Quaker history as a uniting force?

If I were a tech-savvy blogger, this post would begin with a musical clip of Aretha Franklin wailing, "All you want, baby I got it! What you need, you know I got it! All I'm asking for is a little respect!" Everybody sing along now, you got the tune in your head yet? Groove along with me now. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me..." And again... Especially that first part.

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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Blogger Aj Schwanz said...

Wow. I want to add content, but my words feel pithy and contrived.

You have a calling: a vision of wholeness, the way we were meant to be - in community with each other through our God. What a blessing and a burden - I can sense a bit of struggle in your words. Thank you for responding to that call, for being faithful.

I've experienced that sort of "coming together" of different Quaker Relatives at YouthQuake, so there's former attendees who know what I'm talking about. I think that God-placed ache is in them as well but has just been forgotten as life clicks along. Thank you for calling our attention back to that ache. How the Spirit will heal us and bring us back into community - I don't know what that will look like. But I am excited that we're able to see what God's doing and have been blessed in being able to participate!

Thank you so much for your words (okay, so I came up with a few of my own - the coffee kicked in). :)

10/31/2005 11:37 AM  
Blogger Gregg Koskela said...

Robin, you've given beautiful voice to what I, too, think is a wonderful moving of the Spirit. I'm willing to work to live into that vision. Thank you!!!

10/31/2005 1:15 PM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

Thanks, Robin. Nice work.

Now, if only I had time to do more blog-reading (a la your previous post) AND post to my own blog AND get my work done AND continue to be an involved co-parent.

Oh, and thanks for the mental link to John Renbourn Group; Jacqui has SUCH a beautiful voice! Robin, maybe you and I should collaborate on a podcast together. Complete with children in the background: "Mommy, Mommy, who you talking to?? Can I talk? I wanna talk!" ;-)

10/31/2005 1:49 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Robin,
What a beautiful post. Thank you for being faithful to the Spirit and sharing it.

At yesterday's session of the annual board meeting for Friends General Conference (aka the liberal Friends!), it was warmly decided to take in a pastoral Friends Church in Nebraska under direct affiliation. FGC has long been able to claim dozen pastoral meetings/churches in its membership but these are all accidental members, part of overwhelming unprogrammed East Coast yearly meetings (e.g., New York, New England) that came in as part of the deal. By consciously taking in a pastoral meeting, we're challenging our own self-identity as the national body "serving unprogrammed Friends," opening up questions of what then does define us. Interesting times indeed!

10/31/2005 7:46 PM  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Amen to all the positive comments!
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

11/01/2005 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin, thank you for the great post. One opportunity you will have to further explore the Q continuum will be in late February in Berkely. The speakers at the Berkeley Friends Church Quaker Heritage Day will be Margery Post Abbott (North Pacififc YM), and Alivia Biko and myself from Freedom Friends Church
(unaffiliated/pastoral/Christ-centered/inclusive). Our present leading is leaning towards talking about The Future of the Friends Movement, Quaker Renewal and Outreach and Quaker cross-pollination.
It should be fun!

Martin - this is a mighty interesting statement you make:
"At yesterday's session of the annual board meeting for Friends General Conference (aka the liberal Friends!), it was warmly decided to take in a pastoral Friends Church in Nebraska under direct affiliation."

There is a lot going on out there!
I hope to make it to Tacoma.

11/01/2005 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't remember who it was, but some sage Friend remarked that because Friends don't have much theology (at least of the speculative kind), they must rely on their stories -- their shared history -- to bind them together as a people.

11/01/2005 5:11 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

I unite with the enthuiastic response to your post, Robin.

I also want to clarify that FGC is a bi-national organization that serves Friends, in Canada and the U.S.

And I feel the nudge to add to Tony B's remark, that "It is true, we are really one body with many branches."

At the same meetings that Martin refers to, for Friends General Conference, one Friend ministered to us about her vision of the well-known chart of the Quaker "tree."

Her vision, though, was not of a tree with many branches, but of a forest with many groves. Quakerism is a forest, and trees cover the ground and spread across God's kingdom, making it more and more difficult for us to recognize where one grove ends and another begins.

