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Civility Can Be Dangerous

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 1:14pm
Friends Journal logo Photo: AFSC/ News Source: Friends Journal
Categories: Articles & News

Civility Can Be Dangerous

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 12:39am

Henry Cadbury in 1932. Photo courtesy of AFSC Archives.

A Quaker perspective on Henry Cadbury’s 1934 remarks on resisting fascism

This June, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because she works for President Trump. In the ensuing debate about “civility,” historian Angus Johnston drew attention in a tweet and follow-up op-ed to a June 14, 1934, New York Times article about a talk by Henry Cadbury, a Quaker founder of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). In the article, Cadbury called on a conference of rabbis to be civil in the face of fascism.

As a Quaker who works for AFSC, I was struck when I saw Cadbury’s words resurface, and I feel the need to reckon with them.

“By hating Hitler and trying to fight back,” Cadbury said, “Jews are only increasing the severity of his policies against them.” He went on: “If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.” Cadbury added, “Boycotts are simply war without bloodshed, and war in any form is not the way to right the wrongs being inflicted on the Jewish people.”

The rabbis published a response the next day condemning Cadbury’s remarks. Rabbi Samuel Shuelman, one signee, said, “If we do not resist evil, we go along with it.”

Cadbury had influence, and his words set a standard for many who would, despite the objection of the rabbis, follow his lead in what they considered effective resistance. Of course, the rise of fascism and the Jewish Holocaust demonstrated the limitations of Cadbury’s stance.

Cadbury was a smart man, and he did many things worthy of admiration. In 1947 on behalf of Quakers worldwide, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for refugee relief work and support of the kindertransport during World War II, as well as for resistance to Japanese internment. Despite these important initiatives, his interpretation of pacifism and his call for civility was harmful, and his position did not actively support those most impacted by fascism’s rise.

All of our resistance work should be led and informed by those most impacted by injustice. If Cadbury had been guided by this principle in 1934, he would never have offered such remarks, as they countered the will of the Jewish audience to whom he spoke and intended (albeit patronizingly) to give support.

Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed…

When one’s very existence is questioned by an oppressive state, and survival depends on resistance, actions are not constrained by public perception and conceptions of civil discourse. Moral courage becomes a necessity of daily life.

Civility is no substitute for morality. Belief in peace doesn’t mean naively expecting everyone to get along. Being quiet and polite is often all that’s needed to perpetuate white supremacy.

Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed, not throwing them into the lion’s mouth in the name of civility. And interrupting racist violence takes more than civil discourse: active disruption is needed in order for racism to be revealed and dismantled. What good is ineffective pacifism? My commitment to nonviolence is about saving lives.

So, when the owner of the Red Hen restaurant asked Sanders to leave because of the actions she has taken on behalf of the president, this action interrupted what had been normalized. When people videotape and call out white folks who call the police on African Americans who are barbecuing or selling water, that action interrupts the normal pattern of prejudiced behavior.

 

Author Lucy Duncan leading bystander intervention training session in New York. Photo: Lori Fernald Khamala / AFSC.

I teach bystander intervention through AFSC, so that more and more people know how to stand up for those harassed or targeted by state violence. Sometimes the interventions are simple, but often real disruption is needed in order to stand in the way of oppression.

Confusing nonviolence with passivity is a huge mistake. Nonviolent communication should stop violence, not quietly reinforce it. Confronting oppression isn’t violence; letting oppression progress is.

Boycotts, too, are an active form of nonviolence. AFSC has taken stands to support economic resistance against oppression, from apartheid in South Africa and occupied Palestine to the profiting of private prison and detention companies that feed mass incarceration and immigrant detention. Refusing to support systems of oppression economically is not warfare but active resistance to it.

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is easy to see how inadequate and offensive Cadbury’s words were to the millions who lost their lives in the Holocaust. We have the benefit of history to teach us about the depth of intervention needed today. As a Quaker who lives life from the understanding that all are equal and have inherent dignity, I am committed to disrupting oppression; it is a central spiritual commitment. I hope many more will find the moral courage to actively disrupt state violence and white supremacy, rather than quietly reinforce it.

I don’t want to politely object, as Cadbury proposed. I choose to actively stand in the way of human rights abuses. I envision a world in which all people of conscience understand themselves as co-creators of justice and are willing to do what’s needed to make it a reality.

The post Civility Can Be Dangerous appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Sparking a Quakerish Epidemic

Friends Journal - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 12:40am

Those of us who’ve been blessed yet deeply disappointed in the Quaker endeavor often wish it were more widespread. Still, we realize that whatever we’re doing, the present form we’ve created isn’t very contagious.

What is it that we do? In most of the United States, Friends sit together an hour each Sunday, without talking among ourselves—speaking if and only if God has given us a message for the group. (We understand and say this in different ways, but find rough agreement on how it applies.)

We try to avoid having too many messages in a meeting; why is that? Shouldn’t we want messages from God? Well, yes, but we also get messages from other people. How clear can anyone be as to which is which? Can we be certain a message wasn’t from God?

In the winter of 1651, George Fox himself took off his shoes and walked through the cold streets crying with a loud voice, “Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!” and never had a satisfactory reason why the Lord would move him to do so. If we heard such a message today, many Friends would wonder about it, yet Fox was certain of its origin.

 

Friends in worship aren’t supposed to be just thinking (although we can be); we aren’t supposed to be meditating (although we can be); and we aren’t sure whether what we do should be called praying.

There’s an old Quaker saying: “Maybe it wasn’t addressed to you.” When something we hear doesn’t apply, we needn’t dwell on it. Another person, however, may find it clearly intended for them. A whole class may all need to learn certain things, but where God is the teacher, each student can start with whatever he knows, and still have an appropriate lesson.

Sometimes a meeting just sits there … all hour. There are people who strongly prefer such meetings. If we can’t say what happened, maybe we were really deep. “Heavy, man!” as we used to put it in my day.

Friends in worship aren’t supposed to be just thinking (although we can be); we aren’t supposed to be meditating (although we can be); and we aren’t sure whether what we do should be called praying. Very seldom have I heard anyone in our meetings explicitly pray aloud.

We aren’t supposed to sleep, though (like meditators) we may nod out, then jerk abruptly upright, knowing we’ve been mentally away constructing something painstakingly senseless. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves intensely awake, yet empty of thought. And sometimes we approach the kind of dream in which messages came to Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, the Magi, and many others.

Whatever it is we do, couldn’t we do it alone? Certainly, but Quakers tend to agree there’s more happening in worship than people sitting alone in the same place. Sometimes we feel it, sometimes not, but when we do it’s quite palpable.

