Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quit pushing your belief system on me!

Dear Friends, Quit pushing your belief system on me! You keep telling me that this is an experiential religion, and then every time I turn around you are telling me that I need to believe in things like simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, etc. You proudly tell me that Quakers don't proselytize but then preach to me about opposing war and how bad Republicans are. What is experiential about that? If it is truly experiential, I think I would expect you to be able to describe it to me without starting with "Quakers believe in.." or "Quakers don't believe in..". Here's why I am confused. I come across things like this from Robert Barclay:
for when I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart, and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me, and the good raised up, and so I became thus united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed.
That, to me, speaks of experience, and not about believing in particular principles or values. Why aren't you saying things like that instead of telling me what values I should have? Isn't there something beyond words and ideas? Is there something like what Isaac Penington describes here:
Yea, I did not only feel words and demonstrations from without, but I felt the dead quickened, the seed raised; insomuch that my heart (in the certainty of light, and clearness of true sense) said, This is he, this is he, there is no other: this is he whom I have waited for and sought after from my childhood; who was always near me, and had often begotten life in my heart; but I knew him not distinctly, not how to receive him, or dwell with him. And then in this sense (in the meltings and breakings of my spirit) was I given up to the Lord, to become his, both in waiting for the further revealing of his seed in me, and to serve him in the life and power of his seed.
He wasn't persuaded by arguments, ideas, or speech, but by experiencing the Spirit in his heart. You talk about Quakerism as if it is about experience, but when you get down to the details, you are long on values and short on experience. Maybe you could just admit that it isn't about experience any more and is just about a set of beliefs. Sincerely, Mark Wutka

Monday, February 06, 2012

Let All Things Be Done Unto Edifying

I have been thinking again lately about the content of vocal ministry. I have mentioned before that one of the things I really love about my visits to North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative is that much of the ministry and conversation centers around our faithfulness to God. Are we listening? Are we allowing ourselves to be led? Are we obeying the inward Guide, or are we resisting it?

One of the verses in the bible that I consider key to our worship is 1 Corinthians 14:26:

What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (NRSV)


In the King James Version, the last sentence is "Let all things be done unto edifying." The idea of edification is all over the writings of early Friends. It is very common for worship, or opportunities, or the influence of the Light upon the soul to be referred to as edifying. In a similar way, Friends were often encouraged to exhort one another, following the advice from Hebrews to "exhort one another daily." Alexander Parker, in a 1660 letter from prison writes, in part:

Dear hearts, in brotherly love and heavenly fear, I do exhort you all, as dear children, to walk together in truth and love; exhorting one another, and building up one another in the holy faith, which works by love;


What has been on my mind lately is how often vocal ministry seems to be about things like the nature of God or other more theological subjects (perhaps those who are bombarded by politics and summaries of NPR would ask "What are you complaining about?")

When I hear Friends talk about Quakerism, I often find that our supposedly creedless faith is described in terms of what we believe ("we believe there is that of God..", "we believe in equality, simplicity, etc."). It seems like many Quaker Quest sessions also present our faith tradition in terms of its beliefs or ideas. The rejection of creeds wasn't about not believing in anything, but was a witness that Quakerism was about our direct encounter with the Spirit and how it changes us, teaches us, and guides us. Faith is a matter of trusting in that Spirit, not about believing in particular doctrines. I think Friends often grasp this idea with respect to other faith traditions, but don't notice when they do the same thing.

Why does it seem rare to hear people speak about listening, obeying, welcoming the Light? Why aren't we exhorting others to faithfulness? I think we all need that from time to time. It isn't that I think we should resolve ourselves to deliver specific messages, but I feel that if faithfulness is in the forefront of our mind - both individually and as a meeting, that we may perceive messages differently, perhaps finding different ways to express what has been laid on our hearts.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Southern Heroes is now available

During the North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative annual session this year, I heard about an out-of-print book called "Southern Heroes" about southern Friends and their struggles with not participating in the Civil War. I found some of the descriptions I heard compelling, such as men having guns tied to their hands and being put at the front of the battle lines. I spent the next few months cleaning up a scan of the book, reformatting it with LaTeX and indexing it. I am happy to say that printed copies are now available from lulu.com.

Southern Heroes cover

I have also posted the PDF to the QuakerQuaker Library.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seth Loflin and the Firing Squad

There are so many passages in "Southern Heroes" in which Friends maintained their principles. I found this one particularly touching:

Others of the members of this meeting suffered severely for their principles, but we will now follow our friend Seth W. Loflin in his time of trial.

He had been a member with the Friends but a short time, when he was arrested as a conscript and sent to camp near Petersburg, Va. He was at once ordered to take up arms, which he refused to do, saying that the weapons of the Christian were not carnal, and that he was a Christian and forbidden to fight. The officers evidently thought that by prompt and severe measures he could be made to yield his conscientious scruples, but they knew not of what spirit he was.

First they kept him without sleep for thirty-six hours, a soldier standing by with a bayonet to pierce him, should he fall asleep. Finding that this did not overcome his scruples, they proceeded for three hours each day to buck him down. He was then suspended by his thumbs for an hour and a half. This terrible ordeal was passed through with each day for a week. Then, thinking him conquered, they offered him a gun; but he was unwilling to use the weapon. Threats, abuse and persecution were alike unavailing, and in desperate anger the Colonel ordered him court-martialed. After being tried for insubordination he was ordered shot. Preparations were accordingly made for the execution of this terrible sentence. The army was summoned to witness the scene, and soldiers were detailed. Guns, six loaded with bullets and six without, were handed to twelve chosen men. Seth Loflin, as calm as any man of the immense number surrounding him, asked time for prayer, which, of course, could not be denied him. The supposition was natural that he wished to pray for himself. But he was ready to meet his Lord; and so he prayed not for himself but for them: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Strange was the effect of this familiar prayer upon men used to taking human life and under strict military orders. Each man, however, lowered his gun, and they resolutely declared that they would not shoot such a man, thereby braving the result of disobeying military orders. But the chosen twelve were not the only ones whose hearts were touched. He who holdeth our lives in his hand melted the hearts of the officers as well, and the sentence was revoked. He was led away to prison, where for weeks he suffered uncomplainingly from his severe punishments.

He was finally sent to Windsor Hospital at Richmond, Va., where he was taken very sick, and after a long, severe illness, during which his Christian spirit and patience won the hearts of all around him, he quietly passed away, leaving a wife and seven children. A letter was written to his wife by one of the officers, an extract from which may be a fitting close to the account of this worthy man's suffering.

"It is my painful duty to inform you that Seth W. Loflin died at Windsor Hospital, at Richmond, on the 8th of December, 1864. He died as he had lived, a true, humble and devoted Christian; true to his faith and religion.... We pitied and sympathized with him.... He is rewarded for his fidelity, and is at rest."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Eliza Gurney Meets Abraham Lincoln

As I continue my work on "Southern Heroes", I would like to present the story of Eliza Gurney, the widow of Joseph John Gurney, meeting Abraham Lincoln.

Eliza P. Gurney of Burlington, N. J., the widow of Joseph John Gurney, was a Friend minister of deep spirituality, refined tastes, and much ability. Her sympathies were enlisted for Abraham Lincoln during the dark days of the war, and she felt constrained in the love of the Gospel to visit him. It was on a rainy morning of the first day of the week in 1862, that she and her friends were introduced into the private apartments of the President, who received them very cordially. John M. Whitall, of Philadelphia, one of the party says: “It was a time not soon to be forgotten. I cannot possibly describe the scene; the solemnity of the silence, and the impressive address of our friend, during which the tears ran down the cheeks of our honored President. During the earnest prayer for the nation and himself, he seemed much affected, and as we arose to go he retained the hand of Eliza P. Gurney and made a most beautiful response to what had been said. This response began and ended with the words, ‘I
am glad of this interview.’”

