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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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.