Max Carter talk on introducing the Bible to younger Friends

Max Carter gave the Bible Asso­ci­a­tion of Friends this past week­end at Moorestown (NJ) Friends Meet­ing. Max is a long-time edu­ca­tor and cur­rent­ly heads the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram at Guil­ford Col­lege, a pro­gram that has pro­duced a num­ber of active twenty-something Friends in recent years. The Bible Asso­ci­a­tion is one of those great Philadel­phia relics that some­how sur­vived a cou­ple of cen­turies of upheavals and still plugs along with a mis­sion more-or-less craft­ed at it’s found­ing in the ear­ly 1800s: it dis­trib­utes free Bibles to Friends, Friends schools and any First Day School class that might answer their inquiries.

Max’s pro­gram at Guil­ford is one of the recip­i­ents of the Bible Association’s efforts and he began by jok­ing that his sole qual­i­fi­ca­tion for speak­ing at their annu­al meet­ing was that he was one of their more active cus­tomers.

Many of the stu­dents going through Max’s pro­gram grew up in the big­ger East Coast year­ly meet­ings. In the­se set­tings, being an involved Quak­er teen means reg­u­lar­ly going to camps like Catoct­in and Onas, doing the FGC Gath­er­ing every year and hav­ing a par­ent on an impor­tant year­ly meet­ing com­mit­tee. “Quak­er” is a speci­fic group of friends and a set of guide­li­nes about how to live in this sub­cul­ture. Know­ing the rules to Wink and being able to craft a sug­ges­tive ques­tion for Great Wind Blows is more impor­tant than even rudi­men­ta­ry Bible lit­er­a­cy, let alone Barclay’s Cat­e­chism. The knowl­edge of George Fox rarely extends much past the song (“with his shag­gy shag­gy locks”). So there’s a real cul­ture shock when they show up in Max’s class and he hands them a Bible. “I’ve nev­er touched one of the­se before” and “Why do we have to use this?” are non-uncommon respons­es.

None of this sur­prised me, of course. I’ve led high school work­shops at Gath­er­ing and for year­ly meet­ing teens. Great kids, all of them, but most of them have been real­ly short­changed in the con­text of their faith. The Guil­ford pro­gram is a good intro­duc­tion (“we grad­u­ate more Quak­ers than we bring in” was how Max put it) but do we real­ly want them to wait so long? And to have so rel­a­tive­ly few get this chance. Where’s the bal­ance between let­ting them choose for them­selves and giv­ing them the infor­ma­tion on which to make a choice?

There was a sort of built-in irony to the scene. Most of the thirty-five or so atten­dees at the Moorestown talk were half-a-century old­er than the stu­dents Max was pro­fil­ing. I pret­ty safe to say I was the youngest per­son there. It doesn’t seem healthy to have such sep­a­rat­ed worlds. 

Con­ver­gent Friends

Max did talk for a few min­utes about Con­ver­gent Friends. I think we’ve shak­en hands a few times but he didn’t rec­og­nize me so it was a rare fly-on-wall oppor­tu­ni­ty to see firsthand how we’re described. It was pos­i­tive (we “bear watch­ing!”) but there were a few minor mis-perceptions. The most wor­ri­some is that we’re a group of young adult Friends. At 42, I’ve grad­u­at­ed from even the most expan­sive def­i­n­i­tion of YAF and so have many of the oth­er Con­ver­gent Friends (on a Face­book thread LizOpp made the mis­take of list­ed all of the old­er Con­ver­gent Friends and touched off a lit­tle mock out­rage – I’m going to steer clear of that mis­take!). After the talk one atten­dee (a New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship reg­u­lar) came up and said that she had been think­ing of going to the “New Monas­tics and Con­ver­gent Friends” work­shop C Wess Daniels and I are co-leading next May but had second-thoughts hear­ing that CF’s were young adults. “That’s the first I’ve heard that” she said; “me too!” I replied and encour­aged her to come. We def­i­nite­ly need to con­tin­ue to talk about how C.F. rep­re­sents an atti­tude and includes many who were doing the work long before Robin Mohr’s Octo­ber 2006 Friends Jour­nal arti­cle brought it to wider atten­tion.

