30 June 2022

A query on queries, part two

Here's a query for you: What did you think about my post on the uses of queries?

So many of you responded, and I appreciated those responses so much, that I thought I'd place those responses here in one handy place, lightly edited, and see where they might lead me. I'm not going to name the authors here, but you can look at the comments below the original post and here on Facebook.

I have mixed feelings about queries offered for open worship. I suspect it helps some and others know enough to set them aside. Often the time allotted for open worship is too brief for effective centering, queries or not.

And some unprogrammed meetings for worship can seem interminable.

I used to print one of the queries in the bulletin each Sunday right underneath open worship.

Sometimes helpful - sometimes not.

Waiting Worship, in a strict, unprogrammed sense, requires the input and faithfulness of all those present. Otherwise, it is mealy and insubstantial. Concluding with queries may well be leading others towards a desired answer. I do see your point. I've always believed that vocal ministry was a discipline, but that notion seems to fly over the heads of many.

I experience a difference between waiting worship, as practiced by early Friends and still practiced in some communities, and “open worship” as practiced in pastoral meetings. Framing a period of “open worship” with programmatic worship feels, in my heart, rather like trying to cage and limit the applecart-overturning aspects of the work of the Spirit, the wind that (as Jesus said) blows where it will. A query at the beginning only adds to my personal feeling that this is what is going on.

Some liberal “unprogrammed” meetings I have visited begin a meeting with a discussion period or a query, and some individual worshipers begin it with the morning news or the previous week’s news. That bothers me in much the same way: it feels like putting Christ’s Spirit in a human harness to attempt to direct the way it goes. 

How we fear to let God freely speak! — and yet He will.

Mind you, this is just me speaking for myself. I fully understand that different practices may be experienced differently by different people.

I am "guilty" of this and will continue the practice because it receives good feedback and as a worshipper who is easily distracted during open worship I appreciate having something concrete to focus on.

It probably depends on how much programming you have chosen to participate in.

I look at queries as possibilities. I consider it optional to consider them as I enter into open worship space. Sometimes it's as simple as, "this is what Matt is considering this week" or one question begins what I consider a "worshipy brainstorm". I try to use mindfulness practices to observe my thoughts and watch where they go, often it gets to stickier spots where I can hear the Divine.

Open worship is a particular gift….

There have been times when the Holy Spirit had entirely different words than the sermon or the query.The main thing is to be open to hear.

Is posing the query something that is itself being moved in the moment by the spirit? 

Sometimes queries seem to be just the right way to conclude a message and enter into Open worship... but no rule on it! :-0

It's a nice gloss but in my now distant experience of Quakerism it doesn't do anything to resolve tempers between people that arise from meeting life.

Sadly after about 35 years at [her Friends church] and watching the cruelty of the elders in driving our pastor to resign, I can't think of the Quaker Church without thinking of nauseating hypocrisy. In fact, I have no church whatsoever now. Someone should write queries that keep a handful of people in the Quaker Church from wielding power and ignoring the voices of the rest of the people and getting away with it. I doubt I will ever darken the door of a Quaker church again.

What would George Fox say?? I am just finishing Janney’s biography of GF, and am impressed again by his encouragement to faith!

Thanks, Johan! Queries as a segue from sermon to open worship have value, especially for those new to open worship. In the Meeting I pastored for many years I sometimes used queries but I also put in the bulletin after the message: “What can you say? (Taken from the old Quaker term, “What canst thou say?”) A time to reflect and respond.”

Have Friends Meetings changed so much that a Query about a historical figure is needed to start a self meditation, a group worship? What happened to seeking Truth in the Light? Or that of God in every person?

In the presence of Christ, it goes against my conscience to reflect upon or oppose a conscience guided and informed through conceptual entities in the form of queries. The formality of queries is secondary or a distraction. Opposing conceptual agents in forms like queries only serves to turn opposing specific formalities into a formality itself which, in turn, diminishes awareness of Christ's presence through engagement in the agency of reflective nature; which is the primary concern. [This is only about a sixth of the original comment; see original post for full text.]

