2010-09-03

Is Old Town Friends Christian?

I've had several people ask me if we are Christian. Most of them aren't Christians themselves, but those who want nothing to do with a Christian body (many of them Quakers). This is NOT an official statement, but my understanding of who we are at my small Quaker meeting.

Our young meeting, while consisting of Friends who are mostly affiliated with largely liberal yearly meetings (Baltimore and Northern), as well as those who are new to Quakers, is a welcoming meeting. We welcome GLBT persons, whites, blacks, native Americans, educated and not, moneyed and not, Evangelicals, Conservatives, agnostics, Buddhists, etc. We do not exclude. That being said, we are a Christian body. CHrist is our Center. Just as we wouldn't define and manage each other's personal relationships, nor do we force theology down each other's throats. Some of us do see Jesus as the Word of God, Savior and even allow him enough authority to truly call him "Lord." Others see him as a great Rabbi who may or may not have something directly to do with the Holy Spirit or Light. Perhaps others see him as just a man, and that the Light was part of him and is part of us. He is still the unifying factor. We come together in his name, trying to follow his Way. We search the scriptures together. We confess our sins to one another. We seek to be transformed by the Power. We pray with and for one another. We share our faith with those who are tender and want to hear it. We hope our faith produces works. No creed. Just a commitment to God, and through Jesus as we know him. We find wisdom in the Gospel Order as understood by Friends, and in following this Order, we find that we are Friends of one another, and in Christ.

7 comments:

  1. I am just returning from a conference in upstate NY called In Jesus's Name at Powell House. I was a non-christian when I went and I stated that at the first introduction session. Because there were people there who had invited me, and I did not attend to be antagonistic, I was open and bouyed by those who adhered to your description of the word Christian body. I can now say I am not so phobic to say the "C" word in regards to myself.
    I simply love what you say and how you say it.
    However, I wish this description was available to the conference when trying to assemble an episotle about the weekend. The process of the episotle was abandoned because a few people could not hear what actually happened around them, experientially. They seemed caught up in the language of teaching and exclusion they had before entering the house. They weren't paying attention to what the spirit was doing, and how effective those who lived with respect and openness were able to reach me. They could not see that understanding those who live by your sentiment-- that harassing people about their relationship with Jesus would be just as effective and welcome as harassing someone about any other relationship like a marriage or business-- were able to reach out to me with love, hope, and joy, and make it palletable to me to start considering myself a christian again.
    The wrangling that resulted made me reconsider my new tendencies, but my friend who invited me and your words show me I can still be hopeful about calling myself a Cchristian once again.

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  2. I think that because almost all of us use Christian/Biblical language to describe our feelings, Friends have made assumptions about us. We have spent the past year studying Barclay's Apology and reading bits of Ben Dandelion's Intro to Quakerism. We are obviously open to the Christian aspect of Quakerism and EMBRACE it. I was especially awed by what I read there, even though I've read it for so long. I read it with my heart open and a prayer to understand. I have been clear that where I need to return is within. I need to do it OFTEN, to seek that Love that is there, to ask for clarity, for strength. I need to be faithful to that leading I received, that last almost charismatic experience. It was not long after Russell died, and I had turned to a non-theistic pagan spiritual practice, when I was walking near Lexington Market on a gray, chilly day just by St Jude's Shrine. I ended up on my knees, before the crucifix. I was sobbing, telling "God" that I had no clue what to believe anymore. I was tired, I didn't believe anymore. I was lonely. I was afraid that so much of what I had believed was a lie; or perhaps too much of my will and less of what was true . . .whatever that could have been. In that silence I heard "just be a Christian." It did NOT help matters. "How?" I sniffed and searched the Silence for an answer. "How? I don't have any clue what that is or looks like? " It came to me that it was to the Bible I should turn, and continue in waiting prayer. It was to the Gospels specifically that I should turn, not to the rest. Not now. Begin there. And wait.

    That was probably 4 or 5 years ago now. Since then I've found a fellowship of Christians who are willing to join me in that search; but, I confess to not being faithful to the leading to read and study the Gospels; that is, until this week. A colleague of mine got me an Orthodox study Bible with commentaries. It's a study Bible. I have quite a few Bibles, but when he offered to buy this for me, it felt just right.

