Reach up high, clear off the dust, time to get started

It’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing edu­ca­tion learn­ing about insti­tu­tion­al Catholi­cism these past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good pic­ture of the cul­ture inside the bishop’s inner cir­cle and I’m pret­ty sure I under­stand his long-term agen­da. The cur­rent lightening-fast clo­sure of sixty-some church­es is the first step of an ambi­tious plan; man­u­fac­tured priest short­ages and soon-to-be over­crowd­ed church­es will be used to jus­ti­fy even more rad­i­cal changes. In about twen­ty years time, the 125 church­es that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half mil­lion faith­ful will be herd­ed into a dozen or so mega-churches, with the­ol­o­gy bor­rowed from gener­ic lib­er­al­ism, style from feel-good evan­gel­i­cal­ism, and orga­ni­za­tion from con­sul­tant culture.

When dioce­san offi­cials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sen­tence and nod their heads approv­ing­ly. The con­spir­a­cy is real.

But I don’t want to talk about Catholi­cism again. Let’s talk Quak­ers instead, why not? I should be in some meet­ing for wor­ship right now any­way. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbring­ing after eleven years with us because she want­ed a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a cor­po­rate “we.” It seems that Catholi­cism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the East­ern Ortho­dox church? For that mat­ter should I be run­ning off to the Men­non­ites? See though, the prob­lem is that the same issues will face us wher­ev­er we try to go. It’s mod­ernism, baby. No focused and authen­tic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.

We can blog the ques­tions of course. Why would some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture and wants to dis­man­tle its infra­struc­ture become a priest and a career bureau­crat? For that mat­ter why do so many peo­ple want to call them­selves Quak­ers when they can’t stand basic Quak­er the­ol­o­gy? If I want­ed lots of com­ments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ulti­mate­ly the ques­tion is futile and beyond my figuring.

Anoth­er piece to this issue came in some ques­tions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few oth­ers this past week in prepa­ra­tion for his upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion at Wood­brooke. He asked about how a par­tic­u­lar Quak­er insti­tu­tion did or did not rep­re­sent or might or might not be able to con­tain the so-called “Con­ver­gent” Friends move­ment. I don’t want to bust on any­one so I won’t name the orga­ni­za­tion. Let’s just say that like pret­ty much all Quak­er bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gath­er a great peo­ple. A more suc­cess­ful Quak­er bureau­cra­cy I could name seems to be doing well in fundrais­ing but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more inter­est­ed in donor-focused hype than long-term pro­gram implementation.

One ene­my of the faith is bureau­cra­cy. Real lead­er­ship has been replaced by con­sul­tants and fundrais­ers. Finan­cial and staffing crises – real and cre­at­ed – are used to jus­ti­fy a water­ing down of the mes­sage. Pro­grams are dri­ven by donor mon­ey rather than clear need and when real work might require con­tro­ver­sy, it’s tabled for the façade of feel-goodism. Quak­er read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers: no I’m talk­ing about Catholics. Catholic read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Catholics: no, I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers. My point is that these forces are tear­ing down reli­gios­i­ty all over. Some cheer this devel­op­ment on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for posi­tion and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a bet­ter word) to trust and think the best of its leaders.

So where does that leave us? I’m tired of think­ing that maybe if I try one more Quak­er meet­ing I’ll find the com­mu­ni­ty where I can prac­tice and deep­en my faith as a Chris­t­ian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feel­ing: Fox and the Pen­ing­tons and all the rest talked about iso­la­tion and about reli­gious pro­fes­sion­als who were in it for the career. I know from the blo­gos­phere and from count­less one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions that there are a lot of us – a lot – who either drift away or stay in meet­ings out of a sense of guilt.

So what would a spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty for these out­sider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our struc­tures look like? If we let the gener­ic church­es go off to out-compete one oth­er to see who can be the bland­est, what would be left for the rest of us to do?

20080608-xcjchpscnwekhsh85kg2hr7nbf.previewI guess this last para­graph is the new revised mis­sion state­ment for the Quak­er part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meet­ing library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out vol­ume one of “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Tak­en from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civ­il and polit­i­cal econ­o­my, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends” by Thomas Clark­son. Yes the 1806 ver­sion, stop the grum­bling. Get out the ribbed pack­ing tape and put its cov­er back togeth­er – this isn’t the frig­ging Library of Con­gress and we’re actu­al­ly going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time check­ing it out in the meeting’s log­book: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Real­ly stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start shortly.

For other uses, see Light (disambiguation)

Even though my last post was a five minute quick­ie, it gen­er­at­ed a num­ber of com­ments. One ques­tion that came up was how aware indi­vid­ual Friends are about the spe­cif­ic Quak­er mean­ings of some of the com­mon Eng­lish words we use — “Light,” “Spir­it,” etc.(dis­am­bigua­tion in Wiki-speak). Mar­shall Massey expressed sad­ness that the terms were used uncom­pre­hend­ing­ly and I sug­gest­ed that some Friends know­ing­ly con­fuse the gener­ic and spe­cif­ic mean­ings. Mar­shall replied that if this were so it might be a cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence based on geography.

