In one of the last scenes of Monty Python’s comedy “Life of Brian”, poor Brian is trying to escape a crowd of followers who think him a real prophet when he is only pretending to be one in order to escape the Roman soldiers pursuing him.  In Brian’s haste, he drops a gourd that someone had forced into his hands earlier. One of the women among picks up the gourd Brian drops, and excitedly proclaims it to be a sacred sign from the prophet. The crowd is ecstatic to have found this sacred relic, and pursues Brian again when his sandal falls off and and he continues his flight with one bare foot and one foot in a sandal. When the pursuing crowd finds Brian’s abandoned sandal, an argument immediately breaks out between those who continue to worship the gourd and those who adopt the sandal as the superior sign of the prophet. This second group fractures just as quickly, one arguing that everyone should wear just one sandal, like their prophet Brian, the other half arrogantly claiming a superior position, understanding the sandal merely to be symbolic of some deeper meaning, not in the literal, primitive sense of the first group.   

“Life of Brian” is to me one of the most astute critiques of the cultures of believers because it focuses on the human failings of those of us in the wider Romano-Judeo-Christian sphere – in its English way. Monty Python pokes fun at our human tendency to get caught up in trivia and lose sight of substance.

If we were to take a Monty-Pythonesque view of the four branches of Quakerism, what would we find? Believers who are focused on the the substance of faith, using the lens of Quakerism? Or people fighting with each other over the supremacy of the gourd or the shoe, and whether the shoe is to be understood literally or metaphorically? Imagine for a moment that most of what we do falls into the category of shoe or gourd, what are the few elements you absolutely would insist are essential to Quakerism, not just a practice you have grown attached to?

Query for prayerful contemplation:

If you were to start a Quaker worship group today, built on the essentials of Quakerism, what would it do? What would worship be like?