Quaker Universalist Conversations

“A Gathered People,” by Craig Barnett

Excerpts from Transition Quaker

Craig Barnett, Transition Quaker http://transitionquaker.blogspot.com/ We have excerpted Craig Barnett’s Transition Quaker blog posts before (see “A Common Tongue” and “The Imaginary Theist”).

In his May 31 st post, “A Gathered People,” Craig writes about no longer being “just an individual seeker on a solitary spiritual journey, but part of a ‘people’.” Please read the entire post from which the following is excerpted.

A Gathered People

Most of us in modern, western societies have been taught to value above all else the virtues of freedom, privacy, independence, self-reliance and individuality. In fact, our culture has formed us in the image of the restless, dynamic capitalism memorably described by Karl Marx….

The prospect of complete freedom from all ‘fixed, fast-frozen relations’ can be exhilarating, and it has exercised a powerful attraction for the modern imagination; but for many of us there comes a time when the absence of social rootedness leaves us feeling isolated, anxious and depressed….

In more traditional societies, that have been less uprooted by the forces of modernity, this condition of drastic solitude is virtually unknown…. Wherever traditional people have been dispossessed of their land, culture and social bonds they have been devastated by suicide, crime, mental illness and addiction.

As modern Europeans this is our story too; it happened in England first, at the start of the industrial era, before encompassing almost every nation on earth. It is the traumatic experience of industrialisation and urbanisation, and the continuing neoliberal assault on all social bonds, that has created the lonely, anxious, rootless and insecure modern psyche….

The unmet human soul needs for meaning, belonging and purpose have never gone away. Instead they provide a powerful source of motivation within a consumer economy.

"Invisible," by Mike Shell http://www.redbubble.com/people/crippledwolf/works/10714202-invisibleThese needs are targeted by the entertainment and marketing industries, which offer to fulfill deep human needs for connection, status, identity, transcendence and security through the purchase of clothes, technology, holidays and insurance.

These commodified experiences and products hook into soul needs that they can never satisfy, creating a cycle of addiction that is the perfect mechanism to drive the endless growth required by a capitalist economy. Consumerism is the hollow, ersatz spirituality of the industrial growth society.

We cannot overcome the hollow meaninglessness of modern society on our own…. It is this impulse to overcome the rootless isolation of modern life that seems to be contributing to the resurgence of religious identity across the world, what John Michael Greer calls ‘the second religiosity’.

This new religiosity often takes fundamentalist forms, but it is not necessary for religious belonging to be authoritarian or dogmatic. In the Quaker tradition, it takes the form of what early Friends called ‘a gathered people’.

A gathered people is not just an association of individuals who happen to share overlapping values or interests. It is formed by the raising and quickening of a new spiritual life and power within each person. Recognising this same Spirit at work in each other draws us into a bond of mutual belonging and commitment – a ‘covenant’….

Do you have a sense of being part of a gathered people? How have you experienced this in your journey with Quakers?

Image Source

Invisible,” by Mike Shell. Woman sleeping next to a well-dressed couple in Square Dorchester, Montréal, Quebec, Canada (8/8/2013).


I think Thomas Kelly had some very helpful things to say on this subject. Being a gathered people implies there is someone or something that gathers you. For me, that makes it difficult although not always impossible to feel part of a gathered people where there is no common sense of who or what has gathered the people. At this stage of my life I don’t usually feel that gathered community in mainstream Christianity or mainstream Quakerism. Two communities where I am feeling it are Friends of Jesus Fellowship and Dayspring Church.
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