Definitions of Friends
Peter Moretzsohn’s “Are You a Friend?” (FJ June/July) is wonderfully insightful. I’d treasure the opportunity to talk with him about it and to hear more about his journey. He makes my heart smile.
I wonder: are we the ones who decide if we’re friends, or is it the one who first invited us to be friends? In John 15:14: “You are my friends, if you do what I command.”
That’s not something we accomplish ourselves but grow into, as branches holding tight to the vine or, as Moretzsohn said, “an outgrowth of the life which sprouts humbly from a seed in each of our hearts, and which must first germinate in darkness.”
I wonder too: have we done ourselves a disservice by assuming it’s all up to us to decide what we believe, who we will be, and where we will belong? Maybe our task instead is to be receptive soil, attentive to grace, and open to the moving of the Spirit: “experiencing that which puts an end to all creaturely notions and apprehensions.”
An essential idea of the Religious Society of Friends is that the inner or inward Light will let you know whether to say yes or no to being a Friend. Although I do not go to meetings on Sunday, it feels very good to say “I am a Quaker.”
Most Quaker meetings I have attended have few young people. I am almost 65, and when my war-protesting generation has passed, who will be left to protest wars? Quakers are no nearer discovering “truth” from a Bible than is any other Christian group. Take what one respects, and then seek the truth in many spots and books. The seeker of truth is one who moves on. Truth is personal and truth is an adventure, and the more multicultural and international that adventure is, the better. What a wonderful mystery these lives we have are.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The beautiful light in meetinghouses
Thank you so much for sharing Jean Schnell’s images with us (“Framing the Light,” FJ Aug.). The beauty of these meetinghouses lies in their simplicity, which you have captured in your images. The light shines through each image. I find them inspiring.
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK
I’m so so thrilled to see Jean’s artwork being recognized and appreciated. She is so deserving of this! The meetinghouse photos and her expressions of her Quaker faith have moved me deeply.
Mary Abbott Williams
Holding onto pain and outrunning the guide
In reading Amy Ward Brimmer’s story, “Fall Down Seven Times” (FJ Apr.), I kept feeling a question coming from the author—something between the lines. Perhaps it is only my question to myself in similar circumstances. The question is this: Why, despite the fact that I have serious gifts, a desire to walk in the light, and a calling to enter into selfless service, does no one truly love me? I have discovered that when I ask myself that question, it is because I have been trying to fix the world and the people in it so as to get gratitude for it. In my eagerness to massage the world into wellness, I have dug too deep into its muscles, almost with a deliberate effort to make it say “ouch.” As Brimmer will know from her therapy practice, people hold onto their pain because it is familiar; it is proof they have been wronged and that some kind angel should come and gently waft away their hurt. The irony is that people open to us when we are not needy. As author Brené Brown has pointed out, however, letting go of neediness is a surrender to vulnerability.
The author responds:
Thank you for your personal insights. In spite of being a recovering approval junkie, I don’t think I ever felt unloved when my plans went differently from what I had hoped or expected. There were some times I specifically felt unloved and unappreciated by certain individuals, but overall, it was never my sense that I lacked love. Typically, I felt like my “failures” were due to a lack of something in myself—humility, mastery, vision—that I had somehow misunderstood what I was being led to do. In retrospect, it was never a lack of those things but rather my fixed notions of how it was all supposed to turn out. A classic case of what F.M. Alexander called “end-gaining,” and what Quakers call “getting ahead of one’s guide.”
Amy Ward Brimmer
Being both Muslim and Quaker
I appreciate Naveed Moeed sharing his story in “Why I Am a Quaker and a Muslim” (QuakerSpeak.com June). I was a religious seeker starting in elementary school, when I tried my grandparents’ church. I looked into Buddhism in high school, and Zoroastrianism and Taoism in college. Later, in Nepal, I learned about faith and a personal journey in one’s belief and was lucky to find a book that brought me to Quakerism.
Religious texts from different religions have continued to speak to me and I have also been influenced by some sci-fi fantasy novels (their world building allows the author to dispense with rigid assumptions and explore possible alternatives). For me, that is a big part of my Quaker faith: I do not try to just practice what is always done. I want to examine, consider letting it go, and feel free to be completely different.
There are differences between Quaker and Muslim faiths, but there are also similarities. The true Muslim faith believes in peace, which is also a primary tenet of the Quaker faith. I am not a Muslim, and have not done an in-depth study of the teachings, but can respect those who are.
You can call yourself whatever you want—Christian and Jew, Muslim and Hindu—but belonging to two different religions isn’t like holding a dual passport. As most religions see it, it just doesn’t work that way, but I guess you get to do whatever you want and call it whatever you want. If you lead a moral life and treat people as you would like them to treat you, you’re okay with me.
If one is confused as to how a self-professed Muslim could also be a Quaker, look into the contradictions in Deuteronomy or Judges, or read the epistles of the New Testament or the Book of Revelations. Quakers have long been persecuted for their iconoclastic vision of their own Christian root religion. For many of us, the Quaker tenets offer a ladder out of the more repressive and unjust legacies of our historical inheritance. How can this man call himself a Quaker and a Muslim? He does so in the same way I call myself a Quaker and a Christian.
In search of Menno-Quakes
Thanks to Anicka Meyers for sharing her illuminating experience (“Let’s Grow Together,” FJ Apr.). I grew up in a Mennonite community in Harrisonburg, Va., and attended a Mennonite high school and one semester of Mennonite college before drifting away and finding a home at Earlham College. Now living in Billings, Mont., many years later, I still attend meeting and value my Quaker connections as well as my Mennonite background. Earlham College and Quakerism provided me with a soft landing when I jumped from what was for me a too-strict culture and theology of Mennonites. I wonder if there are other “Menno-Quakes” out there.
Fear and self-defense
I have felt the same quandary that Seres Kyrie felt about carrying pepper spray (“Guns and Pepper Spray,” FJ Feb.). I don’t feel comfortable carrying anything that would cause pain to another person. Even having such items around invites trouble; my young son managed to spray himself accidentally with pepper spray while investigating curious items at my boyfriend’s house! Being involved with Alternatives to Violence Project also altered my perspective, but not enough so that I think I could stop a mentally unstable person with my words. I do feel okay about carrying a screecher, which is just a tool that you pull the end of and it makes a very loud noise. Hopefully it would scare off an attacker and possibly bring any needed help. Maybe this would be helpful for other people; being fearful and feeling like a victim isn’t good for anyone.