Category Archives: quakerism

Light from Disability

This was written for Friends Journal’s March 2016 issue; unfortunately, they chose not to publish it.


June, 2005. I’m sitting at my computer, taking an online quiz about what religion best matches my personal beliefs. Raised as a Roman Catholic, I had left the church 7 years prior due to theological disagreements (particularly the importance of the Pope, the discrimination against women, and the church’s stance on abortion and LGBT rights). Since then, I had been searching for a new religious home. Taking this quiz was a last ditch effort. I’d attended other Christian churches, but none of them felt like communities I could be part of. The results of the quiz came back as 100% Liberal Quaker. I’m excited and eager to find out more about this religion, so I search for a Meeting… only to find the nearest one is half an hour away, which is further away than I can drive.

I’ve had juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (jRA) in all of my joints since I was an infant. Growing up with jRA, the disease made me an automatic “other”. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (also known as “juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis”) is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system targets part of the body. JRA is an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and pain primarily in the joints and musculoskeletal system; left untreated, this disease can result in permanent joint deformities and often, as in my case, can lead to disability. When I was growing up, the primary treatments available were large doses of aspirin and physical/occupational therapy. In elementary school, I took the special ed bus and often needed the assistance of an aide. In middle school, I often had physical therapy during and instead of recess.

While I never hesitated to tell people about my jRA—it was impossible to hide it from people I would be spending a lot of time with—I always felt like it was something I had to “overcome”. Not only as an obstacle to my education, but as an obstacle to friendship and relationships. My jRA was something I had to make up for.

Except for 6 days every summer, when I went to Arthritis Camp. Camp Dartmouth-Hitchcock was a summer camp in New England only for kids with arthritis or similar autoimmune conditions like lupus. For those 6 days, my jRA wasn’t something to overcome; it was something that united us. It made me a part of the group instead of apart from the group.

At Arthritis Camp, each evening before heading off to bed, we would sit in a circle in silence. We met in a big, old, drafty barn. The smell of wood and age became as soothing as the people around me, my friends and family for those 6 days. And out of that silence, sometimes, we would speak. Though camp wasn’t explicitly religious, I had never felt Spirit’s presence, love, and acceptance more powerfully than in those nightly circles.

Every year at camp, an award was given out to the camper that best exemplified the spirit of Dr. Joshua Burnett, who founded Arthritis Camp. Every year, I dreamed of winning that award; up until my last year at camp, when I gave up on winning the award and focused instead on being truly present with my fellow campers and for each of my last moments at camp. It was August, 1999; I was 17 years old. My right wrist, which would be my first joint surgery just the next summer, was starting to fail. I had just finished my junior year of high school, which had been one of the most painful years of my life up to that point.

The award was given out at a formal dinner the last night of camp. My last year at camp, the director stood and read the award:

“Dr. Joshua Burnett, a family physician with an ear for the need of his patients, became the first Rheumatologist in the state after hearing of a need. He willingly returned to school to learn to provide this specialized care for this patients. As a Staff Rheumatologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center he saw the need for a camp for children with arthritis. A place they could go and enjoy camping as any other child their age. It was his unselfish gift of caring for others that we honor with this award.

“Each year one camper is voted on by their peers as the camper that exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Burnett. This camper is caring and unselfish in his or her interaction with their fellow campers.”

And then, she said my name, and I became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I felt that being given that award showed me the best person I could be. It showed me how the power of true community could support and change a life.

That night, as we gathered one last time in the circle, a fire gently lighting the otherwise dark barn, I was filled with joy and despair. How could I leave this place? Would I ever find such a community again? One by one, we lit our candles from the flame of the fireplace, passing our light from one to the other. We spoke our truths. We cried together. And I knew that the strength I was given at Arthritis Camp would empower me for the rest of my life.

It was September of 2005 before I was finally able to convince my husband to drive me to the nearest Friends Meeting—Third Haven Friends Meeting in Easton, Maryland. We drove through their driveway, surrounded by pine trees, sunlight sparkling through the needles. We parked and followed the small stream of people into their old Meeting House. And when I saw the old Meeting House, my breath was taken away.

Walking into that building, that 300+ year old wooden building where sunlight streamed through open windows and doors, felt like returning to Arthritis Camp. That building felt just like the barn at camp. It smelled like home. I felt like I was home.

