Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why I'm Quaker

Gregg Koskela has written his "Top Ten Reasons I'm a Quaker" and his reasons are similar to mine, but not identical, so I thought I'd write down the reasons I became Quaker, and why I enjoy being Quaker.

As you'll see, I came up with six reasons, not ten, which seemed like a good enough number to me. And you'll also see some connections between the reasons. That's okay with me also.

In no particular order:

Universalism - I have always been disturbed by the notion that some people will be "saved" by God (whatever that might mean) and others damned, and that the key to salvation/damnation is the right religion, or the right baptism, or the right lifestyle. It was therefore a relief to join a group that is very spiritual, with strong feelings of their own, who nevertheless believe that there is "something of God" in everyone, and do not claim any exclusivity to divine inspiration or salvation.

Continuing Revelation - I have also been very puzzled for most of my life by the notion that God spoke to ancient Hebrews, and spoke to Jesus and the apostles, but suddenly decided to draw a line across the page at the end of John's Revelation and has been mum for the almost 2,000 years since then. So it was, once again, a relief to find a group that believed that continuing direct revelation from God was not only possible, but should be considered normal and not necessarily symptomatic of a serial killer.

I also like the idea that there is a body of religious thought to which I can contribute. A by-product of the belief in continuing revelation is the accumulation of a Quaker literature which is not the product of professional theologians but of "ordinary" Quakers who have been inspired to write down their thoughts about God, Jesus, scripture, and Quaker faith and practices. Because the most important qualification is inspiration from God, and in the Quaker view of the world all are equally qualified, the Quaker "theology" that exists is extremely egalitarian and accepts contributions from all.

Walking the Walk - One of the truly wonderful things to me about Quakers is that they not only "talk the talk" about their relationship to God, but that they also "walk the walk" in trying to put their beliefs about God, and the teachings of Jesus, into their day-to-day lives. The clearest example of this are the Quaker "Testimonies," which are not "testimonies" in words but testimonies in how we live our lives. (I.e., "Let your life speak.") Another example is the strong social and political activism of Quakers, who have a political impact that is very much disproportionate to their actual numbers.

The testimonies have become a comfort to me, because I find that they give me an excuse to do (or not do) the things I wanted to do (or not do) anyway. So, when I want to avoid a party or other frivolous event, when I want to get rid of some stuff I no longer have any use for, or when I want to buy clothes that are practical and comfortable (and even inexpensive) but not necessarily stylish, I can cite the Quaker testimony of simplicity as my justification. When I want to express myself in a non-tactful way, I fall back on the testimony of integrity. When I look in the bushes for cans and bottles, it's not because I'm obsessive-compulsive but because of the testimony of stewardship for the earth and its resources. The testimonies therefore provide me with a (relatively) guilt-free lifestyle I can enjoy.

Decision-Making - I still enjoy Quaker decision-making, as time-consuming and frustrating as it can be, because I have found that the need for unity, and the resulting need to listen to and take into account the thoughts of all of the members, produces better and more positive decisions than can be produced by a mere majority.

Listening - Because of both the decision-making process and the belief that there is something of God in each of us, Quakers seem to spend more time truly listening to each other than any group I have ever experienced. And when I say "listening" I don't mean being quiet while the other person talks but truly concentrating on what the other person is saying in order to understand the other person's point of view. To me, it is a very loving act to listen to another person's point of view, and so I see the ability of Quakers to listen to each other as a continuing expression of love for each other.

Silence - And I enjoy the silence. Even the brief silences that begin and end most gatherings of Quakers outside of meeting for worship (e.g., committee meetings) are a welcome pause in the day to gather my thoughts and give thanks for where I am, what I'm doing, and how I'm feeling. In a world where multi-tasking is becoming the norm, some periods of no-tasking are very welcome.

1 comment:

Liz Opp said...


This part holds deep resonance for me. Thank you for taking the time to articulate it:

Listening in order to understand another person's point of view, which is "a continuing expression of love for each other."

It's true: when I change my intention from "listening in order to respond" to "listening in order to see the world/concern/topic through their eyes," a new conversation has the opportunity to break through.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up