Now this is going to get confusing. Rob, who is not psychiatrist Rob of Mind&Soul but Quaker Rob of Consider the Lillies put a post recently about young people & Quakerism.
I think I probably fall into the category that Rob describes as one of those young Friends drawn to Quakerism because of its social orientation. It is quite possible that this is a reaction on my part. Unlike several other Quakers I have talked to, I did experience "God" outside of Quakerism and the immediate sense of "God's presence", and even the sense that the Spirit can lead us from within. I was a full blown charismatic don'tchya know :)
Of course, as most of you know, I now doubt that those experiences were anything more than quirky activity in the left temporal lobes, combined with the dynamics of a hyped up environment where God-talk was, to be quite frank, cheap as candy.
GOD TALK WARNING: The artificial colourings used in this product may cause hyperactivity in sensitive people. God Talk may contain traces of nuts
So my own journey into Friends was one of wishing to live in integrity with a heady dose of pragmatism. I must be honest and say there are times when I do squirm a little amongst Quakers who are more fond of God-talk than I am, but I'm learning to get used to that.
Which really got me to wondering, why did I join the Quakers and not just sign up to Amnesty international or some other wonderful charity? (And I do think it is important for all of us to consider community, social and political involvement, this is certainly an important part of 'spirituality' or whatever you want to call it and Quakers have certainly put this on the forefront.)
There and again, I am not sure that for me religious experience informs my "testimony". (Testimony here in the Quaker sense of the word - our commitment to such things as equality, peace, compassion, social justice, green issues etc. etc.). Quite the opposite - I would say that my religious experience is enhanced and enlivened by my attempts (small as they sometimes are) to live the testimonies in my day to day life. In seeking to live peacefully, pursue justice and practice compassion, I experience a fullness and depth of life (that some might call living in the Spirit, but I'm going to be ever so British here and not use those kinds of words if you don't mind).
But maybe that is niave. If religion is to do with the response of my whole life and whole being, then perhaps my own whole experience of the world (call it religious if you like) undergirdles my own sense of the rightness of the Quaker testimonies - even if I don't use the kind of language George Fox might have used.
Are you sure you're a Quaker - where's your funny clothes?
It may well be that those young Friends, so quick to declare, 'Works Now!', are responding with enthusiasm to an experience of the spirit (or the light, or even God if you will) that they may not have articulated with words - and almost certainly not with the kind of words Quaker tradition offers us. We no longer live in the kind of Christian society that gave birth to Quakerism. Our language and experiences may be very different from our forefathers and foremothers. Perhaps the diverse liveries Penn spoke off are now making some Friends seem like strangers.
Are you sure you're a Quaker - you don't seem Jesusy enough
However, perhaps continuing in the Quaker tradition may be to forge our own language, articulate our own experiences and find that they lead us to the same concerns for social and political justice, for peace, for equality and for compassionate living. Afterall, the good book says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction..." (James 1:27, ESV).
Are you sure you're a Quaker - you don't use the right language
I suspect that the testimonies are the best articulation of religious experience we can ever hope to have. Perhaps also, as we explore these things, we might find ourselves more in touch with the earliest Quaker reformers than years of studying the Biblical text and Quaker history can ever afford us. The experience of living the testimonies might lead us to a better understanding of the legacy left to us by the likes of Fox, Fell, Penn and Fry.