Primitive Quakerism / Postmodern World

This is a description of the workshop I will lead at the 2008 Summer Gathering of Friends General Conference in Johnstown, PA. Registration for the Gathering begins March 27, 2008.

The catalog will list it like this: Primitive Quakerism/Postmodern World
Explore the re-emergence of primitive Quakerism in the postmodern era. Experiment with traditional and new spiritual practices to help us fearlessly live up to the Light that we have been given. Daily hour of worship, plus reading, writing, animated discussion, singing, new media, some homework. Expect inclusive and Christian language.
The format will be more or less like this: Most days we will begin with a song. I will provide some reading material and facilitate a discussion on the daily theme. After a short break, we will have (almost) an hour of unprogrammed worship. Then we will experiment with some relevant spiritual practice(s) and close with briefly praying for each person in the group.

Below is an outline of the workshop. For each day, I have listed some of my guiding queries or theories for the theme in the first paragraph and then listed some of the planned activities in the second and third paragraphs. We will allow the Holy Spirit to direct us as needed.

Sunday: Introductions, Terms & Definitions (a shorter session)

What do you mean “post-modern”? And what is “primitive Quakerism”? And who are “convergent Friends”? Plus my pendulum theory of renewal in the Religious Society of Friends.

We will introduce ourselves, in words and movement, review the outline of the workshop and learn the song for the week (Teach Me To Stop and Listen).

Monday: Plain!

How did traditional practices like plain dress or plain speech affect early Friends? What are the postmodern equivalents? What criteria can or do we use? How do we get the exteriors of our lives in order so that we (and God) can do the inner work?

We will read some explanations of old and new testimonies of plainness/simplicity and discuss our own postmodern criteria for plain living. We will experiment with holding the intention in worship of seeking a leading in simplification. You can choose a practice to "try on" for the week [I am collecting examples, suggestions are welcome], and write your own manifesto of your beliefs & commitments in this area.

Tuesday: Individual Preparation: Study & Beyond

Some say that George Fox knew the whole Bible by heart. How many of us have any in-depth knowledge of the Bible, Fox’s Journal or any other spiritual writings? What other individual preparation do we need to put a strong foundation under whatever work God is leading us to?

We will read some of the plain statements from yesterday and discuss how individual development affects a group/monthly meeting. We will hold the intention in worship of seeking a leading in individual improvement. We will each try to memorize the Beatitudes as an example and choose an individual spiritual learning task for the future.

Wednesday: Discipline/Submission: Queries & Community

What community support do we want or need? How do you feel about concepts like discipline, obedience, submission? What did early Quakers think/say/do? Where do we learn about or practice them?

We will recite our newly-learned Beatitudes out loud. We will discuss the hardships and benefits of discipline, community, submission. (Sandra Cronk’s pamphlet on Gospel Order , Tom Gates’s pamphlet Members One of Another, Lloyd Lee Wilson’s essays on community & ministry, and my blogpost on Parenting as a Vocation will be resources.)

We will hold the intention in worship of Love. We will symbolically and physically serve one another by washing each other’s feet. You will have an opportunity to compose queries for a community you are regularly part of.

Thursday: New Wineskins: media, prayer/worship

We will try two different forms of spiritual teaching: body prayers and watching a Nooma film, both products of emerging church practices. We will hold the intention in worship of inviting innovative ideas. We will discuss how technology is a part of our spiritual lives, for good and ill. We will consider how we are open (or not) to new forms of worship and prayer. You will have an opportunity to compose a blogpost or traditional epistle or draw a self-portrait or diagram about something to do with the workshop.

Friday: Prophetic Witness: spiritually grounded social action

Where do we hear Creation groaning ? Where are you called to bring God’s love and healing to the world? If we only aim to improve ourselves without sharing that with the suffering world, our efforts are certainly incomplete and maybe ultimately wasted.

We will read passages from the Bible, John Woolman and Isaac Penington about the cry of the Earth and its people, and the Divine response of Love. We will share our complaints with God, ask for healing and literally groan in growth and rebirth, based an exercise I learned from the Re-Imagine community in San Francisco. We will hold the intention in worship of seeking our own personal point of intervention, large or small, where we feel God is calling us to service.

You will have a time to journal briefly about what you have learned and where you want to grow in the future. There will be a final time for worship-sharing about "where do we go from here?"

If you have any questions, please leave a comment or send an email to the address in my profile. I am still developing the details of the week. I am open to suggestions, concerns, questions, and praise.

If you decide to come, this is what to bring:
  • an open, experimental attitude
  • writing paper or your journal
  • pen or pencil
  • a Bible if you have one
  • a towel
  • courage and enthusiasm

Even if you aren’t coming, please hold me and the future participants in the Light.

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Blogger Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

Wow--this really does sound exciting. I've never really felt any strong desire to attend the FGC Gathering before. It is pretty pricey...and it just never spoke to me, somehow.

But this workshop sounds--wow.

I have to ask. Can non-Christians who are actively working toward becoming spiritually bilingual come and play? It sounds it, but I know that some Christian Friends can feel a bit embattled by those of us at the more universal end of the spectrum. I feel the need to check--I really don't want to put anyone on the spot.

