We’re All Ranters Now: On Liberal Friends and Becoming a Society of Finders

It's time to explain why I call this site "The Quaker Ranter" and to talk about my home, the liberal branch of Quakers. Non-Quakers can be forgiven for thinking that I mean this to be a place where I, Martin Kelley, "rant," i.e., where I "utter or express with extravagance." That may be the result (smile), but it's not what I mean and it's not the real purpose behind this site.

Friends and Ranters

The Ranters were fellow-travelers to the Friends in the religious turmoil of seventeenth-century England. The countryside was covered with preachers and lay people running around England seeking to revive primitive Christianity. George Fox was one, declaring that "Christ has come to teach his people himself" and that hireling clergy were distorting God's message. The movement that coalesced around him as "The Friends of Truth" or "The Quakers" would take its orders directly from the Spirit of Christ.

This worked fine for a few years. But before long a leading Quaker rode into the town of Bristol in imitation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Not a good idea. The authorities convicted him of heresy and George Fox distanced himself from his old friend. Soon afterwards, a quasi-Quaker collection of religious radicals plotted an overthrow of the government. That also didn't go down very well with the authorities, and Fox quickly disavowed violence in a statement that became the basis of our peace testimony. Clearly the Friends of the Truth needed to figure out mechanisms for deciding what messages were truly of God and who could speak for the Friends movement.

The central question was one of authority. Those Friends recognized as having the gift for spiritual discernment were put in charge of a system of discipline over wayward Friends. Friends devised a method for determining the validity of individual leadings and concerns. This system rested on an assumption that Truth is immutable, and that any errors come from our own willfulness in disobeying the message. New leadings were first weighed against the tradition of Friends and their predecessors the Israelites (as brought down to us through the Bible).

Ranters often looked and sounded like Quakers but were opposed to any imposition of group authority. They were a movement of individual spiritual seekers. Ranters thought that God spoke directly to individuals and they put no limits on what the Spirit might instruct us. Tradition had no role, institutions were for disbelievers.

Meanwhile Quakers set up Quarterly and Yearly Meetings to institutionalize the system of elders and discipline. This worked for awhile, but it shouldn't be too surprising that this human institution eventually broke down. Worldliness and wealth separated the elders from their less well-to-do brethren and new spiritual movements swept through Quaker ranks. Divisions arose over the eternal question of how to pass along a spirituality of convincement in a Society grown comfortable. By the early 1800s, Philadelphia elders had became a kind of aristocracy based on birthright and in 1827 they disowned two-thirds of their own yearly meeting. The disowned majority naturally developed a distrust of authority, while the aristocratic minority eventually realized there was no one left to elder.

Over the next century and a half, successive waves of popular religious movements washed over Friends. Revivalism, Deism, Spiritualism and Progressive Unitarianism all left their mark on Friends in the Nineteenth Century. Modern liberal Protestantism, Evangelicalism, New Ageism, and sixties-style radicalism transformed the Twentieth. Each fad lifted up a piece of Quakers' original message but invariably added its own incongruous elements into worship. The Society grew ever more fractured.

Faced with ever-greater theological disunity, Friends simply gave up. In the 1950s, the two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings reunited. It was celebrated as reconciliation. But they could do so only because the role of Quaker institutions had fundamentally changed. Our corporate bodies no longer even try to take on the role of discerning what it means to be a Friend.

We are all Ranters now

Liberal Quakers today tend to see their local Meetinghouse as a place where everyone can believe what they want to believe. The highest value is given to tolerance and cordiality. Many people now join Friends because it's the religion without a religion, i.e., it's a community with the form of a religion but without any theology or expectations. We are a proud to be a community of seekers. Our commonality is in our form and we're big on silence and meeting process.

Is it any wonder that almost everyone today seems to be a hyphenated Quaker? We've got Catholic-Quakers, Pagan-Quakers, Jewish-Quakers: if you can hyphenate it, there's a Quaker interest group for you. I'm not talking about Friends nourished by another tradition: we've have historically been graced and continue to be graced by converts to Quakerism whose fresh eyes let us see something new about ourselves. No, I'm talking about people who practice the outward form of Quakerism but look elsewhere for theology and inspiration. If being a Friend means little more than showing up at Meeting once a week, we shouldn't be surprised that people bring a theology along to fill up the hour. It's like bringing a newspaper along for your train commute every morning.

But the appearance of tolerance and unity comes at a price: it depends on everyone forever remaining a Seeker. Anyone who wants to follow early Friends' experience as "Friends of the Truth" risks becomes a Finder who threatens the negotiated truce of the modern Quaker meeting. If we really are a people of God, we might have to start acting that way. We might all have to pray together in our silence. We might all have to submit ourselves to God's will. We might all have to wrestle with each other to articulate a shared belief system. If we were Finders, we might need to define what is unacceptable behavior for a Friend, i.e., on what grounds we would consider disowning a member.

