Does God Need Friends? What For?

This site is a place where Friends (and others) may disagree agreeably.

It does not speak for any Meeting within The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers.) Therefore it can go beyond what we've agreed on between ourselves; we hope people can talk freely here about the world, our place in it, what good we might be for ourselves and others.

What you see here will include some material from our Faith and Practice, some by regulars at our two local Meetings. Comments may be from any sincere well-meaning person.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Friends' Political Stands

[ This is a big, complex subject; please allow for this section being an incomplete work-in-progress for some time. ]

Peace and Conscientious Objection to War:
Quakers are, as everybody knows, for peace.

This has meant different things over the years. But beginning with George Fox, Friends and their organizations have generally agreed that God forbids us fighting in any earthly war for any cause.

We have also had individual Quakers, ever since Friends came to this Continent, who have felt called upon to fight in one war or another.

Though established Friends Meetings were uniformly against the Revolutionary War, Larry Ingle mentions that "a group of so-called 'Free Quakers,' disowned by their meetings for supporting the military struggle for American independence, did set up a dissident meeting in 1781 in Philadelphia; they hung on, in dwindling numbers, until 1836."

In the Civil War, Quakers considered slavery such an evil that many young men felt called upon to fight it by any means available, including joining the Union Army. Considering the conflicting demands of conscience involved, their Meetings generally welcomed them back afterwards. In subsequent wars, some Quakers have fought and some have refused; the tradition clearly discourages fighting but it also implies a need for each person to discern what it is that God demands of him.

[For a longer, but fascinating account of how Quakers have dealt with this issue over the years, see Quaker Peace Page ]

Peace Making:
This is a slightly different matter, and not as easily researched. We've been doing it a very long time, if you include traveling preachers led to meet with various rulers, to persuade them away from warlike behavior. Quakers have, as a group, earned a good reputation as honest mediators-- which has proved instrumental in relieving some minor-- but ugly-- conflicts, Northern Ireland being one example.

I mention Northern Ireland because I was at Pendle Hill when their 'Friends in Residence' were a couple who'd lived and worked in the 'Quaker House' in Ulster. Protestants who couldn't be caught talking to Catholics; Catholics who couldn't be caught talking to Protestants-- could slip in the back door of the Quaker House around the same time someone from the other side happened to be around. People had been fighting for a very long time, had grown up and aged in the fighting, had gotten very tired of losing people. So enemies came in and talked with each other, and eventually agreed on a truce.

I see by the wikipedia piece that mutual suspicion and occasional violence have continued in the years since, but the major combatant groups remain at peace.

Peace Protests:
Yet another facet-- and so far as I can find via on-line searches, a recent innovation.[?]

AJ Muste helped found the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an effort to stop WW I, while he was still a protestant clergyman, and didn't become a Friend until a few year later, after his congregation rejected him for preaching an anti-war sermon on Easter. Quaker involvement in actual marches and demonstrations against wars and militarism appears to have originated with the Fellowship (?) and continues ever since via participation in it and similar organizations.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Religious Society for People Who Don't Want To Be Very Religious?

This is not necessarily so.

I wish I could say it was entirely wrong. I don't think we're any worse, in that respect, than your typical US church...

If you want to spend an hour with us each week, silently thinking to yourself, that can happen.

If you want to spend that time attentively waiting to know the presence of The Living God, you can do that too! We come from a 350- year tradition of people who have tried this and found it good.

Expect to be surprised.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jesus and Friends

Our Faith and Practice acknowledges that the Quaker movement is historically rooted in Christianity. It then goes on to explain that Pacific Yearly Meeting includes many people "who were not raised in the Religious Society of Friends" or "for whom Christianity is not part of their faith experience.

"There is thus a great variety of religious belief and expression. Many Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends articulate their Quaker faith in Jewish, Universalist, Buddhist or other terms. Similarly, Friends hold diverse definitions of Christianity, interpreting and reacting to traditional Christian terminology differently. Some do not accept the defining beliefs required by the church of their youth or of current mainstream Christianity. This has been a point of lively discussion in Pacific Yearly Meeting for the past fifty years."

