For other uses, see Light (disambiguation)

Even though my last post was a five min­ute quick­ie, it gen­er­at­ed a num­ber of com­ments. One ques­tion that came up was how aware indi­vid­u­al Friends are about the speci­fic Quak­er mean­ings of some of the com­mon Eng­lish words we use — “Light,” “Spir­it,” etc.(dis­am­bigua­tion in Wiki-speak). Mar­shall Massey expressed sad­ness that the terms were used uncom­pre­hend­ing­ly and I sug­gest­ed that some Friends know­ing­ly con­fuse the gener­ic and speci­fic mean­ings. Mar­shall replied that if this were so it might be a cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence based on geog­ra­phy.

If it’s a cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence, I sus­pect it’s less geo­graph­ic than func­tion­al. I was speak­ing of the class of pro­fes­sion­al Friends (heavy in my parts) who pur­pose­ful­ly obscure their lan­guage. We’re very good at talk­ing in a way that sounds Quak­er to those who do know our speci­fic lan­guage but that sounds gener­i­cal­ly spir­i­tu­al to those who don’t. Some­times this obscu­ran­tism is used by peo­ple who are repelled by tra­di­tion­al Quak­erism but want to advance their ideas in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, but more often (and more dan­ger­ous­ly) it’s used by Friends who know and love what we are but are loathe to say any­thing that might sound con­tro­ver­sial.

I’ve told the sto­ry before of a Friend and friend who said that every­time he uses the word com­mu­ni­ty he’s mean­ing the body of Christ. New­com­ers hear­ing him and read­ing his arti­cles could be for­given for think­ing that com­mu­ni­ty is our reason-for-being, indeed: what we wor­ship. The prob­lem is that ten years lat­er, they’ll have signed up and built up an iden­ti­ty as a Friend and will get all offend­ed when some­one sug­gests that this com­mu­ni­ty they know and love is real­ly the body of Christ.

Lib­er­al Friends in the pub­lic eye need to be more hon­est in their con­ver­sa­tion about the Bib­li­cal and Chris­tian roots of our reli­gious fel­low­ship. That will scare off poten­tial mem­bers who have been scarred by the acts of those who have false­ly claimed Christ. I’m sor­ry about that and we need to be as gen­tle and hum­ble about this as we can. But hope­ful­ly they’ll see the fruits of the true spir­it in our open­ness, our warmth and our giv­ing and will real­ize that Chris­tian fel­low­ship is not about tel­e­van­ge­lists and Pres­i­den­tial hyp­ocrites. May­be they’ll even­tu­al­ly join or may­be not, but if they do at least they won’t be sur­prised by our iden­ti­ty. Before some­one com­ments back, I’m not say­ing that Chris­tian­i­ty needs to be a test for indi­vid­u­al mem­ber­ship but new mem­bers should know that every­thing from our name (“Friends of Christ”) on down are root­ed in that tra­di­tion and that that for­mal mem­ber­ship does not include veto pow­er over our pub­lic iden­ti­ty.

There is room out there for spiritual-but-not-religious com­mu­ni­ties that aren’t built around a col­lec­tive wor­ship of God, don’t wor­ry about any par­tic­u­lar tra­di­tion and focus their energies and group iden­ti­ty on lib­er­al social caus­es. But I guess part of what I won­der is why this doesn’t col­lect under the UUA ban­ner, whose Prin­ci­ples and Pur­pos­es state­ment is already much more syn­cretis­tic and post-religious than even the most lib­er­al year­ly meet­ing. Evolv­ing into the “oth­er UUA” would mean aban­don­ing most of the valu­able spir­i­tu­al wis­dom we have as a peo­ple.

I think there’s a need for the kind of strong lib­er­al Chris­tian­i­ty that Friends have prac­ticed for 350 years. There must be mil­lions of peo­ple parked on church bench­es every Sun­day morn­ing look­ing up at the pul­pit and think­ing to them­selves, “sure­ly this isn’t what Jesus was talk­ing about.” Look, we have Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians com­ing out again­st the war! And let’s face it, it’s only a mat­ter of time before “Emer­gent Chris­tians” real­ize how lame all that post-post can­dle wor­ship is and look for some­thing a lit­tle deep­er. The times are ripe for “Oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Friends. We have impor­tant knowl­edge to share about all this. It would be a shame if we kept qui­et.