If we became a religious society of Finders, then we'd need to figure out what it means to be a Quaker-Quaker: someone who's theology and practice is Quaker. We would need to put down those individual newspapers to become a People once more. I'm not saying we'd be united all the time. We'd still have disagreements. Even more, we would once again need to be vigilant against the re-establishment of repressive elderships. But it seems obvious to me that Truth lies in the balance between authority and individualism and that it's each generation's task to restore and maintain that balance.

* * *

Over the years a number of older and wiser Friends have advised me to live by Friends' principles and to challenge my Meeting to live up to those ideals. But in my year serving as co-clerk of a small South Jersey Meeting, I learned that almost no one else there believed that our business meetings should be led by the real presence of the living God. I was stuck trying to clerk using a model of corporate decision-making that I alone held. I would like to think those wiser Friends have more grounded Meetings. Perhaps they do. But I fear they just are more successful at kidding themselves that there's more going on than there is. I agree that the Spirit is everywhere and that Christ is working even we don't recognize it. But isn't it the role of a religious community to recognize and celebrate God's presence in our lives?

Until Friends can find a way to articulate a shared faith, I will remain a Ranter. I don't want to be. I long for the oversight of a community united in a shared search for Truth. But can any of us be Friends if so many of us are Ranters?

In friendship,
Martin Kelley

ps: for those interested, "We all Ranters Now" paraphrases (birthright Friend) Richard Nixon's famous quote about the liberal economist John Maynard Keynes.


More Reading

Bill Samuel has an interesting piece called "Keeping the Faith" that addresses the concept of Unity and its waxing and waning among Friends over the centuries.

Samuel D. Caldwell gave an interesting lecture back in 1997, Quaker Culture vs. Quaker Faith. An excerpt: "Quaker culture and Quaker faith are... often directly at odds with one another in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting today. Although it originally derived from and was consistent with Quaker faith, contemporary Quaker culture in this Yearly Meeting has evolved into a boring, peevish, repressive, petty, humorless, inept, marginal, and largely irrelevant cult that is generally repugnant to ordinary people with healthy psyches. If we try to preserve our Quaker culture, instead of following the leadings of our Quaker faith, we will most certainly be cast out of the Kingdom and die."

I talk a bit more about these issues in Sodium Free Friends, which talks about the way we sometimes intentionally mis-understand our past and why it matters to engage with it. Some pragmantic Friends defend our vagueness as a way to increase our numbers. In The Younger Evangelicals and the Younger Quakers I look at a class of contemporary seekers who would be receptive to a more robust Quakerism and map out the issues we'd need to look at before we could really welcome them in.

  • Bar­bara Smith

    Mar­tin — I dont know if you remem­ber me or not, but I worked with Jason G., and I remem­ber you when you had red hair. Odd­ly enuf, I am in the process of becom­ing a Quak­er, or, at least I’m explor­ing Quak­erism, and I attend meet­ing. Phil Antho­ny actu­al­ly sent me your web­site and I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing all your ‘rants’. Rock on broth­er, you are of the faith…where the real fire is. -Barb

  • Mar­tin Kelley

    Yeah!, con­firmed read­er #6! What Meet­ing pray tell? That’s cool you’re explor­ing Quak­erism. Sure I remem­ber, I’ll send an email…
    Red hair?, ah yes. I should do just a humor­ous post some­day about the tran­si­tion from bleached hair to plain dress. I’m not sure it’s entire­ly coin­ci­den­tal – I can think of a cou­ple of plain dressers who were alterna-fashionistas in their pre-plain days.
    And what’s Phil doing just lurk­ing? Come on Phil, here’s the secret: no one reads this site. (No one reads the Quak­er stuff at least, I’m sure the Theo page gets lots more hits, lucky guy).

  • Eliz­a­beth Roebling

    This Friend speaks my mind!! How refresh­ing, Friend Mar­tin, to stum­ble upon thy web “rant­i­ngs” — I am a con­vinced Friend,Quaker edu­cat­ed, a life long peace/racial/enviro activist (42 years of it), now in the Asheville, NC Meet­ing. We are under­go­ing a deep spir­i­tu­al rebirth here in the moun­tains. I, like you, have often been a chal­lenge to my Meet­ing — I just returned from the SOA Watch at Fort Ben­ning — with a notable absence of an offi­cial Quak­er pres­ence — except for Wes Cheney from Vir­ginia Beach who rode down there on his bicylce. How do we rec­on­cile the fact that Friends Fidu­cia­ry holds stock in Wal­marts, Coca -Cola, Dow Chem­i­cal, sev­er­al oil com­pa­nies — and also sup­ports FGC, Pen­dle Hill, AFSC etc.….….just a query … I look for­ward to an ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion — In the light — Elizabeth

  • Mar­tin Kelley

    In First Month 2004, a British Friend start­ed an exten­sive cor­re­spon­dence about the sen­tence of this essay about the Friend who rode into Bris­tol imi­tat­ing Christ. I edit­ed the sen­tence in ques­tion; as the posts have lit­tle to do with this essay, they’ve been archived here.

