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!