Simplicity and Mystery

Is the Quaker way simple? When you've got three committees in one week, it can get to feeling pretty complicated. And when you try to see the goodness in all the branches of Friends, the chorus of voices can be cacophonous and confusing. Where's the simplicity?

When I first came to Friends, I was impressed with their simplicity, their openness, and the modesty of their claims. I was a seeker in college; I checked out the Unitarians, the Presbyterians, the Buddhists, some evangelical Christians, some Wiccans, and Rudolph Steiner's Anthroposophy by way of the local Waldorf school. Some of these were open but vague; some of them promised paths to enlightenment, but required leaps of faith or commitments to initiation. I wanted substance -- but I was wary. The Quakers clearly had something to teach, deep resources in tradition; and yet they didn't hide anything, didn't reserve anything, didn't demand anything. They simply invited you to settle down and listen in the silence, and see what you found.

That was the way for me. And you know what? It turns out there's more to it than the silence; more to it even than the Light. Now I see that the religions that do require initiation have good reason, because there are depths that aren't apparent at first. But as my experiences lead me in a spiral of deepening understanding and growing trust, meeting for worship stays pretty simple.

Sit down, stand still, listen in the Light, stay close to the root. The simplicity is at the root. As that Seed in us grows and flowers, we may find it's a lush plant with many branches and much fruit. Abundance to harvest!

We had a CSA share from the Meeting School this fall, and preserving their abundant harvest took a lot of learning and effort. But there was no doubt in our minds that it was simpler living than buying from the supermarket. A simple meal of sourdough bread, steamed greens, baked squash, and eggs, all from scratch, and all from a place we love; it was simple; it was satisfying; it was home.


Miami Meeting - Waynesville, Ohio

Two old meetinghouses --elegant, plain, lifting your heart as you approach the top of the hill. One Hicksite, one Orthodox... built side by side. Still friendly neighbors? The shared graveyard, next to the Orthodox meeting; one school, across the graveyard from the Orthodox meeting; a Friends boarding home, for elderly Friends and young singles (women school-teachers), next door to the Hicksite meeting. Below the hill, a hundred yards away, the stores, shops, and traffic of the business district of Waynesville, Ohio. In New England, we have our village greens, with church, school, library, and town hall arrayed around the sides of the common. Here I suppose the library and town hall were in the business district. Yet the vision of community seemed the same -- even, stronger.

Imagine a time when most residents of Waynesville were Friends. They must have been friends, too. I caught a glimpse of the community that we yearn for in a fragmented postmodern age. Did they visit each other's church yard sales? Did they have afternoon committee meetings at one meetinghouse or the other, then walk across the yard to the school to pick up their children? At the Friends Boarding Home, our guide said that businessmen came to lunch at the boarding home daily, walking the two blocks from their offices.

I live in intentional communities -- co-ops, boarding schools, maybe co-housing someday. I think our broken American society needs more local community. But visiting this small Ohio town, I saw how from the 1810's to the 1910's they could have had that real community support and fellowship that I love, using simply the monthly meeting structure. As a historian, I know that local historians must know the real stories behind Waynesville. Evidence is surely preserved in journals, newspapers, diaries, meeting minutes. I'm sure it wasn't all rosy. But after all, the place is on the National Register for being well-preserved and representative; and their hilltop is spacious and green; and I could see the rhythms of a whole community of shared lives of caring, lived out there between White Brick and Red Brick meetinghouses. I hope it's really true.


West Rindge No Longer! ~ Motivations for Quaker Theology

Can a Quaker who doesn't live in Rindge still call himself a West Rindge Quaker with integrity? I'm moving this summer, heading for graduate school, to study Quaker theology.

Quaker theology? My liberal friends among the General Conference Friends might say that Friends don't do theology; I've heard that before at the Gathering and I think it's not true. Of course, my evangelical Friends think Friends have a theology – though some of them might say there isn't any difference between “orthodox” Christian theology, and Quaker theology – and I'd differ from them there. But did you know there are liberal Christian theologies? Not politically, no: I mean religion thought of in a broad, generous, liberal, progressive way. Did you know there are liberal Quaker theologies? (such as Patricia Williams, Quakerism, A Theology for Our Time, Infinity Publications; I haven't read it yet... tell me what you think.)

I'll be studying the history of Quaker theology. Why history? Because it's easier for overly-analytical skeptics like me to grapple with history than to adopt faith uncomplicatedly. But let me be clear: I do grapple with faith. In fact, I even have faith – faith in divine providence. It's humans I'm skeptical about. The history of human foibles, unacknowledged influences and interests, biases and oppressions, confusions and failures. Quaker history is full of splits, as any studious Quaker soon discovers. Some Friends prefer not to investigate them – averse to re-opening old wounds. Other Friends like to choose their theological label from among the old options. It's like a parlor game – maybe I'm a Wilburite, except with a willingness to join worldly social reform groups? [Ed. note: but wait, are you Maulite, Kingite, or Otisite branch of Wilburite? ...nevermind]– or maybe a Hicksite, but the mystical Christian kind exemplified by the born-again theology of late-eighteenth-century traveling minister Job Scott? A Conservative-leaning, social-activist-oriented, Christ-encountering, liberal within FUM, traditionalist within FGC? Playing at Twenty Questions, Quaker-style. The categories get so confusing, though; better to just be a Quaker-Quaker, like the website's title.

I came to this path through following a leading. And I don't use the term loosely. I had a clearness process about it. (Yes, another one. They're old hat now – yet ever renewed and renewing. [Ed. note – wait, clearnesses are like library books?]) I remembered George Fox's insight that "that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge, was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ". I chewed on whether it was right for an unprogrammed Friend like me to go to a school where they train pastors. And I can report that my clearness committee was quite clear. We saw this leading growing out of my earlier leading to visit other branches. The purpose of those visits was about building bridges of understanding between the varied branches of Friends; including raising awareness among my own Friends in New England about the positive aspects of other kinds of Friends. So this new move is a broadening of that earlier leading: getting seriously into understanding the depth of the Quaker tradition – and presenting it so that Friends in New England can access it. Well, true to the traditional experience of Friends, way opened for me as I followed the leading. I found funding; I found time; I loved writing the applications; I found appreciative support in my monthly meeting. And this past year I've been taking courses already. The readings are like drinking cool water to slake my thirst; the papers have felt easy and energizing to write compared with memories of late-night nail-biters in college. All in all, “way opened” in a very fulfilling way. I'm grateful, and eager.