  • Craig

    “And let’s face it, it’s only a mat­ter of time before “Emer­gent Chris­tians” real­ize how lame all that post-post can­dle wor­ship is and look for some­thing a lit­tle deep­er.”
    Mar­t­in, you crack me up! Friend, you speak my mind.
    -Craig

  • Bar­bara Smith

    Mar­t­in — I pray that you will soon be employed full time, unless you are lik­ing the free­lance life (or should I say, get­ting by in the free­lance life). I agree with what you say. I have one foot out the door of my Meet­ing, and am start­ing to go to a very small Methodist church in No’Philly with a black wom­an as pas­tor, and mixed white and black flock. The pas­tor is unabashed­ly Chris­tian and an intel­lec­tu­al, and an activist. Its lib­er­at­ing to say the word God or Christ, with­out feel­ing peo­ple inward­ly cringe. I think mod­ern Q’s are car­ry­ing the ‘tra­di­tion’ of the vague lan­guage of our Spir­it led Quak­er founders, who were try­ing to bash thru the tiny lit­tle cor­rupt box that God had been put in, and express the lim­it­less and uncatagor­i­cal (beyond ratio­nal) nature of the Divine. I think mod­ern Q’s use this ‘ambi­gu­i­ty’ to hide and to ‘not offend’ and there’s no pow­er in it. So, it is time to speak plain­ly and openly…THAT is rad­i­cal now, in the stuck in a form Quak­er ‘reli­gion with­out reli­gion’. I can hear folks say­ing “but what about con­tin­u­ing rev­e­la­tion?’ What they are say­ing is, “What about the [Christ­less] con­tin­u­ing rev­e­la­tion ?” “The one that equates all reli­gious paths as equal?” [there­fore den­i­grat­ing all reli­gions]. Yup, I’m not long with Quak­ers. I’m ready for ‘church’ again. The Q’s have helped me incred­i­bly. To heal from ‘church’ and hear from our Cre­ator myself. I will always hon­or Q-ism, the foun­da­tion, the his­to­ry, the good, bad and ugly. O heck, I’ll prob­a­bly nev­er com­plete­ly leave.

  • Hi Craig: have you ever looked at the Flickr feed of some of those E.C. events? Some guy in a cor­ner strum­ming a gui­tar by him­self while a few peo­ple do some water­col­or on top of a thrift-store cof­fee table, all lit by the flu­o­res­cent lights of the dingy base­ment their church social with the too-cool name. I mean, Quak­ers can be lame too – we have our own dingy base­ments, but at least we know we’re lame.…
    Bar­bara: noooooooo! Oh crap. Sor­ry for the lan­guage but that’s the first word that came to mind and the most appro­pri­ate. Unfor­tu­nate­ly you make my point: we’re so wor­ried about offend­ing one anoth­er that we alien­ate many of the very peo­ple who might be com­ing to us look­ing for a robust reli­gious faith. Crap again. I’m so sor­ry that Friends have failed you.

