Blogging for the Kingdom

Warn­ing: this is a blog post about blog­ging.

It’s always fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the ebb and flow of my blog­ging. Quak­er­ran­ter, my “main” blog has been remark­ably qui­et. I’m still up to my eye­balls with blog­ging in gen­er­al: post­ing things to Quak­erQuak­er, giv­ing help­ful com­ments and tips, help­ing oth­ers set up blogs as part of my con­sult­ing busi­ness. My Tum­blr blog and Face­book and Twit­ter feeds all con­tin­ue to be rel­a­tive­ly active. But most of these is me giv­ing voice to oth­ers. For two decades now, I’ve zigzagged between writer and pub­lish­er; late­ly I’ve been focused on the lat­ter.

When I start­ed blog­ging about Quak­er issues sev­en years ago, I was a low-level cler­i­cal employ­ee at an Quak­er orga­ni­za­tion. It was clear I was going nowhere career-wise, which gave me a cer­tain free­dom. More impor­tant­ly, blogs were a near­ly invis­i­ble medi­um, read by a self-selected group that also want­ed to talk open­ly and hon­est­ly about issues. I start­ed writ­ing about issues in among lib­er­al Friends and about missed out­reach oppor­tu­ni­ties. A lot of what I said was spot on and in hind­sight, the archives give me plen­ty of “told you so” cred­i­bil­i­ty. But where’s the joy in being right about what hasn’t worked?

Things have changed over the years. One is that I’ve resigned myself to those missed oppor­tu­ni­ties. Lots of Quak­er mon­ey and human­ly activ­i­ty is going into projects that don’t have God as a cen­ter. No amount of rant­i­ng is going to dis­suade good peo­ple from putting their faith into one more staff reor­ga­ni­za­tion, mis­sion rewrite or clever program.It’s a dis­trac­tion to spend much time wor­ry­ing about them.

But the biggest change is that my heart is square­ly with God. I’m most inter­est­ed in shar­ing Jesus’s good news. I’m not a cheer­leader for any par­tic­u­lar human insti­tu­tion, no mat­ter how noble its inten­tions. When I talk about the good news, it’s in the con­text of 350 years of Friends’ under­stand­ing of it. But I’m well aware that there’s lots of peo­ple in our meet­ing­hous­es that don’t under­stand it this way any­more. And also aware that the seek­er want­i­ng to pur­sue the Quak­er way might find it more close­ly mod­eled in alter­na­tive Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties. There are peo­ple all over lis­ten­ing for God and I see many attempts at rein­vent­ing Quak­erism hap­pen­ing among non-Friends.

I know this obser­va­tion excites some peo­ple to indig­na­tion, but so be it: I’m trust­ing God on this one. I’m not sure why He’sgiven us a world why the com­mu­ni­ties we bring togeth­er to wor­ship Him keep get­ting dis­tract­ed, but that’s what we’ve got (and it’s what we’ve had for a long time). Every per­son of faith of every gen­er­a­tion has to remem­ber, re-experience and revive the mes­sage. That hap­pens in church build­ings, on street cor­ners, in liv­ing rooms, lunch lines and nowa­days on blogs and inter­net forums.We can’t get too hung up on all the ways the mes­sage is get­ting blocked. And we can’t get hung up by insist­ing on only one chan­nel of shar­ing that mes­sage. We must share the good news and trust that God will show us how to man­i­fest this in our world: his king­dom come and will be done on earth.

But what would this look like?

When I first start­ed blog­ging there weren’t a lot of Quak­er blogs and I spent a lot more time read­ing oth­er reli­gious blogs. This was back before the emer­gent church move­ment became a wholly-owned sub­sidiary of Zon­der­van and wasn’t dom­i­nat­ed by hype artists (sor­ry, a lot of big names set off my slime-o-meter these days). There are still great blog­gers out there talk­ing about faith and read­ers want­i­ng to engage in this dis­cus­sion. I’ve been intrigued by the his­tor­i­cal exam­ple of Thomas Clark­son, the Angli­can who wrote about Friends from a non-Quaker per­spec­tive using non-Quaker lan­guage. And some­times I geek out and explain some Quak­er point on a Quak­er blog and get thanked by the author, who often is an expe­ri­enced Friend who had nev­er been pre­sent­ed with a clas­sic Quak­er expla­na­tion on the point in ques­tion. My track­ing log shows seek­ers con­tin­ue to be fas­ci­nat­ed and drawn to us for our tra­di­tion­al tes­ti­monies, espe­cial­ly plain­ness.

