Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Quakers in Transition Part 2

This is the second part of my attempt at The Friends Quarterly essay on ‘The Future of British Quakerism’ (see part 1 here). I offer it as a work in progress for your criticism and suggestions.
I feel I ought to make a slight disclaimer that this is the ‘diagnosis’ section of the essay, in which I have tried to highlight some issues that seem to me to be a matter for concern, and it does come across as rather negative in tone. There are also, of course, many wonderful, profound and life-enhancing things about Quakers, which I haven’t mentioned here, but intend to discuss in detail in the final section of the essay, if you are willing to stick with me that far…

Over the last half century British society has experienced a period of exceptional affluence and rapid social change, which have profoundly shaped the practice and values of British Quakers.
One of the most significant changes has been the growth in size and influence of a 'new middle class' of educated workers such as teachers, academics, social workers, health professionals, creative and media producers, IT technicians and managers. These socially and geographically mobile professionals have driven the increasing social liberalism of British society. They have also come to dominate Britain Yearly Meeting, which now has an overwhelmingly new middle class social composition, particularly from the ‘caring’, educational and public service industries.
Many of these new middle class professionals come to Quaker Meetings looking for an inclusive, non-dogmatic and non-hierarchical 'space' in which to explore their individual identity and to 'recharge their batteries'. For them, Meeting for Worship can be a refuge from hectic, information-saturated lifestyles and overcrowded schedules.

This experience of Quaker Meeting as a 'Quaker Space' for personal reflection has largely eclipsed the more traditional understanding of a 'Quaker Way', which involves personal discipline, religious commitment and communal accountability. Many people in Quaker Meetings do not know that there is a distinctive Quaker tradition of spiritual teaching and practice. Instead, the vacuum of teaching is often filled by other spiritual traditions, as well as the background assumptions of the dominant culture. Contemporary culture is narrowly materialist, except when it is superstitious (hence the popularity of horoscopes etc). Following this dominant cultural pattern, British Quakerism is increasingly tending towards secular and materialist interpretations of human experience, often in combination with a variety of magical practices from Reiki to homoeopathy.

Many of the progressive values that British Quakers pride ourselves on also reflect the shared world-view of the new middle class subculture, rather than any distinctive Quaker experience. Feminism, anti-racism, gay and lesbian equality and an opposition to traditional social hierarchies are all widely-shared values of the liberal new middle class subculture. These important political and ethical advances have largely been achieved by secular movements, but have subsequently been adopted as the basis of British Quaker culture. By contrast, traditional Quaker testimonies to truthful speech, personal integrity, and avoidance of unnecessary consumption and possessions (‘plainness’), which are not widely shared middle-class values, have become much more marginal to contemporary Quaker culture.

This process of assimilation to the surrounding culture is not a new phenomenon, and is not restricted to Quakers, although it has arguably gone further among British Friends than most other religious groups. Through these influences contemporary British Quakerism has become in part a post-religious movement; for many people the primary motives for participation are understood in psychological or social terms rather than religious ones.

The debate about ‘non-theism’ is a symptom of this growing conformity of British Quakerism to the dominant culture. As entirely materialist explanations of human life have come to monopolise our culture, so traditional Quaker language and practices have become less credible to many Quakers and attenders. This has made central concepts such as ‘God’, ‘worship’ and ‘testimony’ problematical for many, and they are increasingly being re-interpreted in purely secular terms. Core Quaker practices such as the ‘Meeting for Worship’ and ‘Meeting for Worship for Church Affairs’ (or more commonly ‘Business Meeting’) are also called into question by a materialist world-view.

The Quaker understanding of ‘vocal ministry’ in Meeting as a response to a specific leading of God is unintelligible in purely secular terms. For this reason spoken ministry in some Meetings inevitably tends toward the familiar categories of secular public discourse – political speech, moral lesson, group therapy or Radio 4 review. Similarly the practice of the ‘Quaker Business Method’ rests on a shared commitment to collective discernment of the will of God for the community. In a secular context this can only be practiced as a form of ‘consensus decision-making’ aimed solely at an outcome that is broadly acceptable to everyone who turns up.

