Wednesday, April 05, 2006

April Fool Satire Not Intended as Sarcasm

I am surprised and chagrined to see that my recent April Fool's post has caused some people pain and that it was seen by Friends I respect (including Mark Wutka of The Ear Of the Soul, Pam of Reaching for the Light, Canine Diamond of The Crate and Liz Opp of The Good Raised Up) as an example of sarcasm. According to an online dictionary I consulted, sarcasm is "a cutting, often ironic, remark intended to wound..." or "intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule." While I knew I was writing satirically, I did not at all intend to wound anyone or to make anyone the butt of contempt or ridicule. Nevertheless, that was obviously the result. I apologize to all.

Now I'll try to comment on some of the issues raised.
Pam remarked that
...it certainly FEELS like you're saying that embracing nontheist members is... ludicrous. If you're not saying that, I really would like to know what you are saying.

First, I don't think it's ever "ludicrous" to embrace a person. I'm sure that if Pam attended my meeting I would try to make her feel welcome. I have heartily approved on many occasions when my Meeting accepted into membership people whose theological views are non-Christian despite the fact that I think Jesus is more or less the whole point of Quakerism. I don't think we've actually faced the non-theist issue in my meeting, but the principle seems the same.

The intended target of my satire wasn't any particular group such as universalists or non-theists, but the general proposition that saying "we don't want to exclude anyone" pre-empts any further discussion of what is and what isn't central to Quakerism. This general proposition is often sincerely defended, but I think there are very few people who have thought through its real implications. I assume tht for most of my readers there is, somewhere in my satire's list of people who should be included (whether it's militarists, Wiccans, pastoral Friends, Roman Catholics or simply "non-Quakers") someone who you as an individual don't think of as a viable candidate for membership in your particular Friends Meeting. You wouldn't necessarily tell them they can't join, but you would find it odd if they wanted to. Why would a militarist want to join a pacifist organization? Would he or she expect it to give up its corporate pacifist testimony? If the Meeting held to its pacifist testimony but accepted a non-pacifist member, would the member feel patronized or treated as a second-class Quaker?

If there is some point of view you would not try to actively "include" on equal terms in your Meeting, let's not say any more that we want to include everyone, and let's proceed to the discussion of what is and isn't central to your vision of Quakerism, to my vision of Quakerism, and - if possible - to some shared vision of our Friends community as a whole. If there is at present no such shared vision that doesn't necessarily mean we'll have to start excluding each other or go our separate ways, but it probably does mean that we'll always have a somewhat rocky relationship.

I'd like to ask Pam to say more about her concept of worship. She says that she thinks I or other theistic Friends might be saying "I don't want to worship with you if you don't believe in God." so I take it that she values the act of worship. But my understanding of the word "worship" breaks down here. To me, the word "worship" is a transitive verb. I can only conceive or worship as worship of someone or worship of something. Who or what does a nontheist worship? This is a relatively new question for me. I've been dialogueing for years with non-Christians theists who have argued that Christ isn't essential to the Quaker faith as long as all Friends still believe in the same God. That has been challenging in itself, but I have come to understand the terms of the discussion. Non-theism seems like a whole different issue.

Pam also thought theistic Friends might be saying 'and I'm not interested in hearing your story and seeing if it resonates with me, I just want to hear the word "god"'. I can't speak for other theistic Friends, but the circle of people whose stories I am eager to hear and resonate with is much larger than the circle of people I count as fellow Quakers. I love opportunities for inter-faith dialogue and also for dialogue with those whose ideals are grounded somewhere else than on religious faith. I also respect the right of every faith community, including my own, to find its own center and define its own boundaries.

Canine Diamond responded to my post on her blog, saying "As per my earlier posts, it has been my experience that membership and professed Christianity are not measures of one's committment to the social ideals of Quakerism, or of basic humanity." I certainly agree and hope I didn't give the impression that non-Christians lack social ideals or basic humanity. Among my life-long heroes I have counted Bertrand Russell (now deceased), Nat Hentoff, and many other non-theists with fine social ideals and deep humanity. Even if we speak only of distinctively Quaker wocial ideals, I'm confident that one could embrace them without embracing the Quaker faith. When I go to Meeting, however, I am not primarily in search of a chance to express my social ideals, Quaker or otherwise. I am seeking, rather, a chance to join with others in waiting on, listening to, worshipping, praising, and adoring God.

James Riemermann objects to Martin Kelley's post because he thinks that in it "...individualism is presumed to be the flag of those who step outside of the Christian or theistic tradition." That's not the way I understood what Martin was saying. A Meeting of people who are non-theist would not necessarily be any more individualistic than a Meeting of theists or a Meeting of Chritians or a Meeting of Buddhists. Any one of these perspectives could be the shared perspective of a group tht united around it. But in the extreme case a Meeting in which non-theism, theism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. were all equally open options would be a Meeting where faith-commitments were individual rather than shared. I.E. it would be an "individualistic" Meeting.

