Wess was making a reference to how the Christian Church in postmodern culture has to break with some of the traditions that have been handed down to us. I think the lesson is that in order to be faithful to our highest or greatest calling, to be faithful to God, we may have to break with or betray some of our human teachers.
For Quakers, this may mean several things.
First is that we have to examine the taboos that we have inherited, like we can’t talk about X topic, or with those people (insert your favorite here). Depending on where you came to Quakerism, that may mean we actually have to talk about what we believe, whether that is a more or less orthodox understanding of Christianity, or it may mean we have to admit our doubts or that our interpretation has changed, of the Bible, or George Fox’s Journal, or whatever.
Second is that the way we do business, or worship, or nominations may have to change. Again. None of us is a Quaker in exactly the same way that 17th century Friends were. We may resume some old practices; we may borrow from those other Quakers; we may choose something that fits with our local cultural or generational norms. Here I recommend reading Brent Bill’s Modest Proposal (which is a lot less shocking and a lot more practical than Swift’s essay by the same name).
Third is that the institutions we have been handed may not be the instruments we need to achieve God’s kingdom in our times. Do our meetings need different (or fewer) committees that what we’ve had for the last ten years? Do our churches need to separate into smaller worship groups? Or join into larger congregations? Do we need some form of realignment of our allegiances and associations? (I know that word has history and heavy baggage, but I mean to invoke all of that, or at least some of that heat and light.)
How is God calling us to “be the Quakers” in 2011?
Where are the nudges in your personal life? What courage will it take to speak your understanding of the Truth?
What support do we need from each other to lay down the forms and patterns that no longer serve God’s purposes, no matter how useful they may have been when they were innovations?
And how will we know what is truly faithful in the face of the sense of betrayal that others will feel about our new leadings? How hard is it to tell somebody, “I know you’ve dedicated the last thirty years of your life to that committee, but it doesn’t exist anymore.”?
The fact is that those conversations are going on already. In monthly meetings. In yearly meetings. In international organizations. Some of this work has been hastened by the financial crisis. But most of it is due to the generational shifts, the Great Turning, the Great Emergence, that is happening all around us, whether we like it or not.
To swear never to deviate from the paths of our great teachers is to have betrayed them already.
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