August 17, 2008

Beyond (the language of) Quakerism 101

For two or three years now, I've been wondering what a "beyond Quakerism 101" course might look like. What topics would be covered? What readings would be recommended?

But before I address that, I'm acutely aware of the growing attention being given to social class and classism within the Religious Society of Friends.

Even in the past few days, Jeanne again has raised the class issue in relation to how we speak about adult religious education for ourselves. In particular, she asks how the language of college and graduate studies may come across to those among us--or those who might come among us--who perhaps don't value education as a goal for achievement in and of itself.

While Friends continue the Quakers-and-class discussion, I do want to share thoughts about, and seek input for, what "Part 2" of our continued learning about Quakerism might look like, assuming we've already learned about the nature of why and how we worship, why and how we conduct business, the history and sequence of the schisms in our 350 years, and so on.

Endangered practices

I find I keep coming back to what I think of as practices and concepts that I would place on the "endangered" list for modern Liberal Quakers.

I'm aware that some of the topics I've included below might surprise some Friends, but given questions and comments I have heard in recent years as I've visited different meetings, I think there's a place to include them and/or review them...

The corporate nature of our faith
Sense of the meeting
Testing a leading
Coming under the weight of the Cross
Interrelationship between committees, Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, and the meeting as a whole
Spiritual development among Friends (e.g. from finding comfort in the silence... to being challenged or "exercised"... to yielding to God's will...?)
Role and place of Scripture*
Role and place of Jesus and/or Christ*
What gave rise to the historic Testimonies
Truth based on experience (as opposed to individual belief or ideas)
Gospel Order
Centrality of Meeting for Worship
Centrality of and qualities of the Inner Light/Inward Christ
What other topics would you add?

What topics would you give the most "air time" for?


*Added after original post.


Anonymous said...

Liz--the link in your comments on Jeanne's blog didn't work for me--or rather, it worked to take me to a page telling me that this post didn't exist. ;)

Anyway, I would put a bullet point next to "sense of the Meeting" since I have been in too many committee meetings and etc. where a suggestion is proposed and everyone says "approved" and then the agenda moves on.

One the other side of that coin, I was once at a Meeting where someone stood up and pleaded for a break to eat after several hours.

How do we find a way to open up space for the Spirit to move among us if we are watching the clock or dragging ourselves beyond the point our blood sugar can sustain?

Part of my thinking is that a good clerk is like gold, but I don't feel comfortable leaving everything on the clerk's shoulders. The clerk doesn't run the Meeting (whichever type of Meeting it is); the Clerk helps all of us to find our way to the sense of the Meeting. We have to do our part, which for me is taking time to let the Spirit gather us and then speak.


Martin Kelley said...

I've never been terribly comfortable with the whole workshop model. How did the process of passing on Quakerism come to look like a graduate level class, with professor-like experts in front, honoraria, etc. And how did this one model get so ubiquitous?

My hunch is that we'd be better off with continual education--time before every worship where we read and process something explicitly from the Quaker tradition. Once upon a time new Friends just picked up the habits & customs by osmosis but it's never been a fool-proof process, as it's easy for succeeding generations to become more attuned to the idiosyncrasies than the core of the faith. We have to find ways to make learning and deepening our faith part of our regular spiritual life, as individuals and as a group.

So Liz: how do you do this in the worship group? It seems like the new worship groups springing up all over are looking for more involvement than the hour a week Quakerism (or the three hour a business meeting Quakerism). Is some sort of education part of the worship group process?
Martin @ Quaker Ranter

Hystery said...

Our "Quakerism 101" didn't seem much like a class at all- maybe more like a discussion group or even a CR group.
There were a few tear and even more laughter and lots of long, silent spaces as people considered one another's words. Seems like that model could be used to explore the list of topics Liz has suggested.

I was sad when the "classes" ended abruptly as if we were somehow finished with that important and loving conversation with each other. I would advocate a running dialog among Friends as an important part of fellowship. I also suggest that we stop using the college class metaphor as if the knowledge we share and build together is a static thing that can be "mastered." I'm an academic but I'm not sure I like the idea of "advanced" Quaker studies in this context. It seems immodest somehow. We can value gifts of expertise and experience but how can any of us become masters of discipleship and continuing revelation?

Anonymous said...

