Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hiatus Until Mid-to-Late-January

I haven't posted in a while because I've been busy GRADUATING from college, and now I'm on a celebratory vacation, so I'll be on hiatus for a few weeks. You'll see me here again in mid- or late-January.

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday, however they spend it, and a happy New Year.

Blessings all,


Friday, December 7, 2007

Book Review Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano

There aren't good books out there about being a working class Quaker, but this book comes close to my own experience, so I thought I would review it here. If you would like to understand what a working class person might experience in Quaker Meeting, read this book.

Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams

Author and journalist Alfred Lubrano grew up a bricklayer's son, but his father wanted him to go to college. His book, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams, opens up with a description of both son and father Lubrano at Columbia University, Alfred inside a classroom and his father laying bricks outside at another building.

This image sets up the main conflict that working class folks face when we transition to and live in a middle (or owning) class world. He calls people like me "straddlers," as in we're straddling both worlds.

Like me, Lubrano was bookish as a child, and never quite fit-in entirely with his solidly working class Brooklyn friends. In his experience going to Columbia University and becoming a journalist, he never quite fit-in to middle class corporate culture.

In true journalistic style, Lubrano not only writes about his own experience in Limbo, he interviews dozens of other "straddlers," who are aware of the class conflict in their lives.

Lubrano writes about family, work and love conflict, some of which a working class person might experience in very middle and owning class Quaker Meeting. He doesn't only write about conflict, but he holds up people and situations as examples of well-integrated lives.

I just wish I could be one of those people right now!

I'm plowing through the book, and read aloud from it to Liz quite a bit. I find it affirming of my experience. If you read it, would you let me know in the comments?

Alfred Lubrano has a blog on the Philadelphia Inquirer's website here. You can also read a piece he wrote about being a class straddler here.

Post Script: When I told George Lakey I'd read Limbo, he added his enthusiastic response to it as well. He told me:
I wrote a long letter to Lubrano after reading [Limbo], telling him about my laughing and crying through it...
Me, too George. Me too.

Post Post Script: I'd posted on her that George Lakey would be doing a class workshop at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in March. He is, but March 2009. Look for more info here late next year! And, he won't be doing his class workshop at Gathering this year; I, on the other hand, will be holding an interest group.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What Privilege Do You Have? Part II

After my 'Privilege' blog post, dozens of you posted your own results of the 'step forward' activity either on your blog, my comments, or over on Liz's site. A few Friends saw fit to 'defend' their steps, and one Friend called the exercise an "'I'm more priveleged and thus more guilty than you are' game."

It wasn't intended as a guilt-game, but I can see how it might have been interpreted that way. And as I've read each response (which is one reason it's taken me so long to post Part II), I have seen such deep compassion and caring that I can't see it as a competition. Like the story of parents who scrimped and saved so that they could own a small home. And the parents who insisted their children be well-read and speak proper English because they had been immigrants. Or the families who wanted more for their children than they had, so took the kids to museums on a regular basis. Or the family who had original art from their grandmother. As I've read each post, people have become their stories, and not their 'score.' I hope you've had a chance to read all the responses. If you haven't, it might be a good daily practice to read one response.

And a good first step to a more open and accepting Religious Society of Friends.

I recently had a phone conversation with Robin M. over at What Canst Thou Say? and she shared some wisdom with me that I will share with you here because I found it true for myself.

She said when she has more than two steps to get something done, it often goes undone for longer than it needs to. I think 'refunds' offered by corporations when you buy expensive electronics play to this very human tendency. I recently bought MS Word for my new computer and Microsoft is offering free software updates in 2008. All I have to do is copy my receipt, cut out the bar code, address and stamp an envelope, and put it in the mail. You can guess whether I've done that yet or not.

Robin also pointed out that dealing with class within the RSoF is similar because it's going to take more than two steps to become more diverse. There isn't one thing (or even two) that we can do to be more open to working class and poor people. It's going to take many steps.

And hearing each other's class story and history is one (which is one step beyond telling our own story, isn't it).

