FQA Publications

Uneasy Tolerance

A sampling of quotes from

Beyond Uneasy Tolerance

the saga of Quakers and the arts in 100 quotations

Compiled and chronologically arranged
by Esther Greenleaf Mürer
Published 2000 by the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts,
aided by the Publications Grants Group of Philadelphia YM
64 p.   Price: US $5.00

More information

And therefore, all friends and people, pluck down your images; I say, pluck them out of your houses, walls, and signs, or other places, that none of you be found imitators of his Creator, whom you should serve and worship; and not observe the idle lazy mind, that would go invent and make things like a Creator and Maker. . . .

— George Fox, ca. 1670

It is not lawful for Christians to use games, sports, plays, comedies, or other recreations which are inconsistent with Christian silence, gravity, or sobriety. Laughter, sports, games, mockery, or jests, useless conversation, and similar matters are neither Christian liberty nor harmless mirth.

— Robert Barclay, 1676

How many plays did Jesus Christ and His Apostles recreate themselves at? What poets, romances, comedies, and the like did the Apostles and Saints make, or use to pass away their time withal? I know, they did redeem their time, to avoid foolish talking, vain jesting, profane babblings, and fabulous stories.

— William Penn, 1682

These poems are written by a Quaker; a circumstance rather extraordinary in the world of letters, rhyming being a sin which gentlemen of that fraternity are seldom guilty of.

Critical Review, 1782 on John Scott of Amwell's Poetical Works

As our time passeth swiftly away, and our delight ought to be in the law of the Lord; it is advised that a watchful care be exercised over our youth, to prevent their going to stage-plays, horse-races, music, dancing, or any such vain sports and pastimes. . . .

— Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1806

The experience of Quaker poet Bernard Barton upon introducing himself to a visiting minister:

"Barton? Barton? That's a name I don't recollect. (pause) What, art thou the versifying man?" On my replying with a gravity that I really think was heroic that I was called such, he looked at me again, I thought, more in sorrow than in anger, and observed: "Ah, that is a thing quite out of my way." I dare say the good soul may have thought of me, if at all, with much the same feelings as if I had been bitten by a mad dog.

— Bernard Barton, 1830s?

Thou shalt rob me no more of sweet silence and rest,
For I've proved thee a trap, a seducer at best.

— Amelia Opie, Farewell to Music, 1854

We would renewedly caution all our members against indulging in music, or having instruments of music in their houses, believing that the practice tends to promote a light and vain mind. . . . It becomes us to be living as strangers and pilgrims on earth, seeking a better country, and to be diligently using [our time] for the great end for which it is lent to us . . . , and not in vain amusements or corrupting pleasures, but striving that "whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we may do all to the glory of God. . . ."

— Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox), 1873

It needs to be recognised that our Society has not escaped the tendency to narrow down spiritual action to certain prescribed ways as a substitute for the reality of the spiritual life. For example, while Friends have been among the pioneers of modern science they have, until recent years, repressed all taste for the Fine Arts. These, at their greatest, always contain some revelation of the Spirit of God, which is in the fullest harmony with our spiritual faith. In the fields of music, art, and literature, as in others, Friends may witness to the glory of God and advance that glory by their service. The "fulness of the whole earth is His glory," and we mar the beauty of this message by every limitation we set upon it.

— William Charles Braithwaite, 1895

For human conduct and human happiness, it is far safer to ignore Art altogether, than it is to accept her as the sole guide and arbiter of human life. . . . Now Art threatens to become Religion in another sense, obliterating all the old landmarks of morality, and deciding by herself, and with reference to artistic considerations alone, what is fitting and becoming in human life.

— Thomas Hodgkin, 1895

This Quaker denial of the beauty of colour was pointed out to me thirty-five years ago by John Ruskin as the cause of the decay of the Society. "Your early Friends," he said, "would have carried all before them if they had not been false to that which is obeyed by the whole of the animal creation, the love of colour." Allowing for exaggeration there is much in it, especially if we extend "colour,""" metaphorically, to cover music, dancing, and the theatre.

— John Wilhelm Graham, 1920

There are many voices today which call us to enjoyment, to self-expression, or to contemplate and share in the beauty of creative art. These things need to be subordinated to the service of the Highest, and sometimes in that service they must be given up. There are some too who, listening to the still small voice, which makes clear to them a duty that may not rest upon all, will forgo pleasures and activities in themselves good, for the sake of other claims. We would not narrow unduly for any of our members the opportunities for sharing in the joys and activities of life, but in the midst of all we must hold fast the thought of God's Kingdom, of which we are called to be part, and which we have to make real to others by our lives.