  • Matt Stromberg

    Inter­est­ing site. I’m a lit­tle con­fused as to your rea­son­ing in call­ing your­self a Ranter though. Ranters, although they shared with Quak­ers the idea of an Inward Light, were quite dif­fer­ent in many ways. Ranters met in tav­erns, cursed freely, smoked taba­co, drank heav­i­ly, were very promis­cuious, and basi­clly under­mined every con­ven­tion­al moral­i­ty. There founder Coppe believed that God was act­ing through him in such a way that he could not sin. Infact he denied the fact that any­thing could be called sin if its done under chris­t­ian faith. They usu­al­ly call this antinomialism.
    When you call your­self a Ranter you should be con­cious of all the con­no­ta­tions that comes with that tittle.

  • Mar­tin Kelley

    Hi Matt,
    “Met in tav­erns, smoked tobac­co… were very promis­cu­ous… under­mind­ed every con­ven­tion­al moral­i­ty,” well yes, that describes Young Adult Friends con­fer­ences. No no, it’s not real­ly like that, though there is some truth in there.
    I think it’s fair to describe many Friends as antin­o­minial­ists. A num­ber of mod­ern Quak­ers don’t real­ly believe in sin. A recent arti­cle in _Friends Journal_ argued that “evil doesn’t exist”:http://​www​.friend​sjour​nal​.org/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​s​/​2​0​0​4​/​0​1​0​4​/​f​e​a​t​u​r​e​.​htm. A major­i­ty of Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing mem­bers sam­pled in a 2002 sur­vey “strong­ly dis­agreed with the Fox quote that ”If you turn your back on the Light with­in, you will be con­demned by it’”:http://​www​.pym​.org/​s​u​p​p​o​r​t​-​a​n​d​-​o​u​t​r​e​a​c​h​/​m​a​k​i​n​g​-​n​e​w​-​f​r​i​e​n​d​s​/​y​m​-​p​r​e​s​8​/​s​l​d​0​1​6​.​htm. Many indi­vid­u­als in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends today are the­o­log­i­cal­ly clos­er to Ranter­ism than to Quakerism.
    “We’re all Ranters now” because our insti­tu­tions have large­ly aban­doned their roles of set­ting and main­tain­ing stan­dards. Because I have the choice to believe what­ev­er I want to believe and still be Quak­er (the fun­da­men­tal axiom of lib­er­al Quak­erism), even my choice to live in a tra­di­tion­al Quak­erism with set lim­its is self-imposed. If I decid­ed I’d rather _meet in tav­erns, curse freely, smoke taba­co, drink heav­i­ly, be very promis­cuious, and under­mine every con­ven­tion­al morality_ no one at my month­ly meet­ing would say any­thing (I sus­pect more than one would be relieved actually).

  • Matt Stromberg

    Wow what month­ly meet­ing do you belong too haha?
    Your point is well tak­en and I under­stand what your say­ing about moral real­i­tivism among Mod­ern Lib­er­al Friends. I have to say that if I behaved in such a way I think I would be giv­en a talk­ing to by peo­ple in my meet­ing. Per­haps the prob­lem is that one’s behav­ior out­side of meet­ing can remain a secret while that was not the case back in the old days?
    Are mod­ern Lib­er­al Quak­ers more like ranters than 17th cen­tu­ry quak­ers were? abso­lut­ly. Still I haven’t seen any­one at my meet­ing parad­ing in the nude with a pint of ale in both hands haha.

  • Mar­lene M. Fitzwater

    I just dis­cov­ered your Web site and read your piece, “We’re All Ranters Now: Lib­er­al Quak­ers.” It struck a cord with me. I’ve been a con­vinced Quak­er for 12 years after learn­ing that many of my ances­tors were Quak­ers. In fact, Thomas Fitzwa­ter and his famiy came to Amer­i­ca with William Penn on the ship Wel­come and was an ear­ly Quak­er min­is­ter. I belong to an unpro­grammed meet­ing which has more atten­ders than mem­bers and many atten­ders who are try­ing to take us in some dif­fer­ent direc­tions (into more of a Uni­ty, no the­ol­o­gy, kind of meet­ing). I am enjoy­ing your writ­ings and your views on some impor­tant top­ics. Keep up the good work. (I’m a sixty-something pro­fes­sor who val­ues the fresh think­ing of young adults!)

