13 July 2017

A good Quaker is hard to find

(Русская версия здесь.)

Gordon Browne used to tell this story on himself:

One day Gordon and another teacher took a high school group to see an amateur production of a Shakespeare play. It wasn't exactly the highest-quality production Gordon had seen, and as he and his colleague were leaving the theater together, he pointed out some of the defects. But his colleague saw it differently. Pointing to their happy students, he said, "Yes, you're probably right -- but look at their faces!"

When I hear overused and misused quotations from early Friends being advanced to describe us (number 1 being "that of God in everyone"), and my inner curmudgeon kicks in, I remember Gordon's story, and reflect back on when I first learned about Friends -- that is, when, for me, those same quotations were fresh and powerful.

Nowadays, among some Friends, "that of God in everyone" is sometimes used as a self-contained summary and explanation of what we Friends believe. For that purpose, it's cultish and inadequate. It avoids saying anything about the Friends movement that is awkward in today's skeptical culture: the Bible, Jesus, the cross.

But as the heart of Friends evangelism and missiology, "that of God" is crucial. Rather than presenting seekers with a set of propositions, we encourage them to turn to that witness of God's love and truth already within them. It's a message that is made credible by how our own community lives in light of that witness.

Two things got me going on this train of thought.

First: Micah Bales has written one of those "I wish I'd said that" blog posts, "Are Quakers Guilty of the Sin of Pride?" This uncalled-for pride has been an irritant to me for years, and I've vented about it more than once (here's an example where I also reference Micah!), but never as effectively and persuasively as he does here. The heart of his provocation:
To repeat for clarity: A sense of our own sinful unworthiness is native to the Quaker tradition. But we seem to have lost it. We’ve traded it in for a self-congratulatory sense of Quaker-led historical progress.
... and this important warning: The skeptical world is unimpressed with people who think they’re wonderful.

Second: Earlier today we heard a completely straightforward and sincere question from a new Friend: "Where do I find out how to be a good Quaker? I'd like to be one." It reminded me of a new attender at Moscow Friends Meeting about five years ago, who couldn't contain his joy at finding our little group: "I love you all and want to be more like you."

Whatever we do to diagnose and address our identity issues, I hope we cherish the idealism of people like these. Maybe they're detecting the very heart of our discipleship when we've become weary of the ways that discipleship has sometimes become routinized and stylized and trivialized into a private subculture.

What about this as a functional definition of a good Quaker? ... Someone who is wholeheartedly involved with their Friends meeting or church. Period.

The advantage of this simple definition: putting the accent on mutual accountability and discernment rather than promotion of a set of behaviors and legalisms. However, do we trust our churches to be "good Quaker meetings"?

For me, the heart of Friends discipleship is learning to live with Jesus at the center of our community, and helping each other to live this way, including its ethical consequences. But for our churches to live this way, we have to learn to cope with our distractions. We have to practice the spiritual equivalent of zero-based budgeting -- paying the rent, changing the lightbulbs, painting the sign, but ultimately and constantly returning to the central interrelated questions,
  • What does it mean to live with Jesus at the center?
  • What does God want to say and do in this world through us?
If we stick with it, no matter how imperfect our amateur performance might be, someone (maybe even God!) might say, "but look at their faces!"


Compassion for one's oppressor: moral absurdity or genius?

Masha Gessen on why the con worked.
The cast of characters is also part of what makes the correspondence so shocking. A washed-up British tabloid journalist, a tasteless Russian singer with a filthy rich father bankrolling his career, a corrupt Russian lawyer, an American reality TV star running for president, his son, and a tacky international beauty pageant that binds them all together. This list reads like an insult to American democracy. It also provides some clues about what really happened.
Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia brace for court decision.

Jim Kovpak offers #TheResistance a little help when it comes to Russia....

American civil religion is dead, long live American civil religion.

Eugene Peterson's second thoughts on same-sex marriage. Was he put on the spot?

"The sun rise in the east, goes down in the west. I do believe one day every living creature would get some rest." J.B. Lenoir with Freddy Below.


Unknown said...

Unfortunately the answers for the questions you are asking have been out of my reach for a time. I just wanted to show support for your ideas and way of thinking. My Husband is a birthright Quaker (nearly 9 generations back) who remembers way back when before the sense of superiority began to take over. I am disadvantaged. My faith background as an Anabaptist is hindering me. Anyway. Your post has given me lots to think about. And I thank you.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Sarah. I hope you'll feel the freedom of this space to add more thoughts as you are led.