A guest piece by Paul Kelly, used with permission.
We left our episcopal parish this past spring when ... the politics of the parish had become a constant subterranean distraction, and had deepened to differences over "biblical authority." Worship there wasn't working for us anymore, though we still love many of the people, the sincerity of faith, music. Many good memories. I don't regret the 7 year exposure to more traditional Christian preaching, teaching, and spirituality. But to make a long story short, we seem to be back among Friends.
The following piece originally appeared in The Good Raised Up as a comment in response to an earlier post. Although I don't consider myself Christian, I appreciate the observations that Paul Kelly makes about how Friends talk about the Christian message, Jesus, etc. –Liz
Thinking about some of the themes in the conversation about "convergence"... A couple of Gordon College students came to meeting Sunday on assignment, and a small group was giving them the run-down on Quakerism. I was struck by how quickly Friends turn to their history to describe themselves, even if they don't know their history very well. It struck me that one problem with this tendency is that it can make it harder to see Friends' history clearly--history becomes too freighted if it becomes the terms in which we describe who we are now.
One participant offered that Friends were more concerned with the teachings OF Jesus than the teachings ABOUT Jesus. I'd heard this before--actually from the grown daughter of an Indiana Yearly Meeting pastor describing her father's approach. But I was uncomfortable here, too. On the one hand, early Friends did have strong teachings ABOUT Christ Jesus as light, seed, truth, come to teach his people himself. On the other hand, there can be long stretches of time when what makes sense to me (or what I want to challenge myself with) are some of the teachings OF Jesus. But I realized afterward that what made me uneasy was the implicit stake in denying (or at least setting safely aside) a big part of the traditional gospel. Whether or not I can affirm Jesus as Teacher and Lord--and whether or not I expect others to affirm--I want it all available.
My younger daughter and I attended the annual retreat of the small meeting we are attending. An old woman (she would prefer "old" to "older") born in Germany, lived through Hitler, is an important quiet (sometimes sleeping) elder in the meeting. Her love and faith are very real, and she faces the debilities of age with enormous appreciation for the many good, active years she has enjoyed. But she is one who would rather not even use the word "God." "Life" works for her, and she needed Quakers' non-creedal space to free her natural reverence into something to cherish and share with others. Well, "life" works and doesn't work for me. "God" carries other meanings that somehow go beyond life as shown on this planet, and sometimes I need that beyond in order to maintain faith here. But I have no desire to tell her she is missing the boat or "hiding from the summons of the cross." Fact is, I'm not that sort of evangelical. I am deeply grateful that she is available to the meeting, to me, to my daughters--and she will give her own testimony. Is it too much to want the gospel, the NT, the Hebrew tradition, the history of the church, Quaker history, Ghandi, Buddha, sentimental French moral tales of the 19th century, and you and I today all available as we seek, a la Paul, to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good? Is Jesus too much totalitarian fire in a bottle to be held that way? Always a question for me. But I find from experience that I either hold it lightly or not at all.
I was thinking the ideal response to an inquirer would not be a disquisition on Quaker history, practices or beliefs, but, as Jesus once said, "Come and see."