Jeffrey Hipp: My Feet Are on Solid Ground

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?":
. Reproduced as a feature with permission from the author.

  • Thanks Jef­frey Hipp, great post.
    I’m com­ment­ing most­ly on a tiny point: thanky­ou so much for using “her” for G-d. At the moment for me G-d is He, and I need to use that lan­guage when I speak. But there is a wound in me of under­val­u­a­tion of the fem­i­nine and it is soothed to hear She used for the Divine. I just want­ed to say how much I appre­ci­ate you using that lan­guage, and how impor­tant it is for me that both pro­nouns are present in our talk about the Divine, as well as the lan­guage of peo­ple who con­scious­ly avoid using a pro­noun for G-d which I think is great too.

  • Melyn­da Huskey

    This Friend speaks my mind – and does so with greater grace and elo­quence than I could, for which I am tru­ly grateful.
    And this is why I think we need that on-line jour­nal: we need a prophet­ic Quak­er wit­ness for those of us who are liberal/Christian/Renewal Friends and our com­pan­ions. A new Friend­ly Intel­li­gencer for a new intel­li­gent Friends.

  • We stand — and have always stood — for the pos­i­tives found in social diversity.
    If we dis­al­low it in our meet­ing­hous­es… we are hypocrites.

  • Jef­frey, as long as there are hearts like yours in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, I will find my home among Friends. And there are so many such hearts! My own heart, for what it’s worth, I offer up to you. To all of you.
    I feel the covenant you speak of as sure­ly as I feel the sun on a sum­mer day. It seems we dif­fer as to the source of that covenant, but as long as we are both com­mit­ted to liv­ing in it, we are Friends together.

  • Craig

    Thanks for a won­der­ful arti­cle, Jef­frey! I, too, con­sid­er myself a con­se­v­a­tive lib­er­al Friend. By hav­ing Jesus as my foun­da­tion does not exclude oth­ers who have found their foun­da­tion in oth­er paths. Truth is one…paths are many.
    By the way, Alice, I just read some­thing some­where (I don’t real­ly remem­ber where) that we only use pro­nouns for people/things when they are not present. He/She as pro­nouns for God are real­ly not need­ed that often as God is here, liv­ing among us. When I speak of God I use “You” as it bet­ter reflects my the­ol­o­gy. How­ev­er, there are times that pro­nouns are nec­es­sary when speak­ing of God. In those times I alter­nate between he and she (most times I just say God).
    I remem­ber a hymn I heard once which puts it beau­ti­ful­ly, “Our God is not a woman. Our God is not a man. Our God is both and nei­ther. God is the great I AM.”

  • Thank you for this writ­ing, Friend Jef­frey. I have been read­ing a lot about Friends call­ing for more Christ-centeredness in Friends Meet­ings, and often it has made me uncom­fort­able. I am still search­ing for Christ’s place in my heart and the­ol­o­gy. For many, many years such Chris­t­ian lan­guage made me turn away in extreme dis­com­fort; so many claimed the Chris­t­ian name for things that I found to be hurt­ful, vio­lent, or hyp­o­crit­i­cal. I am just now feel­ing com­fort­able enough to explore the con­cept of Christ.
    Some­times when Friends call for more Christ-centeredness on the grounds that Friends are slip­ping away from true Quak­erism, it makes me feel as if I am “less” of a Quak­er, or not a true Friend. Your post artic­u­lat­ed clear­ly both sides of the sto­ry and was com­fort­ing for me to read.
    We must wait and lis­ten to the Spir­it rather than tak­ing it upon our­selves to “force” any such change either way.

  • Hi Claire, Good to see you over here! Yes, I can’t imag­ine how any­one could hear Jesus’s Ser­mon on the Mount and think that Chris­tian­i­ty could be forced on any­one. You know, the meek shall inher­it and all that…
    Some­times I think the work is like going out to a field with friends some night to look for shoot­ing stars. Inevitably there’s some­one who’s good at spot­ting them. They’ll say, “Look! There! See?” Even­tu­al­ly you get bet­ter at see­ing them and you start point­ing them out.
    The Spirit’s pres­ence is all around us. Often­times our most faith­ful work is sim­ply gath­er­ing with Friends and gaz­ing for signs of that grace: “Look! There! See?”

  • As a Chris­t­ian Friend, I have always tak­en it that, should I want to see more Christ-centeredness in meet­ings, I should prob­a­bly think about start­ing with myself. That would seem to be most con­sis­tent with the teach­ings we Chris­tians hold as our core values.
    The shooting-star anal­o­gy works for me, Martin.

  • Petey

    Jeff — Wise, wise Jeff. I nev­er took you for a Chris­to­cen­tric Quak­er, so much did I see of Christ in you that it becomes sec­ond nature — label­ing it as one thing over anoth­er just seemed point­less to me. What­ev­er it was, you had it.
    You live in a light of bold kind­ness. That you fol­low Christ among Quak­ers is some­how even more bold — yet I know you do not do it to be bold, but because this is how the spir­it has lead you. It just makes sense.
    I’ve nev­er ques­tioned where you came from before, it seemed log­i­cal — and now it seems even more log­i­cal and spelled out. Thank you for you wit­ness, thank you for your friend­ship, and thank you for inform­ing me that the most valu­able thing in any meet­ing­house is the cof­feepot. (oops — did I just tell a secret?)