Over on Lorcan's blog, Plain in the City, there is an important post--and a great many comments--about the potential divisiveness about speaking the name "Jesus" and other Christian language used among Quakers.
The more I sat with Lorcan's post and all of the comments, the more I pondered what it is that I may have to say. The more I worked on crafting a comment, the more I felt I wanted to lift up some of my own experience. So here it is.
First of all, what comes across to me is that making our faith public to non-Quakers is one thing, but when we make our faith public to other Friends, we begin to discover that we don't necessarily agree with one another about what Quakerism means or how it might be practiced. Not just worship but all of it: spiritual discernment, testing leadings, mutual accountability, yielding and staying low...
Having lived with and labored over some of these concerns during the past 2-3 years, here is the current understanding I have:
In the end, we all wish to belong, to feel safe. And we all have a drive to protect and nurture what we love.In this case, "what we love" is the experience we know as our Quakerism. And each of us experiences it, practices it, and defines it differently, thereby potentially dividing us.
But it's not just the name Jesus and related Christian theology that potentially divides us. It's also the belief and the unbelief in God that we have that may split the Religious Society once more.
And I would say again, as I labor with Friends, that it is in the loving of Quakerism that we are, in part, united.
Having said that, and because of references within Lorcan's post and related comments about Friends who leave their meetings, let me confess that I am one of those Friends who has been slowly moving away from my own monthly meeting. My movement is largely related to this "united in love, divided by difference" theme.
I wouldn't say that the meeting is divided over Jesus' name. I wouldn't say that use of Jesus' name began to rub me the wrong way as an individual, despite my upbringing. I wouldn't even say that it was the growing visibility of nontheist Friends or the challenges they bring and how we all might labor with one another in seeking the Truth.
[ASIDE: I have to say about the essay linked to "the challenges they bring": for the more God-centered Friend, this essay on "religious skeptics" is worth reading--especially when read without getting "hooked" into debating each point. This essay has opened me unexpectedly... -Liz]My backing away--or heading towards something more fulfilling, depending on how you look at it: the glass half-full or half-empty--is in part a result of one meeting's desire to embrace both a God-based faith-and-practice of Quakerism and a nontheistic faith-and-practice of Quakerism.
Now, I didn't disappear from the monthly meeting just because I recognized my growing dissatisfaction and rising concern. There had been no single precipitating incident within the meeting that I would describe as unpalatable.
Instead, as I became aware of my uneasiness, I sat with the concern, desiring to understand what was getting under my skin. I talked about it with others within and outside of the meeting community. I held my relationship with the meeting in the Light. Eventually I requested a discernment committee to help me understand my relationship to the meeting and to let M&C know that something was amiss for me.
(One of the gifts of this process was that I learned experimentally what is meant by being released or not being released by the Spirit. God had not released me then in my participation in the meeting. I could have left, but I did not feel released.)
It is only in retrospect that I can reframe what was going on during that committee time, which lasted several months. It is only in retrospect that I can see what it was that united those of us on the committee, despite our differences in belief, our differences in how we individually viewed my concern, and our differences in how we felt about the life and direction of the meeting.
What united us was love for our individual experience of Quakerism.True: I still disagree with most Friends about the state of the meeting, and I now see my concern being based in what happens when secular individual freedoms intersect that with traditional Quaker religious practice.
Putting these various pieces together, it seems as though our shared desire as Friends to protect the Quakerism we love is expressed in at least two ways:
Emphasis on the individual experience: "Quakerism is our religion and any of us can believe or not believe what we want. Our shared experience is primarily worship."And still: What unites us as Friends is that individually and corporately, we love our Quakerism and what it provides us. And we will safeguard that which we love.
Emphasis on the corporate experience: "Quakerism is a shared practice of seeking and finding the Light together. Our individual experience is primarily living faithful lives."
Now, two years after that discernment committee was laid down, I have come into greater acceptance that many Friends in the monthly meeting are nourished by the above emphasis on the individual experience of Quakerism; that they grow because they have room to believe or not believe in God.
And yes, I have concerns about a Quakerism that is skewed so heavily toward the individual. It is a spiritual concern that I have carried for a number of months now and have written elsewhere, for example about the slippery nature of our corporate faith.
I don't yet know or understand how to prevent my love of Quakerism from being in conflict with someone else's love of Quakerism. But I still believe in the transformative nature of the Light, however it is defined.
Throughout writing and revising this post, and for a time before this topic was ever lifted up by Lorcan, I have had this story of Solomon recur to me:
Two women come before King Solomon with a baby, each claiming to be the mother. Solomon orders the baby be cut in half. One woman is prepared to accept the decision, but the other begs the king to allow the baby to live and to give the child to the other woman.Blessings,