A Place to Stand

I have been a member of North Carolina Yearly Meeting conservative for over twenty years. I am currently the clerk of our small Monthly Meeting. I am a recorded elder and presently serve as the Recording Clerk of our Yearly Meeting's Ministers, Elders and Overseers. My name has been put forward to be the next clerk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative. By trade I am a philosophy professor.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Why isn’t Quakerism more inspiring? Some of us do find Quakerism inspiring; it provides the vision that puts a spring in my step on run-and-not-be-weary days and helps me get out of bed on walk-and-not-faint days. But even for those of us who do find in this peculiar version of the Christian faith a source of spiritual food and drink that others do not see or understand something is lacking. Quakerism is not all it could or should be. We have too many walk-and-not-faint days and not enough run-and-not-be-weary ones. What’s missing?

In the gospels Jesus speaks of mysterious food and water that bubbles up from within people from an inexhaustible supply. This sustenance he identifies with “doing the will of the Father.” Of course every Christian will agree that we should do that. Good-hearted atheists will agree too though they will balk at describing it as God’s will and prefer some more secular equivalent like “doing what’s right.” Quakers rightly have not worried very much about the words people use to describe this spiritual reality but they have insisted on something that most other Christians have denied: that the will of the Father is very specific and personal and to know the crucial details requires that we be constantly alert—that we listen. The Jewish Law tried to capture God’s will in generalities—don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness, and most importantly love your neighbor. These generalities are helpful. They provide “cruise control” for those times, all too many, when I’m not really listening. But generalities like this aren’t enough. When there is a confused teenager in front of me I need to know which truth to tell and what words to use and I need to know it now. One size definitely does not fit all.

This is where Jesus’ message, repeated by Fox, blasts its way through. Stop, listen, the Source never goes away, you will be given the words then and there whenever you need them. Those who take this seriously enough to really try it find that it works so often and so well that it is real and isn’t just a result of the better impulses of our own personal subconscious minds. We can say we know this experimentally.

So what is missing from modern Quakerism? Why isn’t it more inspiring? Because while this is a walk you can and must try to walk by yourself it is also a walk that you should and ultimately must walk in fellowship with others. We are branches on a vine. A cut-off individual branch inevitably withers. This food and drink that bubbles up within each individual isn’t meant just for that individual; it is meant to be shared in a community of listeners and doers of the Word. This is why we meet for worship together and don’t just meditate alone. This is why we are called a Religious Society of Friends. There is too little sharing of this spiritual food and drink among us. Why is that?

Because the sharing is meant to be reciprocal. I'm talking about sharing not preaching. It is quite different from trying to use these experiences to “prove” God’s reality to those who don’t believe. I would never try to use the spiritual food and drink that the Spirit has given me as a weapon to “make someone believe.” Real sharing occurs only among people who have similar experiences. Which Friends in our Meeting are kindred spirits with stories to share? They can be hard to find. What we don't want is to get into a debate with someone who thinks all this "God stuff" is silly. Those who consciously reject the idea of God aren’t yet ready to hear these stories. I wouldn't chase them away. They are coming because they are responding to a call from a God they don't yet believe in. Quakers have always known that we need to treat such people gently and just wait for God to work on them from the inside out. But they are not the people we need to talk to in order to be fed.

Inspiration comes from the inspired. When Friends stick to politics and other "safe" topics spiritual power becomes dampened. On the other hand, when inspired Friends find each another both are made stronger. There is an increasing number of Friends who are getting their courage up. They are actively seeking out spiritual friends among Friends. The Quakerblogosphere is part of that but ultimately the real work has to be done face to face.

(This post is part of a series which begins on January 1, 2007.)


Blogger Liz Opp said...

Richard, I'll be curious to read the subsequent posts in this series, as I'm able. So for now, I'll withhold my initial response and wait. Or at least, see how long (or short) I can wait!

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

8:28 PM  
Blogger Laurie Kruczek said...

Your post speaks to my condition. Politics, often the one topic at meeting everyone openly discusses, takes a back seat to God. I hear it and I take it in, as the Spirit works through them for social change. For myself, for my family, God is much more present. Unfortunately speaking about God at meeting won't get very far. We are too new to Quakerism to step up, yet so sure we are on the right path, don't want to back down. And you are right. Real work has to be done face to face... but how???

12:20 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...

The reference to this post in Quakerquaker says it is the first in a series. Actually the series starts at the beginning of the new year and continues. I'm trying to spell out piece by piece my own positive suggestions on how Quakerism can move forward putting it in the context of the on-going culture wars and putting that in the context of intellectual history. Since this is a tall order I'm breaking it all up into bite-sized essays, each one devoted to just one or two simple ideas.

I don't know yet how many more essays will be in the series. Certainly there is one or more on Convergent Quakerism. My aim is to present a comprehensive positive picture of what modern liberal/conservative Quakerism could be which will attract people towards this Center.

1:45 PM  
Blogger jez said...

The literal example of the food and drink bubbling up has to be bring-and-share lunches.

A Friend took me to Golders Green Meeting, London, last year. From nothing there appeared so much food, that people took leftovers home.

God is everywhere and we take God for granted.

It is our loss and God's.

5:23 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Greetings jez,

We love our potlucks down here too. They come in various flavors from highly traditional North Carolina country food with its tiny biscuits and homemade pies to the urban intellectual type with its lentils and kashi. But its really the conversations among Friends that stays with me.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi, Richard.

First of all, my apologies for the incorrect description on QuakerQuaker of how this post fits into the longer series. I'm glad you make the correction; it's a wonder how I could miss the very clear statement that appears at the end of your post, explaining that the series started on 1 First Month 2007.

Second, I am struck by this part:

...when inspired Friends find each another both are made stronger. There is an increasing number of Friends who are getting their courage up. They are actively seeking out spiritual friends among Friends.

To me, being inspired and "getting one's courage up" is also part of what it means to be faithful to God's leading, especially when we are called to speak or offer vocal ministry.

Certainly that has been my case, that I have felt enCOURAGEd when I have heard (or read) other Friends speak (or write) of their love of God and their yearning for more Friends to embrace certain traditional practices or authentically reclaim traditional language...

It has also been my experience that much joy--much inspiration--comes from being faithful, even in the tiniest way. When we are faithful to our inward prompts and Divine nudges, more opportunities to be faithful to other leadings will be provided.

On the flip side, my experience also shows me that much anguish is created when I have been anything BUT faithful--when God has had an immediate influence upon me, and I have been "breathed upon" but somehow knowingly deny or resist that Divine influence. Then oh then how hard I must work to feel set aright once more!

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

11:07 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...


Everything you say about inspiration and courage and faith here is right on target. This is a very big part of recovering the truth about Christian teachings. Faith isn't "believing what you know ain't true" (Mark Twain) and in fact has only an indirect connection to believing. When Paul writes about faith being the key to the opening of the new life he specifically refers to the faithfulness of Abraham and Jesus. It was their courageous obedience to direct personal divine guidance that Paul was talking about. To confuse faith with accepting some theological doctrine like the Trinity is just wrong-headed. Faith is lived not recited.

Don't worry about the slip concerning the start of the series. Anyone interested will find the start of the series and read it.

7:59 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home