Interwoven among many of the things you list would, I expect, be TRUST--and this is something our meeting seems to struggle with over and that a specific committee is the right one to do a particular task, trust that a person is living up to the light that they have been shown, trust that the meeting is where it must be on a particular issue. I don't know if it fits as its own specific item, but for us, it seems to filter in through a number of the items you list.

Thanks for this.


Liz Opp said...

To all of you who have commented--

I had hoped to respond to your comments fairly readily, but Way has not opened for me to do so. I will have to wait until next week, it seems.

Thanks for your patience; I didn't want you think I had fallen into a black hole in the meantime...


Anonymous said...

I have heard of Meetings that have First Day school before Meeting for Worship every First Day - both for adults and for children. I'm pretty certain that the adults and children were separate. Then everyone would be together for worship - no "15 minutes and the children leave" scenario.

While there are surely several concerns about this approach it feels to me like the direction to head in to address the sense that the "class" is short term (6 sessions for Quakerism 101 as structured by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) and that the topics are in any way finite.

It also provides a setting for a Meeting's Ministry and Counsel committee to address any concerns about the spiritual health of the Meeting being affected by misunderstandings (or, depending on perspectives, resistance to dogma/hidebound tradition).

It seems that it would allow the whole community to develop better understanding of each other's spiritual paths and therefore develop the trust that is critical for deep searching and deep worship as a group.

I think it may also remove the possibility that a college class structure contains classism. Unlike Q101, I would envision less of a "sign-up, commit to a schedule, and buy your books" setting as we have done it in my Meeting. Actually, I would envision none of that.

-David P

RichardM said...


This is a good list. I'd suggest keeping the list for your personal use and not dropping it on anyone as it might be a bit overwhelming. Instead, keep the list in your head and as Way opens raise one of the topics on the list.

One topic that is part of the tradition and is not part of the liberal perspective is sin. The very mention of the word is apt to drive people up the walls and get them to say things like "I don't even know what the word means!" (To which I am tempted to reply: "So you never watch TV?") Since the word is so "hot-button" I generally avoid it but the concept itself is essential. Liberals are comfortable with the positive side of all this. They like terms like "growth" or "transformation" but shy away from the logical underpinning of this, viz., there is no need or value in growth or transformation unless we stand in need of it. This is a truth that is a hard one for the modern mind to accept. We have a beam in our eye and we only see the mote in our neighbor's. And we cannot see, let alone remove, the beam in our eye without help in the form of God's transforming power.

Anonymous said...

Did you mention Jesus, Liz? He was the cause of our movement, now known as the Religious Society of Friends? Could we not go back and discover the roots of our faith community in his life, sayings and teaching?

anj said...

Liz - I find your list sad. Those practices and concepts you list as endangered are a lot of those that led to my 'convincement' that Friends way was my spiritual path too. This happened in a liberal meeting no less.

Our meeting has started a Quaker breakfast forum, once a month before MFW, to sit with traditional Quaker practices. So far we have explored clearness, holding in the Light,and our next topic is sense of the meeting.

We chose to do this instead of a Quakerism 101. And we chose to explore traditional Quaker practices because we have so many, myself included, who are new to Friends.

I would say our meetings are based on each sharing "What canst thou say?" about their experience with the topic at hand. I have learned much about Friends ways and F/friends journeys and F/friends souls.

And I am wondering now, Mia, if that is not part of what helps deepen trust? For me, I think that knowing of another in Truth is necessary.

David Korfhage said...

Reading the comments on the problems with the whole idea of 'Quakerism 101' reminded me of a quote I read recently, a description of spiritual practices among early Friends (I mean very early Friends, like right after George Fox first came through): "On the first day of the week it was the manner of some of us to go to some town where were friendly people and there sit together, and sometimes confer one with another of the dealings of the Lord with us." Somewhat like worship sharing, perhaps. Rather than studying Quakerism, reading up on other Friends' experiences, they listened for their Inward Teacher and sought to have their own, experiential Quakerism. It's an appealing image to me, those little groups of early Friends, meeting to discuss their spiritual progress and experiences, rather than the common sorts of chatty stuff that is often the subject of after-meeting conversations. Not that I'm so good about having those sorts of weightier conversations after meeting.


Paul said...

