(un)Programmed: Towards the Program of the Spirit | YQ Article

About a week ago I had an article come out in Young Quaker, the publication run by Young Friends General Meeting in Britain (See volue 53,number 6). This edition was the last one for Jez Smith, a friend of mine who currently lives in London, and who I worked with on the Britain Yearly Meeting Blog a Month ago. Anyways, it was a pleasure to write an article both for a different audience than what I would normally have and as a send-off to Jez who has taken a job at “The Friend” the only weekly Quaker publication in the world. Since many of you won’t have access to the article I thought I would summarize what I wrote there and open it up for discussion.

In the article, entitled “(un)Programmed: Beyond Modernist Labels, Towards the Program of the Spirit,” I try to do a couple things (and as usual those couple of things are too many in such a short space).

Some Common Traits Among Friends

First, I try and explain a number of commonalities among British and American Friends using some of Ben Pink Dandelion’s research. In his most recent book, “An Introduction to Quakerism,” Dandelion names four things he understands to be true for all Quakers.

All Quakers believe in (to a greater or lesser extent):

  • A Direct unmediated experience with the Spirit of God
  • Using forms of Worship that create space for and acknowledge this experience
  • The practice of business methods that rely on the community discerning together
  • The “testimony against war” (or after 1900, the “peace testimony”)

Of course, there are many nuances that could be added to this, and in many ways I think there are commonalities that we are unaware of, but the point is we do have things in common. It’s best to see us as one big family, we are all in it whether we like it or not (like real families!).

The Hard Work of Friendship

Secondly, I discussed how we have a lot of work to do in building bridges and how sometimes we hide behind the protection of labels which keep us from doing the hard work of reconciliation. Building friendships, especially with people who think differently than can be hard work, but in our everyday lives we are friends with lots of people who don’t believe the same things as us. Sometimes we say we’re really serious about inclusivity, about doing the hard work involved in that, but what it turns out to mean is if you don’t believe in my kind of inclusion you’re not welcome. “Inclusivity can become very exclusive very quickly.” Labels can allow us to hide behind their ideologies without having to do the dirty work of actually living that ideology out. Sometimes we divide Quakers up by words like “liberal,” “conservative,” “evangelical,” “programmed,” or “unprogrammed,” all these labels assume division, difference, and exclusivity at one point or another. Quite often these labels are used in derision – I know I fall guilty to this.

We need to move beyond these “modernist” labels that have been handed down to us, they no longer work. They no longer work because they start the conversation off in the wrong direction, they are dualistic in nature. The assumption goes, “So I’m a conservative, and you’re liberal, there’s no point in trying to work together, we’ve never succeeded before.” But it also means that not everyone is in our family, and that there are boundaries to who we are as a community and tradition. The idea of total inclusivity in not possible, the practice of welcoming others and loving our enemies is.

Rethinking Our Categories and Language

Third, I suggest we need some “linguistic innovations” and discussed a little about convergent Friends and what that’s all about. I pointed out three areas of our tradition we need to rename, or relabel, if we are going to move past these century old roadblocks (I think “convergent” is one example of renaming). These are a couple place-holders until we can rename them:

We should to think of ourselves as (un)programmed. We follow the “program” of “the Spirit,” this means, historically speaking, that forms of worship change according to the work of the Spirit within various times and cultures. The Spirit has a program, and in the program of the Spirit, there is nothing to sacred to be questioned, experimented with, or changed. That includes the way we understand and practice Quaker worship. It also recognizes that we have reduced the entire Quaker tradition down to what we do in one hour on a sunday morning, and seeks to move beyond it.

We need to be a community (in)outsiders. Our communities need to be bound by a covenant with the Spirit of God and with each other, not defined by our superficial delineations. Jesus’ entire program revolved around telling the insiders they were outsiders and the outsiders they were on the inside, he then proceeded to welcomed everyone to become a new-kind of insider (part of this included friendship with God, through friendship with him). This means that we come to terms with not being sure where we stand, we don’t have final control over it. And being okay with some ambiguity in our communities, because we understand that Jesus is the one who does the inviting.

