Saturday, March 04, 2006

Christocentric and Other Quakers

The term means a Quaker who honors and respects George Fox's admonition that we "let Christ be our teacher". Believe it or not many Quakers don't fit this category. How come? Basically because Quakers are the most inclusive religious body that you can imagine: everyone is welcome: unitarian, agnostic, atheist, buddhist, you name it. This was to a considerable degree because in the 19th century they had excluded so many that they were facing extinction (like the Shakers!). Like people so often do, the unprogrammed Quakers moved to the opposite extreme. (Most Quakers are thoroughly, aggressively Christocentric to the point of requiring Christ for membership; those are programmed Quakers, but I'm talking here about the unprogrammed ones, more apt to be in one of the 'blue' states.)

The programmed Quakers usually have a pulpit centered meeting house with a spouting preacher (in spite of George Fox's denunciation of 'steeple houses' and 'hireling priests'). I find them like real good Methodists, but the subject here is the unprogammed Quakers, actually something of a splinter group today, but one to which large numbers of bloggers belong.

The particular subject here is one particular unprogrammed Quaker, a flaming liberal and dear friend of ours named Alfred Ames. Alfred and I had much in common: both PK's (preachers kids); both kicked religion at an early age, but Alfred came back much sooner than I had done. In 1942 he had 'flat feet' and was declared 4F (draft ineligible); otherwise he would surely have been a CO (conscientious objector).

A young man in his twenties he had found his way into the Quaker Meeting (at Urbana, IL, I believe). The peace testimony has always been central among Quakers, but one of the head knockers at this meeting, an old gentleman, had a son who was a Colonel in the Marine Corps. He found Alfred's peace testimony so objectionable that he attempted to cast him out of the meeting. Alfred refused to be cast out. (When I knew him he referred to himself as a 'professional controversialist'-- a good term for a proud and confirmed Quaker.)

Alfred got his PhD in English Literature and sufficient command of the language that he got a job in the editorial department of the Chicago Tribune. You old heads know that the CT was simply the most troglodytic newspaper in the land in the mid 20th century. Alfred worked for that organ for 30 years; I guess he was the pet liberal.

We met Alfred when we moved south and took up the Brevard (NC) meeting, a hotbed of non-christocentics; no one ever used the language of Zion. Well I did, at every opportunity; frequently quoted the Bible. I came to see that Alfred and I were allies, although he was much more restrained in that way. Those good Brevardians never showed offense at my 'holy tone'. And to me that is the way to deal with 'non Christians' of every stripe. Share your faith with them; be polite, personable, but faithful; some of it will rub off. And don't let 'em 'cast you out' the way Alfred wouldn't let 'em.

Alfred could disagree with anyone in the most amiable manner imaginable; he was a walking textbook at that manner, much too unappreciated IMO. When his beloved Quaker wife died after 40 years marriage, Alfred found himself in a retirement center of the Christian Missionary Alliance faith, rabid fundies. He married one of them, a hidebound Republican; after about ten years they seem to get along quite well. PTL.


SinnaLuvva said...

Interesting post.

A pulpit centred meeting house seems an odd concept from this side of the pond but,most Friends of my acquaintance have tended towards a Christocentric approach.

The idea of attempting to cast someone out of the meeting because of their peace testimony is paradoxical to say the least.

To "disagree with anyone in the most amiable manner"... now that's a gift I could do with!

Larry said...

Re "The idea of attempting to cast someone out of the meeting because of their peace testimony is paradoxical to say the least" really boggled my mind when I heard it-- nothing like any Quakers I ever heard of. But the times were very strange; I imagine there were pros and cons re the peace testimony. War does strange things to people.

Nathaniel Green was by far Washington's greatest general in the Revolution, and a Quaker (I don't know whether he remained a Quaker??).

This old man who persecuted my friend was certainly a crackpot.

Liz Opp said...

Hey, Larry-

I'm going through my long-untouched list of blogs and pulled yours up. I see I've got some catching up to do here!

A brief mention: It is my understanding that Friends could be read out of meeting--have their membership revoked--but Friends did not officially cast one another out. I understood that Friends who were read out of meeting were still able to worship there.

But of course, I suppose there is the approved minute--"So-and-so was read out of Meeting for such-and-such (mis)conduct"--and then there is the practical, interpersonal, unspoken behavior of having cast out a Friend.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Larry said...

Liz, I used that term, 'cast out' advisedly because it was what they tried to do with my old friend, Alfred. They asked him not to come to meeting, and that if he insisted on coming, they would disband and reform at some unknown location.

I understand what you are saying: Quakers don't cast people out. Right! But you must know that Quakers do lots of things that aren't according to the rules.

People don't live by rules; they live by feelings. Early 1942 was a time when lots of people got out of order in lots of ways. Alfred was an idealistic young man; the colonel's father could not stand to hear what he felt was criticism of his son, and of the military.

