Christianity-derived-groups often emphasize the importance of individuals believing specific stated ideas or concepts. Many of these groups are made up of individuals who all are convinced, or willing to agree, on the stated ways to God, or heaven, or that make us part of the group in good standing. This may not be a good metaphor, but I often feel there is a box, and all those who agree to get into that box are part of the group and receive its benefits (belonging, sense of community, sense of purpose larger than themselves...).
We Friends have a little of that, but I have always felt that among Friends I am not in a community defined by the box, but by a common amorphous understanding to explore together what it means for the Larger-Than-Us, the Spirit, God, the teachings of Jesus... to be within us. And, to live a life that recognizes everyone/everything beyond me is related to me by virtue of the Larger-Than-Us, the Spirit, God, the teachings of Jesus, also being in everyone else (whether recognized or not, and despite whatever language they speak.)
Yes, the Quaker movement came out of a Christian context, and many of us have discovered that Jesus, though he came out of a Jewish context, interpreted his world in ways of wisdom, risk, love, and acknowledgment of the value of people whom the larger culture of his time dismissed as having little worth. People such as poor widows, Samaritans, gentiles, cripples, ...
I know many people who have been wounded by other’s use of Jesus and the “Christian” approach to exclude, condem, disdain, judge, or bore them. I also know a good number of these folks feel in their bones that humans have a spiritual, moral, ethical side.
And I know many folks whose lives have been utterly changed at learning about Jesus’ message as it speaks to their spiritual, moral, ethical experiences and lives.
I love that Quakerism bucks the mainstream, even if we, because it surrounds us, often slip back into wider cultural patterns. It encourages us to not be swayed by false authorities. It suggests people very different from us have elements of the Truth we may not have considered, so listen to them rather than judging them as “not like me.” It offers space for the still, small voice, rather than filling up time and space with words, music, symbolism (not that these don’t have value). Quakerism highlights the ineffectiveness of violence as a means to convince, and insists love is the first motion, working to dismantle the divide between being spiritual in “church” and living what the spiritual means to us "out in the world."
As such, might we as Old Chatham Meeting Friends resist cultural tendencies to:
-Get into camps
-Think that if a way is not right for me, it is wrong
-Assume people don’t change over time, or only if they are forced to
-Hold a notion that everything has two poles: right/wrong, true/false, male/female, win/lose, mine/yours, good/bad, ...
-Blame, shame, and punish rather than seek to understand and heal past traumas, experiences, and reasons for hurtful behaviors
Instead can we aspire to treat other humans and non-humans as we would love to be treated: we are on a journey, we come from different experiences, we have special gifts that help us where we are, and we are reminded that love is the first motion?
We Friends can start with ourselves in working against a polarized world: let’s continue to talk and share our stories, with joy in the differences, with curiosity about what doesn’t speak to us, with compassion for ourselves and those things that bother us, and with a deep understanding of how biodiversity, geologic-diversity, aquatic-diversity, atmospheric diversity, energetic diversity are central and fundamental characteristics of this earth...not to mention the rest of the universe out there.
Below are some thoughts by other Friends on diversity of thought and belief among us:
My conviction led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the light within us, resting on truth for authority, not on authority for truth. It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ. Were this sentiment generally admitted we should not see such tenacious adherence to what men deem the opinions and doctrines of Christ while at the same time in every day practise is exhibited anything but a likeness to Christ.”
~ Lucretia Mott, circa 1850
Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life, and the Spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them. And as it pleased the Lord to make way for my going at a time when the troubles of war were increasing and when by reason of much wet weather travelling was more difficult than usual at that season, I looked upon it as a more favourable opportunity to season my mind, and bring me into a nearer sympathy with them. And as mine eye was to the great Father of Mercies, humbly desiring to learn what his will was concerning me, I was made quiet and content.
~ John Woolman, 1763
Can we settle the question, ‘Is the Society of Friends Christian or not?’ In the historical sense the answer is Yes: but that does not preclude the possibility that we may now be called to a new and wider perception of the Truth. We have the witness of the Society itself, as well as the example of Jesus, against turning yesterday’s inspiration into today’s dogma. Today’s world-wide knowledge of people and their religions does present a challenge which our universalists are right to try to meet – just as our Christians are right to remind us that the insights of the past must not lightly be thrown away. It may be valuable to live for a while in the tension between the universal and the specific; and if so, there may be a special vocation here through which our Society (with its tradition of respect for the divine Seed in everyone) can minister to the church at large. Or it may be that a synthesis is possible, once we can agree on what is essential to being a Christian.
~ John Lampen, 1985
From the beginning the Quaker Christian faith has had a universal dimension. George Fox saw the Light ‘shine through all’ and he identified it with the divine Light of Christ that ‘enlightens every man that comes into the world’ (John 1:9). He pointed out, as did William Penn in greater detail, that individuals who had lived before the Christian era or outside Christendom and had no knowledge of the Bible story, had responded to a divine principle within them. In these terms, all Quaker Christians are universalists. Obedience to the Light within, however that may be described, is the real test of faithful living.
~ Alastair Heron, Ralph Hetherington and Joseph Pickvance, 1994
Post by Jens Braun
This blog was set up to post content of interest to Old Chatham Quaker members and attenders. Posts related to one's own personal spiritual journey, reports based on interviews with others, and reflections on Quaker-related topics are welcome. Posts by individuals are personal expressions and do not necessarily reflect those of the Meeting as a whole.
Guidelines for posting on website blog:
Submit to member of Communications committee; committee has editorial oversight over all content posted on the Meeting website.
Be respectful of the nature of vocal ministry given in Meeting for Worship or other settings and any private conversations about spiritual matters.
Cite source of any image or other external content submitted.