Tuesday, October 28, 2008

To know as we are known

I trust that Parker Palmer will not mind my using his title for this post. I have a great deal of difficulty in determining a good title for each posting. Finding the "right" words remains a real challenge for me. My sentiments were once expressed in a couple of "Haiku" that I wrote. Haiku is in quotes because I know these are not true Haiku. However, for my more analytically inclined mind:
Simplicity is
A thought of five, seven and
Five syllable lines.

Expressions on paper
are still portraits of a mind
that is yet growing

Writing is etching
My innermost thoughts in a
Solid frozen trap.

Often I do feel trapped by my inadequacy/inability to put my beliefs, experiences, and thoughts into words.
Thus the title for my last blog "First Unknown Guide" may have given a different interpretation than the one meant. In response to a comment: Yes, I do believe in "God." However, I do not "know" who or what God is. Over the years there have been times that I have tended to avoid the use of the words God or Christ because I knew I did NOT mean what others were describing. I will give a few examples of my experiences and then try to give some expression to what I believe "God is."

I do NOT believe in God the Creator in the way that those who believe in Creationism or Intelligent Design do. I do not believe that the Genesis storIES describe historical FACTS in the way that many do. Genesis 1 and 2 give two different sequences of Creation which are mutually exclusive. One places Adam BEFORE plants and animals and THEN Eve is made from Adam. My view is that this was a cultural description of the way the world/society IS (at the time of the writing). Man was the "master" of gathering plants and hunting animals while Woman was to keep the "home fires burning" for him and to provide future generations. The other Creation story tries to describe the natural world as observed in relationship to people. The primary and largest factors were the earth, the sky, water, movements of the "heavens," and then the living things in an order that seemed to make sense from the human point of view with humans being the highest and some how different having the "breath of God." I strongly believe these to be true descriptions of the "human condition" as seen by the writers of Genesis.

I do NOT believe in a God that has been depicted by several "ministers of the gospel" I have known or read about who have made the following "statements:"
At the funeral of a six year old child the mother was told by the "minister" that it was a shame that the child was in hell because she had not been "saved."
My father, a minister, being told by his "fundamentalist" uncle, also a "minister," that he, my father, was going to hell because he did not have written in his Bible the DATE of his "salvation."
"God answers prayers so explicitly that if I am in a hurry I pray that God will turn the stoplights to green for me and I believe he will." (Not an exact quote, but as close as I can remember.)
God is He and sits on His throne in Heaven.
God is a She.
God is in 3 separate parts: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The hurricane was God's punishment for the sins of ...
AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality.

I DO believe that "God" is a "presence" that allows humans to make mistakes.
When I was asked "Where was God during the holocaust?" I did resort to anthropomorphism in saying: "God was there crying."
When I experienced, in a VERY few instances, a truly GATHERED meeting, God was "in the midst."
God provides strength and "power" to allow LOVE to overcome individual and group weaknesses to achieve "super"human accomplishments.
God's strength and presence was evident in Jesus' life.
The same strength and presence was and is evident in other individuals' lives. These individuals were and are not perfect but the kingdom of God became apparent as the will and intent of "God" was being done on earth in a physical way that demonstrated spiritual TRUTH and REALITY.

Some of these individuals are those who, at various times in my own search and journey, I have selected as "guides" to the path or way which I would like to follow but so often stray from. It is when I stray that I tend to look "back" to the way in which I have come and look for the "markers" left by other guides so that I may more closely follow the WAY. On only a VERY FEW occasions have I experienced the presence that shows me the way forward or leads me to a "clearing" where I can rest in the strength and power that lets me continue my search.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

First Unknown Guide

During my junior and senior years of high school my parent were Friends missionaries with Friends Africa Mission. I attended an American missionary school named Rift Valley Academy. It was several hours away by train from Kisumu the nearest "city" with train service. I was the only Friend attending and began to seriously study early Friends writing, including Barclay's Apology and George Fox's Journal. In addition I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations at least twice straight through plus other readings for class assignments. Although religious practices were not the main topic of the teenagers there, because of the variety of backgrounds and the nature of the school, we did talk about the various "rituals" and beliefs of various Protestant denominations. Being at some distance with letter writing being the only means of communications with parents, my circle of friends at the school became very close. However, it was always at the breaks for one month every 3 months that I was able to connect with my parents and was guided "gently" in Friends faith and practice while watching their faith and practice at work in interacting with the African Friends and fellow missionaries. Several situations were eye openers as to those who walked the walk but also, to my surprise (although I had witnessed some of this before being a PK, preacher's kid, and observing other minsters) those who seemed to talk the talk but clearly did NOT walk the walk.

