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.