Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Meeting's Welcome Leaflet - -

I left a comment on a quakerquaker video yesterday, stating that I think it would be better if we Friends, when doing "outreach" or "advancement", would talk less about ourselves and more about God. The following text is an example of what I think would be an improvement. It happens that I wrote it myself, so bias cannot be excluded. Nevertheless, it has been used at 15th Street Meeting, a famously "liberal" meeting for several years. Currently we make it available both as a handout at Meeting and as a tri-fold leaflet kept on display in a box on the fence around our yard. I'd be curious as to how Friends elsewhere feel about it.

YOU ARE WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH US


If this is the first time you are joining us – or even if it is not – you may be interested in the following questions about Quaker worship as it is practiced here.

Q: Who or what do Quakers worship?
A: Quakers worship God: the same God who is recognized by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and worshipped by billions of people throughout the world. Quakers believe that God is a living Spirit who can be known and worshipped by anyone.

Q: What sacraments, forms or rituals do Quakers use in their worship?
A: There are different kinds of worship services at different Quaker Meetings. The kind we practice at Fifteenth Street Meeting is called “unprogrammed worship” or “waiting worship”. Its premise is that God’s own Spirit will guide us in how best to give God the worship God is due. Therefore we do not plan any ceremonies or rituals or prepare any hymns, sermons or prayers of our own devising. We come together in silence and wait for the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Q: What do the worshippers actually do?
A: What we try to do is quiet our minds, open our hearts, and listen to the Spirit. There is no prescribed way to do this. The key is an attitude of expectant waiting and a willingness to obey whatever inner promptings God may inspire. We are also alert to hear the messages that may come to us through our fellow worshippers.

Q: Is there a minister or priest in the Meeting for Worship?
A: Potentially, all are ministers. Vocal ministry occurs during unprogrammed worship when someone present feels deeply moved by God to offer a message to the assembled Friends. The words of the message may be words of praise, thanksgiving, comfort, reassurance, moral challenge, or spiritual insight.

Q: What is the difference between “vocal ministry” and other kinds of speaking?
A: Speaking that does not come from a sense of leading is not ministry. Discussion and debate are not ministry. Friends do not “answer” each other’s messages during a meeting. There is no strict limit on the length of messages, but usually “less is more”. It is easy to “outrun the Guide” when giving lengthy messages.A period of silence between messages offers the needed space for reflecting on what is said. Therefore those who offer messages should be careful not to rise too quickly after someone else has spoken.

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40 Comments:

Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Rich, if 15th St. Meeting is a liberal meeting, as you say it is, then the statement is a lie from beginning to end.  You write,

"A: Quakers worship God: the same God who is recognized by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and worshipped by billions of people throughout the world."

Not if they are liberal Quakers, most of them don't.  They may use the word "God," but they are not talking about the God recognized by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  In fact it is a word game intended to deceive.  Most liberal Quakers are naturalists.  They do not believe in a Creator--and if the word "God" means anything in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam it means the Creator.  They do not believe in a power greater than natural law, and if the word "God" means anything in common English it means the ruler of the universe who is greater than the laws he created.  I don't really even need to say "in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam," since we are living in western culture, and it is just common English to mean, by "God," the big guy upstairs (please note, "upstairs" is metaphorical speech for most people, but I use it deliberately to talk common English) who created us all and rules the universe.  (I am not sure the word "God" exists in any other culture.)

If one talks long enough with liberal Quakers about God one will discover that they use the word "God" for some political reason that has nothing to do with plain and honest speech.  (They do the same with the word "Christ," as I have often observed.)  If you press them it turns out that "God" means part of their own mind, or some abstract ideal that has no objective existence outside of people's minds.  They use the term, not because it is the normal English term for talking about part of one's own mind, but in order to converse with real believers in God without having to explain that they are atheists.  When I challenge them they whine about everyone's having the right to define "God" in their own way.  Nonsense!  If everyone defined words in their own way no communication would be possible.  And no real communication takes place when liberal Quakers, misusing the word "God" with their fingers crossed, talk with people who really believe in God.

I am particularly concerned for newcomers who haven't caught on to this game.  Eventually they will discover that the people in the meeting they have wandered into don't mean what they say when they talk about God, but not until they have suffered a great deal of confusion, pain, and disillusionment.  I know; I went through it!

And please let's not have any distraction into whether "God" is defined by the creed of some particular church.  "God" isn't defined by any church's creed; we just all know that "God" means the Creator and ruler of the universe.  Different churches may have different beliefs about what God has said or done, approves or disapproves, plans or doesn't plan for the future; but these are not definitions of the word "God"; these are beliefs about God.  I can talk about God to my neighbors, and they all know what I mean no matter what church they go to or if they don't go to any church.  I don't profess the creed of any church, or even the inerrancy of the Bible; but everyone knows what I mean when I say "God."  The word has a meaning in common English; and Rich, if the members of 15th Street Meeting are anything like you have for years been telling me they are like, what you have written does not truthfully describe, in common English, what they believe.

Please DON'T be a party to publishing this deceitful statement.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.megalink.net/~klee http://www.qhpress.org

"All my cats are in one basket."

8:50 AM, December 01, 2008  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Licia feels that I am telling a lie when I say that Quakers believe in God. The thing is, though, that Quakers do believe in God.

It's true that there are some vocal "non-theist" Quakers who are an exception to the general rule, and I believe there are even some such Friends in 15th Street Meeting. Those in 15th Street understand, however, that theirs is not the position of the Meeting as a whole and is certainly not the position of Quakers as Quakers.