During January and February of my Senior year, I came very close to losing my parents. Of course they did not want to bother me at school and so it was almost 2 months later when I came home I learned how close they both had been to dying. My father had a severe case of thrombo-phlebitis and with a history of heart problems could easily have "thrown a clot" and had a fatal heart attack. My mother, who very unexpectedly had become pregnant in Africa after US doctors assured her she was well passed child bearing, had an emergency C-section and it was only through very fast and furious efforts that the Dr was able to close the incision before she would die due to loss of blood. The baby was worked on by the Dr and nurse for at least 20 minutes before she took her first breath. Because of these conditions they were returning to the States while I returned to school to finish my last trimester after which I would return to the States and head for college.

As was the custom the senior class at the school took a trip to a game park in southern Kenya at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was a beautiful, wonderful, awe inspiring trip with good friends. However, one night we were sitting around a blazing campfire sharing experiences. It was a clear dark night which revealed myriads of stars that cast a soft light to the surrounding austere landscape. The campfire and my friends cast a warm glow of physical and emotional quality and security. However, a sense of being alone and lost in a “darkness” which seemed inescapable overcame me. I began to fully realize how alone I might have been with the loss of my parents and my guides. As I came closer to despair, gradually a sense of hope and light began to reach my consciousness. I heard no “voice” but clearly had a sense that I was NOT alone and that whatever happened I would always have some"one" with me.

Although I have always remembered that moment, I regret that the strength, power, and assurance that came with that experience came at a time when I was going through a series of experiences that took "precedence" and I continued much as before. After graduation just a few weeks later in August, my best friend and I traveled to Athens, Rome, and London and spent a couple of days in each place. Then I went to college after just turning 17 and became immersed in my studies.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Forest and trees

In considering my manner of blogging I have been given an image of a forest and my seeking a path or way in the forest. I am unclear as to whether my search will lead me through the forest or to a destination within the forest remains unclear. 

One of the thoughts that triggered that image was the saying "You can't see the forest for the trees or you can't see the forest for the trees." Recently, in responding to the comments of some Friends, I realized that my reaction to the disagreement on the interpretation of words or passages in the Bible and in the writings of Early Friends was one of listening to comments on the very specific nature of a relatively narrow set of specific trees. (Being of a scientific nature and continuing the imagery of a forest I repetitively, redundantly used specific (re. species)) In earlier stages of my search (quest?) I examined very closely specific interpretations of Biblical passages using a number of different sources for the literal translations of the original language and for varying interpretations of the meanings. I was, and at times still remain, a very analytical INTJ student. However, I have reached the point at which I need to see the "larger picture" of the forest from numerous perspectives and am less focused on individual specifics.

My plan and hope is to share some of the path I have traveled along the way. In doing so I wish to recognize many "guides" and guide books that have helped and/or hindered in finding my way. I believe there is one True Guide that utilizes one Voice, but I have barely, even if that, had an experience of direct contact with that still small voice. However, I firmly believe that I have met many individuals and read many "guide books" that have helped in my understanding of the Way.

In this blog, I will describe my earliest experiences with such guidance and in future blogs continue the examination of other sources. At a very young age my two guides were my mother and father. I remember them both actually and metaphorically(?) holding one of my hands as I started to learn to walk on my own. My mother remained close at hand with a gentle voice and touch as I continued to grow. My father was present but often seemed to be going ahead along a familiar path for him and with his voice he acted as a guide. (He was a Friends minister who said he never worked on Sunday and saw his "job" as working himself out of a job as others accepted their own leadership and ministry.) His voice usually was meant for a larger audience than just me, but the fact that he walked 24/7 the walk that he talked led me to pay closer attention even when I wandered away on my own for a while. It seemed that he would travel ahead and then come back to point out aspects of the way which provided assistance to my own search. As I look back over the past 60 years or so, I have grown to appreciate those signs he left and can see that the guide he was following and the still small voice he obviously heard have become signs toward the True guide and the Voice.

He and my mother introduced me to one of the best, if not the best, guide book that I have used and continue to use, the Bible. He also introduced me in my early teen years to George Fox's Journal and Barclay's Apology, but trusted me to do most of my exploration of those guide books on my own.

I began to realize the path I was seeking was one of great beauty and diversity while at the same time containing many snares, tangled underbrush, masses of brambles,  and other barriers, some of which seemed insurmountable but through which the path led.