We sat, and I struggled to contain my joy. Words rose out of the silence, just like words rising at those evening gatherings at camp. These words were powerful. They were authentic. They struck that inner chord in my soul that knows Truth. The hour passed quickly, and I knew that finally, I had found my religious home.
But on the ride home, it become obvious that my husband had not had the same experience. While I found the silence liberating, he found it boring. He agreed to drive me to Meeting for Worship again, but he would not be attending with me. I was disappointed. I wanted to become a part of this Meeting, to once again participate in that communion of Spirit.

I managed to convince my husband to drive me to Meeting one more time. And at that Meeting for Worship, two Friends—two strangers—offered to drive me when they heard about my need for a ride. These Friends became friends, and they drove me to Meeting for several years. It was their willingness to offer assistance that allowed me to join Third Haven Friends Meeting as an official member in August, 2006. Though these f/Friends have since moved away, my husband has seen how important attending Meeting is to me and is more willing to drive me than he once was. Being a member of Third Haven has challenged me to live up to the Quaker testimonies, to question, to believe, and to be part of a community that is not always perfect, but one in which the Light is yet present.

Though it’s been many years since I last attended Arthritis Camp, the person I was during that final week of camp showed me the best person I can be. Each day, I try to live up to that award. Not doing so would mean I am not honoring the camp that showed me what true community, love, and caring could be like.

For myself, I have that award to strive towards. For my Meeting community, I have the loving, accepting, and caring camp community to work toward. It is the combination of these two elements, the divine and the active, that I most wish to share with my Meeting community.

And it is my disability that made this possible.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under arthritis camp, belief, meeting for worship, quakerism, third haven, worship

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Queries for Quakers

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. How does your Quaker Meeting treat its trans members? How does your Meeting behave in ways that contribute to transphobia? Is your Meeting a place where trans people would feel safe?

Does your Meeting have gendered bathrooms? Does your Meeting respect pronouns? 

What are you doing as an individual to alleviate the suffering of transgender people? Or do you behave in ways that contribute to transphobia?

Leave a comment

Filed under GLBT rights, lgbt issues, quakerism, speak and listen with love

Words to a Dying Cat: On Buddhist Right Speech vs. Quaker Testimony of Integrity

Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

It was time. Kosette was 18 days shy of her 18th birthday, but though her chronic health conditions (kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure) appeared stable, new symptoms had manifested that strongly suggested she had a brain tumor behind one of her eyes. We’d watched Kosette’s behavior, likely due to the suspected brain tumor, deteriorate over the last two days. We’d watched her suffer from anxiety–from fear of being left alone, but not wanting us to touch or pet her. We knew that, if she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, we would choose to euthanize her to end suffering. The appointment was scheduled for 5:30. At 5:10, it was time to load Kosette into a carrier and drive her to the vet, possibly for the last time.

Where before loading her into a carrier was easy and she would be relaxed the whole drive (and at the vet’s office), this time was different. She was confused and alarmed and fought us as we gently but firmly pushed her into the carrier. What used to be a calm, routine occurrence for her was now terrifying, as if this had never happened before. She was frantic and crying. Once in the car, she cried out in panic the entire drive to the vet.

Attempting to calm her, I told her repeatedly in the car, “It’s okay. It’s okay, Kosette. It’s okay.” 

I don’t know if it helped at all, but I had to try. My husband, who was driving, said nothing.

Later–after she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and we had made the decision to put her down (read more about Kosette here)–I asked my husband why he had said nothing.

“Because it wasn’t okay. We were taking her to the vet to put her down.”


Over a year later, this exchange has stuck with me, not just because of the sorrow of the moment, but because of how this exchange illustrates an apparent disagreement between my Quaker and Buddhist faiths.

Quakerism has a Testimony of Integrity; we Quakers have a reputation as truth-tellers:

“To Friends, the concept of integrity includes personal wholeness and consistency as well as honesty and fair dealings. From personal and inward integrity flow the outward signs of integrity, which include honesty and fairness. It is not only about telling the truth – it is applying ultimate truth to each situation. For example, Friends (Quakers) believe that integrity requires avoiding statements that are technically true but misleading.” from Wikipedia/Testimony of Integrity

For Quakers, telling the truth–the whole truth–is important. It is part of why I identify as a Quaker, because this act of being truthful–always–is an important part of why I am and has guided my behavior for as long as I can remember.