More than a year after, Abraham Lincoln sent Eliza P. Gurney a request to write him a letter, which she did, and so highly did he prize that letter, that it was found in his breast pocket at the time of the fatal shot of J. Wilkes Booth, nearly two years afterwards. Below is a copy of the letter:

Earlham Lodge, 8/18,1863.
To the President of the United States.
ESTEEMED FRIEND, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Many times, since I was privileged to have an interview with thee nearly a year ago, my mind has turned toward thee with feelings of sincere and Christian interest; and as our friend Isaac Newton offers to be the bearer of a paper messenger, I feel inclined to give thee the assurance of my continued hearty sympathy in all thy heavy burthens and responsibilities, and to express not only my own earnest prayer, but, I believe, the prayer of many thousands whose hearts thou hast gladdened by thy praiseworthy and successful efforts "to burst the bands of wickedness, and let the oppressed go free," that the Almighty Ruler of the universe may strengthen thee to accomplish all the blessed purposes which in the unerring council of His will and wisdom, I do assuredly believe He did design to make thee instrumental in accomplishing when He appointed thee thy present post of vast responsibility, as the Chief Magistrate of this great nation.

Many are the trials incident to such positions, and I verily believe thy conflicts and anxieties have not been few. May the Lord ‘hear thee in this day of trouble, the name of the God of Jacob defend thee, send thee help from his sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.’ The Lord fulfil thy petitions that are put up in the name of the Prince of Peace, of the increase of whose government and peace there shall never be an end.

I can hardly refrain from expressing my cordial approval of thy late excellent proclamation appointing a day of thanksgiving for the sparing and preserving mercies, which in the tender loving-kindness of our God and Saviour have been so bountifully showered upon us; for though, as a religious people, we do not set apart especial seasons for returning thanks, either for spiritual or temporal blessings, yet, as I humbly trust, our hearts are filled with gratitude to our Almighty Father that His delivering arm of love and power has been so manifestly round about us; and I rejoice in the decided recognition of an all-wise and superintending Providence, which is so marked a feature in the aforesaid document, as well as the immediate influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, which perhaps never in any previous state paper has been so fully
recognized before.

Especially did my inmost heart respond to thy desire "that the angry feeling which has so long sustained this needless and cruel war may be subdued, and the hearts of the insurgents changed, and the whole nation be led through paths of repentance and submission to the divine will, back to the perfect enjoyment of union and fraternal peace." May the Lord in his infinite compassion hasten the day.

I will not occupy thy time unduly, but, in a feeling of true Christian sympathy and Gospel love, commend thee and thy wife and your two dear children to the preserving care of the unslumbering Shepherd, who, in his matchless mercy, gave his life for the sheep, who is alone able to keep us from falling, and finally, when done with the unsatisfying things of mutability, to give us an everlasting inheritance among all them that are sanctified through the Eternal Spirit of God.

Respectfully and sincerely, thy assured friend,
ELIZA P. GURNEY.


During the next year President Lincoln sent to Eliza P. Gurney the following acknowledgment of her visit and letter:


Executive Mansion,
Washington, September 4, 1864.
To ELIZA P. GURNEY.
My Esteemed Friend: I have not forgotten–probably never shall forget–the very impressive occasion when yourself and friends visited me on a Sabbath afternoon two years ago. Nor has your kind letter, written nearly a year later, even been forgotten. In all it has been your purpose to strengthen my reliance upon God. I am much indebted to the good Christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations, and to no one of them more than to yourself.

The purposes of the Almighty are perfect and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this, but God knows best and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein, and meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make and no mortal could stay.

