I had the privilege this week of speaking for the Northwest Yearly Meeting of the (Evangelical) Friends Church at George Fox University in Oregon. It was a wonderful time in a beautiful place. Although I have had great relationships with many Quakers over the years, and we have a Friends Center here at APU, this was my first opportunity to be an adopted "Friend" for any period of time. Although there are several differences between the Quaker and Holiness traditions, our mutual pietistic roots make us kindred spirits in many ways.
I am a Nazarene because they raised me, messed me up, and now they're stuck with me. But if for some reason they were to boot me out, I would be very open to finding shelter among the Friends. I often tell students that Wesleyans - like the Nazarenes - are awesome because we held to an optimism of transformational grace (grace necessary for entire sanctification) before it became cool to talk about God's holistic redemption of creation, and we held to a quadrilateral of sources for revelation (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) before non-foundationalist epistemologies became all the rage. (I know I lost some of you there... but trust me, those two things really make Wesleyans theologically hip).
Nevertheless, there are two things about the Quakers/Friends that I really wish we Holiness types had more of, namely peace and quiet.
Those of you who know me well know that I have been so shaped by theologians like Yoder and Hauerwas that in my heart I'm a messianic pacifist even if in my head I end up being a just-war theorist. It's my sense that many modern-day Friends are in the same place. Although open advocates for peace and deeply shaped by the non-violent tradition, many among them at the same time recognize the need to curb evil when it is out of control and to honor those who put their lives at risk in the service of others. But I wish we were more like the Quakers and we started from a position of peacemaking and were struggling with the hard questions of the use of violence. It is my sense that own tradition starts from a place of siding with the "powers" and then struggles with whether or not we ought to be a peaceable people or not.
I think my line in a sermon they loved the most this week was when I was talking to them about the call that God has placed upon our lives to be a people who are separated from the world, filled with Christ's presence, in order to be a blessing in the world. I said something to the effect of, "This divine call invites us to be a unique and alien people in the world. This is a part of the story that you folk should understand better than most. You have been working hard at being weird for most of your history." They ERUPTED in laughter because they knew it was true - and they were proud of it. I mean they are weird in the same way that all of us who grew up in small churches and small towns are weird, but they also know what it means - as the children and grandchildren of people who at the cost of reptuation and social standing refused to be manipulated into acts of lethal violence - to live as though their citizenship and allegiance belonged to an "alien" and heavenly people.
I can't help it. I just thoroughly enjoyed being with a people for whom social justice is not a new church growth strategy and where peacemaking is not a trendy political ideology but where standing with the oppressed and witnessing to the ways that good might conquer evil have been part of the fabric of their attempts to be faithful to Jesus. That's a weirdness that gets into your spiritual DNA and I think the universal church could use more of it.
I also appreciate the quietness. This particular group of Friends worships pretty much like the rest of us. In fact one night the youth led the worship using what they described as the nine different forms of expression. They were singing, painting, reading, dancing, and whatever the other five forms of expression are all at once. It was chaotic, noisy, beautiful, and worshipful. But several times throughout the week there were moments of intentional extended silence in the worship service.
At the end of my message one night no one came to the platform. The entire congregation just sat in silence and reflection. At first it made me nervous. I kept wondering if someone forgot that they were supposed to close the service. But no one left. We sat listening to what the Spirit had to say to us. Eventually a young girl stood up and shared what the message had meant to her and asked that we pray for her. A couple of other people shared similar reflections about themselves or about what they thought God was trying to say to them as a church. It was not long. It was not overly emotional. It was just beautiful and Spirit filled.
It made me wonder about how choreographed our services are. We are constantly working on "flow" so there is no "dead air" in the worship. Maybe we need a few Quakers to remind us that in worship the air is never dead but it is filled with God's presence and if we'd all stop talking for a minute he might say something to us.
I know all these things can become legalistic and routine and all of our traditions can easily become traditionalism (the dead faith of living people rather than the living faith of dead people). But my experience this week among our Quaker brothers and sisters reminded me that we really do need each other in the larger Body of Christ to serve as important witnesses to that vastness, richness, and beauty that is our walk with our Creator.