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Recommended Quaker books

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When we get visitors, we often get queries about book recommendations.  A good place to start would be the links in the "About" section of this website.  That covers the basics.  And there's no getting around experience for learning Quaker practice.  But if you're like most Friends, you like to read.  So if you twist my arm here are the books that I would want to give visitors.  

(1.)  Silence and Witness by Michael Birkel.  A nice short introduction to Friends.

(2.) Knowing the Mystery of Life Within - this book is ostensibly about an important early Friend, Isaac Penington.  The second half was written by Melvin Keiser, former director of Quaker Studies at Guilford College.  It provides a theological understanding of what Friends are about but in language that is non-sectarian and experiential.    Fortunately still available from QuakerBooks for $25 as my son took my copy when he moved out.  

(3.) Goatwalking by Jim Corbett.  Corbett was one of the founders of the Sanctuary Movement.  A good book to read if you want to understand why Quaker business meeting is important.  An interesting book even if you aren't a Quaker.  Available in the meeting library.

(4.) The Quakers by Hugh Barbour and J. William Frost.  My favorite history of Friends.  Has a nice section on University Friends, which describes the trend Carlisle is part of.  Available at the Dickinson College library.

(5.) Quaker Process by Mathilda Navias.  Visitors to our meeting are often given a copy of Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice.  I like our Faith and Practice and it's free.  This book covers a lot of the same ground but has the advantage of not being written by a committee.

(6.) Here's where I get a little more controversial.  I would give visitors a copy of Gene Gendlin's Focusing.  Gendlin is a major contemporary philosopher whose work has had a major influence on Friends.  Gendlin in turn was deeply affected by time he spent with Friends as a young man.  Friends faith and practice are based on what we call the inner light.  While that is similar to what other Christian groups mean by the Holy Spirit, it comes out of a specific 17th century background and way of knowing that is based on felt sensing.  While we try to present ourselves in ordinary language and in a way that other people can relate to, there is something very different about Friends.  While not ostensibly about the Quaker Inner Light, Gendlin's description and practice of Focusing is the best way I know to teach people about the Inner Light.  A number of Friends have written books informed by Gendlin's work.  See Rex Ambler's Light to Live By, Doug Gwyn's Conversation With Christ, Harbert Rice's Language Process Notes: Using Words to Get Beyond Words.  And Keiser's book above is informed by the same philosophical tradition.

(7.) Mary Parker Follet's Creative Experience - this book is available on the internet.  This is pretty obscure and probably most Friends aren't even aware of Follett.  She was a social psychologist from the early part of the 20th century.  This book is not ostensibly about Quakers but it provides an interesting description of the inner light and Quaker business process in terms of early 20th century psychology.

(8.) From Conflict to Creative Collaboration by Rosa Zubizarreta.  Zubizarreta is a contempory Friend whose work is informed by Focusing and Follett.  She describes how groups with diverse points of view can come together and come to concensus about important decisions in a way that doesn't involve compromise.  While not ostensibly about Friends, it provides an understanding of why the process used in Quaker business meetings works.

(9.) We the People by John Buck and Sharon Villines - This is a book about applying Quaker business meeting to running a business or a government.  Buck is a member of our Yearly Meeting.  This book is available in the public library.

(10.) I try to avoid the old stuff like Fox's Journal, although it does function like a kind of Quaker Book of Acts, and so is good to know in terms of allusions.  If you want to read the old stuff, start with Douglas Steere's Quaker Spirituality, and then decide if you want to do the longer works.  I would recommend John Woolman's Journal, not because of what you learn about Quakers but because it is an interesting piece of spiritual literature.  Woolman is kind of like the Quaker St. Francis.  Read the Moulton edition if you can.  Most of the old Quaker writings are available in some form online.  I try to steer people away from the old stuff though.  We can start to feel like an antiquarian society.  But I do like books off the beaten track.  One book that not many Friends know about is Joseph Phipps's The Original and Present State of Man.  It was the major Quaker theological work of the 18th century and one Quaker historian has said that at one time every meetinghouse in America had a copy of Phipps.  It still holds up well.  Here's one of my favorite quotes that actually tells you a lot about what Quakers mean by the inner light:

Our Lord shewed his Disciples (John xv. and xvi. ), that the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter, should not only bring to their Remembrance what he had told them, shew them Things to come,and lead them into all Truth; but it should likewise, reprove the World of Sin, of Righteousness, and of Judgment.  Whether this Divine Visitor appears to the Mind of Man, in Words, or without Words, by the Sensations of Compunction and Remorse; whether in the Sharpness of Reproof, or the healing Touches of Consolation; whether it manifests itself as Light, or sheds its Life and Love into the Heart; whether it darts upon it as Lightning, or settles it in a Holy Serenity; fills it with Faith, or inflames it with Zeal; in all these Ways, seeing it proceeds not by Messenger, but by its own immediate Communication to the rational Soul of Man, it is properly stiled internal immediate Revelation. This Divine Principle is a living Source of Truth and Virtue in Man, without which Laws and Precepts would little avail, and when, through Faithfulness thereunto, it is enlarged and advanced over all in the Soul, it is found to be a sure Foundation, which neither the Wisdom of the Wise, the Reasonings of the Confident, the Jugglings of the Crafty, the Derision of the Reviler, the Rage of the Persecutor, nor even the Gates of Hell can prevail against.


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