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Aspiring to be Quaker

It's been a powerful week of Quaker provocation. Maggie Harrison opened with YOU ARE NOT A QUAKER (so please stop calling yourself one) (live version here). Micah Bales followed up with Who is a Quaker, which on the surface sounds gentler but is maybe even a stronger call to action - "she has not gone far enough".

Stop for a moment and read them both, then pause for a moment over Bales' description of the past and present:

Maggie's essay cries out for a sanctification of Quakerism, calling the Religious Society of Friends back to its roots in spiritual transformation by Christ's light. The Quaker church began as a radical movement of prophetic faithfulness to God's living Word (the Risen Lord Jesus), and was far more concerned with embodying and proclaiming that message than it was with buildings and endowments; history and Nobel prizes...

You are not a Quaker. Neither is Maggie. Nor am I. We are nothing like Quakers. We are pale shadows of those charismatic extremists of the early Quaker movement, who shook the earth for ten miles around when they preached. It is a mockery for us to claim to be one of them....

... But we are frauds. Quakers do not exist anymore. Three hundred and fifty years was a good run, but it is over now; and the longer we pretend to be something we are not, the more we disgrace a once-proud people.

I sympathize with both of these, as I frequently dream of a more focused fellowship more willing to cut to the bone, or "GET NAKED" as Harrison puts it. I dream of pushing myself ever further that direction as well. I've spent a lot of time here talking about concepts like deification that really push the "why can't go farther?" question to the limit, and asked if early Quakers thought that was what they were doing.

At the same time, however, I draw back a little because I know Quakers who are, as Bales says, "called to so much more than secure lives in the lap of Empire," or as Harrison puts it, "are committed to the process of gettin' naked as a step in the longer path of being clothed in righteousness, which means a return to right order, or the Gospel Order, or the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Garden or Eden, or total Liberation, or WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT."

There are many levels of commitment to such change in Quakerism (and elsewhere), many people with different levels of such commitment helping each other toward it. Even those with the least commitment can be helps, not hindrances, to those with the most commitment. Commitment can, as I wrote recently, come to us, not the other way around.

Reading early Quaker history, it is hard not to be struck not only by the commitment of the Valiant Sixty but by the number of people who were interested in the message but didn't stay around. Reading Pennsylvania history, it's hard not to notice Quakerism falling off over the generations because the appeal of worldly things - fashion, slaves, and many kinds of business - had a greater appeal than the Quaker message. Waves of Quaker revival (and associated conflict) brought in new people, and drove others out.

In a world full of churches that call themselves Christian but really contain people aspiring to be Christian, it is not surprising that a world full of meetinghouses contains people aspiring to be Quaker. We call ourselves Quakers and Christians, but because that is the path, not a destination we've reached.

(Okay, some people think they've reached the destination, but that's a separate conversation.)

So yes, it's critical to focus on "real radical transformation.... we ARE about something." Something is happening, something is here - as these two and many others demonstrate.

At the same time, we need to remember that we are walking a difficult path that requires leading. We are not there yet, any of us. This piece from a Presbyterian service I was at this morning reminded me of that:

Not because we have made peace this day. Not because we have treated the other as ourself. Not because we have walked the earth with reverence today, but because there is mercy, because there is grace, because your Spirit has not been taken from us. We come still thirsting for peace, still longing to love, still hungering for wholeness. Amen.

The surprising part to me was that that was the Assurance of Forgiveness.