20 August 2009

Publishers of Truth, part two

Derek Lamson on Tom Fox
. . . a continuation of last week's thoughts on publishing Truth. (See here--please read the comments.)

Two more points:

First: In partial response to what Bill Samuel wrote in his comments, I want to be more explicit about one of my perennial discontents with Quaker publishing: it is so extremely focused on us.

Aside from academic stuff, the Christian publications I find most useful begin with the audience member's situation, either as an individual or as a part of society—in either case, facing a significant challenge. The author then tries to show how biblical insights, Christian disciplines, the author's own personal experiences, or the lives of fellow Christians, can shed light on the reader's situation. In many cases, such expressions have an emotional appeal as well—ranging from "your eternal destiny might be at stake!" to "God has hope for you in your addictions" to "Stop this injustice before more people are exploited or killed!" Sometimes the author even dares to claim a God-given insight specifically for that situation.

Please let me know whether you've found Quaker books, pamphlets, videos, anything, from recent years, that do this. I'm not saying they don't exist—if they do, I'd like to do my bit to give them more visibility. But too often we are not audience-centered at all; we're too busy describing ourselves and our ideas. Whether our motive is to make Quakers simply glow in the dark, or to one-up somebody else, internal or external, it's all about us.

It can't be just about us any more. Either God wants to reach the world through us, or we are just a boutique option for a spiritually drifting niche market, and our fellow creatures in spiritual or social agony should look somewhere else. If there's some other way to put it, convince me! In any case, I can't believe that the best we have to offer is to describe ourselves yet again, or to theorize on silence, "minding the light," simple living, earth care, from a position of serene safety.

There is a place for self-description; our hard-earned heritage deserves loving stewardship and persuasive advocacy, especially as we continue the important work of spiritual formation within our community and the empowerment of newcomers. I'd like us to build on that strength, going forward with honest attempts to speak God's prophetic words to the condition of people who don't have the safety margin to enjoy our self-descriptions, internal arguments, and theories. And if such people have a word to say to us, let's find ways of making that connection. Is more of this already happening than I realize? (Perhaps beyond the North Atlantic zone of Friendly affluence?)

Second: Forrest's last point in his comment to my previous post bears repeating. Where we go wrong, seeking the mantle of Early Friends, is in our yearning to see a triumphant Kingdom of God. A whole lot of wreckage needs to be cleared away for that, and our oncoming task may be less to save the world than to rescue our fellow refugees! (And for now, to be gentle with ourselves & others!)

I confess that I'm not motivated by a yearning for a triumphant Kingdom of God. Maybe I should be, and I guess that on some theoretical level, maybe I am. I actually take it for granted that, in the end, the persistent and universal "weak force" of God's loving sovereign intentions will totally prevail. But as Forrest says, there's a lot of wreckage to be cleared, a lot of fellow refugees to be rescued. Thomas Kelly spoke movingly about the life of faith, but even more movingly about faith in a specific context: the clouds gathering over Nazi Germany.

So: From day to day, I just want to be used by God. I want to figure out what Jesus is doing in the world and be part of it. Where Friends have helped me most with this is in shaping my discernment. Not that I discern perfectly, but, thanks to Friends, I believe that the clearest marks of Jesus's presence and work will be uncompromised by violence, objectification, social status, or any other demonic distractions. But, since we humans are limited, we'll catch glimpses of his redemptive promises in the most unlikely places--even among people who don't have theories as progressive and savory as ours!

If we can simply speak from where we are at this moment—if we can dare to experience the lack of safety or the spiritual disorientation of even one other human being, and speak God's word with urgent tenderness and in accessible language to that person—that's all I really yearn for. That's what I want Friends to be known for.

(Continued on September 3.)

Speaking of passion, from one Israeli peacemaker to another.

In the "wish I could be there" department: the 2009 London Mennonite Forum. Read and sigh, or sign up!

Nancy Thomas on education, hospitality, and "paying attention."

Scraps of Moscow on Russia vs Georgia, a year later.

"Who Lincoln Was"--Sean Wilentz presents a fascinating survey of recent studies of Abraham Lincoln.

Sweden gets the blues:

Big Joe Louis: vocal & guitar; King David: vocal & guitar; Tim Lothar: drums; Magnus Lanshammar: bass. See Youtube user AlruneRod2811's page for more.


Alice Y. said...

What about Pendle Hill Pamphlets? 'Tall Poppies'? That one about parenting ('God raising us', or something like it)?

Johan Maurer said...

In general, I've assumed that Pendle Hill Pamphlets are mainly for people who are likely to know what the Pendle Hills are. (In other words, mostly for a Quaker audience.) That's not a criticism!!--many of them are super. However, I don't think I have ever seen them in a bookstore unrelated to Friends.

They're an ideal size, of course, to give away. And some of my favorite pamphlets are available online in PDF format. Great example: Christ in Catastrophe, by Emil Fuchs, concerning spiritual discernment and trust in the German Nazi-era context.

I don't know the pamphlet you're referring to--do you recommend it?

Diane said...

How about Brent Bill's The Sacred Compass, a book that aims to make the Quaker process of discernment available to a wider audience of Christians yearning to know God's will? That's a book that's not so much for Quakers, as anyone beyond the newest Quaker will know the information already. I also believe Forster's Freedom of Simplicity has a broad appeal.