Isn’t that merely subjective? My wife, Anne, and I were sitting in meeting once while a young autistic woman, the daughter of a recently deceased Friend, rode her bicycle around in the parking lot outside. She’d often done the same when her father was alive, but this week she was to leave and go live with relatives elsewhere. Anne and I had both been wishing (I asked Anne about it later), that this one time she’d sit with the group. That was when she came in and sat down beside us. Is that proof of anything? No, but Spirit connects, and when you’ve seen it happen often enough, there’s little point trying to prove or disprove why or how.

There’s also little point trying to make it happen. As Jesus is quoted as saying: “I, of my own self, can do nothing.” That sums up the drawbacks of trying to make Spirit fulfill even your best personal hopes. This isn’t science, and it isn’t magic either. So far as we’re meeting for worship, we can’t force Spirit’s participation. I’ve been struck by that condition every time I’ve started a worship group, every time I’ve invited a friend to meeting.

Black, white, poor, or prosperous, people may love the idea of Quaker worship, but for one reason or another, the actuality may not move them at first. In 1961, when my best friend invited me, I found it a valuable practice, but being an atheist at the time, I didn’t feel I could honestly continue in it. I fairly soon encountered God through the hippie awakening of the time, but returned to Friends seldom, only briefly over the next several decades.

If we’re going to see a more widespread use of Quakerish modes of worship, more of the people we bring or find among us would need to find a reason to stay. Working against that, Friends have a confused sense of who we are, what we’re called to do, and what we’re intended to be.

 

I visited another meeting in the ’70s, saw their bulletin boards, and heard their announcements: it was all about good works members were doing and worthy causes in need of donations.

Fox was clear on where he thought we fit in. The church Jesus founded, as depicted in several books of the Christian New Testament, had sometime later been corrupted into a spiritual tyranny centered in Rome. Fox, like many among his Puritan contemporaries, had searched the New Testament for clues toward reviving the original form of Christianity, as he thought it had been “before the apostasy.” Friends meetings and the various Protestant churches embody different answers to that challenge.

Early Friends shared a dominant paradigm of Fox’s time: that people are born sinners, misguided and prone to evil ways except for Christ’s intervention within us. Almost everyone agreed that Christ could save us from condemnation and punishment for sin, but to insist, in Fox’s day, that Christ could stop us from sinning at all was risky. Opponents would ask Quaker preachers, “Do you think you are free of sin?” and blasphemy charges would soon follow. But Friends did insist that lives without sin were possible and hoped their own lives would serve as evidence.

Lapses by Friends could be repented and forgiven, but perfection was the expectation. Hence there is a sense, persisting to this day, that Friends belong to something like a spiritual elite. Other churches can invite sinners to join and be saved, but Friends meetings only want new members who’ll fit in and be a credit to us.

I visited another meeting in the ’70s, saw their bulletin boards, and heard their announcements: it was all about good works members were doing and worthy causes in need of donations. From these, for whatever reason, I concluded: “These people can’t bring me any closer to God. I’m no good with people; I’m not a workaholic; and I don’t have money to give them. I’m no use to them either.” So I left. Was that how the group felt about potential new members? Almost certainly not!

What these things do show is our idea of what it means to be a good Quaker. We’re supposed to be educated; professionally employed; and either generous donors or, at least, vicarious activists. That’s our collective self-image, but what do members most typically want? Aren’t Friends in this lonesome secular age looking to meet good people, who are respectably liberal, with the right political belief system and loyalties? Isn’t that what makes the word “community” so popular?

Affiliation is a historical function of churches, synagogues, and religious organizations. If we happen to be mystics or zealots concerned with the practices and beliefs associated with the Quaker movement, then it’s all too natural to miss the importance of that purely social function. A mystic’s specific lonesomeness is the need to find others touched by spiritual grace, but that isn’t the main motive bringing new people to Quaker meetings.

A quest for agreeable company won’t drive Friends to seek strange new members among African Americans, immigrants, or people struggling with poverty. Christianity and Quaker values should move us to help anyone suffering injustice and oppression, but a testimony of equality and a doctrine of “that of God in everyone” might not even help us like each other much. When poor people actually come to our meetings, Friends make a sincere effort to welcome them, but somehow there are usually barriers.

The fact is that Quakers overwhelmingly come from a class insulated from the viewpoints, experiences, and sufferings that most human beings live with. George Fox knew his gospel was intended for everyone, while Friends today, if we’re pressed to think about seeking new members, propose posting notices at the nearest college.

 

Why do I think we’ve been doing it wrong? Because my own concept has been faulty: it’s been like yoga without a teacher.

That’s not like the way Jesus chose his disciples; neither does it sound like an orientation likely to go viral. Individually, all of the Friends I’ve known have been warm-hearted and conscientious, often amazingly so, but as a group, we disappoint anyone who’d hoped to see a movement of heroes and miracle workers.

We and our critics share mistaken ideas of perfection as if human beings had been created to follow Advices and Queries, rather than the other way around. That’s an obstacle between us and God, an obstacle between us and other people. It makes people strive to achieve results that aren’t in our power, and fail to achieve things we otherwise could.

Do Friends have a way to see through illusions and learn what God truly wants? Of course. The technical term for this practice is “prayer,” and we’re already doing it. It’s what’s supposed to happen in meeting for worship, and it doesn’t require any formal education. It’s a practice that really could go viral, and make all the difference in the world!

Why do I think we’ve been doing it wrong? Because my own concept has been faulty: it’s been like yoga without a teacher. Trying to force myself into better posture somehow locked me more firmly into the same lifelong bookworm curl I’d started with, but the teacher in a free class could immediately see my mistake and suggest a better approach.

 

That is not the way to pray, merely a way. But it gives me permission to just think with God.

God is our teacher, everybody’s teacher, though people don’t always recognize where those lessons keep coming from. The most recent attitude adjustment for me was a quote from Roberta C. Bondi: “God is besotted with us.”

That was a hint I had to follow up! Bondi has written extensively on prayer, as a scholar of early Christian monastic writings and as a suffering human being who’s found the monastics’ insights profoundly liberating in her own life. Her writing can be too much in a preacherly style for my taste, but each book of hers I’ve found to help me re-examine what I’m doing when I sit with God.

Nobody wants to be around someone whom you relate to only in terms of duty. I’m willing to relate to people that way some of the time, but don’t expect me to want to do it … for the monastic teachers of the early church, with whom I’ve spent a lot of time, a relationship with God is one of desire and delight. This is really a different basis for prayer. religion-online.org/article/learning-to-pray-an-interview-with-roberta-c-bondi/

There must have been a million preachers by now, encouraging people to converse with God. It doesn’t feel natural; there’s that power imbalance, and besides, God finishes my sentences. But Bondi says:

[In] the ancient monastic materials I work on, prayer is really an entire relationship, and the verbal part is only one element. A lot of what we learn when we pray is to be quiet. We need to stop thinking that a relationship is constituted only by language. The closer we get to other people, and the better our friendships are, the more silence these relationships contain. The people we talk to all the time are probably the people we don’t know terribly well and whom we don’t trust. The issue is not so much “Does God talk back and if so how?” but whether we can learn just to be in God’s presence.

