I suppose I'm not ready to write about the workshop I took, Quakers & Social Class, because I'm still integrating the experience to a significant degree. That is, I'm wrestling with doing so.
Opening night at the Gathering provides the traditional welcome to the 1,500 participants, and more often than not, I've been skipping that first night, since it's usually a preview of the week, a massive "roll call" of affiliated yearly and monthly meetings, and other things that I'm less interested in.
But this year, I was especially curious to hear two of the plenary speakers: British Friend Ben Pink Dandelion and American Methodist-born preacher-author Shane Claiborne, just because their names have been around the block and then some.
Ben Pink Dandelion spoke the second night; Shane Claiborne the next. Their styles and presentations were quite different.
Ben wore a dress shirt and slacks and spoke with a thick, upper-class British accent, Enunciating Every Consonant And Every Word Completely And Clearly. Shane wore baggy pants and a loose fitting shirt--maybe an undershirt or plain white cotton T-shirt, like what I might wear for doing housework, and his vernacular was clearly "from the South," as we Yankees in the States say. He strung sentences together in a flurry and laughed easily and raised his voice regularly to make his points.
Ben had his humorous moments, to be sure, but it was an "acceptable" humor that White, middle-class, and upper-class Americans could appreciate. Shane's humor was more visceral, more graphic, more let's-get-real, this-is-how-it-is girls-and-boys. I needed to take more deep breaths when I was listening to Shane than to Ben. Chalk it up to differences in social class. (See? It's everywhere.)
Both men called us to greater faithfulness and greater care to looking at what we possess and what we profess.
Below and (hopefully) in the next post are a number of quips, ideas, and stories I jotted down during the two plenaries. Too much time has passed between having heard each one and writing about it now, so I giving myself permission to type things into a list of what I noted, rather than formulating a cohesive blogpost.
By the way, FGC will likely have all the plenaries available in CD later in 2009, through its QuakerBooks. And some of what Ben covered is in this teeny tiny pamphlet of his, Celebrating the Quaker Way, as well as in his 2003 presentation, Convinced Quakerism.
Ben Pink Dandelion
After making a few opening remarks about his background and his name, Ben launched into sharing some of his own spiritual journey, traveling from a life of hedonism to one of faithfulness.
At one point early on in his remarks, he spoke about his sense of having lived "an accompanied life," a sentiment I can often relate to, that there is a Spirit, a Principle that accompanies me...
He spoke about how the desire for a faithful life leads to a more serious life, which in turn leads to a more joyful life, and one with more laughter.
Ben described what he sees as the six stages of convincement, much of which he's also delineated in Convinced Quakerism, pp. 11-12:
1. The breaking-in of God in our lives, allowing us direct and immediate access to the Divine.Since I am a "process queen"--I love how we develop and move through stages of understanding, of personal and spiritual growth--I was eager to hear more from Ben about these six stages. Sadly, as Ben went spinning into historical quotations by Fox, Penington, and others, I no longer could track which quote was related to what stage. Perhaps I'll take a closer look at his pamphlet...
2. The Light showing us how things really are, being "convicted of our sin."
3. Our understanding that there is a choice and a possibility for change.
4. Being given the power to live that life, to be transformed.
5. The pulling together of others (Friends) into a community.
6. Sharing with one another and with others what we have found.
Some other things Ben spoke to:
The more we surrender, the more we are given.
Fox's experience was inward, not outward and not "inner." Fox's was an interiorized experience.
Early Friends had an intimate relationship with God. We seek a sort of replacement of our old self with God's power, coming through us...
Fox believed in original sin and that all of us can be saved. That is what is meant by "perfectability."
Formal membership in the Religious Society of Friends began in the 1730s as a way to record which Quaker meetings would offer up "poor relief" to Friends who were suffering because of their convictions.
Quakers historically refused to engage in the manners of the world in order to further God's purposes on Earth (plain dress, plain speech; no hat honor, no tithes, no pagan-named months and days; keeping fixed prices... "No eBay!" declared Ben).
Today, many of us and many of our meetings are in fact caught up in the manners of the world, without accountability to our monthly meetings about what is or isn't Quaker.
These days, modern Friends "opt in and out" of certain testimonies, such as saying, "I support the testimony of simplicity but I have trouble with the peace testimony." But in the early days, Friends' Books of Discipline pointed to life as Testimony.
Once convinced, the sense of transformation continued day after day, and every day and every place was seen as sacred.
At one point, Ben spoke directly to us:
- At this Gathering, we look like a luxuried people.
How is community realized for us? How do we take the mountaintop experience into our life? How do we transcend the individualism of society?Again, he spoke to us:
Why are we always learning to "go elsewhere" and always going away via technology? Why talk about being a 21st Century Friend? Why separate ourselves from the past and the future?
- We're not Friends because we're good. We need each other to help us along in our faithfulness and activism.
Ben draws on John Wilhelm Rowntree and Rufus Jones to look at the characteristics of Liberal Quakers, and these are also explained in Convinced Quakerism, p. 3:
- 1. Experience as primary, not Scripture.
2. Faith is relevant to the age we are in.
3. Friends are open to new Light.
4. We know more of God in each age, therefore the new Light we are given has more authority than what came before.
We know we don't have a creed, but we have a credal attitude toward what we believe and how we are.
It is a powerful source of our identity, to have a doctrine of seeking. The tTruth is personal, or it is somehow apportioned to individuals.
Today's Quaker message [from Liberal Friends] is that we are certain that we are a little uncertain of our belief. An "absolute perhaps," if you will.
Total "finders" will be in tension with a group of Liberal Friends. Those Friends who have been eldered [sic: admonished] for certain ministry may in fact have been [admonished] for their certainty.
It may be the "absolute perhaps" that will allow us to transcend the schisms among Friends.
What binds us together
- 1. Direct encounter of the Spirit.
2. Meeting for Worship for Business.
3. The priesthood of all believers.
4. Our Testimony [I'm not sure if he meant our life as testimony or "the" testimonies, or something else].
- 1. Self-righteousness and pride.
2. Superficial witness in the world.
3. Ungrounded worship.
Be careful: Quakerism is the vehicle of our life, not the object of our worship.
We need incarnational spirituality: Are we living in the Power, or are we just saying we are?
We need to be possessing while we are professing.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
In case that isn't enough to chew on, I hope to be sharing some of Shane's comments in the subsequent post.
As always, thanks for reading me.