10 May 2008

Further response to others on Quakers and Pagans:

Friends, as you can no doubt tell, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I have been wanting to comment on this, in conversation with the convergent Friends movement that is afoot, and in further conversation with my own F/friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, as we struggle in our being part of Friends United Meeting.

The Christianity Today Article and the subsequent responses have touched something deep within my inner being, and called me out of my silence, perhaps because of the publicness with which I feel the disparagement of liberal Friends:

Nate, thee speaks my mind. The Religious Society of Friends does not ever deny the sacraments given to us by Jesus. Rather, we experience them as a real and now-occurring event, of the indwelling Light of Christ. What we call this experience is not so important as the experience itself and what it leads us to do in the name of the Light in our daily lives.

Bror, and others who are not members of the Religious Society of Friends, I would refer you to http://www.hallvworthington.com/sacraments.html
where you can read directly George Fox’s dialogue with a Jesuit priest over the claim that Quakers denied the sacraments. Perhaps this will lend more understanding to the position of the Society of Friends.

Liberal Friends do not differ on this from other branches of the Society. When we marry, come into membership, embark on a spiritual calling (similar to ordination as it is called in other denominations), or experience the direct moving of the Light in our lives in any way, it is sacramental, or consecrated by God. The confirmation of this we experience by the direct act of sitting in worship and waiting on the Light to speak through one of us or to direct our lives specifically.

One way that we are primarily different from some of you who have commented here, is that we are most definitely focused on the inclusivity that Jesus modeled, or that other spiritual leaders model, no matter what their religion. We are focused on “that of God” in every person, no matter their creed, sexual orientation, religious belief, color, race, or culture.

The love of God is big enough to encompass all of this and more. This is the only way to peace, in my understanding. We do not seek to water down our faith or accept cheap substitutions in order to draw members. We seek true conversation between all members of God’s creation on Earth, in the name of peace among us all.

Response to Quakers and Pagans

I have reprinted here my response to Cranath's post related to the May 4, 2008 Christianity Today article, "Are the Quakers Going Pagan?" I originally found this article titillating to my spiritual senses. I even brought a copy to my Adult RE class in our meeting, where we have been discussing just what we each believe, curious to see how others would respond. However, when I read the noted blog by Cranath about our "new Church growth strategy," I felt myself called to respond.

I find that I cannot keep our Light hidden under a bushel. Whether others are serious or merely poking fun at liberal Friends, I feel called to point out my own experience and point of view, that we hold one of the best kept secrets of the Society of Friends and christans in general too close to our heart. "Liberal" or unprogrammed Friends have been able to provide a haven for those seekers of peace and Light who do not feel comfortable within the confines of a more structured church environment, or who have never experienced the love of God in any church environment, but who desire to dwell in community with others who will support them on their spiritual journey.

Perhaps those who doubt the spiritual centeredness of those of us who choose a more liberal or universalist path need to adjust their own lenses to see what we are able to do. Grounded in spiritual community, lead by the indwelling Light (of Christ as we have traditionally called it), Friends have been able to see that which is of God in a vastly wider community and have been able to minister to that community as it seeks solace from the world. How different is this than early Friends, or even the original followers of Jesus? I do not ever fear that these seekers will lead me astray, when I am guided by the loving Inner Voice and the spiritual eldering of weighty Friends.

Recently I heard Krista Tippett interview three evangelical pastors on "Speaking of Faith," and I was struck by the similarity of the messages they had to what I feel the Society of Friends has to offer: all three had the feeling that the church had to offer a renewed activism to the world, a faith so strong that it moves one to act on God's accord. This is the message the Society of Friends has always offered, and liberal Friends are no different in wanting to live their faith:

Those inclined to make fast judgement of liberal members of the Religious Society of Friends would do well to refer to the May 2008 issue of Friends Journal. There you can read about the movement among young adult Friends who are seeking a "radical, spiritual Quakerism."

Living without closely defined creeds or doctrine does open the door for some unusual seekers to make their way into worship. This has proven in my own unprogrammed meeting to provide delicious fodder for spiritual discussion and journey. Somehow even conservative Friends seem to think that the absence of this doctrine, or of a defined leader like a pastor, will leave liberal Friends treading down the path to damnation.

Instead, quite the opposite is true. In over 25 years since being convinced I was a Friend, I have dwelt in strong community with other Friends and attenders who, like me, were seekers of the Light. Some of us came as pagans, some as refugees from the more organized Christian or Catholic worlds, some were lifelong Friends. Among us there was one common theme, the desire to live and work as the Light directs us, and to support each other in that living. Some of us call that Light the Christ within, but some, feeling damaged by the church communities from which we came, feel more comfortable referring to that inner direction as only the Light.

Our meetings function as any other healthy spiritual community: we worship together, we try to live daily our spiritual beliefs, we support and elder each other in growing along our spiritual paths, and we tend to each other and the world around us in need.

In recent years, living in a world that seems to think that there is somehow something peaceful that can result from war, our testimony that "there shall be no occasion for war" has drawn many wayfaring strangers to our midst. They are seeking something not found elsewhere: an answer to the question, what else is there to do?

Jew or gentile, pagan or Christian, or from any other religion, I believe what Jesus wants is that we open the door and welcome these travelers in. Many Friends throughout history, and many theologians in all traditions have admitted that God is so much greater than anything we can imagine.

The Society of Friends is growing in our little corner of the world, not because we have found a new strategy for church growth, but because we are not afraid to invite those travelers to join us on our journey. The Light of God, that lives within us all, is far more influential than any one tradition. I trust that Light will guide us all.