Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Quaker Worship for the un-cool?

I've just been on a Quaker Life conference exploring 'the heart of our Quaker identity' - more on this soon. But this quote from Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox just leapt out at me (came across it on Chris M's blog):
There is a popular notion, even among some Friends, that the Quaker "brand" of worship is not for everyone; that it requires a cool, detached, middle- to upper-middle class Anglo-American temperament. Not only is this notion implicitly classist and racist, it constitutes a terrible misunderstanding of what Quaker worship means. What makes this worship difficult for people of all races and temperaments to accept is the way it brings the experience of the cross into worship itself. No one takes up this cross easily. Yet it is in this quiet, sometimes desperate, prayerful attitude that one may give up one's self to God and say, "nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:44).
What do you think?


Simon Heywood said...

There is a historical tendency for Quakers to be "still and cool" but they also got pretty frantic when the need arose.

Maurice Bartley said...

Hi Craig,
I resonate with this quote from Douglas Gwyn. I think that all of us need to work hard at breaking the linkage between the 'middle class, educated, Anglo-American' temperament and Quakerism.

People, who in the so called 3rd World who identify with 'Liberation Theology' are I believe very close to what Quakers stand for, in the way we both perceive life and our relationship to God. but they are very different from us in Social Class, Education, and Culture.
I wish we Quakers in Brittan could help bridge that gap between very different cultures.
Could we get a bit frantic about this or would that be to ask too much?

Gordon Ferguson said...

Quote from Joe Bageant of Virginia, USA:

"The time is waaaaay overdue to create a force of "trench liberals," or in the case of my own people, "leftnecks" -- gun owning progressives who change their own motor oil -- persuasive populist grassroots organizers. It'll be hard and they won't be pretty people. Real trench liberals and leftnecks must come from the working neighborhoods and be folks who already know the people they attempt to persuade -- they are the most apt to be populists. Such people do exist; I've got hundreds of their emails to prove it."

NB - in his neck of the woods (almost literally) they hunt deer, etc, hence the guns.


The thing I like about the above is 'they won't be pretty people': A Quaker meeting that truely reflects the working class culture that it is in, i.e. is not just parachuted in to convert them all to middle class liberal values, will appear to us as reactionary, communitarian and 'non-literate'. But they will be 'liberal communitarians' rather than conservative and will not vote BNP.

The trouble is, liberals like ourselves tend to see 'reactionary', 'communitarian' and 'non-literate' as at best inferior and perjorative and at worst morally bad. We should look to the plank in our own eye and realise that each dichotomy - Radical/Reactionary, Pluralist/Communitarian, Literate/Non-literate hides both strengths and weaknesses. I commend to you the following essay: on 'Great Divide' theories from 'Biases of the Ear and Eye' by Daniel Chandler.

The weaknesses as I see it in the positions favoured by liberal Quakers like myself are:

A very strong tendency to devalue messages from the past, and the language used to express them. Thus we reject use of the word 'God', and yet have nothing to put in its place other than negative silence.

A very strong tendency to value individual freedom over the necessary constraints of living in community.

A very strong tendency to confirm knowledge and revelation through books and rational arguement.

Jim M. said...

I think the comments are missing the point of the quotation from Gwyn. It was not that Quakers should be changing to drop into working class communities; he was objecting to the notion that Quaker meetings as they are would not appeal to other communities. IThere's a tendency to stereotype working class people as not being receptive to silence and meditation.