Now that some of us have taken this one step, I have a question for us as a Religious Society.
We can, through the work of the Spirit, live out God’s reign on earth. All Friends seek to live out of the love expressed in the Sermon on the Mount… When understood as wholeness, spiritual maturity, soundness, completion, or even obedience, perfection starts to become more accessible to me. Other Friends who find the terms perfection and holiness difficult are more apt to speak of discipleship, obedience, baptism with the Holy Spirit, or the ‘Lordship of Jesus Christ’. For a few, spiritual formation or inner healing are the most expressive terms for perfection. ‘Teleos’, the Biblical word for perfection, means ‘end goal’ and suggests an orientation more than a fixed state of being.

From A Certain Kind of Perfection, an anthology organized by Margery Post Abbott
I think it's fair to say that all Friends seek to live out the kind of love Jesus spoke about. And it's also fair to say that we're all in process, we're all heading toward that love. And that few, if any, of us have arrived.

I haven't.

So then certainly our understanding of social class is a similar process. But to where are we oriented? A belief in the equality of all human beings? A form of Jesus's love? A political belief in socialism? A belief in an all-inclusive Faith?

And if you did the privilege exercise (on your blog, in my comments, in your own mind), where were you oriented? Where do you want to be oriented? Where *should* we, as a Religious Society, be oriented?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Class and Race in the RSOF

I promise I will still get back to Part II of "What Privilege Do You Have," but I read this New York Times article about race and class and had to share it with you.

Of late I've been wondering about the connection between class and race in the Religious Society of Friends, but since I'm white, I don't feel like I have any authority on the matter.

After reading this New York Times article though, I realized that I have a question to put forth.

If you are black, do you need to also be middle class to be accepted at all in the Religious Society of Friends?

In my storytelling class, a woman told a story about her life in the inner city. She called herself a 'ghetto girl.' She wore big hoop earrings, a tight belly shirt, short skirt, and stilettos. She had an urban accent.

I couldn't help but wonder what Friends would think if she walked into Meeting. How would she feel among Friends? And what would Jesus think about how we treated her and how she felt around us?

(And I posted this before I read Martin's blog here, but if you've read this far, you'll be interested in reading what he has to say about it all).

Friday, November 2, 2007

What Privilege Do You Have?

I saw a blog game on a couple of Quaker blogs (this one and this one), so I thought I'd offer a similar game with a spin on class based. It's based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Indiana State University that I found on this Yahoo group around class on college campuses. The exercise developers hold the copyright but have given me permission to post it here and ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright.

If you post this in your blog, please leave a comment on this post.

Father went to college (for a year until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps for WW II)
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs*
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs*
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them (a 1976 pea-green Plymouth Valiant they bought at a state auction for $500 in 1985)
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18 (for one year when I had a paper route and could pay the bill)
You and your family lived in a single family house (after I turned 6)
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home (see above)
You had your own room as a child (only after my parents converted an unheated porch into a bedroom for my brother when we became too old to share a room, and not during the year my grandmother lived with us)
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

*These two are edited because Christine pointed out that the previous wording didn't clearly delineate between people who had their tuition paid for them and people who worked for their college expenses.

In the group exercise which was originally designed for college students, staff and faculty, everyone stands in a line and steps forward if any of these things are true for them.

If we were all in a big room, I would have taken 5 steps forward. How about you? How many would you have taken? How many steps will your kids have taken by the time they're 18 (or how many did they take before they turned 18)?

Notice that each of these are things that were given to you or provided for you rather than things you necessarily earned yourself. The exercise instructions note that just because you've taken a lot of steps doesn't mean that you haven't worked hard to get where you are. But perhaps consider the things you've had handed to you that others didn't have.

For instance, if I'd not been given a car, I don't think I would have been able to go to college the first time around because there was no way I could afford to stay on campus (or near campus--I lived with my parents my first year).