The overall tendency of this process of secularisation is to threaten gradually to evacuate British Quakerism of any distinctive content. The accepting, tolerant and inclusive ‘Quaker Space’, orphaned from the challenging tradition of the ‘Quaker Way’, risks losing a living connection with the Spirit that has the power to nourish and to transform.


Peter Lawless said...

Part 1
While I understand much of what you are saying I think that you are in danger of your prose turning a little purple in places e.g. your ref to magical practices - wasn't their accusations of magical practices in the Hebridean Abuse case of about 10 years ago and those practices turned out to be Quaker or was I misinformed. I presume you read Edward Hoare in The Friend last week as I find echoes within this piece. In reality I would actually like to talk with you with this article in front of us as there is a great deal worthwhile being said but I am not sure if your hammer is actually hitting the nail directly on its head.
As to our profile I think we have ourselves to blame to some extent as there seems to be a role of the high profile media Quaker, (titles and all) and very rarely do we actually see Friends being represented by what I might call, without offense I hope, 'run of the mill' Quakers. In doing so are we falling in with current cultures of the celebrity?
The issue of the secular is interesting because couldn't many Q concerns be deemed secular e.g. slavery, refuge, concern for workers' wellbeing and education - Cadbury, Rowntree etc.? The actual spiritual importance however lying in the roots of such concerns and their adaption and subsequent processes and actions. Do we need to emphasise the roots to a greater extent and not simply display the fruit?

Peter Lawless said...

Part 2
As I have mentioned here before I get the impression of many of the new middleclass in Meeting often have working class roots. Again could our celebrity profile be detrimental from drawing from that and wider sections of the community. Does that mean that things like Quaker Quest have to go out in to various ares of the city (cities) or does that smack too much of the missionary? From talking to people I know that people are out there and curious.
You mention 'the increasing social liberalism of British society' but is it so or would it rather appear that way? A number of the so called liberals I have met have been very aware of hieracies and the need to maintain, and enhance, their level in them and the kudos particular titles give. Also is this a little in conflict with the narrow materialism mention later in the piece which is crucial in the NIMBYism which is surrounding aspects of the climate debate and actions?
Is failure to address a distinctive Q way one to be considered by all but especially Elders given their role in the development and maintenance of the Meetings spiritual condition?
You mention the filling of the vacuum with other spiritual traditions but in a number of Meetings I have felt that it provides a refuge for members particularly from the Anglican church who seem to try to impose elements of their traditions on Meetings through ministry on particular festivals. If I remember correctly the Dhammapada says something to the effect 'always wear the yellow robe' somewhere near its end. Perhaps we should always mentally wear our Q grey though Magaret Fell had a point to be considered also.
It would be interesting to see how we are viewed from outside/by outsiders. Are we distinctive or eccentric? I may be speaking too much in generalisations but I think the limits of this type of essay can lead to that.
Talking to a large number of Friends from around the world via the internet has made me aware of the wide variety covered by the umbrella of our name There is even a wide variety within the UK and this makes me wonder if we can be all things to all individuals all of the time?
The non-theist issue could be crucial though I wonder if throughout time issues relating to spiritual language have always been problematic. Do we need to accept and develop them in our terms. Further what part has a drive to ecumenicalism also played a part when we sometimes may be trying to reconcile the potentially irreconcilable in terms of theology/belief systems?
As someone on another site said "If you want 3 answers to a question ask 2 Quakers,".
Thank you for provoking my thoughts and this is very much a first response but I thought I'd start matters off.
In Friendship

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Craig,
Yes! The distinction between "Quaker Way" and "Quaker Space" is very useful. When I visit Meetings these days I try to listen with the ears of a newcomer. It's amazing how many times we can go through the whole hour without anything particularly Quaker rising to the surface. None of the spoken messages even hit the minimum of "vocal ministry" standards.

I want to stress that I consider myself a spiritual progressive. Despite being very grounded in my Quaker-centric Christian faith, I enjoy learning what other religions teach. I like talking about faith beliefs. Working class parents, middle class values, IT professional married to an teaching coach: I'm your profile. I'm not put out about talk of liberal politics or Thich Nhat Hanh and I listen to NPR on the radio (our equivalent to Radio 4, I presume).