While Buddhism has a practice of Right Speech, this practice differences significantly from the Quaker Testimony of Integrity; in that Right Speech usually requires telling the truth, but not always:

“Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others. Then we say, ‘I was just telling the truth.’ It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech. The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept. Words that damage or destroy are not Right Speech. Before you speak, understand the person you are speaking to. Consider each word carefully before you say anything, so that your speech is ‘Right’ in both form and content.”
from “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Since becoming both a Buddhist and a Quaker, this discrepancy between my two faiths has remained a constant inner conflict. When presented with a challenging conversation in which I am forced to respond in a way that will have notable consequences depending on how much of the truth I reveal or how I choose to deflect the truth, I am pulled in two directions: do I answer always with the full truth of what I know and how I understand it, even if such an answer is likely to result in increased suffering or harm; or do I find a way to answer that may not reveal the entire truth as I understand it, but seems likely to result in a lessening of suffering or at least preventing the suffering that telling the whole truth would have resulted in?

In those words I uttered to Kosette–“It’s okay”–I knew it was not okay. I knew we were likely taking her to the vet to put her down. There is nothing that is okay about having to make that decision. But in that moment, I knew that–for me, at least–what was more important than telling the truth was saying something that could possibly relieve Kosette’s suffering and calm her down. “It’s okay” was what I would usually say to her when she was upset and I’m trying to calm her down. At that moment, I chose Right Speech over Integrity.

My husband, who is neither Quaker nor Buddhist but whose ethics usually accord with my own, chose to say nothing because he would not lie to her. And I also suspect it was easier for him at that heart-breaking moment to say nothing instead of saying something he knew in his core to be a lie.

Would I make the same choice if it had been a person I was speaking to instead of a cat? Reflecting back on that day, I believe both of us made the right decision, because both of us acted out of love for Kosette.

The longer I live, the more I pull away from the idea that speaking the entire truth all the time is always the right thing to do. In an ideal world, there would be no need to ever mince words or stretch the truth or tell a “white lie”. But this world is not an ideal one. And relationships between people are so much more complicated than the relationships I have with cats.

For example, a person may choose to tell me something in confidence that I promise not to share or let others know about. If later, someone asks me a question that I know the answer to, but answering truthfully would break my promise, what is the best way to respond? If I refuse to answer when the person knows I can answer, that often will indicate one way or another the answer I am trying to avoid revealing. And to lie outright, well, that is not an action I usually consider as an option. Telling the truth as I understand it is, and has always been, important to me. People who know me well know that I will tell you the truth if you ask for it and if I can do so in a way that’s not harmful to others or to you.

And yet, I remember what happened with Kosette that night. When it comes down to it, comforting her (as best as I could) was more important to me than sticking to my ethical rules. When it comes down to it, behaving in a way that reduces suffering as best as I can is more important to me than following a strict set of rules. When it comes down it, I care more about the being I’m interacting with–person or cat–than about notions of integrity or Right Speech.

Because ultimately, what is most important to me is not notions, but actions. How can I speak in such a way that reduces suffering? How can I respond to that of God in this person by my words and actions?

Every moment is different. Every person (or cat!) is different. All I can do is try to approach each moment mindfully and be aware of how my actions may reduce or increase suffering and try to behave in such a way that will reduce suffering instead of increasing it.

And I will fail. I will tell a dying cat that it is okay when it’s not in an almost-certainly futile attempt to relieve her suffering. I will say or write words that will harm people. I will make mistakes.

But I will keep trying.

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, integrity, quakerism, speak and listen with love

“That of God”: Letting Go of Fear

Most of the time I spend at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs is spent interacting not with people, but with cats. My main function is what’s called “socializing”; that is, I give cats attention—pet them, pick them up, hold them, and so on. The goal of this is often said to be making the cats more adoptable. And I do hope that my interactions with the cats ends up with them being more adoptable.