To participate in this blog game, copy and paste the above list into your blog, and bold the items that are true for you. If you don't have a blog, feel free to post your responses in the comments. Once enough people participate in this little game, I'll do a Part II post about what all this has to do with Friends. (And you can, in your blog post, ponder what it means to Friends).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A God-Sized Wedge

I went to a F/friend's birthday party last weekend at the meeting house. The first person who talked to me was a young Friend (perhaps 15) and he said, "Where did you graduate from college?" This young person assumed that because I was an adult at a Quaker meeting, I have a college education. It colored my whole night. I withdrew. I was upset and crabby.

It makes me wonder what God is saying to me right now.

I am living my passion, and trying to live up to my Light. If I could do anything I wanted in the world, I would write. All the time. But my working class upbringing cuts against this effort. On a cellular level, I feel guilty just writing. Yet when I write, I blossom in ways I never thought I could. And people are moved by my writing.

Just not Quakers.

Before going back to school, I really thought I was a bad Quaker. I didn't say the right things in the right way. Being at school has taught me that I'm not a bad person or stupid. It's taught me that, in fact, I'm quite bright and what I have to say and do is valuable.

When Friends read my blog, they want to argue with me. They want me to hear how their experiences are exactly like mine when they're not (because they did not grow up working class). They want to use my experience to invalidate me. Supportive people email me privately but few post public comments.

In September, I blogged about Friends and education and where that fits in our testimonies. Someone at my school read my post (perhaps because I linked to my school's website) and it's spread through the campus like a virus. I've gotten a dozen emails from people about my blog. Several people I've never met want to meet and talk about class, including the president of the university. A sociology professor I've never had sent me an op-ed he wrote that affirms my experience of class.

And once again, school is providing affirmation and an outlet for my passion. Quakerism sure does look like it's providing a big fat wall. That or God's putting a wedge between me and Quakerism.

A God-sized wedge.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Class & Cool Whip Contempt

Tonight Liz and I went to see a presentation by Ahmad Hijazi from Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, a village in Israel working toward a vision of peace. At one point, he talked about changing the paradigm of oppressor/oppressed to oppressor/obeyer (as in, allowing that the oppressed has some agency) and it spoke to my condition.

During dinner before the presentation, we were talking about pumpkin pie, which I love, and I told Liz that I love pumpkin pie with real vanilla ice cream. Then I remembered enjoying the Cool Whip my mother put on on pumpkin pie. She kept hers in the freezer and I'd eat it right out of the ice box, frozen like ice cream made from marshmallows. So light and sweet.

But at some point in my adult life, I learned that there was something wrong with me if I liked Cool Whip. So I began to disdain it as inferior to things like whipped cream and 'real' ice cream.

My mother and society taught me to hold in high esteem middle class culture and to scorn working class culture. And I bought into the system heart, mind and soul.

Agent. Obeyer.

When I came to Friends, I was ready, willing, and able to learn so much more disdain than I'd ever learned.

Here's a sampling of what I specifically learned from Friends to hold in contempt:

Not having at least an undergraduate degree
Not trying to get at least an undergraduate degree
Shopping at Wal-Mart or Sam's Club
Eating non-organic foods
Drinking tap-water
Drinking alcohol
Buying or wearing clothes made in sweat-shops
Driving a car that guzzles gas and emits pollution
Bringing fried chicken to potluck
Watching television
Joining the military
Buying books from instead of a local bookstore
Dressing up for Quaker events
Wearing deodorant with aluminum
Being angry
Telling the truth to someone's face
Speaking with 'broken' grammar
Writing with same

Now before you get all your undies in a bunch and think that I'm criticizing these beliefs, I'm not. I, in fact, drive a Prius and bike when I can. I wear natural deodorant. I'm getting a BA. I correct people when they say 'further' but they mean 'farther'.

Some might say a selection of the values above are specifically Quaker or come out of our testimonies. But I bet if you show this list to a Unitarian or any other lefty, they'd agree with it as a list of things to disdain; Unitarians and the left in general are also pretty middle- and owning-class homogeneous.

What exactly are we saying to a newcomer if we scowl at them when they ask if we watched the most recent Survivor episode? Or if we sneer when they invite us to a bar for a drink? Or if we tease someone who has dressed up for Meeting?

