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

41 Comments:

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Ashley W said...

Where's a "like" button when you need one?

 
At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

It never was just about experience, of course. Even the book by Robert Barclay, which you quote, is subtitled ...an Explanation and Vindication of the Principles and Doctrines of the People called Quakers! But I like this essay very much because you are driving home the inseparability of experience, practice, and doctrines.

 
At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Kristin OK said...

I agree, there needs to be a "like" button.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Paul L said...

The Testimonies, so-called, are about experience, not "values" or "beliefs."

They say, "We testify that we have experienced the reality of the Living Christ -- the one we've been waiting for and sought after all our lives -- and that he has dwelt among us and has empowered us not only to hear but to obey him: to suffer even unto death instead of resisting evil; to keep our aye aye and nay nay and tell the truth regardless of the cost; to live as confidently and simply as the lilys despite the temptations of general society; to recognize each human being as an intimate "thee" without discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, sex, age, wealth, position, or other social criteria" and so on.

And then, the really bold testimony adds, "And so can you!"

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

You are right as usual Marshall. It is a little "out there" quoting Barclay's Apology in reference to experience vs doctrine. I am not so much concerned with whether there are doctrines, but that it appears to me that at one time it was the experience of the Spirit that drew people to Friends, and not the principles of Friends. In the section just before the Isaac Penington quote, he often had debates with Friends and thought that he got the best of them. In a letter to Lady Conway, I.P. wrote "The first day I was convinced, I was not only convinced in my understanding concerning the seed, but I felt the seed in my heart, and my heart was enraptured with the sense and feeling of it". I get the impression that the preaching in that day was not about particular values, but about experiencing the Spirit and turning towards it.

I like the way you phrased "inseparability of experience, practice, and doctrines". As I have wrestled with it and Friends' doctrines, it helps further clarify things for me - that the doctrines stem from the experience and cannot be separated from it.

 
At 2:36 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Paul, in one way I agree with you, and in another I don't. It often feels more like it has become "The Testimonies, so-called, were about experience..." If you were presenting Quakerism to the world, would you start with "we believe in Simplicity, Peace, Equality, etc." or "We testify that we have experienced the reality of the Living Christ ..."? I have to say that the latter seems pretty rare to me, no matter how it is worded, and I think it is really what we should be saying.

 
At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Yeshe said...

Thanks Mark! Yes it seems that experience of the power of the Spirit and direct experience of Christ has greatly diminished, leaving dry husks of legalisms and political activity.

 
At 6:38 PM, Blogger forrest said...

It's about "Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened..." If parts of the SoF have become "a religious society for people who don't want to be very religious," as one attender/friend expressed it-- Then we fill up with people who don't want to seek, would be embarrassed (and terrified) to find, are too polite to knock on a strange door.

"Direct experience of Christ" is partially a matter of how people describe and label their experience. And of what kind of experience they're prepared to welcome.

A poem by an older friend: LoVerne Brown (whom I still, after over a decade, have a hard time conceiving as "dead"):
----
A house with its blinds pulled down
and no welcome mat
one that looks as if stricken dumb
can tempt me to trespass.
I want to explore its mailbox
scruff leaves from the walk
lean hard on a doorbell that will not ring.

I know a person whose spirit is such a house,
no dream left open
no longing without a lock.
I am not the first to prowl that exterior wall,
to bloody knuckles against an obdurate door,
then-- having turned away-- look back to see
the merest edges of a blind drawn back
and fingers clutching it that might be someone's
needing a visitor but afraid to have one;

to call out, "Let me in!" and see the blind
straighten its edges, if they ever moved,
the fingers go, if they were ever there....

I am one of many who shrugged and walked away,
having neither the courage
nor the compassion needed
to break and enter.

[from _The View From the End of the Pier_ published 1983 by 'Gorilla Press' aka Steve Kowit]

----

God of course does have the courage and the compassion needed, but has been reluctant to intrude more than Friends were prepared to take a Visit gracefully. I have many times seen a sort of divine Crowbar slowly prying that door open a crack or so, said to myself something like "We're starting to get it; we're really starting to get it!" and then watched everything seemingly return to routine among us. But I believe these openings have been cumulative...

 
At 8:57 PM, Blogger broschultz said...

