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.”
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.
As my Concordance relates, it’s “what is opposed to falsehood, lies, or deceit,” “fidelity, sincerity, keeping promises,” “opposed to hypocrisy, dissimulation, or formality,” and is often conjoined with mercy or kindness. We also have “in truth,” “in the truth,” “thy truth,” “word of truth,” and even “walking in truth,” which sounds very much like the Quaker insistence on “walking in the Light.”
Crucially, Christians have Jesus appearing as the embodiment of Truth – “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
Without the music of hymns and praise songs, the pageantry of robes, processions, lighting of altar candles, and communion, or the attentive consideration to set prayers and sermons, what do we give our children to cling to? (In the old days, did the plain clothing and “thee/thou” speech offer some refuge or rooting?)
Or what invitation do we extend to those “voted off the island”?
What I’d suggest is that the answer is not found so much in any catechism or ceremony as in the way we treat our smallest members, our moments of laboring together, and, yes, the repeated ritual of a certain casserole on youth retreats and its reception.
Especially as a partner in the Light/Seed dynamic. A basic impediment to perceiving the three as an integrated system at all arises in a discontinuity within the terms themselves.
While Light and Seed can both have visual parallels, allowing them to be consciously applied as metaphor, Truth brings no image immediately to mind. Thus, it is technically a concept, even though I now sense that Friends applied it as metaphor, with its host of overlapping and compressed meanings and experiences. In addition, while Light and Seed can be discussed as complementary workings – one as energy and the other as matter, for example – Truth initially appears to be inert, sitting motionless somewhere outside of that orbit.
While Light and Seed can be applied as either nouns or verbs, Truth remains a noun or, as “true” and “truly,” a modifier – but crucially, never a verb, much less taking action on its own.
From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
We Quietist Friends have as much to learn from Evangelical Friends as they do from us – even as we explore our branching out from the same powerful roots.
I’ll leave this for now, saying only that in digging for Quaker roots, it’s possible to find yourself jolted, like grabbing onto a live wire. And who knows where that will lead.
As I writer, I can rarely tolerate having someone looking over my shoulder as I type – something newspaper reporters reminded me when they told me, as an editor, to go away so they could finish the story. (Fair enough!)
As I writer, I even hesitate to show drafts of a work to anyone, especially my wife. Only after a page has undergone multiple revisions do I bring it, cautiously, into the open. But how do I feel, having Jesus stand over my shoulder while I’m working? How can I not self-censor the work? Perhaps my cross at that moment is the effort of remaining fully honest, no matter how erotic the poem at hand or the anger within the history. After all, Jesus knows anyway. Who am I trying to fool?
One way our faith has changed me, though, is in teaching me when to sit on a problem, rather than force a solution (as long as this isn’t mere avoidance, which is a different situation). As the saying goes,
Some of the best barns in Rhode Island were designed in Quaker Meeting.
(Yes, Silas liked to enlarge it to “New England.”)
Maybe you know the postcard:
Notice, I am a Quaker. In case of emergency, please be quiet.
Some of the best headlines I’ve written have been by taking a break when I was stuck – by stepping aside to walk down the hall or to the bathroom. Release the problem, for a minute or two. And then the answer appears. No need to feel guilty, is there? A little quiet, and voila, originality or productivity, as they would say. A barn or a headline, all in the job, as we Friends know, all the same.
Our way of doing business, requiring unity but no voting, requires us to listen carefully to each other. In practice, this can be difficult, especially if someone opposed to a proposal refuses to speak up or speak fully or, perhaps more serious, refuses to attend the business sessions where the matter is being considered.
I didn’t clearly perceive this revolutionary foundation until two seemingly disconnected utterances arose in the midst of open worship a week apart. The first, from John 15:14-15, is where Jesus elevates his faithful followers from the status of servants and declares they are his friends. Among Quakers, it’s a central quotation, giving us our formal name as the Religious Society of Friends. On the surface, it’s a feel-good line of goodwill and invitation.
The second message however, based on Luke 9:23-25, is one that many ministers would prefer to avoid proclaiming. Here Jesus declares that each of his followers must deny himself and take up his own cross. The content is harsh and rebuffing. There’s no way to soften its directive:
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
It was a passage I hadn’t considered for several years, but revisiting it now came as a jolt. I wondered what was going through the minds of others in the room, especially those who had never before encountered it.