If it’s a cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence, I sus­pect it’s less geo­graph­ic than func­tion­al. I was speak­ing of the class of pro­fes­sion­al Friends (heavy in my parts) who pur­pose­ful­ly obscure their lan­guage. We’re very good at talk­ing in a way that sounds Quak­er to those who do know our spe­cif­ic lan­guage but that sounds gener­i­cal­ly spir­i­tu­al to those who don’t. Some­times this obscu­ran­tism is used by peo­ple who are repelled by tra­di­tion­al Quak­erism but want to advance their ideas in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, but more often (and more dan­ger­ous­ly) it’s used by Friends who know and love what we are but are loathe to say any­thing that might sound controversial.

I’ve told the sto­ry before of a Friend and friend who said that every­time he uses the word com­mu­ni­ty he’s mean­ing the body of Christ. New­com­ers hear­ing him and read­ing his arti­cles could be for­giv­en for think­ing that com­mu­ni­ty is our reason-for-being, indeed: what we wor­ship. The prob­lem is that ten years lat­er, they’ll have signed up and built up an iden­ti­ty as a Friend and will get all offend­ed when some­one sug­gests that this com­mu­ni­ty they know and love is real­ly the body of Christ.

Lib­er­al Friends in the pub­lic eye need to be more hon­est in their con­ver­sa­tion about the Bib­li­cal and Chris­t­ian roots of our reli­gious fel­low­ship. That will scare off poten­tial mem­bers who have been scarred by the acts of those who have false­ly claimed Christ. I’m sor­ry about that and we need to be as gen­tle and hum­ble about this as we can. But hope­ful­ly they’ll see the fruits of the true spir­it in our open­ness, our warmth and our giv­ing and will real­ize that Chris­t­ian fel­low­ship is not about tel­e­van­ge­lists and Pres­i­den­tial hyp­ocrites. Maybe they’ll even­tu­al­ly join or maybe not, but if they do at least they won’t be sur­prised by our iden­ti­ty. Before some­one com­ments back, I’m not say­ing that Chris­tian­i­ty needs to be a test for indi­vid­ual mem­ber­ship but new mem­bers should know that every­thing from our name (“Friends of Christ”) on down are root­ed in that tra­di­tion and that that for­mal mem­ber­ship does not include veto pow­er over our pub­lic identity.

There is room out there for spiritual-but-not-religious com­mu­ni­ties that aren’t built around a col­lec­tive wor­ship of God, don’t wor­ry about any par­tic­u­lar tra­di­tion and focus their ener­gies and group iden­ti­ty on lib­er­al social caus­es. But I guess part of what I won­der is why this doesn’t col­lect under the UUA ban­ner, whose Prin­ci­ples and Pur­pos­es state­ment is already much more syn­cretis­tic and post-religious than even the most lib­er­al year­ly meet­ing. Evolv­ing into the “oth­er UUA” would mean aban­don­ing most of the valu­able spir­i­tu­al wis­dom we have as a people.

I think there’s a need for the kind of strong lib­er­al Chris­tian­i­ty that Friends have prac­ticed for 350 years. There must be mil­lions of peo­ple parked on church bench­es every Sun­day morn­ing look­ing up at the pul­pit and think­ing to them­selves, “sure­ly this isn’t what Jesus was talk­ing about.” Look, we have Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians com­ing out against the war! And let’s face it, it’s only a mat­ter of time before “Emer­gent Chris­tians” real­ize how lame all that post-post can­dle wor­ship is and look for some­thing a lit­tle deep­er. The times are ripe for “Oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Friends. We have impor­tant knowl­edge to share about all this. It would be a shame if we kept quiet.

Working with Pipes #2: A DIY personalized community with Del​.icio​.us, Flickr and Google Blog Search

It’s
not nec­es­sary to devel­op your own Web 2.0 soft­ware infra­struc­ture to
cre­ate an inde­pen­dent Web 2.0-powered com­mu­ni­ty online. It’s far
sim­pler to set a stan­dard for your com­mu­ni­ty to use on exisiting
net­works and then to use Yahoo Pipes to pull it together.

I decid­ed on about a dozen cat­e­gories to use with my DIY blog aggre­ga­tor (Quak­erQuak­er).
I only want to pull in posts that are being gen­er­at­ed for my site by
com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers so we use a com­mu­ni­ty iden­ti­fi­er, a unique prefix
that isn’t like­ly to be used by others. 

This post will show you how to pull in tagged feeds from three sources: the Del​.icio​.us social book­mark­ing sys­tem, the Flickr pho­to shar­ing site and Google Blog Search.

