Category Archives: convergent Friends

Thoughts on Dually-Affiliated Friends

I’ve always felt a certain discomfort about Nontheist Friends and other dually-affiliated Friends. (But, you protest, aren’t you a dually-affiliated Friend?? Yes, but I don’t identify as a Buddhist Quaker or a Quaker Buddhist: I am both a Buddhist and a Quaker.) Some of this discomfort about Nontheist Friends stemmed from preconceptions I, as a theist* (more on that later), had. A few weeks ago, I joined a Nontheist Friends Google group. At the time, I was questioning my belief in God. I’d recently come across several passages in Buddhist books that described theism as, basically, the adult version of a blankie: the belief in a supernatural being that could, at a moment’s notice, if one prayed hard enough, fix all of your problems. This was not my kind of theism, so I began to wonder if I might actually be one of those “nontheist Friends” I actually mocked with another Friend a few years ago:

“Here’s what I don’t get about nontheist Friends. What, exactly, are they DOING in Meeting for Worship? Who do they think is leading them?”

We had a good laugh and moved on.

And, thankfully, I’ve moved on, too. I now feel that ANY one, regardless of faith or belief, should be welcomed into Meeting for Worship. As I’ve said previously on here, if the person sitting next to me calls that which moves him or her to speak “God”, “Jesus”, “Holy Spirit”, “Spirit”, “Gaia”, “Allah”, “innate humanity”, “connection to the universe”, “bodhichitta”, etc., that doesn’t change that we are being moved by the same One.

The conversations I’ve had via email with nontheist Friends over the past few weeks have been helpful to me. They, overall, appear to be a thoughtful, kind, open group. Nontheism is not just made up of the “Angry Atheist” (i.e., the person who lost his or her faith in God because of a traumatic event and is angry about it) or the “Overly Rationalist”, as I have thought in the past, but a wide variety of beliefs about the world, people, the universe, etc. There’s currently an engaging discussion going on about “supernatural events”, e.g., ghosts. My time spent interacting with this group has been helpful not only in dispelling preconceptions I’ve had (and I likely still have some that need to be dispelled, so I am planning on remaining on this email list for a while), but also in helping me narrow down what, exactly, it is that I believe.

And what became apparent to me in reading these emails is that I am not a nontheist. It’s just not what I believe. Panentheism–the belief in God as universe and more (similar to the idea that the whole is more than the sum of its parts)–is closest to where I am right now.

So, while I’m comfortable with worshiping with those who would describe their worship experience differently than I would, I’ve come to realize what I am not comfortable with in our Religious Society. This realization was brought about by a comment a Friend made on facebook about his experience at this year’s FGC:

“I heard no references to Jesus from ordinary participants, and remarkably few to God. I heard, multiple times, that Quakers can believe anything and have no rituals. There was evangelizing by “nontheist Friends” who had a table offering tracts (albeit tucked away out of the flow of the crowd) and one of whom buttonholed me, unsought, in a hallway. There was no sign I could find of evangelizing either by mystics of the Jonesite sort or by Quaker traditionalists within FGC.”

Here’s the thing: while I am a Buddhist, I don’t expect my Quaker Meeting to be Buddhist. I don’t expect messages delivered in Meeting for Worship to be given in Buddhist terms. I don’t–and wouldn’t, unless I had a very, very clear sense of being Led–give ministry in Meeting for Worship using Buddhist terms.

Quakerism, while it is a faith where anyone can join us in worship, no matter what they do or not believe, is a religion rooted in Christian mysticism. Historically, those are our roots. And what concerns me about this Friend’s comment is I worry that some dually-affiliated Friends may be trying to deny those roots. Again, I do not believe that one needs to be Christian to be a Quaker. (I do not identify as a Christian.) But I do feel that one needs to understand and respect Quakerism’s Christian roots. Quaker language and tradition have evolved from these roots, to be sure, but the roots are there.

I want to make clear that I do not believe all dually-affiliated Friends are trying to deny Quakerism’s roots and change Quakerism into some kind of “melting pot” religion. I know I’m not the only dually-affiliated Friend who wholly respects Quakerism for what it is.

But for those dually-affiliated Friends who may be trying to disentangle Quakerism from its Christian roots and reform it into a religion that matches their particular faith, I would ask these Friends to reconsider their actions. Is Quakerism made better by the existence of nontheist Friends? I would say yes. Is Quakerism made better by the existence of dually-affiliated Friends (pagans, Buddhists, Jews, etc.)? I would say yes.

But should Quakerism as a religion become Nontheist, Buddhist, pagan, or Jewish, etc.? I answer no.

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Friendly Connections?

During my Worship & Ministry committee meeting today, an idea came to me as I spoke a little bit about convergence. Back when I was in elementary school, my school had a “sister school” in Africa. We exchanged letters back and forth and the idea was that we’d learn what life was like for each of us. What if we did something like that at my Monthly Meeting?

Here’s my idea: My Monthly Meeting would pair up with a Monthly Meeting of a different kind, pastoral or semi-programmed. We’d correspond regularly, sharing news of our MMs, the trials we were facing and the blessings. The goal wouldn’t be to “convert” the other MM to our way of worship, but to exchange ideas and foster dialog. Then maybe once a year, we’d do an exchange: my MM would send one member to visit the other MM’s Meeting for Worship, and they would do likewise.