I’ve put togeth­er top­ic lists and plans before but it’s a bit of work, maybe too much to put on top of what I do with Quak­erQuak­er (plus work, plus fam­i­ly). There’s also ques­tions about where to blog and whether to sim­pli­fy my blog­ging life a bit by com­bin­ing some of my blogs but that’s more logis­tics rather than vision.

Inter­est­ing stuff I’m read­ing that’s mak­ing me think about this:

A time of sadness and prayer

Sad news com­ing over the inter­net: after 100 days of cap­tiv­i­ty, Chris­t­ian Peace­mak­er Tom Fox was found dead yes­ter­day in Iraq, the sta­tus of his three com­pan­ions unknown.

The Chris­t­ian Peace­mak­er Teams issued an ele­gant and heart­felt state­ment begin­ning “In grief we trem­ble before God who wraps us with com­pas­sion.” Fox knew the risk he was tak­ing going to Iraq unarmed. But he also knew that this wit­ness  would mean more to the Iraqi peo­ple than a hun­dred tanks. He knew the war we Friends wage is the Lamb’s War, a war won not through strength but through meek­ness, our only weapon our humilty before God and our love of neigh­bor. My prayers are with his fam­i­ly and friends, may Christ’s com­fort con­tin­ue to hold them through these aching times.
More his­to­ry and resources on my “Chris­t­ian Peace­mak­er Team Watch”:http://www.quakerquaker.org/christian_peacemaker_teams/

Danny: Looking for a Real Religion

Here’s an email from Dan­ny, a new friend who I met at last week’s FGC-sponsored “Youth Min­istries Con­sul­ta­tion.” I liked his obser­va­tions and asked if I could share this on the blog. I’m glad he said yes, since it’s a good per­spec­tive on where one con­vinced 19 year old Friend is at.
Update: “Here’s Danny’s new blog, Rid­ing the Whale”:http://Quakernow.blogspot.com/

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Yearly Meeting Blues

Went to the open­ing of “Philadel­phia Year­ly Meeting’s”:http://www.pym.org annu­al ses­sions yes­ter­day. It’s hard to get too excit­ed about it. It was the same peo­ple talk­ing about the same issues. I real­ly like and respect so many in the year­ly meet­ing, but try as I might, I can nev­er imag­ine this group on _fire._ What would it mean for us to scrap our plans and agen­das to fol­low His?

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Sodium Free Friends

Yet anoth­er group of Friends (doesn’t mat­ter which, it could be any) is plan­ning a pro­gram on “com­mu­ni­ty.” They quote a snip­pet of a 1653 epis­tle on George Fox – you know the one about “Mind that which is eter­nal…” Fine enough, but there’s so much more to the epis­tle that we would fear to quote, like:

We are redeemed by the only redeemer Christ Jesus, not with cor­rupt­ible things, nei­ther is our redemp­tion of man, nor by man, nor accord­ing to the will of man, but con­trary to man’s will. And so, our uni­ty and fel­low­ship with vain man are lost, and all his evil ways are now turned into enmi­ty; and all his pro­fes­sion is now found to be deceit, and in all his fairest pre­tences lod­geth cru­el­ty; and the bot­tom and ground of all his knowl­edge of God and Christ is found sandy, and can­not endure the tem­pest.

