Among Friends, June/July 2012

We Are in Use

As we were putting the final touches on this issue of Friends Journal, nearly a thousand Friends from around the world were gathering together at Kabarak University near Nakuru, Kenya, for the Sixth World Conference of Friends, an event organized by Friends World Committee for Consultation. What makes us Friends?—faith, practice, or community. No doubt this question was on the minds, if not the lips, of many of those in attendance.

We who call ourselves Quakers come in a dizzying array of varieties. We are outspoken, soft-spoken, evangelical, quietist, Bible-loving, Bible-phobic, Christian, nontheist, liberal, conservative, unprogrammed, and programmed. We span the spectra of gender and sexual orientation. We worship in silence. We worship in song. If one were on the outside looking in, it would be easy to suggest that there’s no there there: that there’s no unifying property (certainly no creed we’d agree upon), that the center cannot hold, or that there is no center. And yet…

I believe that there is a center: our shared belief in the possibility and reality of direct spiritual inspiration in each one of us. Furthermore, we recognize that this belief has implications for our interactions with other fellow humans. As John Fitzgerald, a Sixth World Conference participant from Scotland, wrote on his blog of the Kenya gathering: “It felt like God was using us to teach one another.”

We want our Quaker spiritual community to be a place where listening to God and listening to one another are not two different things. If anything, we are united in our willingness to listen. When we are on our best spiritual behavior, we are attuned: we are radically open and listening, whether we be speaking, singing, or silent.

Here’s something that is sad but true: sometimes listening to one another does not seem to draw us closer. This is happening right now in Indiana, as Stephen W. Angell describes (p. 13). In the feature that accompanies Angell’s piece, Douglas C. Bennett tackles the divisive issue of homosexuality, which is at the root of Indiana Yearly Meeting’s slow-motion schism. As Bennett sees it, the controversy over homosexuality has the potential to bring us together, if we can make a concerted effort to listen and speak to one another using a common language.

We’re pleased to have contributions in this issue from Quakers from North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Northwest Yearly Meeting, Freedom Friends Church, Intermountain Yearly Meeting, Indiana Yearly Meeting, Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, Wilmington Yearly Meeting, Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, Evangelical Friends Church Eastern Region, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, New England Yearly Meeting, and an independent Friends worship group in Mexico in international membership under the care of FWCC. The contributors include several Quaker bloggers and one Quaker logger. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the words of these diverse Friends as much as I did. Share them with those in your community. Let’s keep this conversation going; we are in use.

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