Announcing the 2017-2018 Student Voices Project
The fifth annual Friends Journal Student Voices Project is calling all middle school (grades 6–8) and high school (grades 9–12) students to add their voices to the Friends Journal community of readers. This year we’re asking students to tell us a story about how one of the testimonies felt real to them in their life.
We welcome submissions from all students (Quaker and non-Quaker) at Friends schools and Quaker students in other educational venues. Select letters will be published in the May 2018 issue, and honorees will recognized by Friends Council on Education. The submission deadline is February 12, 2018. Instructions and details can be found at Friendsjournal.org/studentvoices.
The Art of Dying
Alison Moore’s “Death and Dying: A Personal Adventure” (FJ Aug. online) is full and embracing for anyone who wishes to explore the ultimate experience shared by all: our death. Thank you for being so explicit and true to who you are, a woman dedicated to showing people that yes, it is quite okay to discuss death.
West Kelowna, B.C.
In “Heaven-based Living” (FJ Aug.), Michael Resman says our sinful nature comes from being “souls wrapped in the skin of an animal.” He must not have known dogs and horses who are also gifted with the capacity of love, sacrifice, and devotion. I expect to be reunited with my canine and equestrian friends of yesteryear for “the creatures (animals) in Heaven praise God” (Rev. 5:13).
Leland P. Gamson
Meditation and worship
The QuakerSpeak video “Is Quaker Worship Meditation?” (QuakerSpeak.com, Aug.) is helpful because new attenders will often perceive that meeting for worship is a lot of folks meditating individually or as a group. I am amazed at how much I learned in a short time. Often the more powerful part of Quaker worship happens when those there are present to both the Divine and to each other, and the separate self dissolves. Zen practitioners know this experience as well, as “big mind”: an experience beyond concepts. So, as some of the folks in the video said, there is some overlap.
Simply illuminating. For someone new to the Quaker way, this video succinctly pointed out the difference between Vipassana (or other Buddhist) meditation and meeting for worship. I think this is important because those not familiar with the Quaker way may be lost as to what to expect.
Friends have no copyright on the word “Quaker”
The experience that Emily Higgs painfully describes in “Belonging: Quakers, Membership, and the Need to be Known” (FJ Apr. 2012) does not reflect well on those who claim to be Christian. There are no religious divisions, cliques, or clubs in Christ. Christ is love, and those who turn to Christ in faith are loved and grow in love, that is, in grace. The purpose of meeting for worship is growth in grace, and flourishing in life. This meeting did not affirm life. It reaffirmed administration and the law. But Christ fulfills the law. There is a new commandment.
George Fox did not institute membership, and membership is inconsistent with a public meeting. Quakers are not baptised by a visit or a piece of paper, and the Religious Society of Friends has no copyright on the word “Quaker.” The word itself was used well before an organized society emerged. If you are close to Fox as he expresses his teaching in his journal and letters, and his reinvigorating of primitive Christianity for our times makes sense to you, feeds your life, and helps you to grow up, then you are an adult and a Christian too. But because the New Testament has been opened up for you by the way Fox understands and explains grace, faith, redemption, resurrection, the Second Adam, and so forth, you are also a Quaker.
Disability and authenticity
Some years ago, I mentioned the idea that my disability might be a gift from God, and a dear Friend in our meeting gave a ladylike snort and said, “It’s the gift that keeps on giving!” I agreed with Greg Woods (“My Spiritual Journey with Disability” QuakerSpeak.com Aug.) when he said our disabilities and our efforts to serve God as best we can—in anyway we can—is a gift to the whole meeting. Sharing mine with the meeting helped me heal and also helped me find my voice as a minister. I remembered lots of silencing as a kid: the message being “Don’t play on my feelings in order to get sympathy.” I began talking about my journey as a way of sharing wisdom gained along the way. It’s called authenticity! I try to be authentic—for God.
Who’s part of the community?
Religious people who are not in community are not fully experiencing their religious tradition (“Envisioning Broader Quaker Membership” by Jennifer Swann and Emily Provance (FJ June/July online). Who left Egypt with Moses? Those who were part of the community did. The ones who did not leave were no longer part of the people of Israel, and neither were their children.