Step 1: Pick a community designator

I’ve been using the com­mu­ni­ty name fol­lowed by a dot. The prefix
goes in front of cat­e­go­ry descrip­tion to make a set of unique tags for
the aggre­ga­tor. When some­one wants to add some­thing for the site they
tag it with this “community.category” tag. In my exam­ple, when someone
wants to list a new Quak­er blog they use “quaker.blog”, “quak­er” being
the com­mu­ni­ty name, “blog” being the cat­e­go­ry name for the “New Blogs”
page.

Step 2: Collect the community prefix and category name in Pipes


You begin by going into Pipes and pulling over two text inputs: one for
the com­mu­ni­ty pre­fix, the oth­er for the spe­cif­ic category.

Step 3: Construct these into tags


Now use the “String Con­cate­na­tion” mod­ule to turn this into the
“community.category” mod­el. The com­mu­ni­ty input goes into the top slot,
a dot is the sec­ond slot and the cat­e­go­ry input goes into the last slot.

Now, when you have a tag in Flickr with a dot in it, Flickr auto­mat­i­cal­ly removes it in the resul­tant RSS feed.
So with Flickr you want your tag to be “com­mu­ni­ty­cat­e­go­ry” with­out a
dot. Sim­ple enough: just pull anoth­er “String Con­cate­na­tion” module
onto your Pipes work space. It should look the same except that it
won’t have the mid­dle slot with the dot.

Step 4: Turn these tags into RSS URLs


Pull three “URL­Builder” mod­ules into Pipes, one for each of the
ser­vices we’re going to query. For the Base, use the non-tag specific
part of the URL that each ser­vice uses for its RSS feeds. Here they are:

Del​.icio​.us http://​del​.icio​.us/​r​s​s​/​tag
Flickr http://​api​.flickr​.com/​s​e​r​v​i​c​e​s​/​f​e​eds
Google Blog Search http://​blogsearch​.google​.com

Under path ele­ments, put the cor­rect tag: for Del​.icio​.us and Google it should be the community.category tag, for Flickr the dot-less com­mu­ni­ty­cat­e­go­ry tag.

Step 5: Fetch and Dedupe

Fetch is the Pipes mod­ule that pulls in URLs and out­puts RSS feeds. It can also com­bine them. Send each URLBuilder out­put into the same Fetch routine.

Since it’s pos­si­ble that you’ll might have dupli­cate posts, use the “Unique” mod­ule to dedu­pli­cate entries by URL.
Through a lit­tle tri­al and error I’ve deter­mined that in cas­es of
dupli­cates, feeds low­er in the Fetch list trump those high­er. In the
actu­al Pipe pow­er­ing my aggre­ga­tor I pull a sec­ond Del​.icio​.us feed: my
own. I have that as the last entry in the Fetch list so that I can
per­son­al­ly over­ride every oth­er input.

Step 6: Sort by Date


With exper­i­men­ta­tion it seems like Pipes orders the out­put entries by
descend­ing date, which is prob­a­bly what you want. But I want to show
how Pipes can work with “dc” data, the “Dublin Core” mod­el that allows
you to extend stan­dard RSS feeds (see yesterday’s post for more on this).

Google Blog Search and Del​.icio​.us feeds use the “dc:date” field to
record the time when the post was made. Flickr uses “dc:date.Taken” to
pass on the photograph’s meta­da­ta about when it was tak­en. Pipes’
“Rename” mod­ule lets you copy both fields into one you cre­ate (I’ve
sim­ply used “date”), which you can then run through its “Sort” module.
Again, it’s a moot point since Pipes seems to do this automatically.
But it’s good to know how to manip­u­late and rename “dc” data if only
because many PHP parsers have trou­ble lay­ing it out on a webpage.

Update: it’s all moot: accord­ing to ZDNet blog, “Pipes now auto­mat­i­cal­ly appends a pub­Date tag to any RSS feed that has any of the oth­er allow­able date tags.” This is nice: no need to hack the date every time you want to make a Pipe!

Step 7: Output

The final step for any Pipe is the “Pipe Out­put” module.

In action

You can see this pub­lished Pipe here, and copy and play with it your­self. The result lets you build an RSS feed based on the two inputs. 

Two Years of the Quaker Ranter and Quaker Blogs

An amaz­ing thing has hap­pened in the last two years: we’ve got Friends from the cor­ners of Quak­erism shar­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, our frus­tra­tions and dreams through Quak­er blogs. Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing have built a net­work of Friends who under­stand. When our gen­er­a­tion is set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging community.

Image4
My per­son­al site before and after it became “Quak­er Ranter.”

When I signed off on my last post, I promised I would con­tin­ue with some­thing on “blogs, min­istry and lib­er­al Quak­er out­reach.” Here’s the first of the follow-ups.

