Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Positive Faith and Practice

The last couple of weeks I have spent with my daughter, Emily, her husband, Bill, and our two GRAND children, Mary 5 and Tommy 2. There is no energy shortage in that household. I am reminded again that positive energy can be exhilirating but also exhausting. Too often I see and experience negative energy as depressing and exhausting. Although I was brought up in a "strict" household, [Do not play cards other than Rook (Boy, did I just date myself), No alcohol, No tobacco and that also meant "do not chew and don't go with girls that do,"] there always seemed to be a positive attitude toward what we should be doing and how we treat others. It was much less judgemental and much more expressing love. I have started this somewhat light-heartedly both because my current family (as well as memories of my childhood) lifts my spirits, but also to introduce some positive "spin" on the topic of "Church Discipline" or "Faith and Practice."

I saw other PKs (Preacher's Kids, I grew up in the home of a Friends Minister and Missionary) whose parent(s) usually SAID - DON'T do sin or the consequences will be severe, but who often did not express love very well and seemed to feel that they could impose on others due to their "status," and their PK became the "typical bad boy." (Obviously I don't buy the stereotype since I am one, but stereotypes usually have at least some basis in reality if not truth.)

As an adult student of religious thought and beliefs, especially those of Friends, I began to choose the Chrisitan commandments of = Love God, Love your neighbor. The "Golden Rule" of Chrisianity - Do unto others as you would have them do to you - seemed much more effective, as well as demanding, than what I understand from some of the more traditional "Eastern" (What is the best word or description?) command of - Do NOT do to others what you do NOT want done to you. This seems a subtle but powerful difference in approach to life. [I have an "Active Buddhist" friend who informed me that the positive approach is true of her Buddhist experience and she is one of the most FRIENDly people I know.]

{The "Quaker" [I am really beginning to believe we need to find a better/more descriptive "nickname" or just consistently use Friends, as confusing as that word might be for others] Testimonies recently have been referred to as not being clear enough as to their prohibitions in modern terminology as opposed to the earlier "Discipline." (M. Kelly "") I appreciate much of what Martin says but on this point I have some disagreement.}

From my perspective the positive DO is more what early Friends were about rather than the DON'T. However, others at the time saw mainly the Don'ts, but the rapid rise of the number of Friends, in my belief, was largely due to the DOs. Examples:
PEACE (Although longer, I prefer Peacemaking)- I understand this testimony to be about Love your Neighbor, Do good to others, rather than Anti-war. "Take away the occasions of war," is needed at least as much if not more than "We will not fight." Friends need to be much more about relieving poverty, hunger, greed, etc. as the cuses of war rather than being against war.
SIMPLICITY - Keep the distractions to a necessary minimum so that the trappings of this world do not interfer with our doing the will of God and being able to focus on true "Wealth" in the old manner of Well Being . Woolman's "Plea for the Poor" was much more about using our material goods to help others rather than just not having material goods.
INTEGRITY - This was much more about telling the Truth and, excuse the modern phrase, talk the Talk AND walk the Walk rather than. I don't see the testimony as much against taking oaths (although the Biblical commandment is very valid but in reality seems to be more about "what" we swear on rather than just taking an oath.) as in telling the truth and living in the Truth.
EQUALITY - My take is not so much that for "political correctness" we need to avoid discriminatory language or behavior, but that we actually recognize that of God in everyone and work toward understanding others and "bringing them to Christ and leaving them there." "Refusing Hat honor" (not tipping your hat to others) was not so much against showing respect but rather to honor all humans and to recognize the only True Authority as that of the Spirit of Christ. It is not so much reaching the Lowest Common Denominator to equalize everyone but actually believing and acting so that everyone is capable of loving and being loved.

{I have intentionally scrambled the order of these testimonies from SPICE and left out one.}

I intend to expand on my view of the testimonies in the near future. I still am very new at blogging and am not sure how much is: flow of consciousness; expressing deeply held beliefs; espousing one's point of view; dialoguing; well reasoned arguments (obviously not from this blog); or a combination of these and others.

