“Friend Speaks My Mind” Study Guide

A week ago I got this email from a Meeting in Pennsylvania who had some questions about the song “Friend Speaks My Mind” after I performed for them this past April. Their questions were not uncommon, and so I took the time to respond carefully and in depth and am re-posting the response here. Hope it is helpful.

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12 Responses to ““Friend Speaks My Mind” Study Guide”

  1. Thanks for explaining it further. I’ll add this to some of the video links I’ve put up.

    Much of the religious education in FGC-land focuses on character-building: help mold smart, compassionate kids. That’s noble but the religious part’s gets quarantined away in history lessons. It’s really a shame. We read the Sermon on the Mount at a high school workshop I co-led at an FGC Gathering and it was the first time many of the high schoolers had read it. That’s kind of weird. Can you find a more liberal passage in the Bible or one with more Quaker references? So yes, I think you hit the pulse of FGC First Day School alums with the lyrics.

    But it seems to me that it’s the adults running the FDS programs that are more afraid of getting into Christian subjects than the kids. At the FGC workshop the only complaint we got is that some of the kids mumbled through their passage on the Sermon on the Mount and could they please speak up. No one left the week saying “hey I’ll be a Christian now” but everyone at least knew that the Sermon on the Mount was cool and a big source of a lot of the Quaker stuff we do.

    • Kathleen Karhnak Says:

      Martin — it’s one of my fears that my child will grow up to be one of those, “What’s the Sermon on the Mount?” kids — probably unfounded, though. I had the same fear that he’d be a city kid who thought food self-generated in boxes and bags, but he regularly discusses the process by which the chicken got onto his plate.

      There’s a group of us working on a scope and sequence project for Quaker religious education — a more-or-less comprehensive list of what we think our kids should have knowledge about and skills in by the time they leave our Monthly Meetings. I hope it will be fabulous. I bet you’d have a fair bit to say about it. :)

  2. Hi, Jon–Thank you so much for your spirited rendition of your song. The sentiment is something that I have struggled with mightily, and I felt immeasurable relief hearing your thoughts! It would be so much easier if I could say that I was christian. I believe in Christ inasmuch as he is the Light (or an expression of the Light), but can no longer believe in much of christianity’s expression. I do feel thoroughly Quaker, and the principles that we believe in are intensely important to me. But even more than the sentiments you expressed, I was thrilled with the idea of Quakers being prompted to sing and dance in worship!!! sitting in Silence is glorious, but to see it spill over into such a joyous expression was amazing! Would that we would erupt this way more often! c.

  3. Jon,
    You asked “What is your inward reaction when someone asks you if Christ is your savior? (or says that Christ is theirs?)”

    This is the second time this week I have heard a references to Christ as savior with respect to Christianity and Quakerism. While I imagine this may be more common among Evangelical Friends, I find it very frustrating that FGC Friends seem to have a narrow view of what being a Christian means. I’m sure you must have encountered Christian Friends within your yearly meeting as you were growing up, did any of them ever ask you that question?

    I have to say that I find myself a little put-off by that question, but my reaction is usually to try to find out what the questioner means, it usually means something different than what my understanding would be, and while my answer would be “yes” based on my understanding, I am reasonably sure that my understanding of the meaning of Christ as savior is different from mainstream Christianity.

    With love,

    • Jon Watts Says:

      Hi Mark!

      Thanks for your response.

      I can’t say that I was ever asked by anyone in my yearly Meeting if Christ was my savior. I would even venture to say that a person might be “eldered” (in the Quietist sort of sense) in my MM if they were walking around asking folks that question.

      When I approached the topic in the song, I think the challenge was to reconcile the culture statement with the theological one. “Is Jesus Christ your Lord and personal Savior?”… is a question straight out of the religious right – more cultural than theological. As a group of universalist liberals teens, the Young Friends’ distancing ourselves from the Christianity portrayed in the mass media was cultural.

      …But then what is the inner light? What is Christ? These were questions that were never answered for us, and never asked. The “inner light” became this amorphous universalist way of acknowledging spirituality but disowning our Christian heritage.

      Going to Guilford College and finding out that Christ was, in fact, not his last name, and that the concept was originally that we all had Christ within us was a shocker. How did that match up with my understanding of my distance from the right-wing Christians?

      Thus, the paradox… I’ve got Christ’s inner light (universalist theology) but he’s not my savior (cultural distancing)

  4. Hi Jon,
    I had a feeling that it was more of a cultural distancing, but I couldn’t be sure. As you mentioned on my blog that blending of theological and cultural statements gets messy, I think that it gets messy trying to distance yourself from one form of Christianity without also distancing yourself with other forms (which might include people in your own meeting). Some early Friends were imprisoned for deviating from Christian orthodoxy, if they were here today, would we even understand the distinction or would we lump them in with their accusers? I don’t think there has to be as much of a paradox as you experienced if we are more open about how Quakers differ from orthodox Christianity.
    With love,

  5. Javaughn Fernanders Says:

    Is there really a study guide? It’d be great if you created one?

  6. To your query: “What is your inward reaction when someone asks you if Christ is your savior? (or says that Christ is theirs?)

    I respond cautiously, saying yes. However, as a Quaker, it is true that at this point I carefully distance myself from the unfortunate presumption that occurs in associating me with the religious right – which is simply an uninformed depiction of the wide spectrum of Christian thought.

    If someone were to tell me Christ is their Savior then I would carefully show to them that I hold a similar view however one that is free of the dogmatic traditions and nuanced phrasings that easily water down the concept of continued personal revelations from God/Christ.

    I feel the need to point out that the line in question (within your chorus) is actually very much a theological statement in addition to cultural distancing. Theological statements are quite serious to me, which is why I enjoy the manner in which Quakers choose words contemplatively. So, thank you for stirring the pot, be blessed on your journey, and may Christ’s Light shine more strongly in your life.

    Jon, what is your understanding of the term “Christ”?
    …and based on your reading of Fox’s journals how do you feel he would respond to the term “Jesus Christ”?

    • Thanks for your message and prayers, Robert!

      The cultural (and resulting theological) distancing that I grew up with – between my liberal Quakerism and the religious right – did not distinguish between the use of “Christ” and “Jesus Christ”. My conception of the “Inner Light” did not include either.

      When studying the early Friends and the history of Christianity I learned that while the Christ-messiah concept is traditionally attached the historical Jesus, it exists independently of him. So I would say that the Christ Spirit is that which the historical Jesus embodied, but has also been embodied by others and can move through us here and now.

      I wouldn’t be overly surprised if George Fox would condemn me for not naming Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, but am by no means a Fox scholar. What would you say about George’s take?

  7. Interesting coming across your rant the same week that I was reading “Essays on Salvation by Christ” by Job Scott (1751-1793) re-published by Quaker Heritage Press in 1993. He was recognized as a traveling minister in NEYM for 19 years and supported Quakers in Nantucket, RI, Boston and elsewhere along the seaboard.

    I understand that Barclay had asserted that any “Light” within was inseperable from the historic Jesus, just as certainly that overt worship of Jesus is inseperable from personal revelation within and the consequent desire for service to our fellow man without.

  8. Jon Watts Says:

    Comments closed here, but still open on THE ORIGINAL POST.

Comments are closed.

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