Sunday, September 06, 2009

Too long for an answer to a comment--to one of my own blog posts!

This is a reply to Ashley's comment on one of my previous blog posts. I think it is the eighth comment, down, and as of this moment it's the last one. To understand the rest of the post you are now reading, and to be fair to Ashely (as what I write may be a straw man if I did not understand her well), one might want to read her comment before reading this.

Hello, Ashley

I am grateful for the comment, even though 'belated,' especially because your view appears to be different than mine, and from that of the relatively small number of Friends at the interest group at annual session in July. Perhaps those in attendance were not a cross section of the yearly meeting and may have been pre-disposed to the idea. Self selection sometimes brings together diversity of view and sometimes it does not.

It is also possible, however, that you and I don't really disagree and the underlying unity of the yearly meeting is radical inclusiveness--albeit an imperfect one.

You are right that there is an uneven "tolerance" of the diversity of belief in the yearly meeting in the sense that there are those who don't think that non-theists, atheists, deists, Buddhists, pagans, Jews, sexual minorities and so on "belong" in a Quaker meeting.

There are also people who do not believe that evangelicals (a category into which some small number of these will place anyone who uses the word "Christ" except as a swear word) are a part of "our tradition," and that what they call "Christo-centric" language is inappropriate among Friends because so much hurtful "baggage" is attached to it.

There are times both views get expressed openly and the uneven nature of the "tolerance" you cite is then apparent.

Friends have strongly held beliefs--strongly held beliefs that make up their personal "creeds" and strongly held beliefs about the beliefs that make up the personal "creeds" of others.

Because I am the clerk of the Committee on the Discipline/Faith and Practice I have both sought and been sought out during these last three and a half years by Friends to talk about these (and, oh! so many other) issues and how they should be addressed in the Faith and Practice.

I've yet to meet or talk to a Friend who has said that there are beliefs to which one must adhere to be a member of this yearly meeting. I have certainly, however, encountered many who have expressed with a great deal of certainty and determination that the language of their own personal creed (which they might regard to be "Quakerism") should be the one used in the Book of Discipline for North Pacific Yearly Meeting, and that their personal beliefs about the nature (or non-nature) of the D/divine should be its frame of reference.

There are no doubt Friends here, as elsewhere in the Society, who were first attracted by what they understood to be "Friends beliefs" (or, perhaps, the freedom from them). And there are no doubt some for whom propositional belief (or non-belief) is supremely important.

What has been opened to me, however, is that most Friends with whom I speak have remained Friends because they have been greatly edified (or "fed" or "nourished" or "enlightened" or "matured" or whatever) by the experience of being here, by doing the "Quaker Stuff" we all do, here. Whether they call it "Quaker process" or the "faith and practice of Friends" or "living out spirituality in the manner of Friends," this "Quaker way" (with waiting/silent worship as its center piece and its epitome) is what is central to most.

This would mean that "Quakerism" is not a set of beliefs but a set of traditions or practices that have been shown, through the years, to bring about a measure this edification, feeding, nourishing, enlightening, maturing or whatever. Over time and distance this particular orthopraxy has created a remarkably consistent (although not unique) outcome. Today we express it as simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. As I have said before, other lists also skillfully describe these same human qualities.

It is not the beliefs that Friends might use to explain this experience but the experience itself about which we are radically inclusive--as Joel and Hannah Bean were, as George Fox and Margaret Fell were. We will include those who want to live out their spirituality in the manner of Friends--regardless of their beliefs. That is radical for a spiritual community in the sense that it is "extreme," and it's radical in the sense that it relates to the root from which everything else "Quaker" comes.

If someone wants to celebrate mass, pray bowing to Mecca, or chant vows, or sacrifice a chicken during meeting for worship we are not likely to go there. That's because it's not a part of the practice that has been shown to Friends, century in and century out, to give use the water of which we have had a taste, ourselves, and its ability to slake thirst we have seen in others. People who "believe" that which underlies those other practices are welcome, of course, to worship with us in the manner of Friends and we are glad to include them.

And we acknowledge that ours is not the only set of disciplines and practices that edifies, feeds, nourishes, enlightens, matures or whatever. It's one that works for us and, as replicating outcomes from any successful models depends on fidelity to that model, we go with doing it the way it's worked, before. (Not without change, of course. Isaac Penington did not participate in worship sharing, after all. But change must show that it enhances the work from the root: the outcomes sought and the experience that brings them about.)

The fact that many of us in the yearly meeting don't understand that it's the experience that comes out of the process/practice/discipline that keeps us here doesn't mean that it is not so. It just means that in this regard we are much like some people in business who don't know what it is that really makes them successful (until they stop doing it) or like fish who do not get the centrality of water to their existence.

It is certainly not propositional belief that is central to holding our community together. We are not held together by our gregarious charisma, our outgoing and easy-going personalities, our sense of fashion, our lack of annoying eccentricities or our potlucks. (OK, maybe the potlucks have something to do with it).

