Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why am I a Quaker?

I have been meditating on conflict, both inner an outer, in the context of being a Quaker since a dear
Friend of mine visited this week and was deeply concerned about the state of our Meeting. She was disturbed that we are not living up to our Quaker ideals because we have having conflicts in our Meeting.

"How can we talk about making peace in the world," she said, "when we are not experiencing peace in our Meeting? How can we talk about reconciliation when we are not really being friendly to one another?"

These are excellent questions. We Quakers have been struggling with them for, well, at least 350 years. Being a "Peace Church" doesn't mean we have  always been peaceful or loving. Just like the rest of the human race, Quakers have conflicts and issues. When we are at our best, we struggle to resolve these conflicts as lovingly as possible.  Try as we might, we don't always succeed, however. But in my view,  it isn't our success, but our faithfulness, that matters.

Let me explain what I mean with examples from our California Quaker history. Unprogrammed Friends in California arose because of deep conflicts within the Society of Friends. Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena was founded by a branch of Quakers known as Hicksites, named after Elias Hicks (1748-1830), a charismatic Quaker minister from Long Island. During the 1820s,  because of theological and sociological differences, Quakers split into two branches, the Orthodox and Hicksite (followers of Elias Hicks). This separation was very painful and lasted until 1953, when these two branches finally reunited, thanks to intensive reconciliation work over many years by many Friends, including my mentor Howard Brinton. Conflict is not something new to American Friends. It is part of our history and of our DNA.

The second conflict occurred in the late 19th century with the rise of evangelical revivalism. This movement spread like wild fire throughout the West and profoundly influenced Western Quakers. Iowa Yearly Meeting split over this movement, causing much pain to traditional Friends like Joel and Hannah Bean. They were both clerks of Iowa YM but because of the bitterness of the conflict, they felt they needed to move to San Jose, CA, where they started their own unprogrammed Meeting. However, the newly Evangelicalized Iowa YM refused to recognize the legitimacy of their monthly meeting and even disowned them from membership in the Religious Society of Friends. Because Joel and Hannah were internationally known and respected, this became a huge "issue." One of the goals of FWCC (the organization to which I belong) is to help heal some of the divisions between Evangelical and unprogrammed Quakers.

In comparison to these conflicts, and to what is happening today in Indiana, where the Yearly Meeting split over the issue of homosexuality, what is happening in my Meeting seems like a tempest in a teapot. I am confident that our Meeting will grow both spiritually and psychologically to the extent that we face our conflicts honestly and lovingly. We can, and I'm sure we will, do this together.

What I want to share with you today is why I am a Quaker and why facing conflict is part of being a "Peace Church." I have taken this title from an essay called "Why I am a Friend,"  written by Joel Bean in 1894. At this time, Bean had been disowned from the Society of Friends but nonetheless was worshiping with Friend in San Jose and sowing the seeds for what eventually became Pacific Yearly Meeting. A national Quaker magazine called "The Friends Review" sponsored an essay contest on the topic "Why I am a Friend," in which the contributions of Friends were judged anonymously. Ironically, Joel Bean's essay won the first prize.See http://www.qhpress.org/quakerpages/qwhp/jbwhy.htm

I say "ironically" because Bean's recorded minister status and membership status had been taken away by Iowa Yearly Meeting. Even though he was born to a Quaker family and devoted his life to the Society of Friends,  he  was not officially a Quaker  when he wrote this essay (i.e. he did not belong to an officially recognized Quaker meeting). But he was Friend in deed and in his heart. And that's what matters.

That's what matters to me, in any case. Thirty four years ago, I was led to my first Quaker meeting in Princeton, NJ. It was there that I found my spiritual home and joined the Religious Society of Friends. I am grateful beyond words that God led me to this Meeting and to the RSOF. But my life as a Friend has not always been easy.  I have faced many conflicts and challenges, though none as severe as the ones faced by Hicks and the Beans. I thank God for these challenges because they have helped me to grow and mature spiritually and emotionally.

In my next blog entry I will say more about why I am a Quaker. But for now, I'd like to leave you with this question.

Why are you a Quaker? Or a Christian? Or whatever faith you ascribe to? What challenges have you faced as you have tried to be faithful to your calling? How have conflicts and challenges helped you to grow and mature? If so, what have you learned?

1 comment:

  1. The "Hick-or(y)Beans;-)?
    Groan. Well I had to start of with ridiculous humor since so much discussion in the Society of Friends (and religion in general) is fraught with sadness and even tragedy.

    I was a committed Christian for 55 years, bemoaned and criticized the movement away from Christianity in Quaker meetings for many of those years (moved into the Friends' view of reality beginning in 1967 at Backbench Meeting in Philly during my C.O. service).

    But then discovered to great despair that Christianity (at least as taught and proclaimed by most Americans) can't be true, and ought not to be true given its horror in ethics and theology.

    So now I'm a Quaker-at-large, theistic seeker, an Enlightenment humanist, a moral realist (quoting from my website). In fact, so as not to hog this comment site with a very long explanation (my wife always reminds me to give the short version:-) here's my blog post site where I talk for many pages about Friends: http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/

    And I still like John Woolman's short statement: True religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness...I found no narrowness respecting sects and opinions, but believed that sincere, upright-hearted people, in every society, who truly love God, were accepted of him.

    John Woolman

    Two challenges I've faced as a member of Friends Yearly Meetings:
    #1 When we were members of California Yearly Meeting, the leaders of CYM supported nuclear weapons at our Yearly Meeting conference. When our own local meeting hired a fighter pilot, we left the Friends for a while.
    #2 The rise of nontheism in Pacific Yearly Meeting totally baffled me and I finally gave up. Why would anyone go to worship if they thought there was no Ultimate to worship in spiritual communion? Yet various Friends told me outright that they agreed with atheists such as Richard Dawkins, that there is no Ultimate Good, but only matter and energy:-(

    I don't agree and sure feel down at times that many Quakers in the U.S. and Britain seem to be going off into two negative extremes--Calvinism and nontheism.