Sunday, 25 May 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.

14 comments:

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 Chapin-Bishop said...

Anonymous,
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.

Anonymous said...

Cat, Thanks for your reply. I want to reiterate that I am not at all opposed to paganism or pagans. And I sincerely wish you and Stasa happiness. I just don't understand why pagans would desire to be part of a friends meeting instead of hanging out and worshipping with other pagans, especially given that the majority of quakers are christian and the founders of quakerism were so opposed to paganism that they refused to use the conventional terms for the days of the week and the months of the year because they were named after pagan gods.

You stated that while "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."

I am aware of the different branches of quakerism. However, the issue is really a matter of defining the term "quaker." In your response, you have implicitly defined "Friend" broadly enough to include pagans and other non-Christians. However, someone else might reasonably conclude that, instead of four branches of American Friends, there are really only three branches of American Friends(the christian ones) and a group that calls itself "quaker" but really isn't.

One has to ask, at what point do beliefs diverge so much that one ceases to be quaker? For example, I think we could both agree that if a group of Lutherans decided to worship satan instead of god, they would no longer be Lutherans, even if they continued to refer to themselves as Lutherans. Now, suppose these satan-worshipping lutherans insisted on attending the church of conventional lutherans. There would probably be some friction. Shouldn't the satan-worshipping lutherans just come up with a new name and worship separately? If the satan-worshippers are also lutheran, then the word "lutheran" has become almost meaningless. (btw, 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. I am not equating paganism with satanism.)

Suppose there is a group of "catholic pagans" who are devout christians, but who consider themselves pagans because they love nature and think pagan rituals are beautiful.
Would you be okay with the "catholic pagans" coming to all of your pagan rituals and interrupting them to recite the Nicene Creed ("...for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary ... was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered...")? If that would be okay with you, then what does it mean to be a pagan? And wouldn't you prefer to have a place where you could just be with other pagans for a little while to share your common beliefs without the catholic pagans inserting catholic dogma that you have no interest in?

I am certainly not advocating that people of different religions segregate themselves in society, or hold animosity toward one another (especially since I am a nontheist). Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I advocate various religions welcoming visitors to their meetings/services/masses/etc. However, I think it is reasonable for a religion to limit participation or membership to those who share their beliefs, or to those who share some core set of beliefs.

I know quakerism is "non-creedal." But without some core set of common beliefs, quakerism is nothing more than a meditation circle that advocates peace.

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. I don't think that would be fair to more "traditional" pagans, even if the catholic pagans and the muslim pagans really, really thought paganism was cool.

Again, to Stasa, I truly hope you find the community that you desire. I'm just suggesting that instead of working hard to find community in a group that is not accepting of paganism, you find (or create) a community that more closely shares your beliefs. Instead of being a pagan quaker, why not just be a pagan who adopts those quaker values you like? Also, I understand that Unitarian-Universalists are very welcoming to Pagans. Have you checked out the Unitarians?

staśa said...

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

staśa said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment.

I understand why you appreciate Quakerism.

Something important to know about me is that I don't merely "appreciate" Quakerism; rather, I have a commitment to Quakerism and live my life as a Friend, which is somewhat different. Quakerism is a way of life and of faith; it's how I walk in the world -- how I walk my faith in the world.

Quakerism, as stated in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice, is not a religion of orthodoxy, it's a religion of orthopraxis.

According to Merriam-Webster, "orthodox" means

"conforming to established doctrine especially in religion,"

while "doctrine" means

"something that is taught; a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief : dogma,"

And "dogma" is defined as

"1 a: something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet; b: a code of such tenets (pedagogical dogma); c: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church."


Orthopraxis, on the other hand, would be conforming to

"customary practice or conduct."

Thus, it doesn't much matter what I think of Quakerism -- if I admire it, or what I think of the testimonies, or whether or not I say I agree with them. What matters is, how do I strive to live them? What actions do I take to live in the world in a manner that is consistent with Quaker testimonies and process?

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 can see how that might be a barrier for a Non-Theist, although I know it's not a barrier for all Non-Theists. (For that matter, Quakerism doesn't appeal to all Christians, either.) And if the only Meetings one has access to are strongly Christocentric, but that is not one's experience of That-Which-Is-Sacred, one is not going to feel at home.

I know that there are "nontheist quakers" just like there are "pagan quakers," but those seem like oxymorons to me.

