Quaker history as a uniting force?
Who are we singing to? Well, now that I read it over, it could be God singing to us. But that's not where I started with this idea. This song came to me while considering the motions of the Spirit among the different branches of Friends.
As I have traveled much more broadly among Friends on the Internet than I ever have in real life, I have been struck over and over again that some of what my Conservative-leaning Meeting in an uber-liberal city is yearning for is to be found in spades among Conservative and some Evangelical Friends Meetings/Churches.* And what some evangelical and pastoral Friends are yearning for, we do without even thinking about it.
(*I'm going to use these terms interchangeably throughout this post, so get used to it: Meeting = Church, i.e. a group of people, not the same as a meeting house or steeple house)
I hear some "Liberal" Friends turning to Quaker history in search of more depth of our spiritual life, going right into our Christian roots and the concept of Gospel Order. We will have to come to terms with more Quaker peculiarities, like maybe a scruple against alcohol.
I hear some "Evangelical" Friends turning to Quaker history in search of stronger connections to the Gospel message of Jesus and the poor, outcasts and sinners. They will have to come to terms with more Quaker peculiarities, maybe like calling their worship gatherings “meetings for worship”.
(Are these peculiarities still Spirit-led? Are they just dry forms or are they still fruitful?)
I haven’t found so many officially Conservative Friends on the Internet – but I have seen/heard/read a lot of admiring things about them, online, in person and in print. Maybe they will have to become more prolific publishers of the truth, maybe they will have to give up pride in being special, I don’t know.
(some) Unprogrammed Friends are looking for more preparation of ministers and more Spirit-led vocal ministry.
(some) Programmed Friends are looking for more universal ministry and more Spirit-led vocal ministry.
Along the way, I think Liberals will have to name the Giver of spiritual gifts, as Lloyd Lee Wilson has said. I think Evangelicals will have to accept that heterosexuals will not have exclusive rights to marriage and ministry in the Kingdom of Love. We will ALL have to face our struggles with racism.
Maybe my inner-city Friends Meeting can teach others how we have come to accept the presence and the ministry of the poor amongst us, imperfectly, but with love and respect for the most part.
Maybe an Evangelical Friends Church can teach us what they've learned about starting new worship groups among new people, with love and respect for the spiritual hunger in so many of our brothers and sisters.
But we will have to learn to respect each other. No more tarring of whole groups of people with the same brush. No more assuming that a whole group of people is characterized by the most extreme factions among them, either the ones we detest or the ones we most agree with. No more secretly believing that *we* are the only true heirs of Quakerism, just because we practice more silence than they do or because we proclaim Christ as king more loudly than they do.
We will have to travel and meet each other more. I think I've only actually met two Evangelical Friends in my life, one from Oregon and one from Africa, because they came to my yearly meeting's annual sessions. (Although I feel like I've met a few more lately through their blogs.) Perhaps we/I should be more involved with the cross-cultural and cross-branch activities that already exist. (Going to Chiquimula, anyone?) Perhaps we/I will need to just pick ourselves up and go to meeting for worship with a church from a different branch. No formal authorization needed. And not such a long subway ride for me.
Perhaps we just have to start by learning how to be friends with each other. And then maybe we can learn together how to discern the Will of God amongst us as our foremothers and forefathers did. Maybe then we can learn how we can be lights on the hill, patterns and examples to people in all countries. Maybe we will be like two rays starting out from the same point in opposite directions along a circle, and we will meet in the middle on the other side. (Next musical clip: “Will the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by?” sung by Jackie McShee of The John Renbourn Group)
Earlier this year, I was tremendously inspired by the biography of Rufus Jones by Elizabeth Gray Vining, and the story of how he and J.W. Rowntree plotted to bring separate branches of Friends together by focusing Friends' attention on the urgent social justice issues (and then a World War) rather than the peculiarities of Quaker culture that had become stultifying for Friends.
Maybe Rufus Jones had to throw off a lot of Quaker history and direct Friends towards social justice work in order to forge a common ground for separate branches of Quakerism to walk on. Maybe we need to use our Quaker history to forge the common ground we need to walk on now, in order to all reach a point of greater spiritual depth on the way to a deeper commitment to social justice.
I believe the winds of the Spirit are blowing across the various branches of Friends, blowing at least some of us in the same convergent direction. Maybe God is pushing us toward each other for some greater purpose that I don't yet know or understand.
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