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?


MartinK said...

I wonder if it's not just that it's two steps but two answers or three or four or five answers.

Does social class matter? Yes. And no. And maybe. And sometimes. Should we consider it when nominating or Friends or planning events? Again, yes and no and maybe and sometimes. Personal stories and our corporate stories are more complicated than can be taken in by a test or any straight-forward answer. I think that's part of the reason Friends rely on the Spirit's immediate prompting and not the preformed answers of creed and Biblical literalism. Class is one of the puzzle pieces we need to hold onto as we follow the Inward Christ's instructions on building God's Kingdom.

Robin M. said...

I really enjoyed reading the stories from all the different people. Although I saw the meme as inducing pride from the opposite view: "I'm less privileged than you are." Maybe that's just me feeling defensive about my disjointed class background.

I know I came into the Religious Society of Friends holding a lot of prejudice against Friends who preached simplicity and yet lived wealthy lives and not much concern about what Jesus had to say about anything. Over the last 15 years, I have gained more income and more assets, and broader perspective. In the last few years, I have become much more oriented towards living a life of love as Jesus loved the people around him, and loves us today. I think this will mean a contrary direction in terms of income and assets. But my broader perspective tells me that I can't predict what life will bring.

One of the things I was reminded of in our conversation the other day was the difference between economic definitions of class and social definitions. Which I knew but it never hurts to get clear again. About how income levels do not always line up with degrees of class consciousness or measures of social inclusion or exclusion.

Maybe this is becoming too long for a comment...

Johan said...

Ultimately it doesn't necessarily matter what devices you use--quizzes, surveys, invitations of all kinds--to open up these powerful questions. Better to try something, risking that it's not perfect, than not to try at all. So: thank you.

Yes, Robin is right, it will take more than two steps. But the step that is maybe the most powerful unifier among different races and social subcultures, I find, is the step least talked about among Friends. That's the step of conversion. It involves personal vulnerability and lowering our barriers of autonomy; it involves acknowledging God's power; it involves engaging our emotions, our tears, our whole bodies (but not according to some compulsory model); it involves worship that gets down to a bone-level and communicable authenticity, not sophisticated esthetics. Oh, I cannot tell you how many years I had been among Friends before I heard my first speaker who actually praised God publicly for the gifts he'd received by becoming a Quaker. If we think "it's all good," that ultimately it doesn't matter where we are on the spiritual map, then how are we ever going to make a case to someone outside our little islands of spiritual aristocrats?

Maybe you can tell I feel strongly about this. But, honestly, I'm just trying to contribute one possible element to your point, and Robin's, about the steps that we need to take. Surely the outcome of our conversations will not be a rigid list of steps, but a fresh attitude: encouragement toward a more real, a more joyful and humble and accessible Quaker movement.

Does anyone remember New England Friend Gregg Hibbs' booklet, "Advancement/Outreach: A Former Hidden Quaker Speaks Out"? I remember how eloquently he spoke about wishing he'd found us fifty years earlier. The thing is, the "hidden Quakers" are far more numerous than we realize, but we won't touch them if our own image of who we are is restricted to the social models we mostly present today.

Allison said...

Jesus hung out with all those despised in society - women, sinners, and the poor. He didn't have time for the righteous. People changed their ways (I don't like the word conversion) because Jesus was such a great, loving guy, not because he talked about how awful they were. I want to follow that model. I would like to see the Quakers follow that model.

Since I am young and audacious, yesterday after meeting I asked the clerk if we could add two more testimonies: Love and Compassion. That was my first step.

Robin M. said...

Note to Allison: the point of Quaker testimonies isn't that they are simply higher values, that is a recent categorization of a wide range of testimonies. The first step toward creating a testimony is to witness to it in your own life. Stick around, I think you'll find other Friends who are already witnessing to Love and Compassion, in the the broadest and deepest senses. The individual forms for that witness are your testimony of what God has called you to do in your life. You might like Pam's earlier posts on this (side) topic. Try Martin's essay on the "peace testimony" or ask Stephen Matchett or Eric Moon who have led whole workshops in California on the real meaning of Quaker testimonies.