  • Dear Mar­t­in, I feel a need to say that I wrote the essay on creeds and doc­tri­nes that I post­ed to my jour­nal yes­ter­day — the essay with all the talk about ear­ly Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ty — well before I read this post­ing of yours.
    So that essay was not a reac­tion to your crit­i­cism of Friends who say “com­mu­ni­ty” as a way of being ambigu­ous. I wasn’t being ambigu­ous, any­way: when I wrote “com­mu­ni­ty”, I was say­ing what I meant.
    I under­stand you bet­ter now that you’ve writ­ten this post­ing, but I’m still not sure I agree with your diag­no­sis. When a sup­pos­ed­ly Chris­tian friend thinks “body of Christ”, but says “com­mu­ni­ty”, is the prob­lem that he is being delib­er­ate­ly ambigu­ous, or is the prob­lem that he is deny­ing his Lord?
    I think here of a sto­ry told by Jim McClen­don, con­cern­ing Clarence Jor­dan. Jor­dan, as you may know, was the founder of Koinon­ia Farm, a Chris­tian inter­ra­cial com­mu­ni­ty in rural Geor­gia, long before the civil rights move­ment began. Habi­tat for Human­i­ty grew out of Koinon­ia Farm. Any­one who’s curi­ous can read more about Clarence Jor­dan in Wikipedia, here.
    Of course, once the civil rights move­ment got rolling, Koinon­ia Farm grew con­tro­ver­sial, and came under intense attack from the big­ot­ed por­tion of the sur­round­ing pop­u­la­tion. It suf­fered an eco­nom­ic boy­cott, which cre­at­ed great hard­ship for its res­i­dents, and was even bombed.
    In the ear­ly Fifties, accord­ing to McClen­don, Clarence Jor­dan approached his lawyer broth­er Robert (who lat­er became a state sen­a­tor and jus­tice of the Geor­gia Supre­me Court), and asked him to rep­re­sent the Farm in legal mat­ters.
    I now quote McClen­don ver­ba­tim –
    “Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my polit­i­cal aspi­ra­tions. Why, if I rep­re­sent­ed you, I might lose my job, my house, every­thing I’ve got.”
    “We might lose every­thing, too, Bob.”
    “It’s dif­fer­ent for you.”
    “Why is it dif­fer­ent? I remem­ber, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sun­day, as boys. I expect when we came for­ward the preacher asked me about the same ques­tion he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Sav­ior.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”
    “I fol­low Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”
    “Could that point by any chance be — the cross?”
    “That’s right. I fol­low him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not get­ting myself cru­ci­fied.”
    “Then I don’t believe you’re a dis­ci­ple. You’re an admir­er of Jesus, but not a dis­ci­ple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admir­er not a dis­ci­ple.”
    “Well now, if every­one who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”
    “The ques­tion,” Clarence said, “is, Do you have a church?”

  • Craig

    There has got to be a Meet­ing some­where in Philadel­phia that is Christ-Centered. Is there one? If not, with so many Friends there, per­haps it is time to start a Con­ser­v­a­tive Meet­ing.
    This also brings up an issue that I’ve been won­der­ing about. With the Spir­it blow­ing among Friends in more lib­er­al Meet­ings, what can be the role of Con­ser­v­a­tive Year­ly Meeting’s such as NCYM©? OYM seems to be doing out­reach by allow­ing Meet­ings out­side of Ohio and that seems to be work­ing well.
    The only prob­lem I see is that over­sight by Month­ly Meet­ings for Prepar­a­tive Meet­ings or Wor­ship Groups would be hard given the dis­tance between the­se Meet­ings.

  • Camas­sia

    I haven’t been to a lib­er­al Quak­er meet­ing since I was six­teen, but I’m struck read­ing this by how I hear sim­i­lar com­plaints from the con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cal camp about try­ing to be “seek­er friend­ly.” Not that evan­gel­i­cal church­es are afraid to talk about Jesus, of course, but that they might hide some of the unpleas­ant stuff until after they reel you into an altar call. I remem­ber when I attend­ed a Foursquare church there were some pam­phlets for peo­ple in that sit­u­a­tion, called some­thing like, “What have I signed up for?” They cov­ered very basic Chris­tian doc­trine, stuff that I’d hope a per­son would know before com­mit­ting their lives to it.
    So I guess this isn’t strict­ly a Quak­er prob­lem, though of course dif­fer­ent church­es man­i­fest it in dif­fer­ent ways.

  • @Craig: sure, Philadel­phia meet­ings are on a con­tin­u­um. A hand­ful of the old Wilbu­rite meet­ings that have kept some­thing of their char­ac­ter and have infor­mal ties to Con­ser­v­a­tive Quak­ers else­where. What I’m talk­ing about is the dis­in­cli­na­tion of many of our more pub­lic Friends to open­ly share their under­stand­ings using the Quak­er lan­guage that I know they use. The self-editing is keep­ing us from many seek­ers who might be drawn to the Quak­er mes­sage and it’s bring­ing in peo­ple with “God” and “Christ” bag­gage who would think twice if they real­ized that many of real­ly believe this stuff.
    @Camassia: I nev­er quite thought of it that way, it is some­thing of a bait-and-switch tac­tic isn’t it? Lib­er­al Friends have equiv­a­lent print­ed mate­ri­al but some­how mem­ber­ship clear­ness com­mit­tees must be full of some _wink-wink nudge-nudge_ to the effect that it real­ly doesn’t mat­ter. Philadel­phia Year­ly Meeting’s _Faith and Practice_ is still sub­ti­tled “A Book of Chris­tian Dis­ci­pline”; in addi­tion to PYM serves many of the new­er year­ly meet­ings in the US. It seems that should be a heads-up for new­com­ers.

