Sunday, June 24, 2007

Friends in the Next 100 Years

To answer my own query... (is one allowed to do that?)

I feel like what we're called to do is listen to God together. I wrote somewhere on my own blog when I was talking about George Fox's Journal that it seems like a lot of times Friends got together and sat in silence until they heard what they were supposed to do, then they went out and did it. Silence wasn't an end in itself or a nice difference from normal, busy life. It was a way to listen together that preceded action.

So I think we should listen together and figure out what we're called to, which I think would include being "the voice of liberal inclusive Christianity," as Forrest suggests, but that doesn't just mean talking to people about Jesus. That means as we hear what Jesus calls us to, we do it--including things that might get us into trouble, as they did the early Friends.

I think we're too comfortable with being liked as Friends, with having a history that others revere, so we don't want to do anything now that might ruin our reputation.

Some ideas:
  • war tax resistance (in an organized fashion)
  • doing good research so we can boycott companies who produce their goods unjustly, and buy from good companies (and being willing to go without if there are no good companies that produce certain things)
  • alternative transportation (biking, walking, not using any form of transportation that leads to ecological problems or conflicts over resources)
  • fighting racism/classism in America (because that's where I'm from) and egocentrism on the part of America
  • proactively working for peace rather than just protesting wars and violence after it's begun
So how can we start working on these things? Which ones are we most drawn to as a community? What small steps can we take to start working on them? What things in the 21st century will show that we're Quakers like wearing gray in the 18th and 19th centuries, because we're standing for what we believe without compromise?

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Conversations:

What Are the Most Important Questions Facing the Society of Friends Today?

What Are We Called to Do, as Friends, Over the Next 100 Years?

What Does (or Should) "Christianity" Mean to Us as Friends?

How Do We See "NonTheist Friends" Among Us?

How Might We Best Form Communities of Service?

High Expectations vs Self-Acceptance
, for Other People and Ourselves.

Please feel free to comment--And if you'd like to be a member here and add your own posts on questions
like these, please email Forrest (at the address given in his profile}, including your email address and whatever we ought to know to help us decide that.

"No-Fault Living"

Can Love Be Truth?
Okay, a Question

What Are Friends Called to Do?

To Be the Voice of Liberal Inclusive Christianity
To Seek to Be Guided Together

The Basic Questions for Friends Today?

Cherice's Queries
Forrest's Version

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Christology 101 (or why I'm not Unitarian)

I HAVE been exercised of late on the issue of Christology. By "Christology" I mean that set of questions such as Who was/is this Christ Jesus fellow anyway? or Is/was he really God incarnate? and What do we really mean by God Incarnate anyway? and Why does it matter? And what tense should we be talking about the guy (was/is)?

This isn't to say that I think there is one and only one TRUE answer to any of those questions or that where you stand on any of them should in any way mark you as a good Quake or a bad Quake or even as a good Christian or a bad Christian. But I think I might say there is a range of responses to those questions which we might say are more appropriate expressions of Quakerism and of Christianity than other possible responses. In other words I think our answers to such questions may actually be helpful in the formation of our communities and in the making of corporate (and even personal decisions. I think that may define me outside the "liberal" fold.

And here it gets REALLY technical. I think that this hypothetically appropriate range of responses needs to include the Theopaschite amendment to the Council of Chalcedon: Unus ex Trinitate passus est (meaning "One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh").

Gaak! What am I saying? I'm saying Jesus was a child of God in a way we are not. In traditional language, he was the only begotten son of God while we are God's kids by adoption.

And its important because? Because when they nailed him to a tree Jesus suffered and when that happened it was God suffering in Jesus because they are One. And God continues to suffer and be vulnerable.

The liberal Quakerism I know doesn't think this is important. In fact the notion this might be important is down right threatening to a whole mess of folks who without office or election or recording are pretty much setting the tone for what Quakerism is and is becoming. It is also pretty much irrelevant (ironically enough) to conservative Christians who if not in profession certainly in practice prefer the conquering Messiah returning on clouds of glory to the notion that God Almighty is vulnerable and suffers.

But for me certainly, the notion of a vulnerable and suffering God is at the centre of any hope that Christianity might be relevant in this world. More important than those gospel formulae about how we're saved by his sacrifice. And if Quakerism is to be relevant in this world, it needs either to embrace a Chacedonian kind of Christianity or it needs to jettison the whole Christian enterprise and find an entirely different way of engaging this world.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Why Atheism Is Found Among Friends But Not In Quaker Doctrine

A lot of confusion about this stems from the Christian concept of "faith." In its beginnings, Christianity was (like all other religions of the time) a political religion, based on Jesus's claim to represent God's power over Israel. One "believed in" him and acted accordingly, risking an unpleasant death from the established authorities, or one disbelieved, a choice that Jesus and his followers naturally found inconvenient. Christianity remained politically subversive and risky after Jesus's death, if only by opposing the official cults that were held essential for the Empire's continued success; and while a great many versions of Christianity circulated, the leaders who took control of the movement were naturally people who put a lot of emphasis on group solidarity and enforcing standardized doctrine.

