The Quaker Label
Johan Maurer wrote last month about Who Owns the Quaker Brand addressing some of the disagreements that come up with what we mean when we say "Quaker". Rather than looking at those differences, I think it is interesting to look at what we are trying to say about ourselves when we call ourselves Quaker.
In some of these struggles about what it means to be a Quaker, there are people who get quite upset when they feel like others are telling them they aren't a real Quaker. I think some of this could be based on a fear of losing a community that one has found precious, either through not belonging to the community, or by the community changing and becoming something that doesn't fit. Perhaps this fear is more easily realized in a community that avoids defining itself, so that there is less security in what the community is actually about.
The thing about the name "Quaker" I really want to look at, however, is the extent to which the name is important to us, and why. What if you were no longer allowed to call yourself Quaker, while still maintaining the same level of membership in your faith community? What would you feel you had lost? Is it important, for example, to be associated by name with other Quakers of the past and present? Would you feel like you had lost your connection to the Divine? Would you feel like you had lost some kind of moral authority?
These are questions I often ask myself. My feeling is that if I am holding on too tight to the word "Quaker", it becomes almost an idol for me, a substitute for the direct inward experience of Christ. It also seem to me that the less tightly I hold onto that word, the less I worry about whether other people use it differently. That doesn't mean that I give up my concern for my community and whether or not it is being faithful, but that I am less worried about how other communities use it.
There is a passage in Revelation in which the Spirit says "And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." This verse points me away from worldly words and names, and towards God. Whether anyone else knows that name doesn't matter, what matters is that I am faithful.