I have many doubts about my undertaking this "journal/blog" but do have a distinct feeling of being led in this direction. By whom or toward what end is seen "through a glass (mirror?) darkly" but trust that my journey will lighten my continuing search for the Way. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seeking Quakers

As a follow up to my last blog and to provide a reason I chose SeekerQuaker as the name for this blog,  I would like to share a couple of statements made by Arthur Eddington in his 1929 Swarthmore lectures titled "Science and the Unseen World."  My attitude toward a "sureness" of what the Bible teaches or what early Friends meant is based on a seeking which I believe reflects "continuing revelation." I distrust those who proclaim that they Know what the Bible means and if we would just read the Bible the way they read it, we would know the Truth. Likewise the Truth of the early Friends is "walking the walk" in the here and now as WE, not I, are led. The "truths" of Dalton's atomic theory are now much different that he proposed and many would say he was "wrong." However, the more we uncover about the atom the more we still don't know the "Truth" about the atom but Dalton clearly was setting us on the "way to the truth" about atoms and their relationship to the physical world.  In the same manner, I believe the Old Testament, New Testament, the testimony of early Friends, and the testimony of the countless others that travel the way established by the "Giants that went before" is the Way to Truth. Nevertheless unless we travel that "living path" for ourselves, the past does not guarantee that we shall know the truth.

"In its early days our Society owed much to a people who called themselves Seekers; they joined us in great numbers and were prominent in the spread of Quakerism. It is a name which must appeal strongly to the scientific temperament.  The name has died out, but I think that the spirit of seeking is still the prevailing one in our faith, which for that reason is not embodied in any creed or formula"

"Rejection of creed is not inconsistent with being possessed by a living belief. We have no creed in science, but we are not lukewarm in our beliefs. The belief is not that all the knowledge of the universe that we hold so enthusiastically will survive in the letter; but a sureness that we are on the road. If our so-called facts are changing shadows, they are shadows cast by the light of constant truth. So too in religion we are repelled by that confident theological doctrine which has settled for all generations just how the spiritual world is worked; but we need not turn aside from the measure of light that comes into our experience showing us a Way through the unseen world.  Religion for the conscientious seeker is not all a matter of doubt and self-questionings.  There is a kind of sureness which is very different from cocksureness."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Scientific Quakers

Having just read Karen Armstrong's new book "The Bible," I was reminded of George Fox's comment: "This I knew experimentally." I believe most Friends would tend to substitute "experientially" for experimentally. However, I think Fox might have used the word intentionally and in its modern meaning. Francis Bacon was fairly well known in English circles of the early 1600's as a "counsellor" to King James I. He stressed the need to examine all things by the "stringent methods of empirical science." Fox as a seeker may well have become aware of Bacon's ideas as he struggled to find answers. Fox also may have understood his observations and experiences as a means of gathering empirical evidence. 

Fox and Isaac Newton lived in the same general area of England at the same time in the last half of the seventeenth century. It is entirely plausible that, although they may not have met, they were aware of each other's ideas.

Many Friends followed in their search for answers within both the scientific and religious areas. Dalton, an Englishman not too far removed in place and time from Newton, was convinced that there were only a discrete limited number of simple "objects" which gave rise to the great diversity of all things in nature. His "atomic theory" seems to have been derived from a vast number of empirical/experimental observations and a grasp of understanding an unseen world which at its base was very simple. 

In the decades and centuries following Fox, the portion of well known scientists who were Friends at some point in their lives is far greater than that of Friends in the general population. 

My own personal search for truth and reality has included being a student of science with a growing awareness of "The more I know; the more I know I don't know." This opening of further awaiting insights and mystery is analogous to my spiritual search in that the more "sure" I become of the strength and power of Truth and Reality, the more I am convinced that I am only a novice at understanding, but I am also more and more convinced that "This I know experimentally."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fund Raising for Friends

The functions of this blog includes the expression of my experiences and the effects on my search. One of the "in the world but not of the world" realities which of necessity has been major factors in my dealings with Friends' institutions is Fund Raising. I have experienced 2 rather opposite attitudes on the part of Friends schools. 

One was that first and foremost a private school is a BUSINESS and the bottom line is the major factor in decisions. Secondly a Friends School is a school. In addition, by the way this is a school known as a Friends School so we need to provide at least some aspects that might be called "Quakerly." I understand that a private school has to involve business sense and academic excellence. However, as a Friends school this should not involve exclusiveness by only accepting students who are already excellent students nor by providing preference to people who not only can afford the fairly high tuition but can also be financial benefactors to the school. 

