Why I’ve never read Quaker Faith & Practice
I’ve been a faithful attender at London’s Westminster Meeting for 12 years but I’ve yet to read Quaker Faith & Practice, writes QUIP member Mike Brooks.
I bought a copy of our famous red book a long time ago, but I can’t remember dipping into it.
Despite this I don’t feel ignorant about Quakerism, it’s just that whatever I’ve learned has been absorbed only through the practice and presence of Quaker worship and community.
I think I know why I don’t study the Quaker book. In my late teens and twenties I got horribly caught up in different types of Christianity – particularly evangelicalism and Calvinism – one after the other. Basically, I think I was brainwashed twice. The experience of trying to live in accord with the unhelpful, unwise and aggressive teachings of these Christian sects was so painful that, when I finally escaped their clutches, I ran a million miles from anything resembling theology.
To my great surprise, that changed recently when I encountered the writings of Richard Rohr. Sweet salvation!
It would have saved me many years of pain if the gospel I first heard preached had been Rohr’s Franciscan interpretation rather than the soul-destroying Reformed doctrine.
Rohr dismisses original sin and the idea that Jesus had to pay a price to save us (a part of me shudders as I dare to write this: a remnant of the fear I felt around questioning evangelical doctrines all those years ago). Instead, Rohr presents a version of Christianity that is in tune with the mystical teachings of many cultures and religions – what is sometimes called the Perennial Philosophy. As I understand it, the gospel Rohr preaches is nothing about doctrine or belief, but simply an invitation to be honest and vulnerable and enjoy the acceptance of God that is already there for you.
But, despite my enthusiasm for Rohr, I don’t want to go back to Christianity. I’ve read too much now about other religions, philosophies and ideas, and I’ve discovered I can find light everywhere.
And one of the ideas I find most helpful is that the truth – and God, whatever that means – is not found in theories, theologies or words. Rather, I think truth is found in something we could call experience or relationship or embodied feelings or vulnerability, or just life!
I’m still not planning to read Quaker Faith & Practice – even though I understand it is quite good. Instead, I remain of the view that Quakers are at their most eloquent when they are silent. Words mostly get in the way.
But if I’m so dismissive of words, why am I a novelist? Well, I think the beauty of fiction – unlike philosophy, theology or political ideology – is that fiction is not trying to be ‘right’ or pin things down. Fiction plays with the fact that life is messy, contradictory and confusing. Fiction doesn’t need answers, only questions. In my writing, my characters represent different points of view, even different aspects of my own contradictory psyche, debating life, not needing to find answers, but exploring nonetheless.
I think it’s fine to use words, but let’s never imagine we’ve got it right. I realise this sentiment sits nicely within the Quaker tradition, and I urge all Quakers to continue offering this amazing gift to the world. I’m sure Richard Rohr would agree.