Thursday, March 12, 2009

No, Really, I AM a Bad Quaker

I haven't gotten many comments about my last post about being a bad Quaker, but I did get this one email:

date Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 2:38 PM
subject bad Quaker

You are right, you are a bad Quaker! Don't quite see how that is something to brag about. Troy


So I feel a need to point out to people that there's nothing on my list that's essential to Quakerism and its practice.

This is exactly the kind of response I used to think said something about me. But instead, I now know it's much more a reflection of the shallowness of much of modern Quakerism. We welcome anyone, but we don't welcome people who don't fit our unspoken cultural norms. If you're a witch, it's fine. But be sure to only smoke secretly. You can be an atheist, but don't, no matter what, be a republican.

The Quakerism I love is about coming together and stripping away all that is not God so we can better feel God's influence in our lives.

I wrote this for Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group some time ago, and it still reflects my feelings about our practice:

Waiting on God in the manner of Friends

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

Friends worship by waiting on God in silence. We believe that when we unveil our faces and hearts, we will be better able to hear God’s will for us as individuals and collectively. We create a virtual desert by removing all around us and within us that interferes with our ability to hear God, be nourished by God, and do what God asks of us.

As such, we gather in a circle in silence, quieting our hearts and minds to ready ourselves to be transformed, to become more like God. Meeting places are spare if possible, and do not have a pulpit or stage, an altar or baptismal font.

By removing all that might distract us from God, we feel we can better hear God’s voice speaking to us individually and corporately and be therefore lifted up and strengthened.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint. —Isaiah 40:31


Can someone please tell me what part of the above requires that I read dry, inaccessible seventeenth century writing? Or that I not love when strawberry, vodka, pepper, and balsamic vinegar combine to give me a new taste experience that reminds me that my limited experience is just that, limited? Or that I shouldn't love my redneck family unconditionally?

These unspoken social norms actually limit us as a religious society. Only when we come together, reveal our true selves in God's light can we grow. If we're all the same, then what's the point?

I really appreciated Friend Su Penn's comment on Facebook recently about her own badness. I would hope it, too, would reflect me and all of us:

I do not yet know how to bring these differences, which I believe should be explored, into the Light in a loving and plain-spoken way. But because I am actually an excellent Quaker, I am willing to make efforts, make mistakes, to await new revelation and Way opening, to continue to love my meeting and the Friends in it, to stay in my seat when I just want to walk out and never come back.

Thanks, Su, for reminding me to stay in my seat even when it hurts. And for reminding me that staying and revealing our "badness" is exactly what will make us all excellent Quakers.


Anonymous said...

aH YES the good old catch 22, if you are damn good, you are good enough to be danmed. If you are good enough, you are "bad". The joy of word smithing and the need to be secure in yourself.

Su Penn said...

That's some good Quaker practice from Troy, there. Way to speak to the Light within Jeanne, Troy!

Re: smoking. I always think that, among the 1500 or so people at the Summer Gathering, there have to be some smokers. Where are they? Where do they go to smoke? Do they hang out together? I've never spotted the elusive Smoking Quaker, but I know it must exist.

Jeanne said...

Su (and everyone else), I emailed Troy and told him that nothing on my list was essential to Quakerism. He emailed back and apologized for his judgment of me.

I appreciate his willingness to stay, as well, and to own up to his own shadow.

Peggy Senger Parsons said...

the BFA is so much fun that not even I am BAD enough to get serious over there.

Very glad to see that you know Comments like Troy's are not about you, they are about him.

The flaws of the Quaker culture that you live in (and it is just a slice of a multicultural pie) are just that flaws in a culture. Every culture has flaws and every culture has things to contribute and things that should be done away with.

Every class has something to bring to the table, and some things that are better left locked in the trunk.

The cool thing about Convergent type movements is that it at least gives us the chance to find the good bits and piece them together.

BFA in all its silliness and satire lets us laugh together and that is good. seriously.

I have learned to treasure and revel in the snarky comments.

Did I every tell you about the time that I served my Quaker womens group Spam, Velveeta and Old Style Beer, and made them drink the beer out of a CAN that they had to pass around?

That was fun times!

Michael Bischoff said...

Several years ago I read Samuel Caldwell's essay, The Time Has Come To Choose, contrasting "Quaker culture" that was often narrow and exclusive with the essential "Quaker faith" that can be a living center of a community. I found the essay very helpful in understanding why Friends meetings tend to be relatively homogeneous in culture, class, and race. As Jeanne has said in these posts, we confuse the oddities of our culture with the essentials of our faith. I also took from this distinction that the main way forward is to go deeply into our shared faith, so that it is so alive and vital, and can embrace a range of cultural difference.

