13 April 2006

Risk and resurrection

It may have been Angela Berryman of the American Friends Service Committee staff who said, at a Friends World Committee regional conference about twenty years ago, that she and others learned the meaning of resurrection by attending the funerals of their friends who perished violently in the Central American civil wars of those years.

In those years, I worked for Right Sharing of World Resources, which supported a medicinal plant project under the care of Salvadoran Lutheran Aid. The office address of the project was the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in San Salvador. I loved getting letters from that address; my eyes were always drawn to the word "resurrection."

Much of Central America has gone de la locura a la esperanza since then, but the trail of the red horse continues to slash the globe. Although safety is never guaranteed to any of us, most of us in North American Quaker blogdom do not live with daily risk. But risk, voluntarily accepted, has always been a part of discipleship. Resurrection, too. (See Frances Grandy Taylor's article in the Hartford Courant: "When living your faith means risking death.")

By our understanding, Tom Fox did not live to see this Easter. Neither did Marla Ruzicka, whom we lost a year ago. (Find video glimpses of her here.) I prefer to think they got there first.

Maxine writes that she and the Baghdad CPT team are leaving Baghdad for a time. This arrived yesterday:
Dearest friends-

Well, I'm finally making my way home for a bit. I'm in Amman, Jordan right now and will be leaving for the United States tomorrow. I have some work to do when I get back, as there is a meeting or two I have to attend, and then hopefully I'll be able to take some time off with family and friends.

The CPT Iraq team has decided to have all of the team come out for a while based on the advice of friends and working partners in Iraq. Nearly all of the people we consulted suggested some time out, partly because we are very visible in Iraq right now and partly because the situation is deteriorating. They suggest waiting until the new government gets up and running, hopefully in about two months but perhaps longer.

They don't mention the alternative if the government is not able to form itself, which is civil war. So, we are in a "wait and see" mode for now.

It was incredibly difficult to literally close the door behind me as I left Baghdad, to leave people who have become family over the years. I have the option to leave when things get tough; most of them do not have the same option. I felt like a coward. However, most of them said the same thing to us--"You are too precious to us to have anything happen to you. We can't have another death among you."

It's simply amazing to me that they feel this way. It is real love they feel for us, a deep and tender love.

Although we feel strange about it, we are taking their counsel. After all, we are guests in their country. It's not our right, but rather our privilege, to be there.

I'm struck by the difference in the way we as CPT have been advised and how we have chosen to take advice, and in the way the US government and its military has heard the voice of Iraqis saying "leave" yet refuse to go. It seems to me that the bottom line is whether we are serving our own interests, or those of the people we say we say we have come to serve.

Due to the fact that I need a good, long rest I haven't made myself available for any speaking just yet. With the future uncertain I'm leaving it open for now, and waiting to see what way God leads in this.

Blessings to you all, and the next time I will hopefully be back with you in the U.S.

Peace to you-

I appreciated the gracious exchange that Brooklyn Quaker recorded in the post "April Fool satire not intended as sarcasm" and the comments that followed.

In fact, his graciousness came as a just rebuke to my sometimes cranky attitude toward inter-Quaker dialogue—particularly his generous reply to Pam's question, "I guess I just feel like there are so very many religions where you can cleave to christian doctrine, why are you a quaker??" I highly recommend his thoughtful response, which he promised to amplify later.

It is not Pam's fault at all that the question reminded me of two questions I heard years ago in other contexts. At an All-Kentucky Gathering of Friends, someone said to me that he could understand why his secretary was a Christian; she didn't know better. But surely I had the brainpower to know better!? I was so taken aback by the question at several levels that I cannot remember what I said.

The second question was asked on the floor of Friends Church Southwest's yearly sessions, during a discussion on the yearly meeting leadership's proposal to allow symbolic baptism and communion if local churches wanted it. "There are so many other churches where people can enjoy these ceremonies," began the questioner (based on my memory). "Why would you take away our unique understanding of spiritual reality?"

Billy Lewis, long-time Christian educator in the yearly meeting, openly grieved. He asked, in substance, how they could have failed so completely in educating their people in the essentials of Quaker doctrine.

If his yearly meeting failed in a secondary matter, the spiritual understanding of baptism and communion, I find it much more serious that other Friends bodies have failed in a central matter, the definition of Friends as a community who experience and organize themselves around Jesus Christ coming to teach his people himself.

