Sunday, May 25, 2008

On the curb? In the back yard?

I don't have a sense of how much my regular readers know about some of the struggles I've been engaged in within Quakerism over the last three years, or about how I feel about them.

I certainly wrote about the conflict within Ann Arbor Friends Meeting over renting space to a Pagan Friends Gathering I was helping to organize, but I was fairly circumspect about my own feelings and reactions.

I haven't written much about a conflict in my "home" Meeting, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, over my application for membership. It's still in process (after more than a year), it's so personal, and I am stumped about what to say or how.

I did write about the recent news article on Pagan Friends, and a little about my reaction -- but there's more interesting discussion occurring on other blogs where there's much more comment activity; and in addition, I've kind of thrown my hands up over it all: I'm certainly not in control over what's out there and what people make of it!, and I'm overwhelmed by trying to participate.

But the fact that I haven't talked much about how I feel about different conflicts has meant rarely asking for, and rarely receiving, support in my feelings of isolation.

I say "rarely" rather than "never," because Cat and I have exchanged some supportive blog comments which were quite helpful to me, and because I've had some good discussions on the Jewish Friends and Non-Theist Friends lists in particular. But I haven't talked much about it here.

Cat wrote a post recently, "Thoughts from the Curb," which inspired me to do some work I need to do here.

If Cat moved (did she march? stalk? creep? walk with great dignity?) out to the metaphorical curb, feeling unwelcome in her Quaker house, I fled to the back yard. I'm not sure if I'm up in a tree, or sitting with determined dignity in a lawn chair, but either way, I'm trying to settle into worship, and wishing people would join me. I'd be really happy if they brought the metaphorical family dinner, as they did with Cat. Or perhaps tea and chocolate.

I'm no stranger to controversy. I'm no stranger to spiritual community. But community, and Quaker process, are what help me stay grounded and sane during conflict and controversy, and I've been feeling the lack of immediate community. (Well, and of Quaker process, too, now that I think of it.)

I cannot say how grateful I am for larger Quaker community, especially FGC and FLGBTQC. My work with them, whether in their everyday incarnations or at Gatherings, consistently and surely reminds me that I am a Friend, that Quakerism is my home. Even when there's been conflict there -- at every Gathering, in every time I've gone into the FGC office to do some kind of work or emailed with Friends to do FLGBTQC work, I've been reminded that this is home.

But FGC and FLGBTQC are my more-extended community. Here in my immediate and small spiritual family, I'm feeling the lack of intermediate extended family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, sisters- and brothers-in-law. (Hmmm. Especially cousins.)

How do I feel about recent controversies?

One, I know Quakerism is my home. Friends' process, Friends' testimonies: these are how I walk with integrity in the world. I am sure and joyful in my ministry, in its different forms, even when I am uncertain.

Right now in particular, I feel like I am crossing a stream, one stone at a time. So far, each stone has been steady; but I don't know if the next one will wobble, or how many stones there are after that, or if they reach the bank. I just know I need to be faithful one step, one stone, at a time. ("Imani, faith.") And I know that the stream and the woods are really, really beautiful.

Two, I know that I am a Witch: I know the Goddess. Leaf, stone, sun, breeze, trickle of water, the Spirit moving among us when we are gathered together in community: I have met Her, I continue to meet Her.

Three... I feel. How do I feel? Lonely, frustrated, hurt, determined, joyful, faithful, sure, uncertain, reassured.

My faith in Quaker process has not been diminished; it only increases during these conflicts. On the other hand, my frustration with an intellectual and emotional mimicry of Quaker process has grown and remains high. It's so obvious, afterwards (and sometimes during), when one has been part of true Friends' process. It's marvelous, even when it's hard work and hard emotionally and spiritually. It's not so obvious when one has been part of what I've heard referred to as "Meeting for Good Ideas," except for a vague feeling of deep disappointment afterwards (and sometimes during).

I am really tired of "Meeting for Good Ideas." Partially because I yearn for the spiritual communion of true Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business. Partially because, in the current controversies of which I am part, there is no room for me in Meeting for Good Ideas.

In Meeting for Good Ideas, I watch people say, with utter conviction, outrageous untruths (and sometimes downright lies) about me and about what they call "people like me." Things they've learned from third parties, not from the Spirit: from gossip; from the internet; from people who actually don't know anything about me or my work personally, but who are queried as "experts." Sometimes folks just plain make stuff up.

So much of what I hear reminds me of what I went through in the late 80s and early 90s as a lesbian. Even within supposedly supportive communities, people would say the most outrageous things as fact. In some spiritual communities, they still do.

Perhaps I need to write an entire separate entry on myth-busting. But for now, a few examples. Lesbians, bi people, gay men, transgender people, and queer folk are not, by inherent condition of being LBGTQ: primarily interested in molesting children; constitutionally incapable of forming long-term, stable relationships; confused; unable to commit; celibate; promiscuous; mentally unstable; etc.

Pagan Quakers, are not, by inherent condition of being Pagan Friends: ignorant of Quaker history; dangerous; unfamiliar with Quaker worship/ process/ testimonies; trying to dilute Quakerism; trying to destroy Friends' process; committed to ritual; not committed to ritual; into killing squirrels; incapable of Quaker worship; confused; unable to commit; etc.

Back to Meeting for Good Ideas. It seems that it takes true worship for there to be room for me.

When I can truly worship with Friends -- not participate in discussion under the guise of worship, but be part of a group that truly asks, "How are we led?" -- then I am not angry and I am not afraid: I am open. If our worship leads to an outcome, by listening deeply -- as ours is a religious tradition of listening spirituality -- by listening deeply, I know we come to an outcome that will work for me. But our worship might not lead to an outcome, and if it does not, then it does not. We are in Friends process.

So, what do I want, what do I need?

Right now, I'd really love it if some folks came out into the metaphorical back yard with me, where I'm feeling lonely, sad, tender, and a little overwhelmed. There's this lovely old, large magnolia tree we can climb together (assuming I can still climb trees in my advanced middle age!), or we can sit together in a circle on the grass, on lawn chairs or cushions or blankets. I'd love it if we sat together in worship for a while. Maybe after, we can have some deep conversation, or worship-sharing. Maybe we can eat together here outside. And maybe when we're done, we can sing together, drum, play instruments. Maybe a few hardy folks will dance.

Maybe we can help each other be faithful. Maybe we can give each other strength.

Maybe we can build community.


chavala said...

I'd be happy to pull up a chair next to you, of course. Hugs from halfway across the country.

staśa said...

That would be delightful. I very much enjoy worshipping with you.

And I may have the chance to do so in person soon: we are moving to Seattle for a year, starting in mid-August. :)

Hugs back. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stasa,

I understand why you appreciate Quakerism. There are many, many aspects of it that I find appealing, as well. All of the testimonies strongly resonate with me. I've considered becoming a quaker. What keeps me from being Quaker is the whole theism thing.

I know that there are "nontheist quakers" just like there are "pagan quakers," but those seem like oxymorons to me. I've considered being a "nontheist quaker," but I can't see how that would be much different from being a "nontheist catholic" or a "nontheist lutheran." It doesn't make sense to me, no matter how much I appreciate many aspects of Quakerism. In my mind, a "nontheist quaker" is really just a secular humanist looking for community.

Why not start your own pagan community? Incorporate those aspects of Quakerism that you like, but disregard those that you don't (like the Abrahamic god, etc.) Make paganism more quakerly, instead of making quakerism more pagan.

I'm not attempting to be critical, and I sincerely wish you the best. I'm just trying to be constructive, as a fellow admirer of the Quaker way who also has fundamental differences with core traditional Quaker beliefs.

Cat C-B said...

While it is true that Christianity is the foundation and origin of all branches of Friends, and that three out of four branches of American Friends are explicitly Christian, it is also true that in that fourth branch, the liberal Quakers, there are both Christian and non-Christian Friends worshiping and practicing together. It's not a perfect congruence: some liberal meetings are unhappy with the presence of non-Christian Quakers among them, and some are (I am told) not accepting of the Christian language and ministry of some other members. There is tension.

However, there are also places where it works, and, IMNSHO, works well. I am forever being surprised when I learn that some weighty Friend in my own meeting, whom I'd assumed must surely be Christian, turns out not to be. I think the telling thing is that you really can't tell--not be depth of worship or by contributions to the meeting--who is a non-theist or non-Christian Friend.

I know that my own meeting would not be happy with the suggestion that I should leave it and go form a Pagan group instead. I have, in fact, led many Pagan groups over the years--and so has Stasa. But that's not what I'm currently led to do.

If and when the Light tells me to go, then I'll sadly say goodbye to my more conventionally Christian Friends and head off to start something new and Quaker-ish among Pagans. But that's not my current leading. And though I may not tune in to a "brand name" Spirit in meeting for worship each week, I don't think you would sense that, were we met together in gathered worship.

Likewise, though I do not myself understand non-theist Friends--how does one seek Unity with a non-god? I recognize that there are non-theist Friends who appear to be perfectly capable of gathering in the Light. We do not share a language, but we can sometimes share the deep and transforming experience of what I might call God and you might call Christ.

There are also those whose Quakerism, theist or not, is more notional than experiential, of course. And secular non-theism can be problematic. But so, I think, can a merely notional Christianity, brought into Friends meeting.

The issues are more nuanced than the language we bring to them.

Or, at least, that is my own current understanding. I am committed to remaining open to ongoing revelation, as, I hope, are you.

staśa said...

It's been a crazy week (my wife defended her dissertation, Yay!), but I hope to post a reply (or replies) soon.

Os said...


As a naturalist I remain a Quaker because, in my experience, love can happen within a meeting without regard to similarities and differences. I find it exciting to worship with people who are Christians, Buddhists, Jews, pagans, nontheists and on and on. In the three meetings I have been a member of, it would not be Quakerly to let beliefs stand in the way. Unstinting commitment, sometimes found in families, can happen in meetings, too.

