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Forum January 2019

Communion with Spirit

Jeff Rasley’s “A Space for Doubt” (FJ Dec. 2018) is a beautiful statement about the experience of God’s love being the essence of a religion—more than any mere doctrine could ever be. I recall being advised by a very wise woman in a Quaker meeting that my grasp of any religious idea or study would be without substance in my own life were I to never actually feel that a divine being cared for my well‐being and deeply desired my turning away from the weaknesses that could drag me down. No doubt many folks find comfort and meaning in the contemplation of a religious doctrine to explain an often‐confusing world and the foibles of human nature. Those thoughts are, for me at least, animated or brought to real life by a spirit that asks us to look outside of our own contemplations toward the needs of others. Like Jeff, I experience this love in time of a silent prayer and in the actions that flow from that communion with Spirit.

Timothy J Meyer
Indianapolis, Ind.

Seeing Genesis with a new lens

“Genesis” by John A. Minahan (FJ Nov. 2018) is a beautiful and impactful narrative. To see “original goodness” as our initial creation and ultimate goal brings hope, optimism, and a way of being in the world that I couldn’t have imagined being brought up in the concept of “original sin”: born rotten and doomed to fail in life.

Thank you for helping me see genesis and creation—in both myself and others—through a different lens.

Christina C. King‐Talley
Emmonak, Alaska

With the exception of Job and Ecclesiastes, I have pretty much abandoned the Old Testament in my Bible reading. I think that I’m going to give Genesis another look.

Robby England
Millerton, Pa.

My Old Testament professor long ago said this about the core of the major religions: There’s at least a hint in them all that once upon a time God fragmented Godself to become all beings (while still retaining the original unity beyond the borders of individual consciousness). By that conception, God has already demonstrated the ability to manifest as a being, in that each of us is already such a manifestation. The line between what we do and what God does through us is far from obvious.

Jesus says we can expect certain favors because of how God is. Praying and right living can certainly help us receive what God gives “to the Just and the Unjust.”

Forrest Curo
San Diego, Calif.

Christ‐oriented beliefs?

I was pleased that Thomas Hamm and Stephanie Crumley‐Effinger included the Christ‐oriented beliefs of George Fox and early Quakers in “What Do Quakers Believe?” (QuakerSpeak​.com, May 2018). As a convinced Quaker I came to the Friends with my faith as a born again Christian intact and only laying aside the trappings of “denominational” Christianity and, in my case, its theology of fear. In my own waiting worship it is indeed the Light of Christ that illuminates me.

I have always revered the book of John and was reassured that my change was for the better when members at my meeting told me that many Quakers considered John to be the “Quakers’ book” and have participated in studies of John. However, the Holy Bible is far down on the list of books for our members.

The welcoming of people of all faiths and even those of “strange” or no faiths (believing only in what can be scientifically proven rather than accepting something on faith) without demanding that they accept the prescribed dogma is one of the things I love about the Society of Friends.

One of the things that has always made me uncomfortable about Friends is that they seem to go out of their way to avoid discussing Christ. I have visited several meetings in traveling about the United States, and in the un‐structured liberal meetings this seems to be summed up as “the early Quakers were Bible‐ and Christ‐oriented” and let go at that. In my meeting it sometimes seems to be avoided at all costs for fear of offending someone.

This makes it difficult to explain Quaker theology to non‐Quakers so I have resorted to simply telling them that some of us are Christians, some of us are not, all are welcome.

Carl Alexander
Tucson, Ariz.

The Spirit giveth life

I am a Quaker who is not Christian (“Are We Really Christian?” by Margaret Namubuya Amudavi, FJ Dec. 2018). The experiences I have had that cannot be explained in words have no Christian element, and in fact do not lead to a belief in a God‐figure. I would say, instead, that there is a Mystery that is both inside us and all around us, that we can tap into, tune into, that gives a quiet peace and a healing. It’s marvelous! My experiences of this peace, joy, and rapture have all been about my (and yours, and our) one‐ness with nature. The more I learn about the complex systems that are nested in each other, and that operate together to create and to be the living world, the deeper my feelings grow. And it’s all holy.

We make a mistake when we reside in a set of understandings based on human lives and values alone. The reality is so much more. Everything is part of the processes of What‐Is.

I see that having a story about a human‐type figure (Jesus), with a birth and a life and a death and words to quote, makes certain very important teachings more available to many people around the world. I’m glad that it does, and do wish that more people would take those teachings to heart, but it doesn’t click with me. I guess I sing a different song.

Mary Gilbert
Arlington, Mass.

