Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Trouble with Names and Terms

The word "Quaker" has become like the word "Christian" a term that means almost anything. It's original meaning came from a story where an early Friend told others to quake before God. And the other term 'Friend' self-chosen by Quakers (after Children of Light) meant "friend of God," "friend of Jesus" as in John 15:12-15.

The term "Quaker" had a very powerful history and over the years came to stand for open worship, social concern, honesty, equality, religious experience instead of dogma, and peacemaking.

I first became involved with Quakers in 1967 when doing my C.O. time in Pennsylvania. Dissatisifed with my religious affiliation because it was adamantly in favor of the Vietnam War, was very doctrinal on issues that seemed non-essential, etc., I decided to visit the Friends meeting and was inspired.

The worship and peace position of Quakers spoke very deeply to me and helped guide me. Indeed, I remember, especially transformative experiences including when I first found Thomas Kelly's book The Eternal Promise at a yard sale and read it. Then I read George Fox's Journal, Woolman's...

But there is the counter-side. Over the years, I observed many Quakers, contrary to their historic stand, strongly support everything from nuclear weapons to suicide, to actually claim that there is no Ultimate Truth to worship or love, yet practice weekly worship (to whom?), and to reject most of the theological distinctives of early Friends and adopt instead a very Fundamentalistic theology, etc.

These contradictions were so disillusioning and the term "Quaker" became so diluted seeming to mean and stand for almost anything so I stopped calling myself a Quaker (like I also stopped calling myself a Christian in the 1970's) because people almost always got the wrong idea of what I meant.

But that didn't work either. A person needs to be able to identify his deepest convictions about Truth without passing out a doctoral thesis;-) so I began to hyphenate. But such a semantic change becomes confusing too. So many of the hyphenated words are contradictory or at least ambiguous. I mean what is a Christian Quaker?

That's like saying I'm a Christian-Christian or Quaker-Quaker. And if I am going to clarify with hyphens what I mean this is where that would have to lead me: I am a very-liberal-nonfundamentalistic-Christian-in-some-ways-Hicksite-in-some-Gurneyite--unprogrammed-mission-and-evangelistic-but-not-proselytizing-antiwar-anti-abortion-anti-capital-punishment-anti-suicide-pro-environment...Quaker;-)

Well, you can see such hyphenating becomes a ridiculously long monologue and I've never actually said all of that together, though eventually I do have to explain it.

Let us go back to daily life where while the term "Quaker "or "Friend" means almost anything, we just need to identify as Quaker and then get into a conversation and say what the term means to us.

I am on the inclusivist side. Let anyone who wants to identify as Quaker do so. Maybe he or she will begin to yield to the Spirit of God and become all the term originally meant: to quake before God; and what 'Friend' originally meant: being a Friend of God and Jesus (as Jesus says in the Gospel of John).

Besides, naming and terms are only the beginning. We are here to live in the Spirit and the Light, sharing and helping a lost world.

And this my Friends is the Good News, not that we have decided who is 'in' or 'out' but that God is drawing people to the Light that we might be little seeds to the nations:-)

Daniel Wilcox


Paul said...

Friend Daniel Wilcox I have read your blog a dozen times.The Trouble with Names and Terms.I am so grateful for your wonderful message.
Its clarity and simplicity speaks deeply to my condition... You said,"Besides, naming and terms are only the beginning. We are here to live in the Spirit and the Light, sharing and helping a lost world."
One word that is the cornerstone that bridges us Friends with other Sacramental Christians-the Incarnation. God becoming flesh in and through us all of creation. Paul
But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
Deuteronomy 30:14

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the inspiring message. I actually had a tough day this afternoon.
Your words help me to remember to focus to Christ who is our Center.

In the Light,

Hystery said...

My response is late but I just reread this and wanted to tell you that your words resonate with me. I am most likely to call myself a Quaker Pagan (although I'm not yet joined my meeting and never joined any Pagan group.) I was reared as a liberal minister's kid and then my family left the church when we found that what everyone else meant by Christian wasn't what we meant. I became a Pagan (not Wiccan and really a very intellectual thing which I sometimes call nontheism, and sometimes Goddess or spiritual feminism and sometimes eco-feminism. Jeepers!)

I did in fact write a doctoral dissertation about it! lol) and now am finding that apart from holding no belief in the special divinity of Christ, I still hold all the same beliefs about being a Christian I did when the whole journey began. I've just added some important new metaphors to my spiritual tool box. What a bother to have to present my spiritual curriculum vitae and an extensive glossary of religious terms as I define them each time I introduce myself to a new community but such is the cost of spiritual development in the postmodern world.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Good evening Hystery,

I've been writing new blogs,and just now came across your comment.

First, thanks for reading and responding. And congrats on getting your D degree.

Second, maybe since you say you sometimes call yourself a non-theist, you can critique my new blog called "Nature of Reality: Step #1."

For I honestly don't understand how non-theism is reconcilable with the eternal love vision of Quakerism.

But some of your posts have spoken deeply to me, so I am ready to listen to try and understand your perspective.