  • Mike Kings­bury

    Con­ser­v­a­tive Hick­site – Chris­t­ian, lib­er­al, non-literalist, and Spirit-led Friend – I’m not alone!
    I am a long-time atten­der in the Pacif­ic Year­ly Meet­ing, a Chris­t­ian (non-dogmatic), homo­sex­u­al (more sat­ur­nine than gay), non-leaning lib­er­tar­i­an (nei­ther left nor right), and oth­er­wise plain-living guy. I nev­er would have thought I’d find a site the likes of this one!
    Your (Thy) site is great fun and very infor­ma­tive. You (Thee) are an encour­age­ment for me to attend next year’s FGC.
    It often seems, among lib­er­al Friends out here, that just about every­one has come out of the clos­et except the Chris­tians. More than once I have heard a vocal min­istry of Chris­t­ian con­tent in meet­ing met with irri­tat­ed grum­bles, or even a sharp rebuke. Is there tol­er­ance left only for those who are able to wit­ness in explic­it­ly non-Christian terms? Is that also the way of things on the oth­er side of the divide? Friends Elias, Joel and Han­na would be ‘sore amazed’.
    Luck­i­ly, the first advice I ever got at meet­ing was that if we were to live accord­ing to Jesus, and in the light of Christ, we would be too busy to find time for disagreement.
    As to plain­ness, try a broad­brim (I wear a crush­er) and a smile. Thee (You) will get more friend­ly nods and ernest ques­tions than would be imagined.
    I may give those Dutch trousers a try.
    Keep on speak­ing thy mind, friend. We’re listening.
    Mike Kingsbury
    Desert Wor­ship Group (PYM)
    Palm Springs, CA.

  • >Con­ser­v­a­tive Hick­site — Chris­t­ian, lib­er­al, non-literalist, and Spirit-led
    >Friend — I’m not alone!
    Hi Mike,
    Yes, I’ve been pret­ty sur­prised myself that I’m not alone. There’s a lot of weirdos around, hmm?
    >Your (Thy) site is great fun and very infor­ma­tive. You (Thee) are an
    >encour­age­ment for me to attend next year’s FGC.
    Hey, just don’t blame me: I tell peo­ple there are excit­ing things hap­pen­ing but of course our band of lib­er­al con­ser­v­a­tives make up a tiny frac­tion of the atten­dance at any Quak­er gath­er­ing. It’s more a ten­den­cy than a move­ment. Still, I’d like to meet you there, if only to see what a _saturnine_ per­son­al­i­ty is like (are you going to ask FLGBTQC to add an “S” to their acronym to account for you?)
    Thy Friend,
    Martin

  • John Edmin­ster

    I love the spir­it of what thee writes, Mar­tin, and I believe that if thee remains faith­ful to the voice of thy Guide and keeps thy eyes open, thee will soon see Amer­i­can Quakerism’s anoint­ed elders (by which I mean Friends giv­en an elder’s gifts and com­mis­sion by the Holy Spir­it) rise out of the dark earth and shoot up through the dead veg­e­ta­tion of Win­ter like new Spring growth. And those of us that are look­ing for our elders will rec­og­nize them with very lit­tle effort, I think, the way we rec­og­nize wis­dom and good­ness in a good book.
    I’m cur­rent­ly writ­ing a short arti­cle on the Quak­er tra­di­tion of elder­ship for the Friends in the Spir­it of Christ News. From it I take a lit­tle snip:
    >
    I look for­ward to hear­ing more from thee.
    Thy friend in Christ,
    John Edminster
    Fif­teenth Street Meeting
    New York City

  • Hi John,
    Well you’re not going to be able to let read­ers know of a pub­li­ca­tion called “Friends in the Spir­it of Christ News” with­out telling us what it’s about and where we can see it.
    I’m glad to see the “epis­tle from the Elders at Bal­by”:http://​www​.qhpress​.org/​t​e​x​t​s​/​b​a​l​b​y​.​h​tml being read for itself (the foot­note – “these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by” – has been ele­vat­ed to a creed in lib­er­al Quak­erism and is extreme­ly over-quoted out of con­text, as if the epis­tle itself weren’t very real rules and forms).
    Let us know where to find your arti­cle when it’s done, I’m sure many of the Quak­er Ranter read­ers would be interested!

