I would be the worst Quaker – sitting still in silence is really challenging for this ADHD blessed individual. My prayer time is almost all about movement – I would be really good at doing the Muslim thing 5 times a day (stand, kneel, bow, sing, chant, repeat). Silent sitting? Not really my gig. Still, I love the Quaker way of being – of centering and waiting for the Spirit to move each person – of listening intently instead of formulating ideas while ignoring what others are saying. Quaker’s rock. Quietly.
When I attended Wilmington College in Ohio, I had no experience of Quakers other than the guy on the oats cylinder. I figured that, being a Religion & Philosophy major, I would learn some Quaker stuff, but the rest would be pretty much like everyplace else. Nope – not even close. Without knowing it, I had set myself up for the future – I learned about all religious traditions while most other R & P majors were sticking to the history of Christendom in Europe. I was being educated for the new reality of multi-religious conversation and understanding (or lack of it). I understood the difference between Sunni and Shiite when most people hadn’t even heard of them. I saw the connection between Hinduism and the Trinity. My professors weren’t afraid to teach us about different religions – they relished it!
The Quakers I met were also some of the best Christians I had ever encountered. They took Jesus seriously – not the made-up white warrior Jesus of mainline Protestantism, but the peace-loving, yet intense rabbi who got frustrated with humanity on a regular basis. Their Jesus was emotional, yet deeply spiritual, and while many did not think of Him as God incarnate, many did. Differences of opinion were allowed. The spiritual fire that had burned in their founder, George Fox, was sought after and explored, not extinguished for enlightenment thinking. They combined the heart and the head, trying to balance the Mary and Martha conflict that so many of us have difficulty reconciling. They considered education to be of the utmost value, and for a small sect, have contributed beyond expectations in that category.
So, when I got involved with the ecumenical community, I was astonished by how many Christians refused to allow Quakers in. The reasons were simple: Quakers didn’t officially believe in the divinity of Jesus, so they didn’t accept the Trinity. They also didn’t have any accepted Christian Sacraments. Before you think that is reasonable, think about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I adore the Sacraments, and not being able to celebrate Communion in church during the pandemic has left a huge hole in my spirituality. I also love doing baptisms, although most parents I have encountered do it to just “git ‘er done”, and have little interest in following through with their vows.
All of that said, I think that Paul’s willingness to dismiss the covenant of Abraham (circumcision) may, in some way, be similar to Quakers not celebrating outward signs of grace like Sacraments. Maybe there is an argument that being a Christian can be more than adhering to doctrine or rites or even (gasp!) accepting sacred, mysterious acts. I believe that Jesus is the incarnation of God, but I am not willing to judge an entire group of faithful, service-minded people based on this admittedly core concept of my faith. Maybe this is like Jesus telling the most religious people of his community that the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of God before they do. Maybe we don’t know the mind of God well enough to take the job of judge and jury.
So party on Quaker people – party on. You live the faith better than most of us. I’m rooting for you.
Prayer – Holy God, in Your mercy, we pray for open hearts and minds. Allow us to embrace the diversity of people who love You. Amen.