But my question is where do we go to share Quakerism per se. Do we have an hour a week where that's our focus? One building per city dedicated to Friends ways? Quakerism as method/belief structure/worldview.

FWIW, outreach is ridiculously easy these days. It doesn't need celebrities, big budgets or formal programs. The internet is God's gift to Friends. Everyone of the typical seeker's age (15-35 ish) knows first to turn first to Google and Wikipedia. They come to meeting prepared and eager to see Quakerism in the flesh. They're often confused to find a room full of comfortable middle age people talking about Buddhism, non-theism and liberal politics. Any mid-size city will have dozens of venues to talk about those issues. The question to ask is if there's any other place in town where they could go to learn the "Quaker Way."

Daddy Hardup said...

This reads well so far. I'm looking forward to a Quaker critique of the consumer-capitalist state-market Thing in all its injustice and unsustainability. And an exposition of how the practice of sustainable living ties in with, and is nourished by, the spirituality of the Quaker Way.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... interesting. But how do you know that God isn't speaking through someone ministering on 'liberal' politics? Or supposed 'mytical' traditions? How do you know when someone gets up to minister on those topics you mention aren't being called by God to do so??

Yes, I've been surprised when someone use ministry in meeting to make what I would think would be more suitable for announcements. i. But surely the role of the elders is to gently guide people.

Personally, I've given ministry twice this year - and both times I've felt called to do so by God. Once was on polarity, paradox and wholenes - which I feel called to explore. I believe that Quaker thought/theory/practice calls upon the idea of 'holding the paradox' as a way to know God- and I know that Buddists think along similiar lines as well.

I think we do need to dicuss this more - I would love to find out more (if people want to share) what pulls them up to give ministry. We can't assume what people feel - how the spirit moves them.

Rudy said...

It is puzzling to see "feminism" on your list as a secular concern, as Quakers very early on were concerned for the equality of women. In the US, I don't know how this played out in the UK, Quaker women played a large role in the push for women's suffrage.

Haven't Quakers also been interested in issues like vegetarianism etc. for quite a long time in the UK? In "The Road to Wigan Pier", George Orwell lumps Quakers in with vegetarians, pacifists, feminists, "Nature Cure" quacks (would that be homeopathy again?) and other groups he saw as middle-class crackpots. That was 72 years ago.

In our Meeting, though the vocal ministry comes from people with a variety of spiritual viewpoints, I very frequently have the feeling that their concerns are prompted by the Spirit, even when they are in one of the categories you disparage as secular (politics, moral lesson(!), etc.)

There is a lot of interest in the specifically Quaker traditions here at our liberal meeting (in Raleigh, North Carolina), and we discuss testimonies and queries frequently. I think the "advice and queries" pamphlet from the British Yearly Meeting is wonderful.

While a lot of people in "liberal" Meetings here in the US read Thich Nhat Hanh, and other spiritual books outside the Quaker tradition, I think this is not a very new practice. The writings of Fenelon, for example, a Catholic writer, used to be very popular with Quakers.

When you say "for many people the primary motives for participation are understood in psychological or social terms rather than religious ones", is this based on your specific experiences in talking with people at Meeting? What are they saying?

Hystery said...

Friends where I live in Upstate NY were responsible for beginning and then leading the women's rights movement in the United States. (The Seneca Falls Convention was organized by Friends). Many of these same women were also interested in a broad range of social, cultural, and human rights concerns including homeopathy and dress and dietary reform (including vegetarianism), Native American rights, prison reform, abolition and other human rights activism. They were the leftists of their day. In my reading, I find frequent references to Eastern and indigenous spirituality and cautions against biblical literalism. They were also responsible for launching Spiritualism, a post-Christian perspective, whose speakers addressed all the radical reform issues of the day including hot button issues regarding sex and sexuality. At least in New York, if you wanted to find the most liberal people of the nineteenth century, the best place to look would be among Friends.

