Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century
Ben Lomond Quaker Center, February 20-22, 2009
What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.The workshop Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century focused on Quaker renewal out of our tradition. I could feel the presence of God in the gathering from our first night there and it did my heart good to hear Friends speaking passionately about God, their faith, and their hopes for the future of the Religious Society of Friends. However, the workshop raised more questions than it answered.
Are you listening to this? Really listening?
One of the traditions we talked about was Friends’ plain dress. The workshop leaders talked about the history of plain dress and its recent reappearance, and we listed ideas for how we can live plainly. This discussion brought out the tension between the things that God is calling us to do and things we do merely because they are a good idea. A Friend reminded us that our task is to live up to the light God gives us, and the choices we make should be consequences of our encounter with Christ. By practicing obedience in small decisions, such as what we put on and take off, we are preparing ourselves to follow God in bigger things. This also gives us an opportunity to practice grace and humility when we fail to live up to our leadings. What are the things that we as Friends are doing, individually and collectively, that makes people ask us why? And when they do, what are we going to say?
In beginning the conversation about convergent Friends, Martin K talked about people who have challenged and reinvigorated traditions while crossing boundaries, beginning with Jesus, as well as Friends such as Samuel Bownas, John Woolman, Thomas Kelly, and Lloyd Lee Wilson. Why do we do the things we do? Who don’t we talk to and why not? C. Wess D encouraged us to creatively rethink Friends missions and to see ourselves as heralds sent by a king to give a message. How can we demonstrate the culture of God’s kingdom? Robin M urged us to reach out to others by telling our stories in our own voices and not pre-judge how others will respond. What do we have to say that someone else might need to hear?
There was also a tension between what we had found in the Religious Society of Friends and what we are still searching for. We were all there because we had experienced something in Friends that made us stay, we had tasted something real, but we were also there because we were missing something in our own meetings and churches. What are we missing in our faith communities that makes us feel drawn to gatherings like this one?
Friends expressed how we need to be grounded in our traditions. A Friend spoke about a group of young jazz musicians who learned the jazz standards so that they could improvise. Mastering our canon includes reading the Bible and the writings of early Friends. We talked about how we can support each other in this by staying connected between gatherings and reading these works together. New technology has given us new ways to stay connected and communicate in the modern world. What from Friends traditions still speaks to us? What do we want to reclaim?
On Sunday morning, there was time for an extended meeting for worship, beginning with Bible reading in the manner of conservative Friends. Friends read about Ezekiel raising the bones and making them dance, putting burned offerings on the fire, the parable of the sower and the seeds, and how Jesus has named us friends.
In the unprogrammed worship, I felt led to speak. I spoke about how I had heard that not all Friends opposed slavery, it was a small group that worked to end it, and I thought about God commanding Gideon to get rid of the vast majority of his army to do his work. I said, I don’t think that we will see Friends come together and speak with one voice, but it doesn’t matter. We can still do a lot of good.
During worship, a Friend reminded us to tend to the fire. The fire in the wood stove had gone down, but there were still embers burning. Robin M later said that she tried to quickly build up the fire, but it went out. She realized with chagrin that you can’t build a fire on the cheap. When she shared this with the group, another Friend informed us that fires burn better when you add two logs at a time.
Over the weekend, I especially enjoyed traveling with Sarah P, walking the stations of the Lord’s Prayer, singing with the group, and late night conversations with Friends. Quaker Center is in a beautiful location with wonderful food and I hope to go there again someday. I also enjoyed attending the workshop as a representative of Freedom Friends Church and talking to people there about our community.
The weekend was also challenging for me. For months before the workshop, I had been struggling with the idea of being a Public Friend. While I was there, began to feel clear that I am called to be a Public Friend. I don’t know yet what that means or what it will look like, but it feels right. It is hard for me to spend time in big groups of people and to speak in front of them. Feeling led to speak during meetings for worship was a stretch for me. I also noticed how defensive of evangelicals I become when I am among liberal Friends. Events like this remind me that I do not fit comfortably into the usual Quaker categories.
I was extremely grateful to Freedom Friends Church and University Friends Meeting for supporting me with a traveling minute and financial aid. Traveling with the minute made me feel grounded and gave me a reason to interact with the workshop leaders more than I otherwise would have. The things Robin, Martin, Wess, and Sarah wrote on my minute were lovely and humbling―it was scary to put myself out there like that and I appreciated the feedback immensely.
I am glad that I went to this workshop and I felt that I was well used while I was there. I hope this report gives a sense of that. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to talk more about my experiences. Thank you for sending me.
With Love and Gratitude,