I'm sure that none of the above has been the last word on these issues. I hope, at least, that the sting of my perceived sarcasm in the earlier post has been at least a little moderated.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

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22 Comments:

Blogger Lorcan said...

A loving note of support for Ritchie:

Dear Friends... it is so easy to assume the worst of Friends from things they have written ( believe me!!!!) Richard is a loving part of our attempts to find common ground in Quaker ministry in our meeting. In fact, he is moved to speak at every meeting!!! ( a loving wee joke, Richard, thee knows I love thy words... ). He is the last to not see ministry as inclusive, and finds God's unity in so many different speakers... I really think we need some way of on-line Friends getting to know each other's hearts better... maybe a huge retreat, ( a get together not a general fleeing from the Internet... )
April Fools day is a joyous time at 15th street. Last year, the April Fools Newsletter addition caused absolute outrage! until it became known that the "attack" on one Friend, was written BY that Friend, in a loving poking fun at herself.
So, I appreciate Friends feelings of separation and assure them that, that is not the Richard I know, so, write to him, get to know him, and wouldn't it be a blessing for us to all meet and eat and laugh together?
Richard likes to say, he and I agree on nothing! I don't see it quite that way, I think our love of God's light in so many packages is very alike, and our love for each other is completely alike...
Thine, all
lor

3:18 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Lorcan and I don't even agree on whether we agree.
- - Rich

(But thanks for the support!)

3:28 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

I object neither to satire nor sarcasm. Both commonly involve scorn, contempt, ridicule--all of which are sometimes called for in the course of human events. The primary distinction is that satire is a developed artistic/literary form, whereas sarcasm is a broader term that is more often applied to a casual remark than to an artistic work. You might say that sarcasm is satire without ambition.

There are certainly gentle satirists--James Thurber and Garrison Keillor come to mind. But most of the the greatest satirists--Voltaire, Swift, Rabelais--are fiercely contemptuous of their targets, and many of their targets well earned that contempt. Swift's pamphlet, "A Modest Proposal," suggested that Ireland solve the problem of widespread poverty by killing and eating the nation's children.

So, again, I'm OK with sarcasm or satire, as tools to call attention to a great foolishness or hypocrisy. It seems here that the target is radical inclusiveness, hardly a worthy target in my view. But maybe that's just my own blindness speaking.

I also readily acknowledge that there is something in Quakerism worth defending, worth guarding, worth even the risk of offending others. I am not quite certain just what it is in our tradition that feels so precious to me, to many of us. I'm pretty certain it is not theological doctrine. In fact part of what we need to defend is the deep distrust of doctrine that has been central to Quakerism from the very beginning. There have been many points at which Quakers have stepped into the muddy rivers of theology and doctrine, but I would argue that these have not been our finest hours. Barclay had a fine mind and wrote much of truth and beauty, but the Apology is by and large defensive, in tone and in intent.

I really don't want to get into nailing down Quakerism, because driving nails into a living thing tends to kill it. But there are things most of us value regardless of doctrine: The practice of Quaker worship--whether we worship a defined object or not--has revealed itself to be immensely rich and fertile. Likewise our bullheaded insistence on hearing and listening to all voices in our business process, without prejudice or haste, has yielded great riches. Our resistance to hierarchy, too, is a thing of frustrating beauty.

I'm all open to wrestling with what is most important to us as a religious society, without expecting ever to come to a clear answer. But looking back at the history of Friends, it is exceedingly clear that doctrine is not the real deal.

Further, we must do this wrestling together, in equality, and not begin by trying to sort the authentic Quakers from the unauthentic ones. If you sit with us in good faith, you're one of us.

4:03 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Joe G. said...

OK, I'm the one who placed the original post on QuakerQuaker.org. I thought it was amusing if a tad biting TO US ALL.

Also, I don't have the problems with sarcasm as others seem to have. Someone might respond, "Well, but sarcasm is humor with an underlying anger underneath it." So? BTW, I'm not suggesting that Rich was doing this with the post.

Likewise: my goodness, where would the the queer community be without sarcasm, which is so prevalent in its sense of humor, comedy, and camp??? :)

Rich wrote:
If there is some point of view you would not try to actively "include" on equal terms in your Meeting, let's not say any more that we want to include everyone, and let's proceed to the discussion of what is and isn't central to your vision of Quakerism, to my vision of Quakerism, and - if possible - to some shared vision of our Friends community as a whole. If there is at present no such shared vision that doesn't necessarily mean we'll have to start excluding each other or go our separate ways, but it probably does mean that we'll always have a somewhat rocky relationship.