We are held together by the experience of Quaker practice, and it is not just some ecstatic "other worldly" "bliss out" kind of experience. It's an experience of change and growth we see in ourselves and those around us as time goes on, and it's all about relationships. First, of course, is our relationship with that which we sense moving among us (however we may characterize it), our spirituality. But also crucial are the relationships we have with those who, like us, are trying to live out their lives and spirituality in the manner of Friends.

The Kingdom of Heaven is described in the Gospels as being both "is" and "is becoming," a concept that Quakers have used before to describe what was "going on" with and around them, what was moving among them. In that same way I have described radical inclusiveness.

So, Ashley, I do and I do not agree with your take on radical inclusiveness as being an aspiration and not a reality in North Pacific Yearly Meeting--because it is both.

The "reality" is not to be proved, in my view, at some time in the future when everyone "blesses" and confesses the validity of all the beliefs held by every one in the yearly meeting.

The reality is proved, to me, right here and now by the way people who dearly hold to mutually exclusive and inconsistent beliefs meet together for worship, do business together, abide with one another through the child births and the death watches, the celebrations and the occasions for mourning--doing all of this living out of their spirituality in the manner of Friends.

It doesn't matter to me what anyone believes when we are doing the work of the building maintenance committee, or sitting next to one another in meeting for worship, or when you are on my porch with a hot dish in a time of illness, or when you gather with me to send my daughter off to college, or your son is raising money to go on a service trip, or we are putting together shared transportation to annual session, or figuring out infant care to allow young parents to attend a vigil. What matters is how we do those things together in obedience and humility so that through doing them together, we all grow in the Light.

You point with justification to the lack of perfection.

But notwithstanding all that, I suggest that radical inclusiveness describes both the current condition of North Pacific Yearly Meeting and that which holds us together in it.

Thank you, again, for your comment Ashley. I am sure I'll see you again soon.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Timothy,

You already know (from my previous posts) why I disagree with your perspective of what is the reality of Friends, so I'll avoid droning on about that:-)

Instead, may I ask a request/question? My understanding of what I've read by Joel Bean is that he would strongly disagree with your post (and the previous one about nontheism). Yet you say you are a Beanite Friend.

I admit I don't understand.

Would you direct me to some writing by Joel which would help me see this from your perspective?


Daniel Wilcox

Tmothy Travis said...

No problem, Daniel.

I am sure that Joel Bean--come back to earth in this instant--would be perplexed at what those Friends who call themselves "Beanite" say and think. Given time I think he'd get it.

The most succinct way I can support that statement would be to refer to Thomas Hamm's wonderful book "The Transformation of American Quakerism."

In it, as well as describing what I have called the "Protestantization" of American Quakerism, he addresses the "case" of the Beans. Look for name in the index and then read the various pages (there are, I seem to recall, fewer than ten of them).

After, on page 146, Hamm points to the misconception that things like the Inner Light and long standing social activism indicate a long standing Quaker liberalism, and then he goes on to discuss the development of "modernism" among Friends.

On page 147 he writes: "Other moderate Friends, most notably Joel Bean, foreshadowed modernist themes before 1895 but they were exceptional."

I don't think this, in itself, "proves" anything but when I read it I heard a giant "click!" in my head. I didn't recognize it until then but his writings--both what's published that I have seen and what I saw in week I spent with the Bean papers at Swarthmore--do presage where Rufus Jones (with whom Joel was a friend and correspondent) and others would go in the twentieth century.

And, as I have said, my vision of radical inclusiveness is an expansion of what he called a "united" meeting--one that could include Friends who held conflicting beliefs about the nature, origins and purposes of God (all which are, by their nature, notions) so long as they worshipped in the manner of Friends.

Orthodox, Conservative, Hicksite--even Evangelicals--welcome to worship together was a very radical thing as the 19th Century came to a close. As radical for its time as my meeting welcoming non-theists, Buddhists, Wiccans and the rest, so long as all wished to worship in the manner of Friends.

Also, there is is:

“I stand committed to no new school of thought, and am not constructor of theories. But if you ask me to subscribe to a statement that denies the possibility of repentance for any beyond the scenes of our infantile existence here, I must decline.”

In that statement, which appeared in The British Friend, in 1893 there is a curious openness to at least abide with something that smacks of purgatory.

There are several other things I saw in the week I spent with his papers in the Swarthmore library to make me comfortable with how Beanite Friends, myself among them, invoke his and Hannah's name in going beyond mere "tolerance" to "inclusiveness."

Also, the yearly reports of the "business meetings" of the College Park Friends, a copy of which I read at the Guilford Library, show that many of the people with whom he hung out would be comfortable in my yearly meeting. Guilt by association? Perhaps. But there was association which is, in the end.

I have written a lot about the early works of Friends including advices to "abide" with disagreement and not divide. He did not want to leave Iowa Yearly and he told those who left that Jesus did not forsake his people even though they forsook him.

That's certainly where Joel and Hannah were. Long before Iowa troubles, according to his papers, Joel was working to reconcile Orthodox and Hicksite.

I have no doubt from reading their writings that Joel and Hannah Bean were Orthodox Christian Friends. I also have no doubt that they would be comfortable worshipping and participating in the life the meeting, with non-Christians so long as that would be done in the manner of Friends.