Bondi talks about “kitchen table prayer,” like sitting around a table with people we just like being with. She doesn’t make silence a duty, an ideal, or an ordeal.

For students who are afraid of God, who have emphasized God’s righteousness and their sinfulness, God’s bigness and their wormlikeness, I suggest that they find something that doesn’t occupy their minds but is pleasant to do, like handiwork, or doing a crossword puzzle, or even reading a detective novel, and to just sit in God’s presence. That is a way to begin to learn that God is trustworthy and that God isn’t that person they’re afraid of, but somebody else.

That is not the way to pray, merely a way. But it gives me permission to just think with God when I want to think about some trivial thing and let go of trivial things when I don’t.

It’s about deepening a friendship, that big scary friendship that is our life, and there’s no method to friendship, except for doing things we know will bring us closer, and not letting fear get in the way. For the sake of friendship, God needs us to say what we want. Whether we get it or not is a different matter. You don’t always get what you ask for from your friend—maybe most of the time you don’t get it—but you need to say what it is you need and want.

Sometimes (as I’ve also found) Bondi has had to confront her worst fears about God, and ask “Is this really true?”

A society of Friends ought to be a natural for friendship with God, but it takes something other than what we’ve been doing. For the Desert Fathers, perfectionism was not a virtue but a sin. We should think about that, and pray about it. Above all, we need Bondi’s reminder that God doesn’t see us the same way we see ourselves but “through much gentler eyes.”

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Categories: Articles & News

Writing Opp: Quakers and Christianity (due 9/17)

Friends Journal - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 8:49am

Fast Facts:

It’s a series of questions that has dogged Friends since we did away with clergy and started calling baptism a “sprinkling,” and it has been an issue of contention in every Quaker schism: Are we Christian? Are we really Christian? Does it matter if we’re Christian? What does it even mean to be Christian in the world?

Quaker history geeks will point out that even the first generation of Friends would waver back and forth on basic Christian doctrines. Our family tree of splits and schisms pretty much always include Christian theology—the importance of the Inward Light, the role of evolution, the inerrancy of the Bible, the acceptability of the sacraments, the possibilities of universal salvation. We’ve long had Friends who have been willing to explore less orthodox spiritualities. Some have left or been forced out of membership, while others have informally remained in Quaker communities.

Over the past hundred years, Liberal Friends have become quite comfortable with non-Christian expressions of Quaker spirituality. We’ve got religious crossovers like Quatholics and Quagans and many weighty Friends who identify as non-theist. Many Evangelical Friends have become theologically indistinguishable from mainstream American Christianity, creating tensions with fellow yearly meeting members who hold onto a Quaker identity.

The rise of blogs and video and social media have led to more cross-branch conversations and friendships, fueling more questions about our collective identity. Is a kind of salad-bowl spirituality which draws from many streams something to be celebrated or denounced? What do we gain or avoid by choosing certain paths?

While there may not be any simple answers to the question of Quakerism’s relationship to Christianity, there are surely many interesting conversations.

Submit a piece for our issue: Quakers and Christianity Learn more general information at Friendsjournal.org/submissions We’re always looking for new voices and perspectives from our community. Is there a side of the story you think isn’t being told or heard among Friends? Contact senior editor Martin Kelley with questions or ideas at martink@friendsjournal.org or message on Facebook or Twitter.

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Categories: Articles & News

2018 Living Letters Trip to Israel/Palestine

Friends United Meeting - Mon, 08/06/2018 - 8:03pm

From Max and Jane Carter:

Fourteen participants formed the 2018 Friends United Meeting “Living Letters” service-learning group in Palestine and Israel from the 22nd of Sixth Month to the 10th of Seventh Month. Led by Max and Jane Carter of New Garden Friends Meeting (North Carolina Fellowship of Friends), the group spent the first week painting at the upper school campus of the Ramallah Friends School and cleaning and gardening at the Friends meetinghouse. Funds from a $750 grant from NCFF were used to purchase paint and cleaning supplies and provide housing for group numbers that exceeded the capacity of the School to offer. A $500 grant from New Garden Friends’ social concerns committee enabled us to meet with members of an organization that brings together Israeli and Palestinian parents whose children have been killed in the violence. Other generous donations by Friends helped make the trip affordable for those with lesser means.

After the week of work, the group traveled through Palestinian villages, learning about their nonviolent resistance to the encroachment of Israeli settlements on their land; journeyed into Israel to meet with Jewish and Arab Israelis to learn about challenges to coexistence and a just peace; and visited Bethlehem and Hebron, again to meet with and learn from both Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians about efforts to use “beautiful resistance” in efforts to end the military occupation and bring a lasting and just peace to the region.

The group had the opportunity to worship with Ramallah Friends on three First-days, and we met with staff of the Friends School to learn about Quaker education in Palestine. Time encountering the religious aspect of the region included a day in Jerusalem, a day in the Galilee, a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls community of Qumran, and Sixth-day prayers at a mosque. Speakers who met with the group included leading political, business, religious, and civic leaders in Palestine and settlers, kibbutzniks, bereaved parents, former soldiers, educators, and religious leaders in Israel. A highlight was almost nightly meals hosted for the group by families of students who have studied at Guilford College.

We are grateful for the support and encouragement given us through local Friends organizations and individuals and welcome participation on our next FUM “Living Letters” delegation in the summer of 2019, tentatively scheduled for Sixth Month, 21 – Seventh Month, 9 (June 21st—July 9th). If you would be interested to know when registration opens for the next trip, please send your contact information to Ben Snyder at bens@fum.org.

Categories: Articles & News

Growing and Evolving the Quaker Way

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:50am

If there’s one good thing we can say about viruses, it’s that they have taught us a great deal. Scientists discovered viruses in the late 1800s and made great strides in stemming or curing deadly viral epidemics in the last century. Some viruses today are even integral to new approaches to treating diseases through immunotherapy. But real viruses aren’t the theme of this issue. The spread of ideas is. The term “going viral” is a way of describing the rapid and “infectious” spread of content on the Internet thanks to the network effect. When we—as a Religious Society in particular, but even as individuals—face stasis or even decline in our fortunes, it’s easy to notice and envy the apparently easy growth we might see elsewhere. What can we learn? How can we make this happen for us?

