Packing our own bags at the checkout line

Over on Beppe­blog, “Lib­er­al Quak­erism is no longer Quak­erism”, the first of a multi-post series. In part one, Beppe looks at our dif­fi­cul­ty artic­u­lat­ing a col­lec­tive voice that might pro­claim “Truth.” Indi­vid­u­al­ism has real­ly tak­en a hit on Quak­ers, that’s for sure. In this day and age, how can a group set itself apart as a “reli­gious soci­ety” – a coher­ent com­mu­ni­ty of believ­ers? I don’t find ful­fill­ment in my own self and I’m an awful­ly slow learn­er when I try to fig­ure out things myself. I need other’s wis­dom but books and blogs only take me so far.

As Dave Carl reminds us in the com­ments, the inward Christ is avail­able to all, every­where. But just because you can have a vis­i­ta­tion while stand­ing in the super­mar­ket check­out line doesn’t make the super­mar­ket a reli­gious soci­ety or the cashier a min­is­ter. Many of our meet­ings are good for the casu­al seek­er who wants a stress-free med­i­ta­tion cen­ter. The RSOF seems to serve many seek­ers as an in-between point: a place of entry back into the Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion (for those who have been alien­at­ed by false prophets) but not a final des­ti­na­tion in itself. If you want to get seri­ous you often have to leave. That’s a shame, not only for the lost seek­er, but for our own reli­gious soci­ety which sees a con­stant “brain drain” leaking-out of gift­ed ministers.

I turn on the TV and radio and hear all sorts of per­ver­sions of the gospel being spout­ed out (yesterday’s Memo­r­i­al Day pap was par­tic­u­lar­ly annoy­ing – hasn’t any of these Chris­tians read the Ser­mon on the Mount?!?). The world still needs the kind of rad­i­cal, back-to-the-roots Chris­tian­i­ty that Quak­ers have long held up as an alter­na­tive. But how can we unite to speak with that prophet­ic voice if we have no col­lec­tive voice.

I’m not as pes­simistic as all this sounds. I think most Friends want some­thing more. We’re con­stant­ly lif­ing up the exam­ple of dead Friends with prophet­ic voic­es and there’s a strong pride in our his­to­ry of social jus­tice. Our mod­ern cul­ture of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty blinds us to how these voic­es got nutured and how those old-timey Friends were able to come togeth­er to speak out these truths. But Friends have often been lured away from our call­ing and every age has had faith­ful Friends who have been will­ing to hit their heads against the brick walls of frus­tra­tion time and time again in order to remind us of who we are. The back-and-forth of reach­ing out into the world and pulling back into our tra­di­tion is actu­al­ly itself part of our tra­di­tion and Quak­er bod­ies have often seen health­i­est when we’ve been able to hold both together.

PS: Check here for Beppe’s sec­ond post, which argues that “Lib­er­al Quak­erism con­tin­ues to be Quakerism.”

  • Bar­bara

    Hi Mar­tin,
    What about work­ing togeth­er with oth­er peace church­es on the prophet­ic voice against vio­lence and war­fare thing?
    –Bar­bara

  • Great post, Mar­tin. Friend, you speak my mind…“there is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition.”
    God’s peace,
    Craig

  • Hi Bar­bara! Well, sure, I’m all for work­ing with any­one on that kind of prophet­ic wit­ness. But what does that wit­ness look like? And how do we talk about it?
    When the Chris­t­ian Peace­mak­ers were held hostage we saw a lot of Quak­er orga­ni­za­tions stum­ble try­ing to respond. With Tom Fox we were con­front­ed by a full-on lib­er­al Quak­er Chris­t­ian wit­ness against war, unit­ed with oth­er peace church­es and who was there to explain this as prophet­ic wit­ness? AFSC? FCNL? FGC? Nope nope and nope. There were too many orga­ni­za­tions that couldn’t man­age any­thing beyond the boil­er­plate social jus­tice press release. I held my tongue while the hostages were still in cap­tiv­i­ty but I was mad at the exposed frac­ture lines between reli­gious wit­ness and social activism. I “did my part”:http://​www​.non​vi​o​lence​.org/​c​h​r​i​s​t​i​a​n​_​p​e​a​c​e​m​a​k​e​rs/ and there was John Stephens and Chuck Fager with “Freethe​cap​tives​now​.org”:http://​freethe​cap​tives​now​.org/ but we were over-worked blog­gers doing this in our non-existant spare time. Fox’s “Lange­ly Hill Meet­ing”:http://​quak​er​.org/​l​a​n​g​l​e​y​h​i​l​l​/​t​o​m​f​o​x​.​h​tml was the only offi­cial Quak­er body who had an ongo­ing elec­tron­ic wit­ness. I’ve been mean­ing to do a kind of follow-up post to the hostage sit­u­a­tion, maybe I should do that soon…

  • Bar­bara

    Hi Mar­tin,
    The QUIT con­fer­ence seems to be a hope­ful sign.
    http://​www​.quit​-tor​ture​-now​.org/​P​a​g​e​s​/​Q​u​i​t​W​e​b​C​o​n​f​.​h​tml
    What do you think?
    The founder/director of our local peace group, Karen Porter –and she’s not even a Quak­er– is going to attend. When she comes back, she’s orga­niz­ing an anti-torture “branch” of our group. I’m anx­ious to take part.
    BTW, she’s already orga­nized a local pan­el dis­cus­sion on anti-torture for June 13 at 7pm. I believe that a cou­ple of mem­bers of some Quak­er meet­ings out this way will be par­tic­i­pat­ing. The title of the pan­el dis­cus­sion is “U.S. Tor­ture of Prisoners—
    A Moral, Not a Polit­i­cal, Issue!”
    (There’s a sto­ry behind that title — but some oth­er time!)
    It will be held at the Sec­ond Pres­by­ter­ian Church, in West Chester.
    But I do under­stand what you mean.
    Do you know if FUM or oth­er Quak­er tra­di­tions have been con­duct­ing more vis­i­ble Chris­t­ian wit­ness against the war?
    The pic­tures of baby Fran­cis are just TOO CUTE!!! My old­est baby is grad­u­at­ing from high school this week­end — which is why I can’t go to the QUIT con­fer­ence with Karen.
    –Bar­bara

  • Mar­ti­no,
    Your com­ments about Tom Fox are some­what reflect­ed in my post for tomor­row. I think we’re dopple­gang­ing (is that such a word) each oth­er again. 🙂 I’ll quote myself here:
    3. Nonethe­less, the con­cerns I raised over the past few years are not, in and of them­selves, wrong, mis­guid­ed, or inher­ent­ly flawed (although oth­ers have and will con­tin­ue to dis­agree with me). For exam­ple, is there a rea­son why a sil­ly “Quak­er” sweat lodge gen­er­ates more ener­gy and dra­ma (Is it cul­tur­al appro­pri­a­tion?!? Was Quak­er “process” tram­pled upon?!?) with­in lib­er­al Quak­er orga­ni­za­tions than the recent exam­ple of Tom Fox’s life and death? I would think his exam­ple would inspire us as a com­mu­ni­ty to won­der, “Why aren’t more Friends moved to do the same and is there any­thing that we as a com­mu­ni­ty do that either helps or hin­ders that reality?”
    This is not the main point of the post, but I do touch on the issue. I would enjoy more obser­va­tions from you in this regards.
    BTW, did you notice in this month’s Friends Jour­nal that there were three times as many let­ters regard­ing the “Sweat lodge con­tro­ver­sy!” than the blog entries it pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished by Tom Fox? It might be a mat­ter of print sched­ules: more let­ters about TF will be print­ed much lat­er. Hmm.

  • Mar­tin, you write:
    Many of our meet­ings are good for the casu­al seek­er who wants a stress-free med­i­ta­tion cen­ter. The RSOF seems to serve many seek­ers as an in-between point: a place of entry back into the Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion (for those who have been alien­at­ed by false prophets) but not a final des­ti­na­tion in itself. If you want to get seri­ous you often have to leave. That’s a shame, not only for the lost seek­er, but for our own reli­gious soci­ety which sees a con­stant “brain drain” leaking-out of gift­ed ministers.
    You speak my mind… And if I were at my home com­put­er, I’d put a link to the post I wrote that describes my own expe­ri­ence of under­stand­ing that some month­ly meet­ings are “spir­i­tu­al rest stops” for its atten­ders and members.
    I also recent­ly got into a con­ver­sa­tion with some “dis­placed” Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends, and I men­tioned to them that some meet­ings val­ue a spir­i­tu­al hos­pi­tal­i­ty, while oth­er meet­ings val­ue trans­for­ma­tion and/or obe­di­ence to a Divine author­i­ty, espe­cial­ly as dis­cerned by the faith community.
    Blessings,
    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  • Paul Rick­etts

    “The back-and-forth of reach­ing out into the world and pulling back into our tra­di­tion is actu­al­ly itself part of our tra­di­tion and Quak­er bod­ies have often seen health­i­est when we’ve been able to hold both together”.
    Thank you Friend Martin.
    This was also the tra­di­tion of Christ.
    He reach out to the world but also pull back into his tradtion.
    Like many unpro­grammed Friends, when I first came among Quak­ers I identify“that of God in every­one” pri­ma­ry as the uni­ver­sal Spirit .
    Thir­ty years lat­er, I am much more com­fort­able iden­ti­fy­ing that pres­ence with­in myself as Christ.
    I think Soci­ety of Friends like the larg­er Soci­ety is pri­ma­ry made up
    wound­ed and bro­ken peo­ple, includ­ing myself.
    Our mis­sion is sim­ply, to be the pres­ence of Christ to each oth­er and our sis­ters and broth­ers in and out­side the Soci­ety of Friends.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which to look at Christ’s com­pas­sion to the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”  — St. Tere­sa of Avila
    Paul

  • Bar­bara

    I’m sor­ry, Liz, Mar­tin, and oth­ers. I don’t agree.
    Pro­vid­ing a “spri­ti­tu­al rest stop” freely, with no strings attached, no hid­den agen­da, no ask­ing for pledges– finan­cial or oth­er– I think that’s an admirable thing in this world where every­one is look­ing to get some­thing out of any good they do or any con­tri­bu­tion they make.
    I think that pro­vid­ing a place of qui­et reflec­tion with­out thought of return, with­out car­ing whether or not those who come will trans­form (“we love you…you’re wel­come here… now CHANGE!”), with­out thought about whether they’ll final­ly join up and increase our num­bers — I think that’s all a part of doing God’s work.

  • Pam

    Bar­bara, I agree,
    Pro­vid­ing a “spir­i­tu­al rest stop” needn’t be a “just” — a fail­ing. Quak­ers may be unique (well, prob­a­bly not) in offer­ing a safe har­bor in the storm of “false prophets” (as Mar­tin says) while still empha­siz­ing the valid­i­ty of spir­it itself.
    But I myself take issue with the idea that it’s a “spir­i­tu­al rest stop” at all. Clear­ly a few peo­ple have found it to be so, and speak dis­parag­ing­ly of what didn’t work long-term for them. I am hap­py if they find some­thing that feels “deep­er” or “more mean­ing­ful” to them, but I have to say, if keep­ing those “gift­ed min­is­ters” in our lib­er­al meet­ings has any­thing to do with accept­ing the sort of “my way of the high­way” flir­ta­tion with dog­ma­tism that I often hear behind such dec­la­ra­tions, I am will­ing to wish them well and wave goodbye.….
    I am feel­ing qutie snip­py. Much in this post is quite insult­ing to the likes of me, and there is much that I could say that, in my opin­ion would be a reflec­tion of it. (Per­haps those that leave aren’t so much “deep­er” or “brainier”, but those who, when ful­ly open to the light find there’s noth­ing there inside their souls, and need to run back to the Bible for “filler” — now, that hasn’t been what I’ve thought before, but real­ly, if this dis­cus­sion is going to be con­sis­tent­ly framed in terms of how shal­low and spir­it­less I am, I am not sure how to con­tin­ue it with­out get­ting snippy.
    sigh
    Pam

  • Hi Bar­bara: well, sure we’re friend­ly. I’m glad we pro­vide a rest stop. That’s just not all we are. We have to invite peo­ple to the source of that peace and qui­et we’ve found.
    Hey Pam: I don’t know why you always take my posts so per­son­al­ly. For what it’s worth, I don’t see tra­di­tion is just the sto­ry of where we’ve come from and thus where we are. Most Quak­ers are Chris­t­ian (even most FGC Quak­ers) and the _Faith and Practice_ your year­ly meet­ing uses is explic­it­ly sub­ti­tled “A Book of Chris­t­ian Dis­ci­pline.” FGC’s three para­graph “minute of pur­pose” uses the word God four times. You have know­ing­ly joined a reli­gious soci­ety where you’re out of sync with the main­stream. That’s fine, as long as you’re fine with it. I wel­come you and as I’ve writ­ten time and again, I think the non­the­ist impulse can have a truth-testing gift for the mod­ern RSOF. But if you’re not fine with the reli­gion you’ve joined and rail when­ev­er some­one refers to it, that’s kind of strange and I have a hard time sym­pa­thiz­ing with this kind of vic­tim­hood claim.

  • Pam

    Mar­tin -
    I have actu­al­ly missed where you repeat­ed­ly said that you wel­come me. But thanks. I wel­come you as well.
    I have trou­ble with the charge that what I wrote was a “vic­tim­hood claim” — What you wrote hurt my feel­ings. This is a fact. Does that make it untrue? no. Does it mean you shouldn’t have writ­ten it? NO, cer­tain­ly not if it’s your best under­stand­ing of your truth at the moment. But in order to stay engaged, which is some­thing that at this point I’d still like to do, I need to share my part of the expe­ri­ence as well.
    I have to admit that I think I pret­ty well read the “chris­t­ian exclu­siv­i­ty” thing into this par­tic­u­lar post. I’ve felt it from you before, but I don’t (nec­es­sar­i­ly) in this post. Sorry.
    I have writ­ten a (still some­what mud­dled) entry on my own blog about this.
    What I am most frus­trat­ed that few folks seem to under­stand about what I“m say­ing is that I’m NOT anti-christian. I am fine with chris­tian­i­ty as I have expe­ri­enced it in quak­erism (at least until recent­ly) — uni­ver­sal­ist, not elit­ist, more about fol­low­ing christ through lov­ing our nabor, and learn­ing from his exam­ple rather than wor­ship­ping an icon.
    I am ter­ri­bly frus­trat­ed because I am one of those Friends who you say “want some­thing more” and yet most of those whom I have heard talk­ing about this don’t mean what I mean. Or I haven’t found the point of con­nec­tion yet, at least.
    I want to be a soci­ety that nour­ish­es spir­its like that of Tom Fox, of John Wool­man, and of count­less oth­er quak­ers (well, and non­quak­ers, lest we for­get) through his­to­ry to the mod­ern day who stand for what is right with a strong faith and strong love.
    But all I see peo­ple com­ing up with is that some­how we need to be chris­t­ian. I am frus­trat­ed with this response because to me it seems quite shallow.
    I have a half-formed monty-python-esque skit in my head about a group of peo­ple on the verge of real dis­cov­ery, real spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing, who then tum­ble into some­thing real­ly obvi­ous and, rel­a­tive­ly unin­ter­est­ing, and well, mis­guid­ed, as their “sal­va­tion”.
    So, that’s MY expe­ri­ence. I’m not actu­al­ly say­ing that Chris­tian­i­ty is wrong, or ques­tion­ing the expe­ri­ences of any who have seen or heard Christ, or both, call­ing to them, but I havne’t.
    And yet I think that I still bring some­thing very impor­tant to my meet­ing, and any group of seek­ers whom I find myself among.
    If you are ask­ing that we no longer “pack our own bags” at check­out — what are you ask­ing????? It seems that you seek a uni­fied vision for the Soci­ety of Friends, and one that is explic­it­ly and exclu­sive­ly Chrsit­ian, Is that NOT the case????
    Meet­ings where bible quotes or read­ings are warm­ly accept­ed, and bud­dhist quotes and read­ings would not be??? If your not ask­ing us to do that, what ARE you asking?
    If you are ask­ing for that, how is that dif­fer­ent from some­one telling me that I have equal mar­riage rights (as a les­bian) because I can mar­ry a man just like any oth­er woman? “wel­com­ing” some­one but ask­ing them to check part of their soul at the door is not true.
    peace
    Pam

  • Oh Pam: of _course_ I want us all to be Chris­t­ian. I want us all to be guid­ed by what I (and most Friends liv­ing and dead) iden­ti­fy as Christ’s spir­it. I don’t care what you call that force, I don’t even care if you think it’s your own bril­liant ratio­nal mind at work. I know that Spir­it is avail­able to all human­i­ty, ready to com­fort and guide and I don’t sus­pect its so parochial that it needs words like “Christ” append­ed to it for it to work (that’s what per­haps defines me as a lib­er­al Friend).
    I would appre­ci­ate if you start­ed tak­ing more care not to mis­rep­re­sent me. Read what I write and try to under­stand where it’s com­ing from. Where did I say Bud­dhist read­ings weren’t okay? Where did I say you had to check your les­bian­ism at the door? Where did I say all Friends have to use exclu­sive­ly Chris­t­ian lan­guage? This kind of rhetoric is not serv­ing the pur­pos­es of mutu­al understanding.

  • Pam

    Mar­tin -
    Ok, now, yet again, I am feel­ing a bit stuck.
    Wat is our prob­lem here, then?
    -I did apol­o­gize for read­ing some­thing into your post that isn’t there. I will do it again, I’m sorry.
    -I nev­er said that I had to check my les­bian­ism at the door. I was refer­ring to a sim­i­lar feel­ing that I get when you say things like “of course I want us all to be Chris­t­ian” — and var­i­ous oth­er ver­sions of that, that I hear (from you and oth­ers) That says that the Soci­ety of Friends should be CHRISTIAN — that’s very dif­fer­ent (for me) from say­ing that it should be hon­est about its chris­t­ian roots, or that it should be open to the voice of christ (!) — For me, as a non­the­ist iden­ti­fied per­son, it is sim­i­lar to church­es that say it’s fine for me to bring my les­bian self to ser­vice, but I can’t acknowl­edge my girl­friend, and I may well hear preach­ing that says I’m going to hell.
    (In oth­er words, I was try­ing to make a point about wel­com­ing peo­ple with­out wel­com­ing all of who they are — now, we do that often — peo­ple are not wel­come to throw fits or preach hatred for exam­ple. But not wel­come, per­haps, to ques­tion the exis­tence of God in their min­istry? That’s a choice, and one I hope we don’t make.
    -the bud­dhist thing was actu­al­ly some­one (or sev­er­al some­ones) in my home meet­ing. I did­nt’ mean to actu­al­ly accuse you of say­ing it, but meant it as an exam­ple. I know I was­nt’ clear.  — But, part of it was a ques­tion — are you say­ing that you do wel­come min­istry that draws on bud­dhist, pagan, or oth­er wis­dom, and min­istry??? That is a cru­cial ques­tion for me, and one I haven’t seen answered.
    Read­ing what you wrote last, I have no clue what the prob­lem is. I, too, want us all to be guid­ed by what I (and most Friends liv­ing and dead) iden­ti­fy as Christ’s spir­it. I don’t care what you call that force The only dif­fer­ence is that I don’t iden­ti­fy it as Christ’s spir­it (actu­al­ly, I’m even half will­ing to, but I dont’ iden­ti­fy it with Chris­tian­i­ty or nec­es­sar­i­ly sole­ly with the one man Jesus of Nazareth)
    Per­haps the biggest dif­fer­ence is that I don’t think that call­ing Friends back to chris­tian­i­ty is the best way to help us all be guid­ed by that spir­it. In my expe­ri­ence chrisi­tan­i­ty is mud­dled with all sorts of stuff that denies that spir­it, and the spir­it is THERE, is may be eais­er to find if we sim­ply look rather than using 2,000 year old maps or mir­rors. (through a glass darkly)
    so, what’s the problem???
    I think per­haps part of it is that I want you to have some answer — one that I don’t have. We can both sit and kvetch til the cows come home about the lack of depth and hav­ing lost our way as a soci­ety. I don’t feel any great rev­e­la­tion that shows the way out of that con­fu­sion and mud­dled­ness, and I am look­ing to oth­ers (right now to you) to know bet­ter than I do. a fruit­less tac­tic, I believe.
    peace
    Pam

  • Pam orig­i­nal­ly wrote:
    I am hap­py if they find some­thing that feels “deep­er” or “more mean­ing­ful” to them, but I have to say, if keep­ing those “gift­ed min­is­ters” in our lib­er­al meet­ings has any­thing to do with accept­ing the sort of “my way of the high­way” flir­ta­tion with dog­ma­tism that I often hear behind such dec­la­ra­tions, I am will­ing to wish them well and wave goodbye…
    Per­haps those that leave aren’t so much “deep­er” or “brainier”, but those who, when ful­ly open to the light find there’s noth­ing there inside their souls, and need to run back to the Bible for “filler”…
    Giv­en that Mar­tin orig­i­nal­ly ref­er­enced my post about lib­er­al Quak­erism and me, and giv­en that I have very pub­licly writ­ten about leav­ing the fold, I assume that I am indi­rect­ly referred to in Pam’s comments.
    I have to admit, I have not been referred to as “flirt­ing with dog­ma­tism” in a long time. I mean, do I know how to flirt and then real­ly dig deep into dog­ma­tism when I was a fundamentalist.
    Let’s be clear — I nev­er referred to spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als in all the posts I made that crit­i­cized or point­ed out what I saw as prob­lems. I always was refer­ring to the ORGANIZATIONAL lev­el of lib­er­al Quak­erism and not to spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als. For God’s sake, I’ve done much of the very same thing that I was crit­i­cal of oth­ers for doing! My own clear­ness com­mit­tee about my remain­ing in the RSoF con­front­ed me on the very “indi­vid­u­al­ism” that I point­ed my wav­ing fin­ger at oth­ers with, and they were com­plete­ly accurate!
    Please under­stand that I am refer­ring to things that I have seen or been a part of for 20 years and that it has lit­tle to do with you or any­one else that is sim­i­lar to you. I nev­er meant for any­one to take it per­son­al­ly (and a few folks, such as Nan­cy A. have seemed to appre­ci­ate my cri­tique of one of her posts).
    As to being “deep­er” or “brain­er” or “gift­ed min­is­ters”- I nev­er used those adjec­tives to describe myself, nor have I ever known any­one to use them of me. If they do, then they are incorrect.
    What was dif­fi­cult to read was the “find­ing noth­ing” in my soul, even after being open to the Light, and then run­ning to the Bible for “filler”. Ouch! Pam is not the only one to chide me: I’ve got­ten oth­er emails about run­ning to cler­gy to answer all of my ques­tions, depend­ing on creeds/dogmas to do the “hard” word for me, or that I will undoubtably find any rit­u­als pale in com­par­i­son to unpro­grammed wor­ship (since, the impli­ca­tion is, that all rit­u­als are unl­ti­mate­ly “emp­ty” or infe­ri­or to sit­ting in a room of silence once a week).
    I under­stand that these are long, hardy ideas that have been a part of Friends since its incep­tion — and is still very much alive today. In fact, George would have chid­ed me even more so: he would have called me a hyp­ocrite, going back to being a
    “pro­fes­sor” and not one tru­ly guid­ed by the Inward Light. And, at one time, I believed, very strong­ly I will note, the same thing.
    But, I no longer hold to those ideas and in fact find them to be sim­plis­tic, stereo­typ­i­cal, and con­de­scend­ing. Here is not the place to wran­gle over these issues (nor am I actu­al­ly inter­est­ed in doing so anyway).
    I will admit that after the ini­tial sting of read­ing “…those who, when ful­ly open to the light find there’s noth­ing there inside their souls and need to run back to the Bible for ‘filler’…” I con­clud­ed, ‘that is a is a good one’. I sus­pect that when some­thing stings like this, there is prob­a­bly some truth in it. Mia culpa!
    Wish­ing every­one well. Hon­est­ly! And, like­wise, I’m glad to final­ly have the clar­i­ty to move on.