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Quaker, French-speaker, educator, anti-racist; Southern-born & raised, and talking enthusaist.

2009-08-20

Unity among Friends

I am sitting here daydreaming, while I should be finishing the final accounting for Russell's estate and taking it down to the Orphan's Court to get approved. I need to do this soon. School starts Monday!

I was thinking about my feelings towards Quakers who are not Christians or Christ-centered (to me, there IS a difference -- Christian buys into the entire Christian tradition, where as one who is Christ-centered could be focused on the Resurrected Christ and may have philosophies that are influenced by other faiths or none. I consider Messianic Jews to be Christ Centered, but they aren't Christian, for example. There are liberal Quakers who are Christ-centered, but not Christian). It is simply a fact that one does NOT have to be a Christian to be a Quaker. There are thousands of Quakers who are members and who aren't. It is a fact that the vast majority of Quakers are Christians, and the majority of those Quakers are Evangelical. Many Christian Quakers are also fundamentalist, liberal, mystical Christians, though each of those is a minority among Quakers). We also have pagan Quakers, Buddhist Quakers, and other, um, bi-religionist Quakers (all, again, small numbers compared to the entire family). So, when we look at Quakers as a world body of under 1/2 million people, we're talking about a predominantly Evangelical group concentrated in Africa or of African descent the wealth of said group being in the United States.

Since I was a kid, I've struggled between paganism and Christianity. It is very true that early Quakers were anti-pagan. I think, though, that this had more to do with the trappings found in the liturgical churches than because they had problems with pagans. Early Quakers worshiped with Native American pagans without qualm. So, I think the anti-pagan sentiment was more of a "not in our church, but you can do it if you're not Christian." One missionary concluded Islam was "valid" after talking to the Sultan of Turkey. For me, the spirituality of paganism is.. well... earthy. However, I believe in the One God, the God of Ruth, Elizabeth, Elijah, and Jesus, and my heart loves Jesus with all its might. This isn't something I chose. God came to me, God has shown himself to me. Indeed, when I pray that I want something, I can't off the top of my head think of it ever being "answered." At least, not in enough time that I remembered having asked for it. And yet, God has come, God has revealed himself on God's terms. The writings and witness of Early Friends all but yanked me out of my pre-teen years and sent me on an early quest towards God. I know Christians have done horrible things over the past two thousand years, but that's not Jesus' fault, nor the religion's. Rulers of pagan lands have enslaved, murdered and tortured just as many or more people in history. Communist Russia and China have committed their share of atrocities and they are atheists! So let's not blame Christianity, Christians or Jesus for the world's problems. Let's not place paganism in some make-believe light of being some purer alternative to Christianity. They are what they are on their own. Both are powerful, both are magical, but they have very distinct philosophies about the relation of Creation to the Creator, and humanity to the Divine. My own thoughts on these topics put me squarely in both camps, evidently, though my mind and heart are focused on Jesus Christ.

So what's this all have to do with unity among Friends? Well, I will say this: it is really hard for me to worship in a Quaker meeting where I cannot be expressly Christ-centered and share my Christian understanding of our relationship to God. How can I speak of Christ's redeeming power, of his death on the cross, the importance of taking up our own cross, of being made right with God and allowing the Inner Light to reveal the Son in us, to reveal the truth of the Gospel? How can I speak of being baptized with fire and spirit or of joining in communion with God? I have been eldered at liberal meetings for even speaking of Jesus, let alone all that. Even my own meeting, when I was new, sent their M&W (of which I am now clerk) to speak to me about liberal Quaker diversity (even though I grew up a liberal Friend and attended ESR for a year or so). I have found that in many liberal Quaker meetings I can feel God, but the growth is slow. The most growth, however, has come not so much in my relationship with CHrist, but in learning to love, understand, and still grow spiritually to some degree and moreso emotionally with people who are very different from me (and then not all that different in other ways). More plainly, I have grown up, matured even having spent the majority of my time as a Quaker surrounded by Quakers who have issues with Christians and who do not consider themselves as such.

