I just came back from a small gathering of Friends in a home, a reunion of the Called to Action 2012 group of which I was a member. This group met monthly for six months for day long workshops led by elders in Friends and movement settings, bringing the good word of integrated spirituality in activism, and strategic organizing as a vehicle of God's grace.
It was pretty amazing. Many folks were laid low with flu, so that was sad. But among we who could make it, what we came to, as we worshipped, ate, reflected, settled in together, was a full circle of what one Friend called the mobius strip of activism, the union of the inner and the outer journey that we strove to articulate and embrace in our time together as teachers and learners.
At one point in the evening, we were discussing loneliness. A number of us shared in some way that loneliness had touched us, and how the convention of gossip and idle chatter were not comfortable for us. I sort of blurted out; "That's why I could never be a priest in a church-- coffee hour. Leading and sharing a deep spiritual experience and then going and drinking coffee afterwards-- that's my definition of a circle of hell. That's what's different about Friends: we are all priests, and so the burden of priesthood is not so heavy when we are all carrying it. It makes coffee hour a bit easier for me."
This is the gift of Friends, the gift that I find unique and truly Quakerly. It's not owned by Friends, it appears in other faiths, as well-- the sense that we are all called, or could be so, to minister. But this truth is most lived, in my experience, among Friends. And because of this potential, this spark of Spirit in each of us, we all share the burden, the weighty role of holding worship, being the containers of our shared and disparate faith.
I've traveled in a number of faith traditions, and tried to make my faith fit into those communities. But it is only among Friends that I have found this radical belief in the end of laity-- the true Society of Friends, where we are all potentially charged with the gifts of the Spirit. This I feel more lived among Friends than any other setting I've been in. And so, I am a Quaker.
This speaks to the possibility of continuing revelation. This practice and belief requires of Friends a faith that is strong and openly risking a diffuse and diverse truth! No wonder we look to our histories to give us lived examples of how to handle this hot, uncertain, risky hope.
Some Friends speak recently of the need to be "ready to die to Quakerism so that the gospel Friends proclaim may find fullest expression." I think, more, that we need to truly live into this Quaker-ism, this mindset and worldview. Not the formalism of correct language, or idolatry of the past (which I will say I have not seen in the main in my experience among Friends), but the event of Friendship, if I can describe it thus.
We need the willingness to wait upon the Spirit, in the diverse ways we are led to do so, and minister to each other, in love and truth. Calls to die to a shared faith community smack of the wearing of hair shirts or the bizarre view that self-harm leads to sanctification. We do not help anyone, least of all the bringing of the kin-dom, through inflicting threats of dispersal and rejection of practices deeply rooted in the gospel. I believe that this shared and disparate faith tradition can move all of us closer to God, without exception or condition. It doesn't look like anything we know, but I have seen small glimmers, like at our dinner table tonight. And I know this experimentally.