Your people, the Friends, have had and are having a very great trial. On principle and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this dilemma some have chosen one horn of the dilemma, and some the other. For those appealing to me
on conscientious grounds I have done, and shall do, what I could and can, in my own conscience under my oath to the law. That you believe this I doubt not, and believing it, I shall still receive for our country and myself your earnest prayers to our Father in Heaven.
Your sincere friend,
A. LINCOLN.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Ulysses S. Grant on Settling Differences

For the past few months I have been working on reprinting the book "Southern Heroes", about Friends in the southern U.S. who refused to fight in the American Civil War. When I finish, it will be available via lulu.com as was the Journal of Joseph Hoag I worked on a few years ago. I have encountered many interesting stories in this book, and interesting quotes. I find this one particularly good, given the source:


Though I have been trained as a soldier and have participated in many battles, there never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not have been found of preventing the drawing of the sword. I look forward to an epoch when a court recognized by all nations will settle international differences, instead of keeping large standing armies, as is done in Europe.

Ulysses S. Grant


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Unity of the Spirit

As I sat in meeting this morning, I found myself reflecting on unity, and what it does and does not mean to be in unity. Where Friends once spoke about finding unity during business meeting as meaning that all had the same sense of where the Spirit was leading them, it seems like many Friends use the term "consensus" and refer to it as finding something that everyone can agree on. I do not think consensus and unity are the same, because to me unity allows for the possibility that while I do not agree with something, I may have a sense that the Spirit is indeed leading us in that direction, and that my disagreement might come from my personal feelings interfering with my discernment.

I was thinking on unity on a larger level, however, not just in terms of the business meeting. There is often a homogeneity among Friends that springs from a desire to be with like-minded people. It is certainly easy to see why someone who disagrees with the norms of American culture might seek some shelter from it by huddling together with like-minded folks. I believe that we send subtle, and often not-so-subtle, signals to those that are not like-minded that they do not belong, whether it be through "Republicans for Voldemort" bumper stickers, or various odd-looks at large SUVs or particular forms of dress, or folks making disparaging comments about various other groups during meeting. This like-mindedness takes on the appearance of being "what is it to be Quaker".

When early Christians and early Friends spoke of "unity of the Spirit", I believe it was someone quite different from like-mindedness. Instead, it was a shared experience of God, of a love and power so strong and so bright that worldly concerns became pale before it. It is an experience in which like-mindedness does not matter, because the experience of love is so strong that it is impossible to hate the person you disagree with. It occurs not because of like-mindedness, but in spite of it.

This evening, as I was reading through some selections from Isaac Penington, I came across this discussion of spiritual unity, which spoke to the things that have been on my mind:

Some Questions and Answers Concerning Spiritual Unity

Q. 1. What is spiritual unity ?

A. The meeting of the same spiritual nature in divers [i.e. one another], in one and the same spiritual centre or streams of life. When the spirits or souls of creatures are begotten by one power into one life, and meet in heart there; so far as they thus meet, there is true unity among them.

Q. 2. Wherein doth this unity consist ?

A. In the life, in the nature, in the Spirit wherein they are all begotten, and of which they are formed, and where their meeting is. It consists not in any outward or inward thing of an inferior nature; but only keeps within the limits and bounds of the same nature. The doing the same thing, the thinking the same thing, the speaking the same thing, this doth not unite here in this state, in this nature; but only the doing, or thinking, or speaking of it in the same life. Yea, though the doings, or thoughts, or words be divers; yet if they proceed from the same principle and nature, there is a true unity felt therein, where the life alone is judge.

Q. 3. How is the unity preserved?

A. Only by abiding in the life; only by keeping to the power, and in the principle, from whence the unity sprang, and in which it stands. Here is a knitting of natures, and a fellowship in the same spiritual centre. Here the divers and different motions of several members in the body (thus coming from the life and spirit of the body) are known to and owned by the same life, where it is fresh and sensible. It is not keeping up an outward knowledge or belief concerning things, that unites, nor keeping up an outward conformity in actions, etc. for these may be held and done by another part in man, and in another nature; but it is by keeping and acting in that which did at first unite. In this there is neither matter nor room for division; and he that is within these limits, cannot but be found in the oneness.

