Monday, January 14, 2013

Quakers and a Jackson Browne Quote that Applies (at least for me)

I'm a big fan of singer/songwriters.  And Jackson Browne's one of my favorites.  Recently I was listening to one of his solo live acoustic albums. When he's taking requests, a fan yells out for "Peaceful Easy Feeling."  Which, of course, is not a Jackson Browne song.  But he's game and gets ready to sing it (after pointing out he didn't write it) and then he says he has trouble with some of the lyrics, particularly in the section that goes:

And I found out a long time ago
What a woman can do to your soul.
Oh, but she can't take you anyway,
You don't already know how to go.


"Well," Browne said, "I flat out disagree with that."

I felt the same way when reading a couples of blogs written by Friends (and friends) the past week or so.  My first disagreement arose when I read David John's Quaker Life article titled "Moving Forward or Circling the Wagons."  David's a thoughtful Quaker theologian and the article has some good points, such as "There are numerous occasions inviting us to examine our identity and our purpose" and "embodying [the Testimonies] means we move as Christ calls us and enter the places where living these convictions takes us."

But when he writes "But one thing is certain: God is not calling us to be Quakers," "Well," Brent said, "I flat out disagree with that."

Strongly.  Perhaps that is true for David and some others, but it's not true for me -- and others I know.  Some of us do feel that God is calling us to be Quakers.  That's why we are Quakers -- we felt called to it, led to it, introduced to a way of faith that spoke to our condition in a manner that no other form of Christianity did.  I grew up a Friend -- but it was in college that I became convinced that this was the faith tradition for me.  And that was not just some intellectual assent.  It felt like then -- and remains to this day -- a call.  I am called to be a Quaker.  I think the RSoF is being called by God to be Quaker.

I do not say that being Quaker is about preserving Quakerism and its institutions, but rather living out a particular faith tradition that speaks to our conditions -- and to which we can invite others seeking for a vital, living faith that has emphasis on both personal encounters with God and practicing the results of those encounters in the wider world.

Another blog (especially the title!) that pricked my spirit was Micah Bale's "Being Quaker Is Not the Point."  "Well," Brent said again, "I flat out disagree with that."  For me, being Quaker is precisely the point.  That's because my understanding of what it means to be a Quaker encompasses embodying "the living presence of his [Jesus'] Spirit."  Again, I am not concerned with preserving an "-ism" or it's institutions, but I think the Quaker message and the way it impacts our daily lives of faith and practice can be a profound experience of faith for those of us who claim to be Quaker and on those who are seeking for a faith that "brings them to Christ and leaves them there," as George Fox said.  Oops, I'll probably get in trouble for invoking Fox instead of Jesus, but heavens to Betsy (not Betsy Ross), what an amazing concept.  Introduce seekers (and ourselves?!) to Quaker faith whereby they experience the life-changing power of the ever-living and ever-loving Christ who can speak to their condition.  A faith that is not some goofy new-age concoction but is rooted in Christian practice and faithful adherence by saints (and sinners) for over 350 years! 

I, for one, want a faith that is both lived in the present condition of my life and grounded in tradition.  And so, for me, being Quaker is the point.  It speaks to my spiritual condition -- and, I am finding in my ministry of writing books about spirituality and at FGC in nurturing the start of new Quaker worship groups and meetings, to others, too.  People are drawn to what the Quaker message and way stand for and so.  So much so that where groups do not exist, they want to create them. 

I find these ideas of not being called to be Quaker or the point is not to be Quaker offensive, hurtful, and dismissive of those of us who have intentionally and spiritually felt called to be Quaker, have made it a central point of our faith, and who have worked to spread that message as a main part of our message.  I find it dismissive of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us -- some of whom gave their lives for this message and way of faith life.  I find it dismaying and tinged with a touch of self-loathing. 

While I admit I am quickly approaching geezerhood (if not already there) and more prone than ever to curmudgeonliness, I don't think that's the reason these pieces bothered me.  In fact, I don't mind being bothered, or shaken, or challenged in my thinking.  They bothered me because of the reasons stated above.  If you do not feel that God is calling you to be Quaker or that being Quaker is not the point, then perhaps you're in the wrong place.  Perhaps some new movement based on your interpretation of what God's work in this day and age are is where you belong.  You can root it in your particular understanding of scripture, tradition (well, probably not tradition -- after all, shrines and looking backward are a bad thing), and what the face of faith looks like today.  Burn down the meetinghouses, erase a history of faithful Christians, deny the spiritual wisdom of a collective community that has written spiritually and prophetically for hundreds of years, and spurn authority outside of like-minded others.

"Well," Brent said, "I flat out disagree with that."

Sigh.

As for me, as I stated I do feel that I am called to the Quaker faith and its way of working in my life and the world.  I feel in the deepest parts of my soul that being Quaker is point.  And I will continue to work for the expansion of this way of faith and life.  Not -- just in case you haven't picked up on this, dear reader -- to save institutions or an "ism", but because it is a faith that has changed my life and still has the power to change others.  I will continue to write about the spiritual riches of this ancient/modern faith and its efficacy.  I will support those who labor in the fields which are white unto harvest. And I will go on bearing the name Quaker as a servant of the Living Christ who was not born yesterday, but is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and continues to teach his people himself.