Inter­est­ing ideas, but not ones most lib­er­al Friends would like to tack­le. It’s a shame. I wish we would more more active­ly engage with our tra­di­tion and not just selec­tive­ly edit out a few words which makes Fox sound like a sev­en­teen cen­tu­ry Thich Nhat Hanh. I think we can simul­ta­ne­ous­ly wres­tle with and chal­lenge our tra­di­tion with­out hav­ing to either capit­u­late to it or aban­don it.

After writ­ing the above, I went for a neigh­bor­hood walk with baby asleep in the back­pack. And I real­ized I hadn’t explained why it mat­ters to engage. I didn’t quote the sen­tences about human will­full­ness to show that I’m more sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry than thee, or to prove I can use the “C” word.
No, I quote it because it’s a rockin’ quote. George Fox is map­ping out for us twenty-first cen­tu­ry Friends just how we might get out of the predica­ment of super­fi­cial “com­mu­ni­ty” we’ve got­ten our­selves into. Every­one from Wal­mart to Walgreen’s, from Hillary Clin­ton to Oprah, is try­ing to sell us on some dream of com­mu­ni­ty com­plete with a price tag from cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca. Buy our prod­ucts, our polit­i­cal par­ty, our lifestyle and we’ll give you the nar­cot­ic of con­sumer tar­get­ing. Wear the right right sneak­er or dri­ve the right car and you’re part of the in-crowd. 

But these com­mu­ni­ties built on the sand just dis­solve in the tide and leave us more strand­ed than when we start­ed.
We poor humans are look­ing for ways to tran­scend the crap­pi­ness of our war- and consumer-obsessed world. Quak­erism has some­thing to say about that (more than ways to recy­cle plas­tic or stage a protest faux-blockade). We’re toss­ing out the future when we throw away the past, just to live in our TVs. George’s epis­tle men­tions this too:

Let not hard words trou­ble you, nor fair speech­es win you; but dwell in the pow­er of truth, in the mighty God, and have salt in your­selves to savour all words, and to stand against all the wiles of the dev­il, in the mighty pow­er of God.

(Quotes from Epis­tle 24, reprint­ed here.)

FGC on Quaker Religious Ed

One of the pieces I helped put online in my role of FGC web­mas­ter is FGC Reli­gious Edu­ca­tion: Lessons for the 21st Cen­tu­ry, by Beck­ey Phipps. It’s def­i­nite­ly worth a read. It’s com­prised of inter­views of three Friends:

Ernie Busce­mi: “It is the most amaz­ing thing, all the kids that I know that have gone into [Quak­er] lead­er­ship pro­grams – they’ve dis­ap­peared. I see the same thing [hap­pen­ing] as a woman and per­son of col­or, we are doing some­thing wrong.”

Mar­ty Grundy: “Our branch [of Friends] has dis­card­ed the tools by which ear­li­er Friends’ prac­tices were formed. We’ve lost our under­stand­ing of what it is that we are about.”

Arthur Larrabee: “We need to tap into God’s ener­gy and God’s joy. Ear­ly Friends had that ener­gy, they had a vision, they had the con­nec­tion with the inward Christ, a source of infi­nite ener­gy pow­er and joy.”

While I wish this could be extend­ed a bit (e.g., why not ask the ‘kids’ them­selves where they’ve gone), at least these are the right ques­tions.

Beyond the MacGuffins: Sheeran’s Beyond Majority Rule

A review of Michael Sheeran’s “Beyond Major­i­ty Rule”. Twen­ty years lat­er, do Friends need to expe­ri­ence the gath­ered con­di­tion?

Beyond Major­i­ty Rule has got to have one of the most unique
sto­ries in Quak­er writ­ings. Michael Sheer­an is a Jesuit priest who went
to sem­i­nary in the years right after the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil. Forged
by great changes tak­ing place in the church, he took seri­ous­ly the
Council’s man­date for Roman Catholics to get “in touch with their
roots.” He became inter­est­ed in a long-forgotten process of “Com­mu­nal
Dis­cern­ment” used by the Jesuit order in when it was found­ed in the
mid-sixteenth cen­tu­ry. His search led him to study groups out­side
Catholi­cism that had sim­i­lar decision-making struc­tures. The Reli­gious
Soci­ety of Friends should con­sid­er itself lucky that he found us. His
book often explains our ways bet­ter than any­thing we’ve writ­ten.