Finally, we need to (re)narrate our stories. This means retelling our Christian-Quaker heritage in a way that makes sense to the world today. It means being in dialogue with, and knowing the language of the people we live beside, grocery shop with, and see at the coffee shops and pubs. It means that Quakers become participants and advisors on what is happening in the world at both micro and macro levels of our society. If Quakerism is a live tradition, it should make sense to the needs and questions of people living in 2007. We will also need to come to terms with those parts that no longer make sense, no longer translate over, and how we go about finding more appropriate ways to speak “truth to power” and lead people to Christ.

 

I finished the article with a few Queries, which I thought I’d post here as well:

Queries

“Where are we making efforts to hear the stories of, welcome in, and advocate for Friends who are from different Quaker backgrounds than us?”

What ways have I most connected with God in the past? What ways seem to hinder my spiritual progress or I don’t connect with?

What questions do I have about Quakerism, Christianity, the Bible or other things that I have not felt safe to ask? What way can I help to create a safe place for exploring difficult questions?

What kinds of things I don’t see in our tradition that would get me really excited about being a Quaker? What things do I see in our tradition that make me really excited to be a Friend?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

14 thoughts on “(un)Programmed: Towards the Program of the Spirit | YQ Article”

  1. Creative use of (paren(the))ses: how (E)mergent(C)hurch of you!! Uh-oh, did I just label? (Doh!) I’m (so)sorry. (ps: sorry for cheekiness, I should be sleeping)

  2. it’s interesting that as i read this, i couldn’t help but see it as a picture of what’s happening in the Church at large. denominations pretend that they are inclusive, yet they claim to have the only “true” path to god. think about the difference between liberal and conservative christians in the states…conservatives think liberals are literally going to hell, and liberals attack conservatives for being too political, not being christ-like, etc. i have always found that a conversation that begins with stating our similarities and not our differences generally yields a better result.

    something that you stated really appealed to me, the concept of “an unmediated experience with the spirit of god.” how is it possible for an experience to be “unmediated” if we belong to a labeled group that does in fact seek to mediate that experience? wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could, without a trace of bias, REALLY allow for the spirit of god to guide us and to experience the spirit in a way that is not informed by our man-made labels and denominations and prior experiences? i guess the issues facing quakers interest me because they are like a snapshot of the wider, far more disunited Church. i imagine that god must be laughing at all of us who think we “get it.” we don’t get it…god is too big for that…but we try to persuade others to “get it” the same way we do, and if the experience of the spirit of god is to be unmediated, if we are really a priesthood of all believers, this kind of “evangelistic” approach will never work!

    by the way, i’m about to become an episcopalian…how’s THAT for a mediated spirit experience…haha!

    peace

  3. Hi Wes, a little curmudeonness if you don’t mind.

    The thing is, there are in fact nontrivial, substantive differences behind the labels.

    There are some Friends who believe the leadings of the spirit have in fact taken us beyond the boundaries set by the Bible and historic Christianity.

    There are other Friends who believe this has not happened, and indeed cannot happen.

    I’m not fully convinced that the kumbaya factor of emergent Christianity/Quakerism can really transcend that hard fact. At best it might provide a space where some people can change their minds in one direction or the other.

    Moreover, there’s a label that you don’t seem to be criticizing, but in fact endorsing – “Quakerism.” Who is to say that just because groups A, B, C, D, etc. share the label “Quaker” that they are therefore parties in need of reconciling to each other? One could probably come up similar lists of things pastoral Friends and non-Quaker Christians have in common, and that liberal Friends and UUs have in common. Perhaps that’s the direction reconciliation should take.

  4. Hey Wess, sorry for my initial wiseguy comment, as I explain in my email I had just finished listening to eight hours of modern rock and was punch-drunk with silliness.

    You’re completely right about how we’ve outgrown many of the modernist labels we’ve inherited. I’ve found myself paring down the rather complicated series of labels I once gave myself and just identifying as “a Friend” (“Christian Friend” if needed in that context). In many ways we are all simply brothers and sisters trying to listen for Christ’s wisdom and follow it together in community. The use of more specific labels can be helpful in letting us know where our understandings differ but these should be used in careful moderation as most outsiders won’t understand what we’re saying and even us relatively-educated Friends can get too caught in the label.