Perhaps it's our scorn for some of these things (and not the practice of simplifying our lives or making our lives match our values) that keeps our Meetings class-homogeneous.

I'd like to unlearn my scorn and learn how to value the gifts and culture of my working class upbringing. Essentially, I'd like to stop obeying.

I just don't know if I'll try Cool Whip again.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Guest Post: Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel added this in comments to my last post on education and I felt it important and relevant enough to post on its own (after getting permission from him). In part, I wanted to highlight his post because my next posts will be about my experience of class and culture in Meeting.

You can read more about Bill here and here.

From Bill Samuel:

The class homogeneity seems most acute among liberal unprogrammed Friends. Other varieties of Friends seem more diverse.

I remember one year when I visited the yearly meeting sessions of Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region. The Friends Action Board (their social concerns group) reported on a new Federal program to allow churches more involvement in training for those on public assistance. The differences between my home yearly meeting and Eastern Region were very evident when they presented it as a way to help people within their churches. In my or other liberal YMs, it would have been presented as a way to help "them" not us.

I have a theory that the class homogeneity among liberal Friends is related to their lack of a clear spiritual center. It has been my experience among Christ-centered Friends and other Christ-centered churches that class is less of an issue, because the uniting factor is Jesus Christ. Without a clear, explicit uniting factor other than something like class, a group tends to gravitate towards becoming a club more united by socioeconomic and cultural factors.

And in fact many are seeking that their meetings be such a club. When I have engaged in conversations with liberal Friends about the issues of lacking racial, educational and economic diversity, most of the time eventually something along the lines of "if have many of them come into the meeting, it will change the character of the meeting" comes out with the clear assumption that such change would be bad.

I belonged to a meeting that was in an area which had undergone significant demographic change since it started, but the meeting had not. There was a newspaper article which highlighted the issue for me. It focused on a couple of other churches in the same area. They had seen the change, done work to understand the needs of the people coming in, and changed to be a welcoming and helpful place for the new population. Both the other churches and Friends recognized changing the demographics in the congregation would mean deeper changes. The other churches embraced change; Friends rejected it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Education Continued

Wow, this seems to have struck a cord with folks. Some good questions are being brought up. And some not-so-good questions too.

I want to hold up something quakermom said in my comments because I want to make sure folks see that I'm not the only one seeing these issues.
I have been thinking a lot about class in my meeting. We're in a university town, and there are many professors in our meeting. In addition, people seem to very uncritically value academic achievement and to buy into standard views of academic standards. i remember when one of the kids in our meeting was accepted to Smith, her mother announced it during Joys and Sorrows, and there was an audible, "Oooh, Smith" through the room. Things like that make me very uncomfortable--do we value less the young man who hasn't gone to college but is apprenticing in carpentry instead? I don't think, if asked, anyone would say so--but we act like we do, and I wonder how that affects our kids.

We're also in the process of building our meetinghouse, and this has brought issues of money and affluence into view. The number of families who have been able to give $10,000 or more to the meeting for our building has staggered me.

Even though I am a good fit for the meeting in terms of my own class background, current family income, and academic history, I am becoming less and less comfortable in it, in large part because of the way these issues seem largely unacknowledged and unexamined. I've been brining some of them into the light as way opens; we'll see what happens.
She asks how valuing one kind of education over another affects kids in the Meeting. And that question makes sense. She's a parent and blogs about being a Quaker parent.

I wonder, though, how it affects the adults in our Meeting who haven't/can't/don't meet such a standard of 'excellence'. I wonder how it portrays our values in contrast with what we say our values are. I wonder what the working-class first, second or third-time attender thought when everyone went "oooh." Did they keep coming?

I can tell you how it affects me. I feel shame. Embarassment. I feel like I'm not good enough. I want to hide.

Hysterywitch said:
I am therefore uncomfortable with the notion that the choice to work in a creative or intellectual field is an indication of classism.
I'm not saying that working in a creative or intellectual field is classist. I'm in school to get my BA in creative writing and intend to work in a creative field. And I don't think that act is inherently classist. I am, however, able to use my current financial privilege to do so. I don't know if I'd be able to do it if I didn't have such privilege. All I'm doing is acknowledging this privilege.

