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.
Here is the original email:
Dear Jon Watts,
Sadsbury Friends Meeting enjoyed your time with us in April. Thanks for that!
In the time since then some of us are wondering about a line in a refrain from one of the songs you sang for us.
“I’m not a Christian
I’m a Quaker
I live a Christ-centered life
But Jesus is not my saviour”
Some of us are curious as to your definition of “Christian” in the context of that refrain. (We plan to discuss this at an adult forum in a few weeks.)
Sadsbury Monthy Meeting
And my response:
Sorry to take a while with this response… I have been busy in the recording studio.
The song that you’re referring to is “Friend Speaks My Mind”, which is available to listen to for free at http://www.myspace.com/jonwattsmusic (and can be downloaded for a dollar on itunes or http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/wattsjon). The chorus begins:
“I’m not a Christian
but I’m a Quaker
I’ve got Christ’s inner light
but he’s not my savior”
I’m am very glad to hear that the lines have sparked discussion in your Meeting. I am pulled into conversation about the topic often, as it deals with a somewhat touchy subject in FGC Quakerism.
My process for writing the song was to think back to my adolescence growing up in Young Friends in FGC and other Quaker organizations and to try to capture the attitude towards Christianity that – though rarely spoken this brazenly – is pervasive.
Judging from the number of Quakers from across the generational spectrum who approach me in solidarity with these particular lines, I would venture to say that I hit the nail on the head.
Thus – and I hope it doesn’t sound like I am dodging your question – the song is not about me, but rather, it’s about modern FGC Quakerism and a relatively common FGC approach to Christianity.
So what might be perhaps more valuable than asking me how I define the word “Christian” in the song is to create a space for members of your Meeting or discussion group who identify with those lines to explain their personal connection.
“What makes a person a ‘Christian’?” is a great question to start off with! Some other queries that might be valuable to explore are:
- What is your inward reaction when someone asks you if Christ is your savior? (or says that Christ is theirs?)
- In your practice, what is the relationship between the Quaker concept of the “inner light” and Christianity? (if there is one)
- Can Quakerism thrive without Christianity?
…and we’re just getting started! Again, this is a very valuable discussion and I’m glad to see you engaging with it. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to support your process.
11 thoughts on ““Friend Speaks My Mind” Study Guide”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is there really a study guide? It’d be great if you created one?
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”?