Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Whole Banana

posted by Rhiannon

I'm back at Woodbrooke, this time doing a course called 'Encouraging Faithful Diversity: the whole banana', with Alex Wildwood and Tim Peat Ashworth.

Obviously, I can't go into much detail--we're discussing a lot of very personal things, and issues from our home Meetings. That in itself is powerful, as the issues can be very deeply felt and the small group (there are only 11 of us, including the two tutors) makes a safe space in which to do so.

To give you an idea, though, the core issue is the relationships within the Religious Society of Friends between our Christian roots (background? past? core?) and the other influences, from other world religions, 'new age' movements, and semi- or wholly-secular sources such as psychology: they are perhaps best characterised as 'participatory spiritualities', but don't trust me on that, try and hear Alex and Tim talk about it for yourself.

The 'whole banana' of the title is the Quaker Way: a hard-to-define blob which stretches from near the centre of a Christian circle on once side, through a mixed area of Christian-other interaction, and into the 'other' circle. Within Britain Yearly Meeting, we have F/friends from all parts of this spectrum. That can be wonderful--we do sometimes enjoy our diversity--but it can be a superficial tolerance which glosses over real difference, or it can be a cause of strife, as wounded refugees from Christian churches are glad to escape and hate to be reminded of it, while other Quakers who find much meaning in Christianity are made to feel that their beliefs are being dismissed.

So, blog readers, I'd like to invite you to consider these questions: which end of the banana are you closest to? how do you feel about that lot at the other end, and those outside the Quaker Way who may be closer to you in beliefs than some other Quakers are? is this an issue which is discussed in your Meeting, or something which is unknown or hidden?


cath said...

I don't consider myself a Christian because I do not believe some of the things that are considered deal-breakers (the atonement, resurrection, divinity of Jesus, etc.). However, I can't help but feel that the ministry of Jesus was a powerful one, in which his Inner Light had been perfected to a degree that I probably will never attain. He died for his spiritual truth. He gave us the Sermon on the Mount with all those nuggests of wisdom and suggestions for relating to our fellow humans.

I pains me sometimes (and annoys me other times) that in the Quaker world, we often think in terms of either/or: Either you are a Christian or not; either your Meeting is Christian or not.

I suspect there are many Friends like me who are searching for their role models in places where other people have established a "believe it or not" criteria.

If we are open, we will be led to the place that is best for our highest good and for the highest spiritual good of the world. We are being divinely sought as we seek.

I personally don't want to put personal spiritual journeys into boxes.


bookgeek:rhiannon said...

cath, thank you for your comment. I didn't have space for it in my extended post about this, but another thing (there were so many!) we discussed at the weekend was the possibility of many apparently either/or choices being both/and cases. I think that's very necessary if we are to avoid being restricted by the labels we try and use to understand the world--they can so easily go from being descriptive to prescriptive, handy shelters to prisons.

Anonymous said...

As a Pagan with Buddhist leanings and a fondness for Jesus (though some issues with his Dad), I'm always bewildered by the reactions from some Christian Quakers online who think that Pagan Quakers, for example, are "dual faith" and diluting Quakerism. To me it's self-evident that they're Pagan Quakers (or Quaker Pagans) - people with an integrated spirituality that is nourished through commitment to the Society.

What I find interesting is the idea that there are two factions amongst online Quakers, each too scared to stand up in their Meetings and address their concerns about not being heard/respected, each too scared to listen to the other, each building up resentment until it comes out in emotional arguments on Livejournal or somewhere. There's a tendency to blame being liberal for this, but I'm not convinced that liberalism = fear. It is very, very hard to take your courage in your hands, speak your feelings, and listen (really listen) to someone else. But surely Quakers are supposed to have a process for this? Surely, that is what the Society does?

I've only been attending for a few months, at a tiny Meeting that can only meet monthly, so my experience of this has all been vicarious. It fascinates me, though, because it seems to position the problem as one of being authentic or being liberal, which strikes me as not only false, but as a bit of a dodge to escape having to take personal responsibility for being the person to take the first steps in dealing with the problem. "Let go and let God" and "What would Jesus do?" may have originated with fundamentalists, but they seem very wise indeed in this situation. To a visitor, anyway.