Saturday, September 25, 2021

Guest Post: Excerpt from Transition Quaker, Concerning the Loss of Shared Stories in Quakerism by Craig Barnett


Concerning the loss of shared stories in Quakerism
Excerpt from Quaker Stories by Craig Barnett

"This is not, at root, a problem of individual differences of belief; it is the loss of a shared communal resource. Just as a group can’t sing together unless they all know the same songs, we cannot practise the Quaker way together unless we are familiar with the same stories. Knowing the same stories does not mean having the same beliefs.

Religious stories can be approached in many different ways - as historical accounts, mythological allegories, poetry, psychological truths, philosophical statements, moral teachings etc. Our way of interpreting sacred stories will usually change over time. As adults we are unlikely to understand a parable such as ‘the Good Samaritan’ in just the same way we did as a child.

Stories are, by their nature, open-ended and flexible; open to endless possibilities of personal reflection, re-working and creative imagination. Sacred stories work by engaging the imagination and emotions as well as our rationality.

At the same time, they provide the shared resources of symbols, characters and narratives that enable a community to have a collective conversation, instead of each person being isolated within their own personal language.

- For these different influences to become part of a shared Quaker story, rather than just private preferences, we would need to do something that we have tended to avoid. We would have to share them. This means talking to each other about the stories that give us insight into the meaning of our experience, and that help us to interpret our Quaker practice.

If we have learned something important from Buddhism, or from Jung or Starhawk or Rumi, that helps us to understand what happens in Quaker worship or business meeting, or that informs how we live as Quakers, we could share with each other the stories that have helped us, so that other Friends can also find out what we have learned from them.

There’s a reason we don’t usually do this. It makes us vulnerable to open ourselves up to others. We might feel anxious that our experiences will be dismissed, that our stories will be judged and rejected. We risk exposing ourselves to challenge; perhaps having to think about the stories we are using and how we interpret them. How do they fit with other people’s stories?

Are they complementary or incompatible? If I find another Friend’s stories strange or disturbing, where does my reaction come from? We have too often tended to rely on censoring ourselves and each other, to avoid using controversial words because some Friends have strong reactions to them.

Instead, we might adopt a more questioning approach. If there is a word or symbol or religious tradition that I find distasteful I can choose to ask myself, ‘what is going on here? What is this reaction telling me about my own history with this word? Is there something in this tradition that I am missing because of my partial experience?'

This approach is certainly not easy. It is much easier for us to carry on as we are, avoiding the risk of giving offence by self-censorship and never really getting to know each other in ‘that which is eternal’.

The risk with continuing in this way is that we will steadily lose any shared tradition of religious practice. Without shared stories that describe the significance of core Quaker practices such as worship, discernment and testimony, the Quaker way cannot survive.

The dominant culture has a powerful story about the way the world is. It is a meaningless, indifferent universe, in which we can arbitrarily choose our own values but never find any inherent purpose or meaning.

There is no truth to be discovered, only ‘personal truths’ to be asserted and projected onto the blank screen of the world. No purpose to our life beyond our own preferences, no guidance to be found, and nothing to heal or transform the world through us.

In the absence of any alternative shared stories of our own, British Quakers are inevitably being shaped in the image of this story; the modern myth of a meaningless universe.

The result is our steady drift towards becoming a neutral space for private journeys of self-discovery; a well-meaning, left-leaning ethical society, instead of a religious community with a spirituality and a practice that is powerful enough to change the world.

What are the stories that have shaped your understanding of your life as a Quaker? Do some apparently conflicting stories offer complementary perspectives on Quaker practice, and can we distinguish them from stories that are incompatible with Quaker experience and testimony?

By Craig Barnett

Excerpt from Transition Quaker

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Review of Heretics and Believers by historian Paul Marshall

Incredibly scholarly, detailed history and analysis of the English Reformation! The first couple hundred pages are so academic—meaning dealing in lots of statistics and sociological details of an overview of the period of Henry the 8th, that I found the large volume dry and slow.

But once, I adapted back to scholarly study, (and since more ill in bed, able to listen for hours at a time), I began to live in its pages of that god-awefull period—in the worse sense of that adjective.

That’s one dramatic result of my reading this great history of Christians of all sorts and all levels--is that while modern creedal Christianity is often horrific, so unjust, so immoral, so intolerant, so selfish* at least, modern Christians (except when they call for bombing Iran with an atom bomb) don’t burn many thousands of other Christians at the stake and other horrific slaughters!

Many years ago, I studied the Reformation and knew that the Roman Catholic Church, Bloody Mary, Geneva and Calvin, Luther, Zwingli committed immoral horrors, etc., but I didn't have any idea that the English Reformation was so evil too.

