We Need a New Quakerism

Early Quaker Meeting

We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.”
—Extracts from the Writings of Friends, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Faith & Practice

A phrase that keeps coming to mind is “a new Quakerism,” and oddly enough, I’ve been hearing other Friends unknowingly echo this phrase back to me. It seems to me that many Friends, even those who consider themselves “convinced,” are hungry for more than what the Society has to offer. We keep coming back to the same point: we desperately need to re-imagine Quakerism.

We need a new Quakerism.

I’m not talking about re-imagining structures or techniques. We need a complete change of course. We need a revival. A brief breeze of enthusiasm is not enough. In order to survive, we need to do what I’ve heard C. Wess Daniels refer to as committing “faithful betrayal.” We must betray what-we-know in order to discover what is true – what is at the heart of the Quakerism we need.

In order to get to the heart of that Quakerism, the radical vision of early Friends might be a good place to start. From the basics of our movement, from the simplicity of the Gospel, that’s where we can find the power that George Fox lived in and that lived in George Fox. In stillness, in Light, centered on the imperishable Seed within, the living “One, Jesus Christ who can speak to thy condition.” The Society of Friends was not built; it was born – a community of prophets. In the shared worship, where egos were hushed and Love was magnified, there was an abundant life and conviction that led Friends to corporately reject the abusive and unfair ways of the world and seek (and demonstrate) a better Way. A transformative and subversive faith was discovered. Thousands of Friends were imprisoned for their faithful subversion, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to
suffer shame for his name.

At the heart of Christ’s good news and the faith of the early Friends is a vision of the Kingdom – transformative apocalypse. Daniel Seeger wrote a brilliant article in Friends Journal, “Revelation and Revolution: The Apocalypse of John in the Quaker and African American Spiritual Traditions,” that eloquently expounds on the radical implications of Quaker eschatology:

“What the Apocalypse of John revealed to George Fox was not the end of the world but its rebirth, a rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples as the disciples act concretely to advance the cause of justice and truth in human society. Using imagery from the Book of Revelation, George Fox describes this struggle for truth and justice as the Lamb’s War, a war carried out by the meek through gentleness, nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and peace. While there is a lot of mayhem and violence in the Book of Revelation, this is violence and mayhem perpetrated by oppressors against each other and against the weak and innocent. The single weapon in the Lamb’s War as described in the book of Revelation is a ‘terrible swift sword’ which proceeds from the mouth of Jesus. In other words, it is not a humanly devised killing machine, but only his truth which goes marching on into battle with the forces of evil.”

Early Friends were bound together by faith in God’s Kingdom, one where God reigns as Lamb and the Spirit of God was upon and within all. This was both present reality and future hope. It is true. It must also be sought. Does that conviction still, in some way, fuel the work that we do together? I hope so. Because it is that conviction that pushed Friends to prophetic work that shook the social order. It’s what made them Friends.

Without that conviction that God reigns and that God will reign, only the empty forms of Quakerism persist. That is the way of death.

We need a revival of that apocalyptic faith. Without it, we may provide folks with open-minded communities and strong, progressive values. Without it, we may provide kind spaces and opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. But without that apocalyptic faith, without that conviction, we lack the full gospel that shocked the world, liberated the oppressed, and empowered the saints. We do not have to be fundamentalists to have an eschatological conviction, nor do we have to be spineless in order to be inclusive. Early Friends knew of God’s wide, generous activity throughout creation, of the innate value and dignity of every child of God, and the need to fight against the oppression of Empire.

Those who fight the Lamb’s War will discover James Nayler’s words to 
be true: “Their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God.”

We fight, we wage war, with peace and good will towards all the creation of God, and through this we crush the spirit of the age’s power and extend God’s reign. We usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., we are confident that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and we are called to live out this hope.

If we do not or cannot, then we have failed as Friends.

I wonder, is institutional Quakerism a contradiction to our apocalyptic faith? If we have unknowingly abandoned our core beliefs, what’s next for us? How do we come into Gospel Order? Can we re-center our vision and our hope? What does that even mean? I’m not sure. But I know many who are hungry for a new expression of faith, and I know that the world could use us.

We must follow the Spirit.

7 thoughts on “We Need a New Quakerism

  1. Amen!

    If you haven’t yet read Ursula Jane O’Shea’s _Living the Quaker Way_, you may find that as intriguing as I did. Or not. In the end of her call for a regeneration of the Quaker thing, though, all she can say is that though we’ll be called to participate if this happens, it will depend on God’s putting us to use, not anything we decide or don’t decide…

    In a way, I believe this is happening… and likely needs to go on happening… as the fruit of our determination to maintain our spiritual marriage to one another, to keep bearing with our mutual differences — including everyone’s reluctance (even ours) to take on the great efforts & risks that may well come.