I love that we have queries between the sermon and open worship. When I first attended Camas Friends and saw queries, my heart leapt for joy. It had been many years since I had seen them at my old meeting. For those who are unsure of what to do during open worship it gives them something to think about and in some ways makes it easier to reply. For the more seasoned, it inspires us to dig deeper and let the spirit illuminate where we need growth and also allows us to encourage others. We aren't limited by them, they are simply a helpful guide post.

With great thanks to those who contributed these responses, I'm still not clear on part of the issue I originally addressed. I asked whether your feelings about queries might be based on temperament or personality, and I think I got implicit answers between the lines of some of your responses. (Yes, different personality types feel differently about queries. It helps that I know some of you personally!)

What I'm less clear on is the situation of those of you who do not find queries helpful. Do you feel limited or coerced by their use, or are you nevertheless ready and willing to set them aside and focus on a perhaps purer concept of waiting on the Holy Spirit while being aware of the ways they can help others? Originally I asked, "Does their very presence inhibit the freedom with which we ought to enter that period of worship?"

The subject of a more traditional Quaker use of queries—in service of teaching, self-examination, and mutual accountability—came up during our Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends annual sessions. Specifically, the subject of queries arose during the meeting of the Faith and Practice Committee.

Canadian Yearly Meeting queries (1969)
Contemporary Quaker practice among many yearly meetings, including most or all in the "liberal" tradition, treads very lightly in matters of doctrine and teaching. In contrast, take a look at the queries in the 1969 edition of Canadian Yearly Meeting's Organization and Procedure in the graphic at right (see this post for background; I apologize for putting an image file here, but it saved a lot of typing). There is plenty of plain, straightforward teaching here, presented in query format, but usually without much doubt about what the right answer is.

If queries are now considered a way of presenting Quaker teaching in a way that seems less limiting or off-putting, we face a new set of challenges. 

First: In principle, I love the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition of public relations based on "attraction rather than promotion" (Tradition Eleven), but for Friends this would be a fatal mistake. For us, "attraction rather than promotion" could easily degenerate into a boutique religion that emphasizes social affinity instead of God's radical hospitality to all. Instead, the work of "public relations" should be a collaboration among very different temperaments and spiritual gifts to invite and welcome all sorts of people. Some of us will be best equipped to attract through language, through clear communication; others through prophetic action; others through the testimony of lives lived in the Light.

Second: would the whole idea of mutual accountability be lost? The queries used by Canadian Yearly Meeting fifty years ago were ratified by time and experience, not by whether they could survive the veto power of anyone who feels unduly challenged by their expectations.

Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends has partly sidestepped the doctrine issue by not requiring applicants for direct membership in the Yearly Meeting to write a statement of belief that would be judged by whether it conforms to our teachings. Instead, we simply invite them to consider whether they wish to be part of a Christ-centered body.

It seems to me that, along with our own testimonies to our experiences with God, sensitively-written queries might well be the best expression of teaching for that approach to membership. These two elements—honest testimony to our experience, and the invitation to look within ourselves and our community through queries—might well serve as the basis of a book of faith and practice for our new yearly meeting.

Nineteen USA Quakers issue an invitation to a national dialogue on the urgent threats to our democracy....

How decentralized government brought Ukraine together.

Meanwhile, in Russia, four months of sanctions.

A protesting shopkeeper in Russia: "My neighbors fully support me."

Duty! Thou Sublime and Mighty Name! (William Schweiker on the January 6 hearings in the USA.)

Witnesses abiding by duties is a surprising turn of events, one that might well save the democracy from the corruption that has seeped into the nation. The appeal to duty is even more surprising in our jaded times when many are ready to find self-interest and pandering behind every human action, especially in politics. Admittedly, public congressional hearings are not the usual haunts of Sightings columnists, at least not this one. Yet the hearings have revealed how the claims of duty have stiffened the wills of many public servants to resist the seductions of power, intimidation, and even threats to life and limb. Important for Sightings, those claims were often rooted in appeals to the US Constitution, the Bible, and the divine.

John Jeremiah Edminster's simplified index to the Digital Quaker Collection.

A classic, "It Hurts Me Too" as performed by the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Warren Haynes.


Marshall Massey said...

In your earlier post, you seemed to me to be asking how we felt about the use of queries in one particular manner, namely, as lead-ins or framing for worship. On FB, I responded with my reservations. Now you seem to be asking a broader question, regarding how we feel about queries regardless of how they are used.

