Faithful Betrayal

On Sunday morning after Quaker Heritage Day, Wess “brought the message” to worship at Berkeley Friends Church. He told a parable about the master and the perfect disciple. You can read more of it in his article that was in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Quaker Life. Essentially, the disciple swears never to deviate from the Master’s teachings, and the Master says that to swear this is already to betray his teaching.

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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Robin.

A number of my dreams this winter were about older Friend / younger Friend, birthright Friend / convinced Friend, and about suddenly seeing that things were not in as good shape as one may have thought. Apparently, I am sifting through all this myself.

And the various Friends in my dreams, for those who may draw such a conclusion, were not in conflict with each other, but were working either together or side by side, each doing what they know how to do.

2/25/2011 10:28 AM  
Blogger Christine Greenland said...

Thanks, Robin.

I'm in the process of becoming disconnected with the institution of my yearly meeting in order to become faithful to whatever the Divine Spirit may require of me next.

The major thing I'm given is to be fully present for those in need of prayer and care, yielded to God's will rather than the institutional requirements of mammon with which we seem to have saddled ourselves.

2/25/2011 10:54 AM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

This is a very important point, and we should note that the early Friends followed this principle. They broke sharply from Christian tradition because they felt called to do so.

Today Friends need to recognize that there may well have been underlying principles for what the early Friends did that are true across time and culture boundaries, but the way those principles were lived out for them may not be the way we're called to live them out.

And Friends need to be honest that frequently current practices bear resemblances to early Friends' practice, but normally also differences. So Friends have already adjusted, and so should be open to more adjustments under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

For example, the business process taken as a whole is nowhere today among Friends just like it was in the early days, AFAIK. They didn't have an elaborate committee structure, and at the Monthly Meeting level they did not even have business sessions in which all Friends participated. They had men's meetings, women's meetings, ministers' meetings, etc. Each had its own area of purview, with some matters requiring consideration by more than one.

Today Friends should be open as to the best mechanisms to achieve unity in their setting, and this might be different for Friends in different cultures. In the church where I am now (which is not affiliated with a denomination), we use a process for discernment on major issues which is not what Quakers use but I think works better than how things often work in Quaker meetings and churches. Friends should be willing to learn from other churches who have a commitment to the body (not some hierarchy or paid staff) discerning God's will for their faith community.

There has been controversy in recent decades about using some traditional Christian liturgical practices, particularly communion with outward elements and water baptism. Some Friends churches now use these. Is that just conforming to the larger culture, or is it a genuine leading? I haven't been active in any such Friends church, and I simply don't know. But the Christian world is very different from what it was in Fox's day, and I think Friends should be open considering whether the call in that setting is still the same today in a very different setting.

Friends should consider whether it is "Quaker identity" that is critical or faithfulness to God's call today in our setting. Nothing, including tradition, should be allowed to get in the way of being faithful today.

2/25/2011 11:43 AM  
Blogger RantWoman said...

Really interesting points.

I have been meditating about how answering that of God in everyone does or does not intersect with many organizational structures.

I think whether or not a given organization is serving God or serving God as well as it might is a really different question both from the value of individual people and from the vast amount of the Lord's work to be done. If we are truly to answer that of God in everyone, to be patterns and examples to all the world, part of our task should be drawing others nearer to a shared understanding of God's work as well as to better discernment about exactly which work to undertake and how to undertake it.

I too find myself meditating about blunt questions typically of the form "does this or that actually WORK?"

Honestly this can be a problem both in terms of how does one measure God and how does one measure things like discernment.

I think people hear God's call really differently and half of our call as a community is to buffer the ways different versions of the call grind against each other among ourselves. To heal the world, first start close at hand. But what does doing God's work also say about a call to greater evangelism and greater evangelism in the forms and media of the day?

2/25/2011 1:45 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Anonymous, wow. Each doing what they know how to do. Helpful vision.

Christine, may God bless and keep you always, wherever that path takes you.

Bill - what you have written totally concurs with what Wess was saying. I'm glad for your continued witness among Friends.

Rantwoman - any chance you're coming to the FWCC meeting next month? I think the call to greater evangelism is an answer to the great unhappiness among so many people. (See my earlier post about being a spiritual midwife to a community.)

I am really grateful to Wess for continuing to help me find words to articulate this. He does the hard reading and I just spout the sound bites. Because really, none of what I'm saying here is new. But if we haven't heard it before, it can open our eyes to see what is truly there.

2/25/2011 3:29 PM  
Blogger Micah Bales said...

Wow! I find it a little amazing that we both posted today with references to Wess' "Faithful Betrayal" article in Quaker Life.

Check out my post for today - "George Fox Did Not Die For Our Sins" - for another take on "faithful betrayal."


2/25/2011 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Lisa H said...

Robin, thanks for fleshing out a lot of what I barely sketched in my recent post about frameworks and sensibility.

So often, I think we consider changes in framework primarily on the surface: should our meeting try out this practice (afterwords, joys and sorrows, ways of delivering announcements, committee structure) that we've heard another meeting is using? It takes a deeper courage and faithfulness to examine our spiritual condition and what instruments might help us to be faithful.

2/26/2011 1:43 PM  

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