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.


MartinK said...

Hi Jeanne: For what it's worth, this has been the blog I've thought most about when off my computer.

Sorry that young Friend's question upset you so, but who knows that he might not have filed away in the back of his mind that you can be a smart & cool adult Friend like Jeanne and not have that piece of paper. Having worked with high school Friends I'd say that the crazy extreme pressures of college and the pressure to get into the most-networked ones are the one of the bigger deterrents to developing their spiritual life. You never know what seed you're planting.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for letting me know Martin. This is tough stuff and I don't have a hard shell. Sometimes I am completely befuddled because God's presence in my life at times like this has been so clear. And right now it's not so clear. I have lots of love and Light in one direction and lots of blocks in another.

Your support (and the support of others) means a lot to me. It keeps me going.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Hey Jeanne

I'm still befuddled that that actually happened. Everyone I heard ask that question asked "did you graduate from...?" (cause it was a scavenger hunt for people connected somehow to the birthday girl, just FYI to those who weren't there) - so it's sort of tragically ironic that it got phrased that way when it got to Jeanne.

I had that kid in my class last year (I think) - and I must say it's just amazing how focused on school they are, and how cut off from other kids. A few years ago we had one girl in my class who went to a suburban public school, I think one at a waldorf school, and EVERYONE else went to Friends school. The girl in public school was the only one who wore makeup, and was often "out of the loop" in terms of what was the going concern for the Friends school kids. It was sort of disturbing to watch, and try to regulate.

For whatever reason, now, 3 years later, I think one of our kids is at friends school. I have to say I like the mix much better.

I'm sad to think God is wedging you away from quakerism.

But I'd also challenge you. I know that often what God is pushing us to do is not what feels best, or most rewarding., but just the opposite. I may only be asking cause I'd miss you (I do miss you, in ways) but is God really wedging you away from quakerism, or calling you to a task you'd really just rather not deal with?

Jeanne said...


I wish I knew the answer to your question Pam. But I don't. It feels far more like a wedge because there's all this light and love in the direction away from Friends. And a dark, painful tunnel toward them. It seems to sting every time I go to something specifically Quaker, and not always because of something someone did.

So in the past, when this has happened (I'm thinking of the time when therapy wasn't the right path for me at that moment), it's been a good thing to move only toward the Light.

And the question, "Did you graduate from St. Olaf?" is still a question that assumes the person went to college at all.

Rosa said...

Jeanne, i've been reading, and thinking about what you have to say.

I'm not a quaker, though, so I haven't had much to say. But I'm interested, and I think what you have to say is something a lot of middle-class liberal groups need to hear, and internalize, in order to do the work they say they want to do.

There are a lot of people out there who have written about the experience of being an intellectual worker in or from a blue-collar or working-poor background, but it's a drop in the flood of words from people from middle-class or upper-class backgrounds. Thank you for adding to it.

earthfreak (Pam) said...


I'd like to echo Rosa and Martin and thank you for adding your voice here.

I also find I spend more time thinking about your blog than others. And it's one of the few I read regularly these days.

As for what God is nudging you toward, of course I don't know. I just know that there's a difference, sometimes, between moving toward the light and moving toward what feels good. Where you are needed and where you're appreciated might be two different places.

At the same time I don't believe that God generally wants folks of oppressed groups to feel any obligation to stick around and hold the hands of their oppressors while they work through their stuff.

I don't hear the question, "did you graduate from St. Olaf?" as implying you went to college, odd. I'll have to think about that one more.

Julie said...

You know, I don't have the same sensitivity around the college issue as you do (when it came to Quaker circles, I mean) because it was always understood that I would go to college. My mom and her mom were school teachers and as it turned out I was quite the little schoolgirl (I'd cry when I had to miss school because I was sick, etc.), so it worked out. However based on the rough outlines of your story and on my own experiences of Qism, I think it's very safe to say that there was an assumption that you went to college. Right now I can't think of one adult Friend I knew who didn't have AT LEAST a college degree. Many of the Friends I knew TAUGHT college and have PhDs. Almost all the Friends I ever associated with were of my parents' generation, so the class stuff was also all entangled with generational stuff, but that's another story...

