Sunday, 3 June 2007

What do I believe in as Quaker?

Just back from my local Meeting in Bristol which has managed to leave me puzzled. It wasn't the Ministry or embers of old friendships needing a quick rake but an innocent throwaway question to the Meeting. A member who had been at British Yearly Meeting, donated a copy of Godless for God's sake edited by David Boulton. It was clear when he said, we know what they believe but what do we believe, that it wasn't speaking to his condition! But he was serious in wanting to get some views from the Meeting in the form of a loose leaf folder for people to read as part of establishing fellowship.

I pressed for this being series of pages on a Meeting Blog but was happy to see that this could come after we have the loose sheets. In writing this, I had the vision of a series of standard questions on a single sheet to allow for a personal statement with a picture of the local Friend on the sheet.

Leaving aside trying to get the Meeting to agree and then doing it, my puzzle is what would be the questions? I seem to vaguely remember some years ago a sheet prepared by Friends House for this very purpose. And I have seen local Meetings booklets( or am I imagining this?) These are my top 10 questions but in no particular order.
  1. What's your experience, practice or views of God?
  2. What's your experience, practice or views of Jesus?
  3. What's your experience, practice or views of the Bible?
  4. What's your experience, practice or views of other faiths?
  5. What's your experience, practice or views of life after death?
  6. What's your experience, practice or views of human nature, sin and grace?
  7. What's your experience, practice or views of Church government?
  8. What's your experience, practice or views of pacifism?
  9. What's your experience, practice or views of Sacraments
  10. What's your experience, practice or views of Quaker unity?
The purpose is not to develop or work towards a creed, nor to expect a consistent Theology on these issues but to deepen understanding of where Friends in the Meeting current journeys are. Are these the right questions? Are they phrased in a clear way? What questions would you ask? What book or books* would you get me to read that explained your views the best. And how would you answer them?

* I have Barclay's Apology: In Modern English on order so I will have an "official"17th century baseline but Theology, Quakers and our understanding of the world has moved on in over 300 years.At some time I need to read this in light of such books as Honest to God edited by Colin Slee and Tomorrow's God by Lloyd Geering


Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

Wow! I love this idea, whether as a looseleaf binder or a meeting blog.

One of my few frustrations about Friends is how little time we wind up having to share these kinds of thoughts with one another.

The queries you posted here look pretty good, too, though spiritual journey stories would work for me too.

I'm going to sit with this idea for a while, and then perhaps bring it up with members of my own meeting.

What do we believe... what is our experience in Quaker practices?

Anonymous said...


Thank you for a really great and thought provoking post.

I think your queries are spot on, and something that can help bring Friends closer together. They speak to me, because I'm currently reading some short books produced by Quaker Quest - "Twelve Quakers and ..." Jesus/ God/ Worship, which deal with these sort of things.

I'm only just beginning to use my own queries, and find they are an invaluable way of delving below the surface of certain preconceptions about Quakerism. In particular, I'm using them to try and look at Advices & Queries afresh. So in effect I'm writing queries on queries!

I don't find issues of faith and belief are enagaged with much by Friends. One big problem is finding the safe space to do this. I'm sometimes a little saddened that after Meeting for Worship, Friends often seem more content to talk about the weather and have a cup of tea and a custard cream, rather than talking about spirituality.

But yes we really need to deal with the big questions that you raise in your post. Beth Allen, in her Swarthmore Lecture at BYM said exactly that - from her experience of running Quaker Quest, enquirers and seekers she said, almost demanded to know what Quakers thought about things like 'evil' and 'forgiveness'.

She also cited the book 'Godless for God's Sake' as a great 'travel document' for non-theists, and asked Friends - what would you put in your travel document?

I've not read the 'Godless ...' book, but am interested in non-theism, and David Boulton gave a talk at my Monthly Meeting a couple of weeks ago. If I'm honest I didn't find his talk as inspiring or convincing as I had hoped.

I'm currently borrowing Barclay's Apology from my Local Meeting. It's quite deep theology in places, but what I love about it, are the little glimpses that you can find that join Barclay's thought and practice together, which are really quite mystical and poetic. I shared them in a couple of posts here and here that you might be interested in.

Take care and all the best

Peace and Light


forrest said...

These are good questions, and I think a recurring effort to answer them within the group--rather than for the group--would be worthwhile.

I mean, in my yearly meeting we have a committee that recurrently works to answer these questions for our Faith-&-Practice: What do we believe as a yearly meeting?

While this must provide valuable mental exercise for the committee members, and practice at working toward a quakerly document, it's precisely the personal question of "What do I, in fact, believe?" that we need to answer for ourselves and share among us.

The (US) Pendle Hill pamphlet 'Creeds and Quakers' by Robert Griswold takes the question out of the realm of ideas-about into the realm of 'knowledge/acquaintance/connection' with the Referent behind all that-- saying that the Quaker movement traditionally refused creeds because some of us, knowing the presence of God as a reality, also knew how commonly people content themselves with beliefs about God instead.

And while our existing knowledge may be perfectly valid, I consider it vital to keep reanswering the questions, to open ourselves for God to keep renewing our minds and reforming our understanding. To find books that illuminate us and study them together with minds centered in God--which will almost certainly bring us truths from other people that we'd never imagined in our own minds.

Anna said...

I love these questions! What a great descution group this could make. I so envy you for having a Meeting that would even cosider questions like these. I would love to send a mass-mailing of these questions to every Quaker I know just to see what I got back. I think that would be fun and interesting, so maybe I'll do it. It's certianly interesting to think about these questions and see how I go about answering them myself.

Peace and Joy,

poodledoc said...

Thank you for these questions and ideas. They seem "right" questions to me. Perhaps as I go through the process of answering or trying to answer them, I'll get more clarity about the questions and what I believe as a Quaker.

jez said...

um, reads to me like you're recalling the questions they ask of people when preparing to talk at Quaker Quest. I'm meant to be answering the God one just now - I'm talking in a week in London on the subject...

in f/ship (ships a-e have already sailed)


John (@bookdreamer) said...

@jez never been on one! let me know how it goes :-)