    Here’s something I wonder though: In theory I’m nodding my head with what you’re saying. It all sounds reasonable enough. But I’m not sure I’d agree if we were in a Quaker community together trying to put this into practice. Innovations in linguistics often act as cover for changes in theology. Bringing back labels, Evangelical Friends by definition are easy about changing language and practice to speak to the world, a practice which has often taken them away from a Quaker core. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Conservative Friends have insisted on keeping terms and practices even as they became more arcane, insisting that the world take efforts to understand them in the Quaker context; the predictable result has been a decline toward extinction.

    I think the idea linking “Convergent Friends” is this collective sense that we’ve backed ourselves into corners with our various Quaker traditions and that they’re not working for us (or for God’s Kingdom), that we need to back up, turn around, start talking about some elephants in the room and ask whether some of those other Quakers might not have something useful to say after all. But while our questions and queries might be the same–and the conversation rich–I’m not sure the answers will end up at all the same.

  5. @gaytheologian — thanks for your comment. I agree that finding positive areas for conversation is always a great way to get things off and running, it’s not always easy when people don’t want to work things out, or have been hurt by others but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

    You are absolutely correct when you said, “i guess the issues facing quakers interest me because they are like a snapshot of the wider, far more disunited Church.”

    I think it’s really easy for Quakers, or any other group really, to get so caught up in our own internal dilemmas that we often think we’re the only people dealing with these issues, or that our issues are the real important ones. We forget that many churches have gone, or are going through these challenges and questions – and some I might add are doing better at it I think – and we ought to help one another out in finding the best ways forward.

    Hey congrats on the Episcopalian thing as well – there are many things I really appreciate about that tradition. And I think we all have mediated experiences with God, and that there isn’t any other way. I don’t think we need pastors or priests, sacraments, etc. for God to speak to us, but that doesn’t mean that it is completely “unmediated.” Our culture, our education, our families, our relationships, our genetics all mediate how we understand everything. I think in this way we try to always stress that God is “unmediated” in the way s/he communicates with us. That is to say we can’t control how, when, where, why God speaks to us, but that we also understand that all our experiences are mediated in one way or another. This is why I don’t think Quakers need to reject pastors, priests, sacraments, etc — God can certainly speak through those things as well. To say God, can’t or doesn’t is to “mediate” God’s act and accepts the Cartesian notion that we can wipe the slate of our consciouses clean whenever in order to have a “pure” or unadulterated experience with the divine.

  6. @Zach — thanks for your comment, I am going to parse it up a little so I can respond in chunks (and include some of your recent blog post as well).

    a) First, “The thing is, there are in fact nontrivial, substantive differences behind the labels.” I couldn’t agree with you more, in fact I think that just about everything I write and say comes from this common assumption, that there are no longer any common assumptions. I would in fact say that there are incommensurable issues at stake.

    b) Your two opposing traditions have deeply systemic issues as you’ve said, “the core religion of FUM and liberal Friends are fundamentally irreconcilable.” However, there are a couple problems with this statement.

    I wanted to challenge what you mean by irreconcilable. What I think you mean is something much closer to incommensurable. These two sub-traditions within the Quaker tradition are only incommensurable insofar as they remain within an enlightenment framework, i.e. a-historical, where the individual self, and reason are the foundation of authority, not revelation and tradition. In other words, the core of these two groups is the same exact thing (besides just sharing the same lineage). They read the same primary texts, share a majority of the same Quaker heros, use some of the same language, and share a number of the same virtues and practices. The shift took place in the translating of these “historic” features of Quakerism and placing authority within a more modernist epistemology (see Martin Davie’s dissertation on British Quaker Theology chapter 3). So we move from this historical interpretation of Quaker authority (rooted within the narrative of God’s Spirit at work in the world and the Christian Scriptures) towards an authority rooted within the modern enlightened conscious. In the shift comes the a-historical phase of Quakerism (and a good majority of the church), what we don’t like in our history we hack away. For Friends, there is an indisputable foundation, either a modern-scientific reading of the Bible (inerrancy) or an Enlightenment self-authenticating personal experience that cannot be questioned. Both of these epistemologies are radically different than early Quakers, they are interpretations of the Quaker tradition, but in “substantively different” ways. This kind of shift happens on all sides. Now, we form our own new primary texts of Quakerism, and when we don’t like those we chuck them as well.