I still think this is right--that a primary path towards greater diversity is to know, acknowledge, and live from the divine center. I think that all deeply multicultural faith communities that I know have a strong shared faith that binds them and attracts others. Sometimes that faith is based in a creed. As Friends, I think we are called to have the shared faith be primarily experiential, not creedal--but I think we have to be able to name it and invite others into our shared spiritual experience.

However, I've also become a little more sympathetic to Quaker cultures, and organizational cultures in general. I think many Quaker cultural norms reflect imperfect but important attempts to live out the basic principles of Friends. For instance, from your original "Bad Quaker" list, Jeanne--I think that some of the norms you are referring to in your list relate to the simplicity testimony (several), corporate discernment (#1), and other principles that are core to Quaker faith. The ways these principles get locked into certain cultural habits can be limiting and stifling, but I think there is value in having community norms about simplicity, corporate discernment, etc. Over the years, I think that Quaker culture has brought some good things to the world, and I don't want to throw it out. At the same time, I think we are called to be much more culturally flexible, by digging deeply into Quaker faith.

staśa said...

Jeanne writes, "If you're a witch, it's fine."

As a Friend who's a Witch, I wish that were the case, but it's not: I have faced more outward discrimination and bigotry as a Witch within the unprogrammed Quakerism than I ever have outside the RSoF, and more than I have faced within the RSoF as an out lesbian. I've listened to people stand up during Meeting for Worship for Business and say the most outrageous things about me (and "people like me") as revealed truth, when in fact, they were speaking nothing but opinion and gossip. People have said things about me as a Witch that they'd never say about working class Friends, Black Friends, disabled Friends, women Friends, or LGBTQ Friends. I've had people hold me to different standards of behavior (and even potential behavior) than other Friends. I've had people make assumptions about what I do and what I believe that they'd never make about, say, generically Christian Friends.

As a Witch in the Religious Society of Friends, I can tell you, it's not "okay" to experience the Divine in the way I do.

There are many ways in which Pagan, Non-Theist, and Jewish Friends violate the unspoken cultural norms in many Meetings. I've had that thrown in my face many times, particularly the last three years. And some of the worst parts of it are the hypocrisy of the unspoken norms, and the unwillingness to actually take out and look at what we believe about who "real" Friends are, and why.

Hystery said...

Stasa, I have voiced my concerns regarding your treatment in a separate forum and repeat it here. As a Neo-Pagan, I find the absence of "christian" love for you profoundly upsetting particularly in this time when I am attempting to make my spiritual home among Friends.
Jeanne, I would ask if the things on any of our lists are discouraged because they make us culturally misfits or because the corporate body has found them to be injurious to collective spiritual values?

I think we have to have serious conversations about these things so we do not judge one another based on the former rather than the latter motivations.

One of the qualities that attracts me to Friends is that they are a people of practice rather than of doctrine. The interpretation of "Christ" is less important to me than the manifestation of that energy of divine love, of agape. So if our behaviors are merely quirky, off-beat, or even "trashy" (omg!) what of it? Maybe Friends need a bit more "SPICE". But if our behaviors lead to exploitation, violence, fear, and abuse, well then...

Not surprisingly, a faith of practice requires discipline and discernment. A faith of practice requires...practice!

Tom Smith said...

I am concerned with the judgementalism of many Quakers (I use Quaker as a "loose/generic" term as opposed to a differently defined Friend). I am also concerned with the drift of Friends to accept anything and anybody as members or as Quakers. I have no problem with XYZ-Quakers but do feel that XYZ-Friends "require" a basic agreement with RSOF "faith and PRACTICE." I am not referring to a set in stone, parchment, paper, blog, etc. set of specifics. I have tried to spell out some of what I mean in some other blogs, but tend to get responses that say I am too "abstract," expansive, indirect, etc. I have also been severely reprimanded for being TOO Quakerly in my practice. The latter was a serious attempt to exclude me from a Friend culture.

Let me try a couple of direct, at least for me, responses to some of the statements made in the blog and comments. I sometimes find some BFA as making fun of segments of Quakers which are also seriously being disagreed with. I am completely in agreement with making fun of "ourselves" and find this helpful in examining "who we are," as well as relieving stress, pride, etc. However, making fun of those we have identified as "others" doesn't seem a bad/good way to go.