Sheeran’s advan­tage comes from being an out­sider firm­ly root­ed in
his own faith. He’s not afraid to share obser­va­tions and to make
com­par­isons. He start­ed his research with a rather for­mal study of
Friends, con­duc­ing many inter­views and attend­ing about ten month­ly
meet­ings in Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. There are sec­tions of the book
that are dry expo­si­tions of Quak­er process, sprin­kled by inter­views.
There are times where Sheer­an starts say­ing some­thing real­ly insight­ful
about ear­ly or con­tem­po­rary Friends, but then backs off to repeat some
out­dat­ed Quak­er cliché (he relies a bit too heav­i­ly on the group of
mid-century Haverford-based aca­d­e­mics whose his­to­ries often pro­ject­ed
their own the­ol­o­gy of mod­ern lib­er­al mys­ti­cism onto the ear­ly Friends).
These sec­tions aren’t always very enlight­en­ing – too many Philadel­phia
Friends are uncon­scious of their cher­ished myths and their inbed­ded
incon­sis­ten­cies. On page 85, he express­es the conun­drum quite
elo­quent­ly:

bq. If the researcher was to suc­cumb to the all too typ­i­cal canons
of social sci­ence, he would prob­a­bly scratch his head a few times at
just this point, note that the ambi­gu­i­ty of Quak­er expres­sion makes
accu­rate sta­tis­ti­cal eval­u­a­tion of Quak­er believes almost impos­si­ble
with­out invest­ment of untold time and effort, and move on to analy­sis
of some less inter­est­ing but more man­age­able object of study.

For­tu­nate­ly for us, Sheer­an does not suc­cumb. The book shines when
Sheer­an steps away from the aca­d­e­m­ic role and offers us his sub­jec­tive
obser­va­tions.

There are six pages in Beyond Major­i­ty Rule that com­prise
its main con­tri­bu­tion to Quak­erism. Almost every time I’ve heard
some­one refer to this book in con­ver­sa­tion, it’s been to share the
obser­va­tions of these six pages. Over the years I’ve often casu­al­ly
browsed through the book and it’s these six pages that I’ve always
stopped to read. The pas­sage is called “Con­flict­ing Myths and
Fun­da­men­tal Cleav­ages” and it begins on page 84. Sheer­an begins by
relat­ing the obvi­ous obser­va­tion:

When Friends reflect upon their beliefs, they often focus upon
the obvi­ous con­flict between Chris­to­cen­tric and uni­ver­sal­ist
approach­es. Peo­ple who feel strong­ly drawn to either camp often see the
oth­er posi­tion as a threat to Quak­erism itself.

As a Gen-X’er I’ve often been bored by this debate. It often breaks
down into emp­ty lan­guage and the desire to feel self-righteous about
one’s beliefs. It’s the MacGuf­fin of con­tem­po­rary lib­er­al Quak­erism. (A
MacGuf­fin is a film plot device that dri­ves the action but is
in itself nev­er explained and doesn’t real­ly mat­ter: if the spies have
to get the secret plans across the bor­der by mid­night, those plans are
the MacGuf­fin and the chase the real action.) Today’s debates about
Chris­to­cen­trism ver­sus Uni­ver­sal­ism ignore the real issues of
faith­less­ness we need to address.

Sheer­an sees the real cleav­age between Friends as those who have
expe­ri­enced the divine and those who haven’t. I’d extend the for­mer
just a bit to include those who have faith that the expe­ri­ence of the
divine is pos­si­ble. When we sit in wor­ship do we real­ly believe that we
might be vis­it­ed by Christ (how­ev­er named, how­ev­er defined)? When we
cen­ter our­selves for Meet­ing for Busi­ness do we expect to be guid­ed by
the Great Teacher?