    My partner CW and I are also going to approach Old Town to ask permission to hold Thursday evening worship at our house. We realize we can go ahead and do it on our own, and we will. But, we would like to have it be part of the ministry of OTFF. We'll see. But we are going to increase how often we worship together. One of the things we have learned about Quaker CHristian spirituality is that yes, the Light is within. Yes, they believed this Light is of Christ who enlightens everyone who comes into the world. They believe this Light is within everyone, and sufficient for salvation. Salvation was the act of saying "yes" to God's call to turn to God, so know God directly within. Salvation depended upon finding that power and living in that power that would deliver us from evil and give us the power to resist temptations and addictions. They believed worship was CENTRAL to that transformation. In that worship, the Light would instruct us directly about Christ, Truths would be revealed, new and continuing revelation would come forth (often new insights into old truths). They believed love and charity and deliverance from sin were fruits of a relationship with Christ, and that we would know who is of Him by this, not by calling themselves "Christian." The power of transformation was universal and more powerful than the universal sin that exists. And they believed that the community was critical in this growth and transformation.

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  3. Finding and living in this power TOGETHER is what is central to us at OTFF, I think. We are open to the Spirit teaching us about Jesus individually, and are not pressuring each other to come to any one conclusion. Our unity is Christ, and desire is this transformation, and we long for true community. I think we would agree that this is Christianity, rather than being saved by taking the Eucharist and being Baptized with water, or by simply stating that we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Personal Savior. It's the transformation that marks a CHristian, not words or works (sacraments).

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  4. I was thinking on this before going out to get dinner with CW (and the dogs). The question may be asked: "But ok wait, you say "Christ" is your center, so you're "Christ-Centered" but you're ambiguous about Jesus of Nazareth." Indeed. I think we all believe and that this Eternal Word, This Saving Spirit, the Christ exists, (though how deeply or strongly we've experienced it varies). I think we all sense that it this Christ very much does have something to do with the Jesus recorded in Scriptures. I don't know that we all understand how the Light and Jesus are connected; I am pretty sure we're all open to the truth in that relationship, though we may not understand the relationship in the same way.

    For me, the Light says "YES YES" when I read the Bible or call upon Jesus, even though I really struggle with much of the Bible. I don't really care, to be honest, if the stories about Jesus in the Bible are false, inaccurate, just a myth (myths have power, too). I just know that the Light says "pay attention to this, this is real, there is Truth here."

    Some say Jesus never existed. Others say the story about him is mostly false. Many claim miracles such as the ones recorded never happened or were only metaphors. Jesus is an archetype.

    Ok, so? Could be. But, there are those... experiences that I've had. God has revealed Godself to me through the person, the archetype, the myth, the rabbi, the radical prophet Jesus. I'm not concerned with trying to change the Buddhist to a Christian. I'm more concerned with my own growth and hope that my fellow religionists, whomever they are, whomever they worship, that they find that power to love self, others and God, and help others get there too.

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  5. Thank you, this cuts to the marrow! A few Friends and I have been having weekly Bible "studies" for a while now. They tend to last many hours and are generally gentle and sweet. On Wednesday, though, something finally boiled over--suddenly, we all found ourselves collectively wailing that none of us were Biblical scholars or knew Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic so how could we know what was true or not, how could we know anything Jesus actually said or did?

    If only we'd had your grounded words of wisdom with us. All of us, intuitively and in our innermost souls, somehow know that the words we read are True, whether or not those words conform to our human, intellectual criteria for "trueness." Next time, we should learn to listen to our spirits, not our minds. Or better yet, we should listen to The Spirit.

    Blessings to you!

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  6. I want to say thank you again for your well thought out and moving words. I would agree I don't know how the Light and Jesus are connected, but I know they are and don't care to research it further like I used to do, just as you say. Joseph Campbell is pretty compelling when he says all of the mytics know they are all praying to the same divine force, it is whatever myth that gets them there. Jesus is the myth, the Light, the historical figure who gets me there. That is enough for me for today.

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