Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Barclay on Titles, Compiments and Language

Barclay claims that it is not lawful for Christians to give or receive titles such as “Your Holiness,” “Your Majesty,” “Your Excellency” and so on. He gives six reasons for this. (The man really loves lists.) The reasons are:

  1. The titles are not part of the obedience that is required of us. Obedience lies in the obeying of just and lawful commands.

  2. Titles like this are not used in Scripture.

  3. It requires Christians to lie if the person referred to as “Your Excellency” is not excellent, or if “Your Grace” appears to ge the enemy of grace or if “Your Honor” is not honorable.

  4. The terms “Your Holiness” or “Your Grace” should not apply only the pope and to bishops but should refer to all Christians.

  5. In the Bible, Majesty is only ascribed to God. The only king in the Bible who took such a title was Nebuchadnezzar and he was punished for it.

  6. We are to seek the honor which comes from above and not that which comes from below.

Likewise he felt that using flattering terms such as “Your humble servant.” when one was neither the servant of the other, nor humble, was lying. He found this supported by the words of Elihu in Job 32:21-22.

He also rejects using the plural forms of address (you, your) to address an individual. The individual should be addressed with singular forms (thou, thine). The English language has resolved this issue by converting the plural forms into singular as well. Barclay's arguments are mostly grammatical but he does notice an unintended consequence of this usage. If ones betters are referred to as you and ones lessors are referred to in the singular, you end up using the same singular forms to refer to God and your servants.

Finally he rejects all sorts of bowing and scraping and prostrating oneself before another person. We are called to bow and kneel before God. If we use this same respect for other men, what respect do we have to show God? Peter refused to let Cornelius bow or worship him. Are the current popes better than Peter? The angels in Revelation refused to let John bow down and worship them saying, “We are but fellow servants.”

Barclay and the early Friends opposed these customs because they were rooted in pride and vanity. As I have thought about this it has become clear to me that these customs also reinforced the idea that financial or social station reflect our value as people. Friends were witnessing to the equality of everyone before God. (It should be noted that this means that, without the work of the Spirit in us, that we are all equally unworthy before God.) Social rank or economic standing are accidents of birth or circumstance. What is important is our relationship to God. Do we live lives that reflect that relationship? Are we faithful in followings the promptings of the Spirit.

It appears to be a longstanding human failing to conflate material and social status with spiritual status. Or at least it is a failing of those who are doing well. Reinforcing this view, of course, helps to establish and maintain the legitimacy of the existing social and economic order. Today in the United States this myth is still alive and well in the “American Dream” and the myth of the self-made man. People are prosperous because they worked hard and deserve it. This not only justifies the position of the rich but it implies that if you aren't rich, it is somehow your fault. And since anyone can become rich, any move to reduce inequality can be seen as a move against our own self-interest because, of course, someday we will all be rich. At least that is what the prophets of the “Name it and Claim it” Gospel of Prosperity would have you believe. But Jesus did not come to be with the well-off. His ministry was to the poor, the powerless and the outcast. Refusing hat honor and using plain language spoke to Jesus's reality, that all people, even the “expendable” ones, are equally important before God. What might an equivalent practice look like today?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Proposition 15 - Simplicity

Now I am going to return to Barclay. I am jumping way ahead to the Fifteenth Proposition. This proposition is sometimes referred to “Vain and Empty Customs and Pursuits.” It was originally titled “Concerning Salutations and Pursuits.” It is the last proposition and the last part of this last section is where Barclay delves into the Peace Testimony. The reason for jumping ahead to this is because the First Day School here at Fresh Pond Meeting is going to be spending the next year exploring the testimony on Simplicity. We intend to start by looking at the testimony itself and where it arose from. Then later in the year we will look at what it means to live in a rich country in a world where poverty is common. Finally we will look at the implications of our way of life on the environment. Along the way we intend to get the kids involved in planning and undertaking one or more service projects related to this theme. This idea of carrying a major theme through the year is an experiment for us. We will see how it goes. If anyone has ideas for resources that would be appropriate feel free to mention them in the comments. So I am going to explore what Barclay had to say as a way of providing background information for our First Day School teachers.

The entire chapter can be found here. The text of the proposition alone can be found here. The following is my paraphrase of the proposition:

The chief purpose of religion is to redeem people from the spirit and vain manner of living of this world and to lead them to inward communion with God. If we always have reverence for God, we will be considered happy. Therefore all of the vain customs and habits of the world are to be rejected by all who have come to this reverence before God. Taking off ones hat to a man and bowing and cringing before another and similar customs and formalities were invented by man to feed his pride and vanity. Plays, frivolous recreations, sorts and games were invented to pass away our precious time and divert the mind from the witness of God in our heart. The spirit that Christians should live in leads to sobriety, gravity and reverence. As we live in this spirit, God will bless our actions taken to provide for the sustenance of our outward person.

Barclay goes on to say that there are a number of things which other Christians may claim to be lawful but which Quakers have found that God has ordered them to lay aside. These things make it obvious that one is a Quaker so we cannot hide ourselves without being unfaithful to our testimony.

In later periods, the Quaker distinctives came to be seen as part of the hedge that separated and protected Friends from the world. But originally they were a testimony against the spirit of the world. They served to mark Friends so that they could not hide from persecution. Quite the opposite of being a hedge against the world, they often served to provoke the world. They also marked Friends so that any failing of theirs would reflect badly on the entire movement. There was no opportunity to go off somewhere and engage in some anonymous carousing or blowing off steam.

Barclay identifies six things that Friends considered unlawful for them.