Largely as a result of this legacy, church members have tended to think of "believing" as virtuous and "disbelief" as an offense against God--and that remained the social norm for a long time, until roughly the mid 20th Century in much of this country. Public atheists were outsiders wherever church activities were a major part of community social life. By typical church doctrines, God intended to punish most of the human race forever for various misdeeds--while offering "salvation" (from this alleged fate) only to those who could believe 1) that God would do such a thing and 2) that God wouldn't do it to them if they believed that Jesus died to keep God from doing it to them and 3) that Jesus had in fact died for that purpose. For anyone who couldn't believe, period, that God existed--there was no escape. For churches of Calvinistic flavor, a lifelong atheist was not just a doomed person, but one whom God had always intended to be a hopeless case.

I gather there are still churches where people think this way. A lot of us even grew up in places where other kids thought this was what they probably were supposed to believe, even if they didn't.

Shouldn't Friends meetings welcome these poor, psychically-rumpled refugees from religious bigotry, treat them kindly, make grateful use of their talents and good intentions? Well of course! Are they bad people? Well, no, a bad person would find Quaker process rather boring. (I know I do!)

Are they Quakers? What if they want to be Quakers? What if they study Quaker process until they know, far better than I, the proper Quaker procedure for every occasion?

Are we going to impose a credal test on them?--exclude them from membership unless they're willing to use the "G" word?--or some equivalent description?

Robert Griswold's Pendle Hill pamphlet on 'Creeds and Quakers' (although Friends are not, of course, required to believe it) can be very helpful in sorting these things out. Friends originally, he says, were not people who believed certain doctrines, but people convinced that they were intimately acquainted with, their lives directly under the power of, the God whom those doctrines spoke of. They objected to creeds--certainly as an imposition on spiritual liberty--but not primarily for that reason. Someone could uphold the accepted Christian beliefs--be a "professor [of Christianity]," as George Fox would call him--and lack that intimate acquaintance. If someone wanted to test his spiritual "condition," a creed would give him a false reading, direct his attention to his beliefs rather than to his internal communion with God, which was the real point of it all. (In Quaker theology, it isn't what you know, but Who you know!)

All right, here we are in another century. Early Friends aren't here for us to ask: Who should and who shouldn't belong to our meetings? We aren't sure we'd want Early Friends in our meetings; they were so argumentative and fanatical and impolite! And who we are!--We're people who joined meetings according to the practices and standards of 20th & 21st Century Friends' meetings. Some of us have occasional mystical experience, and beliefs informed by such experience, and even though this makes us odd by contemporary standards, we're tolerated and even respected to some degree. But we don't set the norms. The best instinct of our membership-clearness committees has been to let in everyone who seemed sincere, well-intentioned, sane enough to know what he was getting into and still willing to join.

To me, it seems a clear case of mislabeling. To call someone a "Friend" implies his friendship with God. If we simply admit, "It doesn't mean that anymore," our Society is saying nice things about "being inclusive" but we've taken our real message off the sign.

Our real message? The "gospel". The truth that God is real, good, accessible to everyone--and wields ultimate rule over this world and our fate. I don't require anyone to believe this. But it's a good thing to know, and it's something we can know. How? We ask, wait, be willing to believe Life's reply.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What are we called to as Friends?

I attended the World Gathering of Young Friends held at Guilford in 1985. We were very divided from each other during much of the week. Some unprogrammed Friends were pretty freaked out when some Bolivian Friends essentially made an altar call.
I was on the "epistle committee" and we tried very hard to discern what we shared in common. You can read the epistle at

I would differ very slightly from something Cherice said, I think, in her Beacon Hill talk. I think she said that what makes us unique is that we try very radically to hear and be obedient to God's voice. (I may have misquoted you, Cherice - I don't have it in front of me right now.)

I think that is true, but many Christians (as well as those of other tradtions such as Jews) also try hard to practice this. What is MOST unique about us, I think, is that Friends discovered in the traditional Meeting for Worship a totally unique (in my experience) way of hearing God's voice and experience God using us as God's mouthpiece. I have experience unprogrammed Spirit-led worship in pentacostal settings and it is powerful and the Holy Spirit is undoubtedly present but it simply is NOT the same at all as a Meeting for Worship in which the hearts of worshippers are knit together in God and in which some are led into Spirit-led vocal ministry. Sadly there are many many unprogrammed Meetings that never experience this kind of worship - many unprogrammed Friends have told me they have no idea what "gathered" worship is and many unprogrammed YMs have run away from even an intention much less realization of limiting spoken ministry to messages that are under the leadership of the Divine Voice of the Inward Christ.