Like

 
At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Bill Samuel said...

See http://www.quakerinfo.com/one_test.shtml Early Friends testified to the Truth they found through their relationship with the Inward Teacher. It wasn't a codified set of beliefs now labeled as "testimonies" but which aren't so testifying.

 
At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm Perhaps we should recognize that after convincement we are called to live into our conviction and that trying to convey what we do and why we run afoul of language and projecting self onto community and that which is not always easily defined?

 
At 9:32 AM, Blogger Micah Bales said...

Like.

 
At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!
-Allyson from New England

 
At 11:34 AM, Anonymous George Amoss said...

Hi, Mark. Here's something from Isaac Penington, followed by some thoughts from me.

"There is a current or stream of life before the promise is known, which secretly visits all, discovering the darkness in some measure unto all, and drawing from it. And happy is he who falls in with, and follows the leadings of the Almighty here; for then he cannot abide in the darkness, but still (according to the need of his condition) will meet with a true guide out of it, and with the true power which redeemeth and delivereth from it. [...] For it is not the distinct knowledge of the promise, (though that is a very great advantage) but the virtue flowing from the promise, which saves."

A very great advantage indeed, and one that we seem to be losing rapidly. We need what might well be called "doctrine" to guide us in discerning which inner current we will value, what the stream of authentic life looks and feels like -- especially because, at least in the beginning, the light seems low and despicable and shows us things that we don't want to see. Having discerned, we could then surrender ourselves to that life, becoming "partakers of the divine nature." But instead we now have rules ("testimonies") to live up to and meaningless dogma such as this (from a British Friend's Website):

"Friends believe that ‘there is that of God in everyone’, and how God is defined is left to the individual."

In other words, "There is that of whatever in everyone." We are each to define what God is, based perhaps on some self-validating "experience" we have, and then to follow the rules of the new Quakerism to the extent that our God leads us to do so. It seems to me that this is to lose the life and power -- and freedom -- that are, as John Caputo might say, harbored in the traditional doctrinal language.

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger Paul L said...

Mark asks, "If you were presenting Quakerism to the world, would you start with "we believe in Simplicity, Peace, Equality, etc." or "We testify that we have experienced the reality of the Living Christ ..."?" I always express it as the latter, to the surprise of many; and I'm sure I'm in the minority. But it's the only honest way to describe it.

To refer to the SPICE(S) "testimonies" reduces reality of Quakerism to a list of Protestant virtues, it seems to me; nice and sweet, but not distinctive in any way and utterly drained of power.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger forrest said...

Rather than saying, "each to define what God is"-- For those of us agreed that there is a referent, it is a natural conclusion that this Referent can define and clarify Itself... although what each person perceives of It is necessarily limited by his own limitations.

The life, and the power, was never confined to "the language."

 
At 9:43 AM, Blogger James Riemermann said...

With Mark, I am skeptical of any sentence that begins "Friends believe that..." I agree that putting experience before beliefs is hugely important. But I stumble over tying our identity to *particular verbal descriptions or ideological formulations* of our inner experience. For instance, to say that one is only a Quaker, or the right kind of Quaker, if one can say in Mark's words, "We testify that we have experienced the reality of the Living Christ." A creed like that is just as removed from genuine experience, just as bound by words and notions, as one that begins "Friends believe that..." It's a verbal trick rather than a true stepping away from creeds.

I also agree with George that "Friends believe that ‘there is that of God in everyone’, and how God is defined is left to the individual." doesn't cut it. But I don't think I agree for the same reasons as George. There *are* a lot of genuinely meaningful ways of understanding the phrase "that of God in everyone," and some of those understandings are miles away from what George Fox *probably* meant. That is not a problem for me. George Fox is not the ultimate authority of Quakerism or godliness, and he took great pains to not imply that he was. I think it is deeply unfortunate that so many feel the need to place the authority of what Quakerism should be, in their often-flawed readings of what the first Quakers said. It is exactly that kind of authority that they were rejecting; what a terrible irony it is that their supposed followers justify their own prejudices by quoting those early Friends.

When I read "that of God" to mean something like, that which is unspeakably precious, inviolable, of infinite worth, the phrase resonates deeply for me. Going from that understanding, I don't have to believe in the existence of any sort of actual entity called God, to feel in my very bones that "there is that of God in everyone."

