For years, Eric Baker was the music director at an evangelical christian church with over 6,000 members. Now he belongs to the local Friends Meeting. What drew him to Quakers?
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One thing I really appreciate about this Quaker Meeting—this is my only experience of Quaker Meetings—one thing I really appreciate about this meeting is that we allow space. We just clear the table or we try to clear our palates. We are expecting God to speak in different ways because we are different people.
How I Came to Quakers from Evangelical Christianity
My name is Eric Baker. I’m a part of First Friends Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I’m the music director here. I grew up in a very conservative—almost fundamental—Evangelical church setting, and really my whole adult life—or let’s say the first 15, even 20, years of my adult life—was me really questioning the values, the language, the theology behind that. I was the music director at a large non-denominational Evangelical church not far from here. Six, 7 thousand people. It just wasn’t working for me. So for about 2 years, I was trying to figure out the best way to leave that and also to do the best things for me. Really, it sounds funny, but this was the first time in my life, in my late thirties, that I was getting the opportunity to figure this out apart from what I was doing vocationally.
Finding the Quakers
I was really not familiar with the Quakers at all. I had read a few authors, people like Parker Palmer and Phillip Gulley, and it really resonated with me. It’s kind of funny, at the big church where I was directing the music, one of my jobs was to make sure that everything was programmed, and now I look back and it’s sort of “entertainment church” where there’s lots of moving lights and screens and a full band and smoke and all that stuff. I walked in here, and this is a semi-programmed meeting, so we have music and a message, but there are going to be multiple times throughout the meeting where it’s just silent.
So the first time I walked in, I think the minister got up and read a scripture and she sat down and nobody did anything, and I thought, “Oh boy, how embarrassing is this? Somebody has missed their cue.” And man, it’s my first time here, I wonder if this happens often. And then four or five seconds stretches into 15 seconds, into 30 seconds, and I start to realize what’s going on, and I at first was very uncomfortable. And then I looked around, and I thought, no one else seems to be uncomfortable. Just be cool. I can sit through this. I can weather whatever this is, you know?
Embracing Not Knowing
I grew up in such a Jesus-centric environment. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. And that was used as this, like, “Hey we’ve got the answer and those people, they don’t.” So what do we need to do? We need to tell them about Jesus, whether it’s people in the inner city, or people in Africa, or the kids I go to school with.
One of the things that I just really started to struggle with, even early into my twenties, was this idea that we all had to be on the same page when it comes to what we believe. But what that does is it sends this message that if you believe this, then you’re with us. If you don’t, then either you’re not with us or you may really may need to think about coming over to our side, and I always really struggle with that. So to now say not only are we not going to make you say what we believe in this one voice—so making sure: “Hey, we’re all on the same page, right?”—we’re not going to say anything. And we’re going to allow God to speak into this.
It took a little while for me to not only learn that, but to give myself permission that that was okay. That God is not this, that our experience of how religion should be is not this, it’s this.
Recognizing the Light of God in Every Person
Recognizing the light of God in every person has been a goal of mine to try and unlearn a lot of things. Recognizing the light of God in every person that’s different than me, that looks different than me, that has a different ethnic background or socioeconomic background or sexual identity or… I don’t understand their world, but they are created in the image of God. It’s not, “I recognize that you are created in the image of God and you’re welcome into this place. Now, we need to get you in here and talk about this sin in your life.” That’s been my experience. It’s like, yeah, everybody’s welcome here. And then they can sit here and get changed until they’re just like the rest of us.
What if we don’t do that? What if I don’t purport to know exactly what a follower of God or Jesus Christ is supposed to look like? What if there’s no “supposed-to-look-like?” What if we just say, “You are created in the image of God and I am created in the image of God and I recognize that in you and the value that you have because of that and the beauty that you bring to me and my life and the perspective and the value on your ideas and your thoughts and the value that brings to this meeting.” What if we just do that? That’s what’s had such a significant impact on me.
- Did you grow up with religious songs? How do you feel about them now?
- How would you try to explain Quakerism to a member of Eric Baker’s childhood church?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.