Random Wisdom

When I have a book of aphorisms or verses or proverbs I sometimes open it at random and see what leaps out.  So today I opened my Quaker Faith and Practice and found this verse:

‘Creeds are milestones, doctrines are interpretations: Truth, as George Fox was continually asserting, {is} a seed with the power of growth, not a fixed crystal, be its facets never so beautiful.’  John Wilhelm Rowntree, 1904

https://qfp.quaker.org.uk

This seems to me to sum up the entire raison d’etre of QFP.  It is not exactly a handbook; much less a rule book, but a guide to – well, Quaker faith and practice, which like Rowntree’s seed, is continually evolving.  Which means that unlike the Bible or other religious texts, it is regularly updated.  This is not at all a ‘slash and burn’ exercise but one carried out thoughtfully and meditatively over a number of years involving a wide circle of people and a wider field of consultation.  Quakers do nothing in a hurry and certainly not rewriting the book of – what do they call it?  I can’t remember.  I want to say the Book of Longing because Cohen is on my mind at the moment.  ‘Book of Discipline’, that’s it.  Not a very helpful title really as it sounds like a headmaster’s record of canings administered.  But there you go.

The problem with the Bible is that while interpretations vary endlessly – as do translations – the text itself is fixed and cannot be altered.  Where Quakers score in this sense is that changes can be made easily and paradoxically, more quickly.  The Book of Discipline is updated roughly every thirty years to take account of changes in society, to ensure we remain both relevant and true to our testimonies, and to let go of passages which are no longer considered useful.  Hence, while it took mainstream churches decades to catch up with social attitudes on LGBT people, Quakers very quickly adopted these ideas under the testimony to equality; since the 1970’s there have been passages in the book about this.

Nor do we venerate George Fox, the father of Quakerism.  He was a figure very similar to St Paul in many ways in being both a visionary and a founding figure; but he was problematic.  He could be ferociously stubborn and bull-headed and some of his pronouncements seem to us today extreme and unhelpful.  But because he’s not a saint (testimony of equality again) we are free to criticise him, something that is not usually the case with St Paul in the church.

So there it is – we’re better than the mainstream churches.  Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Humbly yours

Kirk out

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