In the end, the greatest problem I see here is this obsession with drawing boundaries. Of all the important things we could be doing as Quakers, how important is deciding who is in or out, who has the right frame of mind or heart or whatever, to be a Quaker. What do we accomplish by such formulations, other than breaking the hearts of those who thought they were Friends, when we draw a circle that excludes them?

 
At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Mark said...

The difficulty I have here with defining God as one understands it is the paradox of whether we can grasp God with our brains. I think that is where the experience comes in. We sit in that experience, but the conveyance of that experience to others probably falls short through the limitation of human consciousness and language. I say God is this based on my experience. You say God is that based on your experience.

Can we sit in that transcendental consciousness which is God and truly experience it? If so, can we return to our human consciousness and express what we have experienced to others adequately? (My previous questions imply "leaving" this consciousness or transcending. Do we even transcend into that divine consciousness? Is "that of God" in us, or a doorway to the transcendental?)

I came to the Quakers for sitting in that experience. There are people in my meeting who are gung ho about anti-nukes legislation, immigration, and other activities that seem in-line with the Testimonies. I'm not there. Maybe I will be after I sit in the experience of God long enough. But maybe I will never get beyond that. As it stands, I can't be sure that their conviction should be my conviction as I have not felt led to any of that. Right now I just feel led to sit and commune with that underlying essence; that divine essence.

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous George Amoss said...

In response to James --

From my perspective, it's not about exclusion but inclusion. I want space in liberal Quakerism for the spirit that encounters me in the primitive Quaker texts. James, your definition of "that of God" is illustrative of my concern. I don't need to dispute it or refute it with the primitive Quaker definition, but I do want the presentation of it to not be exclusive of that primitive experience. I want that primitive experience to be respectfully acknowledged, understood in its context, and made available for Friends -- including liberal Friends -- to whom it speaks today. And as one such Friend, I need my Quaker community to support me in my spiritual life: more on that later.

The modern definition of "that of God" as, in your words, "something like, that which is unspeakably precious, inviolable, of infinite worth" has come to be effectively comprehensive, definitive of normative liberal Quakerism. But that creates some serious difficulties for folks like me.

First, such a definition doesn't speak to me. "Unspeakably precious," yes; but "inviolable," no: it is precisely because of the violability of sentient beings that I cherish them and seek to help them. And "of infinite worth" is not meaningful to me: no one, in my view, is of infinite worth. As Lao Tzu put it, "The universe regards all beings as straw dogs." I happen to be a straw dog lover, but I know that we are all ephemeral and ultimately nothing. The attribution of infinite value to beings seems to me to be an historically Western religious belief. I don't mind if other Friends hold that belief, but I ask them to permit me to conscientiously decline it. (I do think, though, that those who hold it should be careful to acknowledge its source.)

Second, as a de facto liberal Quaker credal position, such a definition crowds out the experience of the first Friends, for whom "that of God in every one" was less a metaphysical identity or value property than a power for discernment and just living. That radical inner power is the central treasure of Quakerism, and I am concerned that, as we liberal Friends continue to (to borrow a phrase from Meredith Baldwin Weddell) "mistake the familiar words for familiar meaning," we are losing contact with it as we allow projections of worth and sacredness to edge it out of the phrase "that of God."

What is happening, then, is that Friends like me increasingly are, like the old meaning of "that of God," edged out of the community. We can stay if we will satisfy ourselves with being a member of a group of good people, but if we need the support of a committed community as we struggle with the discipline of living in the power that was once signified by "that of God," we find that we are effectively on our own. And often, although we are asking only that our Quaker community welcome our Quaker spirituality, we are perceived as people who demand that Quakers follow a George Fox or Isaac Penington as an authority (which is a misreading -- and as if almost every liberal Quaker has not at times appealed to the authority of passages, usually ripped from context, from the early texts) -- and thus we are further marginalized. This is the same kind of heart-breaking exclusion that is done by those, say, who would exclude liberals from the Quaker community -- but this is being done, unawares (and often, apparently, out of fear), by liberal Quakers.