Granted, they were a minority of Friends but they were a significant minority both in numbers and in historical importance. And they were birthright Friends making waves in the first half of the 19th century so no one can say they were bringing in a foreign element especially since they were more radical than the secular society around them.

I think your distinction between a Quaker Space and a Quaker Way is really perceptive and deserving of much contemplation but I wanted to point out that many of the concepts you address as secular would not be considered so by a number of historical Friends. At least where I live, this is a very old spiritual tradition.

forrest said...

It isn't just a matter of a "Quaker way," though that vs "Quaker space" is making a significant distinction.

Quakers have had, almost from the beginning, a tendency to be heavily influenced by the cultural fashions around them, were much concerned about deism (even Fox had a brief attack of that he mentions in his journal.)

Symptomatic of precisely the difficulty you're pointing out: It isn't so much that early Friends had a testimony as to the value of plain and truthful speech; these practices were testimonies to the work of Christ in them eliminating the conventional sins.

So far as a Quaker "way" grew up, it was intended to be compliance with the Spirit rather than to anyone's "way."

Craig Barnett said...

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments.

Peter – I would love to see Quaker Quest reaching out to other areas of the city & a wider range of people. I’m trying to reign in the purple prose – always a bit of a struggle I’m afraid.

Martin – I’m very much 'my profile' too. I’ve also learned a great deal from Buddhism and several other traditions. One of the contrasts that has struck me between Quakers and other faith communities is that many Buddhists, Catholics, Sufis etc are interested in and draw on other spiritual traditions, but they generally have a pretty clear sense of what their own distinctive religious teaching and practice is.

Alan – I’m not sure I’m up to a full Quaker critique of ‘The Thing’ (is that William Cobbett?) How about helping out with that?

Musings – I do recognise that God may well speak through ‘secular’ ministry. My point was more that when most ministry in a meeting is of this kind it is likely to be a symptom of disconnection from traditional Quaker spirituality.

Rudy – I have read recently about the important role of US Friends in the women’s suffrage movement. In the UK, both 19th Century and modern women’s movements have been very much secular movements so far as I know.
George Orwell was one of our greatest writers as far as I’m concerned, but he did have a quite unjust animosity towards pacifists in general, which leads me to be a bit suspicious of his lumping in Quakers with his list of ‘cranks’. It may be that Quakers in the 1940s had already adopted much of the bohemian subcultural outlook. It is still clear from comparing previous versions of ‘Quaker Faith & Practice’ (formerly ‘Christian Faith & Practice in the experience of the Society of Friends’) that British Friends have moved a long way towards a secular liberal outlook over recent decades.
I do recognise that vocal ministry on secular topics may well be Spirit-led, just as involvement in secular political and social movements is often a faithful response to a leading of the Spirit.
As you say, Quakers have always drawn on writings from other traditions, including Fenelon, Boehme etc. In itself I think this is something very positive. The difference from modern times is that 17th and 18th Century Friends also had a very clear idea of what their own tradition was about (I’m glad this is also true of your meeting.)
The ‘motives for participation’ in Quaker Meetings I referred to were chiefly things like ‘recharging our batteries’, ‘having time to think’, ‘being with like-minded people’ and ‘being part of a community’ that many people have mentioned at various Quaker gatherings. All of these are worthwhile and healthy motivations in themselves of course, but they are different to primarily religious understandings of the meaning of belonging to a Quaker community.

Hystery – this tradition of US Quaker social radicalism is very interesting and impressive. Perhaps the critical element is that ‘they were more radical than the secular society around them’. Is the same generally true of liberal Friends today?

Laura Kerr said...

Craig - how wonderful that all this discussion is prompted by your posting. I wish I got round to checking this blog more often. I do think the Quaker space vs Quaker way is a valuable notion and worth us exploring it. I myself am aware that we are promoting our tolerant/liberal/warm and welcoming identity very strongly, with the risk that when newcomers first come up against something that can loosely, or precisely, be called 'Quaker discipline', they are shocked and perhaps disturbed by it. I am strongly of the view that a Quaker meeting cannot be a sort of 'free-for-all' 'anything-goes' experience - but there is a risk that it can seem like that to new-comers. There is a basic tension here between how we welcome people in (which MUST BE warm and loving and genuine) and how we share with them our understanding of Quaker tradition, values and beliefs. I didn't mean to say much but i seem to have gone on a bit...

