Metaphor as shared wisdom
I read Rhiannon Grant’s article in the December 2018 issue, “A Consideration of Metaphors,” with great interest. She creatively names and describes our “Quaker ways” using a metaphorical device which I would consider to be the literary version of this term. While doing research for my master’s thesis on “Contemporary Quaker Use of Metaphor,” I found a quotation from a seventeenth century English Friend to be a helpful tool for understanding how the Quakers have traditionally viewed their metaphorical speech. As asserted by Isaac Penington (1616–1678):
the names are but the signification of the thing spoken of, for it is the life, the power (the being transformed by that) that saves, not the knowledge of the name.
Therefore, it is not the name itself, or the metaphor, but the power it represents that has greatest significance to Friends. It is from this commonly held understanding that the use of metaphors has taken root as a form of religious expression among Friends. The practice of sitting in communal silence in the meeting for worship encourages the transfer of spiritual meaning when messages are spoken in metaphor as a form of shared wisdom. This is our common ground and language that knits us together no matter what theology or non-theology we are claiming.
I am grateful for Rhiannon Grant’s thoughtful and imaginative—even playful—consideration of the metaphors we use to speak about Christianity and Quakerism. It is so valuable to bring the metaphors we use into full conscious view. What attitudes and values are implicit in them? When seen in the clear light of day (to use a familiar metaphor) are they attitudes and values we would wholly affirm?
Those interested in further exploring the place of metaphor in describing one’s spirituality might wish to read the Pendle Hill pamphlet Metaphors of Meaning. Its author, Linda Wilson, explains that the most helpful image to her in describing her Quaker faith is “tending one’s spiritual home.”
Robert Dixon Kolar
Fox River Grove, Ill.
What have we lost?
I am grateful to Adria Gulizia for writing “Greater Racial Diversity Requires Greater Theological Diversity” (FJ Jan.). While the actual form of waiting worship may be difficulty for those outside our tradition to understand (let alone to practice), the message that we are all able to experience a transforming presence — whether we call it the Living Christ or Spirit or Higher Self — was, is, and always will be the heart of Quaker faith. Buffalo (N.Y.) Meeting now has under its care a preparative meeting named Christ Is the Answer International Fellowship. It is a pastored meeting with programmed worship in Swahili. And I, for one, am thrilled that the Lord has led us to support this group who worship as thousands of Friends in Africa also worship. Through Friends World Committee for Consultation we have connections that can open us to new understandings. It is not important that all Friends become of one mind on theological matters. It is important that we become of one heart. This is our path of service to each other and to the wider world.
Robert (Sunfire) Kazmayer
Greenwich, New York
So what is behind the “inclusiveness” emphasis of liberal Friends? It’s a mixture of things, but is it possible that a major factor is the desire to be comfortable? Don’t a lot of people — mostly white, liberal, well-schooled people — come to Friends meetings as a place where they can relax and feel comfortable? And certain kinds of inclusiveness increase comfort for them, and others decrease it for them.
When I was a Friend, I engaged in many conversations with other Friends about becoming more racially diverse. At some point in almost every conversation, it would come around to the point that they would have to change if too many of “them” came. And this is absolutely right: you can’t be truly inclusive and welcoming of others if you aren’t willing to change. But the point almost every Friend made was that they didn’t want that change.
In the area where my old Friends meeting was located, there was another church which was featured in a story in the major newspaper for how it dealt with the demographic change in the area. That church responded by going into the community and talking with the new folks in the area. They sought to understand the needs of the new residents, and to develop church programs responsive to them. Many of these newcomers wound up coming to the church. They had different musical styles and other cultural differences which the church welcomed. As a result, the church’s worship style and other community practices had changed and become more diverse. Some of the previous members left, but many stayed and and learned to really appreciate the cultural diversity. I found myself wondering why my Quaker meeting couldn’t be more like that church.