Finally, I have no fear that anyone will be in a position to be "deciding who is in or out," but I am convinced that struggling together with what we mean by "Quaker" -- with questions that go to the heart of our identity and therefore to our ability to be a community -- is worthwhile and important.

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger James Riemermann said...

George, I thought I was pretty clear that I don't want my definition--hell, it's not even a definition--to be a Quaker creed or the one and only way to be considered a Quaker. I think that would be frankly crazy on my part.

The only challenge I have for your and others' "primitive experience," perhaps, is the idea that it is the one primitive experience, or that the first Quakers were clearly united behind it. That simply isn't the case. The early Friends were almost certainly nearly as diverse as we were today, and at least as prone to disagreement. Those whose writings remain are a tiny portion of the original tribe, and everybody out there quoting them--and I do mean everybody--quotes them selectively.

Anyway, there is nothing I have said here that wishes to squeeze anyone out, except I wish I could squeeze out the practice of squeezing out.

I am completely in agreement with Lao Tzu, and I find no contradiction between that statement and a testimony of treating other sentient beings as unspeakably precious, inviolable, and of infinite worth. My view is not that we actually are those things, but that life becomes livable, if just barely, only when we treat each other as such. To intentionally cause one another to suffer is a terrible thing, is a violation of that of God in one another. We violate one another all the time, as existence itself violates us, and seeking to overcome that is the central spiritual challenge of being human in the world.

 
At 4:39 PM, Anonymous George Amoss said...

James, you were clear. The definition you gave happens to be, though, pretty much what is often expected of liberal Quakers (through no fault of yours). When it is challenged, if only by mention of the original meanings of contemporary Quaker slogans such as "there is that of God in everyone" (which, of course, is not quite the original), people can get defensive and close ranks: that I know experimentally.

Regarding the primitive writings, what we have are the works of leaders of the movement. (And as we know, for a long time disagreement was dealt with by disownment.) But, again, the writers are not being set up as authorities, whether because they were founders or on some other basis: their words are read and taken to heart because they harbor a spiritual power that, at least for some of us, is much more richly and accessibly carried than in beliefs such as that in a sanctity of life. In other words, it's not that Penington said them, but what Penington said that makes his words important and useful for us today.

Any quotation is selective; my question is always about whether contexts are accounted for. That may be the best we can do, hermeneutically speaking. But, yet again, quotation is not necessarily an appeal to authority: it can be, and at least sometimes is, an offer of horizonal broadening, a pointing to a spiritually powerful option that perhaps had not yet been seen. That can be, rather than an attempt to control, an act of love.

It always seems to me that our hearts are in the same place (or in very similar places), yours and mine. I know that you don't want to squeeze anyone out. That doesn't necessarily mean, of course, that you don't squeeze, if unconsciously, and I know that the same is true for me and others. And so we all continue to talk....

 
At 1:46 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

I find it disappointing that James took Paul L.'s words (or my reference to them) and omitted the bulk of them that speak of experience and how it manifests in actions, and instead chose to focus on it as a creed, turning us back towards a belief system. I thought the reference to "that of God" as a basis for action again brings up the kind of belief system that I am objecting to. While Paul L. spoke of our experience of the Spirit ("that of God", if you prefer) and how our actions come from that experience, the modern interpretation of "that of God" is "I do these things because I believe there is that of God in other people". I don't believe that speaks to any particular experience.

Does any discussion about what Quakerism is or isn't have to be able squeezing people out?

 
At 5:53 AM, Anonymous George Amoss said...

I want to amend my statement about the primitive writings, because, while I tend to focus on the works of the early leaders (and sometimes get hyper-focused on them), there are plenty of texts written by others. (For some samples, see Peter Sipple's site http://www.qhpress.org/quakerpages/qwhp/qwhp.htm.)

What we find in reading the texts is that it's not accurate to say, as James has, that "The early Friends were almost certainly nearly as diverse as we were today..." The record indicates that they were remarkably unified in their theological and psychological orientation toward submission to, and union with, the power of Christ in them. And certainly we find no nontheists, no generic mystics, no [insert ism here]-Quakers, and so on.

That submission, and the discernment which necessarily accompanies it, is the difficult discipline I wrote of earlier. It is nothing like having a belief in the essential value of human beings; it is, as Mark insists here, an experiential process which, if actually undergone and not merely simulated, results in profound change -- change that visibly re-shapes our way of being in the world. It is, in fact, the "one primitive experience." Diverse theologies could and did develop from it, even during the lifetime of George Fox and other early leaders. But what they cherished, and what many of us still cherish, is that experiential "knowledge" of spiritual power, which, as Woolman wrote, "is deep, and inward, confined to no Forms of Religion, nor excluded from any, where the Heart stands in perfect Sincerity."

 
At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

I also like to emphasize the experiential, the listening to others, and from it derive the respect for others that's the foundation of understanding and empathy. The testimonies then are derived from our common experience

 
At 4:37 PM, Blogger Paul said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is so disappointing to see this negative, critical passing as clever kind of rhetoric.I expect this from the popular press, but believe that it is unworthy of us as Friends. Toi speak the truth with love it is not necessary to be inflammatory, accusative or judgmental.
This sort of post leads only to more and more aggressive, divisive posts. People want to "double like" it a la Facebook, while others find it abrasive and unseasoned.
I am sad to see the often deep and fruitful dialogue I often find here side tracked in responding to a posting that seems to me to be designed not to call people to higher ground or deeper reflection.

 
At 5:08 AM, Anonymous Jere Licciardello said...

When I hear a Friend pressing dictums on the meeting or upon me, I sense distress and discomfort within him or her. When it occurs repeatedly, the person is tuned out. Perhaps the words are exactly correct and optimal commentary for the times, too! but it is not the Quaker way. Perhaps that Friend walks away disheartened with the spiritual weakness of his meeting. The confident Quaker would listen silently. That speaks volumes. I am as guilty of this as any. We all feel pain and distress, and should not be ashamed to express this state of our souls.

 
At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the idea that I sense has been posited that those with more mainstream protestant conceptions of God are the more rigorous and the rest of us are somehow the "lite" version. I came to Quakerism from atheism, and discovered God. But the God I experienced was not a man, or a woman, or a pantheon. For me to conceive God as such is to put the reality I have experienced into too small a box. I could not tell you with words what God is like. For me it has no gender or face. It does not speak in words, but it sometimes makes me speak words trying to circle about the Light, as a moth circles a flame. When I am closest to God the words are gone and there is only sacred silence. In the messages of others I hear the echoes of the wonders I have experienced. I don't come to meeting in order to channel my political beliefs, but I use what I have learned listening to God in silence to direct my feet in all aspects of life. I have spoken with other attenders who never became members over this issue, but they are as spiritual as the members, they simply use different labels for that which is indescribable.

 
At 5:23 AM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Anonymous, I have not gotten that same sense from the discussions here, perhaps my reading has been colored by my original intent. The idea that holding a particular belief system is more important than the experience of the Spirit is the opposite of what I was saying, regardless of whether that belief system is a formal religious tradition or a set of cherished thoughts and values.

What I liked about Paul L.'s reply, for example, was not the phrase "the Living Christ", but his description of how his experience of it has changed how he lives his life. While I do find Christian language resonates with me in describing my experience, I tried to avoid that in the original posting in the hopes of avoiding that confusion. It can be frustrating, though, that using a particular set of words gets us sidetracked into belief systems.

One of the things I experience in a deep, gathered meeting is a feeling of loving unity with the others there. For me, that resonates with what Paul (the Apostle) and George Fox referred to with the phrase "the unity of the Spirit", or to borrow another phrase from Paul, that our hearts have been "knit together in love". I also feel a kind of unity in sharing about that experience with others who have it. Having that common experience seems to push away belief systems for me, and allows me to hear another's heart language. I found, for instance, that these words of yours resonate with my experience: "When I am closest to God the words are gone and there is only sacred silence. In the messages of others I hear the echoes of the wonders I have experienced."

You also said: "I use what I have learned listening to God in silence to direct my feet in all aspects of life". What I was trying to say in relation to that is that if you only talk about the direction your feet are directed and not about the experience that has guided you, and that becomes what everything is about, then you have lost the crucial experiential nature of Quakerism and have turned it into a belief system.

 
At 7:28 AM, Blogger James Riemermann said...