Yep, kind of like the round of posts in regards to the original post. :)

Rich also wrote:
James Riemermann objects to Martin Kelley's post because he thinks that in it "...individualism is presumed to be the flag of those who step outside of the Christian or theistic tradition." That's not the way I understood what Martin was saying. A Meeting of people who are non-theist would not necessarily be any more individualistic than a Meeting of theists or a Meeting of Chritians or a Meeting of Buddhists. Any one of these perspectives could be the shared perspective of a group tht united around it. But in the extreme case a Meeting in which non-theism, theism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. were all equally open options would be a Meeting where faith-commitments were individual rather than shared. I.E. it would be an "individualistic" Meeting.

Exactly.

4:06 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger earthfreak said...

I guess my faith commitment is universalist, not in an "anything goes" sort of way, but that, I was, and still am, drawn to quakerism because I perceive(d) it as being about faith beyond doctrine.

Indeed, if, in meeting for worship one is "doing" christianity, or buddism, or paganism, rather than quakerism that is, in my opinion, an individualistic experience (and, what's more, not quaker)

If one is doing buddhist meditation, which has developed (as far as I know) as an individualist process, rather than opening onself to the movement of spirit within the entire gathering community, that is a problem.

it is likewise a problem if one is sitting there thinking "there is no god, these people are so stupid" or any number of other things that are clearly NOT quaker worship, that is a problem.

But it's the same problem if someone sits there thinking "Jesus is the only way, these people are so stupid", or worships Jesus in such a way that requires a closed-ness to revelation that isn't "christian."

I am a (pretty much) nontheist, pagan quaker, and I hope to be open to hearing the voice of Christ every time I am in worship (and when I'm really "ambitious" every other moment of my life, too) but I haven't - so where does that leave me on your quaker scorecard???

What's more, I hope that there is a similar openness in everyone I worship with. To be open to revealed truth, no matter what cherished notions it might challenge.

Perhaps I should go found my own religion?

I guess I just feel like there are so very many religions where you can cleave to christian doctrine, why are you a quaker??

peace
Pam

4:27 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger earthfreak said...

Oops, in my tactless way, I forgot to thank you, Rich, for your response to this, and your willingness to wrestle with this issue.

I also worry that the end of my post sounds snippy, but it's not really meant to be, they're really questions that I have.

peace
Pam

4:32 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Pam wrote:

Perhaps I should go found my own religion?


Uh-uh, Pam. Do that and I'll get a Quaker posse together and drag you back to meeting. ;)

4:33 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Peggy Senger Parsons said...

Hmm, well, what a tempest. I only come through here about once a week. Rich, I read your post last Saturday morning - laughed and said -"Ah, April Fools day - glad somebody noticed!" and went on. But then I had a school newspaper - eight grade- recalled (they actually did a locker search) for a fake classified ad that involved the math teacher's dating life.

As a public Friend I have learned to be very careful with humor. Quakers tend the be straightforward and without guile. The flip side to this can be, in my experience that you have to be careful with humor. You pretty much have to say "this is going to be a joke" and then say afterwards "that was a joke" and then you still have to be careful.

I am by nature not a satirist, but a plain old fashioned "smart Alec" (bet somebody named Alec objected to that way back in the day). This gets me in trouble all the time. I was once speaking to a group of Quakers with another public friend. We were talking about Fear - she was to speak about overcoming fear and I was to talk about the dangers of recklessness. I stood up and said, with all the approppriate joke-non-verbals that I "Clerked the committee on Recklessness in Northwest Yearly Meeting"- self- deprecating humor based on my reputation as a risk taker. I knew I was in trouble when no one even chuckled. I spent the weekend explaining that NWYM didn't actually have a committee on recklessness, and explaining why I would say so if they didn't. sigh.

I am comforted by the fact that Rabbi Jesus used hyperbole, exaggeration and word play all the time. And not just against the people he wanted to take down a notch. When he said "On this Rock, Peter, I build my church" Which is a word play on Peter's name which means rock - I think they all fell over laughing - because Peter was the most flamingly unstable guy around. It was a joke. What we got for the lack of understanding that joke was Rome. sigh.

Take heart rich
I appreciate you.
Peggy Senger Parsons

7:16 PM, April 07, 2006  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Rich, I think what we're seeing is a re-awakening here of the old, old debate between the Hicksites and the Orthodox.

Those who are most unhappy about your satire, and are saying things like "Quakerism is supposed to be free of doctrine", are in essence holding to the position of Hicks and his supporters.

You appear to be holding here to the Orthodox unprogrammed view -- the view that later became typed as "Wilburite" and "Conservative" -- that Quakerism is a discipline, and this discipline is in fact based on and defined by doctrinal values that are in turn grounded in the New Testament and Christ.

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong in saying this about you.

How sad it is that, 200-odd years after the Hicksite-Orthodox division arose, it should still be making conversations difficult among Friends! For the two sides could be reconciled, if people on either side would just loosen up.

