Author: Phillip Gulley
Length: 224 pages
Publisher: Convergent (28 Oct 2013)
“Why is a person who accumulates pets considered mentally ill, while a person who accumulates money is seen as a role model? The first person is diagnosed with compulsive hoarding syndrome and treated with therapy and drugs, while the wealthy person is lauded for his or her skills in investing and viewed as success.”
I cannot remember where or when I first read about them. They have fascinated me for a while, the Quakers. When I heard Isaac Newton was one, I was surprised and curious. So it was that when I first saw the book, Living the Quaker Way by Phillip Gulley, I felt a pull. An irresistible pull.
The book starts with a simple question – What and Who is a Quaker? The answer seems to be: anyone. Anyone who seeks truth and strives to live pure.
To become a Catholic, you must undergo some rites. This is the same with most Christian denominations and religious groups. In contrast, there is mostly no formal induction for anyone wanting to be a Quaker. The Friends, as Quakers are sometimes called, have this tendency of valuing “inward convictions over outward rituals.” So if you want to call yourself a Quaker, by all means go ahead, as long as you “live out as best we can the virtues of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality.” The book points out that one of the key characteristics of Quakers is the lack of uniformity in beliefs and practices, though it later hints that this has not always being so:
“While our earliest decades in the mid-1600s were marked with a surprising uniformity of thought and practice, Friends would eventually, even eagerly, strike out in new directions, inspired by their sense of divine leading. Some would actively resist and reject war; others would not. Some would labor to free slaves; others would own them.”
The book surprises me by saying some modern Quakers are Atheists. It explains that these are not Atheists that reject God or a form of God they were taught as kids but “their sense of integrity would not permit them to claim to a Divine Presence they had not encountered.” It goes further to say that the main difference between Quakers and other Christians is that,
“Unlike other Christians, the Quakers did not elevate the Bible as the final repository of truth. While they valued the Bible, incorporating its precepts into their daily lives, they were careful not to invest it with ultimate authority... Neither did they bend the knee to a church authority, hierarchy, or tradition in their search for truth.”
Now, having defined what a Quaker is, the rest of the books expatiate on the Quaker way of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. On simplicity, it says that there is no blanket rule for living a life of simplicity as needs and wants differ from one person to another. It says :
“The life of simplicity does not mean owning a bare minimum of goods. It is a commitment to live a liberated life, freed from constant distraction, devoted to our spiritual and emotional growth and the betterment of others. This can, and will, take many forms, depending upon our priorities, insights, needs, and life stages.”
On community, the book states that TV, video games, and other forms of entertainment have taken us from our porches to indoors. The result is that we are no longer physically in touch with people like years past; neither do we care for our neighbours any more. The book lays a bit of blame at the feet of the Church for not stemming this tide of isolation.
“In the midst of this decline in community stands the church… the church is not the unifying force it once was. The culture wars have divided us. In my own town, the conservative and progressive pastors no longer join together in a ministerial association, something they once did with mutual joy and benefit. Theological differences are no longer viewed as opportunities to learn, but as positions to attack and defend.”
The books also slams the culture of wealth accumulation and the disenfranchisement of the poor. It shines a spotlight on the way we pass the buck to excuse ourselves from taking responsibilities for our lives. It also decries the lack of corporate and individual integrity in today's society.
The book does not shy away from the some shameful events that sullied the fabric of Quaker's supposedly clean history. It tells the story of James Nayler, who went against the core beliefs of the Quakers in the 1600s and was “read out of the meeting” a tame term for excommunication. He was treated shabbily by his Quaker brethren and later died as a result. On his deathbed, he forgave his detractors and was remembered as a unique Quaker of his time.
“The life of James Nayler illustrates the best and worst of Quaker community. Before his spiritual misjudgments, Nayler enjoyed the deep respect of his fellow Friends. In his Quaker community, he found support, a sense of belonging, and encouragement. After the passion of his faith became an embarrassment to Friends, he discovered firsthand the expectations of unquestioned conformity, the tendency to punish and isolate those who act unilaterally…”
Malcolm Gladwell once said that “Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else's head.” If you then decide that what you saw in that person’s head isn’t a reality you want to live in, that is your prerogative and therefore, okay. On the basis of good writing, Living the Quaker Way by Phillip Gulley succeeds immensely. It has most things I love in books - great stories, credible research, incisive analysis, solid spiritual principles and engaging arguments.
Though I disagree with few of its conclusions and practicalities on spirituality, I will say this is a fantastic book. I learnt a great deal and I am happy recommending it to anyone seeking new perspectives about the issues of life and spirit.
Clear & simple writing
Review copy was provided by The Crown Publishing Group’s Blogging for Books.