In fact, that's all these posts are asking Friends to do. Look at our individual and collective privilege. Let's make it transparent so that we can be in congruence with what we say we believe, that everyone is equal.

Let's not ooh and ahh over one young Friend's acceptance into Smith without ooh-ing and ahh-ing over another Friend's choice to learn a trade or go to a less elite institution. Let's not assume that every Friend we come into contact with has a college education, or even wants one.

Last but not least, lets figure out how to dismantle this system that favors the financially privileged.

Finally, Thee Hannah wrote:
Which begs the question: If you feel isolated at meeting because of your working-class background, what are you doing to educate the rest of us?
Hmmmm. That sure sounds like you're expecting me to undo a system I didn't create and a system that oppresses me but not you.

I'm writing this blog which is being read by lots and lots of people. But I'm just one person and one person has never been able change an oppressive system without allies.

So what are you doing to educate other Quakers who have privilege? How are you going to be an ally?

Monday, September 24, 2007


I'm finishing up my senior year at Metropolitan State University and am thrilled to be getting my undergraduate degree at 40 (well, I'll be 40 by the time I walk across the stage on December 18th).

Over the past three years, when I would tell Friends that I'm in school, they would ask if I was getting my master's degree or Ph.D.

I learned to say, "I'm at school getting my undergraduate degree."

Even then, some Friends would ask if it was my second degree. And now they're asking about graduate school.

I'm realizing that as someone who grew up working class, I was trained to do tasks efficiently and right. Activities that don't lead to a product that is discrete, finite and, in the end, worth money aren't worthwhile.

As a writer, this puts me in great conflict with my upbringing. And the conflict, for me, is almost on a cellular level.

Ask me to write something for the joy of writing. Or write a novel that has no chance in hell to be published and purchased. Then I will feel a deep aversion that borders on disgust. I'm not choosing this consciously. I would like nothing more than to write for the joy of it. I do it in school because my writing at least gets read by classmates and instructors. And I have fun. But only because it's finite, discrete and worth a grade.

Friends are befuddled when I describe this feeling. Yet when I talk to other students who grew up working class, they can relate. One friend who grew up working class is getting her degree in creative writing but her goal is to become a magazine writer. She, too, can't imagine writing for fun. Another friend went on to get her degree in library science because she needed to do something that involves a steady income. Even though she doesn't need the money because her husband supports her.

I read about a humongous gift made to a Quaker school out east and then I read this New York Times op-ed about elite universities serving "less as vehicles of upward mobility than as transmitters of privilege from generation to generation" and this New York Times article about public universities charging more for majors that lead to more lucrative careers.

Metropolitan State University is not an elite institution. It is, in fact, just the opposite in some respects. We're the most diverse four-year school in Minnesota, with over 26% people of color. Our most popular majors are: Business Administration, Accounting, Criminal Justice, Nursing and Law Enforcement. We are primarily working adults (working class adults) trying to get a bachelor's degrees to better compete in the workforce.

I'm aware that I'm getting a huge leg up with my degree: knowledge and a piece of paper saying I've jumped through hoops. I can play ball in the majors now. Or at least act like I can play. Just like I did before I got my degree. Only now I feel entitled to be in the game.

I'm also aware of what I'm not getting.

I'm doing my senior thesis on writer Kathleen Norris. She went to a private high school, then Bennington College in Vermont. One of her professors got her a job at the Academy of American Poets where she met the literary elite. These connections got her first book of poetry published before she was 25.

The only connection I have is an alumni knows someone who works at a place where lots of trade magazines are published. Every year I've gotten an email, along with all the other writing majors, inviting me to apply for an internship out in Minnetonka.

So, all this makes me wonder where education fits into the Quaker testimonies. We say that all are equal. But we send our children to fine institutions without thought to the privilege we've given them or the privilege that gets denied another. Or we are ignorant of the privilege we've gotten ourselves.