Peter Lawless said...

My dear Friend
You have hit on something(s) so significant here with Q Space and Way it will take a long time to know their true value.
In Love

Nadine Wills said...

Fascinating post and discussion.

A religion that asks people to be personally sober, responsible and accept discipline...this does not fit most cultural/social profiles does it? It seems no mystery to me why Quakers have become more and more niche-oriented in this society.

It somehow seems a bit like there is no reward or appreciation for who is coming. Why all this constant concern about who is not? Because, in fact, Sheffield Meeting at least is doing pretty well in attracting more and more people.

Ironically, that seems to be bringing up issues of discipline (how do we keep the Meeting manageable, rather than how do we embrace and help this grow) more than anything else. The question I keep hearing over and over again is speaking about our large Meeting as a "problem".

This is more a concern to me and speaks of a possibly strange interpretation of simplicity (which suggests ensuring a lack of success/enforced genteel poverty and was certainly not part of original Quaker approaches).

I don't see why anyone would really be surprised when it comes to discipline and the Quakers though. It's more of a stick than carrot approach, isn't it? It asks people to take on a certain amount of restraint at least.

As a relatively new attender (almost 2 years now), Quaker discipline did not come as a surprise to me. It was one of the draws of the Quakers specifically in opposition to New Age practices and beliefs of which I have certainly explored. Their magic did not feel grounded. Quaker magic does. But it has magic foo foo too I would suggest. With magic you either clap for Tinkerbell or you don't, don't you?

To pretend that Quakers don't have magic and are completely logical in opposition to others....

As for more on simplicity with regards to conspicuous consumption, apologies here, but I think Quakers fail to make any convincing spiritual argument as to specfically how people should give things up sustainably in our culture. And I know that others feel the need for this, so maybe this is a discussion that is just beginning to be had. Anyway, I probably haven't read widely enough on this issue but I feel like it is preaching to the converted about the need for simplicity often. It's not if but how really, and I haven't heard enough hows. What do you replace conspicuous consumption with? Seriously.

This is why personally I find Buddhism philosophy is a crucial ingredient to my spiritual life despite going to Quakers every week (it shows me how to do this with the appropriate discipline). Interestingly, what I reject there is the magic....

Craig Barnett said...

Hi Nadine,
Thanks for this, and especially for responding on the subject of 'magic' (I was hoping somebody would!)

I certainly don't want to claim that Quakers are (or should be) completely 'logical', but I don't think we practice magic. For me there is an important distinction between magic and religion.

'Magic' attempts to obtain power over the world through ritual. Religion uses ritual to open ourselves to the power of God. So I would call crystal healing, astrology and 'praying for miracles' magic, but not Meeting for Worship.

I completely agree with you that a growing Meeting, with many new attenders is not a 'problem', but a great gift and a sign of life and vitality. I certainly do appreciate the new people who are coming to Meeting, and want to make sure that we share with them the riches of Quaker spirituality.

As to a 'convincing spiritual argument as to specifically how people should give things up sustainably in our culture' - I think this is an important discussion to have. Any ideas?

Nadine Wills said...

Hi Craig,
Interesting response. I've always felt that we have a need for ritual in our lives but think we attach different meanings to some of the words we are using here. Perhaps. Let's see.

Separating and giving over our power to other people or even God through/in meaningless practices is the problem in many religions. What I like is - at least the suggestion of - that in Quakers all this is open to questioning and analysis. However, humans are creatures of habit and I believe that we need to create and recreate the familiar in our lives. This is not a weakness and this can be called ritual.

When we do not hand over our power as part of this process, it can be magical (as it often is for me in Meeting for Worship) and slightly ritualistic (I begin my sitting and opening up in certain ways in that space and time, which can be seen as ritualistic, for example I always remind myself to look at the flowers as a way of reconnecting with god and nature and the other Quakers and a way of giving thanks: this grounds and centers me and is a repeated practice I need to help make Meeting for Worship "sacred" time and space).