Quakers tend to be a bit more open about their theological uncertainties and confusions than the official spokespeople for some other faiths. I can imagine that if you started quizzing a lot of liberal-theist Friends on natural law, the nature of Creation, etc. you could uncover some ideas that sit uneasily with belief in God. My observation, though, is that most of the Quakers I know, including the liberal Quakers with whom I disagree on many matters, say that they believe in God, and acknowledge that God is a power greater than any human power. Moreover, they show that they believe in God because they turn to God for guidance, and strength, and hope and they are faithful to the leadings they believe they get from God.
I respect Licia's right to think they are mistaken in what they think about God, but I don't think she is right to claim that I or they are "lying" when they state that they are believers.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

11:39 AM, December 01, 2008  
Blogger David Carl said...

Interesting, I wasn't expecting the criticism to be coming from that direction.

No Rich, I don't believe you are "lying." Licia seems to me to be taking a particularly tough stance in that regard, though I find her critique interesting in some respects. I think "I disagree because..." would have been wholly sufficient to make the point. Although of course I do not know what motivates her, or what she is feeling, I would assume that there is some level of pain underlying her accusations of deception. On that assumption, I pray she will find healing. And even should such a prayer be misdirected, I further pray for communication among all Friends that reflects and increases gospel order among us -- may love be the first motion.

1:44 PM, December 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, you're not lying Rich. At my 2 quite liberal British meetings Quakers talk abut, pray to and certainly seem to believe in God.In fact we've had a Buddist leave because she found mention of God annoying.Seems to me that the tiny number of non theists are often very vocal and give an impression which outweighs their numbers
liz collinson

3:56 PM, December 01, 2008  
Anonymous Heather said...

"I am particularly concerned for newcomers who haven't caught on to this game. Eventually they will discover that the people in the meeting they have wandered into don't mean what they say when they talk about God, but not until they have suffered a great deal of confusion, pain, and disillusionment. I know; I went through it!"

I appreciate this, Licia, since I'm just beginning to figure this out myself (after far too long), and yes, it is painful and disillusioning. And leaves me wondering what liberal Quakers have to offer someone like me, who DOES believe in the Christian God ... Time to look elsewhere?

7:45 PM, December 01, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

I wasn't talking about the "vocal 'nontheist' Quakers."  At least with vocal nontheists you know where you stand.  I was talking about the ones who use the word "God" but mean something else by it.  This is nearly everyone in Britain YM and New England YM, and I can't believe that NYYM is all that different. Heather makes my point exactly, about the effect on newcomers--and after all if the statement gives newcomers a false impression it is worse than useless.

Licia

8:54 AM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I have the opposite impression from Licia. My experience is that most Quakers in my Meeting do believe in God and that they are using the word "God" correctly and honestly. I'd suspect the same is true of New England Yearly Meeting, but I have little knowledge of Friends there.

One motivation behind the composition of this statement was a recognition that if the Meeting fails to be explicit about the Quaker belief in God, then this will give the misleading impression that we don't uphold that belief or that it is not important to us. From time to time people come to us, in flight from other churches, and expecting that they won't be hearing about God from us. Perhaps they have that impression from some Quaker outreach literature which seems to bend over backwards to avoid taking strong stands on theological issues.

I think it's best to be up-front about the fact that God is central to us, and I think the Meeting's leaflet is important for that reason.

9:50 AM, December 02, 2008  
Anonymous Kristin said...

I am a liberal Quaker who belongs to a liberal meeting. I definitely believe in God, in the traditional sense, and I know that most people in my meeting do also. I have been to other liberal meetings and gatherings and find an overwhelming number of people who believe in God, in the traditional sense. I do not think that Rich is lying

10:09 AM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger John said...

Friend, I like your Meeting's leaflet! It speaks my mind (I'm a Liberal Friend in a FUM Meeting) and it rings very true to me :) I think that all but Evangelical Quakers would agree with it.

2:29 PM, December 02, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Rich, you write,

"I can imagine that if you started quizzing a lot of liberal-theist Friends on natural law, the nature of Creation, etc. you could uncover some ideas that sit uneasily with belief in God."

I would never dream of quizzing liberal Friends about "the nature of Creation," and that you introduce such an obscure phrase (which was not in my comment that you are replying to here) suggests that like most liberals do when this subject comes up you are trying to obscure the issue.  What on earth do you mean by "the nature of Creation"?  What it's like to be God and create something?  Only God knows that, and theists don't pretend to know it.  But most liberals do not believe that anyone created them.  They think there was a Big Bang, and then something happened that only physicists can figure out, and then something else happened, and eventually evolution happened, and somehow they are here.  They don't think there is anyone in charge.

My observation, though, is that most of the Quakers I know, including the liberal Quakers with whom I disagree on many matters, say that they believe in God, and acknowledge that God is a power greater than any human power.  Moreover, they show that they believe in God because they turn to God for guidance, and strength, and hope and they are faithful to the leadings they believe they get from God.

That they follow leadings doesn't prove that they believe their leadings come from God. Lots of liberal Friends think their leadings come from the right half of their brain.

Rich, you can't tell me what liberal Quakers are like. I've been involved with them for 40 years. Especially in New England and on the Internet. This subject comes up repeatedly on e-mail lists, and all the liberals want to have their own definition of "God" which somehow (each in their own style) makes God not a person and not the Creator.

And don't think I don't notice how carefully you (and the other liberals) avoid the pronoun "He." "God" is a masculine noun, if you are speaking English.

Then Rich tries another diversionary tactic:

"I respect Licia's right to think they are mistaken in what they think about God,"

I didn't say that and didn't assert any such right. In my observation there is little reason to suppose that liberals think about God at all, mistakenly or otherwise, unless someone else raises the subject, and then they have their ways of dancing around the subject by redefining words. If one really insists that one wants to talk about the Big Man Upstairs they will start blaming Christianity for the foreign policy of George Bush, or claiming that people who listen to "voices" (i.e., who say that God speaks to them) are always going out and killing someone and using that as an excuse.

but I don't think she is right to claim that I or they are "lying" when they state that they are believers.

