Thursday, March 01, 2007

Welcome back

I've learned from experience never to begin a presentation by apologizing, but for some reason I've begun a lot of my recent posts apologizing for not writing recently. So I won't, even though I've just missed the first calendar month (Feb. 2007) since I began this blog (June 2005). Here are two of the things that have kept me busy away from the blog.

Lovely Wife and I had a wonderful four-day vacation to New York in late January. Eldest Daughter and Dan-her-Man were out of town and let us stay in their beautiful apartment at 1 Main Street, Brooklyn, which is in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood, right between the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges on the East River.

We did a lot of the typical New York tourist stuff: museums (the Cloisters, MOMA, Natural History, American Indian); a Broadway show (The Apple Tree); Times Square at night; ate in gems of restaurants; enjoyed subway musicians, like this man playing his Chinese banjo with a snake-skin head; walked the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, etc. Our poor calves were as tight as the bridges' suspension cables from so much walking, but we loved every minute of it. (Thanks to Sister Holly for coming to care for Mother Holly and Children.)

We especially enjoyed visiting the meetinghouses of New York Yearly and 15th Street Monthly Meetings on 15th Street and Rutherford Place in Manhattan, across from Stuyvesant Park. We first went there on Friday evening to be sure we knew how to get there, and then again on Sunday morning for worship.

It was a good meeting with powerful ministry about witnessing to what we have ourselves seen, based on I John 1 ("For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness. . . ). I especially appreciated the ministry of the Friend who reminded us that we were witnessing for our Lord (which made me wish I could remember how to sing "Who'll be a witness for my Lord? My soul'll be a witness for my lord!" [click on Play Sample]).

Afterwards, I enjoyed meeting Rich the Brooklyn Quaker (on the right) and Lorcan and learning some of the history of the meetinghouse, including how it once sheltered free blacks in its coal room during the New York draft riots of 1863 (but not, Lorcan says, as part of the pre-war Underground Railroad).

Lorcan then helpfully directed us to the former Orthodox meetinghouse that is now a synagogue on Gramercy Park. (The Orthodox meetinghouse -- of quite a different architectural style -- was sold when the two meetings merged in the 1960s.) I have now visited Morningside, Brooklyn, and 15th St meetings in New York City and have enjoyed each one.

* * * * *

Quakerism 101. Upon returning home, I started leading a 7-week Quakerism 101 class. (Session 7 was to be last night, but we cancelled it because of the snowstorm that is still blizzarding as I type.) It was the third time in as many years that I've led it, but this year I did almost all of the teaching (my co-leader acted as my support person, like an elder) and, because I chose almost all new readings than those in the Philadelphia YM course we've used before, I had a lot more preparation to do. It was time consuming, but it was a labor of love.

More so than in previous years, I presented Quakerism from more explicitly Christian perspective, emphasizing the less well understood spiritual foundation of Quakerism somewhat more than the more familiar outward signs (e.g., "silent" worship, testimonies). I told the class on the first day of my bias and that there are other perspectives on Quaker theology and history and that they were under no obligation to take my word for any of it, so I felt more free to teach it from my viewpoint without distracting qualifications or disclaimers.

There were about 30 participants, some of whom are long-time Quakers (only one of whom, though, was raised in a Quaker family, and in our meeting), others who have begun to attend more recently, a couple of teachers from Friends School, and a handful who have never attended meeting who came on the recommendation of a spouse or friend. (Several were from other meetings in town.) This range of diverse experience was a challenge, but I was pleased that attendance held up and that the large and small group discussions consistently seemed engaged and energetic.

Here's the reading list I used:
Books:
Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition by Michael L Birkel
Quakers in America by Thomas Hamm
Encounter with Silence by John Punshon
Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order by Lloyd Lee Wilson

Pamphlets:
Creeds and Quakers: What's Belief Got To Do With It? by Robert Griswold (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 377)
Living in Virtue, Declaring Against War: The Spiritual Roots of the Peace Testimony by Steve Smith (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 378)
Members One of Another by Thomas Gates (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 371)
The Inward Light: How Quakerism Unites Universalism And Christianity by Samuel Caldwell
George Fox's Message is Relevant for Today by Lewis Benson (New Foundation -- Publication 2) (I couldn't find a source to buy this on-line except an e-bay auction asking $30 to buy-it-now for a 12 page pamphlet [but in new condition!].)

(Thanks to Martin Kelly for suggesting Silence and Witness and to the publisher for finally putting out a more affordable paperbound edition of Quakers in America ($25 vs. $40 for the hard-bound edition.) Even though we only read excerpts from the books, this was a pretty hefty reading list and it may have been a bit much. Nevertheless, most people seemed to have read most of the readings each week.