Mark,

I'm sorry to disappoint. I must be honest, though, and say I did see a thinly veiled but easily recognizable creed in your original post. When you quote Penington saying "This is he, this is he, there is no other: this is he whom I have waited for and sought after from my childhood...", well that was apparently Penington's experience, and more power to him. More power to you if that has been your experience. But it is described as a very particular experience. It is not an experience rather than a belief; it is an experience utterly informed by a belief: Jesus is lord. If that belief is the one that defines Quakerism, then it indeed defines me right out the door.

I feel deeply supportive of you and many other Friends embracing such beliefs as foundational for their own experience of Quakerism and life, and also those for whom social justice and righteousness are foundational rather than secondary. What I challenge, the only thing I challenge, is this whole practice of trying to decide what is foundational for Quakerism as a whole, and what is not foundational. It sounds reasonable on the surface--in George's words, "struggling together with what we mean by "Quaker" -- with questions that go to the heart of our identity and therefore to our ability to be a community -- is worthwhile and important." But to answer that question in a final, definitive way, is indeed to squeeze Friends out.

How is it that we can sit together in worship, and love one another, and work and play and do business together, and support one another--things we Friends do every day--and imagine that we are not a community? Why do we find it so important to nail down our "identity"? Are we thereby solving a problem, or creating one?

 
At 8:10 AM, Blogger James Riemermann said...

My apologies for posting again so soon, but I have one more thought that seems relevant.

I want my community to have a pool with a shallow end, spiritually speaking, and indeed it does. Some of us wrestle with ideas and identities and theology and history; some of us put out the coffee and donuts but don't spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff. Many do both, of course. This very well might be the shallow end where I am swimming right now, I don't know. What I do know is, the way I know recognize a Friend is, they're in the room. Most often, I don't know what's inside their head.

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

James, I don't see much of a creed in what Isaac Penington is saying, nor did I quote it in order to say that this is how everyone must be. Certainly, I.P. is interpreting his experience within a Christian framework, but he writes of feeling "the dead quickened, the seed raised", is there not a feeling of life in what we experience? Do other people feel "meltings and breakings" of their spirit, and a desire to experience that further?

I realize, as Marshall pointed out, that it was never just about experience, but it feels to me that without that experience, you are left with a belief system.

I have to say that I challenge your challenge. If you can't say anything about what is foundational to Quakerism, it just becomes a sequence of letters with no particular meaning. You ask "How is it that we can sit together in worship, and love one another, and work and play and do business together, and support one another--things we Friends do every day--and imagine that we are not a community?" Isn't that a foundational statement?

After all this talk about experience, it is quite frustrating to hear you say: "I feel deeply supportive of you and many other Friends embracing such beliefs as foundational for their own experience of Quakerism and life..."? It's as if you want to have a different discussion, leave experience out, and just debate about belief and non-belief.

 
At 8:19 AM, Blogger James Riemermann said...

Mark, what Penington said is not a creed if it is not required to be a Quaker. I don't have a sense that he meant it to distinguish Quakers from non-Quakers. If he did, that makes it a creed.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

James, I realize that you have spent a long time fighting against "you are not a Quaker" statements, and perhaps you have a tendency to read that into a lot more places. I am probably not as sensitive to where it looks like I may be saying that.

It feels to me you think I am saying like "When Isaac Penington encountered the Light, he saw clearly that it was Christ, and if you have truly encountered the Light, you have to say that, too, otherwise you are not a Quaker."

What I am trying to say is that Quakerism was always about encountering the Spirit, listening to it individually and as a group, and letting ourselves and our behavior be shaped by it. While early Friends seem to have strongly kept that within the Christian tradition, I am not trying to address that at all. The conservative Friends tradition tends to preserve the Quaker version of Christianity, I am speaking more about liberal Quakerism.

Instead, I am trying to address the tendency to describe Quakerism in terms of beliefs, or "thoughts and values". I think that when we start there, we ignore the foundation, and fail to convey what is behind why we meet, why we conduct business together, how we love one another, where the unity comes from. If we are to call it experiential, all those things should derive from experience. We shouldn't have to start with "We believe.." or "We don't believe..".

