Although faith is intangible, and not linear or rational, it profoundly affects how people act as individuals and as communities. A true and lively faith energizes and motivates. In this essay I’m exploring how our faith is a force in our lives; and how its power can be both positive and negative for individuals, communities, and society.
There is an important difference between religious dogma and faith. It is possible to identify with a religion and not have faith. It is common to have faith and not be religious. I am a Christian by tradition and upbringing, and an Episcopalian by affiliation. But in everyday practice the Quaker values best match my personal beliefs and spiritual aspirations.
Most Christian denominations use some version of the Nicene (Apostles) Creed to summarize what they profess to believe. Members often recite the creed in unison as a part of their worship liturgy, but there is a wide range of personal interpretation that ranges from rigidly literal to a more flexible and metaphorical take when it comes to what the words are understood to mean.
By contrast, Quakers cherish the personal process of seeking a faith relationship to the Divine. Individuals may not agree on specifics, but generally agree on what a living faith looks like when translated into action. One’s life choices testify or witness to their faith.
Quakers are inclusive without being evangelical. They won’t ask you if you are “saved” or pretend that their beliefs are superior to yours. It’s common for people to attend Quaker worship for years without ever being asked if they wish to become Quakers. Members of the community are generally open and interested in how you personally experience God. Indeed, adult religious education is often simply a talk given by one person about his or her faith journey. One doesn’t simply declare themselves to be a member of the Religious Society of Friends, a committee will interview a person who expresses the interest. The purpose of this interview is to discern if the person is actively seeking to discover a personal relationship with the Devine.
Quakers value simplicity, integrity, industry, community, stewardship and peace. They generally eschew traditional authoritarian organizational processes. They govern their congregations or “meetings” by consensus – often a time consuming and frustrating process for those used to decisive executive power or governance systems rooted in Robert’s rules.
We aren’t born with beliefs or knowledge. As infants we are utterly dependent and totally self-centered. Our experience of the world begins at birth and possibly a little before. Our brains and bodies continue to develop rapidly for about 16 years, and more slowly thereafter. Our intellectual and spiritual growth need never stop.
What makes human experience unique is our capacity to acquire and share the experience of others through socialization and language. Every generation builds on the traditions and discoveries of its forebears. So each of us is born into a rich environment of knowledge and belief that becomes a context for our lives. Lab rats learn to run a maze by trial and error, but can’t tell the next rat how.
We humans can and must learn to imagine, to think in the abstract, to anticipate consequences of choices, and to envision future possibilities. The vehicle or mechanism for this is our stories. In our most “primitive” societies myths evolve that metaphorically transfer the background culture to children. Parents and elders show and tell to convey the skills of life to each new generation. Shared traditions bind a people together and enable them to cooperate and coordinate for the common good.
Much of this learning becomes accepted as obvious, an invisible structure of basic assumptions. We unconsciously respond to these fundamentals as animals respond to instinct.accepted and customary set of beliefs and premises that are not reexamined or even thought about.
A True and Lively Faith
We all know faith when we see it, but might be hard pressed to define it in words. Like love and beauty we must experience it rather than be told about it. We see people do things that are testimonies to their faith.
We judge the spiritual tree by its fruits.