I can see that those seem like oxymorons. But I see non-Christian Friends living their lives with integrity as Quakers all the time. One of the essential questions to ask is, "What is the experience of the people who are living those lives?" Ie, what is the experience of people who are living with integrity as Non-Theist Friends, or as Pagan Friends, or as Jewish Friends? Because the only people who can truly speak with authority about those lives are the folks who are living them.

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.

Whereas to me, being a Non-Theist Quaker is quite different from being a Non-Theist Lutheran or Non-Theist Catholic. I don't have in-depth knowledge of Lutheranism, but I have had formal training in Catholic theology; and Catholicism is a religion of orthodoxy: where it is essential to conform to "a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church."

Incidentally, this is not something shared by all Abrahamic religions. I also have a fairly strong background in Judaism, and there's a fine, old, old tradition of Non-Theist and Atheist Jews, of secular and cultural Judaism that is not religiously observant.

In my mind, a "nontheist quaker" is really just a secular humanist looking for community.

In my experience, Non-Theist Quakers, like Theist Quakers (Christian or otherwise), are people who are committed to Quaker testimonies, Quaker process, and to living their lives as Friends: people who are committed to a specific set of spiritual disciplines, within a community (whether local/Monthly Meeting, regional/Quarterly and Yearly Meeting, or national/Friends General Conference, bridge-building with other Friends traditions).

Not all secular humanists I know are willing to commit to Quaker practices; Quaker practice doesn't meet everyone's needs.

Why not start your own pagan community?

Well, why assume I haven't? :)

(I've been part of several communities that were explicitly Pagan Quaker/Quaker Pagan, Pagan with Quaker influences, etc. And there's at least one Pagan Friends Meeting in the US of which I am aware.)

But why would I want to worship exclusively, only, with a Pagan Quaker/Quaker Pagan community?

Why would I want to limit my spiritual community only to other people who are both Pagan and Friends? Why wouldn't I want to worship with, be in community with, other Friends? I share, and learn, so much with Friends who are committed, radical Christians, for example -- as well as from Non-Theist Friends and Jewish Friends. Why would I want to separate myself from them, or they from me?

As a Quaker and as a Witch, community is sacred to me. Why would I want to lose the spiritual community I share with Friends who aren't Pagan? That community is as essential to me as food and water.

What about my involvement with Friends General Conference, or with Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns? I am actively involved with both -- actively engaged in (FGC) Quakerism on a larger level, as well as with building bridges between Friends from different traditions. My work with FGC and FLGBTQC is also a deep and sustaining source of community. I can't imagine consciously deciding to tear either of those relationships apart.

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.

But I'm not out to make Quakerism more Pagan. I'm out to live faithfully as a Friend -- because the Goddess has asked me to do so; because Quakerism is not only completely consistent with my experience of the Divine, it's the best way I know to express my experience of the Divine; and because I am committed to Quaker testimonies and Quaker practice.

I also don't agree that a necessary tenet -- dogma -- of Quakerism is an Abrahamic god, although I'd say that's definitely the experience of the Divine that most Quakers have.

Quakerism, as a religion, is a way of expressing one's faith, one's experience of the Divine. For many people, Quakerism is the best way they know to express their Christianity -- their experience of or faith in Jesus. For me, it's the best way I know of expressing my Paganism -- my experience of the Goddess, of community, of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit, of nature, of That-Which-Is-Sacred in all that lives, in the Earth itself.

Saying "Make Paganism more Quakerly" is like saying "Make Christianity more Quakerly." Christianity is huge, with many, many traditions. Paganism is also huge, with even more traditions. There's no way, even if I believed Quakerism was The One Right Way for Everyone, that I could reach all of Pagandom. (Nor would I wish to.)

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.

And I appreciate you sharing honestly what thoughts my entry has inspired for you. I think there are some basic places where we have different perspectives. I wouldn't call myself an "admirer of the Quaker way" -- admiration implies an external relationship, and I'm not external to Quakerism; I'm very much involved with Quakerism, locally, nationally, and regionally.

So, different perspectives.

Thanks again for commenting!

Os said...

Friends,

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.

Love,

Os

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?

staśa said...

Hi, Anonymous,

I just don't understand why pagans would desire to be part of a friends meeting instead of hanging out and worshipping with other pagans

(Why does it have to be either/or?)

An experience I had over and over when I lived in Philadelphia was that I met a lot of Pagans who shared my labels, but not my values. It made it very hard to worship with them, do magic with them, be in circle with them. While we shared a certain kind of community, there were other kinds of deeper spiritual community we didn't share. I felt that lack keenly.

