One Quaker’s View of Lent

George Fox. This image shows part of an engrav...

George Fox. This image shows part of an engraving by “S. Allen” (published 1838) of a painting by “S. Chinn”. The provenance of the original painting is unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I worked in the busy office of a large church and had the church calendar to hand, it was very difficult to ignore the Christian cycle of holy days.  In fact, my whole job was to create things based on those days. I often tried to observe these holy days as an incentive to get ‘closer’ to God as we were advised to do by our religious leaders. I went through the devotionals and prayed the prayers. However, I could never reconcile in my mind why Lent and Easter followed so closely after the supposed birth of Christ in December. No sooner had the joy of birth been celebrated than we had to clothe ourselves with ashes and mourn Jesus’ death. Surely someone made a boo boo on the church calendar?

The more I learned of these arbitrary dates on the calendar and of the Church’s attempt to co-opt pagan dates for Christian purposes, the more I realized that we weren’t truly following anything but what a few priests decided at a council way back in the annals of time. Then one could argue about which church actually decided this and who is the ‘true’ church, blah, blah, blah. This was a theological rabbit hole down which I’d gone before and did not want to go down again.

George Fox and his Quakers traditionally ignored church holidays, which was quite a radical position considering that the entire community from which they sprang was steeped in religious practice and Church of England tradition.  Many were arrested for keeping shops open on Christmas Day. So what problem did the Quakers see in Christmas and Easter? George Fox writes in his journal:

I returned by Kingston to London, whither I felt my spirit drawn ; having heard that many Friends were taken before the magistrates, and divers imprisoned in London and other towns, for opening their shop windows on holidays and fast-days (as they were called), and for bearing testimony against all such observations of days. Which Friends could not but do, knowing that the true Christians did not observe the Jews’ holidays in the apostles’ times, neither could we observe the Heathens’ and Papists’ holidays (so called) which have been set up amongst those called Christians, since the apostles’ days. For we were redeemed out of days by Christ Jesus and brought into the day which hath sprung from on high, and are come into Him who is Lord of the Jewish Sabbath, and the substance of the Jews’ signs. (page 669, London Yearly Meeting edition, 1975)

Observing any religious holidays were not an option for Quakers in 1673 according to Fox.  Every day was supposed to be a holy day, not just an arbitrary few on the calendar. Today, I’m sure there are many Quakers who put up Christmas trees and celebrate with their family and friends because they have non-Quaker children and grandchildren who love the holiday.

So should Quakers observe religious holidays now?  Do we follow the religious convictions of those of a different time and era or do we follow our conscience informed by the Light? The answer is obvious isn’t it?  The basic premise of The Religious Society of Friends is that the Spirit moves us, as a body, in ever evolving convictions. The Light, the same then, now, and forever, always enlightens those who listen and what was good for Quakers in 1673 may not be good for Quakers in 2015.

Personally, I did not find Lent and Easter helpful in bringing me any closer to the Christian God. Contemplating Jesus’ death is supposed to make the Christian feel guilt keenly; guilt that sinful mankind forced God to send Jesus to die that we might have eternal life. This guilt is then supposed to induce more devotion and commitment to the Christian life as defined by that religion. But this just seems emotionally manipulative to me and is one of the chief problems I have with Christian atonement theory. But that’s another post.

There are some Quakers who find all of the Christian symbolism and continued adherence to church cycles very un-Quakerly in that we are clinging too much to one particular religious tradition. Why not, they may ask, observe the Muslim holy day of Ramadan or the Spring Hindu festival of Holi? Or to be even more radical, why celebrate anything religious at all? The beauty of Quakers is that we are left to make our own decisions as spiritual adults and not be told what to do like recalcitrant children.

So, given the history of Quakers then and now, What canst thou say?

Quaker-pocalypse

pilgrim52:

Again, Steven outlines exactly how I feel about Quakers in Britain. At times I feel I have no right to criticize a faith group that I’ve only been part of for 2 years now. But another part of me feels that as one coming in from the ‘outside’, I can more readily see what the problem is. This is well worth pondering.

Originally posted on Through the Flaming Sword:

I want to start a new series to which I expect I will return from time to time, though I may not sustain it like I have some of my other posting series; in those previous themes, I have written until I felt I had shared everything I thought I had been given to say. I am less sure where I’m going with this one. Here’s what I’m up to:

I want to analyze and address the Quaker-pocalypse, the seemingly irreversible general decline of Quakerism.

In subsequent posts, I want to look at the causes of this decline in its various aspects, propose some efforts to stem the tide, and—here comes my own predilection for apocalyptic thinking—suggest how we might reorient ourselves toward our virtually inevitable though not imminent demise.

For I believe in the Quaker-pocalypse. I retain my faith in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit…

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Answering That of God

pilgrim52:

A most excellent article that encapsulates what I’ve been ruminating on lately. ‘That of God’ is not a blanket statement about universalism, but a theologically rich statement of George Fox’s Christian beliefs. We mustn’t use the phrase ‘that of God’ to ignore evil or un Truth.

Originally posted on The Postmodern Quaker:

A Quaker Preacher

Walking Cheerfully Over the Facts

As interim Webmaster for the Quaker Universalist Fellowship (QUF), I was updating that organization’s site when I noticed a quotation on the home page:

“Walk cheerfully over the earth answering to that of God in everyone.” — George Fox

That exhortation, although usually without the “to,” appears on other Web pages and blogs on the Internet, too, some of them belonging to Friends affiliated with QUF. I’ve also found it in other Quaker instructional materials; I’ll make reference to one of those, a classic Pendle Hill pamphlet, later in this essay. Whatever the mode of publication, the saying is almost always carefully attributed to George Fox, the putative founder of Quakerism. Presumably, at least some readers will accept it as a central prescription of Quakerism, ponder its meaning, and attempt to put it into practice — trying, perhaps, to be amiable, conciliatory people…

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Yet Another Course

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Woodbrooke

I am off to Woodbrooke Quaker Conference Centre (AGAIN) to partake of Being a Quaker Treasurer course. There are worse places to have such a course. Woodbrooke is homey, has great food, and makes for a nice, quiet retreat, so already it’s heads above everywhere else.

I did not feel called to be a Treasurer. I undertook the position because there were elders at meeting who felt I would be good at it. I’m not so sure it was that I was the best for the role and not because they couldn’t find anyone else. They were getting desperate so I said I would do it. Having done the household finances for years, I figured it couldn’t be TOO much different. Don’t even involve me in the investment, trustee side of the financial picture because I know nothing of those things. I’m strictly a ‘money goes in, payments go out’ kind of person.

Fortunately, I have an assistant Treasurer in our Warden who counts the money donated from weekly collections and that received by lettings and pays them into the bank for me. I also have another assistant who does the Collections and Gift Aid for the meeting. This position needs filling presently.  I’m lucky that I don’t have to wear all of those hats at once. Or should I say, the meeting is lucky that I don’t! I hope it’s not a case of my being in the position for the foreseeable future, but we’ll see how it goes.

From Quaker Faith and Practice, 5th edition on-line.

Treasurers

13.43

People who perform this task for meetings do a great service. Their work often receives scant attention from other Friends, but without them we could quite simply not operate. They will need to be familiar with numbers but neither accounting skills nor a computer are necessary. More important is sensitivity in helping each member and attender to give what is appropriate, allaying feelings of guilt whilst informing them of the need for money both at a local level and for our central work.

The treasurer is a servant of the meeting, advising and helping but leaving decisions to the meeting itself.