  • Mar­t­in,
    Thank you very much for your com­ments on my blog. It is an inter­est­ing back­ground and i’m hope­ful that it will lend itself to embrac­ing friends. I am new to the whole term con­ver­gent friends but it’s nice to be part of the con­ver­sa­tion.
    -Kris­ten.

  • Bar­bara Smith

    Wow — what a great bunch of respons­es to Martin’s post. Mar­t­in, Friends have not failed me. Friends have failed Quak­erism. I know I do this on a min­ute by min­ute basis. Your web­site is SO SO SO (did I say SO?) impor­tant. I feel so cleansed, hav­ing got my stew­ing feel­ings out on your blog. You remind me of the real­ly calm beau­ti­ful voice that used to host “Cathar­sis” on Temple’s radio Sta­tion, WRTI. Peo­ple would call in and rant, and the host would give them a forum. How uncathar­tic for the lis­ten­er, but I’m sure it did a world of good for the caller. I thank God, after all you have been thru, you are still true to your call­ing, and Q-ism. Let’s start our own meet­ing soon, shall we? I’m still in. Thank you Mar­shall Massey, for your para­ble of the Koinon­ia Farm. Pow­er­ful.

  • I wish I knew or could find the ref­er­ence in Scrip­ture: there is some­thing that has “switched on” for me in recent months, and it has to do with the query about how physi­cians do not reside or trav­el among peo­ple who are well (very loose para­phrase…).
    I acknowl­edge it would be easy for me to leave a meet­ing that does not sat­is­fy me spir­i­tu­al­ly but I know that this is not what God asks of me.
    At the same time, I am not fool­ish: if I did not have oth­er sources of reg­u­lar spir­i­tu­al nur­ture in my Quak­er life, I could not sus­tain my life in a meet­ing that strays from the prin­ci­ple of God (the Light, Christ) being at the Cen­ter…
    Bless­ings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  • @Marshall: sor­ry your com­ment didn’t come through imme­di­ate­ly. Delib­er­ate ambi­gu­i­ty or deny­ing the Lord? Frankly I’m not sure I see much of a sub­stan­tive dif­fer­ence between the two.
    Last night I watched a doc­u­men­tary on social rank among a species of Great Apes. Using that method­ol­o­gy, I think social sta­tus among lib­er­al Friends ris­es if you can speak good Quak­ere­se but drops if you sound Chris­tian. The phenomenon’s not lim­it­ed to Friends: Lib­er­al Amer­i­ca has an aching­ly strong nos­tal­gia for Chris­tian­i­ty and the root­ed­ness it promis­es but a flat-out fear of reli­gious con­vic­tion. We’ve for­got­ten that it’s pos­si­ble to be a believ­er with­out being a NASCAR-watching, Coors-swilling KKK mem­ber (pick your favorite lib­er­al stereo­type), that the solid ground of pro­gres­sive Chris­tian­i­ty has given us heroes like Mar­t­in Luther King and John Wool­man.
    @Barb: so I’m a jazz smooth talk­er am I? That’s good, as long as I’m not a smooth jazz talk­er if you catch the diff. We can coör­di­nate one of my vis­its to Mid­dle­town meet­ing some­time if you want though my sched­ule is mak­ing meeting-going rather dif­fi­cult. I think you’re right: Quak­ers often fail to live up to our own billing. We don’t need to be per­fect but we can do bet­ter than this.
    @LizOpp: The physi­cian metaphor is use­ful but I think the way you used it miss­es the point I was try­ing to raise. Recast­ing it: as a doc­tor do you always insist that everything’s fine despite all evi­dence, sim­ply because you want the patient to like you? Do you hedge and haw with your diag­noses, stress­ing the cup half full even when you know it’s almost com­plete­ly emp­ty because you don’t want to see them upset?
    If you haven’t noticed I’m not a leaver either, even after being treat­ed pret­ty shab­bi­ly and even after I real­ized that a lot of peo­ple I con­sid­ered friends were going to leave me out to dry.

