May 10, 2008

Answering the questions I asked

I'm one of those people who believe that I should not ask a question that I myself would not answer; I should not ask others to do a thing I myself would not do.

In light of the interview I conducted with Brent Bill recently, I thought I'd have a go at interviewing myself, using the same questions that I asked Brent.

And no, I didn't know I was going to write this post at the time that I sent my questions to Brent.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1. What was my first experience when I began to have an inkling about having an inner compass?

I would say I was in 5th or 6th grade, maybe even a year or two younger. I remember that the girls I hung out with on the playground often wanted me to tell them if I liked their dress, if I liked their jewelry, if I liked their new shoes. And because we were all eager to be friends, they would add, "It's okay, you can tell me the truth."

Let's just say that those girls on the playground and I had very different ideas of what "pretty" was. Even though I somehow knew that it would be bad if I answered their questions truthfully (as opposed to tactfully, but what do little girls know about tact?!), I also knew that I didn't want to lie; that somehow lying went against something very deep within me, something without words.

I had very few friends growing up, as you might imagine.

2. What trends have I noticed among contemporary Friends, either towards or away from the understanding of an Inward Teacher? Is there something that seems to move Friends toward a clearer understanding? away from it?

As regular readers of The Good Raised Up know, I am best versed in Liberal Friends and somewhat versed in Conservative Friends. When I think of "contemporary Friends," it's these two groups I consider and speak of.

I've noticed two trends. One is a renewed interest among some Friends, regardless of age or length of time connected with Quakerism, to understand more fully the depth and breadth of our faith tradition.

I have observed Friends asking one another what certain traditional words or phrases mean, everything from "What's a leading?" to "What does 'obedience' mean?" I've also seen a few more Friends begin wrestling within meeting when things get dicey, rather than just disappearing and going elsewhere. I think some of the blogs have lent themselves to this renewal, curiosity, and hunger as well. And a good deal of these Friends seem to able to "fall into worship" and wait for movement of the Spirit if they are having difficulty.

The other trend is towards "More of the same," which includes giving more weight to individual preferences and "good thoughts" as compared to giving more weight to Spirit-led, corporate discernment.

I encounter this attitude among many long-time Liberal Friends who seem to have unknowingly, unintentionally attached their personal sense of who they are as Friends to some institution, committee, or event. If someone younger or newer to the meeting or to Quakerism feels a prompt and suggests that things may be done differently, a number of these older Friends dig in their heels or shake their heads and say, "This isn't how we've done it; I don't think we should do things differently now," almost as if some are saying, "I've been a Quaker for so-many-years, and new openings or leadings have no place here without my consent"; or this: "We've never looked to Quaker history to help us in the past, so why should we start now? Early Quakerism is dead, so how could it help us, the living?"

Being complacent about spiritual growth and turning our backs on our history creates a barrier between us and the Inward Teacher. Being loving and compassionate towards one another, and affirming that each of us has the ability to shed new Light on a situation invites the Inward Teacher in, and we demonstrate a greater willingness to be Taught.

3. What is one thing I am afraid or hesitant to tell other Quakers about myself?

Right now, I would say that one of the things I'm hesitant to tell my meeting about myself is how sad I feel that those who seem to know me best are not Friends at the monthly meeting, with whom I worship once a week, but rather fellow bloggers--Friends who I don't worship with in any regular way and who I don't see but once a year, if that.

Contrary to what some non-blogging Friends may believe, there have been many heartfelt, authentic, deep, and respectful exchanges online that have in turn led to rich and lasting friendships.

I cannot quite put my finger on why I feel known by many Quaker bloggers, particularly the earliest ones, and why I feel less known by Friends in my monthly and yearly meeting. Some of it has to do with feeling as though I am being received with joy, or at least curiosity, when I write a post or when I show up at a gathering of some sort. Some of it has to do with a feeling of mutuality: that I feel as though I know the other person as well as she or he seems to know me.

I think a large part of it, though, has to do with having a shared understanding of what a vigorous and vibrant Quakerism is and then a willingness to engage in it, inviting one another to do the same.

...Why is it that bloggers seem less afraid of words like discipline, obedience, faithfulness, eldering, and minister than do the Friends with whom I worship?

4. Given how much the secular world has crept into our Quaker faith--attending to busy schedules; watching the clock towards the "end" of Meeting for Worship; individualism; etc.--what two or three things of Quakerism might I wish would creep into the secular world?

Sometimes I wish that more of our political leaders and more "everyday Americans" would be comfortable with paradox... or at least be more willing to be in the creative tension of paradox for a little while longer than we currently are. Maybe that would make us more slow to take up arms; more hesitant to leave our partners when times get dicey; more deliberate in slowing ourselves down when our impulses start to "drive the bus."

