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 6, 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.