White liberal Quakerism has largely abandoned the powerful, prophetic, liberating, scandalous, burning gospel of the Living Christ for the comfortable illusion of tolerant individuality and cool intellectualism, an abandonment made possible by the stultifying narcotic of material comfort and social acceptance. We no longer suffer —for the Truth or in other ways— and therefore have little to say to those who are truly suffering. We’ve become thankful that we are not as other men are instead of pleading for mercy as miserable sinners. We’ve let our revolutionary movement for universal salvation and liberty become a sect of class- and race-based cultural practices that effectively (if unintentionally, or unknowingly) has nothing of power to say to those who don’t and don’t want to share those cultural practices. Thank you for this article.
As one who participated in the Charismatic Renewal in the 70s and 80s I too long for “the powerful, prophetic, liberating, scandalous, burning gospel of the Living Christ.” It certainly cannot be brought into life by any form of words or set of doctrines. The Spirit must be its origin if it is to be authentic, and a mighty lot of prayer will be required, I imagine.
The Living Christ is known to me most powerfully in the silence of meeting for worship or meeting for healing. There is nothing more powerful than this anywhere. I aim to help my Friends to experience it with me. I do continually hold the world in consciousness, or the Light, or the awareness of the infinite love in which it is set.
Of course we shouldn’t change our world-view so that we can attract more people of color, or for any other cosmetic or utilitarian reason. Neither should we go out and visit new residents in the area of our meetinghouses unless Christ leads us to (who lives near their meetinghouse these days anyway, or notices who lives close to it?). As for the charge that “we’ve let our revolutionary movement for universal salvation and liberty become a sect of class‐ and race‐based cultural practices that … has nothing of power to say to those who … don’t want to share those cultural practices,” I think that that’s been true since George Fox died.
I think nothing will change until our hearts break. My heart is starting to break now. I want to worship with people who would die for love of God and the neighbor made in God’s likeness. I want to worship with people on fire with joy that Christ Jesus is transforming their hearts into loving, forgiving ones like His own. Or else I want to worship in tears with people who grieve alongside me that God seems so painfully far away from our distress.
I see a kind of madness, born of fear, gripping many people in this country, that makes them fancy that the only thing that would set things right is to crush the enemy and rob them of their power, the way it’s done on TV, adversary against adversary.
John Jeremiah Edminster
Sanctimonious Quaker claptrap?
What difficulty is there in being clear about telling the truth (“A Space for Doubt” by Jeff Rasley,_ FJ_ Dec. 2018) ? Why is the author or other church leaders or ministers at all unclear about truth versus lying? To appear before an ordination committee or be in a seminary when one cannot truthfully say one adheres to the belief statements is simply living a lie.
Why do these people not have the courage of their convictions and exit the religious institutions they no longer believe in? What disrespect to basically say “well I enjoy the music or memory of grandma.” People did not go to martyrdom so folks could have a chew-and-chat church.
While I agree with many of the thoughts Jeff Rasley expresses, I find his article and many of the comments to be cloyingly sentimental pro-Quaker half truths. I can say that with feeling because 30-plus years ago I was a newish Friend and in my innocence assumed Quakers would stand up for what was right. Back then Quakers in England were still by-and-large Christian. But they didn’t. When push came to shove they opted to protect the meeting from disagreement, putting politics before God (define those terms as you wish). So I left. Four years ago I went back but the welcome was not of ‘prodigal son’ proportions.
I get tired of sanctimonious Quaker claptrap. Believe it or not, Friends are no less hypocritical and cowardly than Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Methodists. What we all share are human frailties. These extend into our spiritual lives as well as our secular lives, so let’s give up on pious one-upmanship.
Judging the authenticity of others’ beliefs
Though I am a small-e evangelical among unprogrammed Friends, I really enjoyed Jim Cain’s thoughtful and candid piece (“God, Jesus, Christianity, and Quakers,” _FJ _Dec. 2018). Thanks for taking the Christian stream of Quakerism seriously rather than just trashing it, as many do. I do find it helpful to remind liberal, white Quakers that the vast majority of the Quaker world is non-white and evangelical or Pentecostal, just so that we white European and American Quakers are reminded to admit this fact when generalizing about Quakers.
Having spent time “on loan” in the UCC and the Church of the Brethren, I’d say that in a lot of liberal Christian denominations Cain would be happily considered a Christian and find plenty of others who believe as he does. As an evangelical myself, I don’t get into the business of judging the quality or authenticity of other people’s Christianity. If you say or think you’re a follower or admirer of Jesus in some fashion, I’m pretty happy with that!
