In response to the question—“Is blogging Quakerly?”—Steven Davison, a member of Yardley (PA) Friends, wrote this entry, using as an example the 18th century American Quaker John Woolman, known for his opposition to slavery, concern for the poor, and deep spirituality.
I’m glad you raised this question. I am reminded of a section in Woolman’s journal in which he thinks out loud about the progress of new technologies:
“In the woods we lay under some disadvantage. . . [“no fire-works,” “the mosquitoes being plenty and the ground damp”]
“Thus lying in the wilderness and looking at the stars, I was led to contemplate the condition of our first parents when they were sent forth from the garden, and considered that they had no house, no tools for business, no garments but what their Creator gave them, no vessels for use, not any fire to cook roots or herbs. But the Almighty, though they had been disobedient, was a father to them; way opened in process of time for all the conveniences of life. And he who by the gracious influence of his spirit illuminated their understanding and showed them what was acceptable to him and tended to their felicity as intelligent creatures, did also provide means for their happy living in this world as they attended to the manifestations of his wisdom.
“To provide things relative to our outward living in the way of true wisdom is good, and the gift of improving in things useful is a good gift, and comes from the Father of Lights. Many have had this gift and from age to age there have been improvements of this kind made in the world. But some, not keeping to the pure gift, have in the creaturely cunning and self-exaltation sought out many inventions, which inventions of men, as distinct from that uprightness in which man was created, as in the first motion it was evil so the effects of it have been, and are, evil. That at this day it is as necessary for us constantly to attend on the heavenly gift to be qualified to use rightly the good things in this life amidst great improvements, as it was for our first parents, when they were without any improvements, without any friend or father but God only.” (Journal, Moulton; p. 72)
“Creaturely cunning and self-exaltation” says it all, I think. Blogs were practically invented for the purpose of self-exaltation and certainly they constantly present the temptation to toot your own horn. But they do all the good things you’ve cited, too.
One thing, though. You say “our Quaker process is based on radical trust in the goodness of each human being,” and I read our history and tradition differently. The practices we now call “Quaker process” were based on the experience of direct, unmediated relationship with God, both as individuals and as a community. (And by “God” I mean the Mystery Reality behind our religious experience, whatever that experience is.) I know that Universalists have abandoned the divine source for Quaker faith and practice and relocated that source in the individual, so your post faithfully represents the Universalist leading on this matter. Maybe it even represents the way most liberal Friends think. But I think the testimony of integrity requires that we represent the wider Quaker tradition, and especially its historical roots, more carefully, so that we narrow such statements from a broad restatement of our tradition to a statement of a new leading that’s being tested in the lives of some Friends.
I personally think that universalist Friends have more work to do in testing your leading. Quaker universalism seems to abandon virtually all of our tradition, replacing our traditional language and revising our “theology” by, for example, using “Quaker process” instead of “gospel order” or “speaking in meeting” instead of “vocal ministry”, and by redefining meeting for worship as a process of consensus building between individuals who are speaking truth from the Light within them rather than as a group seeking the truth under the guidance of the holy spirit. Cut off from its roots, bereft of its vocabulary, emptied of its content, of the ideas, the intellectual framework that used to hold the tradition together—it’s like Quakerism has had a stroke and lost its memory and identity.
This offers a unique and exciting opportunity to start over and really build a new tradition, which the Fellowship has been at for a while now. I’ve not kept up with your literature in the past few years, I must admit, so maybe you’re farther along than I think. But there are a zillion questions to be answered. If, for example, meeting for worship is a gathering of individuals who each bring their measure of the Light, what is happening in a gathered meeting? If it is not gathered by the Spirit (or, traditionally, Christ, of course), what causes the exhilarating psychic sense of sharing ineffable truth, of a “presence in the midst,” of the transformative wheeling of the meeting out of discord and confusion into clarity and unity around a difficult decision? I could imagine talking about Jung, archetypes, the collective unconscious as one possible approach. What do universalists say?
Even more to the point: Liberal and universalist Friends consistently ground the new leading about Quaker faith on the phrase “There is that of God in everyone.” It’s actually in the footer of your website. What does “that of” mean? What does “God” mean in this context? What does “that of God” mean? If you’ve abandoned “God,” why use this phrase?
Most Friends I’ve talked to about this have not thought about it much; they don’t really have an answer. The answers they do give suggest that they do not know what Fox meant when he said it and they reflect a mutation of Quaker thinking that diverges considerably from historical tradition, one that is vaguely neo-gnostic, having to do with a divine spark. I’m not saying this new leading is wrong; just that it’s untested and undeveloped and is way too thin a pillar to balance an entire tradition upon, especially one as rich and deep as ours.
I guess what I’m saying is, do Quaker universalists have an emerging humanist ‘theology’ with which to articulate our experience?
Steven Davison is a member of Yardley Friends Meeting in Yardley, Pennsylvania. A writer by both vocation and avocation, he is deep into four books, writes two blogs and has published several essays in Friends Journal, Quaker Life and Quaker anthologies on earthcare and economics. In the spirit of independent Quaker ministry, he is an avid student of the Bible and of Quaker history and spirituality, faith and practice, written tradition and secondary literature. He holds a BA in Studies in Religion from Rutgers University and was the 1996 Patrick D. Henry Scholar for written ministry at Earlham School of Religion.
Blogs: BibleMonster and Through the Flaming Sword
How Long Will the Land Mourn: Principles and Practice of Christian Earth Stewardship
Good News for the Poor: The Economics of Redemption in the Common-wealth of God
Spiritual Ecology: Technology, Ecology and the Origins of Western Religion
Quakers and Capitalism: Contributions and Contradictions in the Economic History of Friends