Last week I attended a workshop by the People’s Institute on institutional and internalized racism. The workshop was rich, emotional, and challenging. I know that I will be processing my experience for a while now.
During the workshop, there was a section where we worked at defining “White Culture.” This working definition described the behaviors and characteristics of “White Culture” in institution and communities. The list perfectly described my current working environment here in Seattle, but what surprised me was how different my working environment was at Pendle Hill in PA. At first my concern was that other Quakers taking this workshop (in the future/past) would rationalize that the Religious Society of Friends does not have problems with racism because it does not fit into the dominate “White Culture.” While this is still a concern and I have many thoughts about subset constructions of “White Culture” and equal accessibility to communities and resources, the question arose (which has been peculating for a while from other directions) What makes the Religious Society so different?
I don’t want to get into a deep conversation right now about race and the Religious Society of Friends. I have so much to learn first from generations of Friends deeply committed to racial equality. What I do want to write about here is culture. As I transition away from Seattle and process these past 9+ months, I find myself often wondering about how different I see the world; how different I expect people to act; how different I expect myself to act… there seems to be something common among Friends experiences of the world regardless of theological persuasion. The more I feel this difference, the more “Quaker” I become.
Recently, Illinois Friend Maurine Pyle posted on her blog the following quote:
In America today our sense of spiritual fellowship in Liberal meetings, the feeling of belonging to the same tribe, is diminishing. We no longer live in the same communities, and we come from diverse faith traditions. Our cultural values are no longer entwined at the roots, as were those of our founders. As a body we share less genetic and cultural memory of what it means to be Quakers. Different viewpoints often prevent us from looking in the same direction to find a point of convergence. We hold beliefs ranging from Buddhism to non-theism to Christianity, or we may simply be ethical humanists. Just imagine a mixture of wild seeds cast into a single plot of land, producing a profusion of color. A wide variety of plants all blooming together symbolize our present condition in the Religious Society of Friends. Discerning which is a wildflower and which is a weed is not easy. We are living a great experiment of religious diversity. (My View from Firbank Fell)
While I agree that the Religious Society of Friends is widely diverse, I do feel like I belong to a type of modern tribe. Whether spending time with Evangelical Friends, Pastoral Friends, Liberal Friends, Non-Thesist Friends, Pagan Friends, Convergent Friends, Conservative Friends… etc… there is something about being a Friend that is alive among us.
Martin Kelly, reposted Maurine’s quote on his blog Quaker Ranter with the following reflection:
When I clerked a small meeting a number of years ago, debates would often break out between two well-defined groups. I came to think of them as the “this is how we’ve always done it” and the “let’s analytically think about this” camps. Sometimes the immediate question under debate would be religious (e.g., should Bibles should be at the end of benches or in a bookcase by the door?) but each camp had discernment strategies that weren’t necessarily religious.
One thing that I love to do, is talk with other F/friends about the characters in their meetings and/or churches. There are always those who would fall into Martin’s group “this is how we’ve always done it” and there are always those who say “whooh, let’s analytically think about this.” Just like there are those who say “Christ said this,” those who say “the Prophets said that” and those who say “What can’t thou say?” like good old Jorge Fox said back in the day.
There also seems to always be the same “type” of messages/sermons: overly intellectual- NPR messages, the bunny rabbit and flowers messages, the “on my way to worship I saw…” messages, the inappropriate response messages, and of course the deeply prophet, makes me shiver in my bones messages. Can you think of other “types?”
And then there are the people. The old hippy activist; the sleeping child; the falling asleep nodder; the cute child whispering to their parent; the hearing aid interference; the testimony; the smart alack responder; the singer; the barefoot teenager; the poet; the young adult who refuses to sit in the chairs; the “I’m allergic to all scents”; the self proclaimed elder; the trustee who knows all the answers; the engaged couple; the new person who speaks in open worship though not quite sure what this is all about; the seasoned friend who gives an announcement during open worship; the guest preacher who gets too close to the mic… you get the picture
Are many of these things characters, types, and behaviors in many places of worship, of course… but there is still something or some things that make up a Quaker culture. Something that prompts my brother to say something of the sort: “Rachel, didn’t you figure out that you were different a long time ago, we were brought up Quaker, its a different world view.”
So as I explore these questions over the next few weeks, I ask you: What makes your Quaker? It doesn’t have to be true for all kinds of Quakers, it just has true for you. Let us see what chain is formed- what thread binds us together.