And I wonder what I will do with my privilege once I have it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No, Not a Rant

Many many many kudos, love and yippees to Pam for her response to Friend Alan Paxton's response on A Tentative Quaker's blog post on class and Quakerism. You should thank her too. I'd been composing a rant and gave that up when I read her response. My rant is no longer needed in the face of her common sense.

And it made me realize that ranting isn't what I want this blog to be. Even though the description is "questions, musings and rantings" on class and Quakerism.

I do want to say one thing about Alan Paxton's response which implies that some aspects of working class and poor culture are inconsistent with Quakerism. I think that if he had suggested that some aspects of African American or Hispanic or Arabic culture were inconsistent with Quakerism, there would have been an uproar across the Quaker blogosphere that would have lasted for weeks and perhaps leaped into the Friends Journal.

So what does the relative silence on Alan Paxton's post say about Friends and social class?

I'm also excited that Pam started a google group around class and Quakerism. I've joined and hope to make some pages and stuff there soon.

On a more personal note, I've been to Quaker events three times since Gathering and two of those times, I've wept, feeling my sense of isolation very deeply. I see people and think of interactions we've had in the past and see some class oppression. I see class-influenced interactions as I watch people. My tenderness and anger makes me scared to go to anything Quaker. I wish I lived in a place like Philadelphia where I had my choice of Meetings and could go somewhere and worship anonymously so perhaps I won't at least see history.



Monday, August 20, 2007

Just Do It

I am very task-oriented and I always thought that was just a personal tendency or preference. It is and it's not.

While I'm task-oriented, I hate doing tasks for very long. I think if I worked in a shirtwaist factory in 1910, I would not have been mentally stable. But I've been taught to do tasks as I'm told to do them, and to do them right. I've been taught that doing tasks is how I can contribute to and be valued by the world. So I do it because I don't know any other way.

A couple of weeks ago, when I found out that a dear F/friend's mother had died, I offered to organize a Nightingales-type sing for her(Nightingales is a Northern Yearly Meeting subgroup that meets to sing four to five times a year around the region). I, along with my partner Liz (who actually had the idea to do so), made sure the community knew about the sing, reserved a room in the Meeting House and made sure there was the right kind and quantity of food. We set up the room and arranged for folks to clean up. We turned off the lights at the end of the night. We just did it.

Today, I got a call from another F/friend who said that a beloved member of our community was in the hospital. She was asking me questions about whether a Nightingales-type sing could be arranged for this woman, one of the founders of Nightingales.

I was confused. I wondered why she didn't just do it. Or ask directly if I would be willing to organize such a thing.

"I wanted to make sure there were enough people interested in a sing."

By the time she could reach enough people to be sure there were enough interested, the woman would be out of the hospital, I ungenerously thought.

Quakers sometimes get caught up in talking about doing things (or worse yet, talking about talking about doing things), rather than doing them. This used to frustrate me to no end; and I used to think that my frustration made me a bad Quaker.

Before, I would have tried to stuff my frustration or offer to take on the task. This time I said, "When I organized [previous F/friend whose mother had died]'s sing, I just did it. Asked the email list people to send out an announcement, reserved the room. It didn't matter whether three or thirty people showed. [Woman in hospital] is a beloved member of this community. Enough people will come to sing with her."

She got defensive, but I assured her that I wasn't being critical, that I was just speaking plainly.

So I struggled with several things around class in this exchange.

1. Emotional honesty. One thing I learned in George's workshop is that working class folks are more emotionally honest and open, especially with anger. This is in stark contrast to middle/owning class folks who have been trained from childhood to keep emotions in check because emotions disrupt the work day (or assembly line or checkout line). I'm sure this F/friend heard frustration in my voice and that's why she got defensive. So how do I be who I am authentically and be effective at interacting with middle/owning class Friends?

2. Plain speaking/directness. Middle/owning class mores (and therefore also Quaker mores) say that truth shouldn't be spoken directly. Friends might have suggested that I couch my statements like this: "Maybe you could think about what things need to be done in order to organize such a sing. I could offer some suggestions based on my experience with the last sing if you would like." Ugh. Even as I write this, my "BS Meter" goes off and I feel tired. And I've tried doing things like this, and have been unsuccessful. Friends still see me, and how plainly I speak, as difficult.

