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.