09 February 2012

Diffident no more

Having been frustrated for years by our unique quakerly ability to combine elitism with invisibility (what some call "assertive diffidence"), I'm fascinated by Maggie Harrison's "YOU ARE NOT A QUAKER (so please stop calling yourself one)" post and by the reactions it triggered. I especially liked Micah Bales's response, "Who is a Quaker?" I'm absolutely delighted by them both.

Not that I'm signing any manifestos. I've already explicitly refused to lay any claim on being able to define "real" Friends. But I still want to know, does anyone care if you or I are Friends? Do you? Does God? Is any person's life made more whole by the fact that you or I identify with Quakers?

I'm in joyful alignment with the yearning to be transparent and transformed by God's grace. This and nothing else helps me make sense of my earthly sojourn. And as a dedicated introvert, this and nothing else makes me yearn for the company of a group.

That group should moreover be a place where I can confess these yearnings. Not that I can demand total safety: if I did, my group would have no door to the world. ...The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God (from John 16:2). But the weight of the group must be utterly dedicated to God's transforming grace. When I came among the Friends of Ottawa Meeting, as miscellaneous as we were back in 1974, I experienced for myself a sweet echo of Howgill's gracious testimony:
The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us, and catch us all, as in a net, and [God's] Heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land, that we came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in....[source; quoted here]
Transparency and transformation should be a wonderful purification from elitism: there is no basis to claim superiority when we're standing before God without the filthy rags of prestige or privilege or even years of committee service! But caution caution! our sheer exuberance in this discovery should not become yet another elitism. I almost titled this post "Quaker machismo" (as an echo of "evangelical machismo" part 1 and part 2) but decided not to risk the gender overtones. 

Still, what I said about the athleticism that seemed to be coming into fashion among evangelicals still seems important to say. Most of us will never become superstars of transforming faith, dazzling others with our ability to be on fire with the Gospel. I want to be yoked with those who are also quiet, modest, uncertain, struggling. Some of us might be almost ready for transformation, but still dealing with addictions or social entanglements. Others are much farther on the path than I am, but their spiritual gifts or temperaments are simply far more private; for now they haven't yet found the way to beckon us alongside. (Oh, please try!) They too are Friends.

However, even with the most generous interpretation of who Friends are, and with the widest possible acceptance of our diversities of temperaments and gifts, there is still a test that is crucial for me. Does the presence of Quakers in the world open the doors to God's family wider somehow, somewhere? Are prisoners and poor people hearing the good news--and can they find a place among us if they desire? In fact, are "they" becoming "we"? If not, if we're dead in the water, then please let's raise up more people with the nerve to tell us we're not really Friends!

I don't want "transformation" to be another low-risk lifestyle enhancement. There's a Lamb's War going on; are we actually taking territory from Satan?

Men respond to Piper on Christianity's "masculine feel."

"The power of choice in Downton Abbey."

"How do we vote with integrity?" (Read and add to the comments.)

"Love Jesus, Hate Religion." Criticisms are quite predictable--I agree with many of them. It's important to withhold judgment long enough to listen.

An interesting thing to see on our bank's Web site: "Accumulation seduces Christians."

Science and religion: "Where the conflict really lies." Don't have time to read Plantinga on science and Christianity? At least let yourself be tempted by this review!

Alinsky lives.

"How to rig an election" and (lest we get self-righteous) how to smother a whistleblower.

I know I've posted several versions of this song. Its message never wears out.


'Mela said...

Howdy, stranger! 'Just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in...

I enjoyed your post, and this rendition of one of my favorite songs!
Nice resonator sounds! Yeeeeeah!

(Pamela in Tokyo)

Johan Maurer said...

Hello Pamela! Enjoyed catching up on Meladramas, maybe especially your iPod update! (Saw Etta James in there....) Hope everyone in Tokyo has noted your Jazz Spot "J" show date.

Tom Smith said...

Johan, I appreciate your post and am very concerned with the question of what it means to be a Friends. Having gone through the "trauma" of Portland friends School, Reedwood, Multnomah, etc. and now going through, somewhat vicariously, the Indiana YM split (My uncle was Clerk of the Yearly Meeting, I believe at the time of the 1982 homosexuality minute and my cousin is currently Treasurer of IYM, a possibly very difficult position in deciding what comes next. In addition the current issues in Philadelphia YM giving rise to the Special Session called for today, plus some current identity issues with quakerfaithandfellowship.org regarding the possibility of establishing an On-Line Meeting.

For me the identity of a Friend is so tied up with the identity with my father and family as well as the searching done my entire life that I find it difficult to imagine separating from this history, tradition, reality, etc. I am somewhat concerned with your concept of elitism among Friends as a "traditional"reality. It has been my experience that those among Friends who have f"fought" the "Lamb's War" have fought against elitism, in Friends Schools, Friends Churches, Meetings, etc.

Anonymous said...

Johan, Hi! surprise! Your last paragraph really struck me, as well as other questions you raised. No great wise conclusions here…..most of us see the wonderful gifts of being "in" a strong faith community as such a special place to grow, listen to God in community, and as one of the best places to practice Jesus' teachings (and stumble and get up again). To love and be challenged- like the sign on a church near me: "Love the people you live with". Yes, Quakers are still peculiar enough that mentioning the identity often immediately witnesses to important practices and beliefs. That's good. But as you ask Does God really care about our particular denominational identity? Who knows, but my guess is- it's way down on God's list. My sense is that we connect even more with God, and advance God's realm here when we are able to reach out and love those in the groups you mention- go where it's hard, where the suffering is, where Jesus goes. Those hidden murky places with myself. I'd include loving myself and loving the people I "live with" , those most different than me. There is so much love and yet sometimes much discomfort for me when I'm among Quakers. So- I have felt the need to be a part of another church here too. And guess what? I think that Friends are no more closer to perfection nor further away- than many other faith groups! It's all about Love and Living Love and spreading that Love. It's not all about contemplating our belly buttons. Tor and I are visiting and worshipping with prisoners, vigiling against Fl's death penalty and other things we feel called to do. (What blessings for ourselves we receive- though we don't expect them). After prison release, can they find a place among Quakers if they desire? That is certainly a pertinent timely question! A Quaker identified ex-prisoner may be coming to showing up at your meeting! More than enough ramblings for now. Love, Alice