In a recent blog, I shared with a friend Quakerism for me is
a form orthopraxy particularly
in the liberal tradition.
Our Unity is in our practice- worship the spiritual Eucharist-heavenly supper
not a creed!
Holy Silence by J Brent Bill.
( my fourth reading great book!)
His thesis is, communion with the Spirit in silent worship it the core of the Quaker experience.
He says about Quaker Worship and Holy Silence,“ The only thing I can compare it to is the Catholic belief that in the “celebration of Mass. . .Christ is really pres- ent through Holy Communion to the assembly gathered in his name.” It is the same way with silence for Quakers. Friends believe that Christ is actually present — except we Friends have no host to elevate or priest to preside. Rather, we believe that when our hearts, minds, and souls are still, and we wait expectantly in holy silence, that the presence of Christ comes among us.‘’

Friend Bill speaks my mind!

I also love this because it puts Quakers in a relationship with other sacramental Christians

On a sad note many hearts,minds, and souls are not still.
Racism and yes Classism,in our Meetings has impede many friends from coming into the fullness of this sacramental experience.

We have much work to
do in preparing and creating a space at the table for ALL God's children.

Christ is come and doth dwell in the hearts of his people and reigns there. And thousands, at the door of whose hearts he hath been knocking, have opened to him, and he is come in, and doth sup with them and they with him, the heavenly supper with the heavenly and spiritual man
Fox Journal page 261

Silence gives us a new outlook on everything. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us.
Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In that silence, He will listen to us; there He will speak to our soul, and there we will hear His voice.
Mother Teresa

Anonymous said...

Friend Martin speaks my mind, and Friend David ("QuakerK") likewise.

Marty Grundy once told me that it used to be the custom, when Conservative Friends met, for one to ask another two questions: "How has the Lord dealt with thee since last we met?", and "What is thy teaching for us this day?"

It should also be borne in mind that Conservative Friends used to make a practice of daily household Bible reading. And that they had no taboo against sermons in meeting for worship that went on for forty or forty-five minutes. One learned a great deal through such practices, and neither one reduced Quakerism to an academic study.

All this is just FWIW. I'm not trying to force these old practices on anyone!

Liz Opp said...

Cath -

Similar to you, I also have less of a concern about discerning the sense of the Meeting during Meetings for Worship for Business than I do about discerning the sense of the meeting during committee meetings.

It's a tricky thing to carry out small(er) committee meetings in such a way that they aren't weighed down with seriousness and formality but aren't so casual that discernment and testing falls by the wayside.

As for clerking, I once heard it said that we are all responsible for clerking our meetings--that is, we are all responsible for listening for, watching for, and caring about the movement of the Spirit among us.

Martin -

I'm not so sure anymore that osmosis was (or is) really how those new to Friends best learned about Quakerism. Even among Iowa Conservative, where little is said outwardly about a Friend's personal faith, there are many questions asked of one another during informal conversation about wrestling with a decision, why Quakers do such-and-so, and how people felt the Spirit move among them in worship.

I agree that osmosis--or even overt explanations and teachings, as in a Q101 course--is not a fool-proof process or method for learning about this peculiar faith tradition.

As for the worship group in which I participate, currently we have been conducting a monthly book study, focusing on Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. About 1/3 to 1/2 of the worship group usually makes it to the book study group.

The reading and discussion is balanced out by an occasional reference to some of the language and concepts in that book during our business sessions, or even by suggesting that a Friend who is wrestling with something take a look at a particular chapter.

Similarly, during our post-worship reflection time, when we share with one another about our experience of the Presence, someone might mention something in Scripture that revealed itself to her or him; or another worshiper might share how he or she has been struggling with the concept of the Cross, and so on.

So I'd say that some of the best sharing of bits and pieces of our faith during the worship group has happened because we are living into the intention of drawing on our tradition, and speaking openly about it, whether we are in worship, attending to business, or preparing for a retreat.

Hystery -

It seems to me that part of the Quaker tradition is that we will always be growing into our measure of Light, which means we will always be experiencing new understandings of God and God's will, even if it is not moment by moment.

That is, we expect to be changed as we open ourselves to the Spirit, so being Quaker, as you say, is not static but dynamic and evolutionary. Spiritual growth is often incremental and cumulative, rather than monumental and disjointed.

That said, we are each in different places in terms of spiritual development. I've written elsewhere about moving from being a spiritual refugee to being a spiritual citizen among Friends; Samuel Bownas has written about being an infant minister to being a young adult and then a parent or elder (see Chapter III).

The concern is that we not assert that where we are as being better than where anyone else is. In fact, it's been very important to me that elders and "spiritual parents" in my life have allowed me to muddle through into my own measure of Light and spiritual gifts.