Despite what you say, most of them state no such thing unless they are challenged. And then they state it in evasive ways. One can tell any lie one wants to and claim it is not a lie just by crossing one's fingers and redefining common words in your head so that "I saw a cat" means "The mailman hasn't arrived yet." But most people have enough common sense not to try that with most common words. When the word is "God," however, it's open season for murdering the English language. Among liberal Quakers, that is. My non-liberal-Quaker neighbors understand the word and use it in the normal way. Will give some examples if this discussion continues.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.megalink.net/~klee
http://www.qhpress.org

"All my cats are in one basket."

3:02 PM, December 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I am in possession of photographs, video footage, and written documentation that show in detail exactly who, how and what
God is, in her entirety. (Sorry, Licia, that whole male thing is just not right). God told me not to show this to anyone else, or I'd go up flames, but I can say, that there are exactly 13 liberal Quakers on the Eastern Seaboard who are pretty close. Licia has gotten it about 53% correct, which is really not bad on average.

Since I'm the only person who really knows, the rest of you will need to exercise some humility on this subject.

Yours truly,

Engineer Pete

4:47 PM, December 02, 2008  
Anonymous Heather said...

"Higher power" could mean any number of things. There are plenty of pantheists in the world and I suppose they believe in a power greater than human power. But the God recognized by the three main monotheistic religions of today is, as I understand it, a living God who created everything, who can and does perform miracles, who reveals Himself at will to human beings, and who commands complete love and obedience from us. How many modern-day liberal Quakers believe in THAT God?

I ask, genuinely desiring an answer - I don't know what the situation is. It only seems to me that most of the folks at Meeting that I have talked to are very uncomfortable with, for instance, the idea of miracles, or really with anything that requires a leap of faith, so to speak. Perhaps I just haven't talked to the right ones. But there is also a decided lack of certain language in Meeting, that one would expect to hear - like "faith," "obedience," and even "God." Even if they do believe in God, there seems to be a gap in the expression of faith that leaves me feeling hungry and isolated.

10:05 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Paul L said...

It's interesting: I've spent most of the day struggling with responding to a draft statement by our meeting's committee of ministry and counsel entitled "Variety of Belief and What Binds Us Together" in which the committee tries to say what we believe. Its basic conclusion is that we believe "in holy presence, in transformative experience, in our testimonies, and in our community."

Astonishingly -- and pertinent to Licia's concern -- the committee was unable to say that it (or we) believed in God. In fact, in the two page document the word "God" is used only once, in a concluding quotation of Isaac Penington (". . . sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart. . .") and even that is preceded with the cavaet that Penington was writing "in the theological language of his time."

"Spirit", "Community", and "holy presence" are each used twice in contexts where one would normally expect "God" to be used.

So maybe 21st Century liberal North American Quakers do believe in God (I do), but some of them have a hard time saying so.

12:11 AM, December 03, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Thank you, Paul L, for a more realistic account of what goes on in liberal Quaker meetings.  I think the only difference between your experience and what is being said by those who loudly insist that "liberal Quakers believe in God" is that some liberal Quakers have changed the way they play the game and are trying to use language that sounds as much as possible like traditional religious language. &npsp;They do draw the line, apparently, at the dreaded pronoun "He," though the literature of Christianity, Judaism and Islam persistently refers to God in the masculine gender; and at least in the Jewish and Christian scriptures God is said to enter into a marriage with His people. &npsp;God is always represented as the husband and the people as the bride. &npsp;Well, horrors, that almost makes it sound as if there is a difference between men and women! &npsp;Higher power forbid that liberal Quakers should appear to be as ignorant as Jesus when he said that God created us male and female.

Heather writes,

"the God recognized by the three main monotheistic religions of today is, as I understand it, a living God who created everything, who can and does perform miracles, who reveals Himself at will to human beings, and who commands complete love and obedience from us."

I certainly thought so.

"How many modern-day liberal Quakers believe in THAT God?"
I ask, genuinely desiring an answer


Very few, from my 40 years experience of liberal Quakers.

I don't know what the situation is. It only seems to me that most of the folks at Meeting that I have talked to are very uncomfortable with, for instance, the idea of miracles, or really with anything that requires a leap of faith, so to speak. Perhaps I just haven't talked to the right ones.

It would be mighty hard to find "the right ones" because some of them will string you along as long as they can get away with it, using words that they think will sound to you as if they share your beliefs, while mentally crossing their fingers at various points. &npsp;I've been all through it. &npsp;Watch the pronouns. &npsp;Not because God's gender is the most important thing about Him, but because refusal to call God "He" often masks a disbelief that God is a person at all, with a mind and will of His own. &npsp;Plus it shows that they worship political correctness more than the Creator.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.megalink.net/~klee
http://www.qhpress.org

"All my cats are in one basket."

10:03 AM, December 03, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone say, "we see through a glass darkly....?"

Engineer Pete

11:55 AM, December 03, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

When Rich wrote, in the blog entry that began this discussion,

"I think it would be better if we Friends, when doing 'outreach' or 'advancement,' would talk less about ourselves and more about God.  The following text is an example of what I think would be an improvement."

I took him to be saying that he had drafted a statement that he thought would be an improvement over his meeting's existing outreach literature.  So I was surprised when I accessed 15th St. Meeting's website and found that the text Rich posted here was already on the meeting's website, with the subcaption:
     Prepared by the Ministry and Worship
     Committee
     April 2004


Looking back at Rich's original statement here, however, I find that he also says, "it has been used at 15th Street Meeting...for several years. Currently we make it available both as a handout at Meeting and as a tri-fold leaflet kept on display in a box on the fence around our yard."  Okay, it was a misunderstanding on my part to think that it was a new draft.
 But I don't think that, in fact, the statement amounts to talking "less about ourselves and more about God."  It says very little about God and a lot about "us."

