The Quaker Way

I recently finished Philip Gulley’s book Living the Quaker Way. Quakers attempt to live lives guided by the virtues of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. He concludes the book with a summary of what living the Quaker way has meant to his life.

In times of moral confusion, living the Quaker way has provided clarity and direction.

When I have been tempted to believe that material gain will bring me joy, its clarion call for simple and centered living has cheered my heart.

When I have thought violence and war appropriate solutions to evil and injustice, the Quaker way has reminded me of the power of love and reconciliation.

When I have played fast and loose with the truth, it has taught me to walk the straight line.

When I have been selfish, it has made joys of community all the more real to me and saved me from self-absorption.

When I have treated some people as lesser, the Quaker way has reminded me of the deep esteem God holds for all people and has empowered me to work for the good of everyone.

It has reminded me that God speaks to all and through all.

It has taught me to listen more, speak less, and seek the happiness and well-being of others insofar as I am able.

Living the Quaker way has, in every sense, made my life a deep and present joy.

That seems to me to be a good way to live.

John Woolman was a Quaker whose example is relevant to my post yesterday about boycotts. He opposed slavery, so he wouldn’t wear clothing made of slave-produced cotton.  He refused to buy clothes with dyes after he learned about the effects the dyes had on workers in clothing factories. He refused to ride stagecoaches to avoid being complicit in cruelty to horses.  He practiced these and many other personal boycotts as a way of living out his beliefs.  He believed that to be true to his values, he must attempt to enact them in his economic life.

John Woolman died in 1772.  His boycotts didn’t end slavery, or animal cruelty, or unsafe factory working conditions.  But neither did his conduct buttress and support such things. He refused to just accept that slave-based commerce was the way of the world, and that one person’s buying decisions don’t make a difference.  He left an example–a Quaker way– that is worthy, I believe, of imitating.

 

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26 comments on “The Quaker Way

  1. shoreacres says:

    I know very little of the Quakers, so this is a question born of almost total ignorance. While the sort of life described here is admirable, it’s also seems to be a life available to anyone, quite apart from traditionally Christian beliefs. Or, to put it another way, it seems to be faith understood as moral code and good works.

    Obviously a single blog post can’t communicate the entire range of any belief system. And, as you said, there are reasons for your focus here. Still, I’m curious.

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    • Bill says:

      A life based upon these virtues is definitely available to anyone, whether they self-identify as Quaker or not. I would say these virtues derive from, but can stand independently of “faith” as that word is traditionally understood. Put differently I expect some would say that because I have this faith, I cannot help but strive to live this way. Others may strive to live that way without any awareness of or allegiance to a particular faith or set of theological constructs. Gulley’s book isn’t trying to convert anyone to Quakerism, it’s just an attempt to describe the life Quakers attempt to live grounded in simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality.

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  2. Jeff says:

    Both of your recent posts have raised an interesting issue: the rise of what is called post-secularism. People are increasingly rejecting the secularism of Modernity, which explains a great deal of the opposition to abortion, the appeal of guns (to fight the secularists, represented by Big Government), the appeal of Creationism and the rise of the Young Earth people … a whole lot of issues. Humans need a structured world to live in and the idea that rationalism – the core value of the Enlightenment – will cure all evils has been shown to be lacking. Rationalism and the alienation caused by the capitalist economic system has not led to Paradise, contrary to the utopia promised by the followers of the “invisible hand” economic theories. Globalization and secularization isn’t working – this is largely what is behind the turmoil in the Middle East and the calls for a new caliphate. Post-secularism, like post-Modernism, is questioning “progress”.

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    • The sins of post-modernity are extraordinary, no doubt. But the sins born of religions mount to the heavens.

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      • Jeff says:

        Religion is just one of many forms that ideology takes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no war that the United States has fought has had a religious basis nor were the actions of the Khmer Rouge or Joseph Stalin religiously motivated. I’m not defending religion; I’m just saying that I don’t think that it is particularly enlightening to compare the sins of religion and modernity.

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      • A great way to bone up on the legacy of the sins of religion/s is Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great.” If when you’re finished with the book you find you need more of Hitchens, there are many examples of his wit, learning, and personality on youtube and Vimeo.

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      • Eumaeus says:

        too much the finger pointing at the moon is confused for the moon itself.

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      • Jeff says:

        Spot-on observation, Eumaeus. But that’s what happens when the mind gets polluted.

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    • Bill says:

      I think you’re right. It seems to me that the post-modern world will be post-secular, given the secular nature of Modernity and the increasing rejection of it. It’s interesting to see young activists and radicals, children of militantly secular Marxists for example, embracing versions of spirituality as a component of their activism (as was often evident in the Occupy movement). Perhaps culture will reach back to pre-modernity, especially with respect to an awareness and understanding of the interrelatedness of all things.

      As an aside I heard Phyllis Tickle speak a few years ago about her argument that we are undergoing an “Great Emergence” into a new Christian paradigm, which she says history suggests we should expect every 500 years or so. Someone in the audience asked her how the Quakers fit into her theory and she responded that Quakers have been emergent for 350 years.

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      • Indeed a reach back to pre-modernity’s awareness of the interrelatedness of all things would be helpful and healthful. And as you suggest, this is actually happening to some extent. I see no real evidence, however, that the majority of lookers-back are understanding the discovered interrelatedness to be God-made and God-directed.