It isn't even about who has had a particular experience or not. Perhaps that is where there is an element of faith, in that we do trust that in settling down in worship, or being in community with one another, there is some life imparted to our spirits in ways that are only apparent when we look back at where we were and where we are.

To define it in terms of the testimonies is to squeeze people out, or rather, to keep people from coming in to begin with. If we trust our own experience and the experience of those that came before us, that we know that the Spirit can be encountered among us. People don't have to believe in the testimonies, and they can be quite different from us. As a caricature contrasting what seems to be the norm for liberal Quakers, they can be poor, uneducated, Republican Walmart shoppers. We should be able to sit down and experience the Spirit with anyone, and perhaps they will find themselves more peaceful, loving, open than they were before.

I think that by starting with what we believe in, we are saying "if you don't believe in these things, you don't belong here", where I think it is better to say "come sit with us and see if you feel the same thing we do."

 
At 12:00 PM, Blogger James Riemermann said...

Mark, I'm sorry if my disagreement seems tin-eared or unfriendly. I appreciate your sensitivity to possible rejection I might have experienced among Friends. Interestingly, I've rarely come across it in person, but countless times online. In short, though, I just can't get behind the impulse to find criteria for deciding who's a Friend, or a good Friend. It just doesn't strike me as fruitful. I wish you well, though, Friend.

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

James, may I ask what criteria you say I am proposing, or in what way I am trying to determine who is and isn't a Friend?

 
At 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the same anonymous who commented on my objection to the idea of "lite" quakers. I wanted to comment on the words Christ and Jesus. I am perfectly comfortable with both words and use them, but may mean slightly different things by them than some Christians. For instance, I believe that the question of Jesus' literal existence is irrelevant. I think that his importance is as a vessel to bring the world that which is sacred, in the form of love, truthfulness, peace, and empathy. If he did so as an actual historical figure or as a extraordinarily resonant story, the power of the message is the same. The truth of his words speak to me. They guide me towards the light. In my view worshiping his physical body/shroud/baby teeth, or his mode of death, is to replace his teachings with a golden calf. He was fundamentally a teacher. The message was what he wanted us to listen to.

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger James Riemermann said...

Mark, if having (or conceiving) the sort of experience you are speaking of is no way meant as a criteria for being a Friend or a good Friend, then I would say you are proposing none at all, and we are in agreement. It sounds like I misread you. I apologize. , Perhaps--no, certainly, at times--I have misread others. I apologize to them as well.

I certainly have had many powerful and inspiring experiences in worship and in community with Friends at other times, and I would recommend it to anyone to see what they experience. Some account of early Friends' experience resonate with me; others no so much. Same goes for contemporary Friends. I have no doubt, though, there is something intrinsically rich and fertile in the practice.

 
At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hate you guys!
no hep for a true searcher!
more psychochristobabble! And the poster, mr wutka is right on. i could care about doctrine. i want to know experience. i'd hope to find others sharing my sanity experience. but this obviousy isnt it!

 
At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

argh - i have to get off of this page. how can religion as a whole be so duped? for F's sake read a book by Jung, apply it to your experience and invite the truth in. this dogma is way to heavy for me although the man who said that it doesnt matter if jesus was alive or not is probably a lot closer to real experience than others. Jesus is the Sun of God and resides in all of us through our archetypes just like the rest of our SoulOURsystem planets. Why do christians stop at low level accessing and declare they have discovered the truth. is anyone on any of these forums in the deep? anyone?

 
At 5:59 AM, Anonymous jim atwell said...

I wonder, friend, if a distinction might be needed here. One the one hand, we have the Quaker testimonies, a family of VALUES that unite us (or should) in our approach to all humans. On the other, we have our fundamental stance toward, what, for lack of a better name, we call God or Spirit. It's that stance that is EXPERIMENTAL. A more common word today would be "experiencial." The best word is the classic one: MYSTICAL. A mystical approach to God presumes that God is immediately available to each of us, without the intervention of dogma, church, clergy, or scripture. The great Quaker inspiration is that such communication is best achieved in silence--and, best of all, in shared silence when a group's shared silences become a whole greater than its parts as all deepen together in anticipation of nourishment and even enlightenment. Shame on us if pushing is going on. We have this treasured vision and offer it gladly. But the work of anyone accepting it is not ours, but the Source's.

 

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