    Simply to overcome the prevailing lovelessness of the world among ourselves — to keep insisting there there are _not_ “two kinds of people” (not even “people who think there are two kinds of people and those who don’t” ), but one kind of human being with myriad ways of being lost while struggling to find whatever limited forms of happiness we’re personally able to imagine…

    A former Clerk of my (somewhat lapsed-from) Meeting once spoke of people with ideas like mine — or yours — as “you hair-shirt people”, in contrast with people like him who were perfectly content with returning each week to the same comfy period of brief silence, emerging to enjoy sociable refreshments while (virtually) thanking God that we were not as Those Fundies. He’s dead, now, but that spirit lingers, & we can’t really put such a great gulf between people like us & people like him…

    Me, I’m old — tired & retired — and I fear my part in all this will have to be remaining the difficult person God made me, while continuing to love all those people God has made insufficiently difficult, so far. Even trying to render myself a little easier, if God wills…

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  2. Who is this “we” thee’s talking about here?
    And oh, another revival? And a couple more transformations? Didn’t you all in Philly just have several? (The word was all over the program for annual sessions, promising a new transformation every day. Surely they wouldn’t exaggerate.) How many transformations do you need? I have a couple hot new Quaker books here that are so full of transformations they’re practucally sliding off the pages; I’ll pop some in a ziploc bag and send them north if you like.
    Personally I don’t see a need for a “new” Quakerism. I’ll settle for a better one.
    And when it comes to the apocalypse, I say: be careful what you wish for.

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  3. Bernabe Sanchez says:

    para mi, como latinoamericano que recibí el conocimiento de la espiritualidad de una tradición cristiana católica- romana, y mas tarde en el protestantismo me acerque a las sagradas escrituras y a una fe practica y directa con Dios. Cuando me encontré con los Amigos, sentí que crecí en otros aspectos de de mi vida espiritual.
    Pero me pregunte: En realidad ?Que son los cuáqueros?, al conocer un poquito de Jorge Fox y esos personajes de los primeros amigos, me sorprendí y pensé; He conocido los cuáqueros ?.

    Creo que estoy en un proceso.
    Sin embargo creo que los cuáqueros tienen los recursos, el potencial para brillar aun mar que en los primeros años de su aparición como alternativa de la espiritualidad. Así como Dios los uso en el premir siglo de su llamamiento así los necesita hoy y los quiere usar para dar testimonio en este mundo que agoniza.

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  4. Nelson Ayala says:

    Nuestra visión contemporánea de la vida espiritual está delimitada por las prácticas y liturgias institucionalidas por las iglesias, juntas mensuales, grupos; pero en realidad ¿Estamos experimentando la adoración que nos transforma y agrada a Dios? La búsqueda de la voluntad de Dios, deberá estar enfocada en someterse a Su voluntad. Más que un nuevo cuaquerismo, necesitamos replantear el auténtico cuaquerismo, aquel que habla hasta hacernos reconocer nuestra fragilidad a lo contemporáneo, a lo superfluo a lo tradicional; volvernos a la Palabra que nos transforma, de quien nos invita primero a morir a nosotros mismos, a mirar nuestra condición y sentir pesar de la realidad en oscuridad, a ser luz, a vivir en luz, a vivir en Jesús; el mensaje que transforma, el mensaje de la montaña, la voz que habló a Jorge Fox; «Uno hay, Jesucristo que puede hablar a tu condición».

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  5. Paul Klinkman says:

    Ancient “Revivals” were camp meetings. Modern “Revivals” often take place in auditoriums and are often rather expensive affairs. I haven’t seen any historical examples at all of where this particular type of revival had a lasting effect on our wider society, although it may have affected the emotions of its individual participants. So, for me at least, I’ll define a Quaker revival as something that doesn’t necessarily happen in an auditorium with a charismatic preacher or with a choir.

    Our first apocalyptic need is to save our descendents from a long-term mass hunger effect of climate change. Driving most of the species on eaarth to extinction is equally an abomination. Noah saved both his own family and all of the animals equally. Do likewise. Become a fossil fuel industry abolitionist. Then go to the Arctic and invent a way to cool the Arctic Ocean so that it re-grows its ice pack to a normal thickness. Then sequester hundreds of gigatons of carbon.

    Second, the idea of destroying a billion civilians in one hour for the acts of some “leader” that most of the civilians probably fear but don’t even like has to be an abomination. A pun is possible but I’m not going there.

    Quakers have a talent. Collectively we can discern wisdom well. What if the entire earth discerned wisdom well? Then we might have less corruption in our governments. We might have less inequality in our nations. I wish that we could write down and export this talent that we practice. Perhaps we can succeed.

    If our governments seem to act more in tune with corruption than with community values, then maybe Friends should form their own wisely run economic communities. Our nation is good at the efficient production of goods and services, but it’s not good at giving every person without exception an honest shot at a career. People don’t need a Horatio Alger story as much as they need some type of stability in their lives. They simply want to know that they won’t ever be out on the street. Such a philosophy of community inclusion would properly satisfy the inequality in Jesus’s story of Lazarus and the rich man.

    If you’re really fascinated with Bastille’s latest song or with the Cleveland Browns picking up a fifth round draft choice, whatever. You can still play all sorts of games (up to a point) and have a religious revival too. I wouldn’t lay something conformist on you. However, making the government half-irrelevant qualifies as a major change.

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