But that’s not what I’m trying to do, exactly. My goal, what is behind how I interact with the cats, is to let the cats grow into who they truly are. What this means in particular for many cats is that I try to encourage them to be comfortable enough around people that they enjoy affection instead of fear it. This depends on trust and respect. The cat has to learn to trust me (and hopefully once they learn to trust me, they’ll extend that idea to other people), and to get the cat to trust me, I have to respect its limits. Respecting a cat’s limits doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes do something that pushes its limits (otherwise a shy cat would never learn to be petted, for example), but that when I do push its limits, I’m aware that that’s what I’m doing and I let the cat dictate how long this uncomfortable interaction continues. And when the cat has learned that he or she can trust me, then the transformation begins: she or he starts relaxing into interactions instead of tensing. Purring happens. Greeting me when I walk into the adoption center begins to happen.

Ultimately, it’s about teaching the cat how not to be afraid. I don’t believe there are any “mean” cats; I believe that when cats aren’t afraid, they’re loving and affectionate. But this isn’t a natural state for cats when they interact with people. It’s something they have to learn or be taught. And the older the cat is when this learning begins, the more fear there is to overcome.

In short, what I’m doing is seeing and answering “that of God” in these cats. And they appreciate it.

And I’ve been thinking that this is how I’d like to interact with people, too; to interact with other people in such a way that they know they have nothing to fear from me, so they can become who they truly are. Because people, like cats, aren’t born learning how to interact with people. It’s something we have to learn. And sometimes that process of learning gets tainted with fear and we forget who we are, at our core.

We’re like cats, I think: when we’re afraid, we lash out. And when we’re with someone who knows us—truly knows us—we blossom. Can we learn to see each other how God sees us? Can I learn how to answer “that of God” in people as well as cats?

I hope so.

1 Comment

Filed under cats, daily life, God, inspirations, love, practice, quakerism, speak and listen with love, that of God

Simple Testimony

The Quaker Testimony on Simplicity has been gnawing at me for a while now, and I didn’t know why. After all, I love this testimony. I love the idea of paring away everything but what’s important to make space for God. The testimonies of simplicity and integrity probably affect my day to day life more than any other explicitly Quaker practice. And yet, there’s been this gnawing sense of something very wrong with our modern understanding of simplicity.

Let’s talk about the Quaker “patron saint” of simplicity, John Woolman, for a moment. John Woolman is best known for speaking out against slavery in a time where very, very few others were doing so. But he’s also known for making the decision to cut back on his business, which was becoming so profitable that he felt it was preventing him from having adequate time for God. This is the model of Quaker simplicity I’ve heard the most about. This is the ideal that’s been explicitly or indirectly implied: that Quaker simplicity is about cutting back so you can make space for God.

I don’t have anything against John Woolman. I think he was awesome for the things he did. He’s one of my all-time favorite Quakers.

But you know what else John Woolman was? A man of means. And the overwhelming sense of Simplicity that I seem to get from a lot of modern Quakers is from this assumption: that you have the means to make economic decisions that will allow you to better follow God.

It’s simple to choose a career that benefits the world and doesn’t exploit others. It’s simple to buy a Prius or a hybrid instead of a sports car. It’s simple to buy fair trade instead of supporting exploitative labor practices. It’s simple to buy organic whenever possible, and the more local, the better.

Isn’t our testimony on simplicity more than just another liberal yuppie shopping practice? Can’t you practice simplicity without having an upper-middle class budget?

I’ll be blunt. Not everyone has a choice what job they work at. (Not everyone has a career, either.) Priuses are expensive cars. I’m going to be needing to replace my 2001 Corolla sometime soon, and I’ve ruled out Priuses because they are way over my budget. Fair trade clothes? Also expensive. Organic food? Expensive.

No one needs to have money to follow God. Period.

There’s another “patron saint” of simplicity, Thomas R. Kelly. With him, it was more about choosing how to spend your free time wisely. One of his most famous quotes is probably, “We cannot die on every cross. Nor are we expected to.” In other words, as worthy as a cause may be, it’s okay to say no and leave that burden to another if it’s not what we are called to do.

Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for Thomas Kelly. He’s probably my favorite Quaker writer. Still, the assumption is that you have free time to spend and the freedom to choose how to spend it. That’s a luxury and freedom that not everyone has.