    So these two groups are incommensurable insofar as they return to their primary texts rooted within this a-historicism of late-modernity, in the Quaker sense this happens in the mid to late 19th century. From that point we begin to see a growing difference in “core issues.” But if we return to the actual core of the tradition — we read the same stuff. This means that within modernity “the core religion of FUM and liberal Friends are fundamentally irreconcilable” but an anti-modern epistemology would say “the core religion of FUM and liberal Friends is not fundamentally irreconcilable, but rather the same thing just carried out and interpreted differently.” Both sub-traditions are seeking faithful translations to specific challenges the Enlightenment brought against it.

    When I make my claims – I am trying to work from a different epistemology. I think that an appeal to the whole tradition is the only way to progress the inquiries of Quakerism further, a continual hacking away at the history will bring the tradition into total.

    c) But, I think you (and possibly Martin) have misunderstood what I mean by “reconciliation.” I don’t mean ecumenicism in the modern sense, i.e. the leveling of all beliefs in order to come to some common agreement. I don’t mean that at all and have stated that elsewhere
    . I do think reconciliation is possible on a different level, if fact I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

    In other words I agree with what Martin said,

    I think the idea linking “Convergent Friends??? is this collective sense that we’ve backed ourselves into corners with our various Quaker traditions and that they’re not working for us (or for God’s Kingdom), that we need to back up, turn around, start talking about some elephants in the room and ask whether some of those other Quakers might not have something useful to say after all. But while our questions and queries might be the same–and the conversation rich–I’m not sure the answers will end up at all the same (emphasis mine).

    The point of what I wrote above, and the purpose of the entire article to YFGM was simple to suggest that a) there are in fact many of us who share a lot in common, i.e. we’re reading the “primary texts” of our tradition and are interested in that kind of Quakerism and/or Christianity; b) that we need to be willing to forgive and embrace one another as a part of one another’s family’s – differences and all; c) and that we need to drop the constantinian attempt to force others to agree with us (and I don’t just mean “conservatives” and “fundamentalists” here). This is why I’ve written so much about the importance of friendship as a key virtue for convergent Friends, and ultimately for all Christians.

    d) I have to admit that your comment,

    I’m not fully convinced that the kumbaya factor of emergent Christianity/Quakerism can really transcend that hard fact.

    Seems subtly intolerant towards a group of the church that share many of concerns that align with the Quaker project (and most likely with things you still believe in), including peace, justice, and equality. You don’t have to like them, but don’t so easily dismiss them.

    Also, I don’t think that anyone in the emerging church would agree that they are trying to change minds, I think they believe they’re trying to embody the practices of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. That’s quite a different set of priorities and purpose than changing a set of categories. This aim is based on the idea that revelation and community are the primary modes of the church, not intellectual assent. The point about friendship above is at least part of what I think they mean by all this.

    e) On the label of “Quakerism” I think that the whole point of a tradition trying to re-narrate itself, make sense of its “primary texts,” and history, and today’s cultural influences is an attempt to criticize and move the label (I would say tradition) of Quakerism further. Whatever “Quakerism” means within that re-telling. In other words, we are always in some way trying to explain what it looks to be a Quaker, and what it doesn’t look like to be one. As long as that word continues to get used, it is used to identify actual people, actual stories, real-life practices and an actual tradition. So long as the name gets used, we can also assume that there is something that is not Quaker or “Quakerism”.

    Reconciliation only takes place, or only needs to take place, when there has been brokeness — assuming there are groups A,B,C,D now within Quakerism, I would also assume there has been some hurts, and brokeness involved (though this mere assumption could be heavily documented). It’s true that not everyone wants to forgive, or ask for forgiveness, and embrace the other as a friend, but that’s different than suggesting that it needs to happen. I’m suggesting like Martin, that it needs to happen. Reconciliation is an essential part of life, redemption, and the life of the Quaker church.


    Zach, ultimatley, what the point of all this is saying is that I know you and I won’t see eye to eye on things, I am not trying to convert your, or change your mind, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to think text on a website could do that. I also know that not everyone will ever agree, nor do I even think that we should try. But maybe I am naive enough to believe that even in our disagreements we could be friends and could in fact work toward some common goals or projects as Friends.

  7. Martin,

    I am not sure I can fully address this question, because I think it’s much bigger than a comment or even a blog post.