Tech­niques for Teach­ing the Bible and Quak­erism

The most use­ful part of Max’s talk was the end, where he shared what he thought were lessons of the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram. He

  • Demys­ti­fy the Bible: a great per­cent­age of incom­ing stu­dents to the QLSP had nev­er touched it so it seemed for­eign;
  • Make it fun: he has a newslet­ter column called “Con­cor­dance Capers” that digs into the deriva­tion of pop cul­ture ref­er­ences of Bib­li­cal phras­es; he often shows Mon­ty Python’s “The Life of Bri­an” at the end of the class.
  • Make it rel­e­vant: Give inter­est­ed stu­dents the tools and guid­ance to start read­ing it.
  • Show the geneal­o­gy: Start with the parts that are most obvi­ous­ly Quak­er: John and the inner Light, the Ser­mon on the Mount, etc.
  • Con­tem­po­rary exam­ples: Link to con­tem­po­rary groups that are liv­ing a rad­i­cal Chris­tian wit­ness today. This past semes­ter they talked about the New Monas­tic move­ment, for exam­ple and they’ve pro­filed the Sim­ple Way and Atlanta’s Open Door.
  • The Bible as human con­di­tion: how is the Bible a sto­ry that we can be a part of, an inspi­ra­tion rather than a lit­er­al­ist author­i­ty.

Ran­dom Thoughts:

A cou­ple of thoughts have been churn­ing through my head since the talk: one is how to scale this up. How could we have more of this kind of work hap­pen­ing at the local year­ly meet­ing lev­el and start with younger Friends: mid­dle school or high school­ers? And what about bring­ing con­vinced Friends on board? Most QLSP stu­dents are born Quak­er and come from prominent-enough fam­i­lies to get meet­ing let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to enter the pro­gram. Grad­u­ates of the QLSP are fun­neled into var­i­ous Quak­er posi­tions the­se days, leav­ing out con­vinced Friends (like me and like most of the cen­tral Con­ver­gent Friends fig­ures). I talked about this divide a lot back in the 1990s when I was try­ing to pull togeth­er the mostly-convinced Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meet­ing young adult com­mu­ni­ty with the mostly-birthright offi­cial year­ly meet­ing YAF group. I was con­vinced then and am even more con­vinced now that no renewal will hap­pen unless we can get the­se com­ple­men­tary per­spec­tives and energies work­ing togeth­er.

PS: Due to a con­flict between Feed­burn­er and Dis­qus, some of com­ments are here (Wess and Lizopp), here (Robin M) and here (Chris M). I think I’ve fixed it so that this odd spread won’t hap­pen again.


PPS: Max emailed on 2/10/10 to say that many QLSPers are first gen­er­a­tion or con­vinced them­selves. He says that quite a few came to Guil­ford as non-Quakers (“think­ing we had “gone the way of the T-Rex”) and came in by con­vince­ment. Cool!
  • jamiejohn­son

    Mar­t­in,

    Thanks for this post! As the Direc­tor of the new­ly imple­ment­ed Friends Lead­er­ship Pro­gram at George Fox, which draws Quak­ers who are Bible lit­er­ate and lean more towards evan­gel­i­cal the­ol­o­gy than those in Max’s group, this is still a fas­ci­nat­ing top­ic to mull over. I was just at the Friends Cen­ter for a FAHE Quak­er col­lege fair, and after a brief pre­sen­ta­tion to every­one there about finan­cial aid, was able to have some good con­ver­sa­tions with folks about what it means to be a Christ-centered Quak­er col­lege. I imag­ine a class that was made up of stu­dents from the GF pro­gram and the Guil­ford pro­gram would be fas­ci­nat­ing! Thus, one impe­tus for the CF flour­ish­ing. Any­way, just some thoughts. Thanks!

