Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Quakerism Taught Me

Max Rees & myself-  SFM becomes a state historic site.
 On Friday I tried to give my readers an overview of the mass confusion that is the Society of Friends.  Today I want to share with you the incredible gifts that Quakerism gave to my spiritual life.  I left as the youth pastor of Springfield Friends Meeting in 1994; in the years since I have never moved my church membership.  I am still a Quaker...and here are just a few of the things that being Quaker has taught me:
  • Christianity, at its' root, is all about Jesus.  The theologies, dogma, traditions and language that separate us just don't matter if our hearts belong to the Christ.  Being Quaker taught me to love the Acts church and to understand that we need to strip down our "religion" and get back to radical Christianity- following Jesus.  Quakerism taught me that my entire ministry should be about doing Acts 2:42.  It's probably the most controversial Quaker belief (although being a pacifist isn't all that popular) I still hold dear- that the ritual and traditions of the "church" are not necessary.  Jesus is.  Fellowship is.  Love is.
  • All people are equal before God.  And I don't just mean a human rights kind of equality.  We can all go directly to the throne and speak with our Creator.  We don't need a pastor to intercede because in Jesus we already have a "High Priest" who goes before us.  This applies not only to prayer (which many Protestants believe) but also to worship.  For many years (and in many places still today) Quakers would gather on First Day (Sunday) in silence.  People would rise and speak when moved by the Holy Spirit.  This "open worship" is near and dear to my heart, for it taught me to be "be still and know..."  It taught me focus and about opening my heart to God.  It allows me to worship no matter where I am and no matter who is with me- because God is always there.  Even now as I worship each week in a church with a great band and an awesome preacher, I still miss silence (see a previous post on the subject).  But I will never be without the knowledge that because of Jesus I have personal access to the God of the universe, and that I do not require a preacher or music or anything else to worship my God...
  • Being Quaker taught me to be non-judgemental and open to the fact that it is entirely possible that I might be wrong.  I became a pacifist because I believe that is what Jesus taught, but I don't threaten those who disagree with me.  I learned to accept the opinions of others without condemnation because almost everyone around me had different interpretations of scripture, dogma and tradition than I did.  I learned about conflict resolution and compromise, while at the same time knowing Q's who went to jail for standing up for things they believed in.  But mostly I learned and believed that there is "that of God in everyone."  NOT that everyone IS God, but that each of us is made in the image of God and that Jesus came for all of us (see John 1- the Light is in us all!).  We all have a divine spark- even those who have not yet discovered it.  That belief has governed the way I treat people for most of my life, and it has allowed me to offer grace when others offer judgement.  For that I am eternally thankful.
  • My time amongst Friends taught me a lot about labels.  During my early years in NC I was considered to be (and was) a very liberal Christian.  I had a disdain for the more conservative Quakers and other protestants, and they didn't like me much either.  Then I took the position in New England- and I was suddenly the most conservative Quaker in a six state area.  Nothing about me changed, but my surroundings did- and so did my label.  I came back to NC a year later a changed man.  It was a great lesson in just how ridiculous and dangerous labels can be.  If you ever catch me labeling myself or anyone else, call me on it, because it's wrong.  There are only 2 I allow- we are all sinners, and we are all saved by grace.  Now THOSE are good labels!
  • I decided to leave Quakers in 1994, in part because I was very frustrated with trying to explain Quakerism to the parents of the students who were flocking to our youth ministry from the community.  In my humble opinion, the greatest weakness in the Society of Friends is that they have lost a great deal of their uniqueness and their presence in the community.  Over the years I identified myself as a Q only to be confused with the Amish, the Pilgrims and even the Mormons.  Traditional Quaker "testimonies"- peace, simple living, style of worship, the absence of ritual (and presence of silence) in worship, consensus in the business of the meeting- are issues that divide Quakers rather than identify them.   Some individual churches and meetings have an identity in their communities, but on the whole there are not many qualities for the denomination to hang its' collective hat on .  It is difficult to "sell" anything when you are unable to describe the product.  And as result, an always small movement is becoming endangered.  But that very weakness- diversity and a lack of orthodoxy and dogma- is also an incredible strength.  When surrounded by many differing beliefs you must decide for yourself what is true.  You learn that worship requires participants, not spectators.  You learn tolerance and respect.  I did not walk away from my teen years simply repeating a creed or practicing church ritual- I understood that regardless of your interpretation, Christianity is all about Jesus.  At a young age, my faith was already very much my own.  Remember the old book All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten?  Well all I really needed to know about following Jesus I learned from Quakers.  For that I am forever grateful... 
So Jason (and others), I hope these 2 posts have helped.  If not, feel free to keep asking questions.  Quakers have long felt questions (which they call "queries") are often more helpful than answers- just as Jesus did.  And if you would like to take the time and attempt to dissect the theology of the Q's, feel free to have at it.  It's difficult to tear down or defend an orthodoxy or dogma that really doesn't exist.  But do remember that at my core I am still a Quaker- so in case of emergency, please be quiet...

Because of Jesus (who is non-denominational :P),


  1. Anonymous3/27/2011

    Inspirational in so many ways. Thanks for sharing from your heart, Carl.

  2. Anonymous3/27/2011

    Fantastic blog, really really like it. Feel like i know a little more about YOU, and Jesus. Thankyou. <3

  3. Anonymous3/27/2011

    I love reading your stuff!!! Such depth and humor all in one post, and you do it every day. Keep writing- you are inspiring many! - Pastor Jim Bonner, Cleveland


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