My "aversion" to writing has been that of being able to control my own thoought process. This is evident in the various forms of parentheses that I try to use to allow others to see into that process. I tend to use { }, and I am not sure how well different these symbols are duplicated in others computers, for insider comments usually meant for those who are familiar with similar language but that others may not identify with at all. [ ] is usually taken to mean, There goes my mind again bringing in a possibly tangential idea that I see the connection but others may see as a non-sequiter. ( ) is in the form of explaining to some who may not be familiar with a phrase, concept, etc. However, I am nothing if not inconsistent. [ In teaching I always told my students that I knew they actually were getting my sense of "humor" when they groaned rather than laughed.] I have very seldom been able to make myself edit my work without adding or subtracting thoughts. {I take too literally continuing revelation in that "nothing" I say or write is ever complete or finished.}

In Peace and Friendship


  1. Hi Tom, nice to see you back.

    I continue to seek good internet discussions, preferably with Christians who are at least somewhat Quaker.  There is a strange shortage of such discussions; at least I can't often find them.  I've about given up on the liberal list I am on, where one can't even mention God without people becoming defensive and/or silly.

    You wrote, "Although I was brought up in a 'strict' household, [Do not play cards other than Rook ... No alcohol, No tobacco and that also meant "do not chew and don't go with girls that do,"] there always seemed to be a positive attitude toward what we should be doing and how we treat others. It was much less judgemental and much more expressing love."  If I have to choose between antinomian liberalism and an environment that may be a little too legalistic but emphasizes love, give me the one with love.  Perfect balances are hard to find.

    My impression is that you don't know much about early Quakers but have picked up some modern (mis)interpretations of them.  Lots of people do that, and I don't want to smother you with scholarship, but I wince a little every time you pull out a modern cliche misdescribing early Quaker principles.  I have spent a lot of time, for close to the past 40 years, with early Quaker writings, and as perhaps you know I reprint many early Quaker books under the rubric of Quaker Heritage Press.  Don't imagine that I worship early Friends and think they were necessarily right about everything, or follow them in everything--I don't.  I can see lots of problems in early Quakerism as I work on those old books.  But before one can see the problems in early Friends one has to see the early Friends.

    Early Friends did not have 4 testimonies or 5 testimonies or any number of testimonies to make up a cute little acronym.  They had only one testimony-- to the power of Christ.  They testified that Christ enabled them to keep his commandments.  (Or what they thought were his commandments, anyway!)

    The phrase "that of God" is misused more often than not by modern Quakers, and I think you've gotten your usage of it from the misusage.  For a pretty good essay on how early Friends used this expression, see Lewis Benson's 1970 paper, "That of God in Every Man: What did George Fox Mean by it?" which is online at

    "Continuing revelation" is not an early Quaker phrase, though early Friends did believe in immediate revelation and that God didn't stop speaking when the Bible was written.  Your usage of that phrase here doesn't seem to me to reflect anything in early Quakerism, or anything that my own sense of God's guidance requires.

    I intend to celebrate Christmas this year in a small way--after 36 years during which I have adhered to the Quaker principle against observing holidays.  Either I'm waking up or I'm going down the drain, but I thought I had a leading to do it.

    With love,

    Licia Kuenning
    Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press

    "All my cats are in one basket."

  2. Susann Estle-CronauNovember 18, 2008 at 1:40 PM


    Thanks for posting the link to the article.

    I was particularly interested in the argument about the conscience. I believe Paul Tillich speaks to this, when he talks about the tension between the finite and the infinite. Finite humanity feels a natural tension to reach the infinite, which it cannot. Humanity feels naturally drawn to God. I hear that being compatible with "that of God in all men," that humanity was created with a natural yearning to connect with God.

    Susann Estle-Cronau

  3. Hi Susann, nice to see a new name here.  Though nothing you are saying sounds to me like what Lewis Benson was saying.

    I think that in early Quaker usage "that of God" in every person meant the inward witness of God that tells a person when they are doing something wrong. Early Quaker ministers, trying to "answer that of God in every one" were trying to tell the person the same thing that God was trying to tell them (the word "answer" in this context means "reflect" or "agree with").  The hope was that by having God's inward witness reinforced by the outward preaching the hearer would be more likely to heed the message and would also recognize that the minister had been sent by God.

    Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes it just got the Quaker preacher hit over the head with a Bible.  The underlying assumption, that because they were following God's guidance the missioners would in fact be able to tell a person the same thing God was telling them inwardly, is a little more questionable to me than it was to Quakers in the 1650s, but that was the general idea.  Friends thought most people usually disobeyed "that of God" within them; God was telling them to do something they didn't want to do.  Again one can question it--does every thought that makes one feel guilty come from God?  I think not, but early Quakers thought there was less danger of anyone's being overscrupulous than of their being morally lax.

    Licia Kuenning
    Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press

    "All my cats are in one basket."


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