Sorry Jeanne to ramble off.

Jeanne said...

Welcome everyone and thanks for stopping by.

Robin, you don't need to apologize for anything, and only you can decide whether something is too long for a comment.

I'm glad everyone's here because I intend this to be a conversation. And a passionate one is best, in my humble opinion.

When I was managing editor of my school's literary magazine (Haute Dish), I found that the best selections we made were ones that half the editors hated and half loved. Yes, we had a few pieces that most if not all loved. But the pieces that made our little magazine extraordinary were the ones we were passionate about.

So Johan, your passion is welcome. Thank you for bringing it.

Allison, I echo Robin's words about the testimonies...but I think you've heard something similar from me before. Our testimonies don't create change but come from it. For me early on, some of them were something with which I could struggle rather than emulate. I'd add to Robin's resources: Iowa Yearly Meeting. They recently added (or are adding) "Care of the Earth" to their book of discipline. Perhaps talk with someone there about their process.

Tatiana said...

Thanks again for doing this, Jeanne.

One thing I've personally been struggling with for a while is how to be proud of my family's heritage (we have a street named after us in Connecticut where our family lived in a house through a lot of generations) without thinking less of those who don't have the same kind of heritage. Even though my immediate family has struggled financially, I do come from a family (at least on my mother's side; my father's is more complicated) of wealth: we had two homesteads, one of which is still in the family. We can trace our ancestors back to the Mayflower. We have traces of old English aristocracy in our family, such as strong pride in being literate, enjoying reading, and taking pride in our land. None of these things are things I should be at all ashamed of. They are part of who I am, and I'm proud to be a member of my family.

But is it possible for me to maintain that pride in my family and not be classist? I want there to be a way, but I really don't know.

Jeanne said...

Tatiana, live into the question. You'll find your answer there. But don't start with shame.

I struggle with something similar. In trying to be middle class, I have found some better ways to live for me. Do I have to shun any of them to be proud of my working class heritage? (See my cool whip post)

Allison said...

I do think a lot of the Quakers I met have oozed warmth and love and that's why I decided to keep coming.

On one hand, I don't understand why there seems to be opposition to make Love a testimony, if the opposition simply comes from the idea that it is already totally understood. If that is true, in reading the Faith & Practice booklet, I would have liked to see something that therefore stated, "All of these testimonies fall under the blanket of the concept of Love."

On the other hand, I don't like the idea of having any testimonies at all since they seem like they could lead toward a creed.

Peter Bishop said...


You answered my question with integrity, openness, and courage. I was a bit challenging in my last comment, and to Allison I even sounded like I was victim-blaming. I’m sorry about that—I really was (and am) just trying to understand what you have been saying. I am listening as hard as I can and asking clarifying questions when I don’t understand the context of what I hear.

“Equal opportunity” is a means, not an end. You always have to ask, equal opportunity for what? Power and oppression are easy to understand when we’re talking about economic disparity, or about institutionalized discrimination, or about violence. In those arenas it’s clear what we’re fighting for: a living wage, child care, universal health coverage, equal opportunities in employment, housing, and lending, streets that are safe to walk down at night and a justice system that takes sexual harassment and sexual violence seriously (to name a few). Class and race among Quakers are a much subtler question because the RSoF doesn’t have much in the way of material resources worth fighting over. All we have is G*d and each other, and that makes it a completely different kind of fight.

You answered my question; I’ll try to answer yours (“Where do you want to be oriented? Where *should* we, as a Religious Society, be oriented?”) …but not tonight. My writing process is ridiculously slow, and the dogs need attention (not to mention my wife).


“Let us cherish every human being and encourage efforts to overcome all forms of prejudice.”
--Faith and practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (1985), “The Advices”

Allison said...

Just re-reading this post and the comments...

If "Our testimonies don't create change but come from it" then that makes me wonder even MORE, not less, why Love and Compassion aren't testimonies!