I also wonder what our society would be like if we spent less time talking, persuading, berating, dictating, indoctrinating... and spent more time listening, observing, tending, nurturing...

5. I was raised in a Jewish household and am only recently beginning to appreciate Scripture and its place in contemporary Quakerism.

Recently I've begun wondering if there are certain stories or passages in the Torah, the "first five books," that Quakers draw on for teachings--aside from "Love thy neighbor" and "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength..." (Deuteronomy 6:5)

It seems as if Quakers don't draw on the Old Testament in anywhere near the same proportion as we do with the New Testament, yet Jesus was Jewish. I'm finding I want to hear from Quakers who are better versed than I in Scripture as to what elements of the Old Testament do Friends look to for guidance; and is there a reason we don't hear many Friends quote these [Hebrew] texts? (...or am I just worshiping in the wrong meeting?)

Now this is a question I truly can't answer fully! For one thing, it's such a new question for myself that I've hardly had time to consider it.

Off the top of my head then, I might conjecture a few things:

1. Is it easier for us, as pacifists, to find a good many more teachings about nonviolence in the life of Jesus and in the Gospels than it is to find similar teachings in the Hebrew texts?

2. Is it that the Hebrew texts, which are three to four times as long as the Christian ones, are harder to plow through because of their length? Also, do the details of who begat whom and the 613 commandments distract us from the meaty stories of Noah, Moses, and Esther?

3. Is it that the many worshipers who find their way to Quakerism come from a Christian background and in their own religious upbringing, were exposed primarily to the New Testament...?

So my question remains:

If Jesus was Jewish, and if two of the primary commandments of Christianity--"Love the Lord your God..." and "Love your neighbor as yourself"--come from the Jewish texts, why do Quakers seem to pay so little attention to the much larger portion of Scripture, the Scripture that Jesus himself presumably drew on?


Anonymous said...

Liz, I really appreciated this posting, not least because it helped me get to know you a little better. I also liked very much what you had to say in your answers!

As regards your last question, the answer is complicated. One part is that, in fact, early Friends quoted all the "Hebrew" texts (they're not all in Hebrew, you know) a great deal. You can find a fairly significant percentage of the entire Hebrew Bible quoted, a bit here and a bit there, in George Fox's works alone, and a number of the other early Friends weren't far behind. Samuel Fisher, another prominent first-generation Friend, was one of the genuine pioneers of modern Old Testament textual analysis. Not all of that has gone away, even now: many modern Friends (the better-educated ones) continue to quote the prophets and psalms quite a bit, and there are still many Friends in the Conservative and pastoral branches of Quakerism who do daily Bible study and include the Old Testament alongside the New in their studies. There are Friends who can recite all the names of all the kings of Israel and Judah right off the tops of their heads! (As an aside: have you ever attended the daily morning Bible studies at Iowa [Conservative]?)

Another part of the answer to your question goes in a whole different direction. Christians believe that the rule of the ceremonial & ritual portion of the Mosaic Law (the Law set out in the Torah) came to an end with the death of Christ, replaced with the rule of the Spirit. The crucial turning point, in this development, is described in Luke's book of the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 10:9-11:18, in which the rejection of the ceremonial requirements is directly tied to the acceptance of the non-Jewish nations ("the Gentiles") into the new Church. Paul then takes up the issue in his letter to the Christians in Rome, Romans 2:12-28 — and you will note that the final verse in this passage is the one that Margaret Fell says George Fox began with, in the sermon wherewith she was converted.

The Friends have always had a much better grasp of what this all means than any other branch of Christianity. Ultimately, it's the principle that Christ was pointing to in the middle section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48): the principle that every rule of religion should be taken, not in a mechanical or literal sense, but as a summons to strive toward the greater perfection that the rule only begins to start to point to. Thus, Christ challenges us in his Sermon on the Mount, not just to refrain from murder, but to learn not even to be angry, and to practice complete reconciliation. He challenges us not just to refrain from doing more harm to our assailants than than our assailants have done to us, but to learn not to do anything whatsoever harmful to our assailants; in fact, we are not to resist our assailants at all, but instead, to return good for evil. Friends saw that this same principle should be applied not only to the specific issues Christ mentions in the Sermon on the Mount, but also, in the Spirit of Christ (and I mean that phrase very literally!) to all the issues Christ doesn't mention there. Thus: don't baptize with water, but baptize with the reality that water merely suggests. Don't just act out a communion with God, waving chalices of wine and plates of bread around, but actually commune. And so on.