So, when I hear of formal schism or separation from these Friends, it makes me sad. It would be a huge loss for me. Even though I'm now worshiping with a very small group in Baltimore, all of whom are Christ-centered and maybe most of whom are Christian, I find myself still in some sense connected to the Quakers who do not share my Christ-centered faith. I don't see them as mission fields or me as a missionary. Indeed, I have often felt that the result has been the opposite, that they have had more of an influence on me than I'll ever have on them. I see the world as a universalist, though I see God through JEsus Christ. Does that make sense?

Still, I have found, that the worship I get among just a handful of those dedicated to Jesus Christ is more powerful than any worship that I've experienced in at least a decade if not longer. The power in the silence is tangible. The presence of Christ is known, not just assumed or believed. I can't really go back, now. That is, not until God is through with whatever it is God is doing with us at Old Town Friends. Even in writing this I've glimpsed something: I don't need to worry about paganism or Christianity. Either is a distraction, now. I need to keep focused on the Son. There is where right thinking comes from and where the path forward is revealed. In the Son, there is only Love.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your wrestling, and thank you for the powerful reminder at the end. I think I'm living in a somewhat similar tension. I consider myself a Christian, although I an painfully aware of the harm that has been done by people who consider themselves Christians. Then, I'm also an American and a member of my family, and those traditions also involve some guides and good examples and some ugly and painful stuff. My spiritual formation was Christian. Sometimes my experiences of God are directly tied to Scripture or to a specific sense of Christ's presence. My community and my tools for discernment are primarily Christian.

    And yet, and yet... I don't tend to fit comfortably in large groups that call themselves either Christian or Liberal Quaker; when either group gets talking about Those People on the other side I realize that I'm one of Them.

    I have known deepening and transformative worship with other Christians and with others from widely varying backgrounds. I think the attempt to listen constantly for guidance, and to live faithful to that guidance, matters more than the words we use. And I am not nearly as constant in either of those practices as I would like to be.

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  2. Bien le bonjour! Il fait bon trouver un Quaker francophone!

    I'm a member of Schuylkill Friends, in Phoenixville, PA. We're liberal Quakers, I suppose, very mixed in focus. I consider myself Christian ... but I'd have to qualify that by saying that I don't believe most of the traditional doctrine concerning Jesus. I'm a big Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan fan.

    But first and foremost, I'm a fan of the Gospels.

    Salut !
    --Liberata

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  3. Thank you Kevin for a thought-provoking post! Well done!
    I shared these words with another Friend online this summer.I said, I have been coming out as a Christian among unprogramed Friends for the past couple years.No bells and whistles just trying to model my life after the one who shows us the way to wholeness. Now that I have come out as a Christian among Friends,I have started the long journey of integrating my Christian faith with Quakerism. I want to move away from the unconscious dualism that I have box myself into over the years that Christianity and Quakerism are two separate religions.I do not consider myself a Christian or Christ-centered Friend. Because I think the terms are redundant. I am a Quaker!Christianity is part of our religious heritage and I am not willing to relinquish it to those who would use it as a bludgeon.
    Lastly I believe Christ is sovereign no matter what worldview we have, whether we are faithful or not, whether we acknowledge there is anything beyond human experience or not, and whether we work for or against justice.We are Quakers, I believe, when we live and love in the power of that sovereignty. Christ need not be believed in to be joined.Perhaps Christ believes in us far more than many of us believe in him.
    I continue to pray for you, that you would live in wholeness and strength,in love and faithfulness, in all circumstances of life. Please continue to pray for me.
    In friendship,
    Paul

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  4. Hello!
    You wrote: “How can I speak of Christ's redeeming power, of his death on the cross, the importance of taking up our own cross, of being made right with God and allowing the Inner Light to reveal the Son in us, to reveal the truth of the Gospel?”

    I want to comment about atonement.

    (le-havdil) How to live in order to enable the Creator in His loving kindness to provide His kipur –atonement- is outlined in Tan’’kh ; and was also taught by the first century Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth (the Mashiakh; the Messiah). Read here: http://www.netzarim.co.il

    Anders Branderud

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