As I set­tle in to my sec­ond week at my new (and newly-defined) jobs at FGC, I won­der if I be here with­out help of the Quak­er Ranter? I start­ed this blog two sum­mers ago. It was a time when I felt like I might be head­ed toward mem­ber­ship in the lost Quak­er gen­er­a­tion that was the focus of one of my ear­li­est posts. There were a lot of dead-ends in my life. A cou­ple of appli­ca­tions for more seri­ous, respon­si­ble employ­ment with Friends had recent­ly gone nowhere. Life at my month­ly meet­ing was odd (we’ll keep it at that). I felt I was com­ing into a deep­er expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of my Quak­erism and per­haps inch­ing toward more overt min­istry but there was no out­let, no sense of how this inward trans­for­ma­tion might fit into any sort of out­ward social form or forum.

Every­where I looked I saw Friends short­com­ing them­selves and our reli­gious soci­ety with a don’t-rock-the-boat timid­i­ty that wasn’t serv­ing God’s pur­pose for us. I saw pre­cious lit­tle prophet­ic min­istry. I knew of few Friends who were ask­ing chal­leng­ing ques­tions about our wor­ship life. Our lan­guage about God was becom­ing ever more cod­ed and ster­il­ized. Most of the twenty-somethings I knew gen­er­al­ly approached Quak­erism pri­mar­i­ly as a series of cul­tur­al norms with only dif­fer­ent stan­dards from one year­ly meet­ing to anoth­er (and one Quak­er branch to anoth­er, I suspect) .
With all this as back­drop, I start­ed the Quak­er Ranter with a nothing-left-to-lose men­tal­i­ty. I was ner­vous about push­ing bound­aries and about broach­ing things pub­licly that most Friends only say in hushed tones of two or three on meet­ing­house steps. I was also dou­bly ner­vous about being a Quak­er employ­ee talk­ing about this stuff (liveli­hood and all that!). The few Quak­er blogs that were out there were gen­er­al­ly blogs by Quak­ers but about any­thing but Quak­erism, pol­i­tics being the most com­mon topic.

Now sure, a lot of this hasn’t changed over these few years. But one thing has: we now have a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty of Quak­er blog­gers. We’ve got folks from the cor­ners of Quak­erism get­ting to know one anoth­er and hash out not just our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, but our frus­tra­tions and dreams. It’s so cool. There’s some­thing hap­pen­ing in all this! Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing are find­ing Friends who understand.

Through the blog and the com­mu­ni­ty that formed around it I’ve found a voice. I’m evolv­ing, cer­tain­ly, through read­ing, life, blog con­ver­sa­tions and most impor­tant­ly (I hope!) the act­ing of the Holy Spir­it on my ever-resistant ego. But because of my blog I’m some­one who now feels com­fort­able talk­ing about what it means to be a Quak­er in a pub­lic set­ting. It almost seems quaint to think back to the ear­ly blog con­ver­sa­tions about whether we can call this a kind of min­istry. When we’re all set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty. In Howard Brinton’s Quak­er Jour­nals he enu­mer­at­ed the steps toward growth in the min­istry that most of the writ­ers seemed to go through; I sus­pect the jour­nals of our gen­er­a­tion will add self-published elec­tron­ic media to it’s list of clas­sic steps.

When I start­ed Quak­er Ranter I did have to won­der if this might be a quick­est way to get fired. Not to cast asper­sions on the powers-that-be at FGC but the web is full of cau­tion­ary tales of peo­ple being canned because of too-public blogs. My only con­so­la­tion was the sense that no one that mat­tered real­ly read the thing. But as it became more promi­nent a curi­ous phe­nom­e­non hap­pened: even Quak­er staff and über-insiders seemed to be relat­ing to this con­ver­sa­tion and want­ed a place to com­plain and dream about Quak­erism. My per­son­al rep­u­ta­tion has cer­tain­ly gone up because of this site, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly because of the blog. This brings with it the snares of pop­u­lar praise (itself a well-worn theme in Quak­er jour­nals) but it also made it more like­ly I would be con­sid­ered for my new out­reach job. It’s fun­ny how life works.
Okay, that’s enough for a post. I’ll have to keep out­reach till next time. But bear with me: it’s about form too and how form con­tributes to ministry.

PS: Talk­ing of two years of Quak­er blog­ging… My “Non​vi​o​lence​.org turns ten years old this Thurs­day!! I thought about mak­ing a big deal about it but alas there’s so lit­tle time.

Strangers to the Covenant

A workshop led by Zachary Moon and Martin Kelley at the 2005 FGC Gathering of Friends.

