06 December 2012

More thoughts on the hyphen within

Happy New Year
and Merry Christmas!

(Today we bought our Christmas cards
from the friendly staff at our local
post office.)
This card is published by Art Design.
Can you be fully a Friend and fully a member of another confession?

On a private blog entry (so I'm not quoting), I read about a person who claimed Quaker membership but was also a member of a liturgical church. The blogger commented that it was hard to imagine both claiming and rejecting ceremony, both claiming and rejecting direct non-mediated communion with God, and both claiming and rejecting equality. (The liturgical church excludes women from some leadership roles.)

This is not a unique case. I know Friends in Russia who find themselves in a similar situation--participating faithfully for years in Friends worship and community, while also holding fast to their Russian Orthodox identity. The Western mentality, to risk a generalization, prefers a clear choice, but I'm not surprised that people here feel no pressure to choose.

In my comments on that blog, I tried to distinguish two sets of questions. First of all, are Friends really a full-service Christian church? That is, in the Quaker faith and the Quaker community can we find what we need for a healing and saving relationship with God throughout the full cycle of life from birth to death? Is there a full-bodied concept of worship, of discipleship? Are there ethical teachings, and so on? Or do we simply provide a forum for adult intellectuals along with a space for meditative practices and social activism? Reviewing our history and today's worldwide family of Friends, the answer is clear: with all our inadequacies, we are a genuine church, a full member of the worldwide family of Christian communions.

Admittedly, this confidence may be harder to maintain when one's own group is tiny and far from other Friends. Another possible source of confusion about this reality is when we forget the transforming importance of George Fox's proclamation that "Christ has come to teach his people himself" with all its potential to provide a whole new basis for church structure and practice--a whole new understanding of Gospel order. Friends arose to cleanse and refresh and intensify Christian faith, not to weaken and relativize it. Our skepticism was originally focused directly at presumptuous leadership and its self-serving theologizing, not at our Lord.

Once we agree that Friends can provide the full spectrum of resources that one would expect from a church--support for relationship with the Creator, and support for our relationships with each other and the world around us--maybe we can think more about the second area of questioning: the situation of those who want to be 100% Quaker and, for example, 100% Eastern Orthodox. For someone who has grown up in Orthodox culture, whose spirituality has been formed by the extraordinary depth and beauty of that culture, who honors this precious family legacy, and who feels at home in the liturgy, I can't imagine rejecting the attempt to unite these allegiances. It might be hard work, but bless you for trying!

Something truly sad arises only when that choice to stay in two confessions simultaneously is made as a result of a judgment (perhaps subconscious) that Quaker faith and practice really doesn't provide any sort of equivalent value in worship, discipleship, and spiritual legacy for the full cycle of life. "Quakers are fine for meditation and social activism--within a sort of Western middle-class comfort zone--and so I better hold on to my other affiliation in light of these inadequacies." I would certainly agree that such a truncated view of Friends faith and practice seems like very thin fare compared to the extravagant beauty of the ancient liturgical churches. But here's the secret of Friends' own extraordinary richness: it is rooted in what all Christians hold in common, unfettered by human dogma, hierarchy, furniture, or ceremony. It is nothing more or less than this: Christ in us. There's no lock or confessional monopoly on this treasure that we are bound to respect. Instead, "I give you a new commandment, to love one another." Outside of that divine economy, honestly, all I can see is poverty.

A few years ago, I wrote about the "hyphen within" from a slightly different angle, thinking about the dilemmas of being hospitable while holding fast to our identity. And this recurring discussion reminded me of a post two years earlier in which I recommended Albert Fowler's Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Two Trends in Modern Quaker Thought, published in 1961. That pamphlet came back to me today as I thought about the thin-ness of a disconnected Quakerism.

David Niyonzima in an interview on the American Friends Service Committee site: "Called to Relate." (Five years ago, a talk by David Niyonzima provoked these reflections on being "absurdly happy.")

Allison Deger, "Israel's annexation moment has arrived."

"Obama in Tehran?"
The urge to control that reality [Iran's crossroads location] lies at the heart of Washington’s policy in the region, not an Iranian “threat” that pales as soon as the defense spending of the two countries is compared. After all, the U.S. spends nearly a $1 trillion on “defense” annually; Iran, a maximum of $12 billion -- less, that is, than the United Arab Emirates, and only 20% of the total defense expenditures of the six Persian Gulf monarchies grouped in the Gulf Cooperation Council....
"How NASA might build its first warp drive." Thanks to Lynn Gazis-Sax for the link.

A modest summary: "After a year of protest, a different Russia beckons."

"Have you ever considered that giving can be a luxury?"

From Chicago Blues: A Living History, Billy Branch:

One More Mile (Billy Branch) from Larry Skoller on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

I remember a Clearness committee meeting I was part of for the membership of a family who wanted to formally become part of our meeting. Membership in our liberal Quaker meeting is not necessary to fully take part in the Quaker experience and life of the meeting. So, when we do have a member request, it is a significant event. In the silence, I was moved to ask "Have you any clarity on what you plan to do about memberships in former churches." The husband had been raised in the Presbyterian church and the wife had been raised as a Catholic. "Oh, I wouldn't think of hurting the feelings of the Sunday School teacher of my youth by resigning from that church. I love her too much.", said the husband. The wife chimed in, "To resign from the Catholic church would be turning my back on my past, my heritage. I just couldn't do that."