1)It is not lawful for Christians to give men flattering titles like “Your Excellency” or to use those flattering words commonly called compliments.
2)It is not lawful for a Christian to kneel or bow or uncover the head to any man.
3)It is not lawful for a Christian to use superfluities in dress as they serve no purpose but ornament and vanity.
4)It is not lawful to use games, sports, plays or comedies among Christians under the the guise of recreation. All activities that do not agree with Christian silence, gravity and sobriety should be avoided.
5)It is not lawful for Christians to swear, either vainly or in a court of law.
6)It is not lawful for Christians to resist evil or to war or fight in any case.

I will look at the specifics of these in later posts.

Barclay then goes on to some general points. The first is that these ideas do not mean that they intend to destroy relationships in which there is unequal power. In Barclay's words, “I would not have any judge, that hereby we intend to destroy the mutual relation, that either is betwixt prince and people, master and servants, parents and children, nay not at all.” When Margaret Fell and her household converted to Quakerism, she remained the mistress of the house and the servants remained the servants. Quakerism might bring us to a new relationship with God but it did not change our social relationships. What Friends objected to were those customs which implied that people in more powerful positions were in some way better than those with less power.

Likewise he made it clear that they were not economic levellers. Their vision of primitive Christianity revived did not include the communalism of the Jerusalem church where all things were held in common. In part this was to distinguish themselves from groups like the Diggers. Gerard Winstanley, one of the leaders of the Diggers, or the True Levellers, maintained that private property was a result of the Fall of Adam. He claimed that by renouncing private property he had come into the state of Adam before the Fall. One will note that this is exactly the same language that George Fox used to describe his spiritual condition. (A good source of information on the radical movements of the 17'th century can be found here.). Quakers managed to get themselves into enough trouble without being confused with other troublemaking groups with similar language.

Barclay says “Our principle leaves every man to enjoy that peaceably, which either his own industry or parents have purchased to him, only he is thereby instructed to use it aright, both for his own good and that of his brethren, and all to the glory of God.” He recognized that God had chosen to distribute his creation unequally, allowing some to use more and giving some less. He notes that, due to the accident of our birth and station, that some things may be lawful or helpful to one and not another. For instance, a man born to wealth could wear better clothes and eat well and, if he was not squandering his money and was moderate in what he did, he would be doing no wrong. In fact, if after being accustomed to this life, if he were to dress and eat as a peasant, he might damage his own physical health and gain no benefit for his soul. On the other hand, a person of limited means who spent beyond his means to the detriment of his family to have the same food and clothing as the richer man would be going against the dictates of God. He called the person of high degree to watch over themselves that they use their wealth moderately and avoid superfluities so they can better help those in need. Those of a lesser estate he encouraged them to be content with their station and not envy those with more. Rather they should recognize the abundance that they are receiving inwardly. By living simply they would walk more closely the path followed by the disciples of Christ and would become better examples to the world. By following this path, Friends would be drawn away from the love and cares of this world, even while active in it, as effectively as those who had shut themselves up in cloisters and monasteries.

Simplicity serves two purposes. First it is a witness against pride and vanity in the world. But more importantly, the process of outward simplification also helps draw the inward person away from the cares of the world and towards an inner life more focused on God.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Be careful what you say

I think that this will be the last of my ruminations on New England Yearly Meeting Sessions. When I started this blog I said that I wanted it to be a place where people from all parts of the Society of Friends could come and explore the historical roots and beliefs of our society. I have held a concern for a while now that our claim to have a peace testimony to the world rings rather hollow if we have not found ways to resolve the conflicts between the various branches of Friends. I believe that early Friends had a powerful message and they witnessed to it with their lives. With the schisms among Friends, not only has our fellowship been broken but the message has been broken as well. Each branch has held onto some piece of the original message. We need to come together, not just because the Love of Christ requires it of us, but because we have a message that the world needs to hear today just as much as it did 350 years ago. Until we can speak again in unity or voice will be easily drowned out by the clamor of the world. I helped to lead a workshop on applying the Friends peace testimony to NEYMs relationship with FUM.

By now I should know to be careful about what I say and the concerns I raise because God will take me up on it. It happened again. I was asked to serve as one of the NEYM representatives to the FUM General Board. As I sat with this at sessions I found myself coming increasingly under the weight of this request. FUM is going through a difficult time right now. Much of the senior staff has resigned in the past year. There are serious financial difficulties. A number of the Yearly Meetings that are affiliated with both FUM and FGC have raised concerns about sexual ethics portion of the FUM personnel policy. Any one of these issues presents serious difficulties. All of them together makes for an incredibly delicate situation. I hope that I may be of some service but I have also been known to come into situations with all of the delicacy of a bull in a china shop. This will be certainly an opportunity for me to grow.

New England Yearly Meeting is one of the founding members of FUM. We have been actively involved in it and its work from the beginning. Eli and Sybil Jones who founded the Ramallah Friends School were from New England. Over the past 15 years or so, New England has developed a close relationship with Cuba Yearly Meeting as a result of an ongoing program of intervisitation. James and Eden Grace from New England are currently serving as FUM staff in Kenya. At the same time many Friends in New England are concerned about FUM policies that are seen to be discriminatory against gays and lesbians. As a yearly meeting that has been amply blessed by the gifts and work of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and queer Friends this causes us much pain. As a representative I will have to carry this pain and these concerns with me when I go to board meetings. At the same time I will have to represent FUM to NEYM. And as a board member I will also have to act in the best interests of FUM.

LizOpp in The Good Raised Up had some good things to say about the importance of Love. So Friends, pray for me that I may be faithful, for FUM that it may be healed and for all of us that we might grow in Love.