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


My views on Old Town and faith.

I wrot emost of this in response to someone who hit me up on Facebook, curious about Friends. I think in writing to him, I was blogging. So, to preserve anonymity, I'll just reveal that he would be agnostic.

Thanks for the bday wishes! I am indeed a Friend. We are a Christ-centered/Christian meeting, and very small (anywhere from 4 to 8 people on a given Sunday). www.oldtownfriends.org However, theologically, we are all over the map. The common goal is to remain in the Christian tradition, wrestling with the Scriptures and letting the Spirit speak to us. Not all accept or easily claim the label as Christian for themselves, but we come with open and tender hearts.

So, those seeking Orthodoxy won't be happy. Christianity for us means many things, and for most of us, it's not an easy fit. My partner is culturally Christian but finds power in the mythology. We have another attendee who deeply values the Christian tradition as understood by Friends and sees herself squarely in it, but I couldn't even tell you her theology. We have another guy who works for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, but is probably the quietest person I know and the only "theological" thing he has ever said was at a dinner at my house. He struggles with communities that don't love and don't seek to understand how radically inclusive and loving Jesus' message was. We have a woman who was raised Jewish, who's been a Friend for a VERY long time, but probably knows more about church history than most Christians do. She's doesn't use the term "CHristian" for herself, but finds God to be the center of her faith and engages the Scriptures and other books as well. We have a heterosexual couple who come irregularly, and they're mainly new agers, but they enjoy our community. They are willing to engage the scriptures with us, and worship with us, and aren't closed-minded to what is going on at Old Town. We have many visitors who are just Seekers.

Our world view is pretty universalist though. We just find that as Marcus Borg and Thich Nhat Hahn both have said, in so many words, that it's one thing to sip from the waters of many wells, but then you only get what's at the top. One should therefore find a well in which they can go deeply, and get the fullness of what's in the well. So, we corporately go deeply into the well that is the Christian well in the manner of Friends. At least I think it was they who said something like that. ha ha ha.

Personally, I've had charismatic experiences that I can't ignore. While I don't agree with much of what's in the Bible, I don't have to. The Bible isn't the Word of God to me. Nevertheless, it's only been recently that as I read a chapter from the Bible, and then sit in silence and let the words speak to me, imagining myself in the story, reading the footnotes to understand the historical context in which the book was written, I find myself identifying with the characters in the scriptures. I no longer rail against that misunderstood "angry, jealous" God of the Hebrew scriptures (he was also "loving and forgiving" in the same tradition.) To be honest, the Hebrew understanding of God has long been closer to mine: a G-D we can't name, lest we assume we can fathom what/who G-D is! God just IS. To be. I am. And yet, when I engage Jesus and the other characters of the Gospel, I find from that deep, inner place the Light revealing more to me about myself. At a recent gathering where we read the 11th chapter of John, I identified with Martha: I recognize [the character of] Jesus as the "Christ." I see in Jesus, as portrayed in the [probably inaccurate] gospels, God Revealed. I haven't quite learned how to put it into words, and I'm realizing how much I've written already! oops. Anyway, at this point in my life, I don't see god as a being. I see God as just being. The way I know God is through going deeply into the silence and finding God experimentally, and within. I find God in the miracles of community and relationship with others. I find God in service to others. By definition (I did time.. I mean spent time in seminary) I could be classified as a non-theist Christian, similar to the Bishop Shelby Spong. I dunno. It's all head stuff when it comes to that. What I can testify to experientially is that there is a force, that exists within and beyond us all, that can show us our deepest flaws and errors and then provide us with enough love and power to overcome and transform, to be renewed, to be, yes, born again. I'm at the beginning phase of this process. I'm glad to have found a community of really cool people who aren't afraid to mix science and faith, who find that they are complimentary, and who are willing to engage the [Christian] tradition that is a huge part of Western Civilization. And they're really cool people. Really. Cool.

Whether parts of the Bible are true, as in historically accurate, or even existed, doesn't matter. As the Sufis and Marcus Borg explain, there is power in metaphor and multiple interpretations. Even if JEsus never existed, it wouldn't change things for me. My life is informed and transformed when I engage the Scriptures and I come together in community with a diverse community who is willing to wrestle with the same questions I am.

Perhaps the greatest place to start one's seeking is at a place of agnosticism. I find it refreshingly honest when people say that they are agnostic. My dad was agnostic and my mom atheist. My dad, after reading some Quaker literature, finds himself to be a "friend of Friends" if you will. My mom is now "spiritually aware" (i.e. mom knows there's something beyond the veil, but really doesn't have room for religion). My dad's return to faith came from a powerful experience he had while driving in the mountains of TN. My mom after my late partner passed away. Mom appreciates Quaker worship b/c no one says anything half the time, and when they do it's benign. ha ha ha Anyway, when Christians or other religionists proclaim God, they profess to know this God through theological statements, memorized prayers, or slogan-esque "Lord and Savior" insurance policy that guaranteed them salvation into heaven; nevermind they never had one spiritual experience that they could identify. You may know them. They tend to be legalistic, judgmental and/or blindly hypocritical. Unfortunately, many of these people are among those who give religion a bad name. Perhaps we all do when we say something and don't live it. I might be judging myself here. ha.

There are two other larger, established meetings in the city. One is in Homewood at 3107 N. Charles Street. My late partner and I were married there. They meet Sunday a.m. @ 10:30 I believe. Further north on the Friends School campus (5000 block of N. Charles) is Stony Run. Old Town is exploring a formal relationship with them. Great people. 11am Sundays. At both of those meetings you'll find a different flavor. Old Town Friends worships at 6pm (5pm classes) on Sundays. You'd be welcome at any of our meetings. Quakers don't try to convert people, we let the Divine in them do the work. We just provide the community and the accountability to each other to do the inner work and to be faithful to the Voice that we hear as individuals and as a community.

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