Here’s the third and final part of my conversation with fellow Quaker theologian and author Ben Wood. In this podcast episode we talk about whether Quakers can believe anything they want, and the importance of a shared story.
Quakers in the past may have had a ‘testimony against times and seasons’, but this is no longer true in Britain today. Many Quaker meetings, including my own, will have Christmas-themed worship in December. We have abandoned referring to Monday as ‘second day’ and June as ‘sixth month’, except in some formal documents like marriage certificates. In practice the testimony has fallen away, but nothing positive has replaced it. We find ourselves in a half-way house, with no clear corporate answer on the place of times and seasons in the Quaker faith. If we take a look at why Quakers opposed times and seasons in the first place, we might be able to construct an approach that makes sense for us today.
In her new book, ‘The Dark Womb’, Karen O’Donnell writes openly about her traumatic experience of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb) and infertility. She describes how her church community at the time failed to respond to her trauma in a theologically helpful way. This book emerges from wrestling with the disconnect between her experience and the theology on offer in the church. This book will speak particularly to those who have first- or second-hand experience of reproductive loss, but O’Donnell also invites theologians to use reproductive loss as a lens to see theological questions in a fresh way.
Jesus says of his crucifiers ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34)... I’ve been helped to read these words by the writer James Baldwin. In his book ‘The Fire Next Time’ (1963) Baldwin offers an important perspective on the crime of ignorance, the crime of not knowing what we are doing.
The Spirit of Christ continually surprises me with the 'incorrigibly plural’ nature of God's creation. Christ is ‘drunkenly various’, a vine that outgrows any trellis we might build for her. I know Christ in me, but Christ is infinitely, delightfully strange in others. The way of peace is more a spirit of curiosity and love in the midst of difference. Unity of communion doesn’t mean that our differences disappear, but they are no longer a dividing wall of hostility between us (Eph. 2:14). We remain our ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ individual selves (Ps, 139:14), but we understand each other better.
Recently, I’ve seen a number of people on social media expressing sadness that Quakers in Britain aren’t at the forefront of campaigning for a particular cause, or against a particular problem. By not taking a collective stand on a moral issue, the Quaker community is falling short of their expectations. I’ve been thinking about why this disappointment might occur, and what I might say to someone who feels this way.