April 4, 2007

The internet, Quakerism, and me

The following post is in fact the text of a reply I left in response to a question raised by an anonymous commenter. The comments originally appeared in a post about unraveling the myths of Convergent Quakerism. --Liz

"If the internet is not a place for Friends to engage in a Spirit-centered process, then how can it influence our Quaker process in any effective way if spirit-centered process is the most important part of the Meeting...?" --Anonymous

I will speak about my own experience with how the internet has influenced my Quakerism and my involvement in Quaker process. Perhaps others will share their own reflections on your question.

First, as I understand it, Quaker process--both of worship and of decision-making--is grounded in corporate discernment--that is, a group of Friends come together, intentionally listening for God's instruction on the way forward, regarding a particular concern or item.

So when I read Quaker blogs, I am not coming to engage in worship or in decision-making. But God still may speak to me through what I read, just as the words of George Fox's epistles most likely spoke to Friends and seekers of his day. And clearly his epistles, and the Light that comes through the words on the page, still speak to us in modern times.

So early on, as I began to get involved in the internet (email and blogs), I began to think of Quaker blogs as a vehicle for electronic epistles--not always, but on occasion.

But even Fox's epistles were not worship in-and-of themselves; they did not engage the Quaker decision-making process over a specific item either. But they answered that of God that had been residing in the hearts of Fox's readers...

When I am impacted by what I read, when the Light finds its way into my heart so that I might soften and understand the manner of Love that I am newly called to, I am changed; my own manners are converted.

And when I am changed, how I participate in the world and in my Quaker meeting is also changed. God does not wait only for us to arrive at MfW in order to change us in that weekly hour!

We are available to God's Love at any moment; we are capable of being transformed at even the least expected time!

That "least expected time" might well be while a new seeker is doing a Google search for Quakers; or while an experienced Friend is reading a series of blog posts of how God has moved through the lives of a number of adult young Friends...

That said, if the computer were to get in my way of hearing God--as television had been doing in my life a few years ago--I would in fact leave the computer as I have left the television.

It is very much why I do not travel with the computer when I attend Quaker events out of town.

Thanks for giving me a chance to articulate these things. It's questions and observations like yours that can grow me and make me reconsider...



Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz,
Going back to the original quote, I see there was a bit more to it that suggests it was coming from a spirit of crankiness (it has something of the feel of a drive-by heckler at a political protests). If I had been in a real life conversation with that person, say in a meal line of a Quaker gathering, I would have tried to draw them out and understand where their annoyance came from, knowing that a straight-on defense was impossible and inappropriate in the situation.

If this had been a meal-line chat and the Friend did seem open to discussing the issue, I would have pointed out that the great majority of bloggers are indeed involved in an almost-overwhelming variety of real-world Quaker activities. If they seemed open to a "big picture" discussion I would have reminded them that process is not what we worship and not really the end goal of Quaker community, and I might have suggested that the Convergent Friends phenomenon has been an exercise of other types of much-needed Quaker muscles.

This is a reminder that when we identify as something--whether it be "blogger," "Convergent Friend"--etc., our terms will invariably be misunderstood and misconstrued at times. We'll need to find that place of patience inside us when someone yells for us to turn off the computer.
Martin @ Quaker Ranter

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Martin.

At first, I interpreted the original comment to be "cranky" as well. When I found my initial reply (which I later scrapped) was equally cranky, I recognized I wasn't responding in the spirit of Love. I decided to give Anonymous the benefit of the doubt--what if she or he really has been wrestling with the place of the internet in her or his Quaker life...?

Like you, I imagine my reply would have been very different had this question come up over a face-to-face meal or in a workshop or standing in line at a Quaker event. Such as it is, I can't change how the question was presented to me; I can only change how I interpret the question and how I respond to it.

I also resonate strongly with your "reminder" that "our terms will invariably be misunderstood and misconstrued at times."

Especially as the Quakersphere continues to expand and more questions are raised about the term "Convergent," there's bound to be more confusion--and more opportunity to let our lives preach.


Anonymous said...

Liz -