 

This is for Young Friends who want to break into the pow­er of Quak­erism: it’s the stuff you didn’t get in First Day School. Con­nect­ing with his­tor­i­cal Quak­ers whose pow­er­ful min­istry came in their teens and twen­ties, we’ll look at how Friends wove God, covenants and gospel order togeth­er to build a move­ment that rocked the world. We’ll mine Quak­er his­to­ry to reclaim the pow­er of our tra­di­tion, to explore the liv­ing tes­ti­monies and our wit­ness in the world. (P/T)

Per­cent­age of time: Wor­ship 20 / Lec­ture 30 / Dis­cus­sion 50

 

Extended Description

We hope to encour­age Friends to imag­ine them­selves as min­is­ters and elders and to be bold enough to chal­lenge the insti­tu­tions of Quak­erism as need­ed. We want to build a com­mu­ni­ty, a cohort, of Friends who aren’t afraid to bust us out of our own lim­it­ed expec­ta­tions and give them space to grow into the aware­ness that their long­ing for deep­er spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion with shared wide­ly among oth­ers their age. Our task as work­shop con­ven­ers is to mod­el as both bold and hum­ble seek­ers after truth, who can stay real to the spir­it with­out tak­ing our­selves either too seri­ous­ly or too lightly.

Mar­tin and Zachary have dis­cov­ered a Quak­er tra­di­tion more defined, more coher­ent and far rich­er than the Quak­erism we were offered in First Day School. In integri­ty to that dis­cov­ery, we intend to cre­ate a space for fel­low­ship that would fur­ther open these glimpses of what’s out there and what pos­si­bil­i­ties exist to step out bold­ly in this Light.

Sun­day: Introductions
The most impor­tant task for today is mod­el­ing the ground­ed wor­ship and spirit-led min­istry that will be our true cur­ricu­lum this week. In a wor­ship shar­ing for­mat we will con­sid­er these questions:

  • What brought me to this workshop?
  • What did they fail to teach me in First Day School that I still want to know?

Mon­day: What is this Quakerism?
Today will be about enter­ing this ground­ed space togeth­er as Friends, begin­ning to ask some ques­tions that reveal and open. How do I artic­u­late what Quak­erism is all about? What ideas, lan­guage, and words (e.g. “God”, “Jesus” “Light”) do use to describe this tra­di­tion? Today we start that dia­logue. At the end of ses­sion we will ask par­tic­i­pants to seek out an old­er Friend and ask them for their answers on these queries and bring back that expe­ri­ence to our next gathering.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nal and Bible
  • Present ques­tion: When some­one asks me “what is Quak­erism?” how do I respond.
  • Mar­tin and Zachary will share some thoughts on this ques­tion from oth­er Friends
  • Jour­nal­ing on Query
  • Dis­cus­sion of ideas and language.

Tues­day: The Mys­ti­cal Tra­di­tion and Gospel Order
We enter into the lan­guage and fab­ric of our Tra­di­tion at its mys­ti­cal roots. Ask­ing the ques­tions: What does God feel like? Intro­duce ear­ly Quaker’s talk about God. What does it feel like to be with God? What is Gospel Order?

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Follow-up on pre­vi­ous day’s discussion/homework what new came into the Light overnight?
  • Jour­nal­ing on Query: When have I felt the pres­ence of God? Describe it in five senses?
  • Ini­tial dis­cus­sion and shar­ing of thoughts and ideas.
  • Intro­duce some ideas from ear­ly Friends and oth­ers on this Query. How have oth­ers (Jesus, Isa­iah, Mer­ton, Fox, Day) spo­ken of this experience?
  • Intro­duce themes of Spir­i­tu­al Prac­tice: If Quak­erism is about ask­ing the right ques­tions, how do we get into the place to hear those ques­tions and respond faith­ful­ly? We have already been incor­po­rat­ing devo­tion­al read­ing into our time togeth­er each morn­ing but we will intro­duce into the Light of Dis­ci­pline as such here. Nam­ing of oth­er prac­tices, pre­vi­ous­ly acknowl­edged and oth­er­wise, with­in the group.
  • Intro­duce ‘Spir­i­tu­al Dis­cern­ment’ themes for the fol­low­ing day’s session.

Wednes­day: The Roots of Friends’ Dis­cern­ment Tra­di­tion and the Testimonies
We delve into the archives, the dusty stuff, the stuff First Day School didn’t get to: the preach­ing from the trees, the prison time, the age George Fox was when he was first incar­cer­at­ed for his beliefs, what the tes­ti­monies are real­ly about and where they came from. Today is about tak­ing the skele­tons out of the clos­et and clean­ing house.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • ‘Let’s talk his­to­ry’: Ear­ly Friends, the Mak­ing of The Soci­ety, and the Dis­cern­ment Tra­di­tion. [Mar­tin and Zachary may cov­er this, or we may arrange to have anoth­er Friend come and share some thoughts and infuse a new voice into our dialogue]
  • There are lots of tes­ti­monies: what are ours? Name some. How to they facil­i­tate our rela­tion­ship with God?
  • What’s up with “Obe­di­ence”, “Plain­ness”, and “Dis­ci­pline”? How do we prac­tice them?