I also find, on that same website, a statement headed "About Quakerism" (perhaps Rich wrote that one too?).  One sentence under that heading caught my attention as needing correction:

Friends believe that God is a living Spirit with a will that can be known through silent worship, expectant waiting, and corporate discernment.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether this is a realistic account of what 15th St. Meeting members believe, I would like to point out that the will of God can be known only when God chooses to reveal it, by whom he chooses to reveal it to.  There is no guarantee that he will reveal his will to any particular organization.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.megalink.net/~klee
http://www.qhpress.org

"All my cats are in one basket."

11:05 AM, December 05, 2008  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

Perhaps we could come to a better understanding among ourselves if we were to reconcile various biblical descriptions or perceptions of God which really range from the description of God's visit to Abraham on His way to find out whether what He had heard about Sodom and Gomorrah was true or not, in which He seems to be fairly indistinguishable from a man....through the response to Moses' request to see God in which Moses is allowed to see His "backside" after He passed and on to the time of the kingdoms when God appeared to reside in the Ark of the Covenant, at least until it got ripped off... and finally to the words recorded of Jesus in which "God is love," and "God is spirit." Maybe we need a good definition of "spirit" and how or whether it relates to such expressions as "school spirit" or "esprit de corps." Clearly, none of us is in the position of believeing that God is that little old man floating around on the clouds, but how can we pin down and document a clear and unequivocal perception of the nature of God? A good answer there might go a long way toward clearing up the problem.
In His Love,
Nate Swift

11:59 AM, December 05, 2008  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

No takers?
Hmmmmmmm, perhaps the problem Licia has with "liberals" is that the box they are trying not to put God into has fuzzier edges than the box she is trying not to put Him into?
In His Love,
Nate Swift

7:37 AM, December 06, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Nate, my concern doesn't relate to systematizing everything in the Bible.  I have no systematization of the Bible myself, and neither do most people.  I am concerned about plain speech, and I do think most people know what the word "God" means, whether they believe in him or not, and regardless of which systematic theology, if any, they subscribe to.  Sooner or later, when this subject comes up, some people try to confuse the issue by suggesting that ordinary people, not as sophisticated as themselves, can't talk meaningfully about God until they have spent 10 years analyzing the Bible and addressed a bunch of abstruse questions.  It ain't so.

Here is an example from the town I live in.  There is a very strict sect here called "Friends of Jesus Christ," or more informally the Wolfites.  (In my novel I called them "Friends of God.")  They get some but not all of their ideas from early Quakerism.  They have a testimony against joking (one they share with early Quakers; it's based on Ephesians 5:4.  I don't share it myself). We also have a humor columnist, Steve Bull, who writes for our local newspaper.  One of the Wolfites wrote to Steve Bull, warning him that "God doesn't like people who joke around."

Steve reported the letter in his column and then commented, "I think God must have a sense of humor.  He created humans, didn't he?"

I'm sure everybody reading the column understood exactly what was being said (Steve wouldn't write a column that readers weren't likely to understand).  Here were two people with different beliefs, but they were using the word "God" with its common meaning.  Both Steve Bull and the Wolfite understood "God" to mean the creator, the ruler of the universe, the ultimate authority about right and wrong; they also understood God to be a personal being with thoughts and feelings of His own, but they disagreed about what God approves of, on at least one point.  Happens all the time.

On your second comment, I'm not trying to put God into a box at all-- I think the idea is absurd.  He put me into a box; or more accurately He gave me a body and put me onto an earth that He created.  Sometimes it feels good here, sometimes it doesn't.  At 67 I'm still not sure of the dimensions of the box, what I can or can't get away with in here, and what else I might yet encounter in it.  But He knows and has good plans for me, as He does for all of us.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.megalink.net/~klee
http://www.qhpress.org

"All my cats are in one basket."

3:50 PM, December 06, 2008  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

Licia, the point of my first comment is that there IS no way to "systematize biblical perceptions of God, that they changed dramatically over the course of the centuries, and we should be aware that they are still changing. For instance, you state that throughout the Bible God is masculine, but can we honestly think that "spirit" has gender or should we be aware that writers were assigning gender characteristics to God as a means of communicating the characteristics of "a spirit" in terms that humans could more closely relate to. I refer to Christ as "Him" because the embodiment in Jesus was masculine, not because I believe that the Spirit of Christ has gender. The second point was that, although you would not "put God into a box," you insist that God have certain characteristics that others are not so sure of. Isn't that just a bigger box?
In His Love,
Nate Swift

7:09 PM, December 06, 2008  
Anonymous Heather said...

"and we should be aware that they are still changing"

For whom? Plenty of people still believe in the biblical God. Jesus referred to God as "a Spirit" but also as "the Father." In his parables he continually compared God to various people, such as the unjust judge.

"You insist that God have certain characteristics that others are not so sure of. Isn't that just a bigger box?"

Not if you believe in "the same God who is recognized by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam" which was the question that started this discussion. If you believe in that God, you believe that God has chosen to reveal certain characteristics of Himself in order to bring people closer to Him in faith and love. If you deny or strip away those characteristics, you will eventually end up with some vague idea of a vague transcendent spirit-thing that fills all space kind of like a gas, or simply an incomprehensible ultimate reality with no positive characteristics. Such a concept of deity is wholly unsatisfying - I know, I've tried it. Nevertheless it has been around for ages (read some ancient Greek philosophy, it's quite prevalent) and so is hardly an example of changing perceptions of God.

