There is controversy afoot in Britain. With much anticipation, and lead up to the event… the 13th Dr Who was announced. The beloved Dr is to take the form of a woman. Madness. Heresy.
In another niche market of peculiar people/super fans, there arises another controversy. Britain Yearly Meeting to remove God from the Quakers the headlines screamed. How could this be true? No more reference to God? Anywhere? What will become of this religious group? Heresy indeed.
I sense a thread in both of these. It is the fear of change, of the unknown, of risk.
A few facts: The Doctor, (a fictional character), is an alien, in embodies form. That form can take any shape through time. It’s just coincidentally (??) been 12 men in a row.
There is a shared theory by some that God can take any form too. Or no form we can see or name at all. Love, Peace, the Light, Jesus. “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” said George Fox. He meant it. It was his naming of the Truth.
This week Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends gathered in waiting worship to consider if they were called to revise their Book of Discipline (Faith and Practice). They felt led to do so. I would assert this willingness to hold the question of the way we encounter God, and each other, is at the heart of the Quaker faith. Ironically, it leads us to some pretty confusing places. It asks us to consider if Love of my neighbor, and the Spirit which I feel, is different in form from that experienced by my fellow Friend.
My experience of the Quaker Way is deeply, unapologetically Christ-centered. The Inner Light for me always presents (up to this point anyways) as a deep assurance of the tangible presence of Christ. Is that about the infallibility of the Truth outside me, or my comfort and inner lens through which I sense that Life? Can I accept that others might be on a shared path, deeply moved, and yet not have the same experience as I have had?
The Quakers of Britain have come to clarity to begin a revision process. They will open to the Spirit behind the words, and see if the words still match where they are called. They may indeed be compelled to remove the word “God” from every page of the book. They may be called to ADD that name in many more places. They may be asked to change not one word and just go home and take a nap. At the edge of change, to be brought to the edge of possibility, and be willing to listen, is the work of continuing revelation.
And here’s the secondary, and perhaps as important challenge. Can we love and accept each other through this? My most painful moments were not sitting in worship next to a non-theist, a Buddhist, others on the Quaker bench. The pain came when I was told I could not feel my sense of God in that space in the way that spoke deeply to me. When I was told bringing a bible to meeting would make others “nervous”. When my messages in worship were too “Christian” for some. God told me to do those things. I needed to be in a community where that was okay. As okay as others to not do those things. When I realized that situation could not be held in open dialogue, I had to change it. I did hold the possibility that I could be changed, and hold a new view – but I just couldn’t drop the God part. It was not required of me. I tested this in community, as is our Quaker practice.
So many of these recent news accounts of the Quakers don’t take any sense of actual Quaker discernment into account. This religious practice is different from others. Those called to participate are brought to a place where holding paradox is challenging, and expected. What if that skill is exactly the model that our broken world needs right now? What if that was Jesus’ whole plan to bring us to this place of understanding beyond words?
Can I be told there are more names for God than I can imagine? Yes. Can I be swayed from the lens through which I see? Perhaps. But the goal (I think) is not to convince each other away from our language and perceptions. Or at least, that is the way I see it.
There are some for whom Dr Who can never be a woman. They have 12 other choices, and reruns. They may find another show that speaks to their condition more easily. Their love of the timelines and plots and creative space fiction might have to find a new outlet. Just like religions, there are plenty of television shows too. Others may find that Dr #13 is THE BEST to speak to their condition.
My prayer for us all is that we can find the avenue to the Divine, to our deepest purpose, to our call in this world that speaks best to us. It is from this place of comfort that we can be challenged and uncomfortable. British Friends made a decision to go to that place, as a gathered body holding many human views. Not just with the book, but with the notion of gathering in the first place. We New England Quakers will arrive in that place of paradox and open discernment in August. May we be opened, and faithful, and abide in Love by whatever name it calls to us.