In fairness, all of this was anticipated by the prophets (in a sketchy way) at I Samuel 15:22, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, Jeremiah 7:21-23, and Isaiah 58:1-9, texts which Friends have quoted a great deal. And the prophets predicted that the time would come when this way of life would replace the way of living by ceremonies and rituals — viz. Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Isaiah 54:13-14, which again are texts that Friends quote a lot. Moreover, it is hinted at in texts that predate even the prophets: Genesis 6:9 and 17:1-2, for example, which describe people who lived before the ceremonial Law was ever given and says that they were just all the same. And it is hinted at in the Torah itself, in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. So it is not as if the understanding of Friends is at odds with the Hebrew scriptures; it's just that Quakerism emphasizes a side of the Hebrew scriptures that Orthodox Judaism does not.

I suspect you may already be thinking to yourself that none of this explains why liberal unprogrammed Friends hardly quote the Old Testament at all. But that is of a piece with the reason why liberal unprogrammed Friends hardly quote the New Testament at all, either. Too many liberal unprogrammed Friends come to their religion thinking that they already know the Truth and therefore don't need to learn anything about it. Alas, the technical word for people with that attitude is "ignoramus".

Anonymous said...

Liz, I to want to thank you for your blogging. I often read and cherish your blogs even if I don't often comment. They are very often insightful and deeply thought provoking.

Your answer to #3 interests me. Are we, your blogging public, seeing a face of you that your meeting isn't? I feel as though I know you better than our half hour meeting justifies, because of reading your blogs. I see you open your self up and become very vulnerable and probing. I feel that I know you on a deeper level than most in my meeting.

Friend Massey's comment I find, as a liberal unprogrammed Quaker, stinging and uncalled for. I came to quakers as a seeker and found God. God is not hiding in the bible, waiting for me to read the right combination of verses. The proof of my faith is not in memorizing the bible (old or new testament), it is how I live it.

It's obvious that Mr Massey is very proud of his "learning". I also can see that he has never found the joy of being low.



Kiara said...


i think it makes sense that you feel bloggers know more of you or different you than people from the meeting.

this is a different medium. it isn't constrained by time. people can respond when they are ready. they can look back over past conversations.

in some ways the high speed of technology helps slow things down and allow a community that may often feel more connected than that of the meeting.

Anonymous said...

Liz--I want to thank you for this personal post. Face-to-face interaction is so much more complicated (the girls in the schoolyard LOL) than internet interaction. So without the filters of society, we can sometimes show more of ourselves that we would do in real life. (And yet, who's to say this isn't real?)

When you said this.... "I encounter this attitude among many long-time Liberal Friends who seem to have unknowingly, unintentionally attached their personal sense of who they are as Friends to some institution, committee, or event." first thought was that my own Quaker identity of almost 30 years seems to be unattached to those things. I believe in community and do my part, but the core of my spiritual being is an at-large one. I suppose this is why a liberal unprogrammed Friend like me would chose, when she moved to a new city, to attend a pastoral Meeting. I was looking for a theologically open place, and that's where I found it.

My experiences in life have taught me that community isn't the property one certain kind of spiritual expression over another--it's more often than not, the coming together of people than of ideas. I've had great community in inter-faith settings as well as among Friends.

However, I do feel that history is important. But I don't feel that it's more important than being with each other as an on-going basis.

And further, sometimes history can lead to change that we might not suspect. Some things that we Friends have historically said or done have outlived their usefulness and exist now more as "distinctives" than as real social statements. I'm not sure how deeply I feel about this, but it has crossed my mind that if we are letting our lives speak, we don't need to rely on certain distinctives as much--especially the ones that create a barrier between us and seekers.

Anyway, getting off topic, here. Thanks for this post. :)
I also feel that Mr. Massey may have wounded with his last paragraph as it seems to be an over-generalization. I cannot believe that he knows the hearts of enough liberal unprogrammed Friends to make such a sweeping statement.

However, apparentley some people have behaved in a way that allows him to hold his view, and I hope these people will find enough Light to temper their attitudes and behavior.


Liz Opp said...

Thanks to the Friends who have taken the time to comment.

Marshall -

I felt pretty certain you'd reply to my last question, about referencing Scripture, though I still question if Friends in general make a good many more connections to the New Testament today than to the Old Testament.

And no, I haven't made it to the early morning Bible study that occurs at Iowa Conservative's annual sessions... though I feel I am listening with better attuned ears at the start of evening collections and at the beginning of each sessions in which business is addressed, when a passage from Scripture might be lifted up.

As to the comment about whether or not "too many liberal unprogrammed Friends come to their religion thinking they already know the Truth...," I know you have experience traveling among Friends, including the walk you did a few years ago. And I know you as a person who doesn't say or write things unthinkingly.