3. My frustration with process. I used to be ashamed of this frustration in Quaker circles. But I'm starting to understand that I shouldn't be ashamed. I just don't know what to do with the frustration. I know sometimes process is important. Maybe she was thinking about getting "buy-in" from people so she would know that her work wasn't being done in vain. But why didn't I want to get "buy-in" from Friends when I organized the first sing? I don't think it was because I didn't care about whether my work was in vain. I think it was because I knew I was showing my love for this F/friend by organizing the sing and that if it were only me and that F/friend, it would be enough.

I don't know anymore if my frustration makes me a bad Quaker. Maybe it's the other way around: middle/owning class Quakerism makes me a frustrated Friend.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

It's All Pam's Fault

Yep, it's Pam's fault that I am starting a blog, in case you want to know.

Well, maybe it isn't Pam's fault, but Rich's fault. Or maybe I can blame this blog on George.

Okay, okay, I'll take responsibility. I'm starting this blog because I took George Lakey's workshop, Quakers and Social Class, at the 2007 Friends General Conference Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin.

The workshop changed my life and I'm finding that I need to talk with others about my experience. I also want to share some of my new awarenesses around class and Quakers.

When I was in my late-teens and early twenties, I discovered feminism. Before then, I knew that men and women were supposed to be equal, and that women and men should be able to do the same kinds of work. But I hadn't known how deeply the patriarchy had affected my life. Things like how I dressed and how I expressed my sexuality.

Similarly, during that one week in July, I began to learn more deeply how class oppression has impacted my life. Like exactly what my elementary, middle and high school education taught me: to do tasks right. Middle class and owning class folks get an education that teaches them to manage people who do tasks. They learn process.

All of a sudden, the choices I made in my life around work made sense. The choices I wanted to make after graduating college this December make sense. And now I have to look at these choices in a new light.

I have always felt like I don't belong in middle class work settings. And I thought that meant there was something wrong with me, that I had some unknown flaw that kept me out of middle class social circles. I feel like I've tried to reach for more middle class jobs and friends, but that every time I've tried, I've had my hand metaphorically slapped away.

But what does any of this stuff have to do with Quakers?

Quakers are middle and owning class primarily. And I've felt like a terribly odd duck among Friends. I now know that some of this has to do with class.

This blog will be a personal and intimate view into finding my way with my new class glasses. If you're looking for theory about Quakers and class, Martin Kelly has a really interesting and apt view of Quakers and how we got to be so white and middle- and owning-class (and why we stay that way) in his comment to a Brooklyn Quaker post. I'm quoting Martin directly here because I couldn't figure out how to link to it directly:
"My working theory is that East Coast Quakerism became an ethnic group as much as a faith and that the last fifty years has seen us become a kind of self-selecting demographic sub-culture. You can see the phenomenon measuring all sorts of identity divisions: not just class but race and education. Most liberal Friends now are convinced, which means we haven't inherited this class structure.

I have to think that if we really believed what we say we believe we'd be reaching out more. We have all sorts of unwritten norms that have nothing to do with faith. If we cared less about our cultural sensitivies and more about sharing the good news (which is the same good news if you're a transit worker or university professor) then we'd see our meetinghouses fill up.

But how many East Coast Friends would really be that comfortable seeing a darker, more working class meeting that now has five times the membership and doesn't feel like the cozy oasis where we "recharge" ourselves for the coming week?"

If you want to talk about this theory or how to change it, go talk to Martin, Pam, Rich. Don't get me wrong. I think it's important to change Quaker culture to be "darker, more working class" than it is. Because I think Jesus's vision of his church was not as homogeneous as North American Quakers are.

But I'm clear right now that the only way I can tackle class and Quakers is to understand how to interact with middle and owning class folks, how to make new choices that respect the gifts I bring as someone who was raised working class, and how to discover and nurture my innate gifts that were stifled by class oppression.

This blog will explore my forays and foibles as I find my new way among Friends.