I'm with you, if I read you correctly. I am a member of a Conservative meeting, the one that meets in my home town of Omaha, Nebraska. I think and feel Conservative.

The Quakerism I love is the one that began with Fox. I've been reading intensively in the old Quaker writings -- the journals, collections of letters, etc. -- for more than ten years now, and I've been won over by what I have read. And it's quite clear that the original Quakerism was very doctrinal indeed. It condemned the "professors of Christianity", not for being doctrinal, but for failing to conform to the discipline taught in the doctrine, i.e. for failing to make themselves faithful disciples of the one they professed was the Son of God. Quotations available on request.

The meeting I belong to, which has only a dozen active members and attenders, includes one who openly thinks in Hindu/New Age terms and several who are Hicksite-style liberals. But it recognizes, in its corporate practice and decision-making, that as Friends its members are called to practice the path that is historically descended through Fox and other early Friends from the teachings of Christ in such places as the Sermon on the Mount. Those who fall are not judged -- they are simply loved and supported in their struggles to find the good way forward, no matter whether they think in Christian or in agnostic or Hindu terms.

There is no effort whatsoever in my meeting to be dictatorial toward anyone, or to downgrade anyone's non-Christian way of thinking. People express Hindu and Catholic and agnostic and secular-political messages without being judged. But the path of the Sermon on the Mount, the path of Christ, is clearly treated as a central, defining, sacred path. There is no shying away from it that I can see.

That to me is a happy marriage of doctrinal and inclusive Quakerism. I fear that others here would disagree.

Having said all that, I hasten to add that I don't seek to abolish Hicksism. Hicksism is patently capable of great good when practiced rightly, and the people involved in it are obviously, for the most part, having a good time. I have wonderful friends in Hicksite meetings, and I collaborate with them in Quaker Earthcare Witness. I love them dearly, and wouldn't want to deprive them of what they have.

I just don't want Hicksism imposed on me. When I go to a Quaker gathering, and someone starts leading the group in a neo-Wiccan prayer session or a neo-Buddhist mindfulness exercise or a Centering Movement exercise (all of which have happened to me), I want to be free to hold back if I feel so led without being judged. When I stand in meeting and speak for the path of the cross, I don't appreciate people coming up to me afterward and "eldering" me as if talk of the cross was by its very nature inappropriate.

It saddens me when someone says, "There are so very many religions where you can cleave to christian doctrine, why are you a quaker?" -- as if the Wilburite/Conservative Quaker tradition had no necessary right to exist as a branch of Quakerism.

I want to be able to be a member of a meeting like my own in Omaha. I really don't want so-called "inclusivists" demanding that the practice of my meeting change because it is "too Christocentric". And I'd like to be able to stand in public and say, this practice, the practice of the meeting I belong to, is Quakerism in keeping with the central teachings of early Friends, without being denounced for it.

Rich, I didn't read your satire as saying that Hicksite-style Quakerism cannot exist. I did read it as raising questions about the wisdom of carrying inclusiveness to extremes. On reflection, I think Peggy Senger Parsons is quite right in saying that satire was probably not the best way to raise those questions among a mixed group of Friends. (Thank you, Peggy: I needed that reminder.) But the questions themselves deserve to be wrestled with, because there are a number of liberals around who are now saying that anyone, anyone at all, is entitled to pass himself off as a Quaker on any grounds or none.

I'm going to try to make this the last thing I say on this subject here. If Friends wish to talk with me further about it, I can be reached at mmassey at earthwitness dot org. I'll also be among New York City Friends this coming Tuesday evening!

9:41 AM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I feel that this conversation has become very positive and worthwhile. Some of the things I would have added to it have already been said by others, so let me just try a brief response to some of the comments.

First, thanks again to Lorcan for his support. I actually don't think, though, that anyone was unfairly assuming the worst of me in reacting to my satirical post. Some honestly took offense at what I actually said and/or how I said it and I feel I need to take responsibility for how I express myself.

James may be right that satire can be rightly contemptuous if the "target" deserves it, but I can only repeat that I was not trying to express contempt and that I obviously failed to anticipate the impact of my words on some folks. I enjoy (somewhat guiltily) reading some rather barbed satire. Franken's "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" springs to mind even more readily than anything by Johnathan Swift. But I can't say that I think that kind of writing promotes understanding and dialogue, which is what I would rather do on this blog.

James Riemermann says that "In fact part of what we need to defend is the deep distrust of doctrine that has been central to Quakerism from the very beginning." Distrust of doctrine is fine up to a point. We shouldn't trust doctrine (which, by the way, is just another word for "teaching") to do for us what can really only be done by God's grace and our faithful response to the same. But I think James may be reading back into "the very beginning" of Quakerism an attitude toward doctrine that actually developed much later. The collected works of George Fox include 3 volumes usually called "the Doctrinals", in addition to a lot of doctrinal material within the other volumes (his epistles and his journal). So an interest in doctrine was present at the creation of Quakerism. (By the way, re my comment above that we can't trust doctrine to do for us what only grace can do: Would you consider that in itself to be a "doctrine"?)