Sheer­an found that a num­ber of Friends didn’t believe in a divine vis­i­ta­tion:

Fur­ther ques­tions some­times led to the para­dox­i­cal dis­cov­ery
that, for some of these Friends, the expe­ri­ence of being gath­ered even
in meet­ing for wor­ship was more of a for­mal rather than an expe­ri­en­tial
real­i­ty. For some, the fact that the group had sat qui­ety for
twenty-five min­utes was itself iden­ti­fied as being gath­ered.

There are many clerks that call for a “moment of silence” to begin
and end busi­ness – five min­utes of for­mal silence to prove that we’re
Quak­ers and maybe to gath­er our argu­ments togeth­er. Meet­ings for
busi­ness are con­duct­ed by smart peo­ple with smart ideas and effi­cien­cy
is prized. Sit­ting in wor­ship is seen a med­i­ta­tive oasis if not a
com­plete waste of time. For these Friends, Quak­erism is a soci­ety of
strong lead­er­ship com­bined with intel­lec­tu­al vig­or. Good deci­sions are
made using good process. If some Friends choose to describe their own
guid­ance as com­ing from “God,” that their indi­vid­ual choice but it is
cer­tain­ly not an imper­a­tive for all.

Maybe it’s Sheeran’s Catholi­cism that makes him aware of these
issues. Both Catholics and Friends tra­di­tion­al­ly believe in the real
pres­ence of Christ dur­ing wor­ship. When a Friend stands to speak in
meet­ing, they do so out of obe­di­ence, to be a mes­sen­ger and ser­vant of
the Holy Spir­it. That Friends might speak ‘beyond their Guide’ does not
betray the fact that it’s God’s mes­sage we are try­ing to relay. Our
under­stand­ing of Christ’s pres­ence is real­ly quite rad­i­cal: “Jesus has
come to teach the peo­ple him­self,” as Fox put it, it’s the idea that
God will speak to us as He did to the Apos­tles and as He did to the
ancient prophets of Israel. The his­to­ry of God being active­ly involved
with His peo­ple con­tin­ues.

Why does this mat­ter? Because as a reli­gious body it is sim­ply our
duty to fol­low God and because new­com­ers can tell when we’re fak­ing it.
I’ve known self-described athe­ists who get it and who I
con­sid­er broth­ers and sis­ters in faith and I’ve known peo­ple who can
quote the bible inside and out yet know noth­ing about love (haven’t we
all known some of these, even in Quak­erism?). How do we get past the
MacGuf­fin debates of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions to dis­till the core of the
Quak­er mes­sage?

Not all Friends will agree with Sheeran’s point of cleav­age. None
oth­er than the acclaimed Haver­for­dian Dou­glas V Steere wrote the
intro­duc­tion to Beyond Major­i­ty Rule and he used it to
dis­miss the core six pages as “mod­est but not espe­cial­ly con­vinc­ing”
(page x). The unstat­ed con­di­tion behind the great Quak­er reuni­fi­ca­tions
of the mid-twentieth cen­tu­ry was a taboo against talk­ing about what we
believe as a peo­ple. Quak­erism became an indi­vid­ual mys­ti­cism
cou­pled with a world-focused social activism – to talk about the area in
between was to threat­en the new uni­ty.

Times have changed and gen­er­a­tions have shift­ed. It is this very
in-between-ness that first attract­ed me to Friends. As a nascent peace
activist, I met Friends whose deep faith allowed them to keep going
past the despair of the world. I didn’t come to Friends to learn how to
pray or how to be a lefty activist (most Quak­er activists now
are too self-absorbed to be real­ly effec­tive). What I want to know is
how Friends relate to one anoth­er and to God in order to tran­scend
them­selves. How do we work togeth­er to dis­cern our divine lead­ings? How
do we come togeth­er to be a faith­ful peo­ple of the Spir­it?

I find I’m not alone in my inter­est in Sheeran’s six pages. The
fifty-somethings I know in lead­er­ship posi­tions in Quak­erism also seem
more ten­der to Sheeran’s obser­va­tions than Dou­glas Steere was.
Twenty-five years after sub­mit­ting his dis­ser­ta­tion, Friends are
per­haps ready to be con­vinced by our Friend, Michael J. Sheer­an.