It’s shocking how almost all English Christian leaders and their followers, Protestant and Catholic, the lords and nobility, the shop keepers and the working class--ALL were intolerant and strongly supported the burning of “heretics.”

Heresy then didn’t even need to be huge, like a denial of God or the Creeds, but could be just a smaller point like owning a prohibited book, such as an English translation of the Bible, or holding to the Lutheran view of the Mass, instead of Henry the 8th’s or the Pope’s view.

And, tragically, in all the chaos, at least 30,000 peasants and working-class people rioted and revolted across England demanding the return to traditional Catholicism with holy water, pilgrimages, altar and sacrifice in the Mass, when Edward the 6th tried to introduce a stronger Protestantism than his father had!

It’s amazing, that an English Civil War started to happen 100 years before the infamous one in the 1600’s! Also, it is depressing how the so-called good guys, the Protestant young king and his advisors deceived the sincere leaders of the traditionalist revolt, told them they would compromise and had the rebel leaders come down to London for negotiations, but then executed them.

After that, they then sent the small army of the government (about 8,000 English troops and hired mercenaries from Germany) to defeat various small armies in different shires. It was divide and conquer. And they did.

That was good, that the rioters didn’t gain control, but Edward the 6th burned a lot of innocent Christians, too. I thought only Catholic and Reformed leaders on the Continent burned people.

Then all hell broke loose when Edward suddenly sickened and died and Mary, who allegedly was a kindly individual came to the throne. She immediately reversed all of Edward’s Protestant polices, and had all the churches bring back altars for the Mass sacrifice, holy water, etc. And she burned over 300 individuals in 5 years. Thankfully Mary got sick and died.

It appears—at least based upon this massive historical volume—that all Christians of all sorts, Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, etc. were bad, very bad, nothing like Jesus. The only exception appears to have been the very few Mennonite-sort of Anabaptists who rejected intolerance, injustice, violence, heresy-executions, etc.

And then came Queen Elizabeth, who immediately started rescinding some of Mary’s regressive actions.

However, one of Elizabeth's advisors told her she ought to "hold her cards close"—in other words, even if she is a convinced Protestant, it will be better for her if she hides that, and adopts a moderate course of change against Mary’s total reversion, rather than do exactly what she believes is right. Making too many changes will lead many English Catholics to react severely and violently against her and her sudden reversal of Mary’s religious norms.

Also, while taking a strong stance against Catholic “superstitions,” Elizabeth didn’t immediately pursue persecutorial actions against all Catholics.

But the government did begin to destroy Roods, statues of Mary, Catholic paintings, etc.

But, thankfully (that I appreciate!), Elizabeth opposed Knox and Calvin and their extreme language and intolerant actions. So she didn’t choose anyone for her advisers who were followers of Knox-Scotland and Calvin-Geneva.

Sad, however, even in moderation, Elizabeth’s rule was intolerant like present day intolerance in the U.S. now. Historic statues of famous American leaders of the past are torn down, but not the worst presidents or leaders, just ones picked by extremists such as BLMers.

Also, Elizabeth, ordered communion tables to be kept with coverings, which upset her Reformed bishops and leaders. And she denied priests the freedom to marry, basically, the Catholic view!

Worst of all, though nothing like nations on the continent nor her father or Edward the 6th or Mary, Elizabeth executed many individuals:-( She wasn’t nearly as civil and moderate as I had thought.


All of this goes to show, what I’ve become more and more convinced of over many years, that basing one’s life on the Bible isn’t the way to go, because that famous text led to many contrary and contradictory religions, most of them horrific:-(, indeed, evil.

Well, I probably could say far more, but I am anxious to be done with this depressin review. I finally finished the very long tome (over 35 hours long, probably at least 800 pages) very late last night near midnight.

A magisterial study of Christianity in the 16th century.
Evaluation: A+! --- *This is especially the case when far left Christians (including Sojourners, liberal Christians, Quakers, Mennonites, etc.) strongly support untrue propaganda against the police, demand the tearing down of historic statues, and push CRT and BLM as the truth.

And far right Christians, centrally Trump Evangelical Christianity, where 84% of Evangelicals (white) have strongly supported Trump and his immoral and unjust polices including his constant lying, pride, bullying, distorting, demeaning, ad nauseum. Heck, Evangelicals still strongly support him even after his January 6th rioters stormed the Capitol, injuring 100 police officers. And Trump and theyclaim the violent far-right-winger, Ashley Babbitt, was an innocent protester!

In the Light,

Dan Wilcox