Saturday, May 14, 2011

book review part 2: without apology

If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

I wanted to interact with the "Modest Postscript" at the end of Chuck Fager's work, Without Apology: The Heroes, The Heritage and the Hope of LIberal Quakerism. He gives a rather glowing conclusion to his work, filled with optimism and hope for the direction and ideals of liberal Quakerism. He states: "Yes, we can do it better. Yet if Liberal Quakers stay the course and mind the Light, our movement's future as a growing and vital part of the people of God should be bright and fruitful. We can face the challenges of a new century with ope, with confidence, and without apology" (Fager,1996, 149).

Then he turns the page and presents "A Modest Postscript," in which he gives some criticisms and some suggestions for ways Liberal Friends could live their faith more effectively. As I read through the list I was surprised to find myself agreeing with the list not only for Liberal Friends, but also for Friends in my evangelical yearly meeting (Northwest).

1. Fager speaks of a lack of good religious education and spiritual formation opportunities, and for us, even though we release ministers, we still struggle to do this work effectively.

2. Many who come to programmed Friends meetings have no knowledge of the history of Friends, as he says of Liberal Friends.

3. He says evangelicals do better than Liberal Friends at evangelism, but I'm not really sure this is the case. True, it's sometimes really difficult to find Friends meetings, but people actually look for them! And people come to a Friends meeting who wouldn't set foot in a church building because of being wounded by "the church." Many times, when people hear about Quakers, they feel immediately drawn to them, and if they can find a Quaker meeting they'll try it out.

4. Communication across distances--this one isn't so bad now that we live in the "digital age," because obviously the Internets keep us all connected and make it much easier to find Friends wherever we go. So I would imagine this isn't as big of a problem now as it was in 1996. It seems like the online presence of FWCC and QuakerQuaker help Friends to stay connected with one another not just across distances, but across the spectrum of Friends in a way that wasn't as possible before the World Wide Web.

5. Fager talks about fear of anger and conflict, and although evangelicals might have different reasons, we still have this problem. We don't want to rock the boat. It's sometimes easier to just focus on the lowest common denominator ("I like Jesus, how 'bout you? Great!") than to dig any deeper. We don't want to cause any more splits! But then we don't actually know each other so it's a false community.

6. Fager cites "anti-Christian prejudice," which isn't so much the case in evangelical circles...but we do have issues of other prejudices. We could even say "anti-liberal prejudice." You should have seen the debate about whether we would affiliate with FWCC! Yoking ourselves with unbelievers??? And Liberal Friends are the worst because they stole our name! People might confuse us with them! We forget that Christ is at work in the lives of Liberal Friends, and that we have much to learn from them, as they do from us. We need a little more humility, perhaps.

7. Number 7 made me laugh: "American Liberal Quakers are almost universally afflicted with what I call the NPR Syndrome" (Fager, 1996, 154). (NPR = National Public Radio.) He means that many (most) Liberal Friends get their information from NPR and it's easy to confuse God's voice with that voice you hear on the radio, and assign the level of importance to an issue as it is assigned on NPR, etc. It's a way of making oneself feel smart and educated, and to look down on others who don't listen to NPR. This creates a mono-culture that views everything similarly to each other, through the lens created by those running NPR rather than through Spirit-leading. Yes, Liberal Friends are guilty of this...but many of us Evangelical Friends have this same disease!

8. Fager criticizes "the collapse of Quaker volunteer service." Although I hadn't thought about it in these terms, Evangelical Friends have similar problems. Sure, we have short-term missions opportunities, to get people out of their comfort zone for a few weeks and experience poverty or what have you. But besides missionaries, how many Friends spend a significant amount of time serving others, at home or abroad, in a social justice-oriented way? We as Friends aren't really creating those opportunities, or supporting those who choose them very effectively.

In a way, the mandatory draft forced Friends (and Mennonites, etc.) to live out our faith more than we do if we have a choice. Since those drafted had to either go into the army or do voluntary service, those Friends organizations that used to offer voluntary service opportunities had plenty of people ready to serve. Now that we don't have to face that choice, most of us just stay home and find a nice, safe job.

I guess what I'm trying to say in this review is that perhaps as Friends we have more in common than we think. We have similar strengths and weaknesses; we don't get everything right. But we do have a focus on a personal and communal experience of the Living God. Hopefully this focus will continue to heal our schisms and allow us to work together for God's glory, helping others and ourselves recognize God's activity in the world around us.

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