Saturday, 26 May 2018

Why Are We So Quiet?

This is written from the perspective of theologically pluralistic liberal Friends; I make no claims or assumptions either way of its validity to any other branch/wing of the Religious Society of Friends.
A stone groyne on a beach and placid sea.
Why are we so scared of going out there and telling people about ourselves, suggesting that maybe they might like our way, were they to try it?
Is it that we are shy, culturally, corporately or individually? Our record on outspoken activism for peace, equality and justice says not.
Is it that we don't want new people in our Meetings? Maybe that is true for some; I have certainly heard some comments that seem to amount to that, reading between the lines. However, a great many of us are concerned about our numbers, about our sustainability. We cannot continue to do our work, follow our leadings, if we do not have the resources that ultimately come from there being people in our Meetings.
Is it because we do not wish to cause offence, to seem that we know better, as so many of us have felt when other faith groups have evangelised at us? Can we truly not imagine any way to be outspoken and inviting without being thus obnoxious?
Is it because we do not know how to communicate the heart of our message in a way that speaks to people? That is a harder matter, but I think not as hard as we make out. We try different things, and assume we are saying things wrong when the message does not get across – but rarely do we consider that perhaps we were saying it too quietly.
Our message is simple, though there are a hundred ways to say it. We need not cause offence because we do not need to tell people they are wrong in order to say they might see some value in our ways. We have a rare gift, for a faith community, in that we can welcome those of diverse beliefs without intending they change to match our own.
Why can't we stand up, loud and proud, and say “come, be welcome, come as yourself and we will welcome you”. We know that our practices lead people to change; many, perhaps most Friends would say that their experience of the Divine has changed them – or some form of words to that effect. We do not all change in the same way, however, nor necessarily in the same direction.
Our message is simple, though it can be said in many different ways. We should not be confounded with uncertainty, wanting to speak only when we can say it best, when we can be sure of a receptive audience. We have a treasure, our own pearl of great price, and we are meant to share it. We have found a way to light and life, strength and love, and we should not conceal it. We let our lives speak, but people will not hear clearly if we muffle the most spiritual parts of them and show only that which is not out of place for the secular.
We can say “all are welcome” more truly than most, for the reason that we do not ask for, nor expect change. If people can join our practices, and respect the diversity of belief that they find, they will be respected. If they can open their hearts to the love we share, they will be loved. We need not tell people “you are wrong; come to us and be saved”. We can say “come, share with us your experience, and we will share ours, and we will all be the richer”. We do not expect those who become part of our community to shed their religious identity in order to take up the Quaker mantle; it is a mantle that can be worn over many other garments. We do not ask people to leave behind any community to be part of ours.
By our nature, we are able to be fundamentally welcoming in a way that few can; why do we find it so hard to put into practice?
Let us go out. Let us speak. Let us be visible, loud, and proud – and humble, and welcoming, and open to learning.
Can you guess how many we let down by hiding our light under a bushel? I know I cannot.
Written May 2018
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