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.