Luck may factor in, but I don’t believe it’s about catching lightning in a bottle. When George Fox climbed Firbank Fell in 1652, the story goes, he preached to and convinced a crowd of a thousand on the spot. The Westmoreland Seekers he addressed were gathered there on the premise that this iconoclastic hill-wandering Bible minister just might be the teacher for whom they, self-proclaimed Seekers, were seeking. Not every situation can be so ripe for success! But a corps of several dozen early Quakers, who became known as the Valiant Sixty, knew they could grow their numbers by traveling and sharing the way of living and worship they had learned and become convinced of in their souls. Ideas spread. The way of Friends took root. The Quaker way of which we are caretakers today has grown from that original culture, and it has changed, mutated, and evolved into something that must now survive in new conditions. Can it spread and thrive? How?

We face these questions together. In this issue of Friends Journal, we bring together approaches that include the perspectives of Emily Provance and Donald W. McCormick. Provance has a ministry of helping Friends meetings that want to grow identify and effect the cultural shifts that would help them become what they aspire to be. McCormick follows up his much talked-about Friends Journal piece last February with findings from churches that have managed to find growth, not by abandoning the religious tenets at the centers of their traditions, but by aligning their practices with what seekers today are looking for in a church.

A premise shared by several of this issue’s contributors is that Quakerism will change. It has to. If we truly believe that every Friend brings a unique and essential part of God and God’s plan with them, how can we help but change when more are gathered in this community? Fear of change is natural, but we must recognize that fear can be conquered, particularly by love. And we are allowed to grieve, as Provance points out, when elements of what must change were sources of comfort or delight to us.

If there is a certainty in all of this, I believe it is that those people who are seeking a faith and seeking fellowship will find it. Will it be with you and me? If so, we must allow the power of our example and the power of our worship and love to burn through what is inessential, so that it may spread to those we want to walk with us. You might be surprised at how many may be searching. Friends Journal and QuakerSpeak now reach an audience we estimate at 1,000,000 strong each year, fueled by the same power of networks and technology that enables ideas to go viral. It’s our calling to share just what it is of the Quaker way that burns through. Your readership and your support are essential to us in this work.

 

Correction: Donald W. McCormick’s earlier piece with us appeared in the February 2018 edition of Friends Journal.

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Categories: Articles & News

What People Really Want from Church and Quaker Meeting

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:45am

© spinyant

I deeply love Quakerism and don’t want it to die out, but the number of North American Quakers has been steadily decreasing for three decades. According to statistics from Friends World Committee for Consultation, Quaker membership in the United States and Canada grew modestly over the middle part of the twentieth century to peak at 139,200 in 1987. The latest Quaker census in 2017 counted 81,392 U.S. and Canadian Friends, a loss of over 40 percent. A report published by Earlham School of Religion in 2005 concluded, “If these downward trends in the Society’s membership were to continue unchecked, American Quakers would become extinct sometime late in the twenty-first century.”

We can reverse this downward trend, and this is likely to involve learning from the experience of other churches. A good tool for doing this is the Reveal for Church survey: an extremely large survey of over 2,000 churches and 500,000 congregants. (To find out more about this survey, go to revealforchurch.com or listen to their podcast.)

What do people want from church?

At the core of the survey is an important question: What do people want from church? The answer to this is key to understanding why people join a church. The respondents’ answers are inspiring. Fifty-four percent said that the thing they most want is spiritual guidance, and over 30 percent said they want fellowship.

The survey defined a church that offers spiritual guidance as one that does the following:

  • provides a clear pathway that helps guide congregants’ spiritual growth
  • challenges congregants to grow and take next steps
  • has church leaders who model and consistently reinforce how to grow spiritually
  • helps congregants to understand the Bible in depth
  • helps congregants to develop a personal relationship with Christ

Churches that provided this were generally vibrant and had high levels of congregant satisfaction.

When I read this, I asked myself if we Quakers are providing the equivalent of this type of spiritual guidance. Do newcomers and others see us as meeting their spiritual needs? If they do, do they see this right away, or does it take a while? To answer these questions, I had to learn more about the “clear pathway” that the Reveal literature described. Although Quakerism has great wisdom in the area of spiritual guidance, at first it seemed that it was inconsistent with the spiritual guidance described in the survey. I thought of how listening to and heeding the Spirit may lead one Quaker to refuse to pay any taxes that contribute to war and another to become an army chaplain. It didn’t seem like we Quakers were following one clear pathway. Also, my initial understanding of the Reveal survey model of spiritual guidance didn’t fit with the kind of models of lifelong spiritual growth and maturity that I used to cover when I was a professor teaching courses in psychology of religion.

Then I looked more closely at what the Reveal researchers meant by a “clear pathway” and I realized that their idea of it isn’t so much a nuanced model of lifelong spiritual growth as it is something much more basic and doable. It’s the kind of thing that would get you off the runway of the spiritual path and into the air. It isn’t intended to guide your spiritual plane all the way to its destination. Understanding this, I began to see how a Quaker version of this could be crafted.

Classes that challenge you to take the next steps along a clear spiritual pathway

In the survey, churches that provide spiritual guidance communicate the path, the next steps, and the challenges in different ways. The most common model is a set of four afternoon classes that make up what is probably the most popular adult education curriculum in churches today. It comes from a church known for phenomenal growth: Saddleback Church, headquartered in southern California. In 1980, 40 people attended their first worship service; today over 22,000 people attend weekly services.

The first class covers the church, membership, how to live in accordance with God’s purpose, and the church’s plans for the future. At the end of the class, you are challenged to be baptized and to apply for membership.

The second class is about the path of spiritual maturity and techniques for developing four habits needed for spiritual growth (prayer, Bible reading, tithing, and fellowship). After this class, you are challenged to practice these habits.

The third class is about finding your spiritual gifts and choosing how you will use those in ministry, that is, in serving the church and others. At the end, you are challenged to put these into practice.

The fourth class is about evangelism. At the end you are challenged to begin sharing your faith.

The classes constitute a clear pathway that starts with membership and leads to spiritual maturity, ministry, and evangelism. Each time you finish taking a class, you are asked to accept the challenge at the end of it. The next steps involve putting into practice what you just learned and taking the next class.

Fellowship is the other major thing that people want from church. In the churches from the Reveal survey, it is primarily experienced in small groups of eight to ten people who meet weekly to learn about spiritual matters and to get to know fellow parishioners. These groups are places where people know you, know what’s going on in your life, and know what matters to you. If you wind up in the hospital, it’s the members of your small group that come over and visit, that take care of your kids when you’re in there, and that bring you meals while you are still getting back on your feet after having been discharged. And you are glad to do the same for all of them.

