Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"real" quakers

Maggie Harrison put up a very interesting blog post a few weeks ago and I'm just now getting around to writing my own two cents about it. It's generated quite a conversation among Quaker bloggers! Here's a compilation of a range of excellent responses, posted by Jon Watts.

I have to say that I basically agree with Maggie. None of us really look much like the original Friends culturally, theologically or dogmatically. Part of this has to do with living in different cultures--even British Friends live in a different culture than 17th century England; even those in Pennsylvania live in a culture that's a far cry from life in the colony at its inception. Part of it has to do with a consistent definition of what it means to be "Quaker," and the fact that early Friends didn't want to be able to really define who was "in" and who was "out" of their movement--they were intentionally non-credal, making it difficult to define who is most consistently following their lead.

But I like Maggie's definition of a real Quaker. She says:
Here it is: all real Friends everywhere, throughout our entire history and in every branch, no matter what their theology or worship practices, are committed to one shared thing; GETTING NAKED.
She means this in the metaphorical sense...not in the James Nayler sense! She explains:
The only thing that truly defines Friends as a distinct group and not just a bunch of Unitarians or Christians or a secular social club is that all True Quakers are committed to the process of gettin’ naked as a step in the longer path of being clothed in righteousness, which means a return to right order, or the Gospel Order, or the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Garden or Eden, or total Liberation, or WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT. 
To be fair, “True Quakers” also include those of us who don’t know anything about how to do this but WANT this transformation.
Yes! This is exactly right. This is what Quakers were trying to do before they were ever called "Quakers," before they were ever called "The Religious Society of Friends," before they came together. The people who found their way to this religious movement in its infancy were ones who felt an insatiable desire to be "naked" before God, in a metaphorical sense--to strip away everything that we use to defend ourselves from Truth, because learning the truth is often scary, and living it is even scarier.

In my last post, I talked about Jim Wallis, John Woolman and my own sense of conviction toward "poorer, slower, smaller." I talked about my feeling of failure at really living into my heritage, because living it requires action--scary action. It requires "getting naked," which is complete vulnerability and trust of the Other.

Micah Bales responds to Maggie's post with wise words and queries:
What if we stopped trying to be Quakers? What if, instead, we put our energy into being communities that truly reflect the love, joy and peace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [and, I would add, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah...]? What if, instead of trying to preserve an heirloom faith, we cast aside everything except our determination to be God's holy, chosen and beloved people, here and now?
This is exactly true. I think Friends are trying to do this, from all branches of our denomination, in the "Convergent Friends" movement. I love having a story of which to be a part, a story reaching back to the Israelites. It helps me understand who God is, who people are in relation to God and each other, and helps me see the way to go...but it also sometimes distracts me. It makes me focus too much on the past. I'm good at reading and researching and learning, but am I willing to "cast aside everything except [my] determination to be God's holy, chosen and beloved [child], here and now?"

I ask for a community to do this with me at the end of my last post, and I think many of the responses to Maggie's post show that there is a community out there, yearning to do these same things. I hope and pray for the power of the Spirit to come on us, as the Spirit came on the biblical prophets, and on the disciples of Jesus at Pentecost, and on the early Friends, and on so many other groups who truly sought after God together. I hope and pray that same Spirit will give us the courage to follow.

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