That aside, I'm a little surprised that "doctrine" is seen as the main issue in this particular discussion. In saying Jesus is central to my vision of Quakerism am I propounding a "doctrine"?

Pam asked me the best question of this whole dialogue: "I guess I just feel like there are so very many religions where you can cleave to christian doctrine, why are you a quaker??" I don't find this question "snippy" at all, but a sincere request for an answer to something she finds puzzling. I hope to find time within the next few days to answer with the care that the question deserves. In the meantime, I'll just say here that for some Quaker Christians, including me, the Christian "doctrine" we believe in is quite different in important respects than anything taught in the Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox Churches. The Quaker understanding of Christianity (or at least this particular Quaker's understanding of Christianity) doesn't really exist very much outside of Quakerism, which is one of the reasons some of us would so deeply regret having it disappear here too. For a more auto-biographical (as opposed to doctrinal) account of how I became a Quaker, anyone interested is welcome to read this post.

For an earlier attempt I made to discuss the relationship of Quakerism to Christianity, those who haven't seen it might want to look at What Is It With the Quakers and Jesus Christ? or at some of the other posts I have listed here.

I appreciated the comments by Joe G., Peggy Senger Parsons, and Marshall Massey. I'm glad Peggy didn't take offense at anything in my post that might have been interpreted as a slap at pastoral Quakerism. That would be one too many fronts for battle ... er ... discussion.

Marshall Massey seems to be on somewhat the same page as I am, though I don't usually identify myself as an "orthodox" or even a "conservative" Friend. (full disclosure: I am listed in a book called the Directory of Conservative Friends and I did consent to be so listed, even though I'd rather think of myself as a radical leftist Friend). I like the kind of Meeting that is usually called Wilburite, but I can't see myself as the follower of either Hicks, Wilbur, Gurney, Bean, or anyone else who has been taken as the leader of one side or the other in an old Quaker fight.

Marshall, what New York Friends are you going to be seeing on Tuesday? Any chance that we might cross paths?

- - Rich

2:40 PM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Hi Rich!
I also hope we can meet up with Marshall, when he ( and thee if thee is reading this... ) is in New York!
I really hope the internet can broaden the ability of Friends to meet, so the people behind the posts can shine through a little more.
Cheers
lor

4:22 PM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger earthfreak said...

Wow, there's so much good discussion here, I'm reluctant to jump in, because I'm sure I'll leave more unanswered than I manage to answer!

Wow, a quaker posse! what a concept!

Marshall:

First, I totally understand that it would make you sad to hear (read) me asking, "why are you a quaker?" as if you weren't, really. That was basically me trying to show you how I feel. I don't have any problem with the existence of conservative quakerism, in fact, I have great joy in it, but my home is hicksite (universalist) quakerism, and I DID feel as if that was being attacked.

secondly, you say because there are a number of liberals around who are now saying that anyone, anyone at all, is entitled to pass himself off as a Quaker on any grounds or none - I would challenge you to name three (a number, which in my opinion, falls way short of "lots") because I suspect that I am "one of those" and I would never say that anyone is entitlted to pass himself off as a quaker, simply that I think it's much more complex (and more importantly, too alive to articulate fully in words) than someone's doctrinal beliefs. It's a very different thing.

Rich: I read "Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot" too, and like that stuff, to a certain extent. It certainly doesn't build bridges, I find it pretty inadequate to the task of full education, but it's amusing, and one of the things I like best is that it pokes fun at our own tendency to be bratty schoolyard kids, even when the schoolyard is way way in our past. Al Franken makes fun of himself in practically every sentence, which makes me like him all the more..

Thanks for the links to some of the answers to my questions. I will try to read them all.

I am working (well, running over in my head) on a blog post about how I'm an atheist quaker. It's a pretty intricate thing, and hard to detail in just the right way to communicate even a part of it.

I still would note that all the folks who didn't think this was offensive were those who it's not remotely likely to be seen as making fun of. I like satire best when it does a good job in catching me out in something that I can see as true about myself. Now, I may not have found this funny because I'm not yet ready to see the truth, but it sure felt like it was because it was rehashing a falsehood (we just want quakerism to mean absolutely nothing, in the name of not excluding anyone, not even people who couldn't care less about quakerism!!!) It's not a new idea, and I think it's wrong.

Plus, while having a tendency to be sarcastic, I am led to plain speech, at least as much by my tendency to not get it when other people are being sarcastic as by any higer motivation, so it's just a little weird for me now.\

peace
Pam

7:53 PM, April 08, 2006  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Rich asked, Marshall, what New York Friends are you going to be seeing on Tuesday? Any chance that we might cross paths?

