This winter I was asked to consider writing a piece "Envisioning the Future within our Quaker faith." The article was to be published in SPARK, the newsletter of New York Yearly Meeting (composed of 90ish congregations), and would have gone out in the spring. Well, it came at a great time for me as I was considering lots of things related, and so I wrote a piece in response. Turns out though, that folks did not publish it for one reason or another, only referencing it in the newsletter and putting it up online. Anywho, I felt like there was some power in it, and continue to feel this way, and so I've reposted it here in hopes that Friends find some use of it. Please re-post, reference, and comment as you please.
Where Are We Now?
I have been been sitting for weeks with the question posed to me in the request to write for this issue: How do I envision the future of the faith of the Religious Society of Friends? Over and over, in trying to sit with the future I have been driven back towards the present. How are we to get there – wherever “there” might be – if we don't know where here is? What is our tradition about? What is at its core? Why do we worship? I found myself scarcely able to imagine the future given that I had a hard time even grasping the present.
It is not that I haven't considered these questions. Far from it. It is that I am unclear that my responses to them would be anywhere near to normative. And that is when it Opened: the way forward is not in there being some “normative” response to those questions, but in having some response. In our Meetings and homes we ought to be really asking these questions and expecting responses. Why do we come to Worship? Do we really believe in Discernment? Do we even believe in God? What do we even mean by “God”? Can we unite with our Faith and Practice? If not, then what? We are all doing each other a great diservice by not having these conversations out in the open.
Contemporarily, we Liberal Friends tend to resist articulating our beliefs. “All are welcome,” we say, and “none are turned away.” With this I unite. But what happens when someone comes through our door because she wants to know what we believe? What happens when someone believes something and isn't sure they are welcome to believe it for lack of conversation? My hope for the future of our tradition is not one in which all agree, but one in which we are impelled into the transformation of inner and outer lives, concieved, nurtured, and pruned in discerning worship, the result of which ripens into Justice and the fruits of the Spirit. My hope for the future of our tradition is that we might then be empowered and encouraged to speak – regularly and profoundly – of our experiences of the Divine. Towards that broader vision I offer my perspective in hopes that you will offer yours. This is how Truth prospers with me.
I am agree with Friend Patrick Nugent as he writes that “whenever goodness radiates and transforms the heart, whenever the conscience rises up and stands in the revealing and liberating light of goodness, there, whether named or not, is the Bread of Life which never fades away, the redeeming presence of the risen and living Christ.” I stand with him and our forebears in the belief that practice of a full and authentic Christianity is grounded in experiences of Real Presence, mediated via the gift of the Holy Spirit and actually discernible in worship. My faith's power is not in a mere ethic of compassion, an eternity of heavenly compensation at some later time, or the warm glow of community life in the present. My work is to practice coming into that Light, Life, and Power which takes away the occasion of all war, that Presence of God in which we are perfected – if only for a moment – and in which we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The path is to live lives that more and more readily resemble those moments revealed in prophetic ministry: to realize that we need not “build up” the Kingdom because it is already here among us, if only we would enter it.
I believe that much of contemporary progressive Christianity – including our own Religious Society – has become too close a bedfellow to generic liberal social concern and has turned too often to rationalism and modernity for its identity, becoming habituated to a pattern of accepting a series of “second bests” instead of waiting on the liberating power of God which insists upon justice in the present. I know that much of the history and narrative of the Christian tradition is dubious and – to be frank – hard to swallow. I know this and yet I know that there is no nourishment in the desert of doubt. I believe Paul Ricoeur was correct when he wrote that we are called beyond the desert of criticism to a Second Naïveté. Yes, there are times when it is best we not eat, for there is sickness to be purged, but we must acknowledge that hunger cannot be fed with starvation: eventually there comes a time when we are to take up the knowledge and precision gained through the wielding of our hermeneutic of suspicion and step with it out beyond doub'ts edge back into a place of surrendering belief. Not as naïve children, but as people of faith working on the basis of the substance of things hoped for but as yet unseen, trusting that in our faithfulness we will be led towards justice, granted compassion, and met with community. By virtue of our baptism in the Spirit we are called to this: belief.
And so… I believe in the resurrection of the Body: as people of God we are called into a new life, into a new way of living on earth, while still in the flesh and with our feet yet made of clay. I believe that the story and hope of this new birth were with Jesus in his life and death and I believe that in his refusal to submit to the Powers and Principalities he offered even them the opportunity for redemption. We are called to do no less. I believe these things because they are what seem most right in the moments when I have been held under the Holy Power of God's Spirit poured out. And yet, even as I am held in this power I feel called to resist the temptation to allow my sense of certainty to reign above my hospitality; to resist placing my sense of the truth over and above others. I feel called to proclaim my testimony as exactly that: a concrete witness to the experience of God's transforming capacity my life and flesh and not some idealized and absolute external theology or creed.
I believe that the Living Water is yet live and that we are each invited to drink at that place of nourishment there beyond the desert, wherein we might also partake of the Bread and enter the Kingdom, for it is already here among us. If only we would enter. Enter and share the story of the land beyond.
We gain so much from hearing one another speak from hallowed places. Let your life speak.