When I began coming regularly to meeting, some 15 years ago, I'd been acquainted with Friends since high school. For a long time, I hadn't seen much point in worshiping with them, but suddenly I very much wanted to. They appeared to be natural allies for the activist task I'd been given, but primarily the Meeting offered a way to center myself in the Spirit that had led me to that work.
I soon saw that I was both a Friend and a stranger. The Quaker form of worship made sense; it also moved and enlightened me. I liked the people and found inspiration in the history; but these people were very far from their historical founders. In my small Meeting, there were few inclined to join in my activism, and none who agreed as to its urgency.
Why did Friends seem overwhelmingly old, white, financially comfortable, and effectively unconcerned with poor people's suffering? Why, if our tradition embodied Truth, as I felt it did-- Why was no one moved to share it with our neighbors caught up in the World's turmoil? How had the raging fire of the 17th Century become the cooling ashes of the 20th?
When I later came to Pendle Hill, I was curious about that, but I was still yearning to answer the operative question: How can Friends become the movement we were called to be, so many years ago?
Many Friends share this concern, and try a multitude of remedies: becoming more explicitly Christian, excavating early Quaker writings and customs, abjuring agenda-worship in our business meetings. Some of us seek truth in other traditions, while others complain of Friends losing our Truth in a stew of "consumer religion." It's all symptomatic of not knowing the cure, but wanting it desperately.
I considered Friends from another angle: too attached to sweetness and light, too adverse to intellectual strife. We are, I said, unable to attract converts like early Friends because we won't struggle for the agreement needed among ourselves before we can say what we believe and why anyone might care to join us. This made an interesting flawed pamphlet--which I circulated to Friends on the internet, but couldn't satisfactorily finish, finding myself too wishy-washy to want useless conflict in my own meeting.
The kind of conflict I'd envisioned between people who'd rather find new truth than confirm their prejudices is not what people generally do. And when we confront each other's ideology-- the set of beliefs supporting a way of life that someone doesn't want to change-- That is certainly not likely.
The conflict I'd most like Friends to address is the one between Comfortable Friends and "you Hair-shirt People." While it galls me to be caught in the middle of any road, I find people acquainted with the Spirit in both groups. But we all ascribe too much importance to physical and human factors, whether for good or for ill.
To face the situation squarely, we'd need to follow some of Paul's advice: "to offer your very selves to God: a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship offered by mind and heart. Adapt yourselves no longer to the patterns of this present world, but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed. Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect."
So far as we have not let our minds be remade, we are unavoidably duped by the Powers of this world.