(If I lead this course again, I would like to use Marshall Massey's remarkable essay-in-progress on doctrines, dogma, and confession of faith if it is available in print.)

I guess my bias shows in my reading list, too. I didn't realize until after I had completed it that each book (except the Benson pamphlet) was written by a contemporary, living Quaker. While this wasn't by design, it did give me an unexpected source of hope for the survival of the Gospel during these troubled times.

But what I really want to say about my experience leading this class is that there is among Friends -- longtime and new attenders alike -- a hunger for information and a systematic way to learn about and study the phenomenon of Quakerism within a framework of familiar categories so it can be compared and contrasted to other religious communities and traditions they may be familiar with. It seems that almost everyone who comes to our meeting understands pretty well how Quakerism is similar to other religious traditions, but they also want to know what makes Quakers unique and worthy of their commitment. Books can help do this, of course, but learning together, interactively, is what it feels like people want and need.

We've now had more than a hundred people in three years participate in Quakerism 101 in our meeting. Many were relatively new to the meeting, and almost all of them have continued to attend meeting regularly and have increased their commitment to it. If I may generalize from our meeting's experience to other largish FGC-affiliated meetings, the fact that so many are willing to make such a commitment to learn about what Quakerism is tells me that there is pent up demand (as economists would say) for teaching ministry in our meetings.

This is a different hunger than that which my Friend Tom is feeding with the multi-week workshops he's been leading in our meeting that have more of a spiritual formation or devotional focus, e.g. how to praying without ceasing, vocal ministry, epistles of George Fox, readings from Pennington and Barclay, etc. Those workshops are also very well attended and received and have deepended the participants' spiritual lives and commitment to the meeting. They are, I believe, ultimately more valuable than the generic Q-101 course. But both are necessary if Quakerism is to have any kind of self-identity, it seems to me.

8 comments:

Robin M. said...

Wow! Great post.

Chris M. and I met and were married in the 15th St. Meetinghouse, but we haven't been back since our eight year old was six months old.

And I love your notes on the Q101 class. We are long overdue for one in SF.

Chris M. said...

Yeah! What Robin said.

Thanks, Paul, for the detailed notes about the class. The workshops with your friend Tom sound fine, too.

-- Chris M.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Thank you for your kind words about my essay about Friends and doctrines. To tell the truth, I have no idea where I am going with that series, beyond the bare fact that I'm going to be talking about Friends, dogmas and creeds.

Your reading list interests me quite a bit. I have some serious doubts about the whole "Quakerism 101" thing -- the idea that a classroom approach to learning Quakerism is at all desirable. But I suppose that if I were putting together a similar reading list I'd be more anxious to include Sandra Cronk's Pendle Hill pamphlet Gospel Order, than Lloyd Lee Wilson's book. I'd also include Barry Morley's Pendle Hill pamphlet Beyond Consensus. -- For whatever that's worth!

Paul L said...

Marshall -- I'm very interested in your doubts about the "Quakerism 101 thing" and a "classroom approach" not being at all a desirable way to learn Quakerism. Are you contrasting individual study with with classroom study?

Or are you perhaps equating classroom approach with a lecture? If so, I should mention that the majority of our 2-hour classes were reflective discussions and other exercises -- individual, small, and large group -- on the topic of the session.

I did start with a presentation each week on the topic, expanding on or synthesizing the readings. One week my presentation went on perhaps too long (about 45 min.), but the other presentations were between 12 and 20 minutes, and were followed by the reflective exercises and discussions.

As I've suggested in the post, I've found a systematic introduction to Quakerism in this kind of class to be a very positive way of orienting Friends to Quakerism in its basic historical and theological framework. While this framework can be provided by other methods, including books and pamphlets, learning it with others has a lot of value, too, especially in bringing in different experiences participants may have had with Friends.

I would also hasten to add that while Q-101 or something like it is a necessary (or at least desirable) part of a meeting's religious education ministry, it is by no means sufficient. Only if it leads to further study, contemplation, spiritual growth, and inner change does it have long-lasting value. I am acutely aware of my own tendency to study Quakerism as an intellectual phenomenon as a way of avoiding the consequences of faithfully living it out and am quite clear about the dangers of not resisting that tendency.

Thanks, too, for your suggestions for other readings. I am familiar with both Sandra Cronk's and Barry Morley's pamphlets and agree that they would be very useful.

