IN THE FACE

even when I preside this matter of conducting business troubles words and more words plus reflection in place of action called to be a community exemplifying unity in love (Mark 9:50 and Ephesians 4:3-4) yet how scattered we are yet how often grieved another report to minute for the archives *   *   * asked by […]

MORE THAN A QUESTION OF IDENTITY

What would you be if you weren’t Quaker?

I usually pose it in terms of religious affiliation, skirting the bigger issue of what we’d be without that particular spiritual discipline and nurture.

The question often illuminates an individual’s leanings within the Society of Friends, and it’s one that can be telling in many other denominations as well.

Many of us come to where we are from other religious traditions, and even among Christians the variations can be vast. And then there are yogis of all stripes, Buddhists, Native practices, arcane and pagan seekers, non-theists, agnostics, and much more. Neo-Muggletonians, anyone?

Some Quakers are very drawn to the social activist side of our community; others, the meditative worship. Some are quite Biblical; others, anything but. (Shall we mention the Gospel of NPR?) And that’s before we get to the full spectrum of today’s Friends, from ultra-univeralist to evangelical to alternative Christian to, well, we’re all over the map. And yes, many of us do miss music in our worship.

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RECOVERING WHAT HAD BEEN LEFT UNSAID

Decades ago, faced with a question of just what Friends believe, I embarked on an exploration that might provide a more inclusive answer than “Some believe this …” or “Most do that …”

To the surprise of many, the Religious Society of Friends does have a rich underlying theology, one so radical our First Publishers of Truth (one of the original names for the Quaker movement) couldn’t voice it in its fullness in the earliest years before settling into a system of practice rather than fully pursuing its intellectual implications.

Call it an alternative Christianity if you will, but even Friends need to understand its dimensions.

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For more, check out my essays, Religion Turned Upside Down.

BEYOND CONSENSUS

I’d gladly renounce any desire to conduct holy business if I had it spare me, O Holy One, please *   *   * this session leaves me a headache and troubled this is not Gospel Order look at this agenda! and these to-do lists! where’s the Sabbath? our lives already so cluttered and overbooked before adding […]

CAN WE BREAK THROUGH POLARIZATION?

A pointed observation from the concluding chapter of Douglas Gwyn’s Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience continues to echo in my mind. After noting that religion and spirituality, East and West, are being traded on a world market, a situation itself that reflects today’s dominant mindset of global capitalism, Gwyn remarks:

Global economic integration today is leading to social and spiritual stagnation, much as the progressive political consolidation of the Roman Empire slowly stifled spiritual energies in the ancient world. As the superstructure of the Roman Empire became increasingly otiose, cynical, and corrupt, men of rank increasingly withdrew from public leadership to pursue private life and philosophical speculation.

This immediately had me thinking of the nastiness of the current political scene and wondering why anyone of sensitivity or kindness would want to be subject to the abusive public glare that’s become the norm today. Gwyn continues his paragraph with a confirmation of my assumption:

Similarly, as multinational corporate conglomerations engulf the globe, we find people of means withdraw into private life, esoteric beliefs, and financial speculation. In both periods, the masses are left to seek truth in a din-filled marketplace.

Remember, this was published in 2000, and I’d say the situation has only intensified since then.

It’s a troubling situation, even before we get to the polarization now stressing the nation and much of the world. Gwyn sees much of that polarization and its way of captivating its partisans arising over the question of gnosis – that is, of knowing – with both sides disagreeing over essentially Platonic and Gnostic orientations toward truth. Crucially, he sees both sides assuming “that the truth is some static entity.”

At this point, Gwyn turns the perspective: “If we return, however, to the Hebraic and Johannine Christian sense of truth as something enacted through faithfulness and love, these polarities become academic. We act faithfully toward one another as we enter honest conversation with one another.”

The immensity of that task, I’ll admit, fills me with despair. It’s not just religion, which is largely marginalized from the dialogue; the polarization rips across economic, educational, geographic, and political fields as well. Looking around, I feel I might as well be speaking to a stone. A Wailing Wall would be more efficacious. Retreating from the public sphere makes all too much sense.

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Here, though, the example of Jesus also comes into play. He, too, retreated to the wilderness, but he also returned to the marketplace and spoke truth, forcefully and ultimately with love. Moreover, he was willing to bear the consequences.

Anyone else want to elaborate? We live in desperate times.

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More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

LOOKING AFRESH AT PRAYER

She was right, of course, about prayer. What happened, though, was that when the others heard “the only way,” they were unaware of how many varieties of prayer there are – and since they rarely if ever get down on their knees or lift their voices to the Divine One, they likely thought you were saying they were damned, closed out, lost! The challenge, then, is in encouraging them to experiment with prayer! Once they begin to hear of the old Friend in Connecticut whose practice was to pray daily for individuals in the Yearly Meeting (“I want you to know that at 7.15 every night, I will be praying for your daughter’s recovery”) or of longstanding prayer partnerships between individuals, such as the one former Yearly Meeting clerk Jan Hoffman has shared for two decades or so, then the invitation is more readily heard.

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For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

ARISING OUT OF SILENCE

Another form of study we have found helpful is Worship Sharing, in which a topic is announced, a facilitator shares a brief (up to twenty minute) introduction, and then each person can respond out of the silence, speaking only once until all have shared and observing the other “rules” of vocal ministry: no direct rebuttals, space between messages, and so on. Thus, your original proposal could be turned into a series, “How To Meet God,” beginning with a session on experiences each person has had in encountering the Divine. A second session could examine varieties of prayer, in which individuals might begin to see the silence and social service as prayer, in addition to supplication, thanksgiving, praise, confession, and so on. Yet another session might examine ways of centering down for a better “sit” in Meeting (prayer returns here!). Each of the queries makes a good Worship Sharing focus, as does a carefully selected piece of scripture. Larry and Joanna Sparks, by the way, have prepared an excellent approach for group study of scripture, that requires the readers to sweep away their baggage and then to examine the text closely to see what it actually does say; a circle at Agamenticus spent six weeks on Jonah and felt they needed more time! Oh, yes, confession of our individual spiritual baggage and our initial religious training can also be useful Worship Sharing. Testimony about one’s spiritual journey to date has formed the basis for some Agamenticus Friends for monthly breakfasts at one family’s farm.

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For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.