Friends began, not as a relativization of Christianity, but as an intensification of Christianity. We did not throw away the Baby with the bathwater, but (sorry if you've heard this rant before!), the new scented bathwater in use among some seems to be so fine that the Baby can be left in the cold, and this is somehow called Quakerism! The majority of Friends in the world were never consulted about our name being used as a cover for marginalizing our Savior. If you can sense how sad and bizarre this seems to some of us, then you will understand why we sometimes despair of meaningful dialogue among Friends. Thank goodness there are still bridgebuilders like Rich Accetta-Evans, who has the patience to accompany us through our despair, wherever we find ourselves in these dilemmas.

Nevertheless, I would find it dishonest if I didn't ask the question that haunts me: Why would those who can't unite with Christianity insist on staying among Friends? There are so many ways of being non-Christian or loosely Christian, whereas Quakers have held up a unique and powerful understanding of Christian discipleship. But perhaps the spirit of Billy Lewis's question needs to be heard: What kind of educational vacuum have the "experienced" Quakers left that would cause anyone to contemplate a relativized quakerism without the living Christ?

It is possible that Pam's question is more directly aimed at liberal Friends, and not the larger worldwide Quaker movement, among whom liberals (however defined) are a minority. Is it possible that liberal Friends and "orthodox" Friends are simply two completely different religions with common historical roots, as the advocates of "realignment" asserted fifteen years ago to the near ruination of Friends United Meeting?

Perhaps, on an organizational chart, the answer might appear to be "yes." But I resist that simplistic characterization—it implies neat divisions between faith and practice, and between language and reality, that simply don't hold up. The most exciting Christian Quakers to work with, in my experience at FUM, were often those coming from the "liberal" communities. They were not burdened by churchy culture, outmoded models, and prefab rhetoric. Their experience of Christ was still at the thin line between expected and totally unexpected; they often had an amazing intellectual ability to synthesize Christian insight with politics, economics, and personal disciplines. Was I about to shut the door on the collaborations between (to risk stereotypes) Midwestern salt-of-the-earth, tested disciples, and these Eastern on-fire Quakers? Better to disrupt categories than get in the way of the Spirit.

So, even though I continue to gasp at the gulfs which occasionally open up between us, I know the bridges are still needed.

Easter blessings!


Robin M. said...

Oh dear, add this to the list of powerful posts to which I will submit a hurried and inadequate comment.

I think there is in fact need for both of these questions- there are so many other ways of being Christian and non-christian - why ARE we Quakers?

I also like the line: Better to disrupt categories than get in the way of the Spirit. And that whole paragraph.

Johan, is there an available description of the "realignment" process that you could recommend? Online or in print? I have heard this phrase before, but I really don't know what happened.

Anonymous said...

Once during meeting for worship someone spoke about their encounter with a Lutheran minister. The minister told this Friend that Quakers weren't actually a religion because we lacked any doctrine. Soon after a weighty Friend stood and said yes indeed we do have doctrine. Simply it is this, "Christ has come to teach his people himself."

From my experience on the web I often wonder where "Non-Christian Quakers" are coming from. I mean what do they think we do at meeting? Don't they understand that there is an actual head to our church? We don't have a pastor because Christ himself leads us. To hear them describe quakerism, it sounds like going to the movies with a bunch of folks and staring at a blank screen silently.

Our problem in the unprogrammed tradition of course is that we are unprogrammed. Men and women with the gift of spoken ministry can feed their families by sharing Christ through their gift. But not in an unprogrammed setting. The most you'll get from us is to record this person as a minister. So the people best able to explain our faith are by default sent to other christian denominations.

Happy Easter
He is risen indeed!

Johan Maurer said...

joe, robin, matthew: thank you for the blessings of your thoughtful replies.

He is risen indeed!

Robin: concerning realignment, this article by Bill Samuel is a good brief summary of the issues.

My own view is that the realignment controversy dealt with very important issues and allowed festering tensions to be aired that had long been suppressed by FUM elites.

Steve Main was the person who put the issues openly before the board and constituency, but the basic incongruencies of FUM had been discussed in public earlier, as part of the Friends Faith and Life Movement, in Wil Cooper's book A Living Faith, and at other times and places. However, Steve placed the issue on the agenda of Friends United Meeting's own governance structures.