It’s important to remember how little we really know about Jesus of Nazareth. He left no written record himself and almost nothing was written about him for some 30 years after his death. He never claimed to be divine and was probably not any kind of lord; rather he was a Jewish rabbi who disagreed strongly with the current Jewish practise of religion by following laws.

I am always doubtful about anyone who claims “God says” or “God wants.” Quakers are, and were in Fox’s time, mystics, striving to discern the effect of the presence of the Spirit in or of creation in silent listening with our hearts. Our sense is that the Spirit or the Divine, the Light, is ineffable. Trying to use words to characterise the Spirit is at best to mislead by using the tools of the intellect—words. Our best witness to the effect of the Spirit, the Divine, the Light, God, is through the way we live our lives! The effect of the Spirit manifests itself in our Quaker testimonies. As Paul, and also as the elders of Balby in their coda to their advices and queries remind us, “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

Noel Staples
Uffington, England

Following the teachings of Jesus

I’ve come to the conclusion, after a lifetime (58 years of my 71) of studying, reflecting, and musing, that the word “God” is an empty bucket (“God, Jesus, Christianity, and Quakers” by Jim Cain, FJ Dec. 2018). For years some Christians have claimed that I was never a Christian, though in my past I’ve been a very liberal Baptist youth minister, Quaker study teacher, Bible teacher, counselor, etc.

And contrarily some nontheists claim that I am really a nontheist!

(Alice, where are you when we don’t need you in Wonderland?)

I reflected on Cain’s thoughtful article until I got confused when he described himself as a nontheist who believes in “God” in the sense that there is meaning and purpose in reality but not in a personal god. This very seeming contradiction is what led me to leave my last Friends meeting after discussions with various Friends who said they thought that the only reality in existence is matter and energy.

It seems that what Cain means by nontheism is that reality isn’t controlled by a personal deity. If so, I wonder if we need some new terms to express new understandings.

About eight years ago, after much confusion for years of when I was a very liberal Christian and I had to continually explain that I wasn’t a fundamentalist nor a creedalist, I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn’t a Christian, but rather a follower of Jesus—in a similar moral and spiritual sense that I was a follower of the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh and Martin Luther King Jr.

What troubles me about Cain’s nontheism identification (besides the semantic ambiguity) is that it is a negative term. Wouldn’t a positive term such as mystical Friend or Life‐force Friend or Light Friend better describe his views than nontheist, which denotatively means no god?

Daniel Wilcox
Santa Maria, Calif.

I consider being a Christian to mean following the teachings and example of Jesus: give to the poor, care for the children, visit the sick and imprisoned, love thy neighbor and thine enemy. I try to live in the spirit of love and kindness toward other people and animate life.

I consider myself a Christian and a Quaker not because I succeed at all the above but because I try.

Thank goodness the Quaker belief in continuing revelation has allowed the Quaker faith to adjust to new revelations over the centuries, and not remain in medieval mode. George Fox first broke through the divisions of class, gender, and the priesthood by affirming that everyone could be in direct contact with God, and we did not need to follow creeds developed by specialized trained priests.

My Quaker grandmother said, “I believe now the same things about religion that I did at 15. That is, that our own conscience, not what other people order, is our guide, and if we live up to what our own conscience tells us, we will be all right now and hereafter.”

Maida Follini
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

God isn’t a human perfectionist

It’s wonderful to hear about Phil Gulley’s “unlearning” process in ” Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe” (QuakerSpeak​.com, Sept. 2018). I’m a Unitarian Universalist Christian who loves Quaker Friendism as a major influence. In the interfaith seeking process that I went through for years, I developed a love of science: the materialistic lawful aspect of reality was always important.

Omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient as qualities of God is never about God as a human perfectionist and finger‐wagger. It is his cause‐and‐effect universe that responds as we grow in our spiritual growth training and modern education. Overcoming the impacts of a difficult world require us as individuals in communities to take action, and not just acquiesce.

Mark Collenburg R Monteiro

This video makes me want to cry, and I did. God is omnipresent or you wouldn’t be breathing. Someday may you realize that Spirit is who you are. And yes, Spirit is ever present; it is the human ego that has yet to come into the realization of the Light within: the Light or Spirit that lighteth every one who comes into the world, every being. One can deny this ever‐present Grace, but someday somehow the Truth will dawn upon you.

Barbra Bleecker
New Jersey

Doing discernment

Thank you for your Asha Sanaker’s story, “The Quaker Value of Testing” (FJ May 2018). May we as Friends grow in offering multiple ways of doing spiritual discernment together. And may we as members courageously ask for others to join us in testing and discerning how God may be leading us.