Patrick J. Nugent
Quaker distinctives and tradition re-examined
The idea that Quaker distinctives get in the way of direct revelation from the Spirit is foreign to me (“Being Quaker is Not the Point” by Micah Bales, _FJ _April 2013). Those distinctives—our silent worship, our business practices, our lack of top-down structure—are all designed specifically to not get in the way of our communication with the Spirit. Our basic belief as Quakers is that God still speaks to us, each of us. Everyone from the youngest child to the oldest adult is capable of hearing God speak and is equal before God. We do not need pastors to tell us what God said, or what the Bible means. We don’t need authorities to tell us what is right and good. We have the Spirit to guide each of us daily.
Community is a necessary part of our faith, but it does not dictate what we believe or what Scripture means to us. Each individual, guided by the Spirit, is capable of, and responsible for listening to God.
If we truly do not have the Spirit guiding us, if we allow or demand top-down leadership, if we allow traditional understandings to negate new teachings from the present Spirit, and if we demand that members follow certain forms based on tradition, then we truly are in trouble.
There is nothing wrong with Quaker distinctives if they arise out of our desire for, and belief in the present Spirit and its authority in our daily lives. When those distinctives are allowed to banish the Spirit from our lives then we are lost.
At worst, one is saying “Let’s ignore the highway code and just concentrate on getting to our destination”. You would crash. If the clerk of a meeting said “Is that minute acceptable Friends?” and someone said “Yes” rather than “Hope so,” the sky would not fall in (yet I might avoid saying “yes” in case it discomfited Friends). I don’t think “Hope so” is so off-putting to new attenders that it is the individual strangeness that will drive them away.
When someone joins a yearly meeting, they become real Quakers. What do they gain? Communion and affirmation: a body of Quakers recognises they are Quakers. Yes, let us follow the spirit, and any part of the form which blocks that should be shed, but don’t chuck things out for the sake of it.
Wellingborough, Northants, UK
Investing the Quaker Way
It’s difficult to determine a list of inclusives when it comes to corporate investing (“Investing the Quaker Way,” QuakerSpeak.com, Sept. 2018).
For instance, while the industries listed on the taboo list of investment possibilities is certainly a worthy group, what about a company that (for instance) sells viable products to consumers — let’s say books, for example — but fails to pay its employees living wages? What about the sugar industries whose products are singularly responsible for so much illness and death (way more than terrorism), or the factory-farm or insecticide industries?
Because the nature of the corporation is to make money for its investors—sometimes at any cost—it is very hard to pick out those few corporations that ultimately do both well and good.
In 1770 John Woolman asked Quakers if the “seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.” Today, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice calls on Friends to “examine their decisions about obtaining, holding, and using money.” But many Friends have not been able to find investments in line with their beliefs.
Mutual funds began to screen out alcohol, gambling and tobacco stocks in the 1950s to meet the requirements of evangelical churches. Then the Vietnam War and South African Apartheid led more faith communities to question their investments. Today, many mutual funds have demonstrated that competitive returns are possible with conscientious investments.
Hundreds of these funds call themselves socially responsible investments (SRI). Many SRIs have broadened their criteria to include environmental, social and governance criteria (ESG). They evaluate how companies treat the environment, their employees, suppliers and community as well as corporate governance issues like compensation and board diversity. Some say that the terms SRI and ESG are interchangeable.
The variety of choices may be confusing. Not making a choice, however, means continuing to invest in defense related industries and/or profiting from the exploitation of the environment or workforce. Working through a broker who has a profit motive of their own can also complicate the issue.
But there is no reason why Quakers can’t invest responsibly. Our family has invested in Funds run by the Pax, Parnassus, and Neuberger Berman. A simple internet search for “ESG investments” finds additional funds that eschew weapons manufacturers and “sin” stocks and also address corporate governance, environmental, and fossil-fuel issues. Such funds invest in big or small companies, bonds or a combination of these. Ideally, there would be a Quaker sponsored Fund. But there’s no reason why you or your broker can’t find investments in line with Quaker values.