It has been a real eye-opener to spend the last two first-days surrounded by people who have faith. My family visited a Bruderhof community about a week ago, and this past Sunday, I attended worship at a Richmond African Methodist-Episcopalian church. These experiences stand in stark contrast, not so much to my experiences at seminary, where people have often been accused of losing their faith, but in contrast to my experience of Quakerism in general, as practiced outside of my seminary bubble.
At the Bruderhof, I witnessed a people who feel as though action is the proper expression of faith, as opposed to interpretation. This is not to say that the Bruderhof folks don't interpret Scripture, they do, but they do so by dedicating an entire life to the living out of their faith as the only appropriate expression of thier truth claims. I am certainly not in agreement with all of the expressions of faith that I witnessed, but I was certain that I viewed a people who practiced their theology in their everyday relationships, and that they dedicated each aspect of their lives to peacemaking, a sense of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. they ordered their lives around the gospel message of Jesus, and the Acts 2 church. They made no excuses for the troubled reality of the world as an impediment to true community. Indeed, they opened themselves to the outside world by opening their school, their modest medical and dental facilities,dining resources and worship to any and all who were interested.
At the AME church, I was thrilled by the expression of the Holy Spirit through the "testimony" of a young man who had apparently made a beeline for the church that morning with a message in his head that had to be shared. He had not been to church in a while, but responded to his leading, and shared it smack in the middle of the sermon, which was fully accepted with great joy by the pastor and congregation as a fully legitimate expression of faith. It was an inspiring story about how God had worked in his life while he was suffering from physical and emotional pain. All present gave glory to the God they new was the author of such experiences. they gave testimony to the truth of their faith, and faithfulness, without regard to the apparent discrepancies that might be lurking in their theology, at least in the eyes of more intellectually astute seminary trained or academically inclined "Quakerisms" of the present.
My wife and I also visited a Quaker meeting during these two weeks. As we shared some of our experiences with those present after meeting had ended, we were informed that some of our peers "have some problems with the Bruderhof," though in hindsight admitted that "they do do some good things." Actually, these Friends were more concerned with our plain clothes and the message we intended to relay in wearing them. They were very concerned about my wife's head covering, though they did not seem concerned with my hat. At any rate, they did not discuss the issue of faith, or their own expressions of it. They did like my baptism jokes however.
As I enjoyed these recent experiences, I am hoping that I can somehow find similar expressions of commitment to living out faith in the realm of contemporary Quakerisms that do not require the acquiescence of the academy in order to be legitimate in the eyes of Friends. Indeed, I hope I can find ways of expressing my own faith in YHWH, and the hope I experience through the faith of Jesus the Messiah, in a manner that dares suggest the truth of such beliefs through a life lived in accordance with my theology, not just statements intended to bring others into Quaker orthodoxy.