Post­script: Michael J Sheer­an con­tin­ues to be an inter­est­ing and active fig­ure. He con­tin­ues to write about gov­er­nance
issues
in the Catholic
Church and serves as pres­i­dent of Reg­is
Uni­ver­si­ty
in Den­ver.

Con­tin­ue read­ing

We’re All Ranters Now: On Liberal Friends and Becoming a Society of Finders

It's time to explain why I call this site "The Quaker Ranter" and to talk about my home, the liberal branch of Quakers. Non-Quakers can be forgiven for thinking that I mean this to be a place where I, Martin Kelley, "rant," i.e., where I "utter or express with extravagance." That may be the result (smile), but it's not what I mean and it's not the real purpose behind this site.

Friends and Ranters

The Ranters were fellow-travelers to the Friends in the religious turmoil of seventeenth-century England. The countryside was covered with preachers and lay people running around England seeking to revive primitive Christianity. George Fox was one, declaring that "Christ has come to teach his people himself" and that hireling clergy were distorting God's message. The movement that coalesced around him as "The Friends of Truth" or "The Quakers" would take its orders directly from the Spirit of Christ.

This worked fine for a few years. But before long a leading Quaker rode into the town of Bristol in imitation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Not a good idea. The authorities convicted him of heresy and George Fox distanced himself from his old friend. Soon afterwards, a quasi-Quaker collection of religious radicals plotted an overthrow of the government. That also didn't go down very well with the authorities, and Fox quickly disavowed violence in a statement that became the basis of our peace testimony. Clearly the Friends of the Truth needed to figure out mechanisms for deciding what messages were truly of God and who could speak for the Friends movement.

The central question was one of authority. Those Friends recognized as having the gift for spiritual discernment were put in charge of a system of discipline over wayward Friends. Friends devised a method for determining the validity of individual leadings and concerns. This system rested on an assumption that Truth is immutable, and that any errors come from our own willfulness in disobeying the message. New leadings were first weighed against the tradition of Friends and their predecessors the Israelites (as brought down to us through the Bible).

Ranters often looked and sounded like Quakers but were opposed to any imposition of group authority. They were a movement of individual spiritual seekers. Ranters thought that God spoke directly to individuals and they put no limits on what the Spirit might instruct us. Tradition had no role, institutions were for disbelievers.

Meanwhile Quakers set up Quarterly and Yearly Meetings to institutionalize the system of elders and discipline. This worked for awhile, but it shouldn't be too surprising that this human institution eventually broke down. Worldliness and wealth separated the elders from their less well-to-do brethren and new spiritual movements swept through Quaker ranks. Divisions arose over the eternal question of how to pass along a spirituality of convincement in a Society grown comfortable. By the early 1800s, Philadelphia elders had became a kind of aristocracy based on birthright and in 1827 they disowned two-thirds of their own yearly meeting. The disowned majority naturally developed a distrust of authority, while the aristocratic minority eventually realized there was no one left to elder.

Over the next century and a half, successive waves of popular religious movements washed over Friends. Revivalism, Deism, Spiritualism and Progressive Unitarianism all left their mark on Friends in the Nineteenth Century. Modern liberal Protestantism, Evangelicalism, New Ageism, and sixties-style radicalism transformed the Twentieth. Each fad lifted up a piece of Quakers' original message but invariably added its own incongruous elements into worship. The Society grew ever more fractured.

Faced with ever-greater theological disunity, Friends simply gave up. In the 1950s, the two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings reunited. It was celebrated as reconciliation. But they could do so only because the role of Quaker institutions had fundamentally changed. Our corporate bodies no longer even try to take on the role of discerning what it means to be a Friend.