10:05 PM, December 06, 2008  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

"For whom? Plenty of people still believe in the biblical God." Once again, there is no consistent "biblical God." Check into the history of "Trinity Doctrine" if you doubt that questions about the nature of God have lasted long past biblical times.
"If you deny or strip away those characteristics, you will eventually end up with some vague idea of a vague transcendent spirit-thing that fills all space kind of like a gas, or simply an incomprehensible ultimate reality with no positive characteristics. Such a concept of deity is wholly unsatisfying - I know, I've tried it. Nevertheless it has been around for ages (read some ancient Greek philosophy, it's quite prevalent) and so is hardly an example of changing perceptions of God."
So your basic point is that you, personally, can't relate to perceptions of God that you view as "impersonal." Why should the fact that other people find it appropriate cause you distress? And why, especially, would you go along with the idea that such perceptions expressed are "lying" about belief in God? What others relate to or how they express their perceptions will only affect you as you fear that your own perceptions are challenged.

In His Love,
Nate Swift

3:46 AM, December 07, 2008  
Anonymous Heather said...

Dear Nate,

Other people having an idea of an impersonal deity does not distress me, nor am I afraid of their understanding of God. You're avoiding the issue. The God of the Bible, though not portrayed in exactly the same way by every biblical writer, is always the Creator, always both just and merciful, and always an intensely personal God, no less for Jesus than for any of the prophets or psalmists.

When I came to Quakers, I was under the impression - mostly because of the "About Us" materials provided by my meeting - that Quakers believed in and worshiped the Christian God. Now I am discovering this is not so, in other words, that I have been misled, and I am having to re-evaluate. While I do not wish to accuse anyone of intentional dishonesty, I do feel that liberal Quakers should beware of how they might be misleading newcomers with self-descriptions that are not true. Licia spoke to that, and I was grateful for it.

4:13 PM, December 07, 2008  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

Well, Heather, the conversation is about whether you have been misled or not, and it hinges on your expectations, not on the perceptions of the people in the Meeting. Since they ARE your expectations, however, it might be good for you to see if you can connect with a Conservative Meeting, given your attraction to Quaker values. The Quakerfinder feature of Quakerinfo.com may be of some assistance to you. In the meantime I would suggest James 1:27 as a touchstone concerning relative merits of perceptions of the nature of God.

In His Love,
Nate Swift

6:58 PM, December 07, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Once again, the meaning of the word "God" has not changed, and people speaking honestly with the intention of communicating know how to use the word.  People trying to deceive will twist words any way they think they can get away with.

There has never been any doubt in the monotheistic traditions about the gender of God.  If I may put the expression "God is spirit" back into context, it's from Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman, and what Jesus said was, "A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24).  There is no way anyone can read that passage and think Jesus has introduced doubt about the gender of God.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.qhpress.org
http://www.megalink.net/~klee

"All my cats are in one basket."

10:23 AM, December 08, 2008  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

There have been so many comments here that I'm not sure I'll be able to respond adequately. I'd like to start with Heather and Paul.

Heather, I'm sorry your experience of a Friends Meeting has been so disillusioning. The God you believe in - - the one who, as you put it, is a living God who created everything, who can and does perform miracles, who reveals Himself at will to human beings, and who commands complete love and obedience from us is indeed the God I believe in and the one who is referred to in the leaflet quoted in this post. This is also the God who George Fox preached about. In my Meeting, notwithstanding the fact that it is widely considerecd a "liberal" Meeting, there are many many Friends who believe in this God. Some decades ago it might have been difficult for the Meeting to produce a leaflet that says so, but even then there were many for whom it did ring true.
Over the years there have been several Friends in the Meeting who bore witness to this God. There has also been a fair amount of adult religious education highlighting the nature of Early Friends' belief. My sense is that all this quiet effort has borne fruit in several ways: people who share this belief in God are more comfortable staying with us; some Friends whose faith in God may have been weak have been strengthened; and - finally - those who may have felt that their faith was out of the mainstream have been encouraged by seeing that others express the same faith.

Yesterday, to take a more or less typical Sunday, there were at least four messages in our meeting for worship. I was not one of those who spoke. All four who did speak referred to God. At least one spoke of God as our Creator. The common thread in all the messages had to do with what God wants us as a Meeting to do about our homeless neighbors.

I wish you well in finding a Meeting or another religious community in which your faith will be nourished.

This comment is getting longish, so I think I'll save my replies to Paul and others for later.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

1:39 PM, December 08, 2008  
Blogger Eleanor said...

From the first comment, the term "lying" sets the tone of the discussion, though some comments break through it to shed light. "Lying" seems an inaccurate word here, an example of what in the early days of online exchanges bore the name "flaming." This kind of verbal shock and awe certainly has ancient precedent throughout the world as among Quakers. It is hard to see it as native to Quakerism's spiritual roots in early Christianity. Many have seen it do its share of souring newcomers to Meeting and turning them away.

2:38 PM, December 08, 2008  
Anonymous Heather said...

Dear Rich, it does sound as if your meeting is much more God-centered than the one I have been attending. My own experience in months of attendance is that God is almost never mentioned during Meeting for Worship, but I trust that your leaflet more accurately describes your meeting, than the materials provided by the meeting I attend describe that one.

Thank you for your well-wishes. God bless.

9:06 PM, December 09, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Eleanor writes,

"'Lying' seems an inaccurate word here, an example of what in the early days of online exchanges bore the name 'flaming.' This kind of verbal shock and awe certainly has ancient precedent throughout the world as among Quakers. It is hard to see it as native to Quakerism's spiritual roots in early Christianity."

