Friendly Witness: The Spiritual Ground of Quaker Social Action4th mo. 19, 2023 from 1pm to 6pm
Quaker Theological Discussion Group 202312th mo. 1, 2023 at 8am to 12th mo. 2, 2023 at 10am
Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I wish there was a rolls eyes smiley here to acknowledge my understanding of what you experience is.
I'm discovering I am a conservative liberal Friend, because I don't want to erase God and references to Worship and Religion from liberal Quakerism.
I am lucky, my current Meeting is very comfortable with all kinds of God-language, but my boyfriend attends a meeting which is quite oppressive towards those who do use it. We have even talked about the likelihood of being in the position of being "Eldered" out of that meeting, if and when that is where we end up worshiping together once we figure out how to live in the same time zone (Long story that - LOL)
I've written on other Quaker forums about the challenge of "difficult conversation" in the Liberal tradition, and the tendancy to sweep conflict under the carpet. My leading on this is that it is directly in opposition to our testimony on Truth and puts a serious dent in the Peace testimony.
As I have said in another reply to a thread, having time to show leadership on these concerns has not been part of my journey so far, but I am wondering if there is a change happening that would make this possible.
Helen, I hope you do find a way to provide some leadership. I'll bet prayer will help.
I was once one of those people who hassled Christians about their language and I've thought a lot about the problem, from both sides now. These kinds of encounters are a potential flash point for a whole bunch of conversations that I think 'liberal' meetings need to have.
The first is personal/psychological/pastoral: folks like I was who are threatened by this language have usually been wounded by it. That woundedness deserves tenderness. But enabling silence, especially if it's enforced in some way (usually tacitly, by silence on part of the worship and ministry committee), quenches the spirit. I think most Friends would agree that we do not want to quench the spirit. At the same time, a religious community that feels so strongly about the question, "What canst thou say?", that believes that you should build your spiritual and religious life on what you yourself have experienced, must protect everyone's right to their own experience. So the problem really needs chances to talk about experience and some kind of eldering, or, if the meeting isn't together enough to provide it, the beginning of a conversation about eldering itself.
This raises the corporate/group dynamic dimension. The root problem behind such encounters is the way we handle membership. When some of our members are refugees whose baggage might hurt others (this was me), we need to first of all, know about it—we need to ask about it in our clearness committee interviews. And we need to ask incoming members (for we probably won't deny them membership because we find out they are hostile to theistic and/or biblical God talk ) to take responsibility for their woundedness and prejudices. This highlights the difference between membership and attending, at least potentially: I think we should ask members to share a covenantal agreement about responsibility, in which they accept, expect, even desire, that the meeting will labor with them to help them release their pain and stop hassling others. I was completely open about my hostility and then proceeded to express my hostility; I eventually came around on my own—my meeting got lucky. But if they had said to me in my interview, "Steve, we want you as a member, but we're going to ask you to treat our other members well and to find a way toward peacefulness with this hostility you've told us about," I would have eagerly agreed. This kind of engagement was exactly what I was looking for.
Unfortunately, a lot of people aren't looking for discipline in their own spiritual lives. In fact, they often see Quakerism as a place where they will be safe from discipline. Here the problem is often compounded by fact it is just such discipline in the name of God that drove them off in the first place. And of course, many meetings do not have a clear agreement about this kind of thing. Either they have never openly discussed the role of eldering, or, more often, it has led to so much conflict when it has come up that the meeting has become paralyzed by its fear and passivity.
What to do? Friends usually become really respectful when they are listening to someone's experience, whatever it is, even when the language used to describe it is threatening. So knowing each other and knowing each other's experience makes a big difference. So personal conversations and opportunities for the meeting to share personal experiences help.
Also, I believe that meetings need to talk about eldering more; at least the committee that would have eldering responsibility should try to get clear about it (often, it's not even clear which committee has the responsibility). Who has the authority to elder? (Of course, like all other forms of ministry, eldership, both nurturing and disciplinary, is something to which God might call anyone at anytime, so this question only aims to define an orderly, more or less reliable process for protecting the worship and the fellowship of the meeting.) Who in the meeting might have gifts for this sort of ministry? What should the process be? What kinds of experiences or behavior should be identified as signals that should trigger some form of action? Where do you draw the line—what kinds of things will you just not tolerate?
Well, this has turned into a pretty long reply. Sorry. And good luck, Helen!
The word "God" is not rude but it can be disruptive or confusing. About a week ago I used the phrase “and then someone mentioned God” in a post on a Quaker forum and the thread immediately then shifted to the G-word and not the subject (which was the similarity of epiphany experiences and psychosis, in the opinion of some in the medical profession). In the end I regretted mentioning “and then someone mentioned God”.