And as much as I respect and even cherish the leadership of many Friends pastors and the good spiritual work that happens in many pastoral Friends' services, I personally have not experienced programmed services, even very good ones that I have attended such as at Reedwood, as being this same type of Christ-led worship.

I also believe we discovered what is (at least in my admittedly limited experience) unique vessel or tool in the traditional Meeting for Worship with attention to business - as a way in which a faith community can seek to be guided together into Christ-directed decisions for their community. I have not attended meetings for church business in any pastoral YMs so I cannot say whether they experience this type of Christ-leadership. Sadly, I think it is even more of an "endangered species" among unprogrammed Friends than truly gathered, Spirit-guided worship. But I have experienced it at work. I have read about something similar to this being practiced among other Christian groups such as the group that was seeking spiritual discernment to begin the Jesuits and certain post-Vatican monastic communities that were attempting to move away from having their superior make all of their decisions - but again I have no direct experience of whether these groups practice anything at all like Quaker business process at its best.

Between the move away from Spirit-direction in pastoral Quaker traditions and the move away from the Living God in unprogrammed Quaker meetings, these 2 unique vessels of God work nearly disappeared. I think they have a great deal to offer both Christianity and the world.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


[Commenting on my development of Cherice's queries, RichardM suggested we stick largely to "brief & focused posts" (while mine was all over the map, as I tend to be.) I'd like to have him posting for himself here, but since he hasn't asked yet, I'm giving his brief & focused point its own space for the discussion I think it deserves.]:

"So--with that as prelude--here's a point. What is the mission of the SoF to the world in the next 100 years? We are to be the voice of liberal inclusive Christianity that will show the world how to talk WITH not PREACH AT people of other faith traditions. We will not lapse into silly pointless relativism. We will have our own clear perspective on truth but we will show how you can do that and GENUINELY hear the real insights into truth that come from other faith traditions."

My Own Queries, from Cherice's

Are we called to be more "Christian"? What does this mean, or what should it mean? Should that imply being less Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Islamic?

How many of us have any assurance of being here–or having family members still alive in this world–over the next 100 years? Are we assuming continuity? Should we be, are we, expecting instead a world crisis with massive loss of life and/or destruction of our social world?

Can we hope our world might find a new awakening to the Spirit anytime soon? If so, should we hope or expect this to take place within, or serve to swell the membership of, the Society of Friends?

How might the Society of Friends best work to promote such an awakening? Should we make such an effort in hopes that God will help make it fruitful?

If so, can we do it while "holding the tension between being both inclusive and firm in our convictions about Truth?" Do we, as a Society, have at least significant consensus as to what Truth we have to offer? Significant consensus that we do have such a Truth? An intelligible way to put it to people, and to give them good reason for joining us rather than following some other path?

If we want to tinker with forms of worship: What is worship? What forms should we practice to further and embody that state among us?

Why is there so little vocal prayers in "unprogrammed" meetings? Is this good or bad or neither?

Where do the Scriptures come into this? The scriptures of other religions? The writings of inspired individuals, historical or modern?

The Quaker way of life, like the Quaker form of worship, has changed considerably over the years, generally in the direction of becoming more individual-centered. Should we, must we, encourage a change toward a more communal, group-centered way of life? Should this be, at least in part, more rural and connected with the Earth? More urban and connected to the poor and despised among us?

What trends among us should we see as significant hints of the Spirit at work, and which of them might best be dismissed as cultural noise? Conversely, which traditions represent a spiritual legacy and which, if any, are best left behind?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Some Quotes From Cherice's Talk

Okay, I tried to get us started with a question about something I'd read that day. So far, no response.

One reason I'd particularly invited Cherice to post here was because of a talk she gave recently, (see Cherice's talk ) which raised questions many of us have been struggling with for as long as we've been Friends.

These queries from the end of that talk, in fact, sound the subjects I particularly hoped to take up when I started this:

"What do you sense God is calling the Society of Friends to focus on in the next 100 years?

"Where in your life do you notice places of resistance to living out your calling more completely?

"Are you willing to let go of traditional Friends practices and forms in order to follow a prophetic new calling as a Society? What might this look like in your own life?

"How do you feel called to hold the tension between being both inclusive and firm in your convictions about Truth?"

Can we begin to take these up here?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Okay, a Question

Now that we're starting to be "we" instead of "me," what do we think of this?

Alan Lew again (_This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared_):

"... What would happen if every time we did something we disapproved of, we opened our heart to heaven? What would happen if every time we felt an impulse we didn't like, we acknowledged its divine origin?...

"Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that it's all right to keep on being mean to people. I am saying that if you keep beating yourself up for being mean, your meanness is just going to keep striking back, getting stronger and more vicious with each blow. If on the other hand you were to fill up your meanness with attention and presence, it might just begin to cool down...

"When we experience ourselves exactly as we are, we sense our oneness with everything and we realize there is no such thing as a mistake. When we pay attention, everything enlightens us, even the things we think of as mistakes."
Or maybe another version half-remembered from Robert Aitken: "Zen is the perfection of character; it is not the perfection of someone else's character." And: [also not necessarily exact] "Our bad qualities are also our good qualities."

Or William Stringfellow's idea that when God "redeems" a person, this does not mean changing who they are so much as putting their flaws to the right use.

What do we know or think about this?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Can Love Be Truth?

When we recently visited a meeting in LA, we met a woman who thought that being a Quaker meant being "positive," and striving to see "the positive" in any given situation.

This is obviously wrong, and obviously an element in many Friends' outlooks and beliefs--and not altogether wrong.

Yesterday, my computer threw me a quote from Ambrose Bierce, that being "positive" meant "being wrong at the top of one's voice." And then later, reading a meditation book by Alan Lew (_Be Still and Get Going_) I found a story about his daughter, how she'd gone into fullblown rebellion and driven her parents to desperate, punitive anxiety... Nothing working, they had finally realized that she could be viewed with the same compassionate detachment they'd apply to people who mattered less to them. Once they stopped (Lew says) trying to impose their ideas of how she should be, strove to see her as she was and love her precisely as she was, she rather rapidly moved toward a more constructive way of being.

I realized that I owe a lot to people who have approached my flaws and quirks in a similar spirit. They've helped make me the person I am today! (Don't laugh, okay? I've been worse!) I also remembered an old friend of Anne's, continually finding cause for indignation, constantly angry and proud of it. One day I gave up on her, decided she would never change--and that's when she suddenly turned around and did something utterly new and uncharacteristic. Probably it wasn't "giving up on her," as I'd thought, but giving up trying to make her more like I'd thought she should be. (At her funeral, a few years later, a large number of people showed up to say how much they'd loved her, and how impossible she'd been!)

I still think we do better see things as they are: to call our filthy rotten system "a filthy rotten system" and our psychopathic tyrant "a psychopathic tyrant" rather than to pretend he means well (at least not in any meaningful sense. Obviously he thinks that helping his class of people loot the country and devastate the world is a good thing; so he has been doing what he thinks he should quite effectively, and it's all been thoroughly evil in the only sense I comprehend, making life unnecessarily harsh and punitive for those who can least defend themselves.) Not that we do any good by loving to hate the guy, gloating and dwelling on each new abomination... Probably he, and the nation that tolerates him, is beyond our help. Not beyond all help, just beyond our help, which we should continue none-the-less (but with all the critical insight we can muster.)

Caesar has always been Caesar, sometimes "better," sometimes "worse," not a bad guy but he'll crucify you without blinking if you ever get in his way.

We need to recognize the inhuman nature of the political/economic/social system we inhabit, not imagine that we "govern ourselves" or ever did, not imagine that we can make this world the Kingdom by "working from within." Not saying there aren't good human beings trapped in The Mechanism, working miracles of mercy and courage--just pointing out that the biblical assumption that the kingdoms of this world belong to the Devil is all too apt.

But so is the biblical assumption that God is the ultimate power over it all. What?--Is this like a peasant's belief in the good Tsar, who would make his vassals treat us right if only he realized what they were doing? Well, no, I'm saying that miracles happen despite and even through the world's mechanisms of torment, that those mechanisms are not the ultimate reality but as illusory as our dream of "Returning To Normal Life." To remember God's power and good will is merely to put our hope where it really belongs, to stop fussing ourselves unnecessarily. Tragedies happen, but when the curtain comes down the actors get up and bow. Life happens as it does because it suits us, as we have been so far.

How to become better? To love ourselves as we would like others to love us. It's always a good time to get up off our deathbeds and bow. How?--What?

My father knew I was physically inept, with a book-addict stoop and my mother's tension. One day he told me to lie on the floor and relax. "Not like that! Let your fingers curl up!" It wasn't a matter of holding them straight or holding them in fists, but in simply letting them be--but I had no idea what he was talking about. Another time, he told me I had a good, straight back--but it wasn't true then and didn't become true. I don't know if he ever gave up wanting me to be different... He was such a pill! Much later he showed me a video of himself speaking at a City Council meeting, and we were both appalled at how much alike we were. This is the kind of truth we need to see, accept, love and be as we really are.