In recent weeks I have written several posts about some of the troubles of liberal Quakerism, which are actually not very different from the problems in most of liberal Christianity. For my own sake, if not for yours, it’s time to remind myself what I love about liberal Quakerism. This is my highly subjective list based on how I experience Quakerism. Even when I say “we” and “our”, please understand that I merely mean to capture my experience of who “we” are, it is not an attempt to present these beliefs as representative of others’:

* Form of worship. I no longer call it silent worship because I want to remind myself that silence is just the means by which I worship, not the goal. What is important is waiting expectantly together with others, trusting God will reveal Godself to us during worship, in images, words, or just silently drawing us into God’s own heart.

* Reliance on inward and unmediated revelation. Just as with George Fox’s quote in my banner above, I believe that each one of us can hear the Voice that speaks to our condition. The Word comes to us in the way in which we are able to recognize it, varying from person to person because of the particulars of our own culture, language, and experience. And the Word may be wordless, deeper than language. Yet it is not individualistic – it is the same Word, drawing us to Oneness with each other in God.

* Focus on the potential for living up to the Light God has given each human, rather than on our “propensity to sin”, as it is described in Barclay’s Apology. We can still acknowlegde the reality of sin, but that’s not where Quakers tend to direct our attention. Just like a good driver doesn’t look at the oncoming car (because then the cars would crash into each other), but allows the white line along the side to guide the car. In similar fashion, we focus on the Light, believing that as we look at it, it shapes and forms us and takes us where we ought to go. 

* Understanding of decision-making that tells me that, after we have gathered the facts, all we need do is open the ears of our hearts to know what to do. As George Fox said, Christ has come to teach His people Himself. I no longer speak of our decision-making as a consensus model, because consensus is not the goal. To me, reaching consensus is just one of several possible indicators that we may have united with God’s will. Instead I speak of the Quaker model or a theocratic model, which helps me remember that the purpose is to discern the Godly way for our group. We don’t go to church polity books or Robert’s Rules of Order for rules and regulations, but can use Faith and Practice for ideas and others’ experiences on what helps us to come to unity on a course of action.

* Understanding that God’s Spirit can be present in every person, every being, every part of creation. No exceptions. We expect to live accordingly, and this has far-reaching implications for how we live. Every time we speak or act, in big things and in small, we are given the opportunity to proclaim the second Garden of Eden and bring it into existence. 

* Quaker faith is experiential – so I don’t need to have an explanation for everything. If I don’t have experience with some matter of theology, I don’t need to speculate or theorize about it but can just wait for the time – if there is one – when God does open my understanding to it. Nor do I need to dismiss something because I don’t understand it. So it is quite alright to let something be and NOT to know or understand.

* Reliance on community, both current and past, for assistance in growing ever closer to God. The community of the past includes the Bible and religious figures whose wisdom has been passed on in stories and “Faith & Practice”. The community of the present includes those with whom I worship, “Faith & Practice”, any book I read or person I encounter who accompanies me for a while in spirit. The community is the most important test of any leadings I may have, and it is the place where my soul is polished and smoothed in the same way the way a river polishes a stone. Even if the sensation at times is of little pebbles and sand scouring me, the outcome – rough places made smooth – is dependable and desirable.

* Religious structures are neutral: they can be helpful or spiritually deadening. So we are required to question our structures (while supporting those who take on responsibilities) all the time, take a fresh look, and expect that God may be encountered anywhere and anytime. Everything is potentially an icon, something that opens my soul to God. Although Quakers don’t incorporate outward rituals into our own structures or expectations, I am free as a Quaker chaplain to give communion and baptize, and expect that I may encounter God in doing so.

Let me point out what I did not say: I did not mention freedom of belief, for two reasons: 1. By choosing to join a denomination, I think we also voluntarily accept as our own its history and characteristics, locally and globally. We may agree or disagree with parts of it personally, but we haven chosen to accept the denomination’s definition of itself, broadly speaking. 2. Freedom of belief among Quakers is not very different from what is practiced in most other churches these days. Denominations either take a normative approach (you don’t have to believe the dogma or creed exactly, as long as your beliefs are close enough or you’re accepting of them as a statement of the group’s faith even if it’s not your own) or the Catholic approach (the Church believes the creed or dogma, and I, as a member of the Church, believe it by extension even if I don’t believe it personally).

I also did not mention diversity or broad range of beliefs, because we are actually more homogenous than many other denominations and certainly more homogenous than secular society. Our range is narrower – we have created a sub-culture which provides a safe haven from the mainstream. At the same time, I suspect that being a “safe haven” is incompatible with being experienced as a warm and welcoming place for those (actually the majority of people, by definition) who don’t reject the same aspects of mainstream culture that many liberal Quakers do. But that’s the topic for another blog post.

Now you know why I’m a liberal Quaker.

Query of prayerful consideration:

What draws me to liberal Quakerism?