Now, I am interested to know what you have read that makes you think that Joel Bean would strongly disagree with my take on inclusiveness. I have not read everything there is to read about him, I am sure, and there is no definitive biography of which I am aware.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Timothy,

Thanks for the detailed reply.

My short answer (longer one further down:-)
I do think Joel Bean was inclusive in the sense that he didn't want Friends or any other Christians to divide over theological abstractions.
I don't think he was inclusive in the modern sense--that he would have thought there could be nontheistic Quakers. If one denies there is any Real One to worship and receive vocal ministry from?

I don't mean that he wouldn't have welcomed nontheists to come and seek God. I mean I don't think Bean would have thought that the Society of Friends could function in process if there is no God. For Quakerism isn't forms, it's meaning is Who we worship.
I even doubt whether Bean would have been willing to include Pagans within the worshiping community. Friends in the past didn't even want to name the days of the week using Pagan words.

However, I know Pagans (though I don't understand why they use the term) who very deeply trust in Ultimate Truth. In my opinion, Bean would have welcomed them as seekers.

But I am not a Bean scholar. I've read LeShana's book Quakers in California, which I thought was insightful but it's written by an evangelical Friend so may show bias.

Here's one quote I came across somewhere by Bean which I put on my blogsite because I so identify with it:
"We have need ever to guard alike against that refined and emasculated spirituality, which undervalues the Bible and the outward means of grace, and even the incarnation and sacrifices of the Son of God, and that no less fatal outwardness and superficiality which would substitute profession, and prescription, and ritual, for saving faith and all the soul-renewing and life-transforming verities of Christian experience, realized through the imparted energy of the Spirit of Christ within."

Joel Bean

Also,the guidelines of the College Park Association were very broad, but they did focus on God:

Doctrine: Friends believe in the continuing reality of the living Christ, available to all seeking souls.

Worship: The worship of God is in spirit and in truth and shall be held on a basis of the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Ministry: All members and all Attenders are free to participate vocally in Meetings, under a sense of God’s Presence.

Manner of Living: Friends are advised to conduct their private lives with simplicity and directness, ever sensitive to the world’s needs and eager to engage in service.

Relation to State: Friends are urged to feel their responsibility to the nation, and at the same time to recognise their oneness with humanity everywhere, regardless of race

Modern Friends, of course, are obviously free to define Quakerism how ever they see fit.

Though, my Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice of PYM also states that it is a "misconception that Friends do not have beliefs." And page after page it emphasizes the reality of God and the importance of prayer and worship.

On the other hand, the PYM magazine The Western Friend has been promoting nontheism of late and my own monthly meeting has some who aren't theists.

I doubt that Joel or Hannah would agree with such a stance, though I do think they would be welcoming to any seekers.

I've read Hamm's The Quakers in America but I presume that is a differnt book.

More later...

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Anonymous said...

Good Friend Timothy:

Your post speaks my mind. It is very articulate and succinct. As I understand it, the central idea is that to be a Quaker is to participate in a set of practices rather than to adhere to a set of beliefs. When this shift is made to a practice centered view, then the way is open for a broad based inclusiveness.

I like to compare this practice centered view of Quakerism to more ordinary activities. One I routinely use is gardening. Different people have widely different views of what gardening means, but that doesn't interfere with their gardening. One can be a secularist, a Christian, a Buddhist, a whatever, and still be a gardener. The same can be said of many human activities such as sports, musicianship, mathematics, cooking, baking, carpentry, etc.

Quakerism in this context is, I think, a kind of craft that one learns over time. One learns silence, for example, and the silence grows; just as a baker learns how to use flour over time.

Again, I appreciate your post and find it affirming.



Tmothy Travis said...


I sent a reply to Daniel's comment, above, directly to him. It was way too long to post here.

If you are interested in reading it send me an email address and set aside the long, rainy Saturday afternoon it will take you to wade through it.

Yes--it is too long, even, for a blog post.



Tmothy Travis said...


Thanks for your affirming comment.

Faith leads to practice, although sometimes it can work the other way around, too.

Either way, practice bears fruit.



Ashley W said...


Thank you for your response to my comment! I recently read Pink Dandelion's book "The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction." In that book, he quotes the NPYM Faith and Practice to explain how for liberal Friends, the experience and practice is central, and belief is marginal.

I appreciate your qualification that the radical inclusiveness of NPYM is imperfect. I do think it is amazing that in NPYM Christ-centered Friends can worship with Pagan Friends and nontheist Friends. It is the practice that keeps us together.

If NPYM does decide to describe itself as radically inclusive, I hope that the yearly meeting will understand that is a goal to work toward and not a reason to stop challenging each other. It is easy to be self congratulatory and not do the hard work of really getting to know the others in our community.

I do think that we don't really disagree. Thanks again for explaining your position in more detail.


Ashley W said...


I tried posting a comment about a week ago, but since it has not appeared here, I think it did not work. Thank you for responding to my comment! I think you are right that we don't really disagree. I do hope that if NPYM decides it is "radically inclusive," that will be an ongoing goal as well as a description.


Tmothy Travis said...

Thank you, Ashley

Sorry your comment was lost or, more likely, that I somehow lost it.

Please submit it again.