Deborah Suess
Greensboro, N.C.

I love how Friends filter ideas through their own experiences to find what they can in good conscience claim for their own. We can ask for nothing better from one another, as long as we keep exposing ourselves to people and situations that challenge us to become more, deeper, and broader than we have been. I am glad to hear the journey was one that allowed for return as well as for departure. May your journey continue to bring you all you need.

Marie Vandenbark
Eau Claire, Wis.

The beauty of worship

If the Friends meeting nearest you has a pastor or a more programmed format, then the “Frequently Asked Questions About Quaker Meeting for Worship” video (QuakerSpeak​.com, Dec. 2018) may not describe your exact experience, but I love it all the same! Although I’m now in a so‐called programmed meeting, this video beautifully portrays the way worship was conducted in the meeting I first joined in Ottawa, Ontario.

This video’s questions and answers about silence and waiting apply to our church’s period of open worship just as it would apply to 100 percent of unprogrammed meetings for worship; it’s just that our period of open worship is shorter.

Johan Maurer
Portland, Ore.

My life has been enriched tenfold since I decided to live my life as a Quaker. I joined the society in 1998, and way has opened to me to be the person that gives and loves with thinking. Never hide the Light within you.

Shelia Bumgarner
Charlotte, N.C.

A cow and four barrels of corn

I love researching my Quaker ancestors, most of whom came to southwest Virginia and Guilford County, N.C., via New Jersey and Nantucket (“How to Research Your Quaker Ancestry” Quakerspeak​.com, May 2018). My Knox and Davies/Davis families were at Rich Square Meeting in eastern North Carolina before migrating to Guilford.

The meeting records are rich with information. I research at home at Familysearch​.org, but also use Ancestry​.com at a public library. I love reading the old records; when a search brings up a page, I read everything on the page, not just the targeted information. Sometimes you will see discussions on social issues of the time, particularly slavery.

A simple Google search will often bring up a lot of information. Google “North Carolina GenWeb‐Quakers” and you’ll see what I mean.

Susan Nash
Virginia

I have one Quaker forebear who was fined a cow and four barrels of corn for not joining the American revolutionary army. Another forebear was in the king’s army and had slaves—he was kicked out of his meeting. I followed the leading of forebear number one and refused to join the U.S. Army and moved on north to Canada in 1968, with Quaker counseling to help me on the journey.

Roger Davies
Halifax, Nova Scotia

I have an ancestor who died in an Irish prison in the seventeenth century for refusing to pay the parish tax to the local Roman Catholic church. His name was Francis Hobson, and the Hobson family converted to the Quaker faith for a while. Hobson is my maternal family line.

Richard Clark
Pekin, Ind.

Bonding with a book

I grew up a short distance from Jesse Stuart’s W‐Hollow (“Jesse Stuart’s The Thread That Runs So True” by Robert Stephen Dicken, FJ Nov. 2018). As a youth, I was a prolific reader, but Stuart didn’t appeal to me because he seemed to chain my area to the past and the backward. I grew up in the TV era, and I wanted to be a part of the modern world. I felt Stuart was part of a dying culture even though in truth it was still very much alive around me—and I was part of it. I really didn’t understand how much that was true until I moved to Indianapolis for a few years starting around 1980. It was true that people there ridiculed us hill folk. It caused no small amount of friction with some residents of that region. But there was also an element that respected the hill culture largely because many were connected to that culture themselves.

I had not read Stuart’s books as a child because I knew his reputation and wanted to be something else as many young people do. When I did start reading his books as an adult, I was amazed at the sheer talent he had for captivating readers in his world. I had gone so far as to tell his niece once that I didn’t like him because he made us all look like backward hillbillies. But the truth was we were hillbillies and could not and should not be different. Stuart inspired me with The Thread That Runs So True. He entertained me with Taps for Private Tussie. And he described me in Hie to the Hunters.

His works continue to inspire and entertain. I think his works will stand the test of time though, and they will be seen by future generations as the work of a great American author—who happened to live less than five miles from where I grew up.

Jeff Phelps
Franklin Furnace, Ohio

It always touches my heart to read about being personally affected feeling a bond with the author of a book. I recently read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë after realizing I had never read it as a young person (I am 89). It was almost an uneasy feeling; I always knew and felt deeply whenever this happened. I forget most of the novels I’ve read, but I will never forget Jane Eyre.

Joan Kindler
Whitestone, N.Y.

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