An interview with Raye, a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative who serves on their Electronic Outreach Committee. You can also watch it on QuakerQuaker: Quaker Video and Electronic Outreach.
Raye: Ohio Yearly Meeting holds our yearly meeting in Barnesville Ohio–some people know us as those Barnesville folks. We have an electronic Outreach Committee and that includes the oversight and ministry associated with our website. We spend time thinking about how to open up to people who might be interested in Friends’ ways and might want to know more about us whether or not they’ve ever read the Journal of George Fox. We’re trying to expand our witness, if you will.
One of the questions that has come up in this electronic outreach group is: what types of communication or video are useful for someone to get to know us but also respectful of the fact that we do worship and that worship is a spiritually intimate time. We’re trying to bridge and deal with respecting the worshippers, the Friends themselves, to not put on a performance and yet to try to communicate what it is that is edifying in practice and worship.
Martin: How do you give newcomers a taste of Quakers without directing it too much? If you just have that silent empty box it’s hard for newcomers to know what should be filling that box.
Raye: One of the things Friends have done for hundreds of years is to publish, to keep journals and to share that. But that’s not all there is to the Friends experience. There are those quiet times and those moments of ministry that we believe are Spirit-inspired. Many of us wish we could give people a little taste of that because that doesn’t show up in a lot of published writings. That spontaneous and timely, and at times prophetic, witness that we see in our Meetings. We have considered digital video as a way to do that.
Martin: I love the video possibilities here. Video can be a way of reaching out to more people.
Raye: It’s not just anything that can be written. Certainly the writings that have been published are very helpful in getting some sort of a glimmer of where we have been, or in some cases where we are headed or where we are. But there is nothing like that experience of being with Friends in meeting. It doesn’t always happen but there are these moments called a covered meeting or a gathered meeting where everybody seems to be in the same place spiritually and when seems to be messages and gifts coming through people. That’s difficult to get across.
We’re hoping that with video we can discuss these kinds of things after the fact. We don’t want to turn it into a spectator sport or performance.
Martin: Authenticity is a key part of the Quaker message. You’re not practicing what you’re going to say for First Day or Sunday. You’re sitting there and waiting for that immediate spirit to come upon you.
Raye: We don’t know when that will happen. There are meetings where everybody is very quiet, where there’s a sense of that spirit and unity but it may be an outwardly quiet meeting. I have been in meetings where someone stood up and began to sing their message or a psalm or someone had a wonderful sermon that was perfect for the moment. These things happen but we don’t know when they will.
My solution: Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren, and whomever else wants to participate refuses to pay war taxes for a few years, and we suffer the consequences. I think we should campaign for a war-tax-free 2010 in all Quaker meetings and Mennonite/Brethren/etc. communities. What are they going to do–throw us all in jail? Maybe. But they can’t do that forever. No one wants to pay their taxes for a bunch of Quakers and other pacifists to sit in jail for not paying taxes. It doesn’t make sense.
A commenter chimes in with a warning about Friends who were hit by heavy tax penalties a quarter century ago. But I know of someone who didn’t pay taxes for twenty years and recently volunteered the information to the Internal Revenue Service. The collectors were nonchalant, polite and sympathetic and settled for a very reasonable amount. If this friend’s experience is any guide, there’s not much drama to be had in war tax resistance. These days, Caesar doesn’t care much.
What if our witness was directed not at the federal government but at our fellow Christians? We could follow Quaker founder George Fox’s example and climb the tallest tree we could find (real or metaphorical) and begin preaching the good news that war goes against the teachings of Jesus. As always, we would be respectful and charitable but we could reclaim the strong and clear voices of those who have traveled before us. If we felt the need for backup? Well, I understand there are twenty-seven or so books to the New Testament sympathetic to our cause. And I have every reason to believe that the Inward Christ is still humming our tune and burning bushes for all who have eyes to see and ears to listen. Just as John Woolman ministered with his co-religionists about the sin of slavery, maybe our job is to minister to our co-religionists about war.
But who are these co-religionist neighbors of ours? Twenty years of peace organizing and Friends organizing makes me doubt we could find any large group of “historic peace church” members to join us. We talk big and write pretty epistles, but few individuals engage in witnesses that involve any danger of real sacrifice. The way most of our established bodies couldn’t figure out how to respond to a modern day prophetic Christian witness in Tom Fox’s kidnapping is the norm. When the IRS threatened to put liens on Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to force resistant staffers to pay, the general secretary and clerk said all sorts of sympathetic words of anguish (which they probably even meant), then docked the employee’s pay anyway. There have been times when clear-eyed Christians didn’t mind loosing their liberty or property in service to the gospel. Early Friends called our emulation of Christ’s sacrifice the Lamb’s War, but even seven years of real war in the ancient land of Babylonia itself hasn’t brought back the old fire. Our meetinghouses sit quaint, with ownership deeds untouched, even as we wring our hands wondering why most remain half-empty on First Day morning.
But what about these emerging church kids?: all those people reading Shane Claiborne, moving to neighborhoods in need, organizing into small cells to talk late into the night about primitive Christianity? Some of them are actually putting down their candles and pretentious jargon long enough to read those twenty-seven books. Friends have a lot of accumulated wisdom about what it means the primitive Christian life, even if we’re pretty rusty on its actual practice. What shape would that witness take and who would join us into that unknown but familiar desert? What would our movement even be called? And does it matter?
Anyone interested in thinking more on this should start saving up their loose change ($200 commuters) to come join C Wess Daniels and me this November when we lead a workshop on “The New Monastics and Convergent Friends” at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia. Methinks I’m already starting to blog about it.
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”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Disambiguation in Wiki-speak). “Marshall Massey”:http://journal.earthwitness.org/the-quaker-magpie-journal/ 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.
Everyone can now add posts to the QuakerQuaker category listings. Simply bookmark the post in Del.icio.us, list the QQ categories and it will be added to the page.
For example, say you’ve seen just the coolest post on Convergent Friends. Go to the “Convergent Friends”:http://www.quakerquaker.org/convergent_quakers page to find the right “tag”–in this case “quaker.convergent”. Bookmark the post you like, write a title and description and list “quaker.convergent” as its tag. An hour or so later the post will show up on the Convergent Friends page. How cool is that? Here are “instruction on how to use Del.icio.us and title pages”:http://www.quakerquaker.org/contributors_zone_how_to/.