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.