    But I’m not sure I’d agree if we were in a Quaker community together trying to put this into practice. Innovations in linguistics often act as cover for changes in theology. Bringing back labels, Evangelical Friends by definition are easy about changing language and practice to speak to the world, a practice which has often taken them away from a Quaker core. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Conservative Friends have insisted on keeping terms and practices even as they became more arcane, insisting that the world take efforts to understand them in the Quaker context; the predictable result has been a decline toward extinction.

    I would have to say more strongly, linguistic innovations do single not only a shift in theology, but practice as well. This isn’t bad, especially if these shifts are more faithful to the overall narrative of the community. I think of Christians overcoming their theology and practice of slavery as a great example of shift. Another one is the way in which we talk about, understand, and interact with women as mutual co-laborers in the church.

    I think Evangelicals are working from a flawed epistemology (see the comment to Zach). I don’t think they recognize the importance of history or tradition, and that it will ultimately be their demise (isn’t that the whole point of Punshon’s “Reasons For Hope.”) But on the other hand, I think the fact that evangelicals recognize the cultural aspects of faith more, and seek to translate is a positive feature of that sub-group. I think their epistemology is something that can be re-worked.

    I think that for Convervativism, it doesn’t seem to take into account the radical nature of the Jesus’ relationship to culture, and see itself as a community of Jesus’ followers in that sense. In other words, I think that it’s overlooked the missionary enterprise of the incarnation and the missio dei. Further, I think it’s treating language as contextualess, which is inherently a modern proposition. In other words, ironically, conservatism is a response to culture within the bounds of a particular philosophical (and cultural) phenomena called “the Enlightenment.” It is defensive, as it balances it’s own practices against the world – but I don’t think this is what Fox or more importantly Jesus did. All this being said, it too can be re-worked. For instance, I think their epistemology is far better off than the other two groups in discussion, and their overall retention of the tradition’s virtues is huge.

    In other words to quote from the YQ article, “I would say that no one Quaker group has a monopoly on being the ‘right kind of Quaker.’ In, fact I think we are all ‘not Quakers’ just as much as we area ‘all Quakers.’ In this dialogical tension we can see each branch has something that the other needs.”

  8. An effort to “Throw out our different labels” suggests that we can’t think of ourselves as “different” without imagining ourselves mutually unintelligible, inevitably estranged, perhaps even hostile! What would it say about us, if our differences were really that bad!?

    I find nominal Quakers who explicitly deny that there’s any Spirit of God available for our direct immediate experiencing. (Puzzling, that! The only commonality I can think of there would be something like “Aren’t Quakers nice!” and that’s a little thin.)

    I also find the access-to-God experience among members of a great many denominations and religions. (Erich Schiffmann’s _Yoga: The Spirit And Practice Of Moving Into Stillness_, for example, is more Quaker than most of the Quakers I know.) The Quaker advantage is that we made it explicit! We can argue forever, some of us, about how much emphasis we’re allowed to place on that accessibility; I say it can bear the whole load, if we let it, and reconcile anything else we might contend about.

    That “one hour on Sunday,” you know, used to include considerably more periods of worship–and will, I hope, come to include more again. And more types of worship for different occasions, each emphasizing some aspect of ourselves to be exercised under God’s guidance… Writing, for me, is done best when I’m groping for connection to God in the process–and I suspect there are a great many arts, probably all of them, intended for us to practice in this way. So that our conscious selves can work in partnership with what’s beyond us, to God’s glory. Making beauty, even growing a vegetable garden in this spirit, is sacred!

  9. Hi Wes,
    First off, if all you mean by reconciliation and/or convergence is what you quoted Martin as saying, then I think that’s wonderful. I’m not entirely convinced that’s true, and still less so that other convergent Friends only mean that, but that much is indeed true. We can indeed learn from each other, even if we don’t necessarily learn the same lessons, or reunite organizationally. Speaking personally, I don’t identify as convergent, but I’ve thought about it, and I’ve definitely learned a lot from non-liberal Friends. Recently I’ve appreciated Richard’s post on the traditional practice of overseers, and as I just wrote to Johan I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of paid leadership.