The classes described in the Reveal literature get people moving on their spiritual journey quickly. These churches make their expectations clear right away. They let you know that you are expected to embrace Christ (if you haven’t already); join a small group; and to take the classes that show the path, provide you with next steps, and challenge you to grow spiritually

When you do this, you begin to experience the two main things that people want out of church—spiritual guidance and fellowship. This makes people want to keep coming back.

Can Quaker meetings provide this kind of fellowship and spiritual guidance?

How can newcomers to Quakerism experience a similar kind of fellowship and spiritual guidance without watering down the Quaker experience?

One way would be to encourage newcomers to join a small group and take a comparable set of courses. This would involve reorganizing the way that we introduce people to Quakerism, not changing what Quakerism is.

Newcomers could be encouraged to participate in a small group early on. People want a spiritual home where they experience a sense of belonging, where people care about them and they feel like they fit in. In other words, they want real spiritual community. It can be difficult to feel included in a meeting that has long-term social bonds; small groups can help with this. I should point out that in many meetings, we are already providing the kind of fellowship described in the Reveal survey through the excellent Friends General Conference (FGC) Spiritual Deepening program.

Classes that offer a clear pathway, next steps, and challenges

In addition to fellowship, a meeting could offer classes that form a path, that provide next steps, and that offer regular challenges. Below is one possible way of doing that. (I don’t mean this suggestion to be definitive; there are many other ways that these kinds of classes can be organized.)

The first class could provide a short overview of Quakerism as a whole, but spend most of the time on the meaning of meeting for worship and what to do when you’re in it. At the end, participants could be challenged to take the next steps: regular participation in meeting for worship and enrollment in the next class.

The second class could focus on personal spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, and discernment of leadings. Since the process of discernment can be both individual and corporate, group processes like clearness committees, spiritual accountability groups, and meeting for worship on the occasion of business would also be included. At the end, participants could be challenged to take the next steps: regular engagement in personal spiritual practice, participation in business meeting, and enrollment in the next class.

The third class could be about learning about Quakerism in more depth. It could present some information about Quakerism and offer ways to continue learning about it (e.g., reading Faith and Practice on a regular basis, or participating in quarterly meetings, yearly meetings, the FGC annual gathering, Pendle Hill programs, etc.). At the end, participants could be challenged to commit to some ongoing form of study.

The fourth class could focus on service: serving the meeting (e.g., serving on a committee), directly serving those in need (e.g., feeding the homeless), or activism (e.g., creating systemic change by working for peace, justice, or sustainability). At the end, participants could be challenged to commit to some form of service.

At the end of the four classes that make up this beginner’s path, participants would have most of the tools they need to start living the Quaker life. These are also tools that they can continue to use for the rest of their lives.

Meeting spiritual needs

There is a thirst for greater spirituality in Quaker meetings. I say this for two reasons. The first is because of dissatisfaction with Quaker meetings that have shied away from their spiritual and religious center; this was a common theme in the over 100 online comments about my February Friends Journal article, “Can Quakerism Survive?”

The second reason is that in recent moving and influential speeches, both Parker Palmer and Ben Pink Dandelion called for embracing and communicating the spiritual and religious core of Quakerism.

The model presented here shows one way to help satisfy the spiritual thirst of newcomers by introducing them to the spiritual core and spiritual guidance that they want from a meeting.

People in Quaker meetings and those interested in Quakerism aren’t that different from the people who took the Reveal survey. We Quakers have something to learn from the survey about what people want from church and how to provide it. People may show up at our doors because of various outreach activities, and they may like their initial encounter with Quakerism because various methods from FGC’s Welcoming Meetings program are being used. These are both important, but people won’t keep coming back to meeting if they don’t see how it addresses their needs for spiritual guidance and fellowship. All three activities—outreach, welcoming, and meeting people’s spiritual needs—are essential. If one is missing, the other two won’t get very far. But together, these three activities can defeat the trend of declining membership. Quakerism can grow, and meetings can become more vibrant.

The post What People Really Want from Church and Quaker Meeting appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Future Is Accessible

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:40am

©tinx

This spring an almost silent recording of a meeting for worship went viral. The recording was created for the digital radio show I host and produce, Young Quaker Podcast, and was conceived as a way to bring the calm and clarity of Quaker silence into the homes and lives of people who might not have experienced it before. When the idea was first pitched to me by fellow young adult Friend Tim Gee, I was intrigued but could never have anticipated the response and interest that followed.

Within a week, the podcast was covered on local, national, and international media across the world. I was interviewed on several UK radio stations; a short film was made by the BBC; articles were published in The Guardian, Church Times, The Metro, and The Friend, and I was invited to write a piece for iNews about being a young Quaker. I knew the podcast really had “gone viral” (something that “spreads rapidly through a population,” according to Urbandictionary.com) when I heard National Public Radio cover the story and more articles from online news sites began pouring in from across the United States and beyond. Downloads climbed from the usual few hundred to nearly 2,000 within days of the coverage, with listeners tuning in from the United States, Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Kenya, and beyond to join our small, silent meeting, punctuated with shuffles, creaks, and the methodical ticking of a clock.

At almost 3,000 downloads and counting, the podcast could be considered one of the biggest Quaker meetings ever held. In the aftermath of the media excitement, I began to try and unpick what had made this meeting so successful that Quakers and non-Quakers all over the world had ventured to participate in it. The conclusion I came to was its accessibility.

Meeting for worship isn’t always as accessible as we would like to think. Meetinghouses may declare themselves accessible venues, but accessible for whom exactly? Having a wheelchair ramp is certainly a good start, but how accessible is your meeting to people with severe anxiety, Tourette syndrome, or chronic pain? How accessible is it to single mothers with no childcare options, those who can’t afford the bus fare across town, or people who work night shifts? Does your meeting cater for the turbulent living situations of young people, teenagers who spend their weekends working to save money for college, or those so exhausted and rundown after a 60-hour work week that a Sunday morning is their only time to rest and recover?

The reason that meeting for worship worked so well as a podcast is because it facilitated that quiet worship and contemplation in a way that so many could access. You can download it and listen anytime, anywhere, and with anyone, opening up meeting for worship to entire communities who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. Furthermore, its shortened length and the fact you can listen alone make it less intimidating than walking into a room full of hushed strangers for an hour. Its silence seems less alien and more approachable.

The podcast is a good start, but the experience has taught me that if we truly want Quakerism to grow and flourish, we need to take steps toward broadening the accessibility we strive for.

Let’s Talk about It

One of the best ways we can spread the Quaker message of peace and equality is through having conversations about our faith. Friends’ aversion to proselytizing has led to a fear of being open and excited about Quakerism with others, which creates a culture of reticence that prevents genuine connections and outreach. There is a difference between forcing your views on strangers and sharing your thoughts and experiences of spirituality with others in your life. By opening up about our personal faith journeys in all their complexity, we acknowledge the radical pluralism of Quaker spiritual feeling.