Rich, talk to Janet Soderberg. It's scheduled for Tuesday evening, and she's handling the logistics (such as they are).

Pam writes, ...You say because there are a number of liberals around who are now saying that anyone, anyone at all, is entitled to pass himself off as a Quaker on any grounds or none - I would challenge you to name three....

Pam, I don't have their permission to name them as such when they're not present. But if you go to the Google Newsgroup archives for the newsgroup soc.religion.quaker, where I was active for many years, and search out discussions on the topic of membership, I believe you can find some who took that position there.

And now I must head down to the Greyhound bus terminal, where my bus to New York awaits --

1:56 AM, April 09, 2006  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi again all,
We're missing something with Marshall's observation that liberal Quakers let anyone pass themselves off as Quakers without any grounds.

Let's not get defensive. He's right. And that's cool. Let's celebrate this.

It's a foundational principle behind liberal Quakerism that it's not the role of any Quaker body to decide who is or isn't a Quaker. To one extent or other all of our bodies, from the monthly meeting to Friends General Conference are associations. We've agreed to not have to agree on what it is to be a Friend.

We can all advance our different visions of Quakerism without having to fight each other over the real one--no wrestling for the clerk's table every time we disagree! When it works well, this is a strength: individuals and particular meetings are free to believe and practice their vision. We can all be bold without threatening our human associations and institutions.

This is why I can be both a Conservative and a Liberal at the same time: my understanding of Quakerism is essentially traditionalist and I prefer monthly meetings that are Christocentric and steeped in Quakerism. But I'm fine acknowledging that this is only one type of Quakerism out there and I'm happy to associate with Friends who hold a different view. Not only happy, but I long to be part of a larger Quaker world with competing ideas and understandings of what it means to be a Quaker. That's why I blog, frankly.

I think some recent discussions have lost what it means to be a Liberal Quaker. Liberal Quakerism isn't about what you believe but instead how willing you are to associate with those who believe something differently, even when the difference is major.

So Pam: our answer to Marshall isn't "name three people" but "yeah, so what." This is the heart of liberal Quakerism, let's not be afraid to own it. While I try to keep my blog world thinly separated from my service at Friends General Conference, let me affirm that this is a grounding operational principle for FGC: we do not step in to define what is or isn't Quaker. Even the other year, when there was a epistle passed about LGBT inclusivity, it was from the governing body of FGC only, not FGC as a whole. FGC simply doesn't make those kinds of statements.

There's membership, sure. But even that is just membership in an association. If I decided to start a meeting with my neighbor, I could just declare myself Quaker with reprecussions. Sure, it's not good order. It's not really the way Friends do things. But FGC wouldn't be in a position to say "well, but that Martin isn't really a Quaker."

Just a final note that we're using Hicksite and Orthodox a little too loosely here. There are many types of Hicksites and Orthodox. The splits happened differently in different parts of the country. That's a whole other discussion, though...
Martin

2:08 PM, April 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I love you all, and if you don't like it, go jump in a lake!

For you see, my definition of what's "truly Quaker" is the only correct one. However, I won't tell you what it is, as you'd no doubt misunderstand it! But believe me, you're not really missing anything, although I won't be explaining that either.

Hope that helps, although I can imagine it may very well not. But that's OK, because you didn't really need any help in the first.

Gotta go feed the dog now -- if you catch my drift....

Love and Oatmeal,

The Quivering Quaker

PS: this was intended as a merciless send up of everyone, excepting myself (although only because I deserve so much worse that this would seem like stroking myself!)

8:02 PM, April 09, 2006  
Blogger earthfreak said...

Martin -

Thanks for pointing this out. It is what I cherish about liberal Friends.

I think I was reading the claim more as an "anything goes!!" - That liberal Friends would find it inappropriate to even question an attender who was an ardent supporter of war, or a racist, etc. That somehow refusing to require doctrinal lockstep, we are throwing all standards out the window (and yet, even then, I would hope that we would labor with anyone who seemed genuine in their commitment to quakerism, and yet sorely lacking in understanding of one or more of the testimonies)n - rather than simply kicking them out.

10:43 AM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger QuakerK said...

This is kind of a long comment, and I was going to do it on my own blog, but it's basically a comment, so here goes.

I'm responding here to the lengthy discussion on Rich's blog on his April Fools satire. But I'm also responding to some general thoughts that have been inspired by discussions in blogs about what makes a Quaker.

My basic question is: why do we care? I mean that very seriously. Clearly, people do care very much. No one in the discussion on Rich's post asked, with puzzlement, why are people getting worked up over this. Some argued for more inclusion and some for less, but everyone seemed to have a preference. So why do people care?

