Masthead of the Cleveland Friends Meeting newsletter.
About Friends' Faith and Practice
as discovered in the library
of Cleveland Friends Meeting
One ought not to be able to separate Friends' faith from Friends' practice. What we believe and how we live our lives each day should be two sides of the same coin. Friends' "practice" includes both individual lifestyles and also the processes and structures that we have developed corporately. One very important "practice" is discernment. There are a number of good resources in our library on this.
Like most major religions, denominations, and sects, the Religious Society of Friends is, sorrowfully, divided into several groups, each of which likes to think that it has most faithfully retained the original vision of the earliest believers.
Cleveland Meeting's library has materials that illustrate some of the divisions. But before we get into that, it seems most useful to see what the first Friends experienced and preached. If we can comprehend their message, then we ought to be able to test our own beliefs and behaviors in comparison. We can hold up that early vision in the light of our own hunger, hope, and experience. Does it still have validity? If the answer is "no, it is outmoded", then we can move on to see what might better suit us in the early twenty-first century. If it still has compelling power, then we might want to explore the implications in more depth.
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MESSAGE OF EARLY FRIENDS
George Fox is usually remembered as the main catalyst that helped meld disparate mid-seventeenth century seekers into a powerful movement for personal and social transformation under direct Divine guidance. However, Fox was not a particularly systematic theologian, and his syntax is distinctly old fashioned and sometimes difficult to understand. He had, however, profound theological insights, and they fit together into a coherent whole. A twentieth-century Friend, Lewis Benson, has done more than anyone else to study and make available to modern Friends the revolutionary, empowering, transforming message of Fox and early Friends. A very good, 3-page summary of Fox's message as recovered by Benson, is found in Foundation Papers No. 91 (1st-3rd Months, 2006), pages 4-6. The Foundation Papers are filed in the second shelf of the legal bookcase to the left of the library table.
The short statement that probably best describes the message early Friends preached, that summed up their own experience, was "CHRIST IS COME TO TEACH HIS PEOPLE HIMSELF." Each part of the statement was filled for meaning for themand for us, if we take the trouble to decode or "translate" it into words or metaphors that "fit" or describe our own experience. Note that the first verb, "is come", is in present tense. Rather than waiting for some pie-in-the-sky "rapture" or horrifying apocalypse (global warming? nuclear strike on Iran?), Friends took Jesus at his word: he would return, and God's kingdom is among us. Friends discovered to their amazement that these were and are true: Christ is alive within the hearts of those who love him and obey his commandments; as they live in his life they experience the Kingdom. See John 15. Furthermore, early Friends understood, Christ is not here to punish but to teach. Think of the best teacher you ever had: someone who knew you, and how to encourage and guide you. That's the way Friends discovered Christ teaches. Christ is come to teach his people. Note that this isn't about personal salvation, important as that is. It is about a community, a "people", it is the whole group of those who are willing to be taught. Finally, Christ does this "himself", directly within each individual heart. He is not dependent on priestly intermediaries.
The expectation of those who experienced an inward conviction and transformation is that this new way of seeing and being would result in a new way of living. The transformed lifestyle was the hallmark of Friends. They eschewed formal creeds because God cannot be captured in human words and formulas. That did not stop them from trying to explain their own experience, and inviting others to be open to a similar transformation. Rather than arguing about verbal definitions, they looked to each others' lives because they assumed that similar experiences would lead to similar results. So they wanted to know: was daily life suffused with God's Love? were those who called themselves Friends marked by transparent integrity? did they treat others equally rather than kowtowing to social hierarchies? did they put away physical weapons and work to resolve conflicts non-violently? were all their economic transactions done with honesty and fairness to suppliers, employees, and customers? did they live simply without indulging in fancy clothing, fashionable vanities, luxurious excesses, and unnecessary consumption?
Another good way to understand the message of early Friends is to read stories of people who struggled to bring their lives into conformity with the Light of Christ that they experienced inwardly. Some of these stories can be found in Quaker journals and biographies. They are shelved together under a yellow sign in the middle bookcase on the wall backing up to the dining room. Their Dewey Decimal numbers are 920.86 for collections of narratives, and 922.86 for books about a single individual. Within the 922.86 number they are in alphabetical order by the last name of the subject. There are also pamphlet-length biographies of Friends in the folder/box marked Individual Quaker Biographies on the shelf above the Pendle Hill Pamphlets, to the left of the door opening into the dining room.
MODERN "LIBERAL" FRIENDS
This is the branch to which Cleveland Meeting belongs. It is affiliated with Friends General Conference. These Friends generally gather for "expectant waiting worship", that is commonly called "unprogrammed worship". There is no pastor or official to lead the worship service. There is no pre-planned "program". We gather in silence and "wait on the Lord".
This form of worship invites a wide variety of understandings and beliefs. However, there are several excellent books to help folks delve deeper into the reality that this outward structure of silent waiting is designed to support.
