Friday, January 21, 2011

A bit about my faith - how I ended up a Quaker

I have spending more time thinking about and explaining my faith path because my oldest son chose exploring his faith as the focus of his major term project.  I am going to express some of personal views on what it means for me to be a Quaker.

For me being a Quaker is much more than just a faith, it is an all encompassing lifestyle and personal ethic.   The Jethro Tull song Wind Up from Aqualung really sums up where I come from and here are a few words from that song:

So I left there in the morning
with their God tucked underneath my arm
their half-assed smiles and the book of rules.
So I asked this God a question
and by way of firm reply,
He said - I'm not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.

This is a somewhat obscure song from their 1971 Aqualung album, but it has resonated with me since I first heard it when I was a teenager.    At heart I think I have always been a crpyto-Quaker.

I was in my youth a Lutheran and even was confirmed in that faith but it was only a Sunday thing.   The act of going to church on Sunday and taking communion as not connected to the rest of my life.   It did not resonate with me because it, like almost all traditional Christian churches, was a religion first and foremost and a personal path of faith as a secondary after thought.   The services either felt like something from rote or performance.    There was no mystery, there was no deep ongoing engagement of the mind and soul, it did not touch my faith.   I could not describe this at the time, it was just not right and I drifted away.

From the late 1970s till 1998 I was a seeker.   I was never a regular attender of any church but did go to services in all manner of churches over the years hoping to find the spark that was missing for me.   I did spend some significant time with two churches, but that was much more about the community than the faith.

Some people may wonder why I have a faith at all, most people these days spend very little time thinking about faith at all because that old idea of some old guy up in the sky is so clearly ridiculous.   I have a faith and follow a faith path because I am not certain about everything in the world.   Most people think doubt is the opposite of faith, but it is not, the two are actually quite similar.   The opposite of faith is certainty.

I know no one that operates their life without some element of faith.  You have faith that your kids are at school when they say they are, you have faith your family is there for you, you have faith that the car or computer will start.    These are all banal and simple things but they are everyday expressions of faith.  Having faith is very much fundamental to being a human.

I tried the idea of being an atheist, but it never worked for me because there is something small and diminished about the tidy and neat arguments of atheism.   I honestly do not believe in the idea of God in any sort of a traditional sense, and I will talk in a later post about what God means to me.   In my heart now I see that what did not work for me was the sense of certainty of atheists.   It is only when I heard Harold Kushner, a rabbi, on the CBC program Tapestry last year that this fell into place for me.  He made it clear to me that faith and certainty were the opposites.

While I was at University I often went to an Anglican church, St David's by the Sea in Cordova Bay.  I did this because several friends did go this church and it felt like faith community close to what I grew up with.  Andrew Gates, the priest running this church in the mid 1980s, engaged me in some interesting discussions about faith.   Ultimately it did not meet my faith path, as nice as they were there.

The strangest feeling church service I ever went to was the first time I went to a Baptist church.   I was invited by my Catherine to join her for a service at Emmanuel Baptist.   It felt like I was at a concert and not in place seeking the mysteries of faith.  I have been to some evangelical churches since then and they all seem to be like that.   The less I say about them, the less I will insult people.

When Catherine and I moved to the UK in 1990 we actively sought out a church to go to.  We first tried a Catholic church close to where we lived, St Dominic's Priory.   We both left there not feeling like we were in the right place.

Catherine came upon St James Piccadilly, an old Christopher Wren church that had Donald Reeves rebuilding the congregation.  We found a community of like minded people there.  It is also was likely the most liberal Church of England church in the UK.   It attracted numerous clergy as regular attenders, there were about six of them btu I can only remember Norrie Mccurry's name. Trevor Huddleston lived in the rectory.

The church was open to exploring all manner of faith paths.  It was also a hot bed of political action and the centre for the movement to ordain women.   I got to know Ulla Monberg at St James.

Norrie was very good at recruiting us younger people to help with the church, there was a group of about 15 or so of us that attended and were in our 20s.  We were pulled into being part of the community and helping build a stronger congregation.  

In a beautiful church with a vibrant congregation and priest open to exploring faith, I still did not find a place for my faith.   I remember sitting in the pews a number of times and wishing there was more silent prayer and less talking and singing.

The funny thing is that Catherine half considered to going to the Hampstead meeting of the Quakers.  It was only a short walk from where we lived.   But the idea of the Quakers seemed too odd for me, that was really only down to my ignorance about Friends.  Catherine continued to express an interest in teh Quakers but we did nothing about it in London or Vancouver.

It took close to another six years after leaving St James that I came to the Quakers and that was in Lillooet because I met Sarah Chandler and she introduced herself as a Quaker.

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