The crucial early moment in Quakerism (in the 1650's) was when George Fox, having given up seeking religious truth from his contemporary priests and preachers, heard a voice telling him, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to your condition." He concluded that Christ was "come to teach his people himself," from within each person, so that the goal of Fox's preaching became directing people to heed "their teacher within." Hence the movement that later took shape around Fox's leadership was explicitly Christian, but Christian in a way that many outsiders felt to be heretical or even blasphemous.

Other Christian sects insisted that what Friends called "The Light" was not Christ, that what Friends turned to for religious guidance was "merely a natural light" like their own reason or conscience, not at all the man once called "Jesus." Early Friends, including Fox, insisted that they were meeting with Christ Himself, while other churches were simply idolizing their own religious notions.

It can be difficult to understand the disagreement; it's now commonplace for modern preachers to tell their audiences to "look for Jesus in your heart." But opponents could easily misinterpret  a significant universalist element of Quaker Christianity. The "mystical" depiction of Jesus in the Book of John appealed to early Friends greatly, and Fox was utterly literal in his belief that "Christ enlightens every [one] who comes into the World." This had to mean "everyone"; this had to include people born long before Jesus as well as vast multitudes since then who'd never heard of him. It isn't immediately obvious that "Christ" is the same as a certain 2000-year-old Messianic contender, but wasn't that the ancient Christian understanding?

A wide range of different terms for "Christ" (or "God at work in us", as the Episcopalian William Stringfellow once defined the term) was common among Friends from the beginning. Generally this was handled in a respectful, nonjudgmental spirit, as in the basic rule of discourse at Pendle Hill (a Quaker study & publishing center): "Speak in the religious language that comes most naturally to you; seek to understand other people's statements according to the meaning they intend.") When many Friends sought to impose statements of what was (or wasn't) correct Quaker doctrine about Jesus, in the early 19th Century, American Friends split apart into several groups, no longer mutually hostile but upholding their differences to this day.

There is a persistent feeling (and not just among explicit "Christians") that modern Friends could benefit from a deeper study of Jesus, his role in human history, and the various messages attributed to him. Some of us may have been too easily content with superficial interpretations... but see this.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

American Friends Service Committee

The American Friends Service Committee (commonly called AFSC) is not directly part of any Quaker religious body, but was founded by Quakers and continues to do humanitarian work in accord with essential Quaker principles.

It began in World War I as an effort to help young conscientious objectors find ways to serve without joining the military or taking lives.  They drove ambulances, ministered to the wounded, and stayed on in Europe after the armistice to rebuild war-ravaged communities
Following that modest beginning, AFSC has responded in numerous ways to human suffering such as:
  • Feeding thousands of children in Germany and Austria after World War I,
  • Helping distressed Appalachian mining communities find alternative means to make a living in the 1930s,
  • Negotiating with the Gestapo in Germany to aid Jewish refugees,
  • After World War II, sending aid teams to India, China, and Japan,
  • Giving aid to civilians on both sides of the Vietnam War and providing draft counseling to thousands of young men,
  • Sponsoring conferences for young diplomats in emerging African democracies,
  • Establishing economic development programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America from the 1970s to the present,
  • Providing extensive support to the modern U.S. civil rights movement and public school desegregation,
  • Working with numerous communities such as Native Americans, immigrants, migrant workers, prisoners, and low-income families on education and justice issues,
  • Building peaceful communities all over the world.
In 1947, along with British Quakers, the American Friends Service Committee received the Nobel Peace Prize which recognized our work “…from the nameless to the nameless….”

This information is from their website at

Their work in San Diego is focused on the San Diego U.S.-Mexico Border Program
 which since its founding in 1977 (then led by Roberto Martinez) has diligently been documenting and working here to mitigate the impact of unjust public policies on migrants and border communities.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Personal Relationships (Advices & Queries for June)

In daily relationships with others, both inside and outside the home, our lives as Friends speak immediately and lastingly. In these relationships, our faith may be severely tested. We are called to respond to that of God in everyone; we are all children of God.

Friends celebrate any union that is dedicated to mutual love and respect, regardless of the unique make-up of the family. We strive to create homes where the Spirit of the Divine resides at the center and where the individual genius of each member is respected and nurtured.