My own assessment is that it appears that a majority of seekers who come to liberal, unprogrammed Friends have also been hurt by how they have been exposed to religion, Scripture, ritual, even black-and-white thinking--and so these seekers have simply swung the pendulum so very far in the opposite direction, to idolizing the apparent lack of Scripture and lack of explicit disciplines to draw us deeper into our faith and closer to God.

But that is very different from Friends who think they "already know the Truth."

I also know that not everyone who reads your comment here will have met you or spoken with you in person as I have... And yet, like them, I am caught off-guard by the word "ignoramus"--unless you mean by the "technical" part of it, that a number of Friends seem to "ignore" Scripture...?

Using the word "ignoramus" certainly gets my attention--but it's unlike you to use language for, shall I say, dramatic negativity; and further, in my experience, it's not like you to belittle those who share in the desire to be faithful to the Spirit, no matter how different our approaches are to live into that desire.

So what gives?

What do you mean by "ignoramus"? And how do you, yourself, reconcile writing what are some very harsh judgments about a faith tradition that preaches loving thy neighbor (to quote Scripture)...?

I suspect you have something to say about your word choice, and I am always concerned when I and others online read something on The Good Raised Up that could easily be construed as inflammatory, rather than as being seen as helping "the good" to be "raised up" in one another.

Glenn -

Regarding what the meeting versus the blogging community sees of me: I keep coming back to the concept of being ready to hear and listen for the Truth in what is being said.

...It is as if, in general, the blogosphere is more receptive of what I share than what happens at the home meeting, but then again, bloggers (and lurkers) can select what to read and when to read it. Except for Friends who wear hearing aids, Friends in the meeting community cannot "select" when to listen to ministry, but they do have the choice as to whether they "receive" it.

And as an aside, I often think of our conversation in Wisconsin, if indeed you are THAT Glenn. You were very generous with your time, as I recall, and I hope I reciprocated, despite the busyness of the day. smile

Kiara -

Nice to see you here again... I will say that the "feel" I have for the early Meeting for Worship is rather different from the "feel" I have for the later worship--and that goes hand in hand with how "known" I feel between the two groups, which in turn is connected to how "receptive" Friends are.

At least, that's my current theory.

cath -

In terms of the role and place of things like community, history, Scripture, etc., I think this is where I lean a bit to Conservative Friends: as I understand it, they are slow to put leadings and ideas over community, community over history, Scripture over community, or what-have-you.

It seems to me that the Conservative Friends I have met (from Iowa and from North Carolina) strive to have these things in careful balance and strive to live into the creative tension between these things.

Many Liberal Friends--myself included--seem to fall into the trap of "selecting" one thing over another: community is more important than history; history is more important than Scripture; etc.

And finally -

I want to comment on the use of the title "Mister" (or "Miss" or "Madam" or...).

Ever since I learned that Friends do not use titles, I have taken that learning to heart:

I find that a sort of separation rises up in me when I use such titles; but when I see a person who has said or written a hurtful thing, and when I challenge myself to think of this person as a brother or sister, not a Mister or a Missus, I am changed inwardly in my understanding of how I am to relate to the person.

Thanks as always for reading me.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Liz!

Many thanks for crediting me with speaking out of some background of experience, and with not speaking unthinkingly. I appreciate this.

Yes, I do have some experience traveling among Friends. I've been a presenter of one sort or another at six FGC yearly meetings, three summer FGC Gatherings, two independent "Beanite" yearly meetings and one Conservative yearly meeting. I've also visited and participated in one other Conservative yearly meeting and one FUM/EFI yearly meeting, and numerous local Friends communities in four other FGC yearly meetings, three other FUM yearly meetings, and one other independent "Beanite" yearly meeting.

At these places, as also on the Web, I've tried my utmost to do all the careful listening to Friends of every stripe that I possibly could. I have no idea how many Friends I have heard opening up their hearts about their personal understanding and practice of Quakerism, but it's been quite a lot — certainly in the hundreds.

I make no claim to omniscience or infallibility.

I would ask you to note that the sentence in which the word "ignoramus" appeared, began with the word "alas". I don't know how you yourself use that word, but I myself use it to express dismay over a situation. I was not, therefore, speaking as someone hostile to the specific people I was talking about; I was expressing dismay that the situation is now one in which this label can be applied to all too many Friends with real justification. A situation in which so many of us can be fittingly labeled this way, is not good for the continued health and prosperity of our Society. It greatly hurts our ability to explain our Society's message to the 55% of the U.S. populace that is Bible-believing and needs to understand why what we have to say is not a falling-away from the message of the Bible.

