I’m presenting the BBC Radio 4 Daily Service again, this time on Wednesday 7th December at 9.45 GMT, BBC Radio 4 LW.
I hear, through social media, the letters page of the Friend, and conversations with Quakers in my Meeting, a steady trickle of Quaker voices rejecting various bits of religious vocabulary, including “prayer”, “faith”, and particularly the word "worship". This is framed in terms of "inclusivity", even "radical inclusivity". The more religious words we eliminate from our vocabulary, the more inclusive we will be of those who are put off by religion. As someone who longs for a rich shared theology, I don't experience it as inclusion.
I recently met with fellow Quaker theologian Ben Wood to talk about our upcoming books that both reflect on Quakerism and Christianity. We originally meant our conversation to be one long video, but after recording we realised it’d be better offered as a series of three shorter podcast episodes. So in this first part of our conversation we talk about what prompted us to write our books, our difficulties with universalism and our approaches to Jesus.
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.
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.