  • To respond first to Liz: the line about the physi­cian is to be found at Mark 2:17, Matthew 9:12 and Luke 5:31. It is Jesus’s expla­na­tion to the Phar­isees as to why he is asso­ci­at­ing with known sin­ners rather than with them.
    Then to respond to Liz and Mar­t­in both: If we are to base our pol­i­cy on this teach­ing from the syn­op­tic gospels, then it can­not be used to jus­ti­fy con­tin­u­ing to asso­ciate with meet­ings that see noth­ing wrong with them­selves. For such meet­ings are the equiv­a­lent of the Phar­isees Jesus was declin­ing to asso­ciate with.
    Christ asso­ci­at­ed, not just with any old known sin­ners, but specif­i­cal­ly with those known sin­ners who were both­ered by the way they were liv­ing. This sense of being both­ered was their aware­ness of their own Inward Guide. Their aware­ness of their own Inward Guide made them ready for the guid­ance of Christ.
    And that is the sort of per­son we, too, should be asso­ci­at­ing with — for the com­pa­ny of such peo­ple rein­forces our own will­ing­ness to hear and be taught and cor­rect­ed by that same Guide.
    The per­fume of the san­dal tree
    is com­mu­ni­cat­ed to oth­er trees near­by:
    they become scent­ed as the san­dal itself.
    And in just the same way,
    hav­ing asso­ci­at­ed with saints,
    I have become some­what God­like myself.
     — Kabîr, Bhairo 5, from the Âdî Granth
    I … under­stand that Saint Paul was also weak in faith.… An angel stood by him at sea, and com­fort­ed him, and when he came to Rome, he was com­fort­ed as he saw the brethren come out to meet him. Here­by we see what the com­mu­nion and com­pa­ny does of such as fear God. The Lord com­mand­ed the dis­ci­ples to remain togeth­er in one place, before they received the Holy Ghost, and to com­fort one anoth­er; for Christ well knew that adver­saries would assault them.
     — Mar­t­in Luther, Table Talk, trans. William Hazlitt, §308
    All this is not to say that we should out­right shun the com­pa­ny of com­fort­able Friends. Christ didn’t out­right shun the Phar­isees. But we, like Christ, should know what our home com­mu­ni­ty is. It is the com­pa­ny of such as fear God.

  • Joe G.

    Just so you know, Mar­t­in, I do read your blog on occa­sion and still dab­ble with Quak­erQuak­er. See, I can “come out of retire­ment” for you, too!
    All good com­ments. I don’t wish to besmirch Human­ism, it has much to offer, but I think the form of Human­ism from the 1920’s through the 1960’s had a big impact on lib­er­al Quak­ers. I under­stand that the human­ists (or at least some ormost) had issues with the super­nat­u­ral, the­ism, mir­a­cles, etc. But, they equat­ed all of that to a form of Chris­tian­i­ty that was tru­ly either con­demn­ing or com­fort­able or both. May­be that was present amongst Friends back in the ear­ly 1900’s when so many were influ­enced by the mod­ern ideas blow­ing through acad­e­mia, etc?
    Then along came the 1960’s and a stronger sense of per­son­al free­dom, but also indi­vid­u­al­ism, seemed to have influ­enced Quak­erism in the U.S., too.
    Reject the con­fines of a super­nat­u­ral Chris­tian­i­ty stuck in the Mid­dle Ages + I have my own truth = ??
    Of course, one can also point at the indi­vid­u­al­ism and com­fort­able­ness of a lot of Chris­tian church­es, includ­ing quite a few evan­gel­i­cal ones, too!
    P.S. I like read­ing blogs instead of reg­u­lar­ly blogging…well, I don’t know. I’m twit­ter­ing right now at twit​ter​.com. It can’t get any eas­ier to blog than that! Ha!