Alice Y. said...

Actually how about Walter Wink's 'Jesus and nonviolence'? It puts across christian nonviolence the best I've heard, it's little, 100 pages. It's specific, just about nonviolence but has a fairly international perspective.

http://www.quakerbooks.org/tall_poppies.php is Tall poppies - I guess I think it is great for people who are wondering how a church should work, it's about spiritual gifts & eldering.

http://www.quakerbooks.org/god_raising_us.php is God raising us.

I know some of the PHPs are inward looking but I guess some are more of interest e.g. I think God raising us might be of interest to anyone who's raising kids and wanting to do it right with God?

Carol said...

Johan, I wonder if our writings have to do with a refugee or survivor mentality.

So many of us have come to (or in my case, come back to) our Quakerism after brutal experiences of one sort or another. We talk to one another because it's not safe anywhere else.

Maybe our writings function as a contemporary, unacknowledged version of "the hedges" of the quietist period. We're in here, and they're out there and that's the way we need it to be.

Johan Maurer said...

Noting all these good comments! ...

Richard Foster's books are good examples of offering spiritual resources without a sectarian agenda.

In any case, I love getting these suggestions.

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Steven Davison said...

Hi, Yohann

I'm just catching up with your post and with QuakerQuaker in general.

I write a lot and I have to confess that I address myself to a Quaker audience virtually every time I pick up a pencil, just as you have described. In fact, here I am (and here we are) doing it again. So I really appreciate your challenge.

Here's what I think we have to say to others:
~ God calls each of us to a direct, unmediated relationship with Godself.
~ God calls the community to a direct, unmediated relationship.
~ God is always revealing Godself with new vision, healing, guidance, and strength.
~ God calls us to live our knowledge of God and God's ways in the world as a testimony to its power and truth.
~ God calls us to love.

Quaker distinctives have evolved as our community has sought and discovered ways to nurture these experiences.

Christine Greenland said...

In addition to Richard Foster's several books and the Renovare effort, there are several other publications intended for a broader audience, not just talking to ourselves.

J. Brent Bill -- Mind the Light, Holy Silence (as well as Sacred Compass) all pubished by Paraclete Press.

Michael Birkel -- Silence and Witness (Orbis Press).

Ben Pink Dandelion -- A Very Short History of Quakerism (Oxford University Press)

In a more scholarly mode of biblical studies, Daniel Smith-Christopher's work includes recent commentaries on the Hebrew Bible.

Paul Anderson's work in New Testament studies is also impressive, and has a broader cast.

Practicing Discernment Together (Lon Fendall, Jan Wood and Bruce Bishop) though based on Quaker business practices is intended for a broader audience.

Interestingly, authors who write with a broader audience in mind along the lines Steve Davison outlines are mostly from the Evangelical stream. Ben Pink Dandelion is the exception of those I've mentioned.

In the past, we've had Dean Freiday and Douglas Steere, whose work beyond Friends was as impressive as their work among Friends.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks again, everyone, for listing Friendly contributions to ecumenical and interfaith conversations.

Much (potentially perhaps even most) of these contributions could bless non-Quaker audiences. I'm familiar personally with some of them. But I'm still looking for examples of communications that primarily address raw human need and God's response, rather than primarily describing Friends faith, practice, theology, or spirituality.

Let me give a few non-Quaker examples:

1) The Shack by William Young is a theological tract in fictional form. The immediacy of its appeal stems from the emotional and theological anguish of a father dealing with the cruel murder of his daughter. (Given that my father went through the same thing, you can see why I respond to this!) The author is a member of a Foursquare Gospel church in the Portland OR area, but nowhere in the book does he specifically promote his denomination. The book has been #1 on several bestseller lists for months and months. Northwest Yearly Meeting pastors conducted a lively online conversation about this book a year or so.

2) The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, by Gregory Boyd. The author is a megachurch pastor trying to confront the idolatry that happens when patriotism and Christianity become pathologically enmeshed. This time, the author cannot help but bring in the experience of his own church--how could he not do so, when his church lost a thousand members owing to his attempt to confront that idolatry? But there's no apparent promotional agenda except on behalf of the gospel itself. I find his teaching on the right use of power ("power under" rather than "power over") very congenial to Friends.

3) Almost any of the books of Brennan Manning, with their vivid stories of God's grace and tenderness reaching desperate people. Brennan is constantly showing how cleverly guilt and shame can block us from understanding how much God loves us--and tells story after story of grace breaking through. I don't know of any other author who is as good at yoking emotion and intellect in the service of the Good News. He also amazingly transcends the Catholic/Protestant divide. He's as blunt about the defects of organized religion as he is radiant about Jesus. I particularly recommend The Signature of Jesus and The Wisdom of Tenderness.

Raye said...

What about, "So There I Was . . . " by Peggy Senger Parsons?

Johan Maurer said...

Speaking of Peggy, here's the first thing I ever read by her.

Chris M. said...

Well, only one of them is a Quaker, but how about "If God Is Love" and "If Grace is True" by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland? They have reached a mass audience. I know they're controversial among some Friends, but they fit what you are talking about.

Alice Y. said...

Johan, are you sure this is not a call to write? You seem to have such a clear idea of what is missing and needed?

Johan Maurer said...

I was afraid you'd say that.