    In short, we can learn something from everyone who is at the table. But the $64,000 question is, who is at the table? Why should we assume that the various “branches of Quakerism” are the people with whom it is most important we learn from, and not someone else? Personally I think liberal Friends would benefit more from dialogue with UUs, secular humanists and Buddhists as with the other “branches of Quakerism.”

    That’s my first objection to convergence, that it’s an arbitrary selection of dialogue partners. To me it seems your response is that it’s not arbitrary, because we do share primary texts, which is true in a sense, but one way of looking at “liberal liberal” Quakerism is as a *rejection* of primary texts. As you know, I personally am quite interested in looking at the musty old pamphlets, but it’s not something I see as organically connected to (let alone necessary for) authentic spiritual living, Quaker or otherwise.

    Beyond that, despite having read MacIntyre in college I must say I’m at a loss to make concrete sense of your rather academic argument about the incommensurability of liberal and pastoral Quakerism. If you’re saying they can’t be reconciled without abandoning their current position for something more traditional, then you’re actually granting my point. Stated differently, we might have migrations from various branches, but there will be no reunification. And that was all I meant by the “kumbaya” remark — loving gatherings and personal connections where one tries to hold one’s affiliations loosely does not at the end of the day eliminate the need for choosing where you stand, in an intellectually coherent way. At some point people are going to have to decide what they see as the highest spiritual authority — personal experience or historic Christianity for example. But you can’t serve two masters.

    And I’d love it if you could clarify what specifically you mean by “ahistorical.” On Quaker history, there is certainly a lot of wishful thinking that goes on in each branch, and a lot of ignorance and apathy in the liberal and pastoral branches. But there are also people — liberal Quakers and I presume pastoral ones as well — who do in fact care about Quaker history, care about accuracy, but at the end of the day do not feel constrained to conform to the points of view of past Friends. “Christianity is more important than Quakerism,” I believe I’ve heard it said in pastoral circles. In other words, there are people whose attitude is “Fox said that, and it gives us a helpfully broader historical perspective to recognize this, but I say this instead” — rather than “I say this, and who cares about Fox,” or “I say this, and isn’t it nice that Fox happened to perfectly agreed with me?” I think there are quite a lot of liberal Quakers in this camp, and I see nothing pejoratively ahistorical about it.

    Same goes for “hacking away” — what do you mean? Does any rejection of a traditional Quaker position count as hacking away, or are you talking about omissions/misrepresentations of what those positions were?

    Warm regards,
    Zach

  10. Hi Zach,
    Sorry for the delay in posting. I want to try and clarify a few of the questions you have an leave it at that, I think you’ve brought up some great points and I don’t feel the necessity to try and add to what you’ve already said:

    To me it seems your response is that it’s not arbitrary, because we do share primary texts, which is true in a sense, but one way of looking at “liberal liberal??? Quakerism is as a *rejection* of primary texts. As you know, I personally am quite interested in looking at the musty old pamphlets, but it’s not something I see as organically connected to (let alone necessary for) authentic spiritual living, Quaker or otherwise.

    You’re absolutely right here Zach – especially on account of the rejection of primary texts. But remember that part of convergence is trying to be Quaker in the contemporary world, given contemporary questions. Part of our argument is that wrestling with the primary texts and the tradition, is partly what constitutes us as Quakers. We think getting rid of them is a move away from any stable notion of Quakerism, and in the end those who reject the primary texts may not have the resources: a) to know how to be QUakers any longer, b) carrying the tradition in any coherent sense.

    In other words, we’re all trying to make sense of today, one interpretation says to reinvent yourself, get rid of your history or the major points that don’t seem to work any longer, and go one your way. That is one interpretation, a very powerful one in our society in fact. Convergent Friends are offering another interpretation, one that is trying to be more historical in nature. Only time will tell which interpretation makes more sense, but I suspect the constant concern of our dying Society of Friends may be linked to some of the bad interpretations that have carried us to the point we’re at now.

    So part of our interpretation, which I see you will disagree with, is that the texts and tradition are in fact very important for an authentic Quaker life. I think that everything we do, think, believe is shaped (and can be reshaped) by “traditions” (intellectual, religious, etc), so much so that even saying we don’t need tradition or the primary texts is itself an intellectual tradition. Thus, recognizing the importance of these influences in our lives we should try to be shaped within both our local communities (churches, meeting houses, etc) and the historic community (the narrative of a tradition) partly through the reading and wrestling together through the primary texts but even more so the life of the community and its practices.