And that was that. Sounded like very loving, reasonable, and quakerly responses to me. Kind of something Jesus would say.

The purpose of the membership Clearness committee in my meeting is not for the meeting to decide whether or not to accept a new member. Rather, it is to help the prospective member to determine if our meeting would be helpful to them in their spiritual journey if they became a member. The couple concluded after the Clearness committee meeting that membership was a step they wanted to take.

I drove home that night feeling blessed that I was part of a meeting that was willing to meet Friends where they are in their spiritual journey, and support them as that journey unfolds; a spiritual community that felt no need to "control" that journey. Rather, the community had faith that our unprogrammed worship and Quaker business processes would serve this new couple well wherever their journey took them.

Unknown said...

Dear Johan,

I love this articulation of Quaker faith - Christianity without all the furniture, spare, open, at its best, pure.

My own sense is that continuing in two faith traditions would be for me like being married to two people, really hard, way too much work. But I imagine for some the experience is more akin to refining and clarifying their experience of each.

Thanks so much for this post.


Rene Lape said...

The ideas you articulate so well in your post are, of course, very meaningful to me Catholic-Quaker that I am. In truth, I am not a “member” of a Friends Meeting any more. Twenty-two years ago, when I decided to return formally to the Catholic Church, I did not technically resign my membership; but it was decided when the Meeting was calculating its support of NY Yearly Meeting that they were not comfortable forwarding a payment for me. I think in those years, the amount paid to the Yearly Meeting was based on “membership.” Anyway, I was removed from the membership list at that time.

The book I wrote to explain my rather complex journey explains that my reason for returning to Catholic Church had more to do with a sense of historical continuity and legitimacy as an institution than with complete agreement over every policy and practice they had adopted over the years. The fact remained that I probably would never have found my way back to Christ’s loving arms without the early Quaker insights into the reality of the spiritual experience of “salvation.” The way the Catholic Church articulated the message did not reach me.

But while I still find unspeakably meaningful the vision of early Friends, I do not think THEY understood the mistake they were making in rejecting what they called the “outward” things like the sacraments, the teachings or “dogmas” that transmitted the message over the generations and the historical institution – faulty though it most certainly was. Search the Old Testament and you will find prophets who condemned in no uncertain terms the unfaithfulness of their priests and leaders and even their people generally. But they NEVER went elsewhere to start another “people,” a people who would be perfectly led and perfectly faithful.

The reformation mentality, that the church had fallen into “apostasy” early on and that just a serious look at the scriptures and insights into the “truth of the gospel message” would help them start the church as Christ meant it to be, is a mentality early Friends also had. And I think it was a big mistake.

I don’t think the issue is if “Friends can provide the full spectrum of resources” for individuals “throughout the full cycle of life from birth to death” – it is more can the church provide the full spectrum of resources for people of every world culture and all the generations to come to pass on the message, teach it and live it out in their time.

And we must also remember Christ’s deep desire to see us remain ONE as he and his Father were ONE (John 17:21).

Johan Maurer said...

Anon and Unknown--thanks for your helpful reflections. I remember my own clearness meeting for membership; it was very much a process of seeing whether I knew what I was getting into, rather than an assessment of whether I was good enough.

Rene, I honestly don't think the early Quakers were, collectively, making a mistake. The only way I could believe that it was a mistake would be by believing they weren't really led by the Holy Spirit into forming those communities. They were not forsaking anything real and valuable that the Catholics had; see how many times Barclay's Apology refers to Catholic theologians and mystics. No dogma or sacramental experience that was genuinely Spirit-led was denied to those early Friends (or to us); what was rejected was the provision and exclusive control of those benefits by a feudal hierarchy. The Catholic church as a place where God is known and loved and worshipped and followed was not the issue for early Friends; the impossibility of reconciliation with the outward apparatus was.

Here in Russia, people are often told that Catholics and Protestants alike are deviations from Christianity; that only the Eastern Orthodox Church preserves true unbroken unity with the apostolic witness. Both the Catholic channel of Christian witness and the Orthodox channel of Christian witness carry precious resources of information and formation for discipleship, but neither channel carries any guarantee against corruption. Neither do we Friends. We simply opted out of the politics--the monopolistic claims and the controls and the mythologies that have more to do with preserving those claims and controls than they do with proclaiming the Gospel.

We Friends are perfectly capable of our own self-serving mythologies, and I hope I'm faithful in pointing those out as well. Any channel at all that builds true, full-bodied discipleship deserves respect, but none of them are immune from the corruption of power.

Yes, Christ prayed that we would be one. The point of unity is in him, not in those confessions and organizations that have been arguing with each other at least since the Catholic-Orthodox split about who is exclusively entitled to embody that unity.