Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Refuges or Graduates?

In the years I've been going to Quaker Meetings I've found just a handful of birthright Quakers (means born there). Almost everyone came from another religious group, or from nowhere.

After a while I started talking about Quakers, including myself, as refugees. Later I half-decided that a more apt appelation might be graduates. It certainly sounds self-righteous or tribalistic, but it may be more accurate.

This morning at the table Ellie pointed out that there are many levels of spiritual consciousness, and that certain churches appeal to some and some churches to others. We need not rate them according to excellence.

We know for example that the very fundamentalistic churches have often appealed to great crowds while main line churches sometimes seem to be withering on the vine.

One might grade churches according to class or economic level, as Richard Neihbur did in The Social Sources of Denominationism: Most churches (some call them sects) began with the humblest of classes. The members (and the churches) tend to move up as time goes on to churches with a higher level of prestige.

Long before Neihbur John Wesley remarked that God starts with the humblest and most disreputable people; getting religion they clean up their lives, become sober, work every day, stop beating their wives, save their money and become prospering-- and finally lose their religion, and God has the whole thing to do over. (This is a very free paraphrase of Wesley's remark.) He predicted that this happens about once a generation; and he actually expected such an outcome for the Methodists. Well it has happened, but over a much longer time frame.

But back to Quakers, why do people not born Quakers, become Quakers? I think one of the main reasons is they come to find their old group unsatisfactory. But how and why? I used to call myself a refugee, then decided I was a graduate (of the old group) Am I being self-righteous? Is there a progression of spiritual consciousness?

Jesus said, many are called, but few are chosen. Does that have anything to do with these questions? Tell me how you feel about it. What has been your experience?


david said...

For me the question is more: why do people stay Quakers.

Quakes tend to be a way station for folks on a journey someplace else. Alienated from their own home Quakerism with its tolerances and its advocacy of experiential religion is a good resting spot for people.

They stay -- I supect -- because tehy form meaningful relationships with folks they meet there. Once you find yourself comfy with Quakes it hard to hang with United Church folk again!

Larry said...

You're right, David. The community is everything, it seems to me. We just don't find a warmer and more understanding community.

Once at a Quaker Lake (NC) retreat, being part of a small discussion group of young(er) people, I posed the question: "Can anyone conceive of the idea of finding something better than Quakers?"
Most of the kids had an emphatic, not to say violent negative reaction (very tribalistic, I thought). But it struck a responsive chord in one young woman. She agreed she might find something better. I found out later she was a lesbian.

Marjorie said...

I agree with Ellie. Over the summer, I thought seriously about leaving my church, but I didn't know where to go, not fundamentalist, but maybe Lutheran, maybe to a different Ep parish...Fall started and Suzanne is loving church school and I'm a lay reader and on altar guild. I look around and see friends I've known for years and I don't feel like going anywhere else. Its funny, though, because now I'm pretty sure where I would go if I left, that cute little meeting house up the street from my church....

Why don't I go? To be absolutely honest (and among other more trivial reasons), I think I might be an exceptional Ep. with my Bible reading and my spiritual yearnings. I think I'd be only an average Quaker, maybe less than average. I guess I like being exceptional. Yeah, fear.

Meredith said...

Quakerism for me has meant fellowship and spiritual friendship. It is a place to follow my leadings, share some sweet and awesome silence with Friends, and commune and act with others who share my values. None of this is about being chosen, but maybe rather picking - picking what feels right to me. In this, Ellie speaks my mind. However, Larry you also speak my mind when you mention a "progression of spiritual consciousness". Hopefully, all of us are progressing in our spiritual consciousness. This is about spiritual maturity, a natural evolution of the spritual life. For me, this has meant learning to set aside differences, such as thinking about us and them, or wondering about who is further on the path or not. Each person's journey is unique, and each person may encourage and help another along the path, as you so aptly demonstrate.

Thank you for your rousing dialogue,