What do we have in common?

If we were required to write a “confession of faith,” what would we profess?

What I envision is not a listing of what we do together, which our State of Society report too easily becomes, but rather what lies under and behind our actions.

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As a personal measure

The pursuit of Truth requires humility and receptivity, the necessity of seeing and admitting, “I was wrong; we were wrong.” We can value our mercurial thoughts and feelings – the flash of blind emotion or intense dream – even when we differentiate their changeable excitement from eternal Truth. To the extent that we perceive a unifying Truth among us, we can also appreciate the richness of our individual encounters, skills, and situations. We can turn to each other to enlarge our comprehension and practice.


How would we all feel, in the end?

I wonder how we would react if a soldier in uniform showed up to worship with us, or a woman wearing a great deal of makeup, or a man straight off a lobster boat. Yes, we would tolerate them (I hope). But would we feel awkward – to say nothing of them? Would we be able to truly extend a welcome?

Our possessions and style extend subtle signals reflecting our places in a larger society. Ours is no longer a blue-collar community. Our vocal ministry often relies on “big words” and metaphors – rather than pointed messages that drive home an unmistakable point. Even so, while we stand apart from the larger society in many ways, perhaps we engage ourselves in it too much. These are ultimately matters to consider when striking a balance between inclusion and identity, nurture and welcome, growth or decline.



Maintaining particular elements that set a faith community apart from the larger society and a desire to be like everyone else is a basic tension in religious history.

The problem that arises along the way is that other values, like the Peace Witness, can also be eroded along the road to a generic Protestant practice or New Age miasma.

It’s important that we remain aware of what are known as “distinctives” – in our stream of Quakerism, the unprogrammed worship, simple meetinghouses, and decision-making process are highly obvious. Once, our discipline of Plain dress and speech, our system of “guarded education” in Quaker parochial schools, and our avoidance of public entertainments would have also set us apart.

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I have long sensed in Quaker faith a double-helix

For a long time, this double-helix impressed me as an experience of the Spirit, on one side, and of Scripture, on the other.

Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s disciple Otto Rank, I now also see it as an awareness of our immortality, or spirit, on one hand, and our mortality, or knowledge that we will die, on the other. (Rank argues that our denial of our awareness of our mortality is the central struggle of human lives, rather than sexuality, as his teacher did.)

I could even see the double helix as a stand of Christ as the Light alongside a strand having Jesus as the embodied Christ, or even as Quaker faith alongside Quaker practice.

This double strand appears, too, in the Light/Seed connection. In terms of modern science, if one is energy, the other is matter. If one is Logos, the other is Incarnation. If one is the unity arising in wisdom, the other is the chaos of discovery and exploration.

Rank argues that our greatest insights arise when we span the two strands of awareness, leaping from one to the other and back, and I find that true in our spiritual practice as well, when our abstract faith is tested by everyday challenges.


Without being named as such

Truth works as a unifying element in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-14). At first blush, it would appear in the instruction, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” with all of the puzzling possibilities of intent: was this meant only for statements of a courtroom nature or made under oath, or was it limited to interactions with people in one’s own community?

That interpretation, however, would allow a “dual sense of Truth,” in which people be free to lie at all times except when under oath or among their own kind; Quakers instead insisted this demanded a universal witness to Truth, one applicable at all times and in all places.

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So what have our children learned, as far as religion goes?

What seeds have we planted? Actually, I’m thinking of this not so much as a curriculum matter for the Religious Education committee or as a reflection for parents but rather as a consideration of what’s happened in American society in general – the kind of place where soccer practice is now seen as more valuable (“value enabling”) than Sunday School. Or where a child may develop an aversion to being viewed, in any way, as a “Miss Goody Two-Shoes.”


Consider the tensions many of us feel in the workplace

As Rabbi Michael Lerner writes in The Left Hand of God, it comes down to the conflict of values between our dog-eat-dog competitive economy and those we hold dear and sacred. Fundamentalists, at least, attempt to resolve it by separating the two worlds, but at what cost? Children, of course, pick up on this, tuning out what they see as useless to their survival. And that includes what they observe at home.

The Amish and other old orders attempt to hold the values of workplace, home, and faith in one sphere, but we can easily imagine the difficulty that, too, presents.