As members of a small group, the instinct and pressure to represent Quakerism when talking to non-Quakers can be stifling. One of the things that I love most about meeting and worshiping with other Quakers is that if someone asks you how you are, they really mean it. Platitudes and small talk have no place in caring Quaker communities, and I sometimes wish we could bring the sincerity, humor, and openness of these post-worship conversations into the way we talk about Quakerism with others.

It isn’t just talking about Quakerism that is important but also how we talk about it; using accessible language is another way we can make our Society more approachable. One of my professors at university once told me that the best communicators can explain complicated ideas in simple ways. By couching our spiritual experiences in academic language and intellectual pretensions, we perpetuate the homogeneity of educational backgrounds found in many Quaker communities. Or perhaps I should say, we make our community unwelcoming to those who don’t use such complicated language! Instead, through embracing our simplicity testimony and communicating our faith with plain speech and a more informal tone, we open up Quakerism as something relatable and available to those from many different backgrounds.

When sharing our faith, let our words be ministry guided by experience, feeling, and warmth.

Different Expressions of Faith

The methods through which we communicate are also important when examining accessibility. Some of the most effective outreach is surprisingly low-tech. By simply having conversations about Quakerism in our day-to-day lives with others, we can leave a positive impression of Quakers without being pushy about our beliefs. Being mindful of George Fox’s famous adage, “be patterns, be examples,” we might consider that you can’t be a good example of a Quaker if no one knows what Quakers are.

The Internet and modern technology provide us with a multitude of ways to open up a dialogue about Quakerism, and we should not be afraid to embrace these new modes of communication. Through a melding of traditional Quaker values and modern communication methods, such as podcasts (online audio shows), memes (humorous pieces of media that are copied and shared rapidly online), or GIFs (repeated video clips), we can communicate the Quaker message in ways that are also accessible and modern. A group unafraid to embrace youth culture and different expressions of faith is a group that will thrive in our dynamic and technologically advancing world.

Embracing younger Quakers and what they have to say is also vitally important for the future of Quakerism and making our Society welcoming and accessible. Young adult Quakers offer a unique perspective within the Religious Society of Friends and can provide valuable insights into how we can become more inclusive both of younger Friends and of others in general. However, a 2016 study carried out by the British group Quaker Life revealed that many young adult Quakers feel belittled, patronized, or devalued because of their age. How can we expect to grow and thrive as a community if we do not look after our next generation of Quaker elders and overseers? How can we claim to be an equal and loving Society when a significant proportion of fellow Friends feel undervalued and unheard? We need to make more of an effort to help our younger Quakers feel respected and appreciated, and that starts with listening to and embracing their perspectives.

Staying True to Our Equality Testimony

Making Quakerism more accessible also includes challenging existing prejudices within the Society, and upholding our testimony of radical equality. This year British Quakerism’s reputation has come under fire when on several occasions meetinghouses were hired by trans-exclusionary radical feminist groups, such as A Woman’s Place UK, for their events. While A Woman’s Place presents itself as a group solely interested in protecting women’s rights and in discussing recently proposed changes to British law that may make it easier for trans people to change their birth certificates, their choice of speakers and the groups they choose to ally themselves with are deeply worrying.

Groups like A Woman’s Place often platform fear-mongering rhetoric and misinformation about trans women, fueling the narrative that the advancement of trans rights will lead to the sexual assault and oppression of women. As Quakers, we should be committed to the equality and safety of every person, including trans individuals, and allowing these objectionable groups to use our venues to spread hate, fear, and false information is not consistent with our Quaker values.

Not only is it ethically problematic to host these events, but it also puts others off from becoming Quakers. A listener of the podcast recently got in touch to say that she was considering attending her first meeting for worship until she saw the Quakers’ track record of hosting this kind of event, and expressed a fear that Friends are perhaps not truly welcoming of all. By allowing organizations like A Woman’s Place into our spaces, we not only go against our principles and damage our reputation, but dissuade the Quaker-curious from reaching out to us, and make ourselves undesirable to those who value the rights of trans individuals.

Another way we can challenge ourselves to make Quakerism more accessible and inclusive is through tackling the unconscious biases and racism we all have, both as individuals and as a society. For those of us who are white, this does not mean feeling horribly guilty, punishing ourselves, and desperately trying to get people of color through the door. Instead, we should examine and challenge our existing assumptions about race, and try to take every opportunity we have of learning from people of color, even if it is uncomfortable at times for us to hear. By addressing our own biases in this way, we take responsibility for the part we play in upholding systemic racism, whether conscious or otherwise. Starting conversations, challenging each other in loving ways, and not being afraid to apologize if we get things wrong are all important parts of becoming a more accessible and aware community, honoring our promise as Quakers to defend equality, peace, friendship, and integrity.

The Future Is Accessible

The success of the Young Quaker Podcast’s silent episode shows us that Quakerism can go viral when we make efforts toward making it more accessible. Perhaps instead of looking outward when we contemplate our future as a society, we should actually be looking inward at ourselves and the existing barriers to Quaker faith that are invisible to us unless we personally face them.

We open the doors of Quakerism when we start dialogues about our spiritual experiences. We should not be afraid of different expressions of faith, of upholding our equality testimony, or of welcoming others with open arms. This isn’t about persuading people to become Quaker; it is about staying true to our values and building a Society that is approachable and accessible. It is about sending the message that even if Quaker faith isn’t for everyone, Quakers are. The future is accessible, and we should strive to be a part of that future.

The post The Future Is Accessible appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Open for Liberation: A View from Britain

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:35am

In recent months, a profusion of articles and blog posts have called for a new vision for Liberal Quakerism. Sometimes the call is in response to the decrease in the number of members; sometimes it’s a response to spiritual hunger which is only partially nourished by the way things are. Discernment at yearly meetings has reflected this hope for a new vision, and Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) has agreed to a process of revising its book of discipline, Quaker Faith and Practice. In so doing, every local member and attender will be able to have a say in the direction of our community and the articulation of our beliefs.

It would be overstating the case to say we don’t have a direction in Britain. There is—at least in theory—a vision for change. The BYM document “Our Faith in the Future” sets out six goals toward which the yearly meeting wants to work, including these three: (1) Quakers are well known and widely understood; (2) Quaker communities are loving, inclusive, and all-age; and (3) Quaker values are active in the world. But, as the adage goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Words are cheap without a change in how we do things.

Culture change is possible, however, and probably simpler than we think. With the right action now, within a few years, every Quaker might be able to say with confidence: we’re here, we’re inclusive, and we make change. But that change needs to begin within ourselves.