Of course, we are fallible and do not always live as we hope, but we try. Joining a meeting is a commitment made by a few dozen people. Remaining a Quaker depends on what is happening among those few people. Each meeting decides the role beliefs will play and this varies a great deal from meeting to meeting, and individual to individual, and circumstance to circumstance.

For many Friends what is most wonderful about Quakerism is independent of how we talk about it, of our beliefs. Quaker beliefs are not unusual, but Quaker practices are. We see this in meeting for worship and in meeting for worship for attention to business and marriage and remembrance and celebration and discussion. We see it in outreach to the world beyond the meeting community and in our daily lives.

I would be embarrassed to have to go where people agreed with me so that we could love each other. The world needs diverse groups where love is happening. When this brings me a period of suffering I give in to it willingly. Ultimately it will benefit my life, and that of my meeting, and that of other meetings. The harder it becomes the more important it is. We humans are woefully ignorant and will not come out of our ignorance easily. We are growing up. Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it is astoundingly beautiful.



Jeanne said...

I would be embarrassed to have to go where people agreed with me so that we could love each other.

I actually think that's what modern liberal Friends do, not around theology but around culture.

Imagine worshiping in the manner of Friends and doing business in the manner of Friends and marrying, mourning or celebration each other in the manner of Friends, but everyone in the circle but you were: ardently Republican, SUV-driving, gun-toting, meat-at-every-meal eating, anti-choice and pro-death penalty smokers.

At Northern Yearly Meeting, I led an interest group on social class and one astute member said that churches need to be homogeneous around either theology or culture.

At Catholic churches you see both poor and rich worshiping together. At Evangelical Friends churches, when they talk about the 'welfare problem,' they're talking about some of their members and attenders.

When modern liberal Friends worship, we are worshiping with people just like us, culturally, aren't we?

Rami Zentgraf said...

Anonymous wrote:
"I use satan worshipping in this example merely to provide a stark contrast between belief systems - it is what I assume to be the exact opposite of christianity."

Actually, it's only christians who believe in satan in the first place...all satan-worshippers are christian by definition, because outside of christianity, "satan" doesn't exist.

staśa said...

Thanks, Rami.

I love what Z. Budapest has to say about this: basically, that in order to be a Satanist, you have to believe in Satan, and Satan's a Christian notion, and she's not a Christian, so she doesn't believe in Satan and isn't a Satanist. (Poof!)

haverwench said...

Anonymous: "If paganism included catholic pagans and muslim pagans and atheist pagans, paganism would similarly just end up being a word to describe a group that likes to hang out in nature and dance on the solstices."

Stasa: "Actually, that sounds a lot like modern American Paganism to me... I'm joking, but I'm serious, too: that greatly resembles my experience of 'the Pagan community.'"

That amused me, too. I thought: Well, if all the gods are one, then why on earth *wouldn't* there be Catholic pagans and Muslim pagans? (Atheist pagans might be a little more complicated--sort of "all the gods are none.")

After all, it's perfectly possible to believe in two things at once, as long as those two things aren't directly opposed to each other. I mean, heck, I know one person who gives her religious identity as "Jew-bu-wic-kee-lic," for Jewish/Buddhist/Wiccan/Cherokee/Catholic. She doesn't want to be, for example, a Jew with some Buddhist, Wiccan, Cherokee, and Catholic influences; she wants to be all five. (Way too complicated for me, but if she can handle all that, more power to her.)

Now, perhaps Anonymous (by the way, are you by any chance related to *the* Anonymous? The one who wrote all those great songs?) means to suggest that Quakerism, even modern Quakerism, actually is in direct conflict with pagan beliefs. But I think Stasa has refuted that argument pretty effectively. Sure, there are Quakers who are Christians, and there are even Quakers who think that all Quakers should be Christians--but not *all* Quakers think that, and there's no doctrine *in* Quakerism that requires Quakers to think alike on this point. Nor is there anything in paganism that's incompatible with being a Quaker or, for that matter, anything else.

Most Quakers aren't pagans; most pagans aren't Quakers. But those who fall into the overlap between the two circles still need a place to be accepted as both.

staśa said...

Hi, haverwench! Nice to see you here.

You wrote, ""Atheist pagans might be a little more complicated--sort of "all the gods are none.""

It depends a lot on your definition of and conception of "deity." If I define as "deity" "that which I hold sacred," than I can hold a tree as divine without ascribing omniscience, omnipresence, or omnipotence to it. It can be divine to me without it being all-knowing, all-present, or all-powerful, which is part of the common cultural understanding of gods.

I know a fair number of non-theist and atheist Pagans and Quakers.

And one of the co-founders of Roses, Too! Coven is an atheist, and half of the former co-Priestesses are atheists.

If you ever want a good read about this, try Godless for God's Sake: Non-Theism in Contemporary Quakerism. It's available through many Meeting libraries, and through Quakerbooks. :)

Thanks for commenting!