  • Hi Mar­tin,
    When on earth (or in heav­en) do you find the time to keep up two web­sites while work­ing and rais­ing lit­tle Theo? (He’s adorable, by the way. I have two boys, now ages 14 and 17.)
    I’ve been an atten­der for about a year and a meet­ing in the sub­urbs of Philadel­phia. I’m addict­ed to the web and a com­pul­sive surfer, before that I was just a com­pul­sive read­er. I just start­ed a blog at http://​www​.com​pul​siveread​er​.blogspot​.com –basi­cal­ly, just to see how you go about set­ting up a blog … Of course, now that I’ve start­ed it I find that I don’t real­ly have any­thing com­pelling to say to the world. As soon as I decide to post some­thing, my words all just seem like fluff to me. So for the moment there’s just a recent poem that I wrote there.
    Any­way, I’m try­ing to get my mind around all this “what’s a real Quak­er and what isn’t” stuff. I was briefly sub­scribed to Quaker-L (I’m sure you know it) but just qui­et­ly unsub­scribed after sev­er­al attempts at dis­cussing some cur­rent “lib­er­al Chris­t­ian” (term used on the list) authors kept going around in a cir­cle because some­one on the list reserved to him/herself the right to define what the word “Chris­t­ian” meant. Mar­tin, I work at a uni­ver­si­ty. That’s not to brag (as librar­i­ans, we don’t have the same sta­tus as the pro­fes­sors. We’re way below them … but per­son­al­ly, I think that we rank just “a lit­tle less than the angels” any­way 🙂 It’s just that when there are debates or dis­cus­sions on cam­pus, no one, sin­gle per­son gets to for­mu­late all the definitions.
    Even on Quaker-P there’s a lot of this liberal/conservative stuff. I guess it’s a sign of the times. The polar­iza­tion of the pub­lic dis­course in our soci­ety is so extreme at this moment that I don’t think it’s some­thing we’ll dis­cuss our way out of. I think it’s going to take some earth-shattering not lit­er­al­ly, I hope) event to real­ly shift the way we talk to … or maybe around… or maybe past one anoth­er. For right now, each of us seems to move in his/her own sphere, lib­er­al or con­ser­v­a­tive. We all seem to lis­ten to one anoth­er just long enough to fig­ure out whether we can pin the “lib­er­al” or “con­ser­v­a­tive” tag on the speak­er, no mat­ter what the con­text (but then it usu­al­ly seems to come down to either pol­i­tics or reli­gion these days) … and then we stop listening.
    Any­way, what I real­ly want­ed to say is that the mem­bers of our meet­ing seem quite inno­cent of all this “what’s a real Quak­er and what’s not” con­tro­ver­sy. We have a cou­ple of birthright Quak­ers, and then there’s our clerk (I don’t know if he’s birthright or not), and they just seem to know how to keep the meet­ings for busi­ness focused. And there are a cou­ple of mem­bers who are just won­der­ful about main­tain­ing a rev­er­ent, wor­ship­ful atmos­phere dur­ing the meet­ing for busi­ness. When there are seri­ous dis­agree­ments, the dis­cus­sion get con­tin­ued till the next meeting.
    That said, I have to admit that there isn’t much men­tion of Christ at our meet­ing for wor­ship either. “God” quite a lot. But I didn’t hear the name “Christ” until I read a pas­sage from one of Paul’s epis­tles. Is this sup­posed to both­er me? It doesn’t. And to be per­fect­ly hon­est, I myself no longer believe the same things con­cern­ing Christ that I was taught as a child (in Catholic school).
    I cer­tain­ly under­stand that this wan­ders far from what the first Quak­ers believed. But for some rea­son, I’m not as con­cerned about it, and nei­ther is any­one at our meet­ing. No one seems to think that it’s pan­ic time or any­thing. For the first time, I belong to a con­gre­ga­tion where every­one actu­al­ly knows every­one by name, where we vis­it those mem­bers who are dying, where we recent­ly sup­port­ed (finan­cial­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly) the college-age daugh­ter of a mem­ber who went to spent the sum­mer in Mex­i­co work­ing with a group called Sede­pac (Ser­vi­cio, Desarol­lo y Paz), which recruits vol­un­teers through the AFSC. I’ve begun to write for our lit­tle month­ly newslet­ter, and I’ve joined the ama­teur writ­ers group that meets in the social room once a month (most but not all of the mem­bers are asso­ci­at­ed with the meet­ing). And I find relief and refuge at our meet­ing from the bel­li­cose nature of the Chris­tian­i­ty that seems to per­me­ate Amer­i­ca. (Actu­al­ly, it wasn’t the peace tes­ti­mo­ny but the tes­ti­monies of integri­ty and equal­i­ty that brought me to Quak­erism. But I won’t go into that, as it’s too auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal.) And do you know what the men did on Mother’s Day? They made a huge break­fast for the women. I had nev­er, ever, in all my years as a Roman Catholic, seen a group of men cook for women! I real­ly can’t express what it means to me to be in the com­pa­ny of men whose sense of mas­culin­i­ty isn’t some­how tied up in what they’ve accom­plished or the rank they’ve risen to in the world.
    So any­way, I guess that I just want­ed to say that I think our meet­ing is where it should be. I don’t feel a lack of any­thing just because we’re not con­stant­ly pro­claim­ing the name of Christ. We recent­ly start­ed a dis­cus­sion forum on what it means to be a mem­ber of a Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty (yes, I saw your blog: Oh no, you’re say­ing to your­self, anoth­er group dis­cussing the con­cept of com­mu­ni­ty). And we have been dis­cussing the under­ly­ing con­vic­tions and beliefs that Quak­ers have in com­mon — that it’s not just every­one with his/her own beliefs. We’re using the pam­phlet Mem­bers One of Anoth­er by Thomas Gates (a Pen­dle Hill pam­phlet) as the basis of dis­cus­sion, as well as Faith and Prac­tice. The dis­cus­sions will con­tin­ue after the Christ­mas holidays.
    Maybe we’re all very loose­ly con­nect­ed, but maybe it’s just the pen­du­lum swing­ing the oth­er way for a lot of us who came from extreme­ly struc­tured, hier­ar­chi­cal church­es, where we were told in no uncer­tain terms what was ortho­dox and what was heresy — and where very few of us (and none of the women) had any­thing to say about the reli­gious rules that were made to gov­ern our lives.
    So any­way, that’s all I want­ed to share with you: my befud­dle­ment over things that I read about whether Quak­ers are real­ly Chris­t­ian or not, and my sense of peace and joy in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the meet­ing where I’ve been an attender.
    A blessed Christ­mas to you, your fam­i­ly, and espe­cial­ly Theo.
    –Bar­bara
    Malvern, PA