Those kinds of tensions are present still today, although I don't know any Quakers who have gotten caught up in them, and I sincerely hope none will.

But we need to know when it happens.

Rich in Brooklyn said...

If "Alfred could disagree with anyone in the most amiable manner imaginable" then his testimony was no doubt much more powerful and convincing than it would have been if he used sarcasm and dismissive rhetoric.

Do you think he would speak of Quaker pasors as "spouting preachers", the operators of his retirement home as "rabid fundies", and his wife as a "hidebound republican"?

Larry said...

Rich: thanks for reading my post; I appreciate all the readers I can get, especially 'eldering ones'. I would be the first to confess that Alfred is ten times as diplomatic in his language as I am. I have two flimsy excuses for that:
Alfred is older than me.
Alfred did not serve in the armed forces in two wars. I guess that was one of the reasons or sources for the indelicate language to which I am prone.

But perhaps you may admit that 'spouting preachers' is more moderate than 'hireling priests'. Secondly, having been a spouting preacher for many years, I feel (rightly or wrongly) qualified to use the term.

Larry said...

Mal, I'm real glad to hear that your British Friends tend to be Christocentric.
Unprogrammed Friends in this country may be different because of the torments the society went through: going from extreme exclusivity in the 19th Century to extreme inclusivity in the 20th. Today they take in and welcome many non-christocentric, nay, non-Christian people, who may even achieve a high place in Meeting governance.

Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks for your gracious response to my quick-on-the-draw comment on your post. I see now that I used at least a smidgen of sarcasm to criticize you for being sarcastic! I don't think I qualify as your "elder" either spiritually or chronologically, so I can't say I was "eldering" you. Just heckling from the back row.

It sounds like you and Alfred have a good relationship; word-choices that would be unfortunate elsewhere can sometimes be quite acceptable between friends.

As for "spouting" vs "hireling". Well, it's not too hard to be more polite than George Fox! But if you claim to be a spouter yourself, I guess that gives you some rights. If your "spouting" as a preacher was anything like the refelctions on your blog, I think your listeners were lucky to have an opportunity to hear it.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

Johan Maurer said...

Hi! I knew Alfred Ames while he was still in Chicago. He gave me a tour of the Tribune newsroom and pointed at the electronic workstations of the 1970's: "That's the way we're heading." We corresponded a few times after he moved, but I never saw him again -- to my loss.

Since you commented on "programmed Quakers" despite the post not being about us, I'll comment on your comment, despite the post not being about programmed Quakers. Most pastors I know (1) don't "spout" (and many wouldn't agree that the meeting for worship is pulpit-centered; and (2) don't control the pulpit. Others speak from the pulpit, too, and of course others speak during the unprogrammed part of the meeting.


Liz Opp said...


Thanks for clarifying. How sad, though, that "[they] asked him [Alfred Ames] not to come to meeting, and that if he insisted on coming, they would disband and reform at some unknown location."

I alternate between mad and sad that we Friends are sometimes so afraid or unable or unwilling to seek the truth that lies within that which unsettles us. How else can we be transformed...?

Sadly, I also agree that not all Quakers follow our own rules... or our own advices and disciplines.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Larry said...

Rich, your commendation can only be balm for my soul.

Johan, Alfred was/is great. We met him when both of us had settled in the Brevard NC meeting-- although he never settled anywhere, having an abode in England, NC, and FL at that time.

Ellie and I were sitting in his condo at Brevard right after his lovely English wife of 40 years had finished her life. The phone was continually ringing, and he would always say, "yes, it's sad, but it's not bad.

Later he kind of settled at Shell Beach, FL, the headquarters of the Christian Missionary Alliance, and married one of them.

He's getting close to 90 now and still very active mentally. You ought to write him; he would love to hear from you: 4800 Turban Court
Fort Myers FL 33908.

Thanks for the correction re programmed meetings. My experience there is very limited, although I had good relationships with some of them in Winston-Salem, where I was invited to 'spout' on occasions.

Liz, thanks again for your interest in my blog. To me it's not just that "not all Quakers follow our own rules", but that all Quakers shouldn't necessarily follow our rules.

Jesus seemed to feel that many rules were made to be broken. As Blake put it he broke all ten of the commandments and acted from pure virtue.

Laurie Kruczek said...

Oh Larry,

I was also going to get all "sensy" about your programmed meeting comments, but while reading thru the responses, I can see everyone and their brother beat me to it! :)

There are some quite nice programmed meetings in Oregon, which despite the moniker "evangelical" are nothing like you would expect them to be. Very Quakerly Quakers and very unMethodist, IMO.

Laurie BTW, "your commendation can only be balm for my soul" is the funniest thing I have ever read. And I mean that in a good way!