03 July 2014


Sometimes it's just hard to concentrate! (Weil der Stadt, Germany.)
Our extraordinary circular tour of friends and Friends has ended. We're back in Elektrostal, but by the time I publish this, it will be very early Thursday morning and we'll be about to get into the taxi for Sheremetyevo Airport. By the time Thursday ends, we hope to be in Maine.

Over the years, I've written several times about the themes of passion, conversion, certainty, and temperament among Friends. Tonight I've got a specific question: How do we Quakers feel about enthusiasm?

If you ever got a chance to hear Gordon Browne speak, you may have heard him mischievously tell this story: (quoting from my memorial post) ... A recent convert went into a Friends meeting in Philadelphia and burst into enthusiastic testimony: "Friends, I have to tell you--I've met Jesus! I've found religion!" Not content with one outburst, he got up again and said, "I can't hold it in! I'm reading the Bible--I've found religion!" After a third such exclamation, an elder stood up and addressed him directly: "Friend, you may have 'found religion' but you didn't find it here."

Friends in all our traditions (not just the liberal groups) have had a wonderful ministry to refugees from more authoritarian brands of religiosity. I can't begin to count the times when I've spoken with someone who says, "I came to faith through the Quaker door because they didn't beat me over the head with doctrine" (or shame, or the Bible, or hellfire). One British Friend who is now comfortable with owning the label "Christian" told me that it was precisely the vagueness of his British Friends meeting that enabled him even to approach Jesus, simply because of the allergies he carried from previous encounters with organized religion.

On the evangelical side of the Quaker world, there are similar stories. A close friend and former colleague of mine said that she came out of a Christian tradition that was heavy on judgment. As soon as she walked into her first Friends meeting, she was overwhelmed by an sensation of grace and forgiveness.

I came to Friends from an atheist family, so I had practically no encounters with old-rugged-cross religion in my formation. I was endlessly fascinated with the doctrines and biblical content of Friends faith and practice--in fact, so fascinated that I applied for membership with what must have seemed to others like blinding speed--after less than a year at any rate. Now, forty years later, I'm so grateful that my enthusiasm wasn't held against me!

I bring this up now because once again I'm on a committee considering what Friends material to publish for a wider audience. And once again, rightly or wrongly, I worry about a tendency to prefer material aimed at hypersensitive refugees rather than people actually ready to make an enthusiastic Christian commitment.

It's not that we should do anything to close the door to people who have been wounded by religious authoritarianism or who have been conditioned by secular society's reactionary skepticism to discount any spiritual truth claim. Our insistence on evangelism with integrity--based on honest testimony rather than pious happy talk--gives us an opening to these audiences.

But these are not the only audiences we ought to seek. This very same commitment to integrity also gives us a responsibility to make our case to those who are ready to embrace with enthusiasm a Christian path that rejects manipulation, theatricality, hierarchy, and bombast in favor of the immediate leadership of the Holy Spirit.

So my challenge is this: how do we Friends extend our welcome not only to the wounded and skeptical, but to those who are searching for a spiritual home in which their passion and enthusiasm will be welcomed, affirmed, and not exploited?

Just a few comments on the 27 responses I got to my survey concerning the future of this blog.

How many blogs do you follow?  Seven said 1-4 blogs, seven said 5-9, ten said 10 or more, and 3 don't follow blogs.

How often do you read my blog? Eighteen of you said "weekly"! This one made me humble, because I read a lot of blogs and love several of them, but I can't think of a single blog that I follow that faithfully! (I do know that statistically it's far more likely that regular readers saw the survey to begin with!) Anyway, thank you! The "sporadical" answer was marked by seven. One made an interesting comment: a reader who looks at the blog after seeing a link on social media.

In the future, I should  ... Continuing to publish "weekly" ties with "when I feel like it," both receiving eleven votes. One person agrees with "ten years is enough." One of you says that I should do what I think best but likes to read the blog.

Concerning the link lists (which I'm cutting short in today's post because the taxi is coming soon!):  Nineteen of the 27 respondents find them useful, five ignore them, two said they were already reading the same sources. One uses them occasionally.

Other comments: Two agree with "lose the blues" ... nobody seems worried about heresy ...  One encourages me to be more personal. I've thought a lot about writing more personal content, because that's what I love to read in others' blogs. I find myself often blocked by concerns about privacy--not my own privacy, but that of family, friends, students, and easy-to-guess personalities in the tiny Quaker world. But for someone who believes in telling the stories of God's power in our lives, I seem to do rather little of that myself!

I got several affectionate personal comments that I'm not going to quote here; I just want to assure the writers that I glowed when I read them. Thank you for the affirmation!

"Bad Quakers" ... "Arguably, the majority of Quakers in the past and present have reliably followed their personal and class interests rather than the leadings of God, just like virtually every other religious group." Ouch.

"Can we pray for the dead?"

Tim Parks on "Reading: The Struggle." "What I’m talking about is the state of constant distraction we live in and how that affects the very special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction...."

OK, it's time to sit on the suitcases, as Russians do before any big trip. It's a chance for prayer and for remembering that last thing or two that I might be about to forget to bring with us.

Superb musician and total showoff: Hans Theessink, "Maybelline"--reminding me not to forget my driver's license as I did last year!


Bill Samuel said...

If folks in a faith community aren't enthusiastic by what they're finding, why should anyone join them?

Bill Samuel said...

The prayers for the dead link was in an evangelical Anglican context. Is anyone aware of an established Quaker view on the topic?

My thinking is that we are asked to pray about all things. So if concerns for the dead are in our heart, we should pray about them.

We pray as we are moved. I don't think God wants us to get tied up in theological knots about what is "proper" prayer and what is not. Let's just lift up whatever is in our hearts to God.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for your comments, Bill. I think I'll continue my thoughts on enthusiasm later this week with the help of your comment.