There’s a difference between religious culture and faith

Jim Wallis, the evangelical editor of Sojourner, sees social action arising from our faith as an imperative. In a similar vein, one might see how central the Peace Testimony is in the teachings of Jesus, and how hollow the Christian message is without it. One lights up the other when the culture and faith move together.

Using the language that’s come to represent my experience, this is what happens with Christ amongst us. How do you express it?



Blessing God, too

When we have a particularly gathered meeting for worship, with deep sustained silence and few vocal messages, I often feel somehow akin to a plant basking in sunlight. There’s a renewed patience and calm, a balance and flow, a receptivity and a radiance from within. My week, however troubling, recovers a moment of high summer.


Within the depth of our worship

We may have personal, unique encounters with the Holy Spirit. Giving voice to them, of course, makes them public, and places the speaker in a vulnerable position.

That is, we may speak about the experience, or we may speak within it – with the latter often coming out, in traditional Quaker parlance, as prophecy or prayer.

It means accepting terms of comfort and discomfort, distress and opening, deep joy and sorrow. It even means breaking into fresh language and wisdom.


A much more powerful image

For early Friends, this Light was never an Inner Light – the modern idea of something akin to a candle of conscience within each person. Instead, the Light is instead a powerful beacon that burns into our darkest recesses, if we would allow it, and probes and transforms us – and rarely for early Friends was the process comforting.

As Margaret Fell wrote in 1656,

Let the eternal Light search you, and try you for the good of your souls for this will deal plainly with you. It will rip you up and lay you open, and make all manifest which lodgeth in you the secret subtlety of the enemy of your souls, this eternal searcher and trier of will make manifest. Therefore all to this come and by this be searched and judged and led and guided, for to this you must stand or fall …

This is Christ coming into a person’s very being – and reconstructing the individual.

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Some of the most powerful vocal ministry I’ve heard has been in the form of prayer

I’m not talking about a pastor with a microphone at a lectern, but something far more intimate and modest – sometimes with the Friend down on one knee in the midst of the circle.

It’s been said that prayer is the central duty or activity of a Christian, and the apostle Paul counseled the faithful to pray without ceasing. William Penn wrote that George Fox excelled, most of all, in prayer.

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In line with fresh organizational thinking

Hearing me discuss the interlocking scope of the Light/Seed/Truth metaphors, my wife replied that it seemed to mirror a line of contemporary intellectual inquiry known as complex systems organization.

Originating in several different disciplines, this perspective attempts to understand the actual requirements and behavior of an individual organism or ecosystem in operation, rather than limiting its placement to a linear explanation, traditionally often viewed as a top-down hierarchy.

One of its threads springs from attempts to understand how biological systems actually work, once scientists slowly began to recognize the need to look at the interactions of many parts and not just a straight-line chart.

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Back to politics & cetera

For all of our claims of “seeing that of God in all people,” we can be pretty one-sided in our public views. Ditto for our proclamations of “inclusiveness” – we do carry a number of exclusionary issues, often subtle, and not just political. And we do know that many Dover Friends are  involved in party politics – to the best of my knowledge, all on one side of the political spectrum.

Besides, I’ve heard it said – not just of my Meeting – “I know what they believe in politically. I just don’t know what they believe in” – meaning religiously. That part really troubles me.

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Meet a Quaker

Nowadays, the general public knows little or nothing about Quakers. So some of us are trying to be a bit more visible.

For the past several years we’ve been participating in the annual Apple Harvest Day street fair the chamber of commerce hosts the first Saturday in October. It’s grown into a beehive that sprawls over the entire downtown and down along a riverside park, attracting tens of thousands to town. While many of the tents are for arts and crafts vendors or local eateries, nonprofits are also a major presence.

Our first year. Nothing too slick.

Each year, we’re learning a little more. Remember, too, that it’s repeated positive impressions that eventually lead individuals to try what you’re offering.

We’re just getting our message out. We’ve developed from these humble first appearances to a more focused Meet a Quaker theme. Unlike many of the other tents, we’re not selling anything – we’re just trying to raise the visibility of the state’s fifth oldest congregation.

We met a lot of friendly people, answered questions, asked a lot of our own, and had a good time.