I enjoyed reading the Brooklyn Quaker's talk on Quakerism for a Catholic audience. I encourage you to read it as well.
I was struck, though, at the long disclaimer Rich felt compelled to make before he was able to launch into the meat of his talk -- to make clear that he wasn't speaking for all Friends, that Friends worship in different modes, etc. I understand completely why he did it -- I've done it myself on this blog and elsewhere-- and fortunately the wait for Rich's real message was worthwhile.
Nevertheless, it got me thinking about our habit of qualifying (nearly) everything we say about Quakerism, Truth, God, or anything else important, the following emerged. (You may want a mop if sarcasm comes dripping off your screen):
Friends, I'm moved to share with you this morning Psalm 23, one of my favorites that has always meant a lot to me. A lot of you probably know it by heart.
The Lord -- which I understand is a political term that some may consider sexist as well as outdated and feudal, and if you do, substitute your own image of a loving caregiver -- is my shepherd , if that metaphor makes sense to you. And I hope you don't see this as exclusionary -- the fact that he or she's my shepherd doesn't mean he or she can't be your shepherd, too, or that you can't have a different shepherd, or that you may not feel like a sheep in need of a shepherd at all.
I shall not want. Which isn't to say that it's wrong for oppressed peoples to demand their fair share of the world's wealth, only that I have found a place of enoughness.
He -- or she: again, the metaphorical Shepherd is without gender but I hope we can let the old texts speak in their own tongue without imposing modern values on them -- maketh me to lie down in green pastures (of which there won't be many left if we don't get a new administration).
He leadeth me beside the still waters, not that rivers can't be comforting, too, or that the mighty ocean isn't just as good a way of thinking about what some call "heaven".
He restoreth my soul. Which is not to say that you have to believe that anyone's soul really needs to be restored, or even that there is such a thing as a "soul". Think of this more as a realization that my "soul" [substitute your own concept] has been there all the time but I just forgot about it.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, -- I hope this isn't too negative for some of you -- I will fear no evil, understanding that for a lot of Friends "evil" is not a useful concept. Maybe you can translate it into your own truth such as "un-goodness".
For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (I hope that any of you who were victims of childhood violence understand that the rod and staff can be used to gently guide the sheep, not necessarily to beat them, and that this won't raise unpleasant memories for you.)
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, understanding, of course, that many Friends feel that the very concept of "enemy" may be inconsistent with the Peace Testimony and should be avoided or reconceptualized, perhaps as "in the presence of friends I haven't met yet."
Thou anointest my head with oil (not petroleum, of course); my cup runneth over, which I hope you can accept as a statement more of gratitude than of celebration of excessive material possessions, which would not be consistent with Friends' testimony of simplicity, as I understand it.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, though no one should feel that if goodness and mercy doesn't follow you for the rest of your life that it's your fault.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, even though the concept of an afterlife is not one upon which Friends agree, I hope this is a helpful image.