I find queries very helpful as they are used in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). In each of those yearly meetings, monthly meetings take a special time set apart for simply wrestling with those queries, focusing directly on them, and answering them. In Iowa (C), to which I belong, this is done once a month, each time addressing a different one of the twelve queries. Coming up with our response to the query of the month can easily take an hour or more, with each individual who feels so moved offering her or his own response. The person who clerks the meeting writes a minute summarizing our response (in the format, “One person responded ——; another said, ——”), and the meeting reviews, amends, and approves the summary. In Iowa (C), the clerk then picks one meeting’s response to each query (a different meeting for each query) and her assistants read the selected responses to the yearly meeting, to listen to worshipfully. In North Carolina (C), the yearly meeting hears every monthly meeting’s response to every query, in a process that involves a whole day of worshipful listening. Either approach fosters a sense of our community accountability to God and our community responsibility for one another.

I feel this is a very powerful use of the queries, although I feel that much depends on what topics the queries address. A query such as “do you ‘walk in love as Christ also that loved us’?” might search our inward beings in a way that a query such as “in what ways can we encourage an educational process that is consistent with the values Friends cherish?” does not.

Friends might recall that the earliest Queries dealt with organizational matters — punctual attendance at meetings for worship, proper handling of marriages, things of that sort. The sorts of query adopted in the mid-twentieth century, in Canada (the queries you quoted) and Iowa (C) and Philadelphia and elsewhere, shifted the focus to personal and corporate improvement. Further changes since then have aimed at bringing liberal and liberal-leaning Conservatives in line with secular liberal morality. Even when I have agreed with the morality, as I generally have, I have sensed that this has been a movement in the direction of shallowness, and that has troubled me. Particularly in the Conservative tradition, I feel such a central and regularly repeated practice as the queries needs to zero in on our faithfulness to Christ our Guide, as Christ our Guide has been historically understood in the light of the biblical record, rather than our faithfulness to secular trends in correctness.

kfsaylor said...

"What I'm less clear on is the situation of those of you who do not find queries helpful. Do you feel limited or coerced by their use, or are you nevertheless ready and willing to set them aside and focus on a perhaps purer concept of waiting on the Holy Spirit while being aware of the ways they can help others? Originally I asked, "Does their very presence inhibit the freedom with which we ought to enter that period of worship?"

I have used the term "hinderance." However, I am aware the term itself is insufficent. I do not feel limited or coerced by queries. When I choose to participate in institutionalized worship, I am aware of the various formalities that may be used. A sense of coercion would only happen in the context of my being forced, against the movement of Christ's spirit in my conscience, to participate. In my experience, it is the awareness of the presence of Christ in my conscience and consciousness that draws me out of attention to the formalities of institutionalized worship and the agents of those forms. It is the awareness of the continuous and immediate experience of Christ's presence itself in itself that renders down valuation of and attention to institutionalised formalities like queriers. This attention to the living presence of Christ is not conceptual. It is not of the reflective nature. I am not drawn out of attention to the formalities of institutionalized worship through reason or the intellect. The being drawn out of attention to institutionalized worship and into the sufficiency of continuous worship in the direct presence of the spirit of Christ is a different way of worship wherein all mediation is rendered down into the living presence of Christ itself in itself. In this experience, the formalities that are rendered down are not seen as "limiting" or "coercive", (that would be of the reflective nature) they are experienced as fulfilled (a purpose which is no longer needed) in the light and living experience of the direct and immediate inshining presence of the spirit itself. This unprocessed experience in itself is not a judgement against formalities like queries, it is merely an acknowledgement of a movement away from and into a different way. This different way establishes me in the Spirit itself as my foothold or habitation in worship and human relations without the mediation of political, religious, educational, or economic formalities.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Marshall. Yes, I intended to shift to a more traditional use of queries, though, as you say, there had already been a shift in focus.

However, I am still interested in those who do not like the use of queries as a transition into open or waiting worship (leaving aside the valid point as to how "open worship" in a programmed meeting might differ from waiting worship in an unprogrammed context). Are those who don't find that transition function helpful still willing to endure it for the sake of those who do find it helpful, or do they believe it is unhelpful for everyone?