And I don't see myself as a flamer.  Originally my reaction to what I mistakenly took to be a draft statement that Rich was thinking of asking 15th St. Meeting to adopt ("If 15th St. Meeting is a liberal meeting...then the statement is a lie from beginning to end") was a reaction to the statement itself, and to what I know about liberal meetings, not to Rich, whom I do not in general think of as a liar.

(Early Quakers were constantly accusing their opponents of lying, and vice versa--their debates would never have made it on any modern moderated internet forum!  I've just been indexing the works of Nayler, and there are already about 300 entries under "lying," in my index of the first 3 volumes, mostly cases where Nayler called his opponents' statements lies.  And Nayler definitely wasn't unusual in this respect.  But I am not a 17th-century Quaker.)

But I thought perhaps Rich had drafted something expressing his own belief, something he wished were more generally shared in his meeting, and wondering if they could be persuaded to adopt it, and that maybe he just hadn't thought about how misleading it would be if they did.

I still think he needs to think more about this, though I note his recent statement in which he says 15th St. Meeting has changed in recent decades.  Okay, I haven't been there.  But if they have changed so much that Rich's beliefs are now generally held, I'd be inclined to say that it is no longer a liberal meeting.  My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between and that there is still an element of wishful thinking in Rich's statement.  I have never before heard of a liberal meeting turning into a theistic meeting, and you did mention that you have some "vocal 'non-theists'" at 15th St.  How do they rationalize accepting the statement?  How does the meeting rationalize their membership?

I also still note the cumbersomeness of Rich's language.  Rich, whom are you trying to please by your avoidance of the masculine personal pronoun for God?  It isn't normal English.  It isn't Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.  It sure sounds like silly modern political-correctness aimed at appeasing feminist extremists; and I don't think any woman who loves God has the slightest problem with calling him "He."

When a meeting wants a statement to put into a leaflet or onto a website, and someone who writes well is kind enough to write one, it may be that the meeting adopts it not because it accurately expresses what they all believe, but because nobody else wants the job, and because of a persistent Quaker trait (at least among modern liberal Quakers) of adopting minutes that can be united on only because different members attach different meanings to the words. It is a basically dishonest practice; I'd be surprised if Rich hasn't noticed it.  There is also a widespread practice among liberal Quakers (I have observed it many times) of using traditional religious language as a way of pretending be in the same ballpark with people who use those words with their common meanings, while the liberals have their own private "definitions" of them.  Nothing is so frustrating to dialogue.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.qhpress.org
http://www.megalink.net/~klee

"All my cats are in one basket."

8:34 AM, December 10, 2008  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

Hokay, so the major sticking point seems to be the unadorned statement: "Q: Who or what do Quakers worship?
A: Quakers worship God: the same God who is recognized by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and worshipped by billions of people throughout the world. Quakers believe that God is a living Spirit who can be known and worshipped by anyone."
Might I suggest that it would be appropriate for this, and perhaps other liberal Meetings to add something like: "Many Quakers hold and express perceptions of the nature of God that are different, sometimes widely, from more traditional perceptions. We hope that the individuals hearing ministry expressed under any perception will focus on the message of the ministry rather than the different ways of perceiving God."
It might work better, especially insofar as alerting newcomers to such differences.
In His Love,
Nate Swift

3:19 PM, December 11, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Nate Swift writes,

Might I suggest that it would be appropriate for this, and perhaps other liberal Meetings to add something like: "Many Quakers hold and express perceptions of the nature of God that are different, sometimes widely, from more traditional perceptions. We hope that the individuals hearing ministry expressed under any perception will focus on the message of the ministry rather than the different ways of perceiving God."

Might I suggest that it wouldn't be.  I am asking for plainer speech, not for gobbledygook.  Different beliefs about God are not "different ways of perceiving God."

Rich, are you alert to the language games too often played by liberals when the subject of God or Christ comes up?  I am intensely aware of them, and because I love the Lord and value good communication, I detest these language games; and that is what has exercised me in the present discussion.  Honest differences of opinion about God or Christ, expressed in plain, straightforward English, can be discussed lovingly.  Language games destroy communication.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.qhpress.org
http//www.megalink.net/~klee

"All my cats are in one basket."

7:25 AM, December 12, 2008  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

Okay, Licia, I take it that in order to use the word, "God," people are required to subscribe to the same set of doctrines concerning the nature of God that you do. What I see happening is sincere people who recognize that there ARE different perceptions about God trying to communicate concerning living in the Light while taking those differences into account. You see people deliberately lying about their beliefs. I'll take my view and leave you to yours, thank you. I believe I have learned from this exchnge.
In His Love,
Nate Swift

6:30 PM, December 13, 2008  
Blogger Eleanor said...

Rich’s thoughtful statement and concerns about outreach are being well addressed here, slowly, but the way is lit up by a distracting, sparkling, spectacular star. Look, look!

In several posts Licia states that her aim is plain speech, plain English – versus gobbledygook. She aims to savage the non-plain-English games she sees hurting communication about God.

Licia is fortunate in having neighbors in Farmington who are in sync. It makes you wonder why is she out here in the wilds of the blogosphere?

Is something fruitful going to emerge from this?

Licia is exercised about those of us out in gobbledygook land, raw and diverse, unblessed by the security of pure plain Farmington English and uniform creed – creed, credo, this I believe. She has little use for our labors to see clearly in the tangle of contemporary life and thought outside the good community she has chosen, little use for the shifts and changes, possibilities and occasional extraordinary revelations. She has no patience with our linguistic shortcomings. In fact she cartoons them, sets them up and knocks them down.

Now I want to claim being a liberal. I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. What that means opens up more and more as I grow old.