Assuming I'd be welcome, I gotta say--Robin, this sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

1/16/2008 6:47 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Cat, Not wanting to put anyone on the spot but willing to become bilingual and talk to each other? That sounds great to me. I would hope that many of us are coming with that attitude.

Perhaps I should be clear that I don't have any control over who gets in to the workshop. I think it's first come, first served at the FGC office. I know that some workshops fill up right away and some are still open when you get to the Gathering.

1/16/2008 10:33 PM  
Blogger anj said...

Another reason I really need to consider coming to my first gathering.

I would love to come be bilingual with you two!

1/17/2008 9:11 AM  
Blogger Liz in the Mist said...

Thanks Robin!! :) I'm finding healthier alternatives to the things I love and finding a lot more fruits and veggies. Being single, Lean Cuisine has also helped--esp. with portion control. Congrats on your weight loss!!

1/17/2008 1:18 PM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Wow, Robin, this looks amazing. Nice work on developing this workshop.

I'm curious if you've had any thought about simplicity and social class.

When I first came to Quakerism, I had been living simply because of circumstance, not choice. I know it's important for lots of middle class folks to hear the message of simple living, but how does this get framed for people for whom this isn't a choice but a necessity?

As you think about this, I think you'll be interested to read this article another blogger sent me on social class in UU churches. I just blogged on it myself, too.

Jeanne at QuakerClass Blog

1/18/2008 5:09 PM  
Blogger cubbie said...

that sounds awesome! do it at home, too?

1/18/2008 10:05 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Why, Jeanne, as a matter of fact I have.

Sometimes it's a matter of making a virtue out of necessity. It can help a parent feel a little less guilty about some of the material things their children don't have if you know other parents whose children don't have them either and if you don't think they're good for children anyway.

Simplicity as a spiritual value can help people from any social or economic class make choices - and we still have choices, even if we're shopping at Goodwill. Very poor people in America still splurge when they get a little money.

Simple living can be a superficial equalizer, it doesn't make up for everything, but it's easier talking to people from a higher economic class if they aren't flaunting their conspicuous consumption at the same time.

Plain speaking can be a virtue at any class level, if you choose to see it that way.

On a tangential note, Van Johnson uses enviromental issues as an example. For rich overconsumers, it's important to talk about the crisis of oil consumption and its effect on polar bears. For people who aren't overconsuming and have enough crises to worry about already, it's important to talk about the opportunities that are arising, like getting technical training in installing solar panels, which is a growing field for blue collar workers.

I'm dreaming about a day when food stamps would equalize the price of organic and chemically raised foods.

I did like the UU article. Thanks for pointing it out.

cubbie, I'm hoping to do at least part of of it in SF before July. It hasn't been scheduled yet.

1/18/2008 11:20 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Two local Friends have raised minor concerns about the workshop that I would like to address here for future reference.

One Friend said, "I don't sing. Could there be other options to participate besides singing?"

The other Friend asked, "What about people who don't want their feet washed? It would help people to feel more comfortable about the workshop if they knew it was optional."

On the one hand, I have no intention of physically or verbally coercing anyone to participate in anything. I want to be clear about that.

On the other hand, I want people to come with an open and experimental attitude.

I don't care if you sing badly. I want you to open and fill your lungs with fresh air and I want you to repeat the words with the group. Just clapping along misses the point. Making a joyful noise is important to me. Making a tuneful noise is nice, but way down on my list of goals.

One of the points about the footwashing is that we open ourselves to give and receive: We expose a normally hidden and possibly ugly part of our bodies. We offer to touch, in a safe and gentle way, another person. This will not be on the first day of the workshop. We will have time to get to know each other a little bit before we get to this point.

Concerns like these are one of the reasons I posted the outline, so that folks will know what to expect, rather than have something like this come as a surprise. If anyone has other specific concerns, I hope you will bring them up to me as soon as possible. In an email, in a written note, in an open question, however seems right.

1/22/2008 2:02 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

To go back to an earlier tangent about food stamps and organic food, Here's a link to a New York Times article about how families who received WIC vouchers for local farmer's markets ate more servings of fruits and vegetables.

Which just goes to show that my dream is not completely impossible.

1/26/2008 5:21 PM  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Hi, Robin,

My question is a bit tangential to your post, but I'd love to hear your take on it, if you don't mind.

I'm a little perplexed about the fairly common use of the label "postmodern" by convergent or conservative-leaning Quakers. Postmodern is certainly a slippery term, used in many ways, but in my reading the most essential aspect is a broad-based, almost universal rejection of authority; the view that all truths are socially constructed, and therefore no one truth is privileged above any other.

I don't subscribe to the view myself, but it seems to me that most Friends calling themselves convergent tend to be even further from that view than myself. If anything, it looks to me like convergent Quakerism is a reaction to the postmodern impulse in liberal Quakerism, rather than an example of it.

So, I wonder, what aspects of postmodernism do you relate to? In what sense do you think of your sympathies as postmodern?

5/21/2008 7:12 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

James, that is a great question, but it's going to take longer than I have this morning to answer it. I'll work on it, and try to post something early next week.

5/22/2008 12:06 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

James, it's been more than a week, and I haven't made time to write up a good answer, but I was trying this morning and then I found this link to Shawna's post Postmodern 101 which answers the general question of how convergent Friends relate to postmodernism. My personal answers will be briefer.

6/06/2008 4:22 PM  

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