September 28, 2010

Dangers of today's implicit Quakerism

This post is an extension of a comment I left on my previous post. My apologies for bouncing readers around...
The discussion around Martin K's low-tech outreach program--invite a newcomer to lunch--has a few of us sharing our own experience of being newcomers at one point and having received that sort of invitation to linger, to join a group for lunch on First Day, to learn more about Quakerism by way of simple gestures of fellowship.

It's easy these days for any of us as individuals to bow out of such opportunities, though, for First Day fellowship because of our responsibilities to children, to partners, to preparation for the upcoming week's grind...

But we are missing the role of the larger community--the Quaker worship community--when we consider ourselves as individuals, disconnected from the larger group:

A healthy, vibrant meeting will have a critical mass of Friends who are available to do the work that not every individual can. It's that critical mass--made up of individual Friends, but with a shared understanding of the whole--that can regularly provide outreach and opportunities to talk about Quakerism with others.

It's that same sort of critical mass that recognizes and acts upon the need for Friends to attend Quaker weddings and memorials that are taken under the care of the meeting, something I have written about previously.

When we as a community stop talking openly among ourselves about the responsibilities of membership (or of long-term attendance-ship!), then those responsibilities become implicit and invisible--which used to be okay when we would spend oodles of time with one another during the rest of the week.

It used to be okay because during our time together away from Meeting, we'd learn that Friends would be making plans to go to committee meetings, or to attend Meeting for Worship for Business, or to check in on a Friend who was going through a particularly painful time, etc etc. We saw and heard about the interweaving of Quakerism through the fabric of the lives of those around us.

But when we see each other and interact with each other only (primarily) on First Days, we lose our direct exposure to how Quakerism impacts our day-to-day lives: how we might pull out the Scriptures to remind ourselves of a story that can help us through difficulty; how we might call on one another to discern this-or-that; how we might quiet ourselves to settle into worship during a spiritually dark time so that the Light may reveal something to us that we need to know and we may submit to it, letting mercy come in...

Our isolated, individualized brand of Quakerism is likely in stark contrast to the religion of our youth--for those of us who grew up in a religious household. That "earlier religion" was probably made explicit to us in all sorts of ways, perhaps many of them as empty forms: references to certain members of the clergy; traditions, ceremonies, and meals that followed a certain calendar of holidays; prayers that were recited on specific occasions; and lessons that were taught so we'd understand the history, struggle, accomplishments, and teachings of our particular faith.

But today, the implicit nature of today's Quakerism is not one that will allow our faith tradition to be passed onto future generations, because we have confused an embodied or "implicit Quakerism" with not knowing how to talk about our faith--or not being willing to do so, out of fear that others will be turned off by our forthrightness.

An active, receptive, participatory silence is expected during our unprogrammed periods of worship. But we fail our Quaker ancestors and our Quaker tradition when we remain silent about our faith away from our meetingroom's doors.



Lone Star Ma said...

Thank you.

Robin M. said...

amen, sister.

Anonymous said...

yes, yes, yes. Thank you. This is so true, and yet, I fear this is what we are in danger of losing. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I don't feel that it is too late to stem the tide. Thank you again for putting such clear external words toward my internal condition.


Liz Opp said...

It seems to me that concerns such as what I lift up here appear in the writings of some earlier Friends, too. I don't think I'm articulating anything new as much as I am articulating it for ourselves and in our own time.

What keeps me hopeful is that these sorts of pendulum swings seem to be inherent within certain social/religious contexts, so if we are "too implicit" now in our collective behavior as [unprogrammed] Friends, we will likely experience a pendulum swing the other way at some point, when we are "too evangelical."

I also am able to remind myself--with the help of readings and fellow bloggers--that there is only so much that any of us can do, and after that, we must give ourselves and our concern over to God.