Quaker-Ranter: Martin Kelley Puts A New Face on An Old Tradition

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Chris M is hosting our first Quaker carnival, an event where everyone connected to this community is invited to write about a given topic.  The topic this time around is Martin Kelley, the brains behind the the incredible Quaker-Quaker blogging community. These posts are meant to thank Martin for all his hard work and influence he’s had on the Quaker blogosphere.  Consider this, as Chris says, a FestSchrift|2.0

What is a Ranter anyways?

The Ranters were fellow-travelers to the Friends in the religious turmoil of seventeenth-century England. The countryside was covered with preachers and lay people running around England seeking to revive primitive Christianity. George Fox was one, declaring that “Christ has come to teach his people himself??? and that hireling clergy were distorting God’s message. The movement that coalesced around him as “The Friends of Truth??? or “The Quakers??? would take its orders directly from the Spirit of Christ.

Then he explains how Ranters autonomous individuals with no common authority or purpose.

Ranters often looked and sounded like Quakers but were opposed to any imposition of group authority. They were a movement of individual spiritual seekers. Ranters thought that God spoke directly to individuals and they put no limits on what the Spirit might instruct us. Tradition had no role, institutions were for disbelievers.

From the time I first ran across Martin, I discovered that he too was discouraged by the lack of common “telos” or purpose in the Friends church.  That by giving away so much authority to various forms of thought, Modern Liberalism, Fundamentalism, New Age-ism, etc, we have lost our direction and basis for coming together.  In the post quoted above Martin points out how troubling he finds all the hyphenated Quakers: Catholic-Quakers, Jewish-Quaker, Pagan-Quakers (and I’d add Evangelical-Quakers) and goes on to develop his idea about what it ought to mean to be a Quaker-Quaker.

The many compromises of the Friends have made it difficult to relay a shared belief.

But the appearance of tolerance and unity comes at a price: it depends on everyone forever remaining a Seeker. Anyone who wants to follow early Friends’ experience as “Friends of the Truth??? risks becomes a Finder who threatens the negotiated truce of the modern Quaker meeting. If we really are a people of God, we might have to start acting that way. We might all have to pray together in our silence. We might all have to submit ourselves to God’s will. We might all have to wrestle with each other to articulate a shared belief system. If we were Finders, we might need to define what is unacceptable behavior for a Friend, i.e., on what grounds we would consider disowning a member.

And with this urgent call he pleads for a renewed understanding of what it means to do theology and practice as Quakers, without the hyphens.

If we became a religious society of Finders, then we’d need to figure out what it means to be a Quaker-Quaker: someone who’s theology and practice is Quaker. We would need to put down those individual newspapers to become a People once more. I’m not saying we’d be united all the time. We’d still have disagreements. Even more, we would once again need to be vigilant against the re-establishment of repressive elderships. But it seems obvious to me that Truth lies in the balance between authority and individualism and that it’s each generation’s task to restore and maintain that balance.

In hindsight I think this may have been one of Martin’s most important contributions to the Quaker tradition.  At least two things have come out of his Quaker-Quaker vision.  First, he created the QuakerQuaker blog aggregator that is run by himself and 10 or so other Friends.  The site acts as a meeting ground for people hammering out what it means to live and think Quakerly – it is in many ways this generation’s faith and practice.  The site does two main things both Martin’s innovations: a select group of people post the most interesting Quaker articles to the front page offering a selection of some of the best writings available on a variety of issues and it automatically aggregates tons of other Quaker blog posts into a number of categories that can be found on the sidebar.  It’s quite an operation that Keeps that site going.

The second thing that happened from Martin’s being a Quaker-Ranter is that he’s helped to point the way toward something of a common purpose and goal for a number of Friends.  Later this would be dubbed “convergent Friends,” a growing conversation of Quakers mashing up emerging church ideas, postmodern culture and classic Quakerism to find ways of progressing our tradition.

He ends his post with a grand challenge,

Until Friends can find a way to articulate a shared faith, I will remain a Ranter. I don’t want to be. I long for the oversight of a community united in a shared search for Truth. But can any of us be Friends if so many of us are Ranters?

Many others have followed Martin’s advice and have begun trying to forge a new path for Friends.  Hopefully some day we will no longer be Ranters!

From all this it’s no wonder Martin’s been called the Quaker “Blog-Father” by many.

Thanks for all your work Martin!  I can’t wait to see you face to face in August.

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