Writing Personal Queries

We Friends have queries instead of creeds. Creeds are statements of beliefs. Queries are questions asking to what degree we are wrestling with and following our beliefs. Traveling among Friends for the Friends World Committee for Consultation a decade ago, I realized that different groups of Friends have different sets of queries with different interpretations. I also noticed that the short and concise queries of yesteryear were becoming longer—the queries for my yearly meeting are now 2,545 words. I find them too complex for my daily life. Thus, it seemed rightly ordered to work on a set of short, personal queries drawn from Friends tradition, but suited to my own background and weaknesses.

Islam has the five pillars. Buddhists have the eightfold way. I have seven queries.

1. God. Do you place God, not yourself, in the center of the universe, praying for help and guidance, and loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength?

This query is not the majority view among Friends in my yearly meeting. When we surveyed over 500 Friends in 10 meetings in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for the "Making New Friends" project, only 4 in 10 Friends said they believed in a God to whom one can pray in expectation of receiving an answer. But for me, the query is central.

2. Truth. Do you keep to the Truth, living in simplicity and avoiding detrimental practices and amusements?

"Keep to the simplicity of the Truth" is a line from the older Advices (see http://www.pym.org for the advices from 1695). To me, Truth with a capital "T" is the testimony from which the others derive. Our testimony on truth telling is legendary. Herbert Hoover was looking out the window of a train. "Those sheep have been shorn," said a passenger. "Well, on this side certainly," Hoover replied. Truth is simplicity. For example, gambling is an illusion of potential riches and not Truth, and we are to avoid both gambling and other untruths. I remind myself of this query each day, as my job in medical statistics is to search for truth amongst the noise.

3. Talent. Are you a good steward of your time and talents and of God’s creation?

God gave me what talent I have to do the best that I can. God has given different talents to different people. It is not for me to compare myself to others, but to use what I have as best I can. We don’t like to read the end to the Parable of the Talents (Matt 21: 14-30), but the servant who does not make good use of his one talent does not end well.

4. Creative. Do you seek creative and peaceful solutions to conflicts and challenges, knowing that both sides usually have some measure of the Truth, thus seeking to lead others and yourself to Truth through Love?

I prefer the word "creative" to "peace." Peace for me is too often a passive "letting the bully win." The hard part is finding the creative solution to difficult situations in which the parties disagree.

5. Kind. Are you kind to others in large and small matters, seeking to draw out that of God in family, friends, and co-workers?

Our Religious Society took our name from John 15:12-17, where Jesus said, "You are my friends if you follow my commandments." The passage ends with, "This is my commandment, that you love one another." Perhaps I should name the query "love," but I have found it too easy to feel I "love" someone and then be unkind. Jesus said that we would be judged as we judge (Luke 6:37). I have to remind myself to be kind, as I often fail, lapsing into harsh satire or calling people fools (Matthew 5:22).

6. Cheerful. Do you remain cheerful, letting failure not discourage you, for in God all things are possible?

I am prone to negative rumination. But, I believe that if I heed these queries I will follow George Fox’s advice in his letter to those in the ministry—"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you go, so that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one" (seefor the full text). How hard is to it live this way? "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

7. Clearness. Are you part of a fellowship of others who love God and can provide guidance and help?

Like many Friends, I am a willful individualist. Why else would I want my own personal queries? Early Friends had to distinguish themselves from the Ranters, a religious movement that used similar language, but which encouraged an "anything goes" approach to their leadings. One test Friends used was consistency with the others in a Spirit-led group (see Hugh Barbour’s pamphlet at http://www.tractassociation.org for details). I started these queries when the Men’s Prayer Group at Middletown Meeting encouraged me to think long and hard about what was important to me in Quakerism, for I had been complaining a bit too much.

One can ask—should every Friend use the same queries all approved by a central committee? Is what I have done rightly ordered? I do not know the answer to that question. Perhaps I am wrong to have personal queries, but these queries are helping me. I printed them on a small card that I keep at hand in my calendar book. I use that card as a bookmark. Even seven queries are hard to remember, so I have a mnemonic—"God’s truth and talent lead me to creative, kind, and cheerful clearness." I can remember one sentence. Because I wrestled with these queries, they have meaning for me, and they are a living document that can evolve. The text of your queries is between you and God with guidance from a community of Friends.

Mark S. Cary

Mark S. Cary is a member of Middletown Meeting in Lima, Pa., and works as a biostatistician in the Medical School of University of Pennsylvania.