I think it is a question worth asking. I can think of a couple of reasons. The first is a bad reason: I want a meeting for worship that "looks like me." In other words, I want to see my own views reflected back to me, I want to feel comfortable in my meeting, I want to be among people who I recognize as, in some core way, like myself. No one really says this explicitly, but I think this is the subtext of a lot of messages on the topic: it's about recognition.

Now, others may disagree, but I think this is a bad argument. Religions differ on many things, but one thing all the major ones seems to agree on is self-denial. What exactly they mean by that varies--Buddhists for example take it literally in denying the existence of a self, while Christians take it more figuratively in terms of denying your self its desires--but they all seem to agree that not feeding the ego is an important part of being religious. And that's why I think wanting a religious society that "looks like me" is a bad goal. It's possible that others will disagree here, but I do think that is part of the motivation, and I think it is incumbent on everyone (and I don't exempt myself here) to really examine their self-motivations, and make sure this isn't behind their fears (and it really is at bottom an issue of fear).

There is another, better reason to argue for or against inclusiveness, and that's because it is the right thing to do. This, too, is very prominent in all the messages on the topic, and I think it's pretty well mixed up with other motivations. They are hard to separate out, because they're both there.

So let's assume that most (or all) people agree that the degree of inclusiveness is a matter of right and wrong; God (or morality, or the cosmos, or the traditions of Friends, or whatever motivates you) wants us to be inclusive (or not). But I think it is also self-evident that people don't want inclusiveness at any price. Even those who advocate inclusiveness would have a harder time with certain people in membership, e.g., Pam (I think) mentioned an ardent supporter of war, or a racist. So the question then becomes, not should we have standards, but rather what are the standards?

I don't plan to resolve that here (how could I?), but I do want to try to lay out alternatives. And it looks there are a couple. One is you use standards of social beliefs (e.g., war is bad, racism is bad, to pick up on the two things that Pam mentioned). Another is you use what might be called "theological" beliefs, (e.g., whether people regard Christ as important, or as somehow identical with the light, or whether they believe in God). Those seem to be the two standards that have been laid down, implicitly or explicitly. I would have to think about which is better (or some combination), but the point is that everyone wants some standards.

I think it is also worth making a distinction between membership and participation. I think I read somewhere that disownment, in the olden days, didn't mean that individuals couldn't worship as Quakers, it simply meant that they were officially excluded from membership so that what they said and did would not be considered as "officially representative" of Quakerism (and also there were some limits on their participation in business). Of course, in reality, I think the disowned were often mad enough that they abandoned Quakerism entirely, but it wasn't required. The point being, I think, that Quakers represented something, and if someone who was Quaker was s drunkard, or a war-monger, or a liar and a cheat (or whatever) it would reflect badly on the Society as a whole, so that some public statement of separation had to be made.

I probably have other thoughts--I'm still working through this--but I'll leave it as this for now.

David

1:56 PM, April 10, 2006  
Anonymous Matthew said...

James Reimerman said:
I also readily acknowledge that there is something in Quakerism worth defending, worth guarding, worth even the risk of offending others. I am not quite certain just what it is in our tradition that feels so precious to me, to many of us. I'm pretty certain it is not theological doctrine. In fact part of what we need to defend is the deep distrust of doctrine that has been central to Quakerism from the very beginning. There have been many points at which Quakers have stepped into the muddy rivers of theology and doctrine, but I would argue that these have not been our finest hours. Barclay had a fine mind and wrote much of truth and beauty, but the Apology is by and large defensive, in tone and in intent.

Looking at Miriam-Webster online I found this definition of apologetics:
apol·o·get·ics
1 : systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine)
2 : a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity

So the defensive tone of Barclay's Apology should be expected. It also needs to be understood that at the time Barclay wrote his Apology, there were many public written discussions of the definition of and justification for quakerism much like the one we are having today and Barclay just had to throw down the gauntlet. I think the major difference between the discussion 350 years ago and today is not the media in which this is being discussed, but the fact that Friends now are the only ones having this discussion. The rest of the world could hardly care what Quakerism is/was/or is becoming and that's a real shame.

Matthew

11:34 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Oh dear boy, Richie:
These loving answers also SCREAM for the need of a further ironic joke, but many Friends have lost a lot of their sense of humor these days, but also, these answers point out that we really to love and care for and about each other... I've always felt that there is something inherently funny about us, I am not the only one, I just went to my bookshelf to pull down the Herrenan book on the Globe Mutiny, an event where a member of our meeting killed all his officers on the Whaleship Globe, and then took the ship to the south seas to turn pirate, where he was killed. The book was not on the shelf, and I uttered a few wonderful expletives, thank God I was alone with Him. But the quote I was looking for, I can almost remember by rote, it concerns the principle of Friends Seminary, now on 16th St. If you hit him with a snowball, he will smile and turn the other cheek, for he was a member of the Society of Friends, and thus foreswears outward violence as is their custom, and as also is their custom, he will harbor eternal ill will towards that person, never missing an opportunity to work against that person's interest in all things, and pass on that enmity to that person's family for generations to come.
Oh dear, that is how we were seen in the later part of the nineteenth century. I do think, we are a little (very very very very very very very very little bitty bitty bit of a little bitty bit... ) better these days. We do try. We are so wonderfully human ( though sometimes without the humor we are supposed to share with other hominids, for example chimps... ) - human.
Oh dear, I really am hugging all of ye, dearly in my heart, all of ye.