  • Hi Bar­bara. You don’t just work at _a_ uni­ver­si­ty I see. So first off, big hel­lo to Vil­lano­va and the Falvey Memo­r­i­al Library. Your resume says you start­ed there in 87, so our paths have sure­ly crossed. I’m VU class of 89, a Hon­ors Dept major back when all our class­es met in the fourth floor of Falvey. Four years of my life took place large­ly in that build­ing. My first blog was there (okay, it wasn’t a blog but my pho­to­copied zine “THE VACUUM,” but cul­tur­al­ly it was a blog).
    It sounds like your month­ly meet­ing is pret­ty togeth­er, with all the com­raderie, care and love. That’s pret­ty pre­cious. Isn’t that what Jesus’s mes­sage was all about?
    Those dis­cus­sion boards are for the birds, gen­er­al­ly. They’re very con­tentious, peo­ple just want­i­ng to hear them­selves shout. I don’t think real lis­ten­ing hap­pens on them. These are Quak­er­ly argu­ments and I don’t think a lot of the loud­est posters are actu­al­ly very involved in Quak­erism. It’s about being in a lived com­mu­ni­ty, too.
    If your meet­ing is read­ing the Gates pam­phlet and agree­ing that there is some­thing Quak­er and that it’s not all about believ­ing any­thing, then it’s more togeth­er than most meet­ings. I don’t advo­cate con­fes­sions of faith, just an ongo­ing engage­ment and wrestling with our faith and tradition.

  • If you were wrong about this, your meet­ing would have read you out of meet­ing. Because you are right, your meet­ing is unable to read you out of meeting.
    -russ

  • Hi Russ! Isn’t that the beau­ty of the sit­u­a­tion? My acknowl­edged Ranter­ism should get me in trou­ble but there’s real­ly no get­ting into trou­ble for just about any­thing so I skate free. But does that make this a win-win or lose-lose sit­u­a­tion? Great to see you here. Martin

  • Mar­tin & all,
    There is much expressed in these pages which I can hearti­ly sup­port. Cer­tain­ly, if Friends are reluc­tant to speak of God or Christ in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends for fear of dis­ap­proval or cen­sure, some­thing needs to be cor­rect­ed. We can­not build deep, lov­ing com­mu­ni­ty in an atmos­phere of anx­i­ety and mistrust.
    I also dis­cern a sense that the author and many vis­i­tors to this site feel that many Friends are more inter­est­ed in an easy, com­fort­able, unchal­leng­ing social and polit­i­cal club, than a place for seri­ous spir­i­tu­al growth and chal­lenge. If you wish to call that being “con­vict­ed in our sin,” so be it. The phrase does not speak to me, but I think its mean­ing does.
    At the same time, I dis­cern a sense here – rarely explic­it, but fre­quent­ly implied – that what lib­er­al Quak­ers need is a good purg­ing, a removal of those Friends who don’t believe what “we” think Friends should believe. Who “we” are, and pre­cise­ly which beliefs are accept­able and unac­cept­able, is very much in question.
    I don’t believe in God, and have spent the last 15 years among Friends try­ing to under­stand, among many oth­er things, why I feel so irrestibly drawn to a com­mu­ni­ty and reli­gious soci­ety in which the cen­tral term is God. My rela­tion­ship with that com­mu­ni­ty is at the cen­ter of my life, and has trans­formed and improved me in ways that make me deeply grate­ful and rev­er­ent for what­ev­er it is we expe­ri­ence or cre­ate togeth­er. It has not made me a theist.
    In my large and very lib­er­al meet­ing, a fair num­ber of mes­sages in meet­ing for wor­ship invoke the name of God or Christ or Jesus. Per­haps a larg­er per­cent­age do not, includ­ing many from Friends I know to be Chris­tians of var­i­ous sorts. That a mes­sage does not invoke the name of God, does not prove or even sug­gest that God is not present in the mes­sage. If I am mis­tak­en and God does exist, sure­ly he is man­i­fest in all cre­ation and human­i­ty, and not mere­ly at those moments when we invoke his name. If I am mis­tak­en and God does exist, sure­ly he is man­i­fest in me, and in what I bring to my meet­ing, and what my meet­ing brings to me. Sure­ly your con­cep­tion of God is not that he is only present in the lives of those who hold cer­tain the­o­log­i­cal propo­si­tions to be true. Or am I mis­tak­en about this as well?
    I do expe­ri­ence some­thing mys­te­ri­ous and pro­found and life-changing in my reli­gious life among Friends. I have a hard time describ­ing it, though I occa­sion­al­ly try in my flawed and halt­ing lan­guage. Per­haps the expe­ri­ence I have is the same as, or deeply sim­i­lar to, that which you call God. For me to use that term would be mis­lead­ing, even dis­hon­est, because, mys­te­ri­ous as my expe­ri­ence some­times is, noth­ing about it strikes me as unnat­ur­al. It is some­thing beyond me, nat­u­ral­ly, as it springs not from my own doing, but from the encounter or rela­tion­ship between me and oth­ers, between me and the world. It is nei­ther here nor there, but a liv­ing bond that comes from being alive in the world with oth­er liv­ing beings. There is some­thing sacred in that bond, and act­ing in ways that tend to vio­late it is not right­eous. I depend on my com­mu­ni­ty for many things, and one of those things is to keep me hon­est to that bond. I sub­mit myself to that dis­ci­pline freely and joy­ful­ly, and my will­ing­ness springs from the faith I have in the good­ness of that com­mu­ni­ty. I do not and can­not, how­ev­er, sub­mit my mind, my beliefs – my mea­sure of the light – to any author­i­ty. To do so would be a vio­la­tion of my integri­ty, and it is not in the tra­di­tion of George Fox or the founders to demand this sort of obe­di­ence, nor to deny the bless­ing of our com­mu­ni­ty to those who will not state agree­ment with cer­tain the­o­log­i­cal propositions.
    I am con­fi­dent that Fox and his fol­low­ers would have been shocked to see the the­o­log­i­cal diver­si­ty that is the real­i­ty of mod­ern lib­er­al Friends. He also would have been shocked, I sus­pect, to learn that the cre­ation story/stories of Gen­e­sis, tak­en lit­er­al­ly, would soon be proven by sci­ence to be clear­ly and absolute­ly false. Giv­en his unshake­able integri­ty, giv­en the rad­i­cal nature of his min­istry, giv­en 300 more years of light and learn­ing, I think his beliefs would have changed in many ways that are hard to imag­ine. Should we have not changed dur­ing this period?
    My goal is not to change Friends, though my pres­ence among them will prob­a­bly have some small effect. Like Pop­eye and Luther, I am what I am. At the same time, I applaud and hon­or the Chris­tians and oth­ers whose faith in God is utter­ly cen­tral to every­thing of val­ue in their lives. It would grieve me deeply if you were reluc­tant to speak your faith in wor­ship to avoid offend­ing me. Some­times your lan­guage about God speaks to me very deeply, though on a metaphor­i­cal lev­el. Oth­er times, not so much. In any case, your beliefs are impor­tant to me. I want to know you. I would like for us to remain Friends.
    Either way, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.
    [Editor’s Note: I lift­ed up James’s com­ment as it’s own post, “I Am What I Am”:/martink/archives/000567.php. Com­ments to it specif­i­cal­ly should prob­a­bly go there.]