Thurs­day: Friends in a Covenant­ed Relationship
We grow into our roles as lead­ers in this com­mu­ni­ty by con­sid­er­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties and the hur­dles in deep­en­ing our covenant rela­tion­ship. We begin with con­sid­er­ing spir­i­tu­al gifts, and then con­sid­er ques­tions around min­istry, its ori­gin and its dis­cern­ment. We will take up the task of con­sid­er­ing what our work, what piece of this respon­si­bil­i­ty is ours to carry.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Jour­nal­ing on the Queries: What is alive inside of me? How are my spir­i­tu­al gifts named and nurtured?
  • What are the tasks of ministry?
  • What are the tasks of eldering?
  • What are the struc­tures and prac­tices in our month­ly, quar­ter­ly and year­ly meet­ings that we can use to test out and sup­port lead­ings? How do these struc­tures work and not work. Clear­ness com­mit­tees? Trav­el­ing Friends? Spir­i­tu­al nurture/affinity groups?
  • What is hold­ing us back from liv­ing this deep­ened rela­tion­ship? What is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to this covenant and this covenant community?

Fri­day: The Future of Quakerism
We begin the work that will occu­py the rest of our lives. The par­tic­i­pants of this work­shop will be around for the next fifty or more years, so let’s start talk­ing about sys­tem­at­ic, long-term change. We have some­thing to con­tribute to this con­sid­er­a­tion right now.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Where do we go from here? Mar­tin will present on emer­gent church. Zachary will present some thoughts on ‘Beloved Community’.
    Many have talked about deep com­mu­nion with God and about covenant com­mu­ni­ty. Many have spo­ken our hearts and giv­en voice to the pas­sion we expe­ri­ence; now it’s on us what are we going to do about it? Where is it happening?
  • Dis­cus­sion (maybe as a fish­bowl) Where do we envi­sion Quak­erism 50 years from now? 100 years from now?

External Website: Quaker Ranter, Martin’s site.

Quaker Testimonies

One of the more rev­o­lu­tion­ary trans­for­ma­tions of Amer­i­can Quak­erism in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry has been our under­stand­ing of the tes­ti­monies. In online dis­cus­sions I find that many Friends think the “SPICE” tes­ti­monies date back from time immemo­r­i­al. Not only are they rel­a­tive­ly new, they’re a dif­fer­ent sort of crea­ture from their predecessors.

In the last fifty years it’s become dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate Quak­er tes­ti­monies from ques­tions of mem­ber­ship. Both were dra­mat­i­cal­ly rein­vent­ed by a newly-minted class of lib­er­al Friends in the ear­ly part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and then cod­i­fied by Howard Brinton’s land­mark Friends for 300 Years, pub­lished in the ear­ly 1950s.

Comfort and the Test of Membership

Brin­ton comes right out and says that the test for mem­ber­ship shouldn’t involve issues of faith or of prac­tice but should be based on whether one feels com­fort­able with the oth­er mem­bers of the Meet­ing. This con­cep­tion of mem­ber­ship has grad­u­al­ly become dom­i­nant among lib­er­al Friends in the half cen­tu­ry since this book was pub­lished. The trou­ble with it is twofold. The first is that “com­fort” is not nec­es­sar­i­ly what God has in mind for us. If the frequently-jailed first gen­er­a­tion of Friends had used Brinton’s mod­el there would be no Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends to talk about (we’d be lost in the his­tor­i­cal foot­notes with the Mug­gle­to­ni­ans, Grindle­to­ni­ans and the like). One of the clas­sic tests for dis­cern­ment is whether an pro­posed action is con­trary to self-will. Com­fort is not our Society’s calling.

The sec­ond prob­lem is that com­fort­a­bil­i­ty comes from fit­ting in with a cer­tain kind of style, class, col­or and atti­tude. It’s fine to want com­fort in our Meet­ings but when we make it the pri­ma­ry test for mem­ber­ship, it becomes a cloak for eth­nic and cul­tur­al big­otries that keep us from reach­ing out. If you have advanced edu­ca­tion, mild man­ners and lib­er­al pol­i­tics, you’ll fit it at most East Coast Quak­er meet­ings. If you’re too loud or too eth­nic or speak with a work­ing class accent you’ll like­ly feel out of place. Samuel Cald­well gave a great talk about the dif­fer­ence between Quak­er cul­ture and Quak­er faith and I’ve pro­posed a tongue-in-cheek tes­ti­mo­ny against com­mu­ni­ty as way of open­ing up discussion.