So, what do I think our testimony of simplicity is really about, if not about choosing how to spend time or money in better service to God? It’s about knowing what’s important and acting in accord with that. It’s not about how you spend your extra time or extra money, but about what matters to you most day to day—how you spend all your time and money, not just the “extra”. And when you’re clear on what is most important to you and live your life in accordance to that, then you’re living a life of integrity.

3 Comments

Filed under classism, quakerism, simplicity

Bi-religious Duality

There’s often an underlying tension when one professes to be a member of two religions. There’s the constant challenge of “Well, how can you be both X and Y?” And often one avoids answering the question by either outright ignoring it or starting a long convoluted explanation about how even though these two religions seem to have differences, they’re really not all that different when all is said and done.

Except sure they are, or you wouldn’t find it necessary to be part of both. You would be satisfied with one religion and wouldn’t feel the need to have two.

I am both Quaker and Buddhist. These two religions do have some similar beliefs—Quaker’s “that of God” is comparable to Buddhism’s bodhichitta or the idea that anyone can find enlightenment, not just monks—and some similar practices—when I sit in Meeting for Worship or for meditation, physically I am doing the same thing—but Quakerism is not Buddhism and Buddhism is not Quakerism. Nor should they be!

In this post, I’m going to focus on one of the most important theological differences I find between Buddhism and Quakerism. Now given the wide diversity of beliefs in both Buddhism and Quakerism, this post is going to involve lots of generalities and is just my understanding of what are the foundations of both religions, regardless of whether all Buddhists and all Quakers currently believe in these foundations or not.

This foundational difference is the concept of God. In Buddhism, there is no God, at least not in the personal, creative (as in, creator of the Universe) sense. The universe and all its inhabitants are, ultimately, ruled by karma, the law of cause and effect. In this sense, Buddhism is very scientific: because this happened, this then came to be, and so on. Pema Chödröm has this to say about the belief in a personal God, the kind of God who actually cares about you as an individual and interacts in the world:

“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us… Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.”

Quakerism, on the other hand, has a foundational belief in the existence of a personal God. We sit in Meeting for Worship waiting to be Moved by Him (or Her or It or Whatever), and if we are so Moved, we stand and share the message. We believe that one can be Led. We have clearness committees to test Leadings. Now whether all Quakers today would agree that a personal God exists, we clearly believe that there is Something that has the ability to lead us. We believe in Something that can call us to an action or an inaction. We believe all can have a personal relationship with this Something without the need of a priest or outward sacraments.

Now whether Quakers today would name this Something God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, Allah, Nature, or Our Inner Goodness, this belief is not one that is found—as far as I know—within Buddhism.

The belief that I can be led—personally—by the Something seems at odds with the Buddhist belief in karma. How does a Something that can interact with me personally fit in with the Buddhist understanding of the universe as a mechanism of karma? How does that work?

It doesn’t seem to work, to be honest. Buddhist and Quaker dogma aren’t the same. They are inherently different. They come from different foundations: Quakerism is founded upon the idea of a Creator God, specifically the God of Jesus, that is accessible to all people; while Buddhism is founded upon the idea that anyone, despite current caste and past karma, can become enlightened and free from this world of suffering by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. Quakerism in a sense encourages the individual—one has a personal relationship with God, one can be led—while Buddhism discourages the individual—the idea of a Self is ultimately a delusion. And if that is true, then how can something that doesn’t truly exist be led?

Wow, I am really over-simplifying and generalizing, aren’t I?

But what it comes down to is that practicing Quakerism and practicing Buddhism works for me—experimentally—as George Fox would say. The Buddhist practice of meditation—the maitri/metta I talked about in my last post; the mindfulness of breathing, of pain, of sound, of Being—works for me. The Quaker practice of waiting upon the Light works for me. How can I deny that I have been Led? Can I look back upon the ministry I’ve given in Meetings for Worship and dismiss the heart-pounding, body trembling that inspired me to stand and speak?

And yet, I can’t deny that there are serious differences between the two religions, and that these differences in some cases seem to be contradictory.

And so I am forced to stand in the Center, between what seems to be two choices, and wait in the tension.

Because what it comes down is that I believe more in experience than in notions. And that is something that both Buddha and George Fox would agree with.

2 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, different faiths, discernment, faith, leadings, practice, quakerism, statement of faith, that of God, universalism

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.