I hope to remember that vision in the same way that I hope to remember your words, Robin.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

11/01/2005 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job. Looking to the past to find our selves in the present. I complain to my quaker friends that we all need to get off of our "Q" butts, stop thinking about it all and work together and learn a little bit. I just got done moving across country, Kalamazoo MI-Landers CA, and I found that we all more alike than I thought. Red or Blue did not matter. All are worthy of the love. Let the light form the voice. Daniel-Landers CA

11/01/2005 10:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

So I have a new idea for what to call the new conservative/liberal/open minded/plain/etc. sector of the Religious Society of Friends:

Convergent Friends

I'm going to let this percolate a little more before I write about it, but I'm curious as to other's first impressions. What do you think?

11/02/2005 1:19 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I am so amazed/humbled/bursting with pride that you all liked this, that Martin would call my words a beautiful post. It came to me while I was making dinner one night, the song, the parallels, the whole thing. I had to tape a piece of paper to the wall above the stove so I could write and stir at the same time. Then I had to let it sit for a while, stewing you might say, then I pulled it out and polished it up a bit the other day.

I too hope to come to Tacoma next summer for my first FGC Gathering - which is not all of FGC's work, as some are careful to remind us.

I saw something about the Quaker Heritage Day. And it's not even such a long subway ride for me. Fun indeed!

11/02/2005 1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't we just be FRIENDS? Friends who perhaps like to worship in different ways? I attend an unprogramed Meeting in Canada. I find our Meeting extremely satisfying except that we don't sing enough to suit me. Singing has always been an important part of worship for me. I was born in the Congo to Disciple of Christ missionaries, so I was greatly influenced by singing Africans. The trouble is: I believe true singing has to come from the heart! That means, for me, that all the singers have to deeply believe the words they are singing. And that means that for a good sing we need a common repertoire! O dear! How can we establish a common repertoire among diverse friends? I haven't succeeded yet, but I haven't given up hope. First we need a good group of friends who are dedicated to group singing & then we need PATIENCE as we build our repertoire gradually.
Since I'm so fussy, I often write my own words for tunes I like. If you're curious, you can visit my website & tell me what you think.
Click on my name!

11/02/2005 9:52 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Your words speak to what seems to me to be a growing movement among Friends. I've heard stirrings from Friends about learning about other "branches" of Friends. Also, at the meetings of Friends General Conference Liz and Martin referred to, someone spoke of rejecting labels such as "liberal, unprogrammed" and "evangelical" so that we may come together as one, whole Religious Society of Friends.

I am reminded of a piece of writing by a young [evangelical] Friend from Africa. She spoke of her experience with Eglise Evangelique des Amis (Evangelical Church of Friends) in Uganda, an experience outwardly dramatically different from mine - I grew up attending an unprogrammed Friends meeting in North Carolina.

At her Friends church they have really strong community togehter, and on Sundays there is lots of singing and some preaching - but no open worship as I know open worship.

She then spoke of an experience she had when she first went to a Friends church in the United States where there was a period of open worship. At first she didn't know what to do in this silence - it seemed no one was doing anything! She discovered a box where she could find little cards with questions, advices, or Scripture verses on them, and through these began to learn how Christ could teach her even in the silence. She ends this piece of writing with words I found deeply moving:

I am learning a lot about Quakers. I am learning that we all listen to God - that we can all feel the presence of Christ, even without a pastor or prophet. I am learning that we feel this presence in different ways. I am glad that I am a Quaker.

It is this kind of experience all Friends need to have, I believe. We must be friends among branches, as well as Friends, and we need to begin to learn and understand what this young Friend from Africa began to learn and understand here. It is this kind of experience many Friends are beginning to feel nudged toward, and it is so important.

Thank you for your words, Friend Robin, for they speak to my own heart, and a growing amount of others as well.

Love and Light,

[Note: The piece of writing I speak of can currently be found in the recent publication Whisper's of Faith, or the November (2005) issue of Friends Journal. Friends Journal has the article containing this piece of writing posted (for free) online: http://www.friendsjournal.org/contents/2005/1105/feature.html)
Also note: I'm not just trying to shamelessly plug these two publications. That is not my point here.]

11/02/2005 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The title of this post is indeed a good question. I've asked a few more questions in a new post, Toward Collective Quaker Witness.

-- Chris M.

11/08/2005 1:23 AM  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Hi Robin:
I find the common root is so much simpler than we make it... it is to be lovingly open and patient with each other. The divisions in our meetings are expressed in our different language of God, and also in the politic of our meetings ( which we try not to have, but do... ). When we listen to each other without judgement, but loving acceptance seeking unity, it all works.
Thyne in the light
PS Latter today ( I hope) I'll add thee to my links... great to find thee.

11/08/2005 11:21 AM  

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