The Hipster Conservative writes the definitive guide. This is a bit close for comfort but we’re supposed to be able to laugh at ourselves, right?
Explain the personal conflict you experience between your evangelical roots and what you now truly believe is a devastating challenge to those formerly-held beliefs. Suggest that instead of being so quick to oppose the issue, Christians should extend “grace” (don’t define) and a “generous response.” Above all, they should “re-evaluate” their views in light of this challenge. Remember: “Questioning” is a one-way street.
Last weekend I was invited to speak to Abington (Pa.) Meeting’s First-day school (n.b. proper FJ stylesheet) to talk about vocal ministry in worship. I haven’t been to worship at that meeting for eons and can’t speak to the condition of its ministry, but I do know that vocal ministry can be something of a mystery for unprogrammed Friends. Many of us are “convinced,” coming to the Society as adults and often have a nagging feeling we’re play-acting at being Friends, but I’ve met many life-long Quakers who also wonder about it.
Perhaps as a response to these feelings, we sometimes get rather pedantic that whatever way we’ve first encountered is the Quaker way. The current fashion of vocal ministry in the Philadelphia area is for short messages, often about world events, often confessional in nature. What I wanted to leave Abington with was the radically different ways unprogrammed Friends have worshipped over time and how some of our practices outside worship were developed to help nurture Spirit-led ministry.
(written this a.m. but only posted to limited circles, cut and pasted when I saw the mix-up)
People sometimes get pretty worked up about convincing each other of an matter of pressing importance. We think we have The Answer about The Issue and that if we just repeat ourselves loud enough and often enough the obviousness of our position will win out. It becomes our duty, in fact, to repeat it loud and often. If we happen to wear down the opposition so much that they withdraw from our companionship or fellowship, all the better, as we’ve achieved a patina of unity. Religious liberals are just as prone to this as the conservatives.
These are not the values we hold when talking about the natural world. There we talk about biodiversity. We don’t cheer when a species maladapted to the human-driven Anthropocene disappears into extinction. Just because a plant or animal from the other side of the world has no natural predators doesn’t mean our local species should be superseded.
Scientists tell us that biodiversity is not just a kind of do-unto-others value that satisfies our sense of nostalgia; having wide gene pools comes in handy when near-instant adaptation is needed in response to massive habitat stress. Monocrops are good for the annual harvest but leave us especially vulnerable when phytophthora infestans comes ashore.
It’s a good thing for different religious groups to have different values, both from us us and from one another. There are pressures in today’s culture to level all of our distinctives down so that we have no unique identity. Some cheer this monocropping of spirituality, but I’m not sure it’s healthy for human race. If our religious values are somehow truer or more valuable than those of other people, then they will eventually spread themselves – not by pushing other bodies to be like us, but by attracting the members of the other bodies to join with us.
God may have purpose in fellowships that act differently that ours. Let us not get too smug about our own inevitability that we forget to share ourselves with those with whom we differ.
The academic obsession with Quaker history is about 100 years old or so. From the beginning the rise of "Quaker history" has been tied to the arguments of the day. We want to boil "Quakerism" down to it essentials and separate out what is core from what was an artifact of 17th century England. Each branch raises up historians who argue that its churches' focus is the essential of those early Friends.
I consciously try not to use early Friends as justification. But I do use them for reference. I think a lot of the problem is we all have stereotypes about them. When I go back and read the old Books of Discipline, I find them much more nuanced and interior-focused than we give them credit for.
Greg mentioned taverns, for example. It's not that earlier Friends thought everyone couldn't handle their liquor. They saw that some people couldn't and that spending a lot of time there tended to affect one's discernment and God-centeredness. They also saw that some people got really messed up by alcohol and eventually came to the conclusion that the safest way to protect the most vulnerable in the spiritual community was to stay out.
The observations and logic are still valid. I've known senior members of past Quaker communities who have had alcohol problems but we don't know how to talk about it because we've decided it's a personal decision.
What I try to do is not focus on the conclusions of early Friends but to drop into the conversations of early Friends. As I said, the old Books of Discipline are surprisingly relevant. And I love Thomas Clarkson, an Anglican who explained Quaker ways in 1700 and talked about the sociology of it more than Friends themselves did. It's a good way of separating out rules from knowledge. When we ground ourselves that way, we can more readily decide which of the classic Quaker testimonies are still relevant. That keeps us a living community testifying to the people of today. For what it's worth, there's quite a bit of mainstream interest in the stodgy traditions most of us have cast off as irrelevant....
My sort-of response to Callid's great Youtube piece on the Quaker testimonies, I compare the classic testimonies to a wiki: the collective knowledge of Friends distilled into specific cautions and guides. "We as Friends have found that...." I do talk about how the recent "SPICE" simplification (simplicity, integrity, integrity, community and equality) has robbed our notion of testimonies of some of their power.
Over on Friends Journal site, some recent stats on Friends mostly in the US and Canada. Written by Margaret Fraser, the head of FWCC, a group that tries to unite the different bodies of Friends, it’s a bit of cold water for most of us. Official numbers are down in most places despite whatever official optimism might exist. Favorite line: “Perhaps those who leave are noticed less.” I’m sure P.R. hacks in various Quaker organizations are burning the midnight oil writing response letters to the editor spinning the numbers to say things are looking up.
She points to a sad decline both in yearly meetings affiliated with Friends United Meeting and in those affiliated with Friends General Conference. A curiosity is that this decline is not seen in three of the four yearly meetings that are dual affiliated. These blended yearly meetings are going through various degrees of identity crisis and hand-wringing over their status and yet their own membership numbers are strong. Could it be that serious theological wrestling and complicated spiritual identities create healthier religious bodies than monocultural groupings?
The big news is in the south: “Hispanic Friends Churches” in Mexico and Central America are booming, with spillover in el Norte as workers move north to get jobs. There’s surprisingly little interaction between these newly-arrived Spanish-speaking Friends and the the old Main Line Quaker establishment (maybe not surprising really, but still sad). I’ll leave you with a challenge Margaret gives readers:
One question that often puzzles me is why so many Hispanic Friends congregations are meeting in churches belonging to other denominations. I would love to see established Friends meetings with their own property sharing space with Hispanic Friends. It would be an opportunity to share growth and challenges together.