I have been meditating on conflict, both inner an outer, in the context of being a Quaker since a dear
"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.
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?