Review By: John C. Robinson, Ph.D., D.Min
I liked this book! And it kind of knocked me off my feet. I should explain.
In his highly readable Living the Quaker Way, Philip Gulley graciously welcomes the curious reader into the Quaker faith. His introductory chapter, “What is a Quaker?” is friendly, open, kind, unpretentious, and folksy. I read on expecting a primer on Quaker history, beliefs and practices and was not disappointed. But then I was startled by the change in tone. As he begins to work through the core values of the Quaker faith – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality – Gulley becomes eloquently and passionately critical of modern American life, criticism that I entirely agree with. What makes it hard to read, however, is that I found myself “guilty as charged” of so many of the usual and customary varieties of dishonesty, hypocrisy, selfishness, insensitivity, and denial. His words challenged me to examine how well my life reflects these universally important values. Then I realized: This is the Quaker life, this is the way Quakers think and believe and strive to act.
With insight, sincerity, candor, and personal anecdotes, Gulley devotes a chapter to each of the five core values of Quakerism, digging deep into its meaning, asking important questions and drawing useful distinctions. On Simplicity, he asks, “What Does It Mean To Be Successful?” in a wealth-centered society, and reminds us of the difference between “Wanting and Needing.” In his chapter on Peace, Gulley looks at the political and economic infrastructure behind America’s war machine, challenging us to imagine how our country might truly prosper if we took the $700,000,000,000 we currently spend on war each year and invested it instead on creating jobs, repairing bridges, rebuilding schools, improving education, extending mass transit, and caring for the mentally ill. With his familiar frankness, Gulley challenges, “When these human tragedies are brought to our attention, the answer is always the same: the problem is too great and we lack the resources to help. This is, of course, a bald lie. Let us call it what it is. As a nation, we have decided to spend our considerable wealth on armaments and warfare at the expense of human dignity and well-being, education, and societal progress.”
As should be apparent by now, I am a sympathetic reader, to wit: I was a conscientious objector during the Viet Nam War and, after retiring from the practice of clinical psychology, I studied interfaith spirituality with the religious activist Matthew Fox and was later ordained an interfaith minister. These kinds of values matter to me and I was pleased that they are alive and well in the Quaker faith. I also believe that these values matter deep down to everyone, though many are not fully conscious of their personal significance. And, as Gulley points out, we can all aspire to live the Quaker way whether we join their fold or not.
I did have one complaint. What I expected to find in Gully’s book but didn’t was a description and account of the role deep silence plays in Quaker meetings. As one drawn to mystical inwardness, I wondered how a Quaker might describe this silent, timeless and sacred interior, this awareness of the indwelling Presence and its influence in our lives. Because the interior spiritual dimension constitutes such an important part of being a Quaker, particularly in the art of discernment, I hope he writes another book about the experience of God’s presence within and how we may discover the divine in everyone.
All book reviewers, I am told, need to answer two essential questions: “Why should you read this book?” and “In what setting would it be most valuable?” Here’s what I think. I think you should read Living the Quaker Way because it’s a…
Great introduction to the values, theology and history of Quakers for anyone interested in spirituality and religion
Self-inventory for gutsy personal and moral growth (a month of Queries!)
Rediscovery of what religion ought to be (my opinion)
Reminder of the vast superiority of love, equality and decency over power and things.
In what setting would Gulley’s book be most valuable? I think it’s a good fit for nearly all settings. I see it in libraries, seminaries, houses of worship, universities, and prisons. Teaching an interfaith class? This might be required reading. Anywhere human beings look seriously and sincerely at their lives, Living the Quaker Way would be a friendly (no pun intended) companion on the journey to wholeness, representing an introduction to both the Quaker faith and yourself.
(PS: I have loved the many books by Parker Palmer I’ve read and now I have another Quaker author to love and learn from).
John C. Robinson, Ph.D., D.Min. is a clinical psychologist with a second doctorate in ministry, an ordained interfaith minister, the author of seven books on the interface of psychology and spirituality. A full time writer now, his recent works include a memoir/narrative on the transformative potential of aging (The Three Secrets of Aging), a collection of “Elder” fairy tales (Bedtime Stories for Elders: What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us About the New Aging), and the introduction of new myth for aging men (What Aging Men Want: Homer’s Odyssey as a Parable of Male Aging). You can learn more about John at www.johnrobinson.org.