A Guest Piece by Jeffrey Hipp
"I take this commitment of membership very seriously – to labor, nurture, support and challenge my fellow Friends; to walk in the Light together, and to give, receive, and pray with my fellow sojourners when the next step is unclear. My feet are on solid ground."
I find that we conservative-leaning Friends in Liberal meetings are often quick to cry out that our meetings must return to our Christian roots or seek to know Christ together. And this is what I personally yearn for in the Society of Friends in many ways. But it is far too often said with a sentiment that WE Christian Friends have to do this. TODAY. NOW. God can’t wait. And we can’t wait for God. We have to convince everyone we are right and Quakerism without Christ is no Quakerism at all. No wonder James and so many other non-theists sometimes worry that Christ-centered Friends are craving an inquisition-like purge!
Corporate change can only occur with corporate leading. It will not and cannot come by a few determined, “enlightened souls” who will attempt to non-violently twist the arm of the meeting until they cry “Jesus!”
I don’t want a purge. And, as a Christ-centered, Liberal Friend, schism is often a tempting daydream for me to dwell in, but I’m doubtful that that is where I will be led anytime soon. We aren’t called to “fix” the Society of Friends on our own. That’s Christ’s work, and it’s hubris to assume it’s all on our shoulders. Our job is to simply bear witness to the measure we’ve been given, open our hearts to receiving the measure given to others, and honor our covenant of membership with one another as we seek to understand the next step in finding our shared faith. And it just so happens that that is everyone’s job in meeting – Christ-centered, universalist, non-theist, or whatever label a Friend might apply to themselves. We will all be used in this process.
I don’t want to leave this at an abstract level, however. Let me offer an extremely personal and dear example:
When I spoke on a panel at my meeting exploring the differences of our community’s languages, experiences and beliefs, I bore witness to Christ in my life as a personal, creative Source of Life and Truth. Afterwards, a couple came up to me and thanked me for offering my ministry. One of them said I spoke of Christ with a “prophetic voice.” This couple identifies themselves and Jewish, non-theist Friends. It meant so much to me.
I continued to deepen my relationship in the Spirit with each of them. When I was welcomed into membership at a small meeting dinner (months after I had become a member, in proper Quaker fashion), one of the members of this couple clearly expressed her commitment to my journey, understood as following Christ. I voiced my commitment to them in their spiritual journey.
Did I make a mistake in that moment? To say I am committed to another’s spiritual journey that doesn’t profess Christ or even God? I think not – because this commitment was not born when I verbalized it to them – it began when I became a member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, and a member of these two Friends. And to that I was clearly led. Our covenant of membership is a call to be members of one another. And I use the word covenant quite intentionally — I believe that one of the ways that God reveals herself to us is through the model of the beloved community. In seeking to honor the covenant we have made with our fellow Friends, we further understand the blessings and challenges of seeking to honor our covenant with God.
This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t boldly and compassionately speak of the loving work of the Light of Christ within me. It just means being open to the fact that I might have a lot of spiritual wisdom to receive from searches for Truth that don’t involve a recognition of Christ, and I should support those journeys as much as I am clear to. And in doing so, I may find my own understanding of Truth has grown.
I take this commitment of membership very seriously – to labor, nurture, support and challenge my fellow Friends; to walk in the Light together, and to give, receive, and pray with my fellow sojourners when the next step is unclear. My feet are on solid ground. Honestly, I fear my meeting’s are often in sinking sand. But to attempt to force our community into theological flagellations without the hand of the Holy Spirit actively pulling us all up together will only cause us to sink in deeper.
Furthermore, to lose patience and walk alone towards the light before me is to leave others behind. And the next time I lose my way, I don’t want to be alone.
bq. Jeffrey Hipp is a member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (MA), and is co-clerk of the Young Adult Friends of New England Yearly Meeting.
This piece originated as a response to "What's God Got to Do, Got to Do With it?":http://www.nonviolence.org/martink/archives/000577.php. Reproduced as a feature with permission from the author.