Most Christians — including most Christian Quakers — are, I think, more inclined to approach the Bible as insiders, which is to say, as people whose lives are embedded within the selfsame story that the Bible tells the early chapters of. So for them, the Bible is not an objective textbook that one examines with detachment, like a school board considering a new civics text.
What is by-the-numbers Quakerism worth, anyway, if human kindness is not in the picture? What is rightly-ordered meeting for business, what is plain dress be it ever so striking to the eye? What is principled behavior worth, indeed, if kindness is not a controlling part of it?
Recommending the path of the cross is often a lot harder when we are addressing others, and especially the young, and especially on behalf of an organization larger than ourselves, than it is when we are simply talking to ourselves. And I think that’s what was happening here.
Confucius saw human beings as embedded in communities, and as beings in need of productive and satisfying rôles within communities. For most of Quaker history, Friends have seen human beings the same way.
The amazing thing is that, even among people who don’t embrace the Quaker worldview — even among Hindus, whose God is capable of being, in human terms, totally amoral (viz., Krishna with the milkmaids, or Shiva destroying the world) — and even among atheists, who don’t believe in any God at all — still, that Guide in one’s own heart and conscience, the one who reveals the path of goodness and righteousness, is the Guide that almost everyone seems to prefer. If an atheist is put in a situation where the Guide says one thing, and his government or his boss at work or his brother-in-law says something different, it’s a funny thing: the atheist, too, will prefer to trust the Guide.
My eye turned back to that place in the original article where Jeavons said that he had told the yearly meeting, “This is what we should do, and now I’m going to move ahead.” Ouch. I wish he hadn’t said that. I’d be hard pressed to think of any seasoned Friend I know who would not have problems with declarations like that coming from a yearly meeting officer.
To some extent, every Friends meeting needs people of each of these four sorts. It needs the ones drawn to the community and the silence because they are the ones who will wind up with the greatest commitment to caring for the community and keeping it welcoming. It needs the ones drawn to the causes because they’re the ones who will have the greatest commitment to keeping those causes alive.
Few creatures are less well-suited to a Quaker existence than a magpie. We are flashy: not a respectable grey, but eye-catching black and white, with blue and green highlights. We are irrepressibly noisy. For all that we are officially songbirds, our song sounds like anything but prayer (even though sometimes that’s just what it is).