Friendship even when cutting edges don’t overlap

C Wess Daniels has a good “post fol­low­ing up the Quak­er Her­itage Day events”: last week­end in Berke­ley. The fea­tured speak­er was Bri­an Dray­ton, a New Eng­land Friend in the lib­er­al unpro­grammed tra­di­tion who’s been doing a lot of good work around reclaim­ing traditionally-minded Quak­er min­istry (at least that’s how _I’d_ pigeon-hole him from afar, I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly met him!).

It’s inter­est­ing to hear how Wess, a pro­grammed Evan­gel­i­cal Friend, expe­ri­enced the event. Part of Drayton’s appeal to us lib­er­als is his unashamed use of Chris­t­ian lan­guage (at least in his writ­ings), some­thing that’s just a giv­en in Evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties. His post reminds me of the time I “went to a Indie Allies Meetup”:/postliberals_postevangelicals.php in Philadel­phia (pre-kids!) and shared piz­za and good con­ver­sa­tion with an inter­est­ing table-full of non-Quaker Chris­tians. I wrote then:
bq. Just about each of us at the table were com­ing from dif­fer­ent the­o­log­i­cal start­ing points, but it’s safe to say we are all “post” some­thing or oth­er… We are all try­ing to find new ways to relate to our faith, to Christ and to one anoth­er in our church com­mu­ni­ties. There’s some­thing about build­ing rela­tion­ships that are deep­er, more down-to-earth and real.
A few more links on Quak­er Her­itage Day “over here”: (URL sub­ject to change!).

  • we are all “post” some­thing or other
    The “emerg­ing” move­ment, where I hang out these days, con­sid­ers itself post-modern, post-liberal and post-conservative. To that, I could say I can add post-Quaker, as some­one who was Quak­er for 4 decades but now is “post” that (see On Resign­ing from Friends Meet­ing for some­thing about me becom­ing post-Quaker).
    It occurs to me that I know a great many post-Quakers. In fact, in look­ing at the new Direc­to­ry from my for­mer Friends meet­ing, I quick­ly noticed three names of peo­ple who have become mem­bers of my church (Cedar Ridge Com­mu­ni­ty Church) in the past two years. And I know many oth­ers who have left in search of Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty, some land­ing some­where and some not.
    Just felt to post about being “post”!

  • Hey Bill, Thanks for check­ing in, I’ve been won­der­ing what you’ve been up to. I guess I might qual­i­fy as a post-Quaker too. I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to fol­low my eight years at Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence with employ­ment at anoth­er ven­er­a­ble Philadel­phia Quak­er insti­tu­tion but turned it down. It wasn’t a bad job and I have great respect for the exec­u­tive direc­tor but I just didn’t want to work for insti­tu­tion­al Quak­erism again.
    A lot of peo­ple have left. And let’s be hon­est: a lot of the most inter­est­ing peo­ple have left. Each one should be a wake-up call but it’s amaz­ing how lit­tle those remain­ing seem to care.
    If we could just gath­er togeth­er every­one who’s left we’d actu­al­ly have an inter­est­ing lit­tle denom­i­na­tion going. And you know, I half-suspect that there are more inter­est­ing ex-Quakers than currently-attending Friends. We’re so wor­ried about who we cur­rent­ly are that we’re afraid to be who we could be. I sus­pect the inter­net might change that equa­tion some, which is the only rea­son I’m not ful­ly a post-Quaker yet.