  • @Jaime: It’d be fas­ci­nat­ing to hear what the resis­tance points are for George Fox stu­dents – what can you put in their hands that will elic­it the respons­es “I’ve nev­er held one of the­se!” and “why do we have to look at this?”

  • jamiejohn­son

    Mar­t­in,

    Thanks for this post! As the Direc­tor of the new­ly imple­ment­ed Friends Lead­er­ship Pro­gram at George Fox, which draws Quak­ers who are Bible lit­er­ate and lean more towards evan­gel­i­cal the­ol­o­gy than those in Max’s group, this is still a fas­ci­nat­ing top­ic to mull over. I was just at the Friends Cen­ter for a FAHE Quak­er col­lege fair, and after a brief pre­sen­ta­tion to every­one there about finan­cial aid, was able to have some good con­ver­sa­tions with folks about what it means to be a Christ-centered Quak­er col­lege. I imag­ine a class that was made up of stu­dents from the GF pro­gram and the Guil­ford pro­gram would be fas­ci­nat­ing! Thus, one impe­tus for the CF flour­ish­ing. Any­way, just some thoughts. Thanks!

    • @Jaime: It’d be fas­ci­nat­ing to hear what the resis­tance points are for George Fox stu­dents – what can you put in their hands that will elic­it the respons­es “I’ve nev­er held one of the­se!” and “why do we have to look at this?” 

  • I think an easy way is for par­ents to get a Bible for their child when he or she is born. It can be kept on the child’s dresser. That way it is just part of the child’s life from the get-go. Large print. Or, a children’s Bible with pic­tures. The Bible is a book of empow­er­ment.

  • Stephen

    Thanks for shar­ing this Mar­t­in. I speak as a con­vinced Friend from a mil­i­tary fam­i­ly, mem­ber of Balt. YM, a pro­duct of its camp­ing pro­gram through Catoct­in, and a QLSP grad­u­ate whose nar­row under­stand­ing of Quak­erism was opened into a wide, rich buf­fet of Bib­li­cal and the­o­log­i­cal explo­ration through Max’s work at Guil­ford. Basi­cal­ly, I am the demograph that Mar­t­in speaks of, except that I am a con­vict­ed Friend. I now serve as PYM’s Mid­dle School Pro­gram coör­di­na­tor and hope to inte­grate some edu­ca­tion around the Bib­li­cal roots of ear­ly Friends into the pro­gram­ming here. 

    I think the most clear way to spread this kind of work is to create/support sim­i­lar pro­grams at oth­er insti­tu­tions of high­er edu­ca­tion. Haver­ford has recent­ly revived a Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty on its cam­pus (yay!), and the Friends Lead­er­ship Pro­gram at George Fox sounds like anoth­er prime exam­ple. I also know that the QLSP pro­gram at Guil­ford is real­ly oper­at­ing at max­i­mum capac­i­ty and those staffing it have a hard time avoid­ing burn-out. How could Friends sup­port the­se pro­grams bet­ter and ensure that they are effec­tive, respon­si­ble, and sus­tain­able?

    Per­son­al­ly, the hard­est thing I have dealt with, post-QLSP, is being more deeply and broad­ly versed in the Bib­li­cal foun­da­tions and ear­ly Quak­er tra­di­tions and prac­tices than the major­i­ty of peo­ple in my month­ly meet­ing!

    Beyond open­ing young’ns upto our rich roots, I think there is a very impor­tant ques­tion of: What then? Often times, I feel like my faith com­mu­ni­ty doesn’t know what to do with me and can’t relate to the expe­ri­ence I’ve had through Max’s work and my time in QLSP. I can think of a num­ber of oth­er Friends who have had a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence and feel as though their energies and inter­ests in pur­su­ing min­istry and a rad­i­cal­ly faith­ful life can­not find a prop­er con­tain­er in their month­ly meet­ings. My class­mate Jon Watts comes to mind. It’s great to open us up, but ulti­mate­ly, who is respon­si­ble to stew­ard the young ener­gy that aris­es after such folks have been exposed to the pow­er and zeal of ear­ly Quak­ers’ wit­ness and their foun­da­tion­al Bib­li­cal roots?

