Tuesday, April 29, 2008

News article about Quaker Pagans

Over the last few months, quite a number Pagan Friends participated in interviews with religion reporter Matthew Streib of the Religion News Service.

The resulting article, "Pagans find a sometimes uneasy home among Quakers," appeared on the Modern Reformation website on 4/25, and was one of the leads on the RNS website today.

While on the whole I believe Matthew did a good job, I do have some issues with the article:

  • Although I don't know the content of Kevin-Douglas' interview with Matt, I do know (very well) that K-D was involved with Paganism long before Russell died.
  • Every other religion mentioned is capitalized in the article, but Pagan is not. (In this case, I don't know if this is Matthew's decision, or that of his editor.)
  • While I can't speak for all Pagan Friends, for most Pagan Friends I know, this is not remotely a "dual faith."
I have one faith: I am a Witch. Quakerism is central to how I walk that faith in the world. Quakerism is central to how Pagan, Christian, non-theist, Jewish, and agnostic Friends walk our faith in the world.

Funny how I've never heard people say Christians who are Friends have a dual faith. And while people insist I am a hyphenated-Quaker (a Pagan-Quaker, or, more often, pagan-Quaker), I've never heard any insistence that Christian-Quakers are hyphenated.
  • I don't have a tape of our conversation, but I can't imagine that I said you can find a Pagan in almost any liberal Meeting. (For one thing, it certainly depends on how big the Meeting, where it is in the US, etc.)
Woo-hoo! Cat and Peter host "a bastion of Quaker-pagan thought"!

I completely agree with Cat that superficiality is not a good thing. But then, I think that's true for both Paganism in general and Quakerism in general.

So I certainly like how the article ended. But I guess it just seems to me that some basic underlying assumptions went unchallenged in this article, and the ways in which we [the interviewees] challenged those assumptions just went right over the reporter's head. Ah, well. Perhaps in a longer, more chewy piece it may have been more likely to happen.

On the other hand, I am vastly amused by Christianity Today's take on this: "Now hundreds of pagans call Quakerism home." Hundreds? Who knew?? Where are we? (I figured I'd know if there were hundreds of us!)

Check out the lovely and lively comments on Quaker Pagan Reflections. I look forward to reading comments here, too!

p.s. Hee. Just as I was finishing this, "Choir" by emma's revolution (Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow, of FGC Gathering 2003 fame) came on my cd player's shuffle. "Has anybody seen the choir? I want to preach to the converted!" Humor and perspective are Good Things. :)


Cat C-B said...

Hey, Stasa,
It's always the way that some things get distorted in interviews. And I know that, as a writer, I get upset by even minor changes to my work--I've been known to kvetch about the change of a semicolon! So I'll admit to feeling a tad droopy over the quote attributed to me, which I think doesn't communicate the point I was trying to make--that Pagans who become Quakers need to learn the disciplines and practices of Friends, and not assume that agreeing with the ideas of Friends is enough! Like Wicca, Quakerism is very much an experiential religion, and I don't think you can learn either one from a book.

Or, in the case of being a Quaker, alone. So much of the heart of being a Quaker is corporate worship and corporate worship-as-business, that it takes some compromises with individualism that I see a lot of Pagans as probably being unwilling to make. (So does working in a coven, perhaps, but solitary Wicca is at least a valid path; solitary Quaker seems almost like an oxymoron to me.)

Mind you, that's the kind of article that might be written for something like Friends Journal. It wouldn't be of the same level of interest for a general audience, so it's not surprising that's not the article Matthew wrote.

Ditto the idea of being "dual faith." I'm still mulling over whether I agree with you or not. I'm not sure... I think that maybe, because community is so important to both, and because, for me, at least, my communities (Quaker and Pagan) are so separate, I might class myself as "dual faith." But I'd have to think about it... In any case, that's sort of an in-group discussion. Outsiders to Quakers probably wouldn't have enough of a sense of the terms of discussion to be much interested in it.

I did email Matthew about the lower case P in Pagan, btw. He capitalized it--but once it went out on the wire, he did not have control over what various editors did on that one. Ditto the subtitle from Christianity Today, "he liberal end of the Society of Friends has long had members who denied God's existence or Jesus' divinity. Now hundreds of pagans call Quakerism home." That was their addition, and not his, I think he said.

But, you know, I'm not sure it's so far off to say that hundreds of us are out there. There are 103 members of the Quaker Pagan listserve at Yahoo, after all. And while not every one of those members may identify as Quaker and Pagan, there are surely others who would identify that way who are not on the listserve. So ironically enough, Christianity Today may be right...

sta┼Ťa said...

Hi, Cat!

I know -- it's just been so long since I did interviews, I was hoping my memory was providing some of the distortion, rather than experience providing it. :) It does me good to know you'd been feeling a tad droopy, too.

I agree with you, completely, by the way. Being in sync with the ideas of Quakerism isn't, in my opinion, enough; how do you live your life? I don't see how one can be a Quaker (or, as you point out, a Wiccan) by thought alone.

There's a quote in PhYM's Faith and PRactice describing Quakerism as more a religion of orthopraxis than one of orthodoxy. I rather agree with this, and wish we spent more time talking about that.

I know what you mean about how do you be a Quaker alone, too. What do you do if you're the only Friend for a long ways? Are Gatherings enough? What if you're the only unprogrammed Friend, and going to a Friends Church is your only option? What do you do if there are some other Friends around, but worship with them requires mental gymnastics or leaves you spiritually dry?

In my own experience, both the spiritually rich times and the spiritually scant times, I am hugely grateful for larger circles of Friends. Gatherings always remind me I'm really a Friend, and why. :)

I am terrible at being a solitary Witch. I need the discipline of being with other people, and I need spiritual community.

So I can't really imagine being a solitary Quaker or Witch, although my spiritual life here in Ann Arbor sometimes feels close. Surrounded by water, but none to drink or swim in.

Many adult Friends are "spiritual refugees" from other traditions. Many adult Pagans, are, too. And many of us have fled authoritarian traditions. But again, I think you're right, Quakerism demands some compromises of individualism that doesn't meet the needs of a lot of folks who find Paganism first. (And/or that many of those folks can't/won't make.)

And even within Quakerism, there's an ongoing tension between individualism and the community. Look at Lucretia Mott's ministerial career: among other things, she was denied a traveling minute [to preach against slavery] for five years by her Meeting (my old Meeting, interestingly!).

I also agree with you about this not being the longer, deeper, chewier article. I guess we're going to need to write one for Friends Journal. :)

I also think you're right that the dual-faith discussion wouldn't have a lot of meaning to folks who aren't Pagan Friends or aren't Friends... And for you yourself, is it dual faith so much, as... dual expressions, perhaps?

I knew there'd be some things over which Matt had no control.

Oh, I totally knew Christianity Today added some sensationalism. That part actually amused me.

It would be kind of cool if they were right about there being hundreds of us... And wouldn't it be awesome if could all get together sometime??

(BTW, the article has generated several new list-serv membership requests already...)

Thanks for dropping in and commenting, Cat -- I appreciate it, and it helps. :)