Common Threads

In an online sermon Honoring our Theological Diversity, Unitarian Universalist minister Susan Manker-Seale says, "Long, long ago, high on a mountaintop, Moses asked God for religious direction. Or maybe Moses went up there to contemplate ways to help his people get along on their long journey toward a land of freedom and peace. In any case, what Moses brought down to his people was not a list of beliefs about the nature of God or the universe, but rather a list of values, which we know as the Ten Commandments. In religious matters, Moses, or God, knew that common values are what people need to hold them together in peace, not beliefs."

As the website clerk for the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent, I find myself exploring and reading articles from other Quaker websites and blogs. This is primarily to keep the Fellowship website updated, but also to listen to diverse voices of Quakers in cyberspace.

What I have experienced over the years is a growing gulf of diversity of beliefs in the Religious Society of Friends. I affirm our diversity of beliefs but also continue to search with Friends for the threads that knit us together as a people of faith. Like Moses, I have found myself coming out of Quaker cyberspace not with a list of beliefs about the nature of God or the universe, but with a list of shared values.

In her introduction to Silent Worship and Quaker Values, Marsha Holliday says: "As Friends have attempted to respond to that of God within, some common values have arisen that unite us. Core values and testimonies of worship are equality, peace, integrity, and simplicity."

Unlike many churches that have been given the gifts and symbols of creeds, confessions, liturgies, outward sacraments, and clergy to help people find their way to the holy, the gifts and symbols that have been given to Friends for 300 years to help us find our way to the holy are waiting silent worship, and a handful of shared values.

Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, speaks of "thin places" where heaven and Earth seem more intimately linked, where our souls can experience God’s presence through the Holy Spirit. I have come to believe that our worship and values can become these thin places, threads of unity and spiritual transformation.

Thin places are where we sit in silence every Sunday and listen to vocal ministry that may not speak in the language of our theological experience, but we search together for the truth behind the message.

Thin places are where we do the hard work for equality for all people and work for the elimination of racism, sexism, and homophobia. When that work becomes uncomfortable, we may want to walk away, but we choose to stay at the table.

Thin places are where we put boots of soldiers and shoes of Iraqi civilians out in our communities to remember the human cost of war. We know history continues to teach us that there is no way to peace; peace is the way.

Thin places are in the courtroom when we affirm there is only one Truth rather than swearing oaths on a book of Scriptures.

Thin places are where we try to simplify our lives and choose to leave our cars at home and carpool with Friends to yearly meeting and other gatherings.

Friends of all beliefs share not only a sense of shared values and testimonies but a common heritage, a heritage rooted in the prophetic message of the Hebrew Scriptures and offered as an example in the life and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus modeled to us a value center: faith. When he called his disciples, he never stressed a baptism or confession of faith, but the gentle words, "Come follow me."

When asked what the most important commandment was, he is said to have replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."

This is the great and first commandment and a second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37-39).

As Manker-Seale says, "These were not belief statements. These were value statements: that the highest value of all in religious matters is love."

While each Friend grapples to understand their relationship with our heritage, our heritage gives us grounding for our values and testimonies.

My experience is that many new seekers are searching for a faith community that is practical and prophetic and not separate from living a faith of radical hospitality that welcomes all God’s people, a faith rooted in shared values and nourished in a common heritage.

Paul Ricketts

Paul Ricketts attends Fort Wayne (Ind.) Meeting. He serves on the Religious Education Committee of Friends General Conference and on the Program Committee of the Third World Coalition of American Friends Service Committee.