I didn’t have a name for this until right at the end of the committee meeting, but I think “Friendly Connections” might be a good one. It will take my committee a while to get this organized, if we choose to do it, as we’re between clerks right now; in the meantime, if any of you like this idea and want to run with it, please feel free.

Also in the meantime, if any of you from a different tradition would like to correspond with me in an informal way, I’d love that. I’d prefer letters, but email would also be a possibility. (Marshall Massey, I thought of you in particular as this idea came up… Are you interested at all?)

Thoughts?

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Converging Upon Perfection

There’s a sense among Friends that the idea of convergence is a new thing, and is something that began on the Internet. I’d like to propose that this sense, though understandable, is incomplete.

“One challenge for those who would renew connections among all Friends is to listen through preconceived notions and not be limited by rational discourse. The power of the still, small voice of God often brings lessons in humility and unexpected openings.”

This isn’t a quote from a blog, but from a book called “A Certain Kind of Perfection”, which is an anthology organized by Margery Post Abbott and includes the writing of historical, liberal, and evangelical friends. It was published in 1997 and was the second book about Quakerism that I ever read, back when I was going through Convincement. That quote is from the Introduction, during which she lays out the case for convergence as understood by the Quaker blogmass of today:

“Understanding each other’s theology is not something Quakers have done well. Understanding the words of theology without admitting the validity or even the existence of the experience of the love of God behind the words leads only to dispute. One of the almost humorous phenomena of the early nineteenth century was the constant stream of publications that quoted early Friends in support of every conceivable doctrinal position. Thoughtful Friends today remind us of the ambiguities and paradoxes encompassed within the beliefs of the first generation of Quakers. I join in this challenge to explore the nature of these paradoxes…

May we focus on the richness we can gain as we sift through our various ways and place new emphasis on the essential Quaker message. Isaac Penington’s admonition, first published in 1681, still holds true. The ‘main thing is to know the guide, to follow the guide, to receive from him the light whereby I am to walk; and not to take things for truths because others see them to be truths, but to wait till the spirit makes them manifest in me.'”

What is particularly interesting to me is that she actually offers us a way forward to convergence, without ever using that term:

“Through my encounters with evangelical Friends and the consequent explorations of the roots of my own faith as a liberal Friend, I find a connection between these two traditions in the unlikely concept of perfection… we all believe that as we turn towards God, then are obedient to divine guidance, we will experience an inward peace and act with compassion, humility, and righteousness. We can, through the work of the Spirit, live out God’s reign on earth. All Friends seek to live out of the love expressed in the Sermon on the Mount… When understood as wholeness, spiritual maturity, soundness, completion, or even obedience, perfection starts to become more accessible to me. Other Friends who find the terms perfection and holiness difficult are more apt to speak of discipleship, obedience, baptism with the Holy Spirit, or the ‘Lordship of Jesus Christ’. For a few, spiritual formation or inner healing are the most expressive terms for perfection. ‘Teleos’, the Biblical word for perfection, means ‘end goal’ and suggests an orientation more than a fixed state of being.”

I’m not sure I can say it any better than she did, so I will ask you all what you think: is she onto something here?

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Convergent Friends

A couple of months ago, I joined the Convergent Friends mailing list (for information, click here). I recently received an email from Kevin Roberts of Ohio Yearly Meeting that included the following:

None of the branches retain the original witness, which I see as a balance between relying on the Inward Light, identifying the historical Jesus as the eternal Christ, committing to social responsibility, and focusing on Christian evangelizing. Each of the traditions left out something important. The Liberals forgot the importance of the historical Jesus, the Pastorals forgot the importance of the Inward Light, and we Conservatives at Ohio Yearly Meeting forgot the outside world and the importance of spreading the Gospel. All of us are incomplete.

One of the first books I read about Quakerism was an anthology called “A Certain Kind of Perfection”, which had excerpts about various Friendly topics written by historical Friends (such as George Fox), liberal Friends, and conservative Friends. I’m glad I was able to read this anthology so early on, for, as expected, my Monthly Meeting primarily encourages the reading of historical and liberal Friends. As I was reading through this anthology, I was struck with sadness that the Religious Society of Friends had split. I understood how the split had occurred, but it seemed to me at the time that each group was focusing on one aspect of Quakerism at the expense of others.

Kevin’s e-mail reminded me of what I had thought back then. I do not think that the three divisions of Friends (EFI, FUM, FGC) can be reorganized into one organizational body at this time, as I imagine that acquiring unity could take years, if not decades, for just about any subject. But my early observation still seems true to me, in exactly the way that Kevin described.

Robin (from the “What Canst Thou Say?” blog) has provided me with a name. She came up with the term “Convergent Friends” to describe “Friends who are seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life in the kingdom of God on Earth, radically inclusive of all who seek to live this life.” (from here.) Individually, I think that most Friends would be comfortable saying that none of the three divisions are complete; but I think that there is a strong tendency in our Meetings to overlook the contributions of Friends in different divisions. Douglas Steere is probably an exception; and perhaps this is just a deficiency of my own Meeting and is not shared by others, but from what I’ve read on the Quaker blogsphere, my Meeting does not seem to be an exception.

I’ve recently discovered that FUM has its own magazine called “Quaker Life”. FGC has “Friends Journal”. I’ve no doubt that EFI also has its own magazine. I wish there could be one magazine that could serve all three. We have so much that we can offer one another and so much that we could learn from each other.

If you could contribute books from your division to a Meeting from a different division, what books would you recommend?

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