“I thought that to be a good Quaker I had to be A, B, C, D, and if I couldn’t do those things maybe I wasn’t a good Quaker,” Chris Stern says. Over the course of his spiritual journey, though, particularly through the example of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends, here’s what he’s learned: “It’s not up to me at all—my primary goal is to be open to being led by a power greater than myself.”
Sensing his spiritual confusion, Chris’ parents encouraged him to talk to a Friend who was studying the writings of the early Quakers. As they read Fox’s journals together, Chris saw in the 17th-century Englishman someone much like himself, “confused, hurt, unsure how to respond to the world around him.” Eventually, Fox heard directly from Spirit, and Chris found hope, and joy, in the message he received. “There is an experience that can come to us inwardly when we come to the end of our own resources and ask for help,” Chris says. “Christ can speak to us in the present day and the present moment and bring to us a message that is transformative and become a guide for us in our lives.”
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I thought that to be a good Quaker I had to be A, B, C, D, and if I couldn’t do those things maybe I wasn’t a good Quaker. Where my journey through the years and through reading the early journals, it’s all taught me that it’s not up to me at all – my primary goal is to be open to being led by a power greater than myself.
Understanding Quaker Faith Through the Journal of George Fox
Hi, I’m Chris Stern and I live just outside of Media, PA, and I attend– I’m a member of Middletown Friends Meeting here in Lima, PA.
Well, I was brought up in a Quaker situation. My dad was a Quaker and my mom went to meeting with him. Meeting was a big challenge for me as a child. I liked some of the messages I heard while I was able to sit still and listen but sitting still was really hard for me. Meanwhile I was struggling with seeing a lot of really fine examples in the Quaker meeting of people who seemed to be living very peace centered, loving lives and I found this nice in lots of way and comforting in lots of ways, but also a huge challenge because many of the things that were held up in meeting as the way to live were not easy things at all and often times you’d be told about the testimonies (that is the things that Quakers believe are the way to live your life) but very little was said about how to find the strength or power from within or without to live that way. So I found myself constantly falling short and at some point I remember saying to myself, “Well I can’t be a good Quaker so I really shouldn’t go to Quaker meeting anymore.”
Finding the Journal of George Fox
The journey as I left Quakers led me mostly into Eastern religions. I did a lot of studying (mostly through reading) but for me they just didn’t seem to make that much of a difference in who I was as a person; I still remained the same confused… and not knowing how to respond to difficult situations. Eventually through some people that took an interest in me I began to be willing to look at Christianity. In particular a man, a Quaker, reappeared who had had a conversion experience and was now reading early Quaker writings, in particular the Journal of George Fox, and my parents who saw me struggling with this recommended that I talk to this person. Bill, this man who helped me with this, was an immediate help and asked me if I wanted to come and read the Journal of George Fox with him regularly so we went through the whole Journal, the writings of George Fox, together and talked about them. I began to see that George Fox was a young man who was of a similar condition that I was in: confused, hurt, unsure how to respond to the world around him, and went to all these people for advice and help and found none of it was helpful, and then had this powerful inward experience/inward voice that said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when he heard this his heart leapt for joy. So I realized there was something there that he had found and I wanted to find it, too.
An Inward Faith
Religion can so easily become something that we wear, that we put on from the outside but the power within the Quaker messages and of these early journals was that there is an experience that can come to us inwardly when we come to the end of our own resources and ask for help that Christ can speak to us in the present day and the present moment and bring to us a message that is transformative and become a guide for us in our lives.
- 1) What can we learn today by reading the Journal of George Fox and other early Quaker writings?
- 2) Chris shared that he felt he was not a good Quaker because while there were “a lot of really fine examples in the Quaker meeting of people who seemed to be living very peace centered, loving lives…, very little was said about how to find the strength or power from within or without to live that way.” What might it look like to intentionally help folks find that inner strength or power? Does it need to be an explicit teaching, or is it better to let folks come to it on their own?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.