I am older than Licia. I object to her adversarial assumptions, having witnessed three quarters of a century of pendulum swings in Quaker thought and opinion, along with a deep, steady, holding core and many undeniable flashes of truth in action.

Licia says she doesn’t see herself as a flamer. Why not, plain speaker? Words like lying and gobbledygook are exactly what is meant by flaming: Put-downs, rude remarks snuffing exchange.

Undoubtedly flaming has its up side. It gets attention. It releases furies. It makes the juices flow for some. Look how lively this discussion has been in the wake of a few hostile words and some blanket contempt.

Here comes a surprise now -

In discussing not being a flamer, Licia said:

(Early Quakers were constantly accusing their opponents of lying, and vice versa--their debates would never have made it on any modern moderated internet forum! I've just been indexing the works of Nayler, and there are already about 300 entries under "lying," in my index of the first 3 volumes, mostly cases where Nayler called his opponents' statements lies. And Nayler definitely wasn't unusual in this respect. But I am not a 17th-century Quaker.)

Is this an intentional, an important, even an urgent insight?: Early Quakers were then, in effect and along with many of their contemporaries, developers and modelers for a fresh kind of word combat. Being trial democratic rumblings, that might be understood as growing pains. The horror of the Nayler example - living by the verbal sword, suffering and barely surviving his own uses of it - hardly recommended it to the next Quaker generations as a permanent way to go. Next generations did tone it down.

I never thought of it before: What did the first Quaker generation and the first internet flamers have in common? Feelings of empowerment, more effective ways of learning and communicating – by means of printed word/electronic word? Sudden unhindered, unmediated access to both expression and audience? Making us feel our oats? Making us inflate a little much at the start? Voom voom, coming through, out of my way!

Before the world wide web, when discussions on the academic electronic grapevine were young, they were fairly often funny: Distinguished professors debating the pedigree of a small bird, a wild flower or a poem would call one another idiot or liar or lying idiot or quite a bit worse. What was making this happen? What was going on? Redeeming regulations began to calm it down in academia as the wider web opened out.

Just starting to look at this:

Quakers since the profound energetic flaming start, more than many, more than most on earth, have led the way beyond the adversarial representation of human community. How do we know God the Father wants us to grow up?

Eleanor

10:45 PM, December 13, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Nate Swift writes,

Okay, Licia, I take it that in order to use the word, "God," people are required to subscribe to the same set of doctrines concerning the nature of God that you do.

I didn't say anything even close to this. I talked about how the word "God" is used in ordinary English. I think one's hearers or readers will assume that one is using words in the common way, and therefore to use them in some other way, with one's fingers crossed, so to speak, is misleading. I am concerned about honesty and good communication, not about promoting any set of doctrines. An atheist can use the word "God" in the ordinary way, even while saying that he or she doesn't believe in God.

Now, I have said these things over and over, so I think it fair to say that Nate has deliberately misrepresented me.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.qhpress.org
http://www.megalink.net/~klee

"All my cats are in one basket."

7:46 AM, December 15, 2008  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Eleanor writes,

In several posts Licia states that her aim is plain speech, plain English - versus gobbledygook. She aims to savage the non-plain-English games she sees hurting communication about God.

Quite right, thank you.  But the rest of your post is weird and hostile; I don't know why.

Licia is fortunate in having neighbors in Farmington who are in sync. It makes you wonder why is she out here in the wilds of the blogosphere?

I don't know what you mean by "in sync."  If you mean that everybody agrees with everybody else in Farmington, of course we do not, and I made it clear that we don't in the comments I have already posted.  As for why I'm in the blogosphere perhaps it's for the same reasons the rest of us are.

Licia is exercised about those of us out in gobbledygook land, raw and diverse, unblessed by the security of pure plain Farmington English and uniform creed

There is no such thing as "Farmington English," nor did I say that there is.  Nor is there any "uniform creed" in Farmington, and I very clearly said that there are differences of belief here as there are everywhere.  I even gave what I thought was an amusing example of an exchange between a member of one local religious sect and a columnist in our local newspaper.

I mentioned my neighbors because they are a cross-section of humanity that I encounter simply because we are neighbors, and for that purpose it could be any of a million other towns.  We are not a self-selected group like an internet forum.  Internet forums have their uses, but they mislead us if they make us forget what an ordinary community is.  In a local town there are people of all ages.  There are manual laborers, college professors, secretaries, people who are unemployed (for good reasons and bad), grocers, doctors, journalists, students, mail deliverers, people who struggle to sell their arts and crafts (the list could go on and on), not to mention the children of all these people, and their elderly parents and grandparents, living side by side and talking with one another.

We have Catholics and Protestants (of numerous varieties), people of no religion, and spiritual people whose religions are hard to classify.  (I'm not sure if we have Jews or Muslims--maybe I just haven't met them yet.)  Political persuasions are divided in about the same ratio as the rest of the U.S.

I'm pretty sure I said nothing at all in any of my comments to suggest that the particular town I live in has its own language distinct from that of the rest of the English-speaking world.  It doesn't.  We are in continuity with the rest of society--how could we possibly not be?

Perhaps living in a small town does make it a little easier to see what common language is: people do talk to one another across the many differences among us, and I always found it easier to get to know people here than it was in a metropolitan area.  I can say "My neighbors know what I mean, and I know what they mean, when we use the word 'God'" a little more confidently than I could have said it in the Philadelphia suburb I came from.  Not because they mean something different by "God" in the Philadelphia suburbs, but because we suburbanites didn't know one another as well.

Is that clear enough?  Please can we have an end to sarcasm and misrepresentations?  Thank you.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press
licia@qhpress.org

http://www.megalink.net/~klee
http://www.qhpress.org

"All my cats are in one basket."

