Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Is Our Greater Purpose?

Originally written to a specific feminist community, but most of this will be comprehensible to all readers.

I’ve very much enjoyed a recent series of posts on the main page. Each asks us, the readers, for our feedback in the comments section. What others share is interesting and often inspiring and it also allows me the ability to better understand those who might otherwise forever be a screen name and an avatar graphic. I know many of you semi-well from your previous commentary and your own blogs, but I can’t say I know any of you extremely well. Regarding the editors and contributors, they have a greater platform and I feel I know them to some extent, but I also concede that I might well walk past them on the street and never make the connection. This is to say that there are great strengths with internet activism, but here are a few of the unfortunate limitations of the medium.

On to other subjects. Those who have read my Community Posts for any length of time know that I am a person of faith. When I entered this space several months ago, I felt a strong compulsion to instantly understand the issues routinely discussed here. Male ally work struck a chord with me; I took it on as a personal challenge. But with time, I came to understand that a combination of curiosity and drive, no matter how noble the sentiment, was not the largest reason of all. What follows may leave me open for some criticism, but I’ll risk it.

With time I came to understand that my purpose here went well beyond myself. God told me that Feministing was where I needed to be. This doesn’t mean that I arrived with the intention of saving souls and winning converts. Nor does it mean that I believed it my duty to infuse a predominately secular place with a heaping dose of teh Jesus. In all honesty, at first I wasn’t sure my being here would do much good at all. There were multiple concepts and specific causes advanced of which I was mostly ignorant. I didn’t understand a whole lot and I wasn’t sure what I was meant to say, or even meant not to say. But with time, I found my place here and I found my voice. As much as I wish I could take credit for that process, I know I cannot. With Divine guidance, I have accomplished more here than I could ever have done by myself. This is not me seeking modesty and humility. I know that I have been able to rely on the Spirit to write posts, form comments, and glean insight that came from a place beyond myself.

I know I speak before an audience of many religious skeptics. This is not an unfamiliar place for me to be. In much of my activism work in the place where I worship, I keep company with the religiously squeamish or the spiritual refugee. I, as a Quaker, am always supposed to speak to my own condition. Or, in so many words, I speak for no one’s experience but my own. A particularly inspiring passage from the early Friends, written more than 400 years ago, always comes to my mind when I write for a broad audience. Do pardon the archaic language of its time.

You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”

This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”

This is a challenge of orthodoxy and of dogma. It refuses to accept that only one interpretation is sufficient and wholly justified. As feminists, we are actively encouraged to share our own personal experiences as a means of group unity. Though this phrase would not have been in use during the time of Shakespeare, one could make a strong case that, in worship, consciousness-raising was the intent, not the repetition of some single standard to be held by everyone. Every Meeting for Worship I attend is filled by the voices of those who feel led by the Spirit to share ministry. Anyone who feels a strong compulsion to speak has the right to do so and is actively encouraged. If our worship took the form of a Feministing post, every person who rose to speak would, in effect, post his or her own comment. And at the end of an hour’s time, we would have an interesting and varied collection of different voices to enhance our own understanding of God and God’s revelation to the individual and to the collective body.

We may not necessarily be religious believers, but we are believers in a particular philosophy. In some ways, Feminism does resemble a religion of a sort. Feminism has its own nomenclature, its own purpose, its own word to spread, and those who passionately oppose it. We even feel similarly persecuted by an uncomprehending public who misappropriates our positions on a frequent basis. I would challenge us to always rise to the challenge when our beliefs are distorted or overly simplified, but to also understand that we must eventually forgive those who we now consider enemies. Forgiveness is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It is a means of moving on with our lives without needlessly retaining the poison of bitterness. The stumbling block of those who wrong others is pride. The stumbling block of those who are wronged is bitterness.

Friends seek to emulate the example of their founder.

Regarding this particularly famous quote from George Fox, “Walk cheerfully over the world, answering to that of God in everyone”: The word “cheerfully,” in addition to the way we use it, had another meaning in 17th century England. It meant “encouragingly” (this is the way The Bard used it) as in our modern sense of “to cheer someone on.” If I were to paraphrase a small part of Fox’s message it might go something like this: “Always be examples of your best conduct and behavior where ever you are. Then you will come to walk through the world, encouraging others to do likewise.

I can’t think anything more Feminist and empowering than that.

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