— London Yearly Meeting, 1925

It seems to me that neither religion nor art can be had without a price. If the indifference of his fellow-Quakers is the price the Quaker artist must pay for both, should he not find compensation in the fact that his faithfulness in his art can speak of his religion to non-Friends? I myself came into the Society through the example of a Quaker fellow-actor working with imperturbable good- humor, reliability and patience under very trying conditions.

— Beatrice Saxon Snell, 1954

Where [the 1925 London YM quote, above] might well be amended is in the implied suggestion that some men may be called to abandon art in the interest of some other service to God and man, but never the reverse. It may be that some Friend will be called to abandon his painting in order to identify himself with the people of Africa. But it may be that another is doing right when he resigns from certain important committees in order to devote himself more completely to his art. . . . The "good" is often the enemy of the "best;" but we must not conclude that the "best" is necessarily to be identified with moral reform, while creative art is merely "the good."

— Horace Alexander, 1954

The image educates emotion where reason never reaches. The significant image held, recalled, has the power to transform. No one knows why this is so. One can only know that it works. A trust of this practice is one of the most liberating factors for spiritual growth. A great artist holds to an image until depth of feeling knows and understands what mind alone cannot know. How the community needs its image makers!

— Dorothea Blom, 1963

Religion has infinite meanings, covering also those who say they have none. But any artist worthy of the name will follow his vision even when it seems to clash with his creed. I say "seems" deliberately, giving the Almighty greater credit for subtlety, wisdom and complexity than do many of his devotees. Quakerism is a religion I have found closest to my needs. Certainly it influences my life, and therefore my work. I rest in its silences, am taught to look within myself for my own answer. That the answer is sometimes at variance with an aspect of Quakerism is also meaningful. God created thorns on the stems of his roses.

— Jean Stubbs, 1967

Simplicity directs the individual to choose those forms of recreation that rest and build up the body, that refresh and enrich mind and spirit. One should consider the proper expenditure of time, money and strength, the moral and physical welfare of others as well as oneself. Healthful recreation includes games, sports and other physical exercise; gardening and the study and enjoyment of nature; travel; books; the fellowship of friends and family; and the arts and handicrafts which bring creative self-expression and appreciation of beauty. Recreations in which one is a participant rather than merely a spectator are particularly beneficial.

— Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1972

Perhaps the artist more clearly than others explores and utilizes the creative possibilities of tension the necessity and desirability of conflict, which are the warp and woof of his work, his matrix. Take the painter who depends on dramatic contrast in color values; the sculptor who physically "fights" his hard medium; the poet who has available to him the all-too-leaden images of words with which to transmit the ephemeral; the writer of fiction who truly loves his impaired characters and is forever raw through living their woundedness. All this is conflict in creative tension. This is dialogue. This is the "mismatched" human condition where not every faculty of reason and sense and body performs in a perfectly orchestrated symphony.

— Candida Palmer, 1972

There are few human activities in which perfection is possible; for in most things the human limitations of knowledge, time, energy, skill, and motive impede us; only in the arts do they work for us, so that we can truly say of certain works of music, poetry, painting, sculpture and architecture that we can neither wish nor imagine them otherwise. When we find this degree of perfection and are able to respond to it, they become in sober truth a revelation of the divine in the sense that Jesus was human yet complete.

— John Ormerod Greenwood, 1978

I shall not believe that the arts are finally accepted by our Society until we can claim at least one masterpiece, fostered by us, by our discriminating love and knowledgeable enthusiasm I need hardly say that I do not expect it to bear the label "Quaker" or even "religious" art; it may, indeed, if it is the bearer of new vision, be deplored as "irreligious."

— John Ormerod Greenwood, 1978

Quakers should enter the world of the arts with humility and courage: courage because it is a risk of our certainties. A religion unwilling to take risks shuts out what is creative. Preoccupation with moral integrity is likely to assume that life can be tidied up: that is its goal. In fact, it is because life is essentially untidy that it can be creative.

— Kenneth Barnes, 1983

The artist and the Quaker are on the same internal journey. Each is seeking a relationship with the Divine, and each is seeking a way to express that relationship. There are just many different ways of expressing it. For many, the path to the Self has to be entered by way of the arts, whether or not we are gifted in that field. That doesn't seem to matter. As St. Paul says: If we have not love, we are as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And for many of us, the pathway to love is through the arts. . . . The process of working with and forming material things can lead beyond them to the spiritual, and shape of clay or colors of paint can be a window into another world.

— Janet Mustin, 1992

"Letting our lives speak through the arts"

Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts (FQA)
1515 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Contact us

    About FQA   |     Types & Shadows   |    Join FQA

This page last updated on Thursday, October 20, 2011