Here are a few highly recommended books to help us understand Quaker faith and practice:
Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition by Michael Birkel. This is an excellent and inviting introduction to Friends' thought and spiritual life. There is a chapter on discernment of when to speak in meeting, and other leadings. The chapter on "The Facing Bench" offers quotations from prominent Friends on such topics as "The Immediate Presence of God", "The Universal Light of Christ", and the "Spiritual Basis of Peace". The chapter on the inward experience of worship is both an excellent introduction and a seasoned examination of centering. In addition to the library's copy, you can buy your own for $16.00 from the book table in the hall next to the mail cubby holes.
Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order by Lloyd Lee Wilson brings an historical perspective to contemporary understanding of various facets of Friends' faith and practice. He covers meetings for worship and for business, spiritual gifts, leadings and ministry. The sections on a Friends meeting as community are especially insightful. From time to time there are also copies of this book for sale in the hall, at $17.00 each.
Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings edited by Douglas V. Steere is part of the "Classics of Western Spirituality" published by Paulist Press (1984). There are pithy quotations from George Fox, Isaac Penington, John Woolman, Caroline Stephen, Rufus Jones, and Thomas Kelly. The introduction by Douglas Steere has a brief history and describes the many aspects of Quaker spirituality. It has been published as a stand-alone paperback, Introduction from Quaker Spirituality. Copies of the latter are often in the rotating pamphlet rack on the main table in the library.
A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly has become a twentieth century spiritual classic reaching far beyond the Religious Society of Friends. In beautifully poetic, compelling language Kelly describes the life resting in God. Copies for this are also for sale on the hall table.
Listening Spirituality, Vol. I: Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends by Patricia Loring offers a plethora of ways into a deeper receptivity to Divine Love and Truth. The author draws on a variety of images, descriptions, and practices that support the fundamental Quaker approach. Several years ago Cleveland Meeting found this very helpful in a small group study setting.
Barclay's Apology in Modern English, edited by Dean Freiday is for those who are a little more ambitious, who would like to delve into how Friends saw themselves and their message in contrast to other religious groups in the seventeenth century. Dean Freiday has taken Robert Barclay's language and translated it into more accessible words for us. This book represented the basic understanding of faith for members of our branch of Friends up until it fell into disuse sometime in the early twentieth century. It is still worth reading.
The Testimony of Integrity in the Religious Society of Friends by Wilmer Cooper is Pendle Hill Pamphlet #296. Cooper wraps up all the various Friends' testimonies into a call for integrity at the heart of our daily life. This makes a nice segue into an exploration of Friends' Testimonies.
This page is still under construction. In time there may be additional topics.
Our witness to the world about how we understand God's realm functions here on earth.
DIFFERENT "BRANCHES" OF FRIENDS
a little history about how we came to have FGC, FUM, EFI, Conservative, and Unaffiliated meetings
Discernment is the art of paying attention to the universal gift of being able to "hear" the divine "voice". Most folks in Cleveland Meeting quote the phrase "that of God in everyone" to point to the important understanding that each human being has an innate receptivity to the divine. Experience shows us, however, that not all the "voices" in our minds are from God. The art of discernment is learning to separate our own fears, ego, the expectations of others, cultural constraints or imperatives, pride, and so on from the "still, small voice" that is the nudge of what John Woolman called Pure Wisdom.
Discernment is an art, not a science, and therefore there are no formal or rigid rules that lead inexorably to the correct conclusion. Instead, over the centuries, Friends have developed some guide posts, some touchstones, some characteristics that are usually present when one is tuned in to the divine frequency.
The meeting library has some excellent materials that explore both personal and corporate discernment. Two Pendle Hill Pamphlets that treat these aspects are Patricia Loring, Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees (1992) #305; and Barry Morley, Beyond Consensus: Salvaging Sense of the Meeting (1993) #307. The November 2006 Quaker Religious Thought (QRT) features four articles on Corporate Discernment and Decision Making. Michael Birkel's Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition has a whole chapter on Discernment (pp. 55-75). A relatively new book by Lon Fendall, Jan Wood, and Bruce Bishop, Practicing Discernment Together: Finding God's Way Forward in Decision Making (Barclay Press, 2007) is by three pastoral Friends, so its language is explicitly Christian. The assumptions that it makes about God, God's love, and God's presence in the waiting meeting, though, seem to be fundamental to an understanding of why we use the decision-making process of business meetings that we have cherished for over three centuries. The Book of Discipline or Faith and Practice of various Yearly Meetings usually have a section on discernment. They are found on the top shelf in the cabinet to the left of the door leading into the dining room. There are often copies on the hall table of a small leaflet by Hugh Barbour, "Five Tests for Discerning a True Leading".
This page is still under construction and needs some additional topics such as meeting for worship, spiritual disciplines, Quaker weddings and funerals, and so on. If there is a specific topic or issue that you would like to see addressed here, contact the Library at: . Chances are if it has to do with Friends, the Meeting Library will have some good resources.
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The block print, "Candle and Book", was made by Anne E. G. Nydam, formerly a member of Cleveland Meeting, and is used with her permission.
This page was first posted on Ninth Month 20, 2006; updated most recently on 9m/8/2009.