Saturday, 13 January 2007

Quakers & Christianity

There are Quakers who say, “I’m a Christian” and there are Quakers who say, “I’m not a Christian”. There are also Quakers who say, “I’m not a Christian, but….” And Quakers who say, “ I am a Christian, but…”. I’m one of those last ones – a fFriend put it nicely when she described her Quakerism as “a different kind of Christianity”.

I do think there was a man called Jesus who preached in the Middle East about 2000 years ago.
I don’t know whether Jesus was the son of God, more than I am God’s child and we all are, but I don’t think that knowing the answer to that is the most important thing.

My Christianity is based on general principles, rather than on specific doctrines or beliefs: it seems, and feels, right to me to try and base my actions on the advice of someone who said “love one another”, “do not judge other people” and “love your enemy”.

In the past, I’ve had difficulty deciding what I believe about various stories and points of theology, and I still haven’t found many answers. Instead, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t matter whether the stories in the bible are facts or allegories. If they’re not ‘gospel truth’, it doesn’t make them any less important: I once read that allegories and parables are designed “to distract us while the truth slips in through a back window”.

I don’t think the bible was put together so that we could bicker for centuries about the likelihood of the world being made in seven days, or of virgin births or of bodily resurrection after death – I think its function is to inspire those who read it to live their lives in a loving, creative, compassionate and thoughtful way.

My aim is to live in the spirit of Christ: as it is expressed in Advices & Queries: “…to find inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus”. This doesn’t mean I can’t also find inspiration in the teachings of other faiths, and of people with no defined faith, but it gives me something to come home to.

Monday, 1 January 2007

Certainty and Uncertainty

Life is full of uncertainty. There is very little that is totally sure (‘death and taxes’?) Each time we say goodbye to a friend we hope to see them again – next day, next week, next month, next year…. But all sorts of unforeseen things can intervene. For that reason, I rather like the old-fashioned phrase ‘God willing’, which people used to attach to remarks about or plans for the future. I don’t speak the phrase out loud: it is unspoken but understood.

I rather think that people sometimes turn to religion (or stay within a religious tradition) because of the desire for certainty. For example, if you are good – you will go to heaven. That’s nice. That solves the biggest uncertainty of all – what happens after this life? Or the way religion usually lays down rules, and sets out dogma – which you can’t question. That’s just the way it is.

If you come to Quakers you won’t find this kind of certainty. People who find that a Quaker meeting is a place where they are spiritually ‘comfortable’ are probably people who have a certain ability to tolerate uncertainty, to be prepared to ‘go with the flow’, but also to enjoy exploring unknown territory.

Our meeting for worship is new and different every time. That is such a wonderful exciting feeling: that the meeting will be alive and dynamic and evolve according to the way the Spirit leads us and speaks through individuals in the meeting. Or it could be totally silent, as the group sits together, sharing a rich and deep experience of stillness and peace.

For all of the ‘uncertainty’ around in a Quaker meeting, it still often can meet the needs of people who have been buffeted by life’s problems and troubles. It doesn’t provide the sure promises that some other churches may do (‘If you believe in such and such, you will be saved….’ Whatever that means.) But I think there are some certainties which are worth identifying.
You would be welcomed warmly.
You would be accepted and valued, as you are.
You would experience a sense of safety and security. (To me it can feel like a safe harbour, for a storm-tossed boat…)
You would be challenged, inspired and uplifted by the ‘ministry’ that you heard.
You would learn that it doesn’t matter if you cannot respond positively to each and every ‘ministry’ – but it may be speaking directly to the heart of someone else in the group.
You would find a very varied, interesting and kind bunch of people, a true worshipping community, which also offers all sorts of further activities for those who want them.
No doubt there are other certainties too. I can only speak for myself, that I am certain it does me good to come to Meeting and I am certain it is a community that would meet the spiritual needs of many others, if only they knew about us.