When John Churchman and John Browning were travelling in Talbot County, Md., an elderly man asked them if they saw some posts standing, pointing to them, and added, the first meeting George Fox had on this side of Chesapeake Bay was held in a tobacco-house there, which was then new, the posts that were standing were made of walnut; at which J. B. rode to them, and sat on his horse very still and quiet; then returning again with more speed than he went, J. C. asking him what he saw among those old posts, he answered:
I would not have missed of what I saw for five pounds; for I saw the root and grounds of idolatry. Before I went, I thought perhaps I might have felt some secret virtue in the place where George Fox had stood and preached, whom I believe to be a good man; but whilst I stood there, I was secretly informed, that if George Fox was a good man, he was in heaven, and not there, and virtue is not to be communicated by dead things, whether posts, earth, or curious pictures, but by the power of God, who is the Fountain of living virtue.
I think there are a lot of things in addition to posts, earth, or curious pictures that we substitute for the power of God. Sometimes we substitute ideas, or particular practices, or a desire to be identified with a particular group of people. Lately I have found myself letting go of particular ideas when they are taken on their own, but holding onto them in relation to experiencing God. Perhaps they are like the old posts. They once stood and held up a building in which Friends met, but by themselves, they are just pieces of wood.
I have found myself wondering how much of Meeting for Worship has become an idol. Do we come to meeting because of the silence, or because of our encounter with God? Are we silent because we are giving control to God, or because "that is what we do in meeting"? Is it most important that a message is Spirit-led, or that it is not too long, doesn't use icky words, and comes from a speaker who doesn't speak every week?
Perhaps there are ways in which the testimonies have become idols, or even Quakerism itself. I think it is helpful for us to look at why things are important to us, and whether there is Life in those things.