  • (Shrug.)
    Even if all the most inter­est­ing peo­ple left, I’d still be a Friend.
    It may be just my own opin­ion; it may even be mis­tak­en — but all the dif­fer­ences Bill has men­tioned, in the post­ings he has writ­ten that I have read, between the church he’s joined and tra­di­tion­al Quak­erism, strike me as dif­fer­ences that are to the cred­it of tra­di­tion­al Quakerism.
     — (signed) from one of the bor­ing peo­ple who are still Friends

  • Hi Mar­shall: I’m glad you’re bor­ing and I’m glad you’re still a Friend. I was think­ing most­ly of the 20-something crowd I used to hang with back when I myself was 20-something. There was some real­ly great ener­gy in there, not always direct­ed in quite the most Quak­er­ly way, but still there was a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ty in there. Few of those peo­ple are reg­u­lar atten­ders any­where. At the last FGC Gath­er­ing, 30-somethings were very under­rep­re­sent­ed: when I ran the num­bers I think I deter­mined that there were nine 60-somethings for every 30-something in atten­dance. Few of the old dream­ers were among them.
    Still, I was think­ing about your com­ment while I was out with the kids at the park this after­noon. There are at least two ways of look­ing at a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty: what ideals and prin­ci­ples it holds up and how it actu­al­ly lives out its life in com­mu­ni­ty. I tend to look at Friends from the for­mer per­spec­tive – I’m an ide­al­ist, an old Phi­los­o­phy major in col­lege – and I sus­pect you and Bill might have ten­den­cies in that direc­tion. I didn’t define “inter­est­ing” but would you be hap­py being the last Friend in a meeting?
    Just to clar­i­fy, what­ev­er post-Quakerism I’m expe­ri­enc­ing isn’t about find­ing some oth­er church some­where but just sep­a­rat­ing out the Quak­er bureau­cra­cies and embed­ded cul­tures from what _we might be_.
    I’ve long thought Quak­erism could be much more wide­spread that it cur­rent­ly is – by mag­ni­tudes – but it’s part­ly held back by our own unimag­inia­tive­ness. If that’s true then shouldn’t our focus being on those Friends who aren’t Friends yet? Should we sell out the great-people-who-could be for the the community-that-is? What would it look like to invent Quak­erism again and how would that rein­ven­tion deal with the Quak­erism that exists?

  • Well, Mar­tin — a lot of us are ask­ing how to revi­tal­ize the Soci­ety of Friends. I’ve spent much of my life asking.
    Here in my late fifties, I feel I’ve final­ly stum­bled onto the secret of how to revi­tal­ize myself. I guess I nev­er pre­vi­ous­ly real­ized that that was the nec­es­sary first step. But it is.
    Would I be hap­py being the last Friend in a meet­ing? Why, I think such a thing is impos­si­ble. The last Friend in a meet­ing is always Christ him­self, the Pres­ence in the Midst, pal­pa­ble to any­one who is will­ing to come humbly and recep­tive­ly into the place of con­science and be instructed.
    Yes, I have been in some very dead meet­ings, where no one ever had any true min­istry to share and the con­ver­sa­tion after­ward was always about jobs and vaca­tions and real estate and the like. In places like that, it felt to me that the room was life­less, it felt like the sit­u­a­tion was putting me to sleep, and the Pres­ence in the Midst — the true last Friend in the Meet­ing — seemed very very hard for me to find.
    (Some of the great ear­ly Quak­er min­is­ters wrote in their jour­nals about vis­its to such meet­ings, and it looks like their expe­ri­ence was much the same as mine in this respect.)
    My own sense is that a sit­u­a­tion of this sort is pre­cise­ly when I real­ly have to buck­le down and focus, until there’s noth­ing left of me but the waiter-upon-the-Lord, and let Christ han­dle the mat­ter in his own way. This has often proved very hard work, and there’ve been times when I’ve done it and I could have sworn that noth­ing was hap­pen­ing — but look­ing back from a time years lat­er, it’s clear to me that it nev­er failed to help me.
    And then I have to accept that I have some respon­si­bil­i­ty for let­ting Christ come through me so the oth­ers in that meet­ing can find him, too. And the way to let him come through me seems (at least in my own case) to be not so much by preach­ing as by emu­la­tion — let­ting love and thought­ful­ness and so on shine through me at least a lit­tle bit as they might have shone through Jesus, and prac­tic­ing sen­si­tiv­i­ty and unselfish­ness and will­ing­ness to take the ini­tia­tive as best I can. Things of that sort, as the Guide in my own heart and con­science point them out to me.
    I won’t claim I’m good at it — I’m not. But I will say right here that every lit­tle bit of it I do seems to make a con­sid­er­able difference.
    I guess it’s when we see Christ mod­eled in anoth­er that we redis­cov­er him in our­selves. Think­ing back, I can see that this is how oth­ers made Christ vis­i­ble for me. It wasn’t any ser­mons that brought me around; it was the mod­el­ling. No won­der it’s also the best thing I can do in my own turn.
    I don’t know what to say about the peo­ple you knew, who no longer attend. I’m a lit­tle sus­pi­cious, though, of “great ener­gy, not always direct­ed in the most Quak­er­ly way”. I believe I know what you’re refer­ring to, and if I’m right, it is indeed some­thing almost addic­tive in its delight­ful­ness — but it’s human, not divine, and for that rea­son, if I lean on it, it always seems to fail me soon­er or later.
    If my strength comes from the divine with­in and above me, oth­ers seem drawn to me; but if I draw my strength from some­thing in the com­pa­ny of oth­ers whom I love, there will always come a time when I need it and it’s not there.

