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.