We are all Ranters now

Liberal Quakers today tend to see their local Meetinghouse as a place where everyone can believe what they want to believe. The highest value is given to tolerance and cordiality. Many people now join Friends because it's the religion without a religion, i.e., it's a community with the form of a religion but without any theology or expectations. We are a proud to be a community of seekers. Our commonality is in our form and we're big on silence and meeting process.

Is it any wonder that almost everyone today seems to be a hyphenated Quaker? We've got Catholic-Quakers, Pagan-Quakers, Jewish-Quakers: if you can hyphenate it, there's a Quaker interest group for you. I'm not talking about Friends nourished by another tradition: we've have historically been graced and continue to be graced by converts to Quakerism whose fresh eyes let us see something new about ourselves. No, I'm talking about people who practice the outward form of Quakerism but look elsewhere for theology and inspiration. If being a Friend means little more than showing up at Meeting once a week, we shouldn't be surprised that people bring a theology along to fill up the hour. It's like bringing a newspaper along for your train commute every morning.

But the appearance of tolerance and unity comes at a price: it depends on everyone forever remaining a Seeker. Anyone who wants to follow early Friends' experience as "Friends of the Truth" risks becomes a Finder who threatens the negotiated truce of the modern Quaker meeting. If we really are a people of God, we might have to start acting that way. We might all have to pray together in our silence. We might all have to submit ourselves to God's will. We might all have to wrestle with each other to articulate a shared belief system. If we were Finders, we might need to define what is unacceptable behavior for a Friend, i.e., on what grounds we would consider disowning a member.

If we became a religious society of Finders, then we'd need to figure out what it means to be a Quaker-Quaker: someone who's theology and practice is Quaker. We would need to put down those individual newspapers to become a People once more. I'm not saying we'd be united all the time. We'd still have disagreements. Even more, we would once again need to be vigilant against the re-establishment of repressive elderships. But it seems obvious to me that Truth lies in the balance between authority and individualism and that it's each generation's task to restore and maintain that balance.

* * *

Over the years a number of older and wiser Friends have advised me to live by Friends' principles and to challenge my Meeting to live up to those ideals. But in my year serving as co-clerk of a small South Jersey Meeting, I learned that almost no one else there believed that our business meetings should be led by the real presence of the living God. I was stuck trying to clerk using a model of corporate decision-making that I alone held. I would like to think those wiser Friends have more grounded Meetings. Perhaps they do. But I fear they just are more successful at kidding themselves that there's more going on than there is. I agree that the Spirit is everywhere and that Christ is working even we don't recognize it. But isn't it the role of a religious community to recognize and celebrate God's presence in our lives?

Until Friends can find a way to articulate a shared faith, I will remain a Ranter. I don't want to be. I long for the oversight of a community united in a shared search for Truth. But can any of us be Friends if so many of us are Ranters?

In friendship,
Martin Kelley

ps: for those interested, "We all Ranters Now" paraphrases (birthright Friend) Richard Nixon's famous quote about the liberal economist John Maynard Keynes.


More Reading

Bill Samuel has an interesting piece called "Keeping the Faith" that addresses the concept of Unity and its waxing and waning among Friends over the centuries.

Samuel D. Caldwell gave an interesting lecture back in 1997, Quaker Culture vs. Quaker Faith. An excerpt: "Quaker culture and Quaker faith are... often directly at odds with one another in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting today. Although it originally derived from and was consistent with Quaker faith, contemporary Quaker culture in this Yearly Meeting has evolved into a boring, peevish, repressive, petty, humorless, inept, marginal, and largely irrelevant cult that is generally repugnant to ordinary people with healthy psyches. If we try to preserve our Quaker culture, instead of following the leadings of our Quaker faith, we will most certainly be cast out of the Kingdom and die."

I talk a bit more about these issues in Sodium Free Friends, which talks about the way we sometimes intentionally mis-understand our past and why it matters to engage with it. Some pragmantic Friends defend our vagueness as a way to increase our numbers. In The Younger Evangelicals and the Younger Quakers I look at a class of contemporary seekers who would be receptive to a more robust Quakerism and map out the issues we'd need to look at before we could really welcome them in.