We’re here

When we let people know that the door is open, people walk through it. I first learned this whilst part of the small Quaker meeting at Bunhill Fields, built on the site of the first Quaker burial ground that is the resting place of thousands of the earliest Friends, among them George Fox. When the meeting initiated a community day at the site in partnership with local residents’ groups, more than 300 people turned out: to eat, to meet one another, and to hear the story of the garden’s past.

I was reminded of this again when in a team of young Friends who embarked on the journey of recording a podcast of what turned out to be an entirely quiet meeting for worship. It caught the attention of the BBC News, national newspapers, and National Public Radio in the United States. Once again, I learned that if you open the door, people enter, or in this case, will tap on their touchscreens.

More recently, my meeting decided on another local history tour, this time focusing on the inspirational social reformer Ada Salter, a one-time elder of our meeting whose name adorns a walled garden in a South London park. We posted an event on social media and without much effort had so many people that we reluctantly needed to close bookings—to prevent our guide needing to deliver the tour through a megaphone.

I share these three stories because they should be unremarkable. Instead, they are rare because they go against the grain of a culture that prefers to stay quiet. In every case except the most recent, there were weighty Quakers who tried to stop or stifle us. On other occasions, I’ve attended events in Quaker Outreach Week to which nobody except existing Quakers had been invited. At one public event planning meeting, we spent almost as much time asking how to stop too many people from coming (“there might not be enough chairs”) as we spent discussing how to encourage attendance. Unsurprisingly, on this occasion, no one except regular members of the meeting came.

It may come as a surprise, but people are interested in Friends. In a frenzied and unfair world, we offer an open space to connect to that which is eternal, to discern the difference between what could be and how things are, and to act together for change. Yet we often lack confidence in ourselves to share the things we treasure. That we might be mistaken is a caution found in Advices and Queries, but this needn’t mean we need to assume that no one is interested in us.

To be charitable, our reticence could be a modern-day manifestation of the Quaker modesty, which once long ago led us to wear only gray. Seen another way though, our reticence could be reminiscent of the long-abandoned prohibition against marrying out, a racially tinged practice that prioritized purity over openness to transformation through people coming into the community.

Saying “we’re here” means building alliances; showing up; letting people know that if there’s solidarity to be shown, the Quakers will be there; and that everyone is welcome to the meeting for worship. It also means sharing with people why we’re there and working toward the day when the ability to articulate our spiritual journey in public will be as core to the Quakers’ repertoire of capability as it was to the earliest Friends.

Our Society has become accustomed to fundraising, lobbying, and marching on behalf of people, but we need to become better at translating these activities into true solidarity. As a faith group, we need to open up and offer stillness and connection through the precious practices we value. We’d thereby offer a priceless gift to those people on the frontline who might be most in need, rather than continue to clasp our treasure to ourselves.

This isn’t new; such movements are already in train. For example, Friends in Essex recently supported 15 activists who were standing trial in their city after nonviolently disrupting a deportation flight. Local Quakers hosted them in their houses, offered their meetinghouse for events, and organized a powerful meeting for worship to uphold them in their trial. An anti-deportation activist reported afterward in The Friend: “It made a huge impression on everyone. It was beautiful and heartfelt, and soothed and grounded a lot of frayed nerves.” At the end, some of them sang. These are examples of spiritual solidarity in action.

We’re inclusive

Quakers should be the most inclusive denomination there is. Our identity is forged in our history, and our posters explain how Friends were among the first to promote women’s ministry, to campaign against slavery, to embrace same-sex marriage and more. Yet we have a long way to go before embodying George Fox’s recognition that “God who made all pours out of his spirit upon all men and women in the world … upon the whites and blacks, Moors and Turks and Indians, Christians, Jews, and Gentiles.”

In the course of the 2017 Britain Yearly Meetings sessions I gave a lecture in which I suggested that in our present state British Quakerism is less ethnically diverse than the candidates of the xenophobic UK Independence Party (UKIP). It sent a shudder through the room,but it’s a fact we need to wake up to. In the words of Unitarian educator Chris Crass, quoted by Friends General Conference anti-racism coordinator Vanessa Julye in her workshop at the same event:

the key question, for a white/white majority community, is not “how to get people of color to join our faith community,” it is “how can we make a prolonged, spiritually rooted, engaged commitment to uprooting white supremacy within our community and take on-going collective action to challenge it in society.”

However much people may not like to admit it, it is still worryingly common for a well-meaning Friend to enquire of an attender with black or brown skin: “Where are you from?” In the Sanctuary Movement, I’ve heard Friends insensitively asking refugee allies to explain their life stories over post-meeting for worship tea and biscuits. When discriminatory or exclusivist ideas or words are used—whether in Quaker or other movement spaces—our culture does not yet require us to robustly challenge them, especially if the unthinking offender’s feelings might be hurt. In our decision-making structures too, we need to change more quickly in moving toward greater diversity.

At the same time, there are others who declare that “certain kinds of people” just aren’t interested in Quaker meeting because it’s too quiet, too still, or too nuanced. For as long as such attitudes prevail or go unchallenged, Quakerism will not fulfill its potential as the world’s most inclusive church. Things are beginning to change: for example, this spring BYM produced its first publication offering a toolkit for “owning power and privilege.” I hope it will be a step toward living the insights of our faith in our community: that God resides within every person, and that through stillness and solidarity, we can experience true spirit “wherever two or three are gathered.”

We make change

The elder of the meeting where I became a member used to call the New Testament book of James “the Quaker Book.” The writer, who was thought to be Jesus’s brother, is unambiguous in his view:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (2:14–26)

There has been a trend toward categorizing and dividing Friends into activist Quakers and spiritual Quakers. This needs to be quickly nipped in the bud. In a movement for change that inherits the spirit of the early church, such a dichotomy makes no sense at all. Prayerful upholding, financial giving, preparing the meetinghouse, caring for the community, and simply being present are all crucial parts of a movement for change rooted in faith. So too, to suggest that a Friend who engages in activism is somehow less spiritual is way off the mark. There are thousands of progressive organizations working for change. We actively choose to act with our faith community specifically because we want to do so from a place of spiritual connection, in a way that secular campaigning groups ignore or preclude.

All of us are part of a movement for change. And if there’s something Quakers are known for, it’s that we wear it on our sleeves (or perhaps on our bumper stickers and pin badges). Almost half of BYM’s church staff are employed as campaigners and advocates. Making change is part of what we do, as it has been even before the birth of the Quaker movement: when we speak out today against unjust inequalities of power, for wealth redistribution, or for environmental justice, there’s a little bit of the inheritance of the seventeenth-century Diggers and Levellers showing through.

Open for liberation

It’s true that Quakers approach things seriously, but that is not why I am a Quaker. I am a Quaker because at events for teenagers, I experienced a sense of joyful liberation, in contrast to the conformist and sometimes violent culture of the school playground.