After the Delaware Valley Pagan Network was formed, the Pagan community scene in that area changed, and for the better. I've definitely experienced larger -- extended -- spiritual community through DVPN and their offshoot, the Pagan Arts Initiative.

But there's not unity in the Pagan community around things like non-violence and simplicity. Equality, community, and earthcare are more likely to be widely-held values, but even those are not universal among Pagans; for example, there are some very hierarchical traditions within modern Paganism in the US.

So, one reason to spend time with Friends is to be in spiritual community with people who share my values, if not my labels.

But when I spend time with Friends, I do get to spend time with people who share my Quaker label.

The other big reasons are Quaker worship and Quaker process. Both speak deeply to me.

I've spent intense time with some people who are big names in modern US Paganism, who have done a lot of work around developing and teaching group decision-making in modern Paganism. But in my time with them, the group decision-making process I experienced was just not as robust or deep as Quaker process. Most of all, on some basic level, it was essentially different.

Like Quaker process, Quaker worship is a skill that must be learned. And as Quaker process is not the same as consensus, Quaker worship is not the same as meditation. I've found that you need to be with people who have a certain amount of Quaker experience to have Quaker worship or Quaker process with any depth to it.

So if I went and, say, founded a Coven built on Quaker priniciples, testimonies, and practices -- unless a core of its people were experienced Friends, those practices wouldn't be very robust; they'd be pretty watered-down.

especially given that the majority of quakers are christian

The majority of Americans are Christian. I'm not going to leave the US because I'm Pagan. The majority of Americans (and Quakers) are straight, too. I'm not going to leave America or Quakerism because I'm a lesbian. The majority of Quakers are richer than I am. (I'd have to look up the statistics to see where I really fall, as opposed to where propaganda prompts me to think I fall, in terms of other Americans.) I'm not going to leave Quakerism because I'm not as well-off as most Friends.

I'm pretty used to being in the minority, in all kinds of ways: gender, sexual orientation, religion, class. I still have a place in society, even if I'm not the same as the dominant culture's ideal.

And I'm not sure that either someone's label (say, Christianity), or how they experience the Divine (say, through Jesus), should be the litmus test for whether or not I worship with them or can be in spiritual community with them. Their behavior, how they live their life, is a lot more important to me, than what they say about themselves, or how they experience That-Which-Is-Sacred.

the founders of quakerism were so opposed to paganism that they refused to use the conventional terms for the days of the week and the months of the year because they were named after pagan gods.

The founders of Quakerism were opposed to Paganism as they understood it. If you read what George Fox wrote about Witches and Witchcraft, or about Greek and Roman Paganism -- if you read what much of anybody wrote about those things, from the Middle Ages until after the Inquisition, if you read what non-Pagans write about Paganism today, even -- they don't bear much resemblance to actual Witches and actual Paganism.

However, the issue is really a matter of defining the term "quaker." [snip] ...someone else might reasonably conclude that, instead of four branches of American Friends, there are really only three branches of American Friends(the christian ones) and a group that calls itself "quaker" but really isn't.

Actually, both Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International have come to shun the term "Quaker" in part to distance themselves from Friends General Conference/so-called "liberal" Quakerism.

On the other hand, one could argue that a religious tradition with paid clergy who take responsibility for conducting religious services which are programmed, are as far or further away from what George Fox and the founders of Quakerism intended as the "Witches" George Fox came upon and conversed with, back in the day.

One has to ask, at what point do beliefs diverge so much that one ceases to be quaker?

That's a big topic within the Religious Society of Friends right now, and among different branches of Quakerism.

There's some very intense conflict and dialogue, both, taking place right now around the issue of whether or not someone can be lesbian, gay, or bisexual and be a Friend, and what legitimate place the rejection of LGBTQ people has within Friends.

For example, I think we could both agree that if a group of Lutherans decided to worship satan instead of god, they would no longer be Lutherans, even if they continued to refer to themselves as Lutherans.

Well, what concept of god is required to be a Lutheran? As far as I know, the Lutheran tradition is a dogmatic one -- one that requires one believe a certain thing that is taught by the Lutheran church. So if it's required that you worship a specific concept of God in order to be a Lutheran, and you don't, then no, I don't understand how you'd be a Lutheran. But I am not an expert on Lutheran tradition, teaching, or dogma.

Now, suppose these satan-worshipping lutherans insisted on attending the church of conventional lutherans. There would probably be some friction.