  • Tim­o­thy Trav­is

    I have been think­ing a lot about the ambi­gu­i­ty of “Quak­er Speak,” late­ly, but had not con­sid­ered that some peo­ple may not use that ambi­gu­i­ty in a con­scious way to obscure what they mean to avoid con­tention or to con­scious­ly cre­ate the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion of uni­ty for some oth­er rea­son. I have been think­ing of it as some kind of iron­ic joke we are play­ing on one anoth­er – with­out even know­ing that we are doing it. Can it be a joke if no one real­ly appre­ci­ates the humor? If the humor isn’t fun­ny?
    Strong stuff, that!!!
    Strong stuff, also, the idea that some want to turn the Soci­ety of Friends into a com­pet­ing brand of UU, or the sug­ges­tion (no, the fact) that this has already hap­pened in a num­ber of places.
    I recent­ly encoun­tered a Friend who said that if “trans­for­ma­tion” was the essence of “Quak­erism” that she nev­er would have been a Quak­er.
    I can only stand still, at that.
    What, I have been won­der­ing late­ly, is a rea­son to turn away some­one who seeks mem­ber­ship? Well, what, then?

  • @Joe: ohmegod!, I’m nev­er going to wash this key­board again!!
    That sounds as good an analy­sis as any. There’s sort of a “nos­taligi­fi­ca­tion” of Chris­tian­i­ty that has occurred. It’s been demys­ti­fied, the super­nat­u­ral tak­en out and turned into folksy sto­ries. That’s fine and such – Jesus was a good sto­ry­teller and moral lead­er in addi­tion to every­thing else – but if you don’t think there’s any­thing super­nat­u­ral going on then you’re not a Chris­tian. I know some peo­ple will rail at this state­ment – “how dare you define Chris­tian­i­ty for me?!” blah blah blah, but it’s been the def­i­n­i­tion since the days of the apos­tles and it’s the only def­i­n­i­tion that makes much sense.
    Pret­ty obvi­ous stuff except that many peo­ple long to hold onto that iden­ti­ty. There’s com­fort in the nos­tal­gia. Some have made careers in it – reli­gious lead­ers who don’t real­ly believe.
    The only phe­nom­e­non I’d add to your list is the effects of draft-dodging on Amer­i­can reli­gion. Read the per­son­al sto­ries of many of the “nos­tal­gic Chris­tian” lead­ers now in their ear­ly six­ties and there seem to be quite a few whose choice to get their MDiv was moti­vat­ed in part by the defer­ment it gave them from mil­i­tary ser­vice. I know Quak­ers too, who joined way ear­lier than they might have (should have?) in order to get the ben­e­fits of “Quak­er” in their con­sci­en­tious objec­tor appli­ca­tions. A lit­tle more “sea­son­ing” of the deci­sion might have made the reli­gious voca­tion clear­er – either stronger and more com­mit­ted or per­haps allowed them to see they weren’t real­ly called. I’m a “pacifist”:www.nonviolence.org of course and I’ve long cam­paigned for expand­ed rights to con­sci­en­tious objec­tion but I won­der how many peo­ple who only half-felt the call to reli­gious ser­vice went the oth­er half for the wrong rea­sons?
    @Timothy: yes, well I think we’ve reached the the­o­ret­i­cal lim­it of the 1950s rede­f­i­n­i­tion of Quak­er mem­ber­ship – that belief and prac­tice mean noth­ing and the prime qual­i­fi­ca­tion is comfortable-ness in the meet­ing com­mu­ni­ty (see FWCC state­ments from the time or Howard Brinton’s “Friends for 300 Years”). Mem­ber­ship means noth­ing in the spir­i­tu­al sense, it sim­ply marks a cer­tain social sta­tus in the com­mu­ni­ty. We could rad­i­cal­ize our sit­u­a­tion one more degree and treat as mem­bers – as Friends – every­one who comes into our doors, every­one we meet on the street. When some­one asks for help or spir­i­tu­al advice we don’t ask how long they’ve been com­ing to meet­ing but we help them and min­is­ter them as best we can with the Light we’re given. Of course this means valu­ing the com­mu­ni­ty of “those who might be Friends” more high­ly than the com­mu­ni­ty of “those who are already Friends.” Jesus was quite ready to do this but I fear we mod­ern day “Friends of Jesus” might be a lit­tle too cozy in our meet­ing­hous­es to make such a rad­i­cal move.