When it comes to the "God sized wedge" I can relate. The "God sized wedge" for me was not wholly interpersonal, but the interpersonal experiences I had--experiences of detraction, lack of support, being lied to by "weighty friends," a lot of nastiness, unending passive-aggressive behaviors, and on and on and on--were pivotal in that they reflected how God was not present in the lives of the people involved.

Of course in the end, if I had to put my finger on one thing that caused me to leave it was the question of the ability to be a Christian among unprogrammed, liberal Friends. And from my POV the answer was a decided no. After that I knew I needed to go somewhere "from here" but wasn't sure where. I very quickly but naturally "reverted" to the Catholic Faith not by default, but by "convincement."

Only you can know how big the "God sized wedge" is and when the wedge is big enough and obvious enough that you have to leave, but when it happens I think it's safe to say that you'll know it. And when you recognize it, you have to leave because it's God who's telling you it's necessary. It will become harder to stay than to leave, and Pam's absolutely right that it has little to do with comfortability. I think it's true that God sometimes asks us to suffer.

On the other hand, the decision to stay or leave does ultimately have to do with Truth. And staying where you know Truth isn't IS uncomfortable. God never wants us to stay in a place that has less than the fullness of the Truth. Stay in Christ and you can't go wrong.

PS: I'm really enjoying your posts.

Jeanne said...

Rosa--thanks for stopping by and commenting anyway!

Pam and Julie--I appreciate both your comments, especially the parts about comfort. I think I've let liberal lull me into believing that Worship should be comforting, a respite from the rest of the 'terrible' world.

But the comfort feels so good right now because it all hurts.

MartinK said...

Hey Jeanne, look: if nothing else you've gotten my lovely helpsmeet Julie regularly reading a Quaker blog--we might reel her back in yet! (I can only write that because I'm fairly confident she'll read it when I'm out of the house so I'll miss hearing her scream "NO POSSIBLE WAY!" when she reads it).

My only dull advice is to try to give up to God the question of where this is taking you. If the Light is elsewhere right now then don't feel guilty following it. Jesus had his desert, right? I think it's fine to go off for awhile. If I had to place a bet right now, I'd say you'll eventually find some way around this wedge and come back with a roadmap that might help us all. One of the most reassuring things I take from the gospels is the constant drumbeat that true faithfulness can be hard and unrewarding, that we'll be misunderstood and abused. What Pam says echo's one of those five tests of discernment that Hugh Barbour picked out of early Friends journals: it said something to the effect that if you want to do something it's probably NOT a leading.

Jeanne said...

Martin, thanks for the reminder that I can remove myself for a while and come back later. I can sometimes have a black/white mentality, especially when I'm hurting.

I believe, however, that God wants me to use my gifts and if Quakers don't want them right now, I'll use them elsewhere and not feel guilty about it. (That last bit, that's the hardest).

Julie, it sounds like you have as big a nudge in your house as I have in mine. ;-)

Rich in Brooklyn said...

Hi Jeanne,
You left a comment on my blog saying that you're starting a pseudo-meme on your blog and asking me if I'd participate. You also said that you're not tagging me.
I like your whole take on Quakerism and class and would like to be helpful. My problem is that I have no idea what a pseudo-meme is or how one participates in it, or what it is that you didn't do when you didn't tag me. Can you elaborate a little?

There was a time when I sort of thought I was on the cutting edge of things. This reminds me that I may be getting a tad out of touch. But maybe you can clue me in. I am only sixty, and (as far as I know, but then how would I?) my mind is still sharp, so I am optimistic that I will catch on if someone explains it to me.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans
(Brooklyn Quaker)

Tatiana said...

I plan on doing this, but I can't access my blog right now and am going away tomorrow.

Some initial thoughts about this, though: Activities like this tend to make me uncomfortable, because it assumes that everyone started from the same level playing field other than class issues. I think I'm going to bold something like 18 of these, but...

It makes me feel like I should have had a really easy life, or I should feel guilty for what my parents were able to give me.

Here's the truth, I guess: I feel like I should be able to relate to you because I'm disabled (and have been since I was an infant) and there's so much ableism in this society that almost no one even recognizes it exists, but I feel like because I wasn't raised working class you automatically had it harder than me.

That's the crux, actually: I feel like activities like this make life into a contest to see who has suffered/overcome the most. And that makes me feel very awkward and uncomfortable.

Tatiana said...

Eep, sorry Jeanne. That comment was meant for the next post...