Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Search: 30 yr old conclusion

The following is the conclusion to a paper exploring my “Search for Truth and Reality” in a course at ESR 30 years ago. Although I would probably compose this with examples in a very different way now, I still identify with what I wrote back then. It requires some understanding of the context of Britain and the Colonies 300 years ago, but the acceptance of universal truth and the reality of the unity of all people still “speaks my mind.”
It is clear that the earliest Friends utilized a question and answer format for discussing Quaker issues, for example Barclay’s Apology and Penington’s “Some questions and answers, showing mankind his duty.” One of the more expert practitioners of the dialogue format was William Penn. One of the reasons for this is that Penn had been trained at Oxford and truly seemed to enjoy the Socratic method with the give and take of hard questions and thoughtful responses. In many of his writings there is a strong sense of seeking which was evident among early Friends. “Truth never lost ground by inquiry, because she most of all is reasonable.”
In Penn’s “Holy Experiment” the balance between individual liberty and egalitarian government was explored. The creative tension between the two seemed to lead to the use of Queries in developing Quaker structure, even though “there was not, indeed, to human appearance, anything systematic in its formation.” A number of early Friends took a strong interest in Penn’s government and offered advice, if not corrections, to the plan. Penn’s recognition of the tension between individual liberty and corporate government is evidenced in the statement. “Liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery.” Religious tolerance and individual freedom extended even to the point of not demanding others to join them but once having made the choice, a member was expected to submit to discipline. “They compel none to them, but oblige those that are of them to walk suitable, or they are denied.” While control and obedience were expected within the circle of Friends, the toleration other religions extended even to encouraging the establishment of other houses of worship in “Quaker territory.” The first American Roman Catholic Church was built in Philadelphia as well as one of the earliest Jewish synagogues.
Penn’s defense of individual freedom did not stop with religions but was an inclusive perception that extended even to philosophers and Gentiles. “The Gentiles believed that there was one God, that He enlightened all men with a saving light, that all men ought to live piously, that the soul is immortal, that there is an eternal recompense.” The individual freedom within subjection is addressed by Penn:
“Question: Ought I not to be left to the grace of God in my own heart?
Answer: That is of all things most desirable, since they are well left who are left there;
For there is no fear of want of unity, where all are left with the one Spirit of Truth.”
However, it is clear to Penn that there is a Unity of the Spirit of God. “It is only God, the only Lord of conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits who can enlighten the mind and persuade and convince the understanding of people.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Search: Friends School

In the spring of my second year at William Penn, I found out about a new position at Moorestown Friends School in New Jersey. This was the newly developed Chester Reagan Chair in Faith and Practice. It was a combination of secondary school teaching, curriculum development, and ministry to students and faculty. It was with a good deal of anticipation and happiness that my family returned to the east coast and to a new adventure in Friends Education.

During my first two years at MFS I spent a good deal of time reexamining many of the writings from early Friends and some new ones. However, the more I sought answers from others, the more I recognized that it is in asking the right questions that the right answer finds us. As I wrote in the school’s annual on the theme of mystery

The greatest mystery

Is in seeking Truth and Love

We become the found.

I determined that my spiritual guide needed to be that which had found me. In early Friends language, I had been found by Christ and I was leaving myself there. I marveled at the twists and turns that had occurred which led me to that point and had numerous questions. Is there A path, or is it more like a mansion with many rooms and doors opening among them. Are there answers, or is it that all questions can lead toward the answer. Is it my training in developing hypotheses and then asking questions to formulate a new hypothesis that contributes to my use of the question format in my seeking.

I also became aware of the need for correctives in my questioning. Two of the main ones are the writings of early Friends and the Queries. The use of William Penn’s Fruits of Solitude was helpful in recognizing the discipline of concisely stating mileposts along the way. I believe that too often we may not share what or who we have already found as we continue our search. We recognize that we have not found the final answers but we should share answers that we have found along the way or at least the markings that have guided us thus far. The Queries have been used as guides along the way which may be appropriately asked at very different times and places but which continually point in the direction toward which we should be tending.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Search: Major Change

In the spring of 1976, I struggled with the challenges brought on by the loss of my father and a sense that full time administration in a large school system with little to no contact with students was not what I was called to do. One evening in early May Judy asked if I had seen the ad in the New York Yearly Meeting Newsletter regarding the campus minister position at William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The ad listed Ed Hinshaw as the contact person for the search committee. Ed had been a colleague of my father’s in Kenya and I considered him a personal friend even though it had been almost fifteen years since we had had any personal contact. Without formal religious training beyond a couple of undergraduate courses with Hugh Barbour and Wilmer Cooper and a somewhat informal “extension” course with T. Canby Jones, I decided to apply. I was invited to visit and interview for the position. In a sense this was still under the guidance of my father and probably included a sense of wishing to follow more in is footsteps than my path had been up until then. This was further validated by one of the persons on the interview committee who stated when the question of my “training” was brought up “If you’ve been with Logan Smith for the number of years which you have, you must have as complete a Quaker education as anyone.”

My decision to accept the position was the stated opportunity to again join a small group of persons who were evidently serious students and proponents of not only education but of Friends. I believed that I would be able to serve as a Friends’ minister without formality in an educational setting with a shared sense of responsibility and the utilization of my gifts. The move involved decreasing our income by half and a major move from New Jersey to rural Iowa. However, it did allow Judy to complete her college degree that had been on hold while I pursued graduate school and subsequent school positions. She had taken major responsibility for the raising of our three children and providing a wonderful support for me through some difficult times.

However, within a year of my appointment, the campus ministry committee was disbanded by the firing of one member and the resignation from the college of another member. The resignation was in response to the removal of some sharing among the leadership group in the college. It again seemed that a consensus sharing was denied in favor of a more traditional authoritarian structure. I found myself turning to different sources for spiritual guidance. The writings of Rufus Jones, Howard Brinton and William Penn occupied a great deal of reading time. Keith Kirk, the pastor at College Avenue Friends, became a person to whom I turned to share in my search.

The struggles on an emotional and spiritual level continued to the point where I was diagnosed as “depressed” by the family physician. He said that it was almost a “given” with the changes in my life within a year: loss of father, major physical move, major career change, etc. During that period I also experienced a “mystical” event. One night in bed I felt a real sense of physical pressure on my body forcing me into a fetal position and then a releasing force to a relaxed position while an apparent “external” voice said “Lead them to the power.” I did not change my behavior or attitude as a result of these sensations, but rather felt that I was somehow being led to a change. I was coming to the realization that if I were to be true to the “Christ who has come to teach his people himself” and who “provides power to his people,” I had to continue my spiritual journey guided by a variety of sources which would enlighten my path. I began to expand my reading rather than follow any one person for very long and began to do some writing of my own in which I tried to formulate my own understanding of the spiritual journey. I also recognized the depth of the wisdom of early Friends in writing advices, journals and queries rather than doctrinal statements, “road maps” for others to follow, or creeds. I also began to recognize that I had to follow my own leadings and not try to live up to someone else’s expectations. This seemed to point toward secondary school teaching, especially in Friends schools.