On the other hand, it seems entirely too idealistic to base a Friends school on three principles which "sound" good but show no "common sense." The 3 principles, established by a Board of Directors, in order of importance were 1) Completely tuition dependent so that no fund raising would need to be done; 2) Low tuition to provide an opportunity for more people to afford an alternative education; 3) To insure as much diversity as possible, a very high rate of scholarships for those who can't afford full tuition.  I believe the intent was Friendly in trying to provide an excellent education to as many students as possible. However, the assumption required the facility to be essentially bare and for the faculty to be essentially volunteers.

It seems self-evident that the first situation provided the basis for a successful private school, but probably one that could be called elite and exclusive.  The school continues to be well established.

The second situation led to a lack of support for administrative attempts to develop fund raising even among the Board itself and among the constituency of Friends. This school survived for 7 years at a very high cost to faculty and administrators who eventually were unable to continue financially or in a sense of trust in support for the school.

In my first few blogs, I am unable or (unwilling(?)) to separate the highly influential "physical" events from my spiritual search. However, these events have only reaffirmed my commitment to a search for the spiritual power and strength that has been found by many seekers and led them to lives that expressed the Love of God and of Neighbor.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Biblical Truth

I think the early 19th century split(s) among Friends led to the "two" sides continuing to widen their differences and diverge from the center. As a student of science I see this as a division between 2 similar poles (of the Christian spectrum) of a magnet which creates a repelling effect. In the specific example of the view on the authority of the Bible, I think this is quite clear. Early Friends seem to have a fairly balanced view that the written word and spiritual experience were of the same Word. However, as the more urban Friends became much more associated with the culture of "Mainline Protestants" and sought a clearer source of direction among the different influences in an urban setting, the tendency was to emphasize a common source that was easily identifiable. The rural Friends, on the other hand, tended to rely more on a common experience which they shared in their community and was less "formal" and more individual. 

This has led to the relatively extreme views among current Friends. On one hand we have those that take the "Bible" as literally true in its entirety. This includes justification for war since the Lord commanded "his people to destroy the enemy," and the acceptance of the creation stories as literally true. I find it sadly ironic that the more loudly some Friends call themselves Christians the more they seem to emphasize the ultimate authority of the "Old Testament" and seem to be less literal about the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25.

However, on the other hand there are Friends who seem to pride themselves on not referring to the "Bible," but prefer to speak of the "I Ching," Buddhist writings, Jewish mystics, etc. as a source for their spiritual leadings. In extreme, this is taken as "whatever."

I find great truths in the writings of many religions and spiritual groups. I also believe that the Word of these truths is "Truth." I find a strong reliance on the "Word" of the Gospels in early Friends and I continue to find much enlightenment from studying the Bible. I find the call of "DO UNTO OTHERS" a profound responsibility and often find a passive reassurance in not doing to others what you do not want done to yourself.

Some of my reluctance to blogging is knowing where to end each "blog" as while expressing ideas I usually make connections which sometimes lead to better and more expressive ideas, but, at least as often if not more so, lead to being repetitively redundant ;-} or getting into lots of particulars that seem detractions and distractions from the more spiritual leadings. For example, the question arises on the literalness of Genesis. What was the order of creation? Plants, animals, and then man and woman, or was it Adam, plants, animals, and then Eve? From my perspective, they WERE both true. The first chapter describes the complexity of the natural physical world as seen by humans. The second chapter describes the social order of the time about which it was written. MAN was the master of gathering and hunting, and WOMAN was subordinate to MAN and took care of the immediate family and household.



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Well, here goes

I have decided to take the plunge and join the blogging world. I still have some misgivings about sending out missives. "I shot an arrow into the sky. I have no idea where it will land." My major themes will tend to be related to Quaker history and current thought, but my view derives from my experiences as a lifelong Friend who has worked with all 5 major categories of Friends in America, as well as those in Jamaica and Kenya, and occupied an endowed chair in Friends "Faith and Practice."  I also have studied and taught various sciences, "world religions," Biblical texts, Quaker History, and a series of courses I called "Search for Truth and Reality."

I hope to share as the "spirit leads" and the "way opens." I currently am intrigued by "convergent Friends," "universalist Friends," and many of the distractions/divisions evident in the various "brands" of Friends in the world.

I know this sounds like I obviously will overextend my knowledge and experiences. However, I feel led to continue my journey of examination of my own life and learning while sharing these explorations and leaving the results to the spirit of Christ which I understand to be available and working with everyone regardless of the "name" used for ultimate truth and reality