Friday, September 30, 2016

On Being a Quakarene

My father was a Quaker -- part of the Society of Friends.  As were his parents. And their parents before them.  Various family lines go way back, one to William Penn's settlement, others from England through Virginia to the western push into the Carolinas, moving north to Indiana only when war clouds loomed on the horizon in the mid-1800s.

In contrast, I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene.  At age eight, I insisted on joining the church along with my parents and older brothers.  Two years later, in 1968, I carried a flag at the 17th General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City.  I have now attended ten General Assemblies.  I was a student at a Nazarene institute of higher education for two years and a parent of Nazarene students for twelve.  My older daughter is a Nazarene pastor with an M.Div from NTS and has an article in the latest issue of Holiness Today!  I'm all in.

Still, I am sometimes acutely aware of the Quaker DNA passed on to me from my ancestors.  It manifests itself in several ways, including:

1. Pacifism.  My natural instinct is to put violence into the same category as profanity: a sign of weakness, demonstrating either an underdeveloped vocabulary or little imagination.  I want to say, "Oh, come on, people.  Surely you can do better than that!"

2. "Authority issues"  I put this in quotes because I've actually heard those words directed toward me.  The Quakers take seriously the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 23:8-12 and advocated equality long before it was popular to do so.  It's a view that sets well with me.

3.  Inward Light.  I love the journey I'm on with God and the way his Spirit speaks to me and guides me by many means.  Although I listen carefully to a variety of mentors, I have yet to run across any individual I would trust to be my spiritual director.

4.  Silence.  Quaker meetings are known for their silences as those gathered wait for the movement of the Spirit in and among them.  I value silence in my life.

5.  Simplicity.  The simple life tugs at me more than any fancy get-up in either appearance or possessions.

These Quaker values have often left me out of step with what I encounter in the Church of the Nazarene.

1.  Pacifism.  I have found a spirit of militarism that seeks to destroy anyone or anything perceived as a threat.  Even when there is no physical violence, I still see the need to strike out against others as a sign of weakness and want to say, "Come on, people.  Surely, there's a better way!"

2.  Authority issues.  In the hierarchy of the Church of the Nazarene, pastors are set apart -- more accountable to higher authorities, more responsible, having more authority.  There is a tendency to view congregations as flocks of sheep of small intellect in need of a rod-carrying shepherd to direct them.  Hierarchy is built into everything we do, setting some up higher and encouraging others to follow in submission.

3.  Inward Light.  Going along with the view of the pastor as a shepherd of intellectually- and value-challenged sheep, there is often little regard for the witness of the Spirit to individuals, particularly those who are seen as "less."  This would include lay people in general, but particularly women and children, racial minorities, sexual minorities, and those less fluent in the language spoken by the leaders.  There is a sense that the leaders go up the mountain and bring down the commandments (and vision) to the huddled (and stupid) masses below.

4.  Silence.  I can't count how many times I've been encouraged to be more demonstrative (louder) concerning my faith.  Silence is regarded as a lack of life rather than proceeding out of an inner calm.
I tend to lean the other way, associating shouting with either a lack of underlying substance ("If I say it louder, I'll be more convincing, right?") or the world gone out of control. When I'm confident of my position, I find no reason to raise my voice apart from an emergency situation.

5.  Simplicity.  This value is actually a shared one if one looks at the early Church of the Nazarene, but is not always acknowledged as a goal worth pursuing in present times.

It's a considerable distance from where I live to the nearest Friends Meeting.  And I suspect there is a gap between the lives of the members of that meeting and any idealistic faith community I might conjure up for them based on historic values.  The ideals coursing through my inner being don't necessarily match any real life faith community.  It's just interesting to observe the impact they have on me and how they sometimes leave me marching to the beat of a different drummer in the Church of the Nazarene.

Related posts: 
Why I Go to Church 
Why Ministry in the Church Is Difficult

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