  • I was inter­est­ed, and some­what star­tled, to see Marshall’s com­ment that “all the dif­fer­ences Bill has men­tioned, in the post­ings he has writ­ten that I have read, between the church he’s joined and tra­di­tion­al Quak­erism, strike me as dif­fer­ences that are to the cred­it of tra­di­tion­al Quakerism.”
    It’s a strange com­ment. In the first place, what I more com­ment on is the dif­fer­ences between my cur­rent faith com­mu­ni­ty and a con­tem­po­rary form of Quak­erism that is far from tra­di­tion­al Quak­erism, and on sim­i­lar­i­ties between the emerg­ing church move­ment of which my church is a part and tra­di­tion­al Quakerism.
    So I don’t have a clue as to what Mar­shall is ref­er­enc­ing. Mar­shall, could you give me some clues?
    Some of the things I like about where I am now are a focus on the liv­ing Word of God — Jesus Christ — trans­form­ing our lives here and now, and on being authen­tic (not putting on reli­gious airs or pre­tend­ing to more than we’ve come to in our spir­i­tu­al lives).

  • Hi, Bill! I haven’t kept a log of your com­ments on your new church, and my mem­o­ry is not ter­ri­bly reli­able, but as I recall, you said it has a paid pas­tor and a fair­ly pro­gram­mat­ic ser­vice, prac­tices the so-called sacra­ments of water bap­tism and mate­r­i­al com­mu­nion, and is “joy­ful” unlike Friends. In all these mat­ters I hon­est­ly pre­fer the posi­tion of tra­di­tion­al Friends.
    Prob­a­bly the only one of those dif­fer­ences I need to speak to fur­ther is the “joy­ful” part. To me this speaks of a cult of the ecsta­t­ic, much like the mys­tery cults of the late Hel­lenis­tic era. Tra­di­tion­al Friends didn’t empha­size joy (they didn’t rule it out, but they didn’t make a cult of it either), but they did empha­size sobri­ety and watch­ful­ness as Paul had done before them, as befits a con­stant reliance on the sub­tle nudges of the Spirit.
     — Speak­ing of which, I vis­it­ed your church’s web site and saw no men­tion of the guid­ance of the Spir­it there. That is anoth­er dif­fer­ence from ear­ly and tra­di­tion­al Friends which I per­son­al­ly think reflects more favor­ably on Friends.
    It is nei­ther my desire nor my inten­tion to get into some big debate with you about which path is bet­ter. But I’ve noticed that you’ve writ­ten quite a few post­ings in the last cou­ple years on var­i­ous web­sites, crit­i­ciz­ing the cur­rent Friends com­mu­ni­ties, and I don’t think it hurts for a Friend like myself to say that some of see things very differently.
    Judge not, lest ye be judged, and all that.
    For what it’s worth, I don’t see the Friends in Iowa (Con­ser­v­a­tive) pre­tend­ing to be any­thing they’re not. They’re very hon­est and straight­for­ward folk.