Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Pop Quiz Answer

Many thanks to all who have been praying for Florence Accetta. She is still in the hospital but feeling somewhat better. The long range prognosis is uncertain.

While I still don't have a lot of time for keeping up the blog, I thought I should at least furnish the answer to my silly "Pop Quiz on Quaker Theology/History". As I all but told you this was in a sense a "trick question" in that the right answer is precisely the one you wouldn't expect. My source is Chuck Fager's interesting article FGC's "Uniform Discipline" Rediscovered published in Quaker History volume 89, Fall 2000. Chuck's article says
...the Philadelphia Hicksite Discipline of 1918. It still retained a section, under the heading of "Conduct and Conversation," which stated:

"If anyone in membership with us...shall deny the divinity of Christ, the immediate revelation of the Holy Spirit, or the inspiration of the Scriptures, he ought to be tenderly treated with for his instruction, and the convincement of his understanding, that he may experience repentance and forgiveness." (P-H 1918, p.50.)

Obviously, today's liberal Yearly Meetings would not have such a provision in their books of discipline (aka "Faith and Practice"). Indeed Chuck Fager's article traces the history of how FGC yearly meetings drastically revised these books in the years from 1926 - 1930, partly under the influence of a suggested "Uniform Discipline" issued by FGC itself.

My not-so-hidden agenda in springing my "pop quiz" was to point out that a strong emphasis on faith in Jesus Christ was not a marginal position among our Quaker ancestors, even in the Hicksite branch (though the Hicksites clearly did understand Jesus quite differently than the Orthodox and conservatives). Jesus got marginalized in some meetings only in relatively recent times: a development that I regard as a detour from the mainstream of Quaker tradition.

Ruth-Ann said that she wanted this to be an evangelical quote because
That way I can tsk tsk and mutter things about typical evangelicals always insisting that everyone think the same thing and feel all superior!

Just goes to show how unpredictable people can be. I had thought that a universalist reading this quote, far from feeling superior, would be humbled by the evidence of how far she had strayed from real Quakerism ;)

I would point out in all seriousness that in this quote the 1918 Hicksites were not always insisting that everyone think the same thing. They were assuming that on one very central issue all Quakers (not everybody else) would agree. Many liberal Friends feel a lot like that about the Peace Testimony, or about the modern reinterpretation of George Fox's phrase about "That of God in Everyone".

The Philadelphia Hicksites were also assuming that if people disagreed on this central point the proper remedy was to push for "repentance", as if an incorrect theological position were a moral failing. I feel more uncomfortable with that than with their belief that faith in Christ was a central issue. (But in this respect they were also well within Friends tradition, unfortunately).

Lorcan dealt with the whole issue by saying
As for me, what Friends know, they should know mostly in the heart. Books describe the light, but the heart knows the light.
My answer is: Yes, but... these particular books, the books of Discipline of the various Yearly Meetings were very serious attempts to explain and set forth the beliefs and commitments that defined Quakerism. The very special honor accorded to Jesus survived in even the Hicksite disciplines for a century or more after the Hicksite/Orthodox split. We need to be willing to look at these books if we want to understand the commonalities and continuities between the Quaker faith (or faiths) of today and that of our spiritual ancestors.

Well, enough pontificating for now.


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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Postponing Posting

I haven't added anything to the blog in several days and may not have much to say for several more, because of an acute health problem in my family that is absorbing most of my free energy.

If anyone is led to pray for our family and especially for Florence Accetta, my mother-in-law who is in surgery today, please do pray.

Rich Accetta-Evans

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Pop Quiz on Quaker Theology/History

The following passage appeared in a Discipline published by a Yearly Meeting in 1918:
"If anyone in membership with us...shall deny the divinity of Christ, the immediate revelation of the Holy Spirit, or the inspiration of the Scriptures, he ought to be tenderly treated with for his instruction, and the convincement of his understanding, that he may experience repentance and forgiveness."
Question: Was this Yearly Meeting

a) Gurneyite/Orthodox?
b) Evangelical?
c) Wilburite/Conservative?
d) Hicksite/Liberal?

Hint: Choose what most Friends today would consider the least likely answer. If you find that answer counter-intuitive, feel free to say why. Remember that much of what many Friends "know" about Quaker history isn't true.