Human sexuality is a divine gift, forming part of the complex union of body, mind and spirit that is our humanity. In a loving adult relationship in a context of mutual responsibility, sexuality brings delight, fulfillment and celebration.

The presence of children carries a special blessing as well as responsibility. Children bring unique spiritual gifts-- wonder, resiliency, playfulness and more. Recognize and honor the Divine Light within children and treat them with the dignity and respect that is due all people. Listen to and learn from children; share with them those values and practices that are central to our own lives. Special care must be given to resolving problems between adults and children in a manner that gives equal weight to the feelings and needs of both adults and children. Tender parenting is one of the critically important peace vocations in our society. Make every effort to offer all parents the personal and institutional support that this challenging work requires.

Take a strong stand against any form of abuse, whether that abuse is minor or severe, and whether it is emotional, physical or sexual in nature. The terrible impact of abuse on the most vulnerable members of our families creates lifelong suffering for its victims and is a major source of violence in our society. Perpetrators are themselves usually victims of similar violence and should be approached with compassion as well as firmness.

Do I make my home a place of friendliness, joy, and peace, where residents and visitors feel God's presence?

Are my sexual practices consistent with my spiritual beliefs and free of manipulation and exploitation?

What barriers prevent me from responding openly and lovingly to each person?

Do we open our thoughts, beliefs, and deep understandings to our children and others who share our lives and our hospitality?

Do we provide our children and young adults with a framework for active, ongoing participation in the Meeting?

Stewardship and Vocation (Advices & Queries for May)

John Woolman said, "As Christians all we possess are the gifts of God... To turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of Universal Love becomes the business of our lives." The principle of stewardship applies to all we have and are. As individuals, we are called to use our time, our various abilities, our strength, our money, and our material possessions with care, managing them wisely and sharing them generously.

From the indwelling seed of God, we discover our particular gifts and discern the service to which we are called. In making choices about occupation or education, consider the way that offers the fullest opportunity to develop your individual abilities and contribute to the world community while providing for yourself and your family. In daily work, manifest a spirit of justice and understanding, and thus give a living witness to the truth.

Be ready to limit engagements, to withdraw for a time, or even to retire from an activity that inhibits your ability to follow a higher call. Try to discern the right moment to accept new responsibilities as well as to relinquish responsibility that can pass to others. Be open to your calling in different stages of life. Meetings need the strength and vigor of young people as well as the experience and wisdom of elders. Although they may not be able to contribute great financial support, their energy and insight invigorate the community. As people begin careers and families, they may need the spiritual and experienced help of the Meeting. Later, when families are growing up and careers are established, greater participation in the Meeting and greater financial support may become possible. Welcome the approach of old age, your own and others', as an opportunity for wisdom and greater attachment to the Light. Meetings should be ready with material and spiritual support for those suffering from unemployment or facing difficult financial decisions.

How have I been faithful to the leadings of the Spirit in choosing work or vocation?

What am I doing with my talents, time, money, and possessions? Am I sharing them according to the Light I am given?

Is my conduct at the workplace consistent with my life as a Friend?

How does my daily work enhance my spiritual life?

How does the Meeting help and support members who are in job transitions?

[next month's queries]

Harmony With Creation (Advices & Queries for April)

It would go a long way to caution and direct people in their use of the world, that they were better studied and knowing in the Creation of it. For how could [they] find the confidence to abuse it, while they should see the Great Creator stare them in the face, in all and every part thereof?
[William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude

God is revealed in all Creation. We humans belong to the whole interdependent community of life on earth. Rejoice in the beauty, complexity, and mystery of creation, with gratitude to be part of its unfolding. Take time to learn how this community of life is organized and how it interacts. Live according to principles of right relationship and right action within this larger whole.

Be aware of the influence humans have on the health and viability of life on earth. Call attention to what fosters or harms earth's exquisite beauty, balances and interdependencies. Guided by Spirit, work to translate this understanding into ways of living that reflect our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

In what ways do I express gratitude fo the wondrous expressions of life on Earth?

Do I consider the damage I might do to the Earth's vulnerable systems in choices I make of what I do, what I buy, and how I spend my time?

In our witness for the global environment, are we careful to consider justice and the well-being of the world's poorest people?

Does our way of life threaten the viability of life on Earth?

[next month's queries]