Those festering tensions included more than theological issues. Those issues to some extent masked cultural conflicts, such as the rural/urban conflict, and the tendency of most of FUM's loyalists to squelch all conflicts of any kind. Given that opaque history, Steve Main's realignment proposal could have led to a very lively and creative discussion, and to some extent it actually did. But too quickly, the process was hijacked. Friends in California Yearly Meeting (soon to be renamed Evangelical Friends Church Southwest) and Iowa Yearly Meeting apparently decided that the time was ripe to pull off a sort of slow motion coup, and push for an actual realignment, yearly meeting by yearly meeting, long before the constituency had had a chance to come up to speed on the issues. The loyalists, as usual, swung into action and enforced the unity-at-all-costs doctrine that had robbed FUM of spiritual integrity for generations.

So, essentially, realignment was coopted by the evangelical leaders' cynical tactics (this is my private interpretation!) and the reactionary response of the loyalists. In the meantime, and in the aftermath, FUM as a whole had to cope with the weakening of the constituency's interest in a structure that was more interested in infighting than in evangelism and social justice and providing access to our beloved community to newcomers.

I watched most of these developments from the side, being a member in an FUM yearly meeting but serving as a Midwest field staffer for Friends World Committee for Consultation, which organizationally did not have a position on realignment. However, when Steve Main resigned, I felt a strong leading to apply for the FUM position, believing that the highest priority for FUM was to restore trust within its community. For that reason, I did not seek to keep the realignment debate going, but to begin to enlarge the pool of shared understandings and vocabularies so that the actual arguments behind realigment could be aired more broadly and humanely, based on a prior commitment to everyone's well-being.

Two positive outcomes of the realignment controversy included a basic restatement of FUM's identity as the "orthodox" branch of Friends—biblically based, Christ-centered, and governed by classic Quaker process—and a purpose statement that made equipping for evangelism FUM's highest programmatic priority, which was exactly right.

Among the ways we tried to incarnate these intentions during my time at FUM were: (1) We reoriented the magazine Quaker Life to be the voice of FUM organizationally, rather than a journal of spirituality that happened to be sponsored by FUM—and at the same time, using the news pages of the magazine to report honestly on developments in all the branches of Friends, including the bad news, and including FUM's own stumbles. (2) We used FUM's reawakened orthodox identity honestly. If someone was truly committed to Christian Quakerism and FUM's policies, we didn't have another hidden screen to keep them out, such as being unprogrammed, or from a "liberal" yearly meeting. It was a great joy to me that at one point, our Ramallah Friends Schools team had Friends from Iowa, Philadelphia, and Northwest YMs serving together.


Robin M. said...

Thank you very much Johan. The article by Bill Samuel was interesting. Chris and I attended his Meeting for about a year, basically 1994, and I still remember him a little bit.

This has been a busy week (month) offline, but this question of how to posit a strong articulation of Quakerism without unnecessarily hurting individuals yet not avoiding the truth so as not to hurt someone's feelings is swirling around my head. I hope it will find a way out as soon as my kids go back to school after Easter. Thank you for your clear and steady voice.

Anonymous said...

In the end, the alignment that really matters is with Christ. Whether we're aligned with one or another stripe of Quakers, or with a congregation outside Friends (as I am now), is very much secondary.

The realignment controversy back about 15 years ago was badly handled by both sides. The way Steve Main raised it was strange, Southwest's handling of it was rushing something that needed time, what happened in Iowa was really strange, and the manning of the battle stations against it without giving it serious consideration by the center of FUM was disappointing.

I was in the thick of it, then serving on the FUM Board and Executive Committee. I started out fiercely opposed. But I felt I needed to understand it, and sought to, attending Southwest Yearly Meeting as part of that. The more I came to understand it, the more sympathetic I became.

Realignment has been occurring in various ways. Several dually affiliated monthly meetings found it no longer possible to be so. Large numbers (including me) have realigned themselves outside of the organization of Friends, although still Friends at heart. It hasn't taken a neat organizational form, and isn't likely to any time soon.

How Friends are organized, or even if they survive organizationally, isn't really very important. What is important is discipleship.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Johan!

I found much that was of value in this conversation, as I read it.

To begin with, there was your wise comment that "risk, voluntarily accepted, has always been a part of discipleship". I could not agree more.

Actually, I think I would go a step further, and argue that there is no discipleship without acceptance of the path of the cross; if you are not at risk, then you are still, as George Fox might have put it, just a "professor" of Christianity.