4:38 PM, April 11, 2006  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I had written on April 8:

Rich, I didn't read your satire as saying that Hicksite-style Quakerism cannot exist. I *did* read it as raising questions about the wisdom of carrying inclusiveness to extremes. ....The questions themselves deserve to be wrestled with, because there *are* a number of liberals around who are now saying that anyone, anyone at all, is entitled to pass himself off as a Quaker on any grounds or none.

I had intended not to comment further.

But now I am seeing some misunderstandings of the facts. Without going into my own opinions, let me just briefly clarify what the facts are.

On April 9, Martin Kelley responded:

We're missing something with Marshall's observation that liberal Quakers let anyone pass themselves off as Quakers without any grounds.


-- Some liberal Quakers do this, Martin. But others do not. As Rich pointed out, there were a lot of liberal Quakers who objected to Richard Nixon passing himself off as a Quaker. There still are.

And a few years ago, when there was a couple (man and woman) going from city to city passing themselves off as Friends in distress and bilking gullible Friends and meetings for financial assistance, we heard quite a few liberal Friends say that the couple were not real Quakers because they had no known active involvement in any Quaker meeting or church.

Martin continued: It's a foundational principle behind liberal Quakerism that it's not the role of any Quaker body to decide who is or isn't a Quaker.

This isn't historically true, Martin. Disownments continued for several generations after the liberal (Hicksite) branch split away from the Orthodox. Some late twentieth-century FGC meetings seemed to have no problem with the idea of calling on Pasadena Friends to disown Richard Nixon. If the idea of including everyone who wanted to be included were truly foundational, these things wouldn't have happened.

I note that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting still have procedures in their books of discipline for disowning members. Philadelphia YM now refers to this as "termination" or "removal" rather than "disownment", but the meaning is the same, and there is explicit provision for terminating the membership of a person whose behavior does not conform to Quaker standards. It is my understanding that Wellesley Meeting, in Massachusetts, actually did terminate one person's membership on behavioral grounds about a decade back. I don't have the disciplines of other FGC yearly meetings handy (I'm writing this from a hotel room, not from my basement office), but I imagine they have similar provisions.

Martin continued: ...FGC wouldn't be in a position to say "well, but that Martin isn't really a Quaker."

Martin, that's because membership is not determined by FGC. Membership is determined by the local monthly meeting, according to methods and standards laid out by the yearly meeting to which that monthly meeting belongs.

Either the monthly meeting or the yearly meeting can say, in good order, "well, that Martin isn't really a Quaker." What they would mean by that is, "We've investigated, and Martin isn't a recorded member of any Quaker body we recognize." Such things are rarely done nowadays, but the case of the couple traveling around passing themselves off as Quakers and bilking local monthly meetings was a fairly recent example of a case where many liberal Friends were ready to do it.

And here I will stop, before I yield to the temptation to get into my opinions.

10:28 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Dear Marshall,
Good stuff. I hope to find a time in the not too distant future to get into lots of opinions with you over some tall glasses of lemonade. It would be temptation well given into, I believe. Till then,
Your Friend Martin

11:40 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Friend Richard Nixon is a good example! He actually did and did not refer to himself as a Quaker conditionally, I am told. His mother was Quaker, but he did not attend much at all. When he refused clearness with the majority of Friends in the US, over the Vietnam War, his home meeting, was contacted and they did not feel led to read him out. And, frankly, on one level it is a good thing. It made possible my favorite jokes, "We Friends have had two presidents, Hoover was an example of the Quaker tradition of being successful at business, and Nixon who was an example of our tradition of truth and peace."
In reality, the joke is not fair to Hoover, who was responsible for many public works which reflected his Quaker care for folks, and it must be remembered he did a wonderful job with the lower Mississippi floods, before he was president.
But, I would say that our faith is not the outcome of our labors towards the truth, but the love with which we labor together in the world, with our Friends in our meetings, and others in our business relationships. I am rather happy we are not fast to disown anymore, but in light of this, I think there is a greater responsibility of Friends to labor together and bend towards each other, with care to their assumptions and ego - our common fault as humans, more than as Friends.
Thine
lor

5:47 PM, April 12, 2006  

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