What you call yourself and who you are may be two different things. I can give myself names or accept the names that others give me; but, if they don’t express who I really am, there’s a lack of integrity between the title and the internal reality.
Let’s say I have a banana, but I call it a plantain. (It’s not that I just call it a plantain, I really believe that I have a plantain.) When I or someone else attempts to eat it, the discrepancy is discovered. The fruit is hard and bitter rather than soft and sweet.
I believe this is an important consideration for those of us who call ourselves Quakers. Are we really Quakers or do we just call ourselves by that name? Whether there’s integrity in it will affect our own and others’ experience of us.
Consider this passage from the bible. I believe it describes what it means to be a Quaker. (Substitute the word “Quaker” for “Jew” as you read it.)
To be a Jew is rather to be one inwardly, and true circumcision is a matter of the heart—transformed by God not conformed to tradition. Such a person gets praised, not by mortals, but by God. (Romans 2.29 SV)
In this letter, Paul was addressing the early Christian communities, which were largely composed of Jewish people. He was attempting to articulate what it meant to be a Jew given the resurrection of Jesus. He was arguing that to be a faithful member of a religious tradition had less to do with participating in traditional practices, conforming to others’ expectations, or saying those things that get you positive recognition and more to do with allowing God to transform your inmost nature.
I believe this applies to anyone who considers herself a member of a faith tradition, but especially to Quakers. Early Friends lived by and died for the belief that form is secondary to experience. When we call ourselves Quaker, but we limit God’s involvement in our lives, we create a false image rather than allowing God to reflect divine likeness into the world.
Quakers risk finding out who they really are, allowing God to transform them into it, and then refer to themselves by the names that match. They desire inward truth and outward integrity so much that they are willing to allow God to reform them and help other people to understand the source of their transformation. Are you simply calling yourself a Quaker or truly being a Quaker?