So, I think Quakers have rituals - in different ways perhaps than lighting incense and chanting together. But even the "absence of ritual" (the not speaking and holding silence) of the repetition of phrases (holding things in the light")...well that could be seen as ritual, couldn't it? Or do we have a completely different interpretation of the word?

I mean, I see your overall point and am splitting hairs really here I suppose. It's just that when people say that there are no rituals, no decoration or no power hierarchies in Quakers...I think that this is not true. It is simply a different emphasis and ordering of things but that does not mean a thing does not exist simply because it is in another less obvious form.

Now I like Quakers and think people there have the best of intentions and these things have certainly less weight than they might in other places. But when things are refused as being present (like decoration in the Meeting Room, so many have told me proudly that it does not but it certainly does to me, to my Canadian eye. It is not a very "plain" room at all. It is only in comparison to Anglican churches that someone might say that), then sometimes they are hard to recognise and deal with as well if they become problematic which I would guess sometimes somewhere (given the strata of human experience, they would). So, I feel it is not correct to suggest that something is completely absent simply because it is not like the dominant mainstream thing it is usually compared to.

Now magic. Magic to me is an opening up to possibilities in the world that I can't explain. To me magic is connected to faith. So, perhaps again here we are splitting hairs because I'm not sure you would disagree with this interpretation (if you are still following any of this :-) ). If magic is trying to control the world through ritual, hmmm. Could you push it farther and say that magic is trying to control god(s) through ritual. Perhaps. Very human. But what, do you think Quakers are doing with their prayers and holding things in the light? Could this not also be termed as either opening yourself up to the possibilities that will be revealed to you, or trying to control the world through your faith? They can be miles apart, I agree. But they can be very similar indeed. The intent and way that people interact with something can be the similarity or departure point not the practice itself.

Nadine Wills said...

Part 2 of my super long comment....

Sharing with people the riches of Quaker spirituality...this is interesting. To be proud and to emphasise the uniqueness that Quakers have to offer would seem to me to be a good thing. But if this would suggest that the Quakers have goodness that the rest of the world does not....this could be slightly uncomfortable for me I have to admit. Yet, in all my interactions with you, that is not how you have come across at all. And I like your points, so, I look forward to hearing more and I certainly have a lot to learn about the Quakers.

The idea behind giving up consumption, I have no great recipe. I think that a lot of people in Quakers do have knowledges to contribute here and why it is such a joy coming to Meeting. So many people are doing so many amazing things. For me, the answer would be a quite comprehensive answer: if you are not going to make yourself feel good with things, how do you make yourself feel good? How do you interact with your community? What are models for being?

That would necesitate a quite comprehensive and wide-ranging response (which is why Quaker Quest has possibly been a step in the right direction, perhaps if it did not stay at such an introductory level)...that looks at how you communicate, live physically, emotionally, in your work life and interact in relationships/community and how you live spiritually.

So many projects and things people are involved in at Quakers seem to address this actually. This is one of the reasons I really like coming to Quakers but there is more scope for just sharing ideals and coping and strategies I think. This is why I like the City of Sanctuary idea, it brings a lot of different groups together and then pushes them to share. Think lots of people are trying to figure out very basically, how do I live a life that makes me and the people around me feel good...or at least okay most of the time? At least I am :-)

Craig Barnett said...

Hi Nadine
Do 'Quakers have goodness that other people do not?'
I certainly don't think that. What I mean by 'the riches of Quaker spirituality' is the Quaker spiritual tradition, which includes the lives and teachings of Friends such as George Fox, Margaret Fell, John Woolman & Elizabeth Fry, the practices of Meeting for Worship, Business Meeting, Meetings for Clearness etc, and the Quaker testimonies, which have been developed and tested over several centuries.
To me this spiritual path embodies some unique and precious resources, as do many other spiritual traditions of course.
And just as with other religious traditions actual Quakers (myself definitely included) tend to live our spiritual teachings only very imperfectly, if at all...

natcase said...