I can imagine that.

Shouldn't the satan-worshipping lutherans just come up with a new name and worship separately? If the satan-worshippers are also lutheran, then the word "lutheran" has become almost meaningless.

Again, it depends on what it means to be a Lutheran.

What it means to be Quaker is something that is up to each Monthly Meeting -- it's not something handed down by a main body. Therefore, it varies.

And there are plenty of Pagan Quakers who are members of their Meetings. Many of us are Friends; some have been Friends since we were young children, some of us were convinced in young adulthood, some were convinced later in adulthood. But it's not like we're a bunch of outsiders trying to come in: we are people who are already here.

This reminds me of why I wouldn't take Communion at Catholic Mass: what I believe about, and how I experience, that bread and wine/juice, is very different than what/how most Catholics do. For me to take Communion, under most circumstances, would render it not just meaningless, but sacrilegious for the people around me.

Would you be okay with the "catholic pagans" coming to all of your pagan rituals and interrupting them to recite the Nicene Creed ("...for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary ... was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered...")?

Well, no. On the other hand, if it was Pagan Pride Day, and we were creating an inclusive ritual, they wouldn't need to interrupt. :)

That's not an accurate analogy, though. Neither I, nor any other Pagan Quakers I know, disrupt Friends worship. We participate in Friends worship. Usually, in worship, you can't tell the difference between Friends who are Christian, Pagan, Jewish, Non-Theist, Buddhist, etc. At least, I can't.

If that would be okay with you, then what does it mean to be a pagan?

Is the disruption okay with me, or the existence of people who identify as both Christian and Pagan okay with me? I know a number of people who are both Christian and Pagan. Many Pagan traditions have a Sacrificed God, the Son of the Mother, a niche into which Jesus and Mary fit pretty easily. It's part of what made Christianity's conquest of non-Christian lands easier.

And wouldn't you prefer to have a place where you could just be with other pagans for a little while to share your common beliefs without the catholic pagans inserting catholic dogma that you have no interest in?

But I don't share common beliefs with all Pagans, whereas I do share common values with most FGC Quakers. And, as a Pagan Friend, I don't insert dogma. I am no more dogmatic as a Witch than I am as a Friend.

I am certainly not advocating that people of different religions segregate themselves in society, or hold animosity toward one another (especially since I am a nontheist). Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I advocate various religions welcoming visitors to their meetings/services/masses/etc. However, I think it is reasonable for a religion to limit participation or membership to those who share their beliefs, or to those who share some core set of beliefs.

In my opinion, intervisitation is a really good thing. It also usually reaffirms for me my commitment to Quakerism and feminist Witchcraft, because when I visit in other traditions, it emphasizes how much that tradition's not my cup of tea. But it generally gives me a greater understanding of the friend or acquaintance who is the reason for my visit.

I agree, as you say, that "it's reasonable for a religion to limit participation and membership to those who share their beliefs, or to those who share some core set of beliefs." But again, that's not accurate for the situation most Pagan Quakers face. We wouldn't identify as Friends if we didn't share core Quaker beliefs and practices. And many of us are already members of our Meetings. What most Pagan Quakers face is a somewhat different issue: that of being second-class Quakers.

I know quakerism is "non-creedal." But without some core set of common beliefs, quakerism is nothing more than a meditation circle that advocates peace.

And you're right, that's different. But as I stated in another comment, unprogrammed Quakerism, at least, is less a religion of orthodoxy and more a religion of orthopraxis -- where how you put your beliefs into action is core. It doesn't matter what I say about the testimonies as much as it matters what I do about them -- how I live my life in accordance with them.

In some Meetings, it's not as important Who directs you to live your life in accordance with Quaker practice and testimonies -- Jesus, Yahweh, Spirit, Goddess, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, no Deity other than your own conscience and values -- as it is how you live your life. In some Meetings, whether or not you have a Deity, as well as its gender and name, are of central importance.

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.

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." (The Pagan community being somewhat mythical.) I don't personally know any Muslim Pagans; but I do know Catholic Pagans, and I know a lot more atheist Pagans.

(This reminds me of a conversation I'm having on a particular email list. Why do so nany non-Pagans think all Pagans are theists? How very odd.)

As you say, this also comes back down to the question, what does it mean to be a Pagan? The Pagan Pride Project has made an effort, and does define what "Pagan" means for their purposes (see
http://paganpride.org/who/who.html
). Their definitions include "Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality."

