­ing both with­in a com­mu­ni­ty and out­side it. The real deal isn’t in any of our human insti­tu­tions, the­o­ries or notions yet it is through these that we live out our faith. Christ as tran­scen­dent every­thing­ness and Christ as a par­tic­u­lar guy in a par­tic­u­lar place speak­ing a par­tic­u­lar lan­guage and liv­ing a par­tic­u­lar life. The pull between the eter­nal and pecu­liar is the very essence of the human con­di­tion. The same voice that spoke to the prophets and apos­tles speaks to us today, if only we have ears to hear. How can we learn to lessen the vol­ume on our own self-kudos long enough to hear the divine whisperer?

  • I can’t describe how delight­ful I find this:
    “My favorite Quak­er committee-meeting trick of late con­sists of replace all the “we”-like phras­es with God. How about ‘What does God ask us to DO?’”
    And I find even more delight in being a mem­ber of a reli­gious soci­ety that is occa­sion­al­ly able to hold out for an answer.

  • Glad to learn you have found a well to drink from, in terms of attend­ing anoth­er meet­ing more fre­quent­ly. Seems like God is bring­ing you some sweet times these days, with job, fam­i­ly, and meeting.
    Blessings,
    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  • Barb Smith

    How dare you use the word God in a Quak­er rant !! Geez. Are you a crypto-Calvinist !! For Geezsakes keep it down. Keep it Light. Keep it vague. What drew me in to the Quakers…will it ulti­mate­ly dri­ve me out !! I need a drink, like a good Scotch Pres­by­ter­ian. Per­haps it does come down to Faith and Prac­tice. “Doc­trine is no sub­sti­tute for a love affair of the heart.” I dont have it right, but where is your fruit? Per­haps that’s what is most impor­tant? How will we be judged by God anyway?

  • Whew, the peanut gallery’s at it again, I need to put some spam block on this com­ment system.…..
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    .….….….… thanks Barb (I think). Your com­ment reminds me of Kwakersaur’s recent Morn­ing Friends post on ortho­prax­is vs. ortho­doxy, which every­one should go read…

  • Barb

    Mar­tin, Mar­tin, Martin…I am not a peanut gallery. I might be throw­ing peanuts how­ev­er. I hope you see that I am rant­i­ng and kid­ding at the same time. I read your blog with great joy, and a big part of it is because you acknowl­edge and use the G-word. Anoth­er joy is what you share as you grow. I get excit­ed and so I express myself, but not so much in the heavy self-serious way of many seri­ous. Look upon me as a punk rock­er drown­ing in a sea of singer/songwriters. I do want to stave off mid­dle age for as long as I can.

  • Mar­tin writes: “One of the queries goes ‘What does our Quak­er faith ask us to DO?’ Eeeyyaa-aa-yaaaaawwwn. My favorite Quak­er committee-meeting trick of late con­sists of replace all the ‘we’-like phras­es with God. How about ‘What does God ask us to DO?’”
    The writer in me sug­gests a third option: “What should we do?”
    Can we sim­ply strug­gle with all of our being – a being the best part of which, in Quak­er tra­di­tion, is the voice of God – to dis­cern and do what is right, and let God wor­ry about who is respon­si­ble? Hon­est­ly, I think the claim that our work is God’s allows us to both evade per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty for bad out­comes, and to evade the fact that we will make errors, again and again and again.
    Yes, there is a voice (call it what you will), and yes, we must attend to that voice faith­ful­ly. But let us nev­er assume that, by invok­ing the name of God or Jesus, we have tran­scend­ed human error.

  • dstiller

    What book(s) would you rec­om­mend I read in order to under­stand the Quak­er faith and life.

    • @David: I have some rec­om­mend­ed books up at the QuakerQuaker
      Bookspage.