Organized religion is based in community. Being in a community challenges me. Simply hanging out with my friends and engaging my family isn’t enough. The risks of such an intentional community and the support available therein offer so much more than if I just do what comes easily or go along with what exists around me. I’m challenged in community. I’m held accountable. And while it could be said that I could get this out of a gay rights group, or being part of an ethical society, the truth is that in a religious community, we all seek to go much deeper than the psychological or emotional levels. We seek to understand that Mystery — God. We seek to understand that transformative and healing power that comes from that Mystery.
Kevin-Douglas originally posted it to Facebook earlier today and I asked if he would sign up to QuakerQuaker and post it there. There’s a lot of great stuff that goes up on Facebook and it’s a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends, but most posts are not visible beyond your own Facebook friends list (it depends on your privacy settings). If you post something really good about Friends or belief on Facebook, seriously consider whether you might repost it somewhere more public. If you don’t have a blog handy, you can do what KD did and post it on QuakerQuaker, where every registered user has blogging capabilities (it creates a bit of a metaphysical connundrum for the QuakerQuaker editors, as it means we’ll be linking QQ posts to the QQ site, but that’s fine).
Wess Daniels posts about Quaker theology on his blog. I responded there but got to thinking of Swarthmore professor Jerry Frost’s 2000 Gathering talk about FGC Quakerism. Academic, theologically-minded Friends helped forge liberal Quakerism but their influenced wained after that first generation. Here’s a snippet:
“[T]he first generations of English and America Quaker liberals like Jones and Cadbury were all birthright and they wrote books as well as pamphlets. Before unification, PYM Orthodox and the other Orthodox meetings produced philosophers, theologians, and Bible scholars, but now the combined yearly meetings in FGC produce weighty Friends, social activists, and earnest seekers.“
“The liberals who created the FGC had a thirst for knowledge, for linking the best in religion with the best in science, for drawing upon both to make ethical judgments. Today by becoming anti-intellectual in religion when we are well-educated we have jettisoned the impulse that created FGC, reunited yearly meetings, redefined our role in wider society, and created the modern peace testimony. The kinds of energy we now devote to meditation techniques and inner spirituality needs to be spent on philosophy, science, and Christian religion.”
This talk was hugely influential to my wife Julie and myself. We had just met two days before and while I had developed an instant crush, Frost’s talk was the first time we sat next to one another. I realized that this might become something serious when we both laughed out loud at Jerry’s wry asides and theology jokes. We ended up walking around the campus late into the early hours talking talking talking.
But the talk wasn’t just the religion geek equivalent of a pick-up bar. We both responded to Frost’s call for a new generation of serious Quaker thinkers. Julie enrolled in a Religion PhD program, studying Quaker theology under Frost himself for a semester. I dove into historians like Thomas Hamm and modern thinkers like Lloyd Lee Wilson as a way to understand and articulate the implicit theology of “FGC Friends” and took independent initiatives to fill the gaps in FGC services, taking leadership in young adult program and co-leading workshops and interest groups.
Things didn’t turn out as we expected. I hesitate speaking for Julie but I think it’s fair enough to say that she came to the conclusion that Friends ideals and practices were unbridgable and she left Friends. I’ve documented my own setbacks and right now I’m pretty detached from formal Quaker bodies.
Maybe enough time hasn’t gone by yet. I’ve heard that the person sitting on Julie’s other side for that talk is now studying theology up in New England; another Friend who I suspect was nearby just started at Earlham School of Religion. I’ve called this “the Lost Quaker Generation”:http://www.quakerranter.org/the_lost_quaker_generation.php but at least some of its members have just been lying low. It’s hard to know whether any of these historically-informed Friends will ever help shape FGC popular culture in the way that Quaker academia influenced liberal Friends did before the 1970s.
Rereading Frost’s speech this afternoon it’s clear to see it as an important inspiration for “QuakerQuaker”:www.quakerquaker.org. Parts of it act well as a good liberal Quaker vision for what the blogosphere has since taken to calling convergent Friends. I hope more people will stumble on Frost’s speech and be inspired, though I hope they will be careful not to tie this vision too closely with any existing institution and to remember the true source of that “daily bread”:http://www.blueletterbible.org/cgi-bin/popup.pl?book=Mat&chapter=6&verse=11&version=kjv#11. Here’s a few more inspirational lines from Jerry:
bq. We should remember that theology can provide a foundation for unity. We ought to be smart enough to realize that any formulation of what we believe or linking faith to modern thought is a secondary activity; to paraphrase Robert Barclay, words are description of the fountain and not the stream of living water. Those who created the FGC and reunited meetings knew the possibilities and dangers of theology, but they had a confidence that truth increased possibilities.
From Johann Christoph Arnold, a “provocative argument that a military draft might not be a bad idea”:www.nonviolence.org/articles/1003-arnold.php. “Deciding which side to stand on is one of life’s most vital skills. It forces you to test your own convictions, to assess your personal integrity and your character as an individual.“
It’s a pretty drastic wish. I don’t really wish it on today’s youngins’ (I’m not sure Arnold is quite convinced either). But I will give a snippet of my own personal story, since it’s kind of appropriate to the issue: when I was a senior in high school my father desperately wanted me to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. I went on interviews and even took the first physical. The pressure to join was sort of akin to the pressure young people of earlier generations have faced with a military draft (except more personal, as I was essentially living with the chair of the draft Martin Kelley board). I was forced to really think hard about what I believed. I had to reconcile my romaticism about the navy with my gut instincts that fighting was never a real solution. My father’s pressure made me realize I was a pacifist. With my decision to forego the Naval Academy made, I started asking myself what other ramifications followed from my peace stance. Almost twenty years, here’s Nonviolence.org.
Arnold’s argument, right or wrong, does reflect my story:
bq. A draft would present every young person with a choice between two paths, both of which require courage: either to heed the call of military duty and be rushed off to war, or to say, “No, I will give my life in the service of peace.”
“In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corporate leader: the future, eventually, will find you out.