In recent days, I've begun wondering what the difference is between preserving a thing and conserving a thing. Why do some Friends talk about "conserving Quaker tradition" but few Friends talk about "preserving" it?
I think of jams and preserves all jarred up on grocery store shelves in glass containers; and I thnk of someone who conserves energy by turning off unnecessary lights, biking instead of driving, or following the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle).
Maybe the first is an outward product, wonderful as it is, just sitting there waiting for a consumer, waiting for someone to discover its delight. Maybe the second is more of an inward lifestyle and attitude, something that others can observe and be influenced by; it is about keeping a thing alive and accessible.
Here are a few definitions, from Dictionary.com:
PRESERVEThe two concepts are similar, as evidenced by the first definition of each, but in my thinking, I find I am making a few distinctions as related to Quakerism:
To maintain in safety from injury, peril, or harm; protect.
To keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged.
To keep or maintain intact.
To prepare (food) for future use, as by canning or salting.
To prevent (organic bodies) from decaying or spoiling.
To protect from loss or harm; preserve.
To use carefully or sparingly, avoiding waste.
To keep (a quantity) constant through physical or chemical reactions or evolutionary changes.
1. PRESERVATIVE QUAKERISM, hypothetically speaking: A Quaker set of disciplines, traditions, and beliefs that are captured, suspended, isolated, or practiced in such a way so as to prevent change in the way the faith is praticed or experienced.
I think of the Shakers. After all, the Shakers have a historical connection to Friends. Were they too committed to preserve their way of life, rather than working and practicing to conserve it?
2. CONSERVATIVE QUAKERISM: A Quaker set of disciplines, traditions, and beliefs that are adaptable as circumstances change and as leadings emerge; that promote mindfulness and disciplined action of how the faith is to be integrated, practiced, or, if deemed necessary, discarded.
While there is a genuine branch of Conservative Friends, can't the secular concept of conservation be applied to any branch of Friends or to individual meetings...?
It seems to me that a preservative form of Quakerism may allow us to study and replicate it, but it may die because of its rigidity ("keep in perfect or unaltered condition").
But a conservative form of Quakerism may live on, because the intention is not to preserve it unchanged until the end of time. Ours is to open ourselves to new Light in such a way that we ourselves are changed, that we can be responsive to the events of our day, and that Quakerism itself is not lost--To keep [it] constant through... evolutionary changes."