Nadine and Craig: Your discussion touches on a subject close to my heart. I think, Craig, we need to distinguish between magic as a practice and magic as a metaphor.

The word in terms of practice calls up Wiccans, or Aleister Crowley's "Magick" or any number of showmen like Houdini.

As a lifelong reader of fantasy novels, especially kids and young adults, I can say that in that context, magic is closely equated with a sense of wonder, a sense of the miraculous. Indeed I would say that my favorite authors (mostly British, though I am American) use the idea of magic almost exclusively to mean something pretty close to Spirit. Though my contact with Friends came through summer camp and school, I was primed to see the potential for Grace everywhere by having devoured so much magical fiction. They were my miracle stories.


Craig, I also wanted to say thank you for the "space vs way" concept. I wanted to add that while one of the things that "outside culture" does best is emphasize outward forms over inward sense of the sacred, one of the most valuable things about spoken ministry I find is when it shows Spirit emerging from the ordinary and everyday. But the process of finding and revealing this is, as you say, a "way," not automatic within a "space."

The question I have is: can we as Friends truly learn to separate the acceptanceof the content of such world-grounded ministry -- the whole universe and its wonders and magic -- from our human tendency to tie ourselves to the visible, all-too-comprehensible side of it, and so tie ourselves again to false outward forms.

Nadine Wills said...

Hi Craig and natcase,
I am many things, but succinct in my commentaries is not one of them. I apologise in advance but thank you both for continuing this conversation with me and helping me think. Interesting discussion.
natcase, you perhaps explained the point I was trying to make about magical-ness in a more summarised form than I did. Thank you.
Went to a Quaker "community building" session this past Sunday on learning that one of the other members lead (thank you Gordon as well, very good). This was especially interesting because it not only looked at how we learn, but also how we communicate in meetings...and helped me realise this was also tying into my original points was trying to make perhaps about ritual (Quakerism as I have experienced is wonderful but "rituals" of other religions do allow learning and experiencing through other senses and ways...such as visual, touch, smell, repetition and so on which was part of my original post I think). Was a fascintating discussion on Sunday and called to mind this comment stuff.
Craig, it is precisely that imperfection and "not enough" you point out that appeals to me about Quakers (not the almost perfections). Am I contrary? However, living with traditions imperfectly and seeing how people do that that is so intriguing to me...because that is life.
No one is ever going to be perfect (I've certainly tried my best as I'm sure many have and do but it actually is beyond me and now increasingly is no longer even of interest) so I want to see how people make their compromises and adjustments and how they cope with their failures. Is that horrible of me?
It just seems to me that it's in those places that life and nobility and truth and courage actually happen. When everything is going well, it's easy to talk the talk...but when things are hard and you're not sure how you are going to "measure up" or you know you're not meeting standards you'd otherwise like to meet or everything is simply not going to get done...and so on. It's at those moments and how you deal with those realities that community and personalities are made. Do you agree? Maybe that's what is so compelling about Fox.
That's what drew me to Quakers actually, not Fox but...the first time I came, their was a "discussion" about whether or not you had to be articulate to be a Quaker and whether or not there was a hierarchy of articulateness underlying the Meetings. Glorious! How cheeky of me to revel in this but I like questioning and people who question things (as perhaps is becoming clear).
I watched this all going on with astounded glee. What a wonderful and reflective conversation to be having it seemed to me. That was my "coming home" story. Not everyone agreed but it seemed open for discussion and that has been my continued experience even when it makes people uncomfortable and they do not know how to respond...they simply do their best in whatever the circumstances (and they are not always/normally my questions I should point out which also takes the pressure off). This sense of willingness to deal with issues seemed eminently sensible to me.
So if you decide/find a way to share and explore the Quakers nad their theology, let me know, I'll sign up. I like the ways the Quakers work and what they stand for from what I've seen so far and I'm a pretty critical observer I must admit. From the layers I've seen, I understand this is all very superficial and there is so much more to get and definitely have a lot to learn.
The Quakers are a special place I agree (notice I refrained from using the term magical? tee hee) that I feel very privileged to be able to attend. I find that to be particularly true of the Sheffield Quaker Meeting.

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