In 2014, Ben Pink Dandelion stirred a new wave of conversation with his Swarthmore Lecture “Open for Transformation,” which inspired a still-active Facebook group. I think we can go further though: in making ourselves fully open to the Spirit as experienced in ourselves and our relationships, we can become open for liberation. In stillness, we are able to become open to the liberation of ourselves from the norms and practices which exclude and sow the seeds of discrimination and war. In solidarity with others, we embody the much-loved phrase of George Gorman: “It is in and through all things that we hear God speaking to us. But … it’s in my relationships with people that the deepest religious truths are most vividly disclosed.”

For all that though, Quakers know well that in almost all circumstances, words are secondary to the well-discerned action. I’ve never known that better shown than in the life and witness of the late Scottish peacemaker Helen Steven, whose vibrant presentations at Quaker events made a profound impression on me and many others. As we contemplate culture change, the closing words of her 2005 lecture to yearly meeting seem both relevant and likely to be remembered for a long time:

The important part is the doing, the stepping out in faith. Doing our utmost to the very limit of our being: not to be bound by success, but to hold on to the confidence that the outcome will be picked up by others and the flame continue to burn…and then we have to hand it over, to let go. Let go of the outcome of one’s actions in trust and confidence that they are not in vain and that somewhere in the secret workings of God a change is taking place.

Unexpected as it may seem, this is the point of resurrection.

The post Open for Liberation: A View from Britain appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Tapping a Viral Energy

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:30am

© Robert Henry. Click for full size.

I have been there: no hope, no vision, no sense of purpose, ready to give up. This was also how I felt about Quakers at one time. It is not the way I feel anymore. This revived confidence was sparked in the midst of great challenge and personal weakness. As one who became a Friend after much study and experience in a variety of faith traditions, I realized that Quakers have a great deal to offer our world today, but many are missing out because of a lack of energy. Let me explain.

Quakers across our country have been embroiled in battles over a multitude of issues. The lasting effects cause everything from exhaustion to simply giving up. We all could sit around arguing to get our way or hoping for a better outcome someday, but—let’s be honest—that is not going to get us far.

 

Quakers come from a long history of passionate people who not only argued and hoped but passionately and confidently lived out what they believed. History records them as fearless trailblazers. From women’s rights to the abolition of slavery, they had a clear Quaker voice that made way for change and drew people to be that change. That voice came forth from enthusiastic and willing women and men who went the extra mile and lived against the grain of society. They possessed an energy that is rarely seen in Quakerism today. I would label it a viral energy, one which spreads rapidly through a population by being enthusiastically shared with a number of individuals.

Not only have religious niceties, worldly comforts, overt busy work, and mass consumerism taken a toll on our viral energy, but also many Quakers today find themselves defaulting to religious conformity. What happened to being different, radical, and seeking a truth that can make things happen in the world?

In my lowest moments when I began to give up, I realized my viral energy was starting to wane. As I spoke of looking for “that of God in my neighbor,” I had stopped looking for that of God in myself. I no longer had confidence in the message I had been given, nor did I have the energy to live differently. I had become disconnected, broken, and useless to myself, and thus to Quakerism as well. I was no longer enjoying what had drawn me to the Quaker way in the beginning. The light within had dimmed, and survival had set in. Everything became about arguing positions. Others were treated as enemies, and I lacked personal awareness. Things became rather myopic and all about salvaging me. I no longer possessed a positive viral energy. It was more as if I had a negative virus in my system.

Where was the gathered meeting? Who was discerning with me? What happened to witnessing a life together with my community? That is just it. I was (where I believe much of Quakerism currently is) in bondage. Many Quakers are in bondage to traditions, to the glory days, to a specific experience or set of beliefs, ministry, and leadership. Often, I have found well-meaning Quakers telling stories from 40 to 50 years ago and thinking somehow things will magically change in the present. There is clearly a disconnect. The energy surrounding those stories is not translated into finding new ways to go viral in the present. It’s probably because we chose to tell the same stories for so long that we began worshiping the traditions and the past instead of rendering it for a new generation. This leaves us in bondage to our past, with little hope for going viral in the future.

The darkness of bondage can be overwhelming, but it also can make the light seem much more brilliant. Even though I had hit bottom, I had not been completely destroyed. As I climbed out of my pit of despair, I began to notice my energy increase. I not only rediscovered myself, I began to rediscover my love for the Quaker way. I laid aside the arguing, the reveling in the past, the comforts, and went on a new search for Truth.

 

© Robert Henry

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my journey was very Quaker in nature. Our ancestors found themselves feeling empty within the church of their day and learned to live with viral energy of the foundational virtues of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality.

I realized that if I was to find resurrection, or if Quakerism was to be resurrected, it was first going to take learning to truly live again. My most profound discovery was that Quakerism was not going to change until I did.

Our presence is what will revive Quakerism and break the bondage. When we Quakers awaken to this reality, we start to realize that we are integral to creating a more just, loving, and peaceable world. We are to build healthy communities, not arguing, divisive, proof-seeking, unwelcoming places of fear. Our viral energy should be put into creating spaces where differences are appreciated and where the process of life and living is explored together. When this happens, new stories begin to emerge, new energy flows, the bondage of our past is broken, and the message goes viral in our world.

For several years now, a personal revival has been taking place in my own life. I am seeing young and old being drawn again to Quakerism because new stories, new possibilities, and new people are working together to build the type of community that our ancestors wanted and lived out. I am excited and filled again with a viral energy about what Quakerism has to offer my neighbors and community. It is clear that our world has been desperately crying out for a new way to translate life and find hope. Because I have seen the impact the Quaker way is having in the eyes of youth, college students, and young adults, I have full faith that our future is ripe. These next generations are not in bondage to their past but easily could be if we don’t have a viral energy to embrace hope and possibility for their future.

 

A while back, I was watching the movie Tomorrowland with my youngest son. As I was pondering the future of Quakerism, I could not help but be moved by this quote:

In every moment there is the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.

Could it be that Quakerism has lost its belief of a better future?

I do not believe this. I sense now, more than ever, it is time to do whatever is necessary to lift the bondage, embrace the future, gather the people, and make Quakerism a viable reality with a viral impact in our world again. I strongly believe that it is going to take embracing new ways of coming together, new uses of social media, new teaching methods, new activism, and a new translation of our distinctives for today’s society. We will need to explore all the possibilities, not just those that worked in the past. It is going to take living new stories and inviting others to join us, including people we may not have been comfortable with or whom we have rejected in the past. It is going to take a willingness to get up and go and get out of our boxes and to experience new things. It is time to make Quakerism go viral; it is time to believe again.

The post Tapping a Viral Energy appeared first on Friends Journal.

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