-- Brent

12 comments:

Chuck Fager said...

Hear, here.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Brent
Brad Laird
South Bend, Indiana

Bill said...

As someone who also is "called to be a Quaker," let me suggest where we can find the common ground with those who are concerned that "God is not calling us to be Quakers."
The Fox generation were not "called to be Quakers." They were called to a way of experiencing the living Christ, and that way came to be called "Quaker." They discovered new/old forms of worship that brought a fresh and living faith to thousands and fed currents of revival for a century or more. “Quaker” began as forms of worship that spoke to a generation stuck in dead and dying ways of worshipping.

Today “Quaker” is a name on groups that have little in common with each other. Some Quakers have moved far away from the forms of worship of that first generation. The only thing that identifies them as “Friends” is the name on the sign out front. Others have turned “Quaker” into a behavioral creed (as Pink Dandelion describes) that limits “Quaker” to a certain set of behaviors that reflect the forms used by the first generation, but are only loosely attached to the living Christ. We fall prey to the very human tendency to depend on outward forms and lose awareness of the inner reality.

I can understand the desire to put “Quaker” in a lesser place.
But I am “called to be a Quaker” because I am called to that understanding of worship that the Fox generation experienced. They explored forms of worship that included waiting, speaking, equality, simplicity, honesty, and community. I don’t do “Quaker” all that well, but it is an essential part of my relationship to God.

As I see it, God is not calling us to be Quakers if it is only a name on the building or a word that describes a certain set of behaviors. But God is calling us to be Quakers who experience the living Christ and share new/old forms that will speak to our generation (but now I’m just repeating what you said).

There was a renewal in the late 20th Century that involved Quakers. John Wimber was part of Yorba Linda Friends Church. He was concerned that they weren’t taking their Quaker roots seriously. He began looking for a miracle, for evidence that God is actively involved in lives today. It made some people uncomfortable and he left. Wimber took many elements of being Quaker with him as he started a new worship group, and the Vineyard movement began. The Vineyard adoped old/new forms of worship that still speak to a new generation.

Perhaps the road to renewal is not to let go of “Quaker,” but to rediscover worship as Quakers.

Brent Bill said...

Thanks Chuck, Brad, and Bill. Bill, I especially appreciate the last line of your comments -- "Perhaps the road to renewal is not to let go of “Quaker,” but to rediscover worship as Quakers."

Micah Bales said...

Hi Brent,

I'm sorry if you found my recent post offensive. I know that you're keenly aware of the danger of sacrificing Friends "distinctives" for an unsavory mish-mash of Evangelicalism and vestigial Friends doctrine.

That's not what I'm pleading for. I'm deeply convinced of the core doctrines of the early Quaker movement, but I am concerned at the way our structures, institutions, and often excessive fascination with our own history can get in the way of living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Just like George Fox, I want to be in relationship with the resurrected presence of Jesus Christ, and to follow him, even if it means breaking down cultural barriers and longstanding traditions.

I am hopeful that we can find unity in that.

In love,

Micah

Brent Bill said...

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments, Micah. And yes, we can find unity our desire to "be in relationship with the resurrected presence of Jesus Christ, and to follow him."

Unknown said...

I appreciate the variety of responses to the challenge to rediscover our faith and practice as Quakers. Sometimes we do need to be thrown overboard, metaphorically speaking, to find out what we want to save and what we need to let go of. Christ is at the center of Quaker faith for me and may be still present in hidden form for those who have left that Christian world and joined the Quakers. Let us listen beneath our words to the Light Within.

broschultz said...

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the point the original article by David tried to make but I am a convinced Quaker and God didn't call me to be a Quaker to be a Quaker but to be the best servant I can be and that happens in my opionion to be best done as a Quaker. I have been a Catholic, a pentacostal, and an evangelical. If I could serve Him better as one of those I would still be there. So as I read David's article it was with the understanding that our first call is to become more like him and the 2nd call is to fine the place where we can best do that.

Robin M. said...

I left a similar comment on Micah's blog, but I think that being Quaker is not an end in itself but a valuable means towards an important end.

It is a collection of elements, that have sometimes been described as living in that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars, or as letting Christ teach us himself, or letting our lives preach, and it has taken on different forms over the last three and a half centuries. No one aspect of Quakerism is unique to us, but the combination is a powerful set of tools for following God in our ordinary lives. I'm glad that there is a tradition, not because I want to follow it blindly, but because I don't want to have to make it all up by myself. I'm not that smart, or that disciplined or that faithful. I need help. And Quakers have helped me so much. God has called me to be a Quaker too. I am forever grateful.

ellen michaud said...

Nicely said, Brent. Not only is it possible to be called to be a Quaker--and, yes, that means with all its messiness and divisiveness and jumping off cliffs into God's arms—but my experience leads me to believe that it's possible to be called to a specific meeting.

QuaCarol said...

Late to the conversation here, but I, too, believe that I have been called to be a Quaker. Thanks to everyone for all that's been put into words here.

Anonymous said...

still processing this one...