17 January 2013

No. 500

Editorial cartoonist and Friend Signe Wilkinson presented last year's William Penn Lecture at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. She was in equal parts playful and bluntly serious in her challenge to the assembled Friends: reach out or die. As she challenged them to "double the number of PYM Quakers in the next five years," she added a hopeful note: the yearly meeting's Young Adult Friends had already been able to do exactly that.

I winced a bit as she led her audience through a tour of Quaker-related Web sites ("... If you look on the pages of almost all of our institutions, you will not find on the home page what Quakers believe"), and then compared their opaqueness with some Mormon sites. Reading the "who we are" sidebar on one of those Mormon sites, she added, "You might not agree with that, but now you know what they believe."

As I was considering her video presentation, I happened to come across Brian McLaren's blog post, "Q & R: What about Unitarians?" The recitation of Unitarians' admirable features reminds me of similar lists from Friends, especially liberal Friends, so I paid close attention to McLaren's response. In part, he said, "... the degree to which a religious community deconstructs without reconstructing will put it at a disadvantage. It not only must remove negatives that other communities have: it must have positives that other communities lack." (See the whole post--the context is worth it.)

Here I'm going to beat a drum that I've already probably beaten 499 times before, but, this being my 500th post, I'm going to indulge in some recapitulation. Practically the only unique thing that justifies our existence as a movement, the major plank in our platform, is "Christ has come to teach his people himself." Are we going to live that out or not?? Everything else that we label "quakerly" is either in the service of that radical access, or it's vanity with an antiquarian deodorant.

Others have the Gospel, too--we're not in a competition here, as Wilkinson wisely points out--but we're charged with coming to the Kingdom-building task with a humble spirit and low-overhead ecclesiology based on that revolutionary trust. How do we translate this approach to Christian essentials into a home-page confession intended for an audience not already in love with us?
The purpose of our Quaker community is to learn what it means to live with God at our center, and to help each other work out the implications. You are most welcome to visit, observe, participate, and see what we're about. And we'd love to know what you're asking and learning.
We do take a risk when we try to reduce the nuances of 350 years of faith and practice into one invitational paragraph (never mind the other 17 centuries of biblical anti-authoritarian witness before us). No single statement we could make, no matter how well grounded in our unique history, will satisfy everyone. But I think we've taken into insufficient account the risk of not doing so. The more vague and cerebral and evasive we are, the more we say (without necessarily meaning to) that we only welcome those who are temperamentally allergic to explicit faith. I am not saying we should ignore the hypersensitive--there are many ways to signal to those people that we are not the least bit totalitarian--but spare a thought for those whose readiness to embrace Christian faith is matched by their need for a trustworthy place to grow into full and equal discipleship.

I think it would be both fun and instructive to build some more texts to suggest for our home pages. Feel free to use the comment box or to write to me at johan at maurers dot org.

Here's Reedwood Friends Church's attempt to put "who we are" on page one. (We're dual members--Reedwood in the USA and Moscow Friends in Russia.)

Ohio Yearly Meeting:
The primary purpose of this website is to share with the wider world the work that God is doing in our community, and to invite others to discern what God is asking of them. We are eager to work with others who seek to follow the Lord as he guides us and teaches us today. We hope that this site will give you a better sense of who we are and what we can say about God’s gracious dealings in our midst. We look forward to getting to know you, too, as you feel moved to respond.
I love the message on Antioch Church's site, "Life is better connected." (Bend, Oregon, USA.) This is my experience, too! (By the way, I draw on their videos liberally for my gospel/blues desserts.)

Going back a few weeks to "Cult 45"... I hadn't heard about "Gun Appreciation Day," January 19, until Donna Laine of East Whittier Friends mentioned it to me. I appreciated this link she sent: "Four things Christians need to remember about gun control." Thanks to Kent Walkemeyer for bringing this to our attention.

"Saving Evangelicalism, part two." "Evangelicalism is always going to have its jerks, its egomaniacs, its wackos. Don’t worry about them. Instead, love."

"Blind Teen Stands Up to Putin on Adoption Ban." The more I read about this young woman, the more impressed I am.

Yet another inspiring counterbalance to the recent drumbeat of negative images of Russians: an appreciation of the late Yuri Schmidt.

And yet another: Nadezhda Mandelshtam speaks to us across the years.

Friday PS: Lev Gudkov, of Russia's Levada Center polling organization, on "The Year of Unfulfilled Expectations and a Crisis of Power."

Is this true?-- '...Christians aren’t used to "thinking of something positive to say about themselves."' (Eric Muhr's Dirt Window on "Depravity.")

Last week I linked to an article that charged the film Zero Dark Thirty with helping make torture palatable again. Here's a different take on the same concern: Paul D. Miller reviewing the film in Books  & Culture. Not having seen the film, I'm not in a position to take a stand either way, and I don't share his just-war orientation at all, but his modest approach deserves a respectful hearing: "Perhaps the very same act—like using an 'enhanced interrogation' technique--is an obligatory act of self-defense and a damnable act of revenge at the same time for different people, depending on the state of their hearts."

I started this post with Signe Wilkinson's talk at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Here's her site, with some effective messages of her own. I plan to show some of them to our students here.

Ana Popovic, Big Pete, and the Mannish Boys:


Bill Samuel said...

While the phraseology may be unique to Quakers, the concept that Christ has come to teach his people himself is most certainly not. This is the understanding of many Christians.

Johan Maurer said...

Theoretically, I agree. Functionally, our lack of a hierarchy and priesthood are (or ought to be) powerful differentiators.

As you know, I don't support the conceit that Quakers are a superior breed separate from the larger body of Christ (never mind a new religion altogether). I'd like to assume that all of us in the household of faith are trying to learn what it means to live with God at the center.

But we bear a crucial testimony to every single believer's direct access to that center. Our friends participate WITH us, not FOR us. The religion industry, from day one, has constantly elaborated more and more furniture, procedures, verbiage, formulas, gatekeepers, and on and on. Let's keep our little door as wide open as possible for those who just can't make it through those mazes.

Again, it's not a competition. Let the rest of the Christian family thrive, too!! But evidence suggests that the way of simplicity is still needed.

Unknown said...

Johan, I love the boldface paragraph! But I want clarity. Are you offering it as "open source" text? I'd like to put it on Scarsdale Friends Meeting's Facebook page and use it in our Quaker Quest publicity.

QuaCarol said...

(Sorry, Johan. That last comment was from me. I had the wrong box checked on the comment form.--Carol Holmes)

Nancy Thomas said...

Congratuations on your 500th blog. You faithfully bring something worth reflecting on and, sometimes, acting on.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, everyone! Carol, yes that text is "open source."

Michael Snow said...

'Practically the only unique thing that justifies our existence as a movement, the major plank in our platform, is "Christ has come to teach his people himself." Are we going to live that out or not?'

Many could take a lesson from a non-Quaker who took seriously living that out: