Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sojourn Among Non Theist Friends

My electronic sojourn among non theist Friends has shown me several things, two things chief among them. First, some of these Friends have endured much hurt at the hands of theists within the Society and, second, that I am to have no part in perpetuating any such hurtful treatment (and am to speak out against it).

I have no doubt that there is plenty of blame, if blame is what we are looking for, to go around, here. The non theist can be as condescending and patronizing as the theist can be condemning and hostile. Each can carry themselves (ourselves) with an arrogance sure (if not designed) to inflame the other. The same is true, of course, among all of the "domains" within the Society.

While I have learned a lot in an extended correspondence I still do not understand how the lack of God--or the lack of relevance of God--fits in with a spiritual tradition that has been based on "leadings" and "openings" from God, where business is done seeking unity in the will of God. In the words of Jimmy Buffet, like the jitterbug, it plumb eludes me.

This is because I am guided by direct communication with God, through listening, hearing and obeying--by being shown the way and given the strength to aspire to follow it, by getting conformed day by day to the likeness of that which guides me. I am not guided by values and thinking and believing--by "figuring out" what's right and wrong. I am guided by what I am told.

And it is not helpful to hear or read that I am deluded and too weak to face life without the crutch of belief in an old bearded man in the sky who grants wishes, or in a cosmic vending machine into which I can insert the spiritual coin of prayer and expect to get a new bike. It is especially difficult to hear such things from people who tell me how much hurt they have suffered from the likes of me.

What is clear to me, however, is that God sent me among these people and sent them to me. I am not, as I first thought, a couple of years back when non theist Friends starting popping up in my life, supposed to be "winning them over" or changing their outlook. I am, rather, led to interact with them, to try to understand them and to be understood, to gain and provide perspective; to abide with them.

This is an extension of the opening I was given some years back when I realized that the people who come to my meeting--even those who only briefly wash up on our spiritual beach--have something for us, and we have something for them. There is something going on, here, and the fact that what that might be is not apparent to me does not change the fact that I have very clear instructions about how to deal with it. Jesus, it is written, illustrated this with an example of the apostate Samaritans--the people who worshiped the wrong way, on the wrong mountain.

The "other" is not to be taken, like Athaliah, from the temple and put to death at the city gates, "old covenant" style. That I have been led away from high places and from the poles, myself, does not mean that I should be destroying them. or those who worship them, or worship there.

I do get around among Friends and I know some of the history of our Society. In fact, while there are no doubt many who know more than I do, I have read and studied more than most.

I thus know that we are a peculiar people, in all the senses that word is used. We are a house that has divided itself many times and sometimes pulled itself back together. While the tide seems constantly to be running toward division and schism, with many of us distinguishing ourselves from one another, there have always been others among us who see and promote a tenuous and precious commonality, if not unity.

Whether all who call themselves Friends really are, or whether we all "belong" or can be "yoked" together, we all have a clear mandate from whichever well we draw our spiritual water. While we may not, any of us, have lived up to the aspiration consistently, the fact is that we all proclaim that our spiritual center--whether we see it as a common center or not--exhorts us, requires us, to love one another, to suffer long with one another. We are less inclined to share the opening that we should all be sticking together, as well.

We are all works in progress, wherever we are going. What I am led to do, how I am led to relate to others--inside and outside the Society--seems to me to be indicating that we are all meant to get there together. That is entirely notional, of course. But what is not notional is how I am told to act, what I am told to do. And I mean "told" literally, not as a metaphor for what I have figured out.

I am told to maintain fellowship with Non Theist Friends and with Evangelical Friends and Conservative Friends and syncretic Friends and Buddhist Friends and Wiccan Friends and Friends who are outside of the Society and Friends who do not look like Friends, at all. I am not led to be like them, perhaps, or to be conformed to them. Nor, apparently, are they led to be like me. But perhaps--again, this is notional--perhaps we are all being led in different ways to become what none of us is, or ever has been, or can even see becoming. Notional.

It may be that I mistake the destination to which this Light leads me. But insofar as I go where it leads me (and not where I "figure out," given my "values" or what the Bible "says" that I should go) I know I will be going where I am supposed to be going, and doing what I am supposed to do.

The one celled organisms on the forest floor have no idea what part their eating/processing of the leaves does for the constantly developing and evolving eco system of which they are a part. They don't need to know what their part is. They just need, like all of the other components of that system, to keep doing what they are led to do. Just eat the leaves that are in front of you, I hear, just eat the leaves.

Just love God, with all my heart, and love my neighbor as myself. Neighbor is an inclusive term, encompassing even people unlike me, people I don't even particularly like, certainly including people who do not like me. An inclusive term, neighbor is; like Friend.


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

No, I agree, we are not called to win these people over or change their outlook. But I would go one step further, and add that I am not persuaded that, as you put it, God sent us to them and them to us. Having a duty to love as our own selves whatever neighbor is right in front of us, is not really the same thing as being specifically sent by God to do so.

I am also not persuaded that "Friend" is an inclusive term like "neighbor". If it truly were so, we'd have no need for a membership process. Or for meetinghouses, either, since wherever we were -- on the city bus, in the supermarket, in the workplace, in the Republican party convention -- would qualify as a Friends meetingplace. Why bother to be involved with the Society of Friends at all, if everyone outside the Society is likewise a Friend?

John Helding said...

I'm a simpleton.
I think a Quaker is someone who has asked for and been accepted into membership in a monthly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. ONLY the membership process can take into account the richness and particular circumstances of the individual and the religious body they will be joining -- i.e., a particular monthly meeting.

As such, I am increasingly concerned about how we are using words, posted on blogs and elsewhere, to define who is and isn't a Quaker. I don't know by the written word, or a virtual relationship, who is and isn't called to be a Quaker. I can only know that through actual relationship with another human being within the context of the daily functioning of the Monthly Meeting.

So I am definitely in the camp of wanting to be clear about who is and isn't a Quaker. Not into watering it down. But the way we do that is through a well-functioning membership process -- and not through labels and practices described in words on a page.

And to Timothy's sense that he is called to be amongst non-theist friends (and others) I applaude the being amongst especially if that can be a real vs. just or primary a virtual relationship.
I sense and have experienced that only through being in relationship with another can we (and they) come to clearness as to the Quaker calling.

John P said...

What Friends have believed on some issues has changed over time, which brings into question the idea of the essential identity of a Friend.

It's clear from George Fox's letter to the Gov. of Barbados that Friends didn't always believe that all forms of slavery should be opposed. And, plain speech was seen as a stample of Quakerism early on but is not regarded as such today.

What seems clear as essential, though, is believing in the immediacy of Jesus as Teacher. And, His teaching must, at the most basic level, involve knowing that God exists and the He's God's Son, who comes to forgive us of sin through the Cross. This seems plain to me.