10 Comments

Filed under convergence, convergent Friends, different faiths, meeting for worship, Quaker Quaker, quakerism, universalism

The Future of Quakerism

“Things don’t happen overnight. You achieve by struggling, not by lying down. There is a voice inside that talks to you when you are alone and silent. That voice I have come to call ‘the God in me’, and it tells me when I’m right, when I’m pretending, when I’m dishonest, when I’m fair. If you follow it and are committed to it, you will get somewhere.”
Wangari Muta Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, as quoted in Amnesty International Magazine, Fall 2007


“As death draws near, a dying person may hear a still small voice inviting her to freedom. Sitting with the dying, sitting still in meditation, and sitting at the edge of cultures different from my own, I have also encountered that still small voice. It is there to speak to us all, if we can give it enough silence to be heard.
“Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death” by Joan Halifax

 

As a Quaker, a member of a relatively small religion, I’m positively tickled when I come across quotes like those above, written by non-Quakers. While the idea of that “still small voice” originated in the Bible, I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that Quakerism, more than most religions, actively promotes the belief that if one is silent, one can commune with that inner voice. And even more so, that all of us have access to that “God in me”.

I often think that we Quakers don’t give ourselves enough credit. We liberal Quakers look at our diminishing numbers and fret about whether our religion is going to be in existence in 100 years or whether our Meetings will just die out. What I think doesn’t get talked about enough is how Quaker ideas have spread into general society.

Haven’t you ever seen a non-Friend use the term “speaking truth to power”? I’ve seen it more than once, often in publications released by human rights organizations. The two quotes above from vastly different sources are just examples of how Quakers ideals have taken root in people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves Quakers.

I don’t think what matters most is whether Quakerism as a religion will still be around 100 years from now. I think what matters most is that Quaker values and some of our foundational beliefs are gaining mainstream acceptance.

Isn’t that more important than whether, say, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting will still exist as an organization in 2111?

1 Comment

Filed under quakerism

Politician Morality Logic Challenge

I just sent the following email to my Congressman. Somehow I doubt he’ll actually reply, but this needed to be said.

Dear Mr. Harris,

In response to my email stating that I do not support HR 3, you stated:

“I feel that taxpayers who believe abortion is wrong should not have their federal tax dollars used to pay for abortions.”

As a Quaker and a Buddhist, I believe that war and military actions are wrong. By your logic, I should not have my federal tax dollars used to fund wars or military actions. Would you support the actions of Quakers and others whose faiths prompt them to find war unjust and immoral to not pay the portion of their income taxes that’s used to fund war? If not, how can you claim that one group of people—those who find abortion immoral—should be allowed special treatment by the government to prevent their tax dollars from being used in a way they’d find morally abhorrent while another—those who find war immoral—are denied this?

Please don’t reply with a form email.

Sincerely,
[me]

2 Comments

Filed under buddhism, peace, politics, quakerism

Discontent

I have not been attending Meeting for Worship regularly recently.

I have not been meditating regularly recently.

…And yet I gave up sweets for Lent, though I haven’t been Catholic for years and don’t really believe in the Resurrection of Jesus as Christ…

The truth is that I go through phases: phases where I’m meditating every day, where I’m attending Meeting for Worship twice a month or more, where I feel very grounded and connected to both the religions I’ve claimed as my own.

I haven’t been feeling that connected recently.

Still, I see their subtle effects in my life: my tendency towards always telling the truth as best as I know it; my constant attempts to do as little harm as possible, or at least cause as little suffering as possible (even to bugs!); the constant background to every action that nudges me towards living up to the Quaker Testimonies and the Buddhist vows I’ve taken.

The truth is, I suppose, that I’m not sure how much I miss the outward “actions” I’m “supposed” to be doing. Shouldn’t I be missing meditating and Meeting for Worship?

The two faith practices that have stuck with me are praying before sleeping and spiritual reading. Perhaps these are enough for now. Perhaps I should dispel the “should”s for a while and do what feels most meaningful to me.

Perhaps I should release the worry that maybe I’m not really a Quaker or a Buddhist because I’m not doing x, y, or z.

Leave a comment

Filed under belief, buddhism, catholicism, emptiness, faith, quakerism, struggling with faith