I'll provide the answer in a couple of days or after a few answers are ventured by readers - whichever comes first.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Elders at Balby

In 1656 there was a "general meeting of friends in truth" at Balby in Yorkshire, England. These Friends issued a remarkable 20 point document
"from the Spirit of truth to the children of light that all in order be kept in obedience, that he may be glorified who is worthy over all, God blessed for ever."
This document has a postscript:
"Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by; but that all, with a measure of the light, which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."
Somehow the postscript has come to be quoted far more often by succeeding generations of Friends than the document it was attached to. Thus modern Friends are often in the position of knowing that the "elders at Balby" (as we've come to call them) wanted their advices to be fulfilled in the spirit but of not knowing what their advices actually were. In fact, the postscript is often quoted in such a way as to suggest that Friends really have no guidelines or principles or that if we do we don't really expect anyone to follow them.

With that as a background, I invite you to read the advices themselves. I would be interested in any comment on them.

Rich Accetta-Evans


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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Prophetic Quakerism (as opposed to Mystical)

My recent post on Non-Mystical Quakerism generated lots of fascinating discussion. Some had to do with the right label for Quakerism, some on the relationship of "mysticism" to "individualism", and some on the nature of our relationship to God (i.e. is God a part of us, are we a part of God, or are we, as God's creatures, distinct from and less than our Creator?). This post is to weigh in with my own further thoughts on those matters.

Liz Opp said
For me, Quakerism is both an inward, receptive, mystical faith tradition and an outward, witness-oriented, practical (i.e. put into practice) one.
I think I agree with what Liz means here, but for me the preferred way to say it is that Quakerism is "prophetic" rather than either "mystical" or "practical". Since no one else used the word "prophetic" in our discussion, a bit of explanation may be in order. A prophetic faith (at least as I use the term) isn't just a matter of espousing moral or political principles and still less a matter of dry rational analysis, but neither is it primarily a matter of meditating or using spiritual practices to attain an exalted state of mind or emotion. A prophetic faith sees Christ our living prophet as able to speak to us both inwardly and through faithful ministers. Hearing and obeying Christ means learning to conform our lives to what He teaches us, to bear a witness to Him through how we live, and (as led) to bear witness explicitly by bringing a prophetic message to the world. Perhaps I should also make it clear, though most readers will probably assume this, that "prophecy" in this sense has little if anything to do with foretelling the future and everything to do with being confronted with God's will for us.

On the topic of our relationship to God: Amanda said
As far as God being a part of me, rather I feel we are a part of Him. Faithfulness to this revelation of truth, and attempts to make one's life reflect it perfectly, can and have been described as "dissolving one's Self into God". I believe that this "union" is accessible to all, in fact, already achieved and realized, in Christ. Our created selves and identity, once perfectly realized in faithfulness and truth, are not lost, but raised up in unity to glorify the Whole. It is our constant and daily failure to be faithful and perfect in every way which separates us from God, this Whole.
This is so beautifully put that I hesitate to dissent from it. I will even go so far as to say that it is so beautifully put that I like to think what it "really" means is the same thing as what I "really" mean with my own statements. Certainly, its beauty stands as evidence that it flows from a right relationship with God. But....(you knew this was coming)....it remains important to me to state that I am not a part of God. I like the widely-told story about William Bacon Evans when he was headmaster of a Friends' school. One day, as Evans was walking down the hall (according to the story) a young student burst around a corner, ran right into him, and blurted out "JESUS CHRIST!!!". Evans is said to have replied mildly and politely, "Oh no, just His humble servant." That remark seems to me to sum up the attitude we should always strive to maintain.

As to the final spin-off topic of individualism: I have so much to say about this that it will need a separate post. I hope to get to it soon.

Thanks to all for this enlightening discussion.

Rich Accetta-Evans

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Check Out Chuck Fager's Web Site

I learned from Quakers In The News that Friend Chuck Fager recently appeared on the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News (!). He was interviewed about the work of Quaker House in North Carolina in counseling military objectors to war. Moreover, he lived to tell the tale.

Hearing about this sent me to Chuck's website, A Friendly Letter - - The Blog. As I expected, based on having received the old snail-mail-hard-copy version of "A Friendly Letter" back in the day, this blog is excellent reading. A link to it will be added to my sidebar soon.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

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