“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.”
I have encountered a good number of recovering Evangelicals who have expressed that they vaguely consider themselves Quaker or would potentially become Quaker. I have been consistently annoyed at how little effort they put into exploring this faith they somehow feel connected to and I get especially bothered when they act like Quakerism somehow does not exist anymore. But the more I have thought about it and explored Quakerism for myself, I get why they feel Quakerism is unapproachable.
I came to QVS with a fairly open-ended idea of what Quakerism was and in love with the little I had grasped for myself. I knew that some of the core things I have come to believe the past few years were in harmony with what the early Friends taught, and I felt empowered by that. It was comforting to be so in line with an established religious tradition, and I’ve seen it as an honor to be connected to a group with such a rich heritage of cultivating a spirituality that takes action. Friends of Jesus Fellowship, my long-distance church family, confirmed to me that the message George Fox carried was still alive today, being preached and manifested.
Living in Portland, the heart of the Convergent Movement among Friends, has been an incredible blessing and opportunity in my life. I am thankful for the beautiful cross-branch interactions in this city. I am thankful that I was able to attend two different parties this weekend with Friends from 5 different Friends meetings/churches, Evangelical and Liberal. And I am thankful that I know people who serve and love Jesus from very, very different meetings.
That being said, though… I still feel a bit isolated. The Quakerism I fell in love with, and the Quakerism I desire, seems to be a variety that is hard to find. And finding the Quaker community I need has felt impossible. Often I am confused about what Quakerism even is.
At times, I am confused on the point of meeting. I am confused on the point of worship. I am confused because I do not really understand what binds a meeting together, or what really makes our worship distinct.
Is it our testimony of peace, or S.P.I.C.E.S. as a whole, that binds us together?
Is it actually the Light?
Is it mere communal meditation?
Is it, dare I say, Christ?
…Or is it simply being Quaker?
I am scared by how often it may be just that. We are Quaker because we are Quaker, and we practice being Quaker by being Quaker. And yes, that may very well be hyperbole, but does it ring true in some sense?
So for my friends who expressed an interest in Quakerism but did not feel they could pursue Quaker community, I sympathize. I get it. Quakerism is a personal experience of the Light, but it is also just as much, if not more, a communal faith. The community and flavor of Quakerism you need and long for may not be found in institutional Quakerism.
That is a reality I have been coming to face myself.
I long for a community that is not simply centered on Christ, but is consumed by and in complete surrender to Christ. The Quakerism I am looking for takes the radical implications of the gospel very seriously, and I desire action fueled by the Spirit’s power.
And I think there are others out there who are also hungry for such a Quakerism, but, again, it is hard to find.
Much of Quakerism, both Evangelical and Liberal, can be spiritually beneficial for these sorts of folks and can fill a need for some form of community, but it is often not enough.
I am reminded of something my friend Micah Bales wrote a few years back on his blog:
“What if we stopped trying to be Quakers? What if, instead, we put our energy into being communities that truly reflect the love, joy and peace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? What if, instead of trying to preserve an heirloom faith, we cast aside everything except our determination to be God’s holy, chosen and beloved people, here and now?“
I think the way of Christ was never meant to be confined to a single tradition. I think it is a lot bigger than a set of spiritual disciplines. And it is much, much bigger than Quakerism. It is about the Kingdom of God and the extension of Christ’s reign. It is about being committed to living intentionally with those who have also come to follow Jesus. And of course, it is about following Jesus, our Friend, Savior, and King.
And I am scared that there is little room in institutional Quakerism for those who desire to follow Jesus communally, living out the Sermon of the Mount as a people. I don’t think there is much space for those “lowercase e” evangelicals and “lowercase c” charismatics in Quakerism.
From where I stand, I see glimmers of hope in Quakerism with the Convergent Movement and different meetings/churches that believe and worship Christ, are passionate about the gospel, seek justice for the oppressed, are LGBT-inclusive, and are not stagnant in their Quaker identity.
I also find hope outside of Quakerism.
I find hope through the growing number of Evangelicals whose view of the Bible lines up with what Quakers have been preaching since the mid-17th century.
I find hope through prophets and teachers like Bob Ekblad, a Presbyterian who actively works for the liberation of the imprisoned and the undocumented. He is also training others to be ministers of reconciliation at the People’s Seminary, marrying liberation theology and the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.
I find hope through pastors and leaders like Brian Zahnd, who take humanity’s God-given dignity and the authority of the Christ’s words seriously when he claims that one cannot support torture and be Christ-like.
I find hope through my spiritual family, Friends of Jesus Fellowship, who are faithfully serving Christ and are not bound by their Quaker heritage, but enriched by it.
I find enough hope to believe that the Church is moving forward, that the Spirit of God is still working on this earth, and the mission of Christ is more alive than ever among us.
It may be hard to believe sometimes when taking the suffering of the world into account and when we see all the brokenness in the Church, but the fact that we can see these things may reveal that we have been healed of blindness and are being prepared to bring Christ’s healing power into the Church and the world.
As of now, I feel a bit like a wanderer, jumping from meeting to meeting, seeking out of fellowship wherever I can find it, but still not grounded in a community. I believe the burden that I have to be in a community that is grounded in Quaker values, LGBT-affirming, worships and follows Jesus, is led by the Spirit, and is preaching and living out the gospel, is not to go to waste. I sense a call to create the space for those who long for the same thing, and I am thankful that I have a body, though currently distant, that believes in the same mission. Yes, I’m still discerning what that call is and what it will look like, but I can no longer numb the tug of the Spirit. I am accepting God’s invitation into ministry, though I admit hesitantly, but this alone is undoubtedly a step forward. Perhaps I was really placed here for such a time as this.
I don’t think this is a message just for me, but I think this is a very special time for the Church as a whole.
As Christendom breaks down, as global violence and warfare escalates, and as the corruption of the world’s systems come to light, the unhelpful ways of the Church and her fondness for the empire becomes more apparent and the Way of Christ becomes more distinct. The Way we have been called to is radical and requires making decisions that are risky and taking action that is not in line with the way of the world. It seems that life and death, blessings and curses, are set right before us to choose.
Will we cling on to the comfortable ways of religion, are we going to blindly serve the empire, and are we going to choose the cycle of violence, or are we going to follow Christ, the crucified God, and the Way to peace and life abundant?
I have been confronted by the gospel of Christ over and over again as I have discerned where I belong in Quakerism. I’ve gotten worked up and anxious over how exactly I fit into this gloriously peculiar, wildly divided, and truly anointed, spiritual family. Often times, in the midst of this wrestling, I remember there is a Church and world outside of Quakerism; a Church that needs to be “be built up until…all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God… attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13) and a world that desperately needs the reconciliation and healing offered by Christ.
As I’ve written before, the label of Quakerism is but a label. If my Quaker faith is simply for the sake of Quakerism, then it is futile and worthless. I think my Quakerism’s purpose is much bigger than that. I would hope it is for God, the Church, and for all God’s children and creation.
This pilgrimage of mine is not just for the ideal Quakerism; it is for Zion, it is for the Kingdom of God, and it is for Jesus.
This pilgrimage can wear me down, and at times I feel so alone in this, but I keep going because I see others, though very often far away and with very different callings, also seeking Zion. I keep going because I know that such a pursuit is a grace and gift. I sojourn on because it is worth it and I trust that I will go from strength to strength till I appear before God in Zion.