When I was most overworked professionally and most burdened with childrearing was when I most needed weekly meeting for worship. I desperately needed that hour in silence with Friends. I went to the Ministry and Counsel clerk and explained that I was in overburdened situations and needed the meeting, but at the present time, I could not participate in ways I felt were expected of me as a responsible member. The clerk responded that he would share only the bare outlines of my situation with Ministry and Council, and he was certain they would hold me in their prayers. I felt relieved of much participation and comforted in being held in the Light by persons unknown to me. I was able to be comforted by unseen prayers and to fulfill the roles and tasks God had set me. Years later, my life was not so burdened, and I was able to participate more fully in the life of a meeting.
Churches and communions
I like the concept of “big tent Quakerism,” and I love that my meeting in Wilton, Conn., has a diversity of belief—and doubts (“What is a Friends Church?” an interview with Cherice Bock, QuakerSpeak.com, July). Just among us, I am a lot more Christocentric than the average member (and actually wish my meeting would lean more that way), but I am thrilled to be with a community of welcoming and seeking individuals who every Sunday/First Day help each other hike through the forest of life.
You might be surprised at the number of Friends around the world who are Christ-centered. I enjoyed Bock’s thoughts on people being the church; it is what the Bible teaches and is a part of Friends history.
Just as sitting in a circle or sitting in silence is really a universal human thing, Quakers meeting together for silent worship does not necessarily need to be referred to as “church.”
Fox referred to the churches of his time as “steeplehouses.” One does not need to worship in a building that has a steeple, nor even a cupola of any sort. One does not need to know the name Jesus to be a Quaker. And one does not need to think of either the people or the building as “church.”
I was, for a time, an at-large Quaker representative on the National Council of Churches advisory board. The Council of Churches defines its organizational members as communions. Is the group you worship with, or solemnify your spirituality with, a communion?
John VanDyke Wilmerding
Practice and discipline
Is every human being treated with dignity and respect as Jesus taught? (“It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt, FJ June/July online). Is it about every human being having the same legal benefits, protections, and rights? Is it about recognizing the Light in every human being, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status? Until we can answer yes, the divide that exists in Christian churches and meetings today will not heal. Young people see the hypocrisy. We are not Christocentric when we preach “us versus them.” It is all fear-based. It is very sad and hurtful.
Ocean City, N.J.
I shall continue to watch QuakerSpeak videos and read Friends Journal articles and to work alongside Friends. But gone now is the false hope of finding community among Quakers. To be frank, why bother? There’s plenty of brokenness right where I am. There’s plenty of true faith right where I am.
I love the Quaker religion—from a distance. What has been happening in the Quaker church is a reenactment of the first 400 years of Christianity. It went from “followers of Jesus” to politicians running the lot, followed by persecution and ethnic cleansing of those who dared to go within for their own guidance. Has Irenaeus reincarnated as a Quaker?
I too have asked myself why we are spending less time listening and more time talking and explaining when we come from a tradition of ongoing revelation.
My own experience is with the unprogrammed tradition, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fall prey to the same problems. Who wants, for instance, to sit through a difficult meeting for worship with attention to business when it runs into our already over-planned Sunday afternoon family affairs. Did early Friends really mean that God intended Spirit to help us to decide whether to build that addition to the building? Really? Yes, really.
There is unity of Spirit to be found around both the simplest and the most difficult of things. Perhaps if we practice seeking this unity at home and in simple things at our meetings, then we will have the experience necessary to listen when the interference is great and our resources are tested. It takes practice and discipline, something not commonly found in our culture, unless you are speaking of the gym
Recently I was reading about Rufus Jones’s early life and found tribute to his family’s time spent in daily quiet listening and prayer, which established a lifelong habit for him. It has taken me years to develop this morning practice, after reading early Friends along with Buddhist teachings.
As our culture pressures us to move faster and faster, it seems to me we would do well to move slower and slower in our practices as Friends. Ours is not a movement toward consensus; it is one toward unity. If there is no unity, it simply means God in God’s infinite wisdom has not spoken yet. It is we who grow impatient with waiting, I believe, not the other way around. And perhaps, if God is still speaking, it is difficult to wait for the revelation when our own thoughts seem so pressing.
Falling Waters, W.V.