    Also, if we want to bring con­tem­po­rary Young Adult Friend per­spec­tives and energies togeth­er in a fruit­ful way, I would sug­gest we move away from the mod­el of hav­ing an occa­sion­al YAF gath­er­ing every two years or so. My expe­ri­ence with the­se is that, yes they are pow­er­ful, some­times pos­i­tive ways, and also some­times in neg­a­tive ways, but they are always inher­ent­ly con­fronta­tion­al. Each per­son brings their per­spec­tive, their bag­gage, and their min­istry into 72 hours of intense inter­ac­tion, and quite often it’s hard to bal­ance the abil­i­ty to give and the abil­i­ty to receive in such a short peri­od of time. It cre­ates a feel­ing in some that they have not been heard, and makes “Weighty” Friends/Quaker Celebri­ties out of oth­ers. Instead, why not estab­lish a for­mal net­work for on-going, gen­uine rela­tion­ships that facil­i­tate real oppor­tu­ni­ties for deep­er lis­ten­ing, slow­er learn­ing, etc.? I’m sure there would be events that would come out of this, but they would be the cul­mi­na­tion of a larg­er work, and not the begin­ning and the end of a work in one mas­sive­ly over-programmed week­end.

    Last­ly, this kind of net­work would also allow us, as Young Adult Friends, to for­mal­ly par­tic­i­pate in net­works like the New Fire Move­ment of the Nation­al Coun­cil of Church­es and the World Stu­dent Chris­tian Fed­er­a­tion. As some­one who doesn’t feel under­stood or chal­lenged in his home Meet­ing, and as some­one inter­est­ed in engag­ing the rich­ness of the broad­er Chris­tian and Quak­er com­mu­ni­ties, the­se are the net­works that I’ve end­ed up in, but I par­tic­i­pate unof­fi­cial­ly because Quak­ers lack a for­mal struc­ture for their young peo­ple to for­mal­ly engage. We used to have Young Friends of North Amer­i­ca, but alas, no more…

    • @Stephen: inter­est­ing per­spec­tive, I’m email­ing you to see if we can get this out wider.

  • inter­est­ing read. i actu­al­ly took a look at this, hop­ing that it would speak to how Evan­gel­i­cal Quak­ers could have a more “Quak­er­ly” per­spec­tive on the Bible, but it’s sort of the oppo­site per­spec­tive being offered. which is just as valid and need­ed i’m sure. my ques­tion is more along the lines of how can we teach the Bible in Evan­gel­i­cal Friends con­texts with­out idol­iz­ing it. how can “remys­ti­fy” it, in some sense.

    • @Joel: I’d imag­ine you’d have the mir­rored prob­lem. The divi­sions have cre­at­ed such an odd sit­u­a­tion. Some places you have to go explain why Friends should be Chris­tian and oth­ers why Chris­tians should be Friends. I won­der if you’ve used Samuel Bownas’s book, “Descrip­tions of the Qual­i­fi­ca­tions Nec­es­sary for a Gospel Min­is­ter,” com­bined with his jour­nal. First pub­lished in 1750, “Descrip­tions” is a good descrip­tion of Quak­er min­istry but it’s steeped in Bib­li­cal ref­er­ences – which the cur­rent edi­tion has very help­ful­ly labeled. Bow­nas is also pret­ty down-to-earth and prac­ti­cal. There are some good sto­ries which can help human­ize him. He’s always going off on evan­ge­liz­ing trips and will occa­sion­al­ly throw out fun­ny sto­ries about the state of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends in var­i­ous places – he busts on Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing on one trip!