But that also means that they didn't neglect me, either. Instead they've been able to identify certain guideposts for me along the way, putting language to my experience and letting me test if there was resonance and truth in it for me.

Mia -

Hmmmm, trust is not an item that would have occurred to me. For me, that is a secular concept that suffers, to some extent, within a Quaker setting that lacks spiritual grounding.

At the same time, I see how trust is interconnected with faithfulness, corporate discernment, and laying aside our personal ambition in order to listen corporately for God's guidance.

I have experienced a shift within the monthly meeting where I worship, whereby we used to question and thresh nearly every report that was brought to MfW for Business. Now we seem to listen more intently and are appreciative for the work that is being done on our behalf.

Some of the questioning, I believe, came from the fact that committee reports didn't include a context or history of its work nor a mention of the charge under which it was acting. Other bits of the threshing and apparent distrust came from a committee having moved forward with some of its work without reporting back to the body, without seeking approval to begin the work in the first place, and--perhaps my biggest worry these days--without having let go of its own investment in its work and allowing the body to test the work for itself to see if the direction of the committee is rightly ordered.

All of which goes back to the topic I listed, about the relationship between committees, the MfWfB, and the Meeting as a whole.

I hope that makes sense... and I do wish to acknowledge that the human response of trust/distrust is a very real one, even if I don't personally see it as a construct that is grounded in the Quaker tradition: Quakers are, after all, very human in our condition!

To subsequent commenters -

Stay tuned. I hope to continue responding in the next little while...


Liz Opp said...

David P -

Nice to see thee here again.

In the worship group currently, we have been experimenting with an intergenerational "pre-meeting" activity, sometimes teaching a song and talking about its message; sometimes reading a story from a children's Bible or a passage from Scripture.

On a good day, the Friend who leads the pre-meeting then takes the kids to a separate room and continues to engage them in the topic of the activity for another 10-15 minutes. Then they're "released" to a childcare provider for free time and the adult can return to worship for the remaining time if she or he wishes.

It's been a gentle way to begin talking with the children about Quakerism, but we clearly flounder without having a consistent structure, whether or not it is "curriculum based."

Richard M -

I don't intend to propose any sort of "class schedule" to the meeting, if that's your concern! Mostly, I was curious to learn what other Friends might think would be important topics to address, so as to help nurture and enrich the spiritual condition of individual Friends and the body as a whole.

As for the topic of "sin," my own (very Liberal) monthly meeting may be an anomaly because from time to time, we do mention sin and our various understandings of it (e.g. missing the mark).

Lastly, regarding whether we "need" growth or transformation, I believe that bidden or unbidden, it will come upon us in God's time and in God's way.

Maurine -

I didn't explicitly mention Jesus, though I considered doing so.

Jesus and the teachings of this rabbi are, in my mind, a part of topics such as the role and place of Scripture and the centrality of the Inward Christ.

Part of my initial decision to exclude "Jesus" in the list is that I couldn't quite put to words what the concept or practice is, connected with that figure (divine or human).

But your question is a valuable one. Perhaps it is as simple as "Role and place of Jesus and/or Christ." Thanks for helping me rethink that.

Anj -

Good to read you again here!

I'm not sure what it is about the list that prompts you to write, "I find your list sad."

Sad that what I experience as "endangered practices" doesn't match up with your own experience...?

Sad that the list itself is so long...?

In any event, I'm glad to read about the "breakfast forum." Can you say something more about how a topic is brought forward during that time? And did it start organically, or was it a recommendation made by a committee or by individual Friends?

QuakerK/David -

Thanks for this reference to early Friends and how they carried out such tender exchanges. Do you have a reference for that quote?

As Anj alludes to, it seems as if such sharing would lend itself to our coming to know one another's journeys and souls, as long as we can stay vulnerable with one another and avoid intellectualizing how we think the Lord has been "dealing" with us.

Paul -

I agree that much of what unites us as Friends is "communion with the Spirit in silent worship," whether that communion happens during meetings for worship, meetings for worship with attention to business, clearness committees, meetings for healing, or what-have-you.

And yet... There is so much more to being Quaker than just sitting in silent, expectant waiting.

I have had encounters with Liberal Friends who are reluctant to address a situation by holding it in prayerful worship and who would rather draw from other faith traditions or from the secular world.

And there are many folks new to Friends who have little or no understanding of concepts like eldership, mutual accountability, and so on, all of which do create a space at the table for all of us.