  • Hel­lo again, Mar­t­in. Read­ing your com­ments to Tim­o­thy on mem­ber­ship, I am struck by the fact that they rep­re­sent a tremen­dous shift in under­stand­ing of the rea­son for mem­ber­ship.
    Ear­ly Friends, as I’m sure you know, had a prophet­ic mes­sage to the world, which led them to trav­el to every cor­ner of Eng­land and beyond, con­fronting those who were not liv­ing in accor­dance with Truth. But in car­ry­ing that mes­sage, they had to deal with adher­ents to their move­ment who mud­dled or under­cut that mes­sage with unhelp­ful words or bad behav­ior. This includ­ed adher­ents who act­ed with seem­ing blas­phe­mous­ness (Nayler’s fol­low­ers in the streets of Bris­tol), adher­ents who engaged in out­right immoral­i­ty or amoral­i­ty (Quak­er preach­ers con­duct­ing extra­mar­i­tal affairs), and adher­ents who did things in con­tra­dic­tion to the movement’s prophet­ic tes­ti­monies (Friends who paid tithes in order to avoid the con­fis­ca­tion of their prop­er­ty).
    In order to han­dle such chal­lenges, the first Friends first eldered and then dis­owned those who mud­dled or under­cut their mes­sage and could not be brought back to good behav­ior. And the sec­ond, third and fourth gen­er­a­tions of Friends devel­oped their for­mal mem­ber­ship sys­tem as a way of clar­i­fy­ing who was pos­i­tive­ly owned. Being owned as a mem­ber meant that you were com­mit­ted to uphold­ing the tes­ti­monies, and that the Soci­ety in turn would sup­port you in what you did. It also meant you were includ­ed in Friends’ cor­po­rate decision-making, because you were trust­ed to dis­cern on a right basis.
    Your respon­se to Tim­o­thy does not seem to reflect any con­cern for such issues. But should it? If Friends own as mem­bers any­one who walks in off the street, what is to keep mem­bers’ behav­ior any dif­fer­ent from the gen­er­al behav­ior of the pop­u­lace? What is to make our cor­po­rate decision-making any dif­fer­ent from the pop­u­lar vote?
    I am in uni­ty with Timothy’s con­cerns as I under­stand them, but I under­stand him as ask­ing a very dif­fer­ent ques­tion from the one you have respond­ed to.

  • Cal­is­ta

    Mar­t­in and all the respon­ders, thank you for the dis­cus­sion, the insight­ful­ness, the lessons. Besides act­ing as a dia­logue among your­selves, your words reach out to those of us who believe, who fol­low, who need more than we are find­ing in ourlives at the moment. Or just want to bol­ster our insights and con­tin­ue to learn. Thank you

  • Mar­t­in
    May­be the prob­lem isn’t lan­guage (although your idea about one’s abil­i­ty to speak Quak­ere­se cor­re­lat­ing with one’s sta­tus as a Friend did strike a chord!!!!). I won­der if the prob­lem has to do with indi­vid­u­al­ism.
    Quak­ers aren’t sup­posed to be indi­vid­u­als in the “rugged indi­vid­u­al­ism” kind of way. Meet­ings are a col­lec­tive, sur­rend­ing kind of activ­i­ty. We are who we are through each oth­er. Fam­i­lies the same.
    Are Quak­ers per­haps sub­con­scious­ly liv­ing out their lives as indi­vid­u­als, as their cul­ture demands, but using tricks of the mind and lan­guage to cre­ate a per­cep­tion that they are liv­ing as a col­lec­tive?
    May­be I haven’t word­ed this idea right… It just strikes me when I hear Quak­ere­se that it’s the pro­duct of a sub­tle dis­con­nect between who we are and who we think we are.
    Anoth­er prob­lem at the root of this lan­guage thing might be fear. It’s eas­ier to see with the fun­da­men­tal­ists that they use lan­guage, images, doc­tri­nes, quotes, rules, and oth­er forms of rigid­i­ty to hide from threat­en­ing ideas. They are afraid that if they admit this one thing might not be ver­bal­ly true, in the ordi­nary sense of truth, then their whole reli­gion might cave in. Might Quak­ers have this fear too? Are some of us afraid that if we use lan­guage from the gospels that we might be open­ing the flood­gates of fun­da­men­tal­ism?
    And if so, are those fears well-founded or ill-founded?
    Great post, Mar­t­in. It got us all think­ing…