"Friend Speaks My Mind" and cross-branch Quaker dialogue

I wrote the following post as a "Note" on Facebook, and a few people who aren't on Facebook have asked to see it, so I thought I'd reproduce it on this blog. Jon's YouTube video stirred up a lot of comments, many coming from Friends outside of General Conference (unprogrammed) Quakerism, while the song was written about Jon's experience growing up in FGC (and I would say it was directed toward FGC Friends too). Like any in-group work, it contains lots of in-jokes and shared assumptions, and puzzles over particular concerns. This Note was my attempt to explicate some of them for non-FGC folks. This difference between speaking within your sub-culture versus speaking across sub-cultures was the topic of my very first post on this blog; I think it's quite beneficial to get influenced by the other branches of Quakerism, but it can be easy to be mis-understood.

So, I just posted a link [on my Facebook page] to a light-hearted YouTube video of Jon Watts' song "Friend Speaks My Mind." But it has a repeated line which may seem pretty negative to some of my more traditionally-Christian contacts on Facebook. Hence this sober, serious Note about a funny, light video.

It's a song he wrote as a beginning song-writer (still in college at the time), celebrating how deeply he'd gotten into Quakerism and the progress he'd made in wrestling with his faith tradition. The line is --"I'm not a Christian, but I'm a Quaker... I've got Christ's Inner Light, but he's not my savior"--

So I thought I'd explain. What I see in it starts with knowing that a lot of what mainstream secular American culture hears about Christianity is from the political right wing or the fundamentalists. (The first exposure I ever had to Christians explaining themselves was through a Jack Chick pamphlet at age 10. Turned me off for years!) I don't know exactly what Jon Watts experienced growing up, but I think it's fair to say that teenagers from cosmopolitan/suburban east-coast high schools tend to have a negative view of Christianity as a result. So here's Jon Watts, wanting to talk about what he's learned about Jesus, but not wanting to be misunderstood as somehow right-wing. He needs to clear a new rhetorical space, jumble up the terms, try out his own theology, to help people think along new lines the way he has been thinking -- deeper into Quakerism's roots in Christianity. Notice his lines "I don't fully understand it" [Quaker tradition, he's still figuring it out] and "when I heard this Christian stuff I got uncomfortable a lot, I'm like 'what does Jesus have to do with George Fox?'... but now I kinda understand the man, I got a soft spot."

So, within the context of Philadelphia and Baltimore Yearly Meetings (especially Philly), the song is actually being intriguing for just mentioning Christ positively. The real joke/point/fun/message of the video is to see all these Friends at an oh-so-silent meeting for worship get moved (by the Spirit, right?) into dancing. And frankly, the sad reference is to the all-too-many "silent" (aka unprogrammed) meetings for worship among unprogrammed liberal Friends which really are silent, and boring, and dead. (I've been in my share.) Jon's passion (one of them) is to wake people up to being excited about the Inner Light.

The song really speaks to a lot of different levels. Even the verse celebrating the Quaker "alphabet soup" of organizational acronyms -- sure, it's de riguer among active FGC Friends to caution against using too much jargon... but remember the high-school kid or new attender who doesn't know about all the wider Quaker conferences and groups. He's saying -- "there's a big Quaker world out there! get involved! I love these people and you can too!"

So, he's encouraging staid-and-stuffy silent Friends to get involved in their religion, go deeper, sing and dance in worship, and start getting some kind of relationship with Christ. What more could you ask? (In fact, I'm genuinely curious about whether this would fit some of your definitions of evangelism.)

And to my FGC/unprogrammed f/Friends... well, I hope I didn't spoil the fun for you by laboring so much to explain it....


  1. Wow! Pendle Hill has quite the fall program related to Jesus and Christianity! It appears that Jon's video may have had something to do with it. And their website is high-content, including podcasts of the lecture series, "Who Do You Say That I Am?" (about you-know-who), with speakers including Lloyd Lee Wilson, Colin Saxton from Northwest YM, ... Read Moretwo Hispanic Evangelical Friends from Philadelphia, Ben Pink Dandelion, Betsy Blake, and Tracey Peterson! And Christopher Sammond! Check it out!

  2. Great to see this post more publicly accessible! I'll spread the word.

    PS Happy new year