    If you’re saying they can’t be reconciled without abandoning their current position for something more traditional, then you’re actually granting my point. Stated differently, we might have migrations from various branches, but there will be no reunification. And that was all I meant by the “kumbaya??? remark — loving gatherings and personal connections where one tries to hold one’s affiliations loosely does not at the end of the day eliminate the need for choosing where you stand, in an intellectually coherent way. At some point people are going to have to decide what they see as the highest spiritual authority — personal experience or historic Christianity for example. But you can’t serve two masters.

    We are saying the same thing here but I need to offer one clarification. No one is calling for reunification, at least from the convergent Friends group. We’ve never said it and it’s not our intentions. This is something that has been said a a lot. We’re not calling people to abandon their current positions for our mode of thinking. We’re not trying to overpower anyone, have the better debate, or take over some yearly meeting. We have no intentions whatsoever to become a legal organization, take people’s jobs, fire leaders, and force yearly meetings to get along. I think these all can be fears that people have about any group that begins to organize. But this kind of response would not only be enforcing a violence on others that is non-Quaker, but it would also be living within an assumed Constantinian version of Christianity, which the historic peace church has always been against.

    Rather, we are trying to encourage Friendship and covenant, mission and Quaker practices – things that can go beyond boundaries.

    We’re also offering another interpretation, people who call themselves convergent do so because they say they want too. Not because they are offered a bullet proof argument, but because these ideas hit on stuff they’ve always believed or have been interested in. Therefore, the group that comprises of convergent Friends is anything but arbitrary. The whole point of it was finding a name for an experience so many Friends have been talking about for a really long time (long before QuakerQuaker). In fact, if you read the last Chapter of Doug Gwyn’s book “Covenant Crucified” you’ll see a convergent-type Friends theology beginning in that 1995 text. I also encourage you to take a look at Brent Bill’s post on his blog where he discusses a desire for something else, the something else he names sounds very much like what we’ve been calling “convergent Friends.” I think his experience is more common than we might thing. Even more historially, we can see what happened at the St. Louis Group in the 1970’s. This is all to say, this isn’t an arbitrary gathering in the sense that we pick people we like, or find where we find the people to convert to our ideas. Rather, we’re finding the people who are already thinking and talking about this stuff and giving it a name.

    Granted we’re developing the conversation, even as you and I dialogue, but we’re finding that the people are already at the table waiting to discuss these matters. Having someone name it has helped the process. I’ve found this to be true in Britain as well. Convergent Friends believe that this is the work of the Spirit, something far from arbitrary on our account.

    –“And I’d love it if you could clarify what specifically you mean by “ahistorical.???

    Yes, I can see how this was completely unclear, sorry about that. I mean letting our history speak on its own terms. The Enlightenment is ahistoric insofar as it roots authority within the metanarrative account of science, over against tradition. I think, a better word for it would be a-traditional. And I agree with what you added about saying a number of people within the camps are not a-historical. But we may be a-traditional insofar as they make either the individual-self or science the litmus test for what parts of tradition to pay attention to and what parts to ignore.

    I will work on being clearer with that as I can see how it would be misleading.

    As far as hacking, good question. No, I certainly don’t think every aspect of tradition bear equal authority for us now, I was more referring to being reckless about how we use it and understand it, your omissions and misrepresentations is a much clearer way to state that.

    Thanks for your comments and questions Zach and I hope that this is more clear, even if you ultimately don’t agree with it.

  11. Hi Wess-

    I’m not sure if this will be read, or what the convention is for time in responding (your initial post here is several weeks old). I just feel I have to say I’m so very refreshed by the depth and care of this conversation. I’m just now getting up to speed with it all, and it is so hopeful and reassuring for me. In one of your responses in this thread, you touched on the issue that’s been bothering me for so long, but I’ve been unable to clarify it – and you did so well. It is the dualities of the modernist camps that presuppose any reconciliation. All of these nested binary arguments. For so long, I’ve felt like “who cares whether scriture/tradition or experience is a primary authority”, but was co-opted by movement XYZ to carry its baggage. But I intuitively knew it was a dead-end! I’m so glad to know there is a “place” where the conversation is moving in a different direction.

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