Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I Think I'm a Quaker, But...

I wrote this for my Meeting a few weeks back. I am curious to know whether the challenges discussed here are pertinent for other groups. In some ways, this sort of reluctance to become actively involved in a movement is simply a result of squeamishness around religion. Most active feminists I know are the exact opposite. They are fiery, passionate, and driven. I long for the day that progressive people of faith would adopt something of the same attitude.


I think I'm a Quaker, but...

I hear some version of this phrase all the time among Young Adult Friends. Our Meeting had a similar dialogue recently regarding membership. Some people took a very hard-line stance. Why wouldn't you want to be a member? What's holding you back? Others believed that membership was a process, a sort of personal development that sometime took years. Membership was not to be rushed into without sober contemplation. Speaking for myself, I know quickly whether I feel a part of any gathering. Should I believe this, I then adopt a strong desire to identify with it. But others aren't necessarily of the same leading as I am and I understand that.

Those reluctant to fully identify as Friends come from various religious or non-religious backgrounds. Some grew up in a faith that was restrictive and may have caused them damage. Some grew up without much of a religious orientation at all. It would seem that the issue is a personal one, but that itself is only a partial answer. A more complex answer speaks to how liberals often perceive of religion, which is to say with much caution. Anticipating the worst before entertaining the best is probably the best way to put it. This is also why Friends tend to be quite private about faith and unlikely to speak about the particulars in public.

It would also explain the fear of identifying too closely and especially not all at once. Here lies the angst and anxiety of a paradox: needing a spiritual outlet, but not wishing to be perceived wrongly by others. I myself have long gotten used to the never-ending conversation that MY Jesus is not like THEIR Jesus and here's why. Some people may not have the stomach or the stamina, but I guess I'm just too stubborn to surrender to one particular interpretation. And when it comes down to Quaker identity, I'm not ashamed to be seen as religious. Sure, that can be a loaded word, but I'd rather we redefine on our own terms what it means instead of giving in to a reductionist belief based on fear and sometimes even outright hate.

It's easy to make assumptions about people based on a minimum of evidence. I can tell you that when someone cuts me off in traffic, I dare not write the first word that comes to mind. It's an instant reflex, but if I really want to follow what I believe, I'll try to see that of God in everyone, even in traffic jams. Even on crowded bus trips. The hard work that needs to be done involves encouraging people to not make snap judgments. We should neither apply them to others, nor apply them to ourselves. Why have we given other people the ability and agency to define who we are on their own terms?

I'll leave it to each Friend to decide for himself or herself whether they are fully or nominally Quaker. I will nonetheless encourage all to contemplate why they hold reluctance in their hearts. If faith and a spiritual (even religious) connection are why we are gathered here, does a fraction work better than the whole? If we strip fear away, what does our heart yearn for most? I do not intend to speak for everyone but merely encourage us to truly examine our leadings. In an ideal world, without the threat of misunderstanding, what words would we use to define ourselves?

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