I believe that we are to be "light/Light" hearted. However, I also think we do need to speak Truth when we are called to do so.

I should stop now and write my own blog if I am led to continue.

In Peace and Friendship

Jeanne said...

A quick response, and more later. You all have given me some good things to think about. Thanks for stopping by.

Stasa, thanks for adding another thing to the list of things about which Quakers could be more loving. I'm sure lots of atheists could say the same thing.

I'm certainly not suggesting that witches and atheists should be excluded instead of me!

Peggy, Michael, Hystery and Tom...more to come later!

I'm glad for the conversation.

Huck said...

The seventeenth century Quaker writings are beautiful and inspiring. They form the basis of my faith. They are as sacred to me as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Elizabethian English Bothereth me not one bit. Troy

Joanna said...

Jeanne, your 'bad Quaker' list has brought up a lot of things that I'll need to sort out in myself. Thanks for posting it.
I agree about the redneck jokes. And I share the concern about how Quakers handle class generally. I am not college educated; I work with my hands; I often wince at remarks Friends make about others like me. (And then I think smug thoughts about Rich Liberal Self-Actualizing Quakers, and this makes things worse.)
I tend to avoid talking with people who use obscenities frequently. I don't think this is a class thing (the people who've made me most uncomfortable in this way have been fairly affluent young Friends and students from private schools). I can see that it would be untruthful, unkind and damaging to us both for me to avoid you or make assumptions about your intelligence and character. Would you also find it damaging/ limiting/ judgmental if we went to the same Meeting and I asked you not to use the f-word when you were talking with me, because it makes me uncomfortable?
For some years now I've been under a concern about the division of labor in which some people do physical work to the point of exhaustion and have little time for anything else, while others do no physical work at all; I think both sides suffer phsically and mentally from this division. So if we were in the same Meeting and you had money to hire all your work done I might say or ask things that made you uncomfortable. Would this be OK, if I was also willing to hear your queries and concerns about my choices that disturbed you?
--My email is

forrest said...

What I have found extremely disturbing in the years since I joined is that, at least around here, we do NOT seem to have 'a shared faith'--neither a shared belief system (unless it's The Testimony of Prudence) nor any of what I call faith, ie trust in the spiritual power that lives us and the world into existence.

Something I've found illuminating and consoling about this is Chuck Fager's piece on how our predecessors thought of Quakers as 'a people'. (Several peoples, he says, can be equally 'chosen' for their several inscrutable purposes...) A 'people' does not all need to be ideal, does not all need to 'get it,' or understand their mission as a people. Much of what I see among us reminds me of what I've seen & read about 'Jewish renewal' etc. Like many Jews, many Quakers have been searching our traditions for more life than most of our people have come to consider normal. And of course the root of both traditions is something greater, capable of breaking through the shells that've grown over it through the years. (See

If you'd been reading your Quaker history, you'd see where Margaret Fell was already complaining, towards the end of her life, that Quaker Meetings were getting far too concerned about externals, what she called a 'poor silly gospel' of 'plain' clothes. The local (Pacific Yearly Meeting) Faith & Practice boils 'simplicity' down to ~"Is your life so centered in God that all things take their rightful place." Perhaps you, and your critics, could agree on that?

staśa said...

Jeanne and Hystery, thank you.

One of the things that really bothers me is when Friends assume that I am "one of those people" who thinks anything goes, and anything should go, in the RSoF. In reality, I'm actually quite conservative in my Quakerism. And I'm never sure where they get the idea that I'm one of the "Quakers'll let you believe anything you want" kind, although a lot of it clearly comes from their assumptions about Pagans, Paganism, and my ministry.

Michael, a lot of what you wrote speaks my mind, and you give me food for thought, too.

Our "Quaker culture" should be an outward sign of our inward beliefs and values... not a litmus test or yard stick by which we judge other Friends. (Or ourselves, which I believe is part of the point of the Association of Bad Friends.)

QuakerDave said...

I was going to say something about what Troy said, but I see that worked itself out. I have had a number of "Troys" visit at my blog and have felt judged and hurt by those kinds of remarks. Which used to make me wonder what kind of religion I'd gotten myself into!

I just wanted to thank you for this post. As a convinced Friend for about seven years, I feel like there's a set of rules and behaviors I'm always having to strive to live up to, and yet, I know that just trying to do that should be enough. I'm still a Quaker, warts and all.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Su Penn-- smoking Quakers exist in high school / AYF, where participants in general are much more accepting of personal choice. Or maybe it's just the folly of youth, huh?