Q. 4. How is the unity interrupted?

A. By the interposition of any thing of a different nature or spirit from the life. When any thing of the earthly or sensual part comes between the soul and the life, this interrupts the soul's unity with the life itself; and it also interrupts its unity with the life in others, and the unity of the life in others with it. Any thing of the man's spirit, of the man's wisdom, of the man's will, not bowed down and brought into subjection, and so not coming forth in and under the authority and guidance of life, in this is somewhat of the nature of division: yea, the very knowledge of truth, and holding of it forth by the man's wisdom, and in his will, out of the movings and power of the life, brings a damp upon the life, and interrupts the unity; for the life in others cannot unite with this in spirit, though it may own the words to be true.

Q. 5. How may unity be recovered, if at any time decaying?

A. In the Lord alone is the recovery of Israel, from any degree of loss in any kind, at any time; who alone can teach to retire into, and to be found in that, wherein the unity is and stands, and into which division cannot enter. This is the way of restoring unity to Israel, upon the sense of any want thereof; even every one, through the Lord's help, retiring in his own particular, and furthering the retirings of others to the principle of life, that every one there may feel the washing from what hath in any measure corrupted, and the new-begetting into the power of life. From this, the true and lasting unity will spring amain, to the gladding of all hearts that know the sweetness of it, and who cannot but naturally and most earnestly desire it. Oh! mark therefore, the way is not by striving to beget into one and the same apprehension concerning things, nor by endeavouring to bring into one and the same practices; but by alluring and drawing into that wherein the unity consists, and which brings it forth in the vessels, which are seasoned therewith and ordered thereby. And from this, let all wait for the daily new and living knowledge, and for the ordering of their conversations and practices in that light, and drawings thereof, and in that simplicity and integrity of heart, which the Spirit of life at present holdeth forth and worketh in them; and the life will be felt, and the name of the Lord praised in all the tents of Jacob, and through all the inhabitants of his Israel; and there will be but one heart, and one soul, and one spirit, and one mind, and one way and power of life; and what is already wrought in every heart, the Lord will be acknowledged in, and his name praised ; and the Lord's season contentedly waited, for his filling up of what is wanting any where. So, the living God, the God of Israel, the God of everlasting tender bowels and compassions to Israel, fill the vessels of his heritage with his life, and cause the peace and love of his holy nature and Spirit to descend upon their dwellings, and to spring up powerfully in them towards his living truth, and towards one another.

And let all strive to excel in tenderness, and in long-suffering, and to be kept out of hard and evil thoughts one of another, and from harsh interpretations concerning any thing relating to one another. Oh! this is unworthy to be found in an Israelite towards an Egyptian; but exceeding shameful and inexcusable to be found in one brother towards another. How many weaknesses doth the Lord pass by in us? How ready is he to interpret every thing well concerning his disciples, that may bear a good interpretation! "The spirit," saith he, "is willing; but the flesh is weak." When they had been all scattered from him upon his death, he did not afterwards upbraid them; but sweetly gathered them again. O dear friends! have we received the same life of sweetness? Let us bring forth the same sweet fruits, being ready to excuse, and to receive what may tend towards the excuse of another in any doubtful case; and where there is any evil manifest, wait, oh! wait, to overcome it with good. Oh! let us not spend the strength of our spirits in crying out of one another because of evil; but watch and wait, where the mercy and the healing virtue will please to arise. O Lord, my God, when thou hast shown the wants of Israel in any kind sufficiently (whether in the particular, or in the general) bring forth the supply thereof from thy fulness, so ordering it in thine eternal wisdom, that all may be ashamed and abased before thee, and thy name praised in and over all!---Works, vol. ii. p. 457.