Johan, I shared your positive reaction to Rich Accetta-Evans ("Brooklyn Quaker")'s ministry to Pam ("Earthfreak"), the inquirer who wrote, "I guess I just feel like there are so very many religions where you can cleave to christian doctrine, why are you a quaker??" But it's perhaps worth noting that Pam identifies herself as a "nontheist" who "doesn't worship anyone or anything" -- and yet is active in her yearly meeting, which I assume from her address is Northern Yearly Meeting.

Rich's response to Pam was as generous as you say, but given what Pam says on her own blog site, rftlight.blogspot.com, I rather doubt that his answer made any profound sense to her. Something more would be needed to convey the profound sense that he, and you, and I, might like to see conveyed to her, and I suspect that that something more can only be conveyed face-to-face, by example and personal modeling of what living discipleship to Christ is like. I don't know whether Pam can find such an example and such a modeling in Northern Yearly Meeting; I don't know Northern that well, but I do know that it is about as liberal and New Age as an unprogrammed yearly meeting can be.

Thus, possibly we ought to be giving some thought to the question of whether we are called to do more than just supply gracious responses. I myself have been giving some thought to that question these past few years --

Next, Johan, you ask "the question that haunts me: Why would those who can't unite with Christianity insist on staying among Friends?" I would presume this is a rhetorical question, not a real one; you've been around liberal unprogrammed Friends long enough to know the answer. But for those among your readership who don't know the answer, I think something needs to be said here.

Let me suggest one part of the answer is that liberal unprogrammed Friends have tried very hard during the past sixty years or so to make anyone who is attracted to their community feel at home there -- with the result that Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists, secular left-wing politicos, etc., have come to feel that they have a home in the liberal unprogrammed community of a sort they cannot hope to find anywhere else. This is all very fine, except that this sort of home-making has not been accompanied by much preaching of the basic Quaker gospel. And thus it's gotten to the point where a lot of these Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists, secular left-wing politicos, etc., have now come to believe that the basic Quaker gospel isn't actually basic, let alone necessary.

You then ask what I consider to be your key question: "Is it possible that liberal Friends and "orthodox" Friends are simply two completely different religions with common historical roots, as the advocates of "realignment" asserted fifteen years ago to the near ruination of Friends United Meeting?" You are right, I think, to resist answering that question with an overly-simplistic "yes", but I would suggest that the truth is not at all far from a "yes".

To me, the true answer is that liberal Quakerism and the various strands of "orthodox" Quakerism (Conservative, FUM and EFI) are different ways in which a single original religion has degenerated. Because the religion they are degenerated from is the same, they still have much to say to each other and much to rejoice at having in common, as truly different religions would not have. But because they are all degenerate, they all need to be lifted up. None of them has any right to play holier-than-thou. Christ's teaching about the mote in the eye is very applicable here.

To Matthew, I would like to suggest that Friends actually have a great deal more doctrine than merely "Christ has come to teach his people himself." Permit me to point out that the subtitle of Robert Barclay's Apology tells us that it is "an Explanation and Vindication of the Principles and *Doctrines* of the People Called Quakers". And the Apology is quite a thick book.

Well, it is approaching time for meeting for worship, and my heart is hungry. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to add my two bits to such a fine conversation!

Johan Maurer said...

Some of the threads of this exchange remind me of my earlier post, Nancy's questions (namely, what keeps us from living adventurously and roaring?), a post that was provoked by excellent questions raised in Nancy's Apology and Robin M's What Canst Thou Say? and fueled by the movie A History of Violence and by Rob Tucker's classic essay, "A Revolutionary Faithfulness."

Johan Maurer said...

*waving* Hello, Marshall! To add to your doctrinal reference to Barclay, I want to mention Ben Richmond's book Signs of Salvation—which, although it doesn't claim to record a normative Quaker theology (being "a biblical meditation"), in fact lays down a very coherent framework for just that.

By the way, hasn't it been just about exactly twenty years since we met?


David Carl said...

"We don't have a pastor because Christ himself leads us. To hear them describe quakerism, it sounds like going to the movies with a bunch of folks and staring at a blank screen silently."

But surely Christ doesn't need a projector to appear on that blank screen? In fact, if it were only a projection, it wouldn't be real, would it? Is it possible God knows what s/he is doing by finding a way to get such unbelievers into some form of silent, waiting worship? That perhaps Christ can teach from within those who have no intellectual image of him? Maybe even more easily than those who are pretty sure about what they know? Cause for rejoicing then, isnt it? And a good way to save $7.50 to boot.