For an atheist, mention of God is likely to focus thought on atheism rather than the matter at hand. For the theist, the word will have a personal interpretation, which may include, a creator, a conscious creator, a personal creator, a saviour etc., and passing on this interpretation may predominate any response.
There are then those who try to mention God as often as possible as a form of conspicuous religiosity, rather like wearing an ostentatious crucifix. Personally I am reluctant to "thank God" in conversation for a good event as I then have to address the responsibility of the divine for bad events (or the person I am speaking to will do this).
I notice I have just used the phrase "the divine" – in future I think I will start using this. There is nothing like a bit of Latin etymology to engage the brain and avoid a reflex reaction.
In friendship, Rupert
Isn't that large & confusing presence wonderful![rhetorical '?']
I keep wanting to leap up & down & point it out to people who aren't looking and don't want to see what they imagine it is! & of course they don't want to look for something they imagine is 1) imaginary 2) an emotional crutch 3) a bugaboo that a) enslaves many & b) drives many to abuse others.
It's because the imaginary pictures people have of God start to function in those ways the very moment that they let go of God's hand & start crossing the street 'all by myself', while continuing to tell themselves "God is with me!" I mean, of course God is with them, and with all the other, more explicitly atheistic atheists, but if we aren't with God, attentive to that large and confusing presence, oy vey! And despite God having thoroughly got my attention now & them, that continues to be something I struggle with!
I have enjoyed reading this topic, but when "oy vey" came in, I had to scrape myself off the floor from laughter, and then join in.
I agree with the sense of Friends concerning this matter of religious language. I was fortunate to come to a Friends Meeting that was very open and loving, and the Friends welcomed me as the "wounded" person that I am (to use the language of Friend Steven Davison above). At the first meeting, someone mentioned the Burning Bush out of the silence, and I realized I wasn't ready to be in meeting, that I had some interior work to do. Because they were tender, however, I was able grow spiritually and to expand my understanding of the Eternal/Divine (uh, yes, I'm careful about the G-bomb; more on that in a moment). If we as Friends forget that tenderness and become hardened to listening deeply to newcomers, we are not listening to that inward Light, the Light that we proclaim to love so much that we are willing to sit in meeting once a week to listen for it.
In my current meeting, Friends are also tender. But I am cautious, because as I have grown spiritually, I have become willing to use language that speaks directly to my condition, and it is more traditionally religious than it was even two years ago. I am very aware that a few members of my meeting are not comfortable with overtly religious language. By keeping to God and remaining loving and tender to all within my meeting, I hope to be a source of extra Light--but not to force others to accept language that they cannot, in their own woundedness. Instead I am trying to help them accept that my language, used for my spiritual journey, has nothing to do with their woundedness, and that I love them for who they are.
I have also found that the more deeply I travel inwards, the more I realize that religious language used in ways that wound us has been hijacked by those who do not understand God the way Friends do. I am willing to reclaim the language of Christianity in ways that speak to my condition, and to use it with others. If there is misunderstanding of what our definitions are, then I hope we can listen deeply to hear the Truth beyond the words.
At least, in a perfect world, this is how I would see Truth unfolding. It's not perfect, but I live as closely to what I am called to be in this imperfect world and trust that my best will have to do.
Yours in the Light, Paula
(not the Paula referenced in a note above; I assume that Paula's message has been erased??)
My sense of obligation differs... I am not the spokescritter for God I'd like-- and hope to be. I don't like people thinking that I'm just a weird guy trying to impose my crazy beliefs on them-- and that requires restraint (not to mention: trusting God to give me the right words at the right time.) It does not require that I pretend to think that one person's misconception is as good as another person's hard-won knowledge. It does mean I need to remember how things looked when I was an atheist, and that Jesus loves atheists, in fact '~loves them too much to let them stay that way.' So my obligation is limited by my lack of the power to fulfill it-- which belongs to God.
Meanwhile we continue having a difficult tension in our Meetings-- as in the outside world-- between people who know God, people who merely "believe in" God, and people who just want all the ugly, graveyard-whistling human God-concepts to go away. (There is considerable overlap between those positions, and few people who don't wobble between them all, somewhere in their minds!)
As it has been throughout human history, the lack of true acquaintance with God continues to give birth to monsters, and continues to lead to incredible suffering. I don't have time to wait for anyone to mistake me for a good person; I need to tell the truth when and how I can. But only as led.