9:10 AM, December 15, 2008  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Friends,

I've decided to implement moderation on my blog's comments, at least for awhile. I will review each comment before it appears in order to keep the discussion on topic and - I hope - to keep it civil and respectful.


It may sometimes take me awhile to review comments. I apologize if this is frustrating. If for any reason I decide not to post a given comment I will try to explain why to the commenter. (Provided that I am able to do so that is - I'm not yet experienced in how the moderation system on blogger works).

- - Peace and Friendship,
Rich

12:12 PM, December 15, 2008  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Rich,

I think Licia greatly overstates the case, and states it in a manner that doesn't particularly invite civil discussion. But there is something to what she says, and beyond Licia's particular point, I have some other difficulties with "Quakers worship God" as an unqualified statement.

As a self-identifying atheist Friend, I nonetheless have a hard time finding disagreement with many liberal theist Friends when the conversation goes much deeper than "I believe/don't believe in God." There are many Friends, in fact many liberal Christians of various denominations, for whom God has no particular supernatural elements. Such Friends do not necessarily see God as a being, as conscious, as answering prayers, as having created the world, etc. Rather, they use the term God to metaphorically express perfectly natural aspects of the human experience in relationship with other humans and the world we all live in.

I would not dream of telling these folks that they don't believe in God--that is not for me to say. But I do find myself somewhat confused as to why they would use the word God to describe what seems to me a perfectly natural, though highly mysterious, aspect of human existence. The word God has a long history--Licia is right about this--of being the word for the conscious, distinct, personal being who created and continues to guide the world. A great many liberal theist Friends believe in no such thing.

When I say I am confused by their use of the word God, I don't mean to say that usage is illegitimate. But I do think it can lead to misunderstandings, when people talk about God but have radically different understandings of what the word means.

The other point I would make is, while I would certainly agree that conceptions and understandings of God are inextricably central to Quakerism as a religious society, the statement "Quakers worship God" is not strictly factual as a blanket statement, as long as some Quakers do not. And some Quakers do not. Neither is it strictly true as a blanket statement about Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Jews, or any other religion large enough to partake of human diversity and peculiarity.

I do see value in efforts, such as yours here, to try to find and express exactly what is both universal and distinctive about Friends. I think we gain something in those conversations. But I think there is more truth to be gleaned from the questions, than from the answers.

Part of plain speaking, is precise speaking.

10:12 AM, December 16, 2008  
Anonymous Cynthia Large said...

Dear Friends,
Trying again.
I hope my computer allows me to post this; a few weeks ago I was faced with the split second choice of dropping the baby or dropping the computer and I believe I chose correctly.
I was part of the Ministry and Worship committee that reviewed this statement that Rich drafted, and I was part of the Meeting that approved it. I photocopied and folded the flyers, and built a little wooden covered box to hold them. Each time I passed by the Meetinghouse I would clear out the take-out menus and gum wrappers that were often stuffed into it. I was furious once to find a United for Peace and Justice sticker covering the painted "Welcome." Anyway, I love this statement. I didn't write it, but I might be guilty of overprotectiveness. I see it as an evangelical effort, to share the good news that there is a Living God who can and does guide us.

I remember someone warning us that the Meeting would never approve a statement with so much God in it. The Meeting did. Rich, did we dilute or re-word it? I can't remember. We might have streamlined some sentences, but did we water it down any? I don't think we did.

It wouldn't surprise me if some Friends privately assigned their "personal" definition to the word God, or even if they privately disagreed with the statement and decided to hold their peace. I don't feel any desire to root out or purge the Meeting of those elements.

I will say that I have attended a Meeting out here on the West Coast that I felt was unbalanced, where at the end of the hour I felt like I had just listened to an hour of NPR. I know what it is to leave the banquet hungry. I have tried to speak to Friends in many places about my longing to submit to the will of God, and my worries that I have been disobedient or mistaken in some way. I am used to the eyes sliding away from mine, the uncomfortable shifting, the false reassurances. I worship now with a group that is for the most part in agreement as far as what God is and what is expected of a people gathered to serve Him. But, with my evolving relationship with Christ, I wonder if I am sometimes the one playing word games or inserting private asterisks when we speak of Christianity? I will always be grateful to Quakers for allowing me the room to develop a personal relationship with Christ. I wonder if I would have stayed in those early days had I been cornered and interrogated on my beliefs? Well, I would have stayed, because God told me to worship there, but still I'm awfully grateful for the freedom of 15th Street Meeting. I need to remember that gratitude, even though I have, to my utter astonishment, ended up towards the conservative end of the spectrum.
Oooh, sorry for writing a novel, Rich. It's so good to rediscover your blog.

3:45 PM, December 19, 2008  
Anonymous Kate said...

Perhaps labels are the problem.

Or perhaps the problem is that we feel we can label one another easily.

I myself am a liberal Quaker -- of Rich's meeting, in fact -- one who worships the same God who is recognized by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

I also believe it is the same spirit which is worshipped by Hindus and many Native or Aboriginal religions.

Odd enough as it may seem to some, I came to Christ by being an open-minded liberal Quaker.

And listening.

11:49 PM, December 22, 2008  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Friends,
Over the next half hour or so I hope to re-read and either reject or accept all the comments which have come in since I instituted moderation.

My general rule of thumb will be to accept comments that advance discussion of the main issues here and reject those in which I feel people are wrangling over peripheral matters and particularly over whether each other's previous comments have been honest and sincere. There will be some doubtful cases, since some comments include both helpful points and unhelpful barbs at someone.

I also hope to sum up what I feel the real issues are and respond to much of what has been said, but I will do that in a new post. I respectfully request that those who wish to continue this discussion await my new post and respond to that, rather than to this post.

Thank you,
Rich Accetta-Evans

2:13 PM, December 24, 2008  

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