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      • Bill says:

        It seems to me that postmoderns tend to perceive Science to be just another metanarrative. They seem to accept and embrace mystery and wonder and reject claims of exclusive possession of truth, whether originating in Science or Religion. As Jeff notes, modernity’s displacement of religion simply substituted a different set of atrocities, and (thanks to technology) on an even larger scale. My sense is that postmoderns are rejecting both (leaving the militant fundamentalist adherents of Religion and Science alone to argue with each other), and are embracing spirituality (including the existence of the divine) even while being uninterested in dogma, of any kind. I have no idea if these “spiritual but not religious” postmoderns are in the majority or not, but I’m sure there are social scientists and studies trying to figure that out. My guess is that most would be more likely to accept some broad definition of the interrelatedness of all things as being “God-made” (allowing lots of space for a variety of interpretations of what that means) or “God-directed.”

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  3. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, today’s post kind of dovetails into yesterday’s post with a simplified lifestyle. Morality has indeed been downgraded in our society. What once was an embarrassment is now not only excepted but almost encouraged. Never did I think that the intuition of marriage or life itself would be attacked like it has been. The very stabilizing forces of a culture are crumbling in this country. I fear for the direction our country is headed. My prayers are filled with asking for the leaders of our country to have wisdom in their decisions.

    Concrete step repair is calling me to action. Have a great Quaker Way day.

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    • Bill says:

      I often feel that things are getting worse rather than better, but that usually isn’t the case. Maybe I’m naive, but I tend to be an optimist about such things. While it sure feels like things are continually getting worse, by almost all standards the evidence seems to show that things are actually improving. It’s interesting that every generation thinks society is getting worse than it was when they were young. My generation thinks so, my parents’ generation thought so, their parents’ generation thought so, etc. John Wesley gave a sermon about it 1772, so apparently it was happening then too. Even when the book of Ecclesiastes was written thousands of years ago it must have been an issue, Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Ecclesiastes 7:10

      Hopefully our cultures will evolve wisely. Staying grounded in virtues like simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality will help, I think.

      Good luck with the steps. Stay hydrated (as I have to constantly remind myself).

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  4. Eumaeus says:

    In my mind, I still sit with my friends at the meeting house in Cambridge…

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve been to meeting a few times, but it’s very difficult for me to sit that long in silence. I’d love to develop the discipline to do that. My wife is a Quaker. I find no fault with the Quaker beliefs and ethics. May their tribe increase.

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      • Eumaeus says:

        i will pretend to be a teacher now…. it is not so much developing a discipline as letting go and uncovering what always exists… i’m not a Quaker per se, but I did read a lot of them like you mention and Fox too. I felt very comfortable in that meeting in Cambridge. There were other meetings, in Indianapolis where I didn’t feel it. I’ve been to a lot of churches and worship services of all kinds though and I have a special place in my heart for that meeting in Cambridge. But you can do it Bill. Don’t need to be a Quaker or have a special meeting in a special town to go to. Truth can shine anywhere, anytime.

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      • Bill says:

        Thanks Eumaeus. It’s just that I’ve felt uncomfortable sitting silently in a room with other people. I spend a lot of time in silence and that I don’t mind, though I wish I could still my thoughts more at times. I like your last two sentences. They seem very Quakerish.

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  5. Pretty amazing for 1772. It sounds modern.

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  6. Tina Schell says:

    I enjoy your posts Bill and I especially enjoy the comments that it generates! A most interesting conversation indeed. I too think the Quakers have much to offer in their approach to life, although they like most others can take their beliefs to extremes that seem almost contrary to the core philosophy. Like everything else we should take the best of their values and incorporate them into our own approaches to a life well-lived.

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    • Bill says:

      Well said. Quakers have shown more flexibility in adjusting their values than some other groups. When their plain style of dress made them more conspicuous, not less (for example) they gave it up. They still believe in simplicity in all things (including dress) but they don’t require a costume.

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  7. EllaDee says:

    I’m not a fan of Religion but I believe in personal choice [of small r religion – I identify with my WASP upbringing], and believe in God, the Universe and other things aligned with so-called Pagan beliefs on the perpetrators of Religion’s hit list but still in existence nonetheless. I believe in individual people, that in the best of circumstances they strive to embrace the virtues of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. John Woolman’s principles continue have probably better than pro rata value to the imperfect world and be quietly, personally, embraced today by Quakers and otherwise, although this may not be evident via all the channels available to us but what we are exposed to by the media, government, corporates including Religions, et al because they have their own agendas which would be nullified by validation of the existence of the virtues of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality.

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  8. Martha Caldwell-Young says:

    Thank you for all you’ve shared here, Bill. It so resonates with me. I wish to NOT support, as much as possible, destructive human practices. It’s hard, in these days, to know what is connected to what, so my inclination is to reuse and up cycle as much as I can, and to support our local economy, particularly our local food growers. This is my 2nd year participating with a CSA, which fits so nicely into my choice to go vegan – I’ve never eaten so well, felt so good (Yoga stretching helps here), or lost weight so effortlessly!

    Here’s an interesting twist to your sharing from the writings of John Woolman. My older brother is our family historian. He shared with me, just a couple weeks ago, that we are related to John Woolman, on my father’s side of the family. John was a brother of our 5th great grandfather, Abraham Woolman. How cool is that!! 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      That is very cool. 🙂 I admire John Woolman and so I am greatly pleased that a great niece of his reads my blog. 🙂

      Good for you for being in a CSA, for being vegan and for doing yoga! All very commendable practices.

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