Marshall Massey said...

Hello, Paul!

You ask what I meant by saying that "I have some serious doubts about the whole 'Quakerism 101' thing -- the idea that a classroom approach to learning Quakerism is at all desirable."

No, I'm not contrasting individual study with classroom study or equating classroom study with a lecture.

I'm contrasting the idea that one learns Quakerism by taking a course in it -- be it a lecture course, an individual-study course, or a group-discussion and group-exercise course, this is still a course at least one step removed from hands-on active involvement in the Lamb's War -- with the idea that one learns Quakerism by immersion in the ongoing life and struggles of a genuinely faithful community, a community that can model a living Quakerism before one's eyes and suck one into its corporate discipleship.

Such a community will still do things that prompt one to read the Quaker classics. It will still do things that suck one into conversations about what Quakerism is. But the reading and the conversations will not be organized like course material; they will occur as background material becomes needed for an ongoing engagement with what the Spirit is doing in the world right now.

As I say, I have my doubts. This is not the same thing as knowing for sure what the right way is to approach this matter.

Paul L said...

Oh gosh yes, a Quakerism 101 course is at least one and probably several steps away from hands-on active involvement in the Lambs War. The best that might be said is that a good course might be given in a way that models "living Quakerism " and corporate discipleship. I did my best to do that, but make no claims to success on that score.

But I see it more like preparing for a trip to a place we've heard a lot about but about which we have a lot of misconceptions. In fact, I might have used this analogy in the first session of the class to introduce the course: We know that the map is not the territory, and the territory is what matters. It doesn't do much good to study the map if you aren't going to go there; it's a nice academic exercise, but that's about it.

But, if you have a map and become familiar with the contours of the place, the spatial relationship between the landmarks, etc., it might make visiting the territory more sensible, rewarding. It might also be less scary, and you might be more willing to take the risk and go yourself.

I'm afraid too many people come to our meetings -- especially like ours which is liberal/Beanite with very few life-long Quaker adults in it -- and assume that what they're experiencing is authentic Quakerism without knowing how detached it is from the living tradition. If we had vibrant meetings that reflected that we were a People with a message to proclaim, it might not be necessary to have formal instruction in the tradition. But we don't, by and large, and we need help.

I often feel that our meetings (I keep saying our because I think it is more than just my meeting) are in a kind of Babylonian Capitivity, together in name, but in exile from our true homeland and heritage and are trying to sing our songs in a strange land. We do our best, but we have to get back home. I don't think we're likely to get there without reading the scrolls together.

Liz Opp said...

Marshall, I appreciate the question you raise with Paul, about whether a "classroom approach" to Q101 is even desirable. And I also appreciate Paul's response, that especially among Liberal Friends, there is a danger of continuing to not say ANYthing to so many who seem interested in and desiring of a living faith. But the entry point to that faith differs among Liberal, Conservative, and Evangelical Friends.

And yes, Paul, you did use the analogy of "the map does not equal the terrain," though in hindsight, it would have been nice to have repeated that statement during the course of the 6 weeks--maybe that reminder could be part of snowed-out Week 7, if we ever get around to rescheduling it!

I also am intrigued by your closing remark in your most recent comment: I often feel that our meetings (I keep saying 'our' because I think it is more than just my meeting) are in a kind of Babylonian Capitivity, together in name, but in exile from our true homeland and heritage and are trying to sing our songs in a strange land. We do our best, but we have to get back home. I don't think we're likely to get there without reading the scrolls together.

Wow, there is a blogpost in there for sure, and probably even an adult education presentation! I hope you'll consider expanding on the idea of Friends in Babylonian Captivity.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Paul!

I appreciate everything you say, and honor the logic of what you are seeking to do. The Korzybskian distinction you make between map and territory certainly ought to help.

Of course, one meaning that I have always heard in that distinction is that the territory falsifies the map. And that is a difficult truth to convey in Quakerism because the people who hear it for the first time tend to assume that it means either too much or too little. But for all that the map is not the territory, and for all my doubts about the classroom approach, I agree with you that reading the scrolls is part of the work.

As regards your concern that we have "vibrant meetings that reflected that we were a People with a message to proclaim", it seems to me that what it really takes is just a single faithful minister. As George Fox put it, "If but one man or woman were raised up by his power, to stand and live in the same spirit, that the Prophets and Apostles were in, who gave forth the Scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles around." (Journal, entry for 1652)

This is something I find myself thinking about a lot; I am keenly conscious of the ways in which I fall short of Fox's ideal, and of the ministerial power I lose by falling short.