Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Quaker Sweat Lodge

I'm not sure what I want to say about this, but it's been rolling around in my brain for a while now

I took the quaker sweatlodge workshop at Gathering, I think the last year it was offered (in Johnstown) - primarily because I had already classified it at inappropriate poser-ism and cultural appropriation, and I always like to challenge my prejudices if a (relatively painless!) method occurs to me.

My experience was mixed. Actually participating in the process allayed some of my fears, and confirmed others. I ended up feeling like we could do this respectfully, and in a way I personally would feel comfortable with, but it would take some work, and some changes. I can't remember if I made any effort to brings these up. I can be pretty shy, and also need to sit with things for a long time, so probalby not.

The next year, I didn't attend gathering, but heard about the uproar shortly after it ended. As a former pariticipant in the workshop, I received a group email from one of the organizers, basically just upset about what had happened. I responded with some discussion of the concerns that I had had, and a suggestion that we set up some sort of list for interested parties to discuss the concerns and benefits around the sweatlodge, but never received a response.

So, in case anyone cares, here's my best attempt at a "rundown" of my experience:

"Good" stuff

*I have a new committment to takign only workshops that are offered outdoors. This was one. My spirituality is very earth-based, and feels stifled in the physical environment of a classroom. this is one of the few workshops that was offered mostly out of doors.

*We did a lot of trust-building exercises and games during the week. I felt that these were essential to the later experience of actually doing the sweatlodge at the end of the week.

*Building the sweatlodge together was a great experience. Few workshops seems to offer the option of working on something tangible - doing work together. This process had some significant spiritual power for me.

*The sweatlodge itself is an amazing experience (as many can and have attest(ed)) - At the time I remember being amazed at how it seemed to physically facillitate the experience that we hope for in meeting for worship - a shared, (literally)"covered" worship experience - breathing together, sharing air, extremely physically present.


*Cultural appropriation is still the "biggie" for me. It was emphasized that this was a quaker and not an indian sweat, and that many and varied ethnic traditions have used "sweats" (the finiish sauna, an extinct celtic practice, etc) - and yet, we spoke prayers in native languages, not in finnish, we build a physical structure based on an indian structure, not finnish.... This is one area where I see great potential for change that could seriously change the basis for this concern.

*I did feel many times like as a group we were having fun "playing indian", which really bothers me. I have to say, I wonder if a finnish-style sweat (or a truly re-styled, european-based one) would hold nearly the same appeal, I believe it would for me, but I do wonder....

*It feels to me that there is a lack of discussion and a glut of defensiveness about this. I was saddened in the workshops itself that we took no time to discuss the nature of cultural appropriation, why it might be a concern, and how we as a group were led in light of this concern. I am even more concerned at how much protestation there has been about it not being racist (solely from whitefolk, I might add)

*It's my personal belief that when dealing with oppression, the voice of one member of the "oppressed" group outweighs EVERYONE in the oppressor group, at least initially. I believe that we are obligated to labor with any concern raised by a first nations person about whether we do the sweat - even if some other first nations folsk say they don't care, or even commend us, even if we don't see what they mean (there's a shock) I am saddened by how quickly communication on this issue seems to have shut down, though apparently letters to friends journal have been flying lately.

*I found it troubling that so many people participated in the sweat without taking the workshop (not that they could have) - As I said above, the trust-building, and the small bit of education that did happen during the week felt essential to me, it felt abrupt and inappropriate to hold that "worship" with folks who hadn't been through them. (and, the fact that it is, in essence, a "high demand" commodity, certainly doens't make me feel any better about that!)

*I have heard the concern raised that it is not a traditional quaker practice. I initially heard this as saying it was therefore inappropriate, which I disagree with, because singing and dancing, two things in which many quakers, including myself find spiritually enlivening, were traditionally banned as quaker practice.
But, I do believe that the question of "how can we meet the need that this apparently meets, in another way, in a patently "quaker" way?" is a good one. I don't have any answers to that, but it's a good question.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Word weary

Bopping around the blogoshere lately, I've found my brain sort of glazing over. There seems to be a lot of intellectual discussion of history and academic works and definitions and blah blah blah.

I can see that other people are finding this very illuminating and "growthful" (or something) but I am finding that it feels distancing. I don't really want to read old quaker tracts. I want to know how spirit is moving now, today (so, maybe I should write about how it is moving in me? I wonder if it is?)

Am I just dense, or ADD or something?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Quaker Intentional Sustainable Community

Zach and Carl have both recently blogged about this topic, and I know that there is a quaker-originated (but intentionally not quaker-exclusive) cohousing group here in the twin cities (which is, from what I hear, pretty well-established, but as yet building-less) I was thinking about starting a yahoo group for discussion of things like:

Intentional Community
Land Stewardship
Living in an ecologically friendly manner
Faith as the center of intentional community

Is there interest in this?

I personally feel that many radical changes in the current american lifestyle are imperitive for the well being of humanity on earth.

(I really hate "save the earth" rhetoric - it's really about saving the earth as a place habitable to us, I believe that Mars is probably as happy with its planet-ness as the earth. I don't know if the earth would miss us, should we kill ourselves off, but I know that we will miss what it offers us, should we destroy it)

And have a wistful hope that quakers could be some of the prominent "movers and shakers" in a very important back-to-the-land eco-movement.

Anyone with me??

Saturday, April 08, 2006

what do I worship?

I have seen this question come up here and there, posed from theist quakers to nontheist quakers (most recently, from Rich in Brooklyn to me, I think)

It's certainly a good one. We pretty much all easily refer to Meeting for Worship, but if you don't even believe in God, what do you worship??

Well, okay, I've actually wondered something similar. (maybe) - is worship what I want to be doing here? (or what I'm called to do?) It can bring to mind the sort of religion where the church sends people out to beat you up if you don't "tithe" (and didn't they call it "tribute" or something at some point??"

I am in no way interested in trying to buy myself brownie points with Santa-God, or even stroking his ego for the heck of it. I pretty much don't (really) believe in him - but when I do, he can really annoy me. no worship there (ok, not much)

So, I have a problem with the word "worship" because it has all these connotations of thinking myself less than something/someone else, and somehow kowtowing to, or fawning over them, out of fear or goodness knows what.

But, the word also still basically works for me


I guess because I've reinterpreted it. I feel as if I can be in a state of worship without actually worshipping something. (though it would seem to be a transitive verb, wouldn't it?)

Years ago I was riding to yearlly meeting with a friend who is a christian, and he asked me if I had ever experienced God, and I said no, but I had felt awe. He asked me what it was like, and I spent a few minutes describing it (and later blushed to realize that I would have said pretty much word for word the same thing if someone had asked me to describe and orgasm, though I haven't often associated that with religious practice)

And he said, that's a lot like how I experience God.

so, I don't know how close our overall experiences are, and why he would call it God and I wouldn't.

But I know I can experience an openness, an awe, often in nature, or cuddling with my cats, or eating really good food, and in meeting for worship.

So, I don't worship anyone or anything. Maybe I worship everything? But I think I worship

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Alternative Dress Group has started us up a yahoo group to talk about issues around plain dress without the religious focus (I think folks who are motivated by religion, or the voice of God, are welcomed, but it's not a requirement)

I'm super excited, since I'm really interested in the issue, but think I'm done blogging about it for a bit. I'm more interested in exchange right now,.

so, come one, come all!