Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hang in there, Baby!!!

Again, this began as a comment to Mark Wutka's post of November 26, 2006. Samuel Caldwell Revisited It got so far out of hand that I didn't think it fair to post it there.

Oh, Mark, do I know what this is about and do I share you condition!

The Quaker Movement is no longer like a sect (if ever it really was), members of which have a clear shared understanding and a dedication to living out that understanding in the company of those who share it. We are now a church (in one sense of the word), embracing the looser, more tepid and more out to lunch as well as the real and not so real saints.

I often long for secthood. But given where the divisions and schisms have taken the Movement I am less inclined than ever to think that good. In fact, I go the opposite way. Put us all back together and give us the strength to bear with one another as we stay together and move ... but I digress.

And it is with me, as it appears to be with you, around the "drift" in the meaning of words and phrases that this longing to separate or become ill often develops. I hear people use the word "universalism" and wonder if they have ever read--or been instructed about--what that concept meant when it was talked up by Penington and Fox and Woolman and Barclay. Conscience, liberty, seeker...get thee to a dictionary! No, actually, don't do that. That is is the problem. If one is going to plead for the legitiimacy of these things as part of the Quaker Movement then one should use them as they are used in Quaker literature.

And you are right about mistaking the fruit for the point of what we are about. The testimonies are not a starting point, a set of values. They are the result of a transformation that has taken place. No transformation, no simplicity (or harmony, or equality, or community or integrity). No cross, no crown.

I am glald, however, that we in North Pacific Yearly Meeting still use the word "unity" and eschew "consensus" although I am not comfortable that everyone understands the distinction. After all, how can one be seeking the will of God (or Spirit, or spirit, or Light, or the Transcendent Reality, or the Big Kahuna) if one doesn't believe in such a being/presence/reality/whatever? Another digression must be suppressed, at this point.

The simple gospel of the Quaker Movement is that there is a Light (Christ, if you will--or won't--it doesn't matter) that shines into the lives of all people. All people can recognize it and heed it (quite apart from their knowing anything about the historical Jesus). If they do heed it then they will be transformed to conform to its own likeness. This is not often mentioned, let alone affirmed among us Liberals, today (is it among Evangellicals? Conservatives?). Sometimes I have been told that I am adopting a "creed" when I talk about this--by people who have no understanding of where "non-creedalism" came from or what it really means in the Quaker literature. George Fox probably had no problem with what was in the creeds of his day--he just understood the danger of creeds!


This is a very siimple gospel and it bears repeating over and again to people who do not grasp it. The repeating does not teach it, but points the way to the experience of it. It's all one can do. And we have to keep doing it. But with entreaty, not contention. That's the big snare for me. Just bring it to mind where, if you are in the power, you'll only be helping them recognize and come to grips with what is already there. Nudge. Remind. Support. Encourage.

I am often discouraged about the state of things it the Quaker Movement. But as I was reading this morning, intending to get to responding to you later in the morning, I found a nice piece of encouragement. It's in John Punshon's "Portrait in Gray," on page 150.

It has to do with "gay Friends" as that term came to be used in the late 18th Century. It meant one who did not observe simplicity of dress as that term was then used, but who dressed as the fashion of the day dictated (see how the words drift? What does "gay Friend" mean in the Quaker Movement, today?)

An American travelling minister, William Savery was at meeting in Norwich. He was was so taken a back by the number of "gay" Friends in the meeting that he stood up and ministered about the "marks of wealth and grandeur" that were "too obvious" in the meeting.

In Punshon's telling, his preaching had effect. Betsy Gurney (wearing purple boots laced with scarlet) sat listening defiant but troubled. Later, turned to plainness, she would would become known as Elizabeth Fry and would occupy an important place in the Movement.

I do not tell this story as an endorsement of Elizabeth Fry, or in any way to make a comment about "gay Friends" today. (My daughters have god mothers who are a lesbiann couple, and Unitarians, at that!).

I tell this story as a reminder that when we entreat others we do not know what impact it is having (on others as well as on ourselves). We may not know how it adds or detracts weight from one side or the other of someone's scale, out there. We only know that we are called to do the entreating. We are not called to give up the field to people who want our minutes to sound llike those of the Democratic Party Central Committee.

This is overly long for a comment. Hope for all these words I was actually clear. I understand where you are coming from, Mark, and I actually know that you agree with what I am saying, here.

This is just an elaborate way of saying "I feel your pain, hang in there, Baby."


Peggy Senger Parsons said...

ooo, oooh, ooohh!
I want pruple boots laced with scarlet!!

Mark Wutka said...

Thank you very much for this response, I linked to it from the original posting. You have provided a lot to think about - the Punshon story, especially. For all the times I have had somewhat critical things go through my mind that I would like to say in meeting, I have never felt led to actually stand and say them.
One of the things that has bothered me lately is that I almost feel that when I talk about Quakers being more Spirit/God/Christ-led, that I am pulling the rug out from under some people. There are people who truly believe that being a Quaker is about practicing the testimonies and not about following God, and they came to that understanding from other Friends. For some people, it must feel like someone is changing the rules in the middle of a game. How do we deal with that tenderly?

And yes, I do agree with what you are saying here!

With love,

RichardM said...

You ask if conservative Friends affirm this simple basic Quaker message of a real God (call it by whatever name you wish) who brings about a transformation in people. I think I can say that we do. For the past few years I have been led to nudge North Carolina Conservative into talking about our individual theologies and this culminated in discussion focused on what we believe held at Representative Body in Virginia Beach. Many Friends spoke and I found that there was a remarkable amount of unity on this simple Quaker message. I must admit it was a little less definite than I would like on the transformation part, but the core idea is broadly affirmed. You might want to read my post on being born again for my own thoughts on transformation.

Friends who are involved in Yearly Meeting activities seem in unity on the reality of God and his activity in us. I honestly cannot be so confident that Friends who stay in their monthly meetings and never or rarely go to Yearly Meeting functions are also in unity. I suspect there is much less unity if we look that broadly, but the core of the Yearly Meeting is in unity on this.

Mark Wutka said...

In case anyone is interested, the NCYM(C) web site has a summary of the discussion that Richard mentioned in his reply.

Also, Peggy is one dangerous Quaker!

Chris M. said...


Thank you for posting your comment at length here and not editing it for brevity at the original!

I too wonder about your question: "After all, how can one be seeking the will of God (or Spirit, or ...) if one doesn't believe in such a being/presence/reality/whatever?"

I have to begin by asking that question of myself, when I'm wondering what my individual theology really is.

One experience that's true for me is that when I read about or meditate on Jesus I do actually feel as if I'm closer to Christ/the Light/etc... even though as a universalist (in the classic sense) I believe that Jesus per se does not have to be known.

-- Chris M.

Liz Opp said...

Timothy, thanks for advancing the discussion. I'm glad I made my way here! Like you and others, I too have a concern for the "drifting" that occurs with certain words that are part of the Quaker tradition.

I also wanted to respond to Mark, who writes in his comment, " must feel like someone is changing the rules in the middle of a game. How do we deal with that tenderly?"

For me, this is where I believe that our personal relationships with one another and within the covenantal community comes into play. The more spiritually intimate the relationship I have with another, the more likely I am able to introduce complex and tender topics such as what you and Timothy have written.

Timing and a sense of openness are important; so is a sense of leading. ...And sometimes I have found that all I can hope for is to build the relationship and "till the soil"--don't even try to plant the seed but leave that task to another.

All of which requires patience and the discipline to not outrun our Guide.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up