  • Friend John,
    I find your tes­ti­mo­ny very mov­ing and beau­ti­ful, and it speaks very much to my heart. Thank you.

  • Harold

    I some­how just found this site today, and I have to once again express appre­ci­a­tion for all those folks who do not for­get about Christ’s cen­tral place in the Society.
    I real­ly do fear that in a hun­dred years we won’t be a Reli­gious Soci­ety at all any­more, but a miss-match of vary­ing reli­gious thoughts and philoso­phies, includ­ing athe­ism and even Satanism (it sounds rather sen­sa­tion­al­ist, I know, but I have met a per­son who claims to be mem­ber of the RSOF and The Church Of Satan and sees no con­tra­dic­tion in that – I sus­pect many of my lib­er­al friends would feel the same way). It’s sad.
    I fear that peo­ple will come to Quak­erism sim­ply for com­mu­ni­ty (with­out reli­gion), or worse, turn it into a social club of sorts. Christ is already slow­ly being tak­en out of our Soci­ety in the name of “diver­si­ty”.
    I don’t think diver­si­ty is a bad thing at all, to a point. But after a cer­tain point (and I think many of us have an innate sense of where that point is, even if we can­not sharply pin­point it) it becomes self-defeating and we are no longer the Soci­ety that we wish to be.

  • Pam

    I strug­gle with this quite a bit in my meet­ing. I find myself in the odd posi­tion of hav­ing a sim­i­lar ten­den­cy to want to “purge” folks who aren’t “real quak­ers” — though I myself am not a chris­t­ian, or even nec­es­sar­i­ly a the­ist, and there­fore my ideas (sense) of what a “real quak­er” is doesn’t fit most of what is dis­cussed here.
    And I am a mem­ber of James’ meet­ing, and anoth­er iden­ti­fied non-christian (I iden­ti­fied as an athe­ist for a while, but real­ly, I find that there aren’t words, or a big enough com­mu­ni­ty with sim­i­lar views to find words, for what I am)
    I think that some of us who do not cen­ter our faith / prac­tice / ethics / spir­i­tu­al life (such as it is) around christ bring as much or more spir­i­tu­al open­ness, yearn­ing and insight as (than) some who pro­fess them­selves christians.
    I am ardent­ly in favor of labor­ing with each oth­er in order to ver­bal­ize a core of Quak­erism. I am very wary of draw­ing lines in the sand or try­ing to pick out who is worth wor­ship­ping with and who is not, espe­cial­ly based on how they access god (or awe)

  • Mont­gomery Stephen Fitzwater

    “The law of faith the law of the Spir­it of Life is the love of G-d.This comes by The Lord Christ”. “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you only My Father in heaven”.“I will put My Laws into their minds and write them upon their hearts,I will be their G-d they shall be My peo­ple and they shall not teach every­one his fel­low or every­one his brother,saying,Know the Lord.”“For I desire stead­fast love not sacrifice,the knowl­edge of G-d not burnt offerings.“This is the Quak­er tes­ti­mo­ny to which I cling.This is the rock that hell shall not pre­vail against.I have wit­nessed an assort­ment of quak­er rant­i­ngs over these years from uni­tar­i­an to evangelical.Self will and self pos­ses­sion prevail.m

  • Mar­tin, I think it’s because we don’t talk to each oth­er that we become so spir­i­tu­al­ly estranged from each oth­er. And that leads to being afraid to talk to each oth­er. There has to be silence, but there also has to be study, dia­logue, explo­ration, and lis­ten­ing. I’m start­ing to feel very strong­ly that silent meet­ing is only half of what total Quak­erism should be.
    If peo­ple in our meet­ings have any faith at all, then they real­ize that what­ev­er they style their per­son­al reli­gion as, it’s all talk­ing about the same thing. Dif­fer­ent words, same ideas. So we need to get open­ing our mouths and our books (and our minds).
    Too many Quak­ers think of quak­erism as a reli­gion of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty — but it’s not. It’s a col­lec­tivist reli­gion. We meet to silent­ly come togeth­er with the Eter­nal, to sub­mit to it, and to do so with each oth­er. If Quak­ers are doing the indi­vid­u­al­ism thing, then they are way off. So then, give them some books to read.
    How­ev­er, this is not to advo­cate for any kind of writ­ten com­mon ground. I’ve seen what the Rich­mond Dec­la­ra­tion has become for some branch­es of Quakerism.
    Peo­ple arrive a var­i­ous stages of their spir­i­tu­al jour­ney, and we don’t want to close the door on those who are just timid­ly start­ing out. As long as we fos­ter growth in a col­lec­tive sense, with plen­ty of talk and read­ing and a sin­cere sub­mis­sion to the nudg­ings of the Spir­it, then peo­ple with thin­ly defined spir­i­tu­al­i­ty will deep­en and grow with us.

  • Were it not for the love of my faith com­mu­ni­ty, a con­gre­ga­tion of the Unit­ed Church of Cana­da which is at the left side of this left­ist denom­i­na­tion, I would more fre­quent­ly attend my local Friends’ meet­ing — just up the street from my congregation.
    I am blessed to have found your site. For more years than I can count I have thought of myself as a ‘seek­er’ far more than a find­er. As I read your writ­ings I am chal­lenged to express myself a litle more gen­tly than I some­times do.

  • Thomas Ride­nour

    I agree with some­one way up the line there that a com­par­i­son of hon­est seek­ers with the orig­i­nal Ranters is unfair. Some­one in anoth­er tra­di­tion labeled uncom­mit­ted seek­ers “Free­lance Chris­tians” some years ago. Again, it is unfair.
    I was once aso­ci­at­ed with Friends, believ­ing that after years of seek­ing I had final­ly found my spir­i­tu­al home. But the Spir­it con­tin­ued to lead me into truth, and that truth did not square with Quak­er the­ol­o­gy. The Quak­er­ly response was to turn a deaf ear toward what I tried to share.
    As for author­i­ty and tra­di­tion, every­thing I recieve as Truth must have it’s root in Scrip­ture as under­stood by Chris­tians of ancient times. I am not into nov­el­ty. The prob­lem is, no group today prac­tices all these things. And I am sure I have not yet arrived at the per­fec­tion of knowl­edge either. But i believe in being open-minded and desire a place where I can hold my con­vic­tions and express them as the Spir­it gives utterance.

  • Mar­tin Kelley

    @Thomas: the inter­est­ing ques­tion is whether Friends not being faith­ful Friends (faith­ful to their own tradition/theology/understanding) or whether you had irrec­on­cil­able and dif­fer­ences of the­ol­o­gy, per­haps around the source of spir­i­tu­al author­i­ty. If your mem­ber­ship was just not a good match, then I can under­stand how even­tu­al­ly there might be that deaf ear. Of course I’ve been around Friends long enough to know that we often don’t like any­one who asks good ques­tions or chal­lenges our some­times too-easy pieties and it’s a shame when we lose peo­ple who play this role.

  • Shar­ing is car­ing and now I read your arti­cle. Even 10 years passed the arti­cle is great. I’m so hap­py that I’m here being part of this piece of his­to­ry. Pure extract hearts are the ones that makes us joyful

  • Per­ma­nent results are made with per­ma­nent lifestyle changes, it is only fair and makes per­fect sense.