You ask what I mean by the technical meaning of "ignoramus". "Ignoramus" began as a legal term. Literally, it is the Latin word meaning "we do not know". It was the verdict brought in by a grand jury that says, the prosecution has not presented enough evidence to make a verdict of guilty even possible, let alone likely: the foreman of the grand jury would take the written bill of indictment and scrawl "ignoramus" across it, as a shorthand for "we don't know enough, from what you've shown us, to justify your taking this to court". When the grand jury said this, it was back to the drawing board for the prosecution: they couldn't take the case to court, and actually prosecute the person they were after, unless they could somehow find more evidence and then convene a new grand jury to review the case afresh. So a verdict of "ignoramus" was a real setback for the prosecution.

The problem is that such claims of "we don't know" are not always righteous. Often enough, a grand jury hostile to the prosecution's agenda would write "ignoramus" on the bill when it seemed pretty darn obvious that the truth was "we choose not to know what you are trying to show us". And that is the technical meaning with which the word entered the English language, back in the early 1680s after a London grand jury rather famously blocked Charles II's attempt to prosecute one of his key ministers for treason with a verdict of "ignoramus" — as a description of someone who has access to the information he needs, but chooses not to learn it. An ignoramus is not stupid, not an idiot; he's a dunce, a person who flunks the tests he is given because he chooses not to study.

Alas, such things may be fairly said of those who understand that their faith is important, and who have access to the information by which that faith will be weighed in the minds of others, and who choose not to know, not to learn it. And since such things may be fairly said, you may count on them being said. The word "ignoramus" may not always be the specific word chosen, but the essential criticism will be as I've described. Indeed, I have already heard such criticism repeatedly, expressed in tones of real exasperation, among Bible-oriented folks who've tried to have productive religious conversations with Friends of the type to which I refer.

No, I am not going to name names of specific Friends who have displayed the attitude I am describing here. Pointing fingers at specific people would not be loving. But openly criticizing the phenomenon is not forbidden by our faith. Quaker ministry has historically been full of very explicit criticisms of practices and subgroups of people that hinder our Society's message to the world. (Our disciplines are still to this day full of advices to study the Bible.) George Fox repeatedly criticized those who didn't bother to see what the Bible says — and in very stinging terms, sometimes. Christ himself, on at least one occasion, did not hesitate to advise his opponents, "Go read the scriptures; they will point you to me." (John 5:39)

All the best,

David Carl said...

Hi Liz,

With regard to your being known better by bloggers than members of your own meeting, I'd like to relate something that has occurred in my home meeting. We established a Yahoo Group for our meeting for online discussions. This (for the most part!) has proven a real blessing to our meeting. We have gotten to know each other better and have had several "second hour" programs grow out of our discussions. So in a sense, its created the "best of both worlds" -- the sort of "online intimacy" you've experienced along with the personal contact. Just a thought!


David Carl

Liz Opp said...

Marshall -

Thanks so much for going more into detail about the original use of the word "ignoramus." It helps me understand your application of it in reference to any member of a faith tradition "who have access to the information by which that faith will be weighed in the minds of others, and who choose not to know, not to learn it."

I know I myself too readily dismiss reading Scripture and Quaker history--or Christian history, for that matter!--and therefore I really don't know what I don't know.

David Carl -

Hi again, David! Thanks for sharing news of the experiment your meeting carried out with a Yahoo group... I wonder what the age-span and size of your meeting is, since the monthly meeting here is made up of 200 households and has three separate Meetings for Worship.

I know one Friend in the meeting did his part to establish some online opportunities for conversation, but it never got very active. Maybe because it was behind a password-protected page; maybe because people are too busy; maybe because the meeting already provides a fair dose of electronic communication on a weekly basis.

Still, I'm glad to know there have been some fruits that have come out of the use of the internet by your meeting.


Unknown said...

Stuff that inspired me in the Old Testament: God as liberator from slavery. Care for the sojourner among you. "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everliving stream." The passage in Isaiah about God not wanting the fast where you simply bow down and humble yourself, but the one that looses the bonds of the poor. God proving more merciful than his prophet, Jonah.

Just a few passages that I remember off the top of my head. There are more.

David Carl said...

Hi Liz,

I attempted to post in response to your questions yesterday but don't see it here -- please excuse any duplication! We're a much smaller meeting than yours, about 50 on our list but maybe an average attendance of 20-25 on First Day mornings. Our ages tilt heavily to the 45+ range, with several blessed exceptions!

As we update our website it looks like we may go to online forums in place of the listserv. Take care,

David C.