The Feel Good Testimonies

Friends for 300 Years also rein­vent­ed the Tes­ti­monies. They had been spe­cif­ic and often pro­scrip­tive: against gam­bling, against par­tic­i­pa­tion in war. But the new tes­ti­monies became vague feel-good char­ac­ter traits – the now-famous SPICE tes­ti­monies of sim­plic­i­ty, peace, integri­ty, com­mu­ni­ty and equal­i­ty. Who isn’t in favor of all those val­ues? A pres­i­dent tak­ing us to war will tell us it’s the right thing to do (integri­ty) to con­truct last­ing peace (peace) so we can bring free­dom to an oppressed coun­try (equal­i­ty) and cre­ate a stronger sense of nation­al pride (com­mu­ni­ty) here at home.

We mod­ern Friends (lib­er­al ones at least) were real­ly trans­formed by the redefin­tions of mem­ber­ship and the tes­ti­monies that took place mid-century. I find it sad that a lot of Friends think our cur­rent tes­ti­monies are the ancient ones. I think an aware­ness of how Friends han­dled these issues in the 300 years before Brin­ton would help us nav­i­gate a way out of the “eth­i­cal soci­ety” we have become by default.

The Source of our Testimonies

A quest for uni­ty was behind the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the tes­ti­monies. The main accom­plish­ment of East Coast Quak­erism in the mid-twentieth cen­tu­ry was the reunit­ing of many of the year­ly meet­ings that had been torn apart by schisms start­ing in 1827. By end of that cen­tu­ry Friends were divid­ed across a half dozen major the­o­log­i­cal strains man­i­fest­ed in a patch­work of insti­tu­tion­al divi­sions. One way out of this morass was to present the tes­ti­monies as our core uni­fy­ing prici­ples. But you can only do that if you divorce them from their source.

As Chris­tians (even as post-Christians), our core com­mand­ment is sim­ple: to love God with all our heart and to love our neigh­bor as ourselves:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great com­mand­ment. And the sec­ond is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neigh­bour as thy­self. On these two com­mand­ments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:37 – 40 and Mark 12:30 – 31, Luke 10:27.

The Quak­er tes­ti­monies also hang on these com­mand­ments: they are our col­lec­tive mem­o­ry. While they are in con­tant flux, they refer back to 350 years of expe­ri­ence. These are the truths we can tes­ti­fy to as a peo­ple, ways of liv­ing that we have learned from our direct expe­ri­ence of the Holy Spir­it. They are intri­cate­ly tied up with our faith and with how we see our­selves fol­low­ing through on our charge, our covenant with God.

I’m sure that Howard Brin­ton didn’t intend to sep­a­rate the tes­ti­monies from faith, but he chose his new catagories in such a way that they would appeal to a mod­ern lib­er­al audi­ence. By pop­u­lar­iz­ing them he made them so acces­si­ble that we think we know them already.

A Tale of Two Testimonies

Take the twin tes­ti­monies of plain­ness and sim­plic­i­ty. First the ancient tes­ti­mo­ny of plain­ness. Here’s the descrip­tion from 1682:

Advised, that all Friends, both old and young, keep out of the world’s cor­rupt lan­guage, man­ners, vain and need­less things and fash­ions, in appar­el, build­ings, and fur­ni­ture of hous­es, some of which are immod­est, inde­cent, and unbe­com­ing. And that they avoid immod­er­a­tion in the use of law­ful things, which though inno­cent in them­selves, may there­by become hurt­ful; also such kinds of stuffs, colours and dress, as are cal­cu­lat­ed more to please a vain and wan­ton mind, than for real use­ful­ness; and let trades­men and oth­ers, mem­bers of our reli­gious soci­ety, be admon­ished, that they be not acces­sary to these evils; for we ought to take up our dai­ly cross, mind­ing the grace of God which brings sal­va­tion, and teach­es to deny all ungod­li­ness and world­ly lusts, and to live sober­ly, right­eous­ly and god­ly, in this present world, that we may adorn the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in all things; so may we feel his bless­ing, and be instru­men­tal in his hand for the good of others.

Note that there’s noth­ing in there about the length of one’s hem. The key phrase for me is the warn­ing about doing things “cal­cu­lat­ed to please a vain and wan­ton mind.” Friends were being told that pride makes it hard­er to love God and our neigh­bors; immod­er­a­tion makes it hard to hear God’s still small voice; self-sacrifice is nec­es­sary to be an instru­ment of God’s love. This tes­ti­mo­ny is all about our rela­tion­ships with God and with each other.