I don't think that would be fair to more "traditional" pagans, even if the catholic pagans and the muslim pagans really, really thought paganism was cool.

Fair or not, it is how the world is.

Modern American Paganism includes such a huge span of diversity that there are definitely folks who think some of the other folks involved are not "real" Pagans, or give "real" Pagans a bad name -- not like you can always tell who's who. It also includes a lot of people who live and let live. More of the latter, I would say.

Again, to Stasa, I truly hope you find the community that you desire. I'm just suggesting that instead of working hard to find community in a group that is not accepting of paganism, you find (or create) a community that more closely shares your beliefs.

Thank you. I do have that community I so desire, sometimes. I want it more consistently, and again.

But about leaving Quakerism -- why should I leave my home?

And should I leave Quakerism because Quakerism is not universally accepting of African-Americans, or lesbians, or poor people, or mentally ill people?

Also, to say I'm "working hard to find community in a group that is not accepting of paganism"... again, doesn't reflect the whole truth of my experience. Quakerism is not monolithic by a long shot. There are places within Quakerism where I am accepted, loved, and welcomed fully as my whole self. Where I am invited to fulfill my leadings, where those leadings and my ministry are celebrated. Where I can serve the Goddess and Quakerism. I rejoice in this! I celebrate it! But, as I said, Quakerism is not monolothic.

Instead of being a pagan quaker, why not just be a pagan who adopts those quaker values you like?

Because to do so would mean not being Quaker. And Quakerism is where the Goddess leads me. And because it would mean leaving Friends -- leaving spiritual community with people I love, tearing those relationships apart.

Also, I understand that Unitarian-Universalists are very welcoming to Pagans. Have you checked out the Unitarians?

Interestingly, I've worked, ministerially, with a lot of Unitarians; and Unitarian congregations with choirs and/or CUUPs groups are probably the largest category of bulk purchasers of A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual (which I co-wrote).

But no, I've never checked out Unitarians as a potential spiritual home for myself. I've had the experience of leaving a church and a faith tradition, when I finally left the Catholic Church. (I grew up Catholic, Jewish, and Pagan, and then went to a Quaker-influenced high school and a Quaker college.) I left the Roman Catholic Church, and the small-c-catholic church, because I wasn't Christian, didn't believe in or want to support a hierarchical tradition, and because there wasn't room for me as a woman clergy member or as a lesbian. So, things were pretty dire.

That is not the situation with my relationship to Quakerism as a whole. I have no quarrel with the essentials of Quakerism: the testimonies or Quaker practice. In fact, they're very important to me. So, I have no reason to leave Quakerism and go searching for a spiritual home. To do so would be going into exile, rather than going home, or leaving a former home.

Once every year or two years, something prompts me to take stock of whether I really am where I need to be, for my own spiritual best interests. Often, it's Pesach, Passover, the Jewish festival of liberation, that prompts this. If Pesach, and celebrating the Seder, are so important to me, perhaps feminist, Pagan Judaism really is where I need to be? The last time this occurred to me, I checked out several progressive Jewish communities, including some secular/non-theist ones. And it all came back down to: but they aren't Quaker. Quaker practice and testimonies aren't central to them. And I need that.

At this late point, something else occurs to me. It isn't necessarily whether the people around me in a Meeting are Christian or not that is important to my experience of that Meeting and of spiritual community: it's how they practice their Quakerism. How deep or robust is their Quaker practice? (Is it Meeting for Worship, or Meeting for Good Ideas? :) )

One of my richest experiences, spiritually (and practically!) was doing non-violent peace work in a war zone with a team of radical Christians, some of whom were some flavor of Quaker, more of whom weren't. There were Mennonites, FUM Friends, FGC Friends, Brethren, and other folks whose traditions I'm sure I'm leaving out. I'd met up with them after my Pagan peace witness delegation broke up unexpectedly. I didn't expect to feel particularly welcome among the Christian team, as a lesbian and as a non-Christian Friend. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was welcomed, I was honored. I felt loved, even by total strangers. Team members asked about my partner, asked about my Coven, asked about my Meeting. Even in their worship, folks wanted to make sure I felt both welcome and comfortable. Without trying to convert me, without being remotely disrespectful. When I go back, I will go with a team under that organization's umbrella, because I know I will be able to do work that fulfills my leading to peace work in Israel-Palestine. It's not the brand-name or the gender of their god: it's how their experience of that god prompts them to act in the world.

Hope this helps.

Thanks for the chewy conversation!

Blessings,
Stasa

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!