Coming to worship is vital, yes, but that is not what makes us or keeps us Quaker: As I see it, it is our method of worship along with our experience of the Spirit in our life and among our corporate body.

I worry that when we become reluctant to share with each other about what happens when we are away from worship, we begin to let our faith tradition be eroded by secular forces, because those are much easier for us to talk about:

When we make rational and snap decisions to manage our busy schedules; when we sit through brainstorming sessions at the workplace and attend lectures at school; when we quote music lyrics more readily than Scripture verses, and when we spend time getting to know the characters on television while hardly knowing the spiritual condition of our fellow worshipers, we are being influenced by the wider world about how to be "of the world" and are not necessarily listening to or being obedient to the promptings of the Spirit.

...I've gone a bit off topic I see, so I will leave it at that.

Thanks for the reference to Brent Bill's book, Holy Silence.

Marshall -

Thanks for lifting up the apparent custom among (some/earlier) Conservative Friends. The questions remind me of another one, "How has the Truth prospered with thee?"

And yes, I have read elsewhere about vocal ministry that would go on for more than just a few minutes.

. . . . . .

Thanks for everyone's comments. I've had a busy end to the summer and will likely have a busy start to the fall, by the looks of things.


RichardM said...

Does anybody know what has happened to QuakerQuaker? I can't get on the site anymore. All I get is a tiny little map with some pictures on it--QuakerQuaker seems to have disappeared.

Robin M. said...

Liz, I'm still thinking about this long list and what else might belong on it.

I can answer Richard M. that it was a temporary outage of, a glitch in one of the several pieces of software that power the site. This happens from time to time, and usually Martin Kelley is aware of it before I am and is already working to figure out where the bug is and how to fix it. I think QQ is back up now.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for the heads up, Richard and Robin.

I do have to say, as a Mac user, QuakerQuaker is still having troubles this morning (29 August, 9:40 am Central time)...


Unknown said...


I think what Q102 looks like is essentially something way big, so big that it becomes one's entire quest for articulation of WhatCanstThouSay, one's personal theology and devotional "tract" if you will. Q102 is essentially School-of-the-Spirit big. Attention to the callings of
"Q102" consume lifetimes.

That said, there are indeed models of how a community can grind through parts of that process communally, not alone, generally with massive doses of worship-sharing sessions.

Liz Opp said...

David -

Sorry for the very delayed reply. ...While I agree that learning what is and how to "do" Quakerism is a lifelong experience, my main point is that the sessions commonly called "Quakerism 101" are a great start, but there is something lacking in the overall way we invite fellow worshipers to "live into the More."

There is so much more to Quakerism than just the hour of worship a week, the few hours of business a month, the occasional adult education session or Bible study.

There is the journey into greater faithfulness and discipline; the experience of being held accountable for right living and for humble obedience; the exercise of living into the Cross and finding your way through it...

How do we learn of these things when we are slow to speak of them with one another? How do we put language to our experience--language from within our own tradition--when we are so quick to borrow from other traditions?

Rhetorical questions, of course.


Anonymous said...

Liz, this blog post has served as a catalyst for a leading for me. I am now facilitating a monthly “lunch and discuss” session, and I am drawing on your list of possible topics for inspiration. We have held one so far and I feel that it was as sucessful as any Q101 class session, but without as many possible barriers to participation.

The Basic Idea: To gather together without any preparation required such as advanced commitment to be present, bringing food, or reading an assignment. The facilitator and supporters provide a simple lunch after Meeting for Worship. The facilitator provides a query or group of queries and several quotations in handouts provided to all.

The hope is that the quotations will not to be viewed as automatically authoritative (although they are meant to highlight basic ideas related to the query that have been widely circulated in print) but rather that the quotations with be used as catalysts for discussion, agreement, or disagreement based on each participant’s experience and understanding of the faith and practice of Friends. Out of this sharing the intention is that all participants are provided with a fuller understanding of Friends and also the particular journeys of faith and the experiences of those that share and create the faith community.

The discussion is not worship, or worship sharing, but rather worshipful discussion, with no expectation of silence between statements, but an expectation that others will be listening to what is said while being mindful that each person can be an instrument of the Divine. There is an expectation that the speaker is being listened to and that the others are not busy formulating their own statement, argument or rebuttal.

I may post the queries and quotations on a webpage if others have interest in reviewing or using them. I haven't determined the best approach to doing that.

Thanks for your role in getting "lunch and discuss" going!

-David P