Most mod­ern Friends have dis­pensed with “plain­ness” and recast the tes­ti­mo­ny as “sim­plic­i­ty.” Ask most Friends about this tes­ti­mo­ny and they’ll start telling you about their clut­tered desks and their annoy­ance with cell­phones. Ask for a reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­gram on sim­plic­i­ty and you’ll almost cer­tain­ly be assigned a book from the mod­ern vol­un­tary sim­plic­i­ty move­ment, one of those self-help man­u­als that promise inner peace if you plant a gar­den or buy a fuel-efficient car, with “God” absent from the index. While it’s true that most Amer­i­cans (and Friends) would have more time for spir­i­tu­al refresh­ment if they unclut­tered their lives, the sec­u­lar notions of sim­plic­i­ty do not emanate out of a con­cern for “gospel order” or for a “right order­ing” of our lives with God. Vol­un­tary sim­plic­i­ty is great: I’ve pub­lished books on it and I live car-free, use cloth dia­pers, etc. But plain­ness is some­thing dif­fer­ent and it’s that dif­fer­ence that we need to explore again.

Pick just about any of the so-called “SPICE” tes­ti­monies (sim­plic­i­ty, peace, integri­ty, com­mu­ni­ty and equal­i­ty) and you’ll find the mod­ern notions are sec­u­lar­l­ized over-simplications of the Quak­er under­stand­ings. In our quest for uni­ty, we’ve over-stated their importance.

Ear­li­er I men­tioned that many of the ear­li­er tes­ti­monies were pro­scrip­tive – they said cer­tain actions were not in accord with our prin­ci­ples. Take a big one: after many years of dif­fi­cult min­is­ter­ing and soul search­ing Friends were able to say that slav­ery was a sin and that Friends who held slaves were kept from a deep com­mu­nion with God; this is dif­fer­ent than say­ing we believe in equal­i­ty. Sim­i­lar­ly, say­ing we’re against all out­ward war is dif­fer­ent than say­ing we’re in favor of peace. While I know some Friends are proud of cast­ing every­thing in pos­ti­tive terms, some­times we need to come out and say a par­tic­u­lar prac­tice is just plain wrong, that it inter­feres with and goes against our rela­tion­ship with God and with our neighbors.

I’ll leave it up to you to start chew­ing over what spe­cif­ic actions we might take a stand against. But know this: if our min­is­ters and meet­ings found that a par­tic­u­lar prac­tice was against our tes­ti­monies, we could be sure that there would be some Friends engaged in it. We would have a long process of min­is­ter­ing with them and labor­ing with them. It would be hard. Feel­ings would be hurt. Peo­ple would go away angry.

After a half-century of lib­er­al indi­vid­u­al­ism, it would be hard to once more affirm that there is some­thing to Quak­erism, that it does have norms and bound­aries. We would need all the love, char­i­ty and patience we could muster. This work would is not easy, espe­cial­ly because it’s work with mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ty, peo­ple we love and hon­or. We would have to fol­low John Woolman’s exam­ple: our first audi­ence would not be Wash­ing­ton pol­i­cy mak­ers instead Friends in our own Society.

Testimonies as Affirmation of the Power

In a world beset by war, greed, pover­ty and hatred, we do need to be able to talk about our val­ues in sec­u­lar terms. An abil­i­ty to talk about paci­fism with our non-Quaker neigh­bors in a smart, informed way is essen­tial (thus my Non​vi​o​lence​.org min­istry [since laid down], cur­rent­ly receiv­ing two mil­lions vis­i­tors a year). When we affirm com­mu­ni­ty and equal­i­ty we are wit­ness­ing to our faith. Friends should be proud of what we’ve con­tributed to the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al dis­cus­sions on these topics.

But for all of their con­tem­po­rary cen­tral­i­ty to Quak­erism, the tes­ti­monies are only second-hand out­ward forms. They are not to be wor­shipped in and of them­selves. Mod­ern Friends come dan­ger­ous­ly close to lift­ing up the peace tes­ti­mo­ny as a false idol – the prin­ci­ple we wor­ship over every­thing else. When we get so good at argu­ing the prac­ti­cal­i­ty of paci­fism, we for­get that our tes­ti­mo­ny is first and fore­most our procla­ma­tion that we live in the pow­er that takes away occas­sion for war. When high school math teach­ers start argu­ing over arcane points of nuclear pol­i­cy, play­ing arm­chair diplo­mat with year­ly meet­ing press releas­es to the State Depart­ment, we loose cred­i­bil­i­ty and become some­thing of a joke. But when we min­is­ter to the Pow­er is the Good News we speak with an author­i­ty that can thun­der over pet­ty gov­ern­ments with it’s com­mand to Quake before God.

When we remem­ber the spir­i­tu­al source of our faith, our under­stand­ings of the tes­ti­monies deep­en immea­sur­ably. When we let our actions flow from uncom­pli­cat­ed faith we gain a pow­er and endurance that strength­ens our wit­ness. When we speak of our expe­ri­ence of the Holy Spir­it, our words gain the author­i­ty as oth­ers rec­og­nize the echo of that “still small voice” speak­ing to their hearts. Our love and our wit­ness are sim­ple and uni­ver­sal, as is the good news we share: that to be ful­ly human is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neigh­bors as we do ourselves.

Hal­leluiah: praise be to God!

Reading elsewhere: