Thursday, January 31, 2008

Only a coincidence if you're a clueless WASP

Allison's answer to,

"1. Is there something about Quaker theology that makes it more appealing to the kind of people who get college degrees? Is there something about Quaker theology that makes it unappealing to the kind of people who don’t get college degrees? If so, why?

2. Or is it something about current liberal Quaker culture? If so, why?

3. Or is it something to do with current liberal Quaker practice? If so, why?

4. Or do you think it is just a coincidence? If so, why?"

On Jeanne's Quakers and Social Class Blog

At this moment I think this is like the ONLY task before quakers in terms of dealing with classism, racism, diversity (a term I'm coming to hate from overuse and cluelessness)

If we are called to "answer that of god" in everyone, and HUGE swaths of humanity are turned off/chased away by how we're doing things, that's not "okay"

It's at the very least not okay to simply chalk it up to "coincidence" and refuse/fail to examine what about us alienates people.

Jeanne also points out:

"I can think of all sorts of things Friends would deem as "inappropriate." Dress (low-cut tops, muscle shirts), language (non-standard grammar, swearing, Jesus talk), food at potluck (fast food, processed food, non-organic food), conservative views (pro-life, Republican), spending habits (owning an SUV, subscribing to cable), to name just a few (and I bet you can add to this list)."

Now, I have to say, my defensive, clueless wasp brain immediately assumes I'm being asked to start wearing low cut tops and subscribe to cable, which is NOT the point.

The point is a little elusive to my fallible human brain, but it's something about getting too attached to outward forms.

Does organic food bring us closer to God? maybe, especially if, like me, your spirituality is very earth-based, it might.

Does squinching up our noses at food that isn't organic bring us closer to God? I bet you can guess my answer to that.

I've been a vegetarian for 20 years, have gotten a lot less militant (and a lot more confused, go figger) about it lately.

I used to get really angry at what became a relatively common story I'd hear: "I used to be vegetarian" (and maybe they are again) "but I travelled abroad and found myself in situations where to refuse a meat dish would have been terribly insulting to my hosts, so I made an exception." For years my ONLY response to this was that this person was a "sellout", now I'm finally beginning to see the value in being somewhat flexible in honoring other people's culture, even when it conflicts with your own.

I'm not saying I would eat meat in such a circumstance, I don't know. But I might miss out on a lot if I don't. And, even in I decide my personal ethics have to come first, there are a variety of ways to approach the situation, some of which are terribly self righteous and alienating, some of which could be much more friendly (than is my natural inclination)

I think it's a lot about letting go of the idea that there is A right way to do things (to think about things, to talk about things) and that we know what it is. What if we saw every exposure to something new/alien/scary/different, not as a threat to our ivory tower of perfection, but as an opportunity to learn more, or to grow in love? To know God better.

I dunno


Jeanne said...

First, the questions weren't from my blog but another person's blog. I'd been having an email conversation with her about the questions but she just didn't get it, and posted the questions anyway.

And if you want a nice slap in the face, you should read the "answers" on her blog. Including the one from my sweetie.

But I find it a *little* ironic that you have some judgment about what people eat but not so much about what people believe at Meeting.

AND I'm the other way around. It's really hard for me to take the "anything goes" theology at Meeting (which does exist, not just at TCFM, and I'm not talking about you or any other of the well-known athiests).

LOVED your very ARTICULATE and clear response to the questions:

If Quakerism is about a God or TRUTH who IS for everyone, which is really true, and not just convenient or comfy for people who went to college, it's ludicrous to imply that it doesn't matter if our understanding of that God fails to make sense to a huge group of people. Either we're missing something crucial or God really likes intellectuals better, which is just a scary proposition.

Any chance you'll post that on the original questioner's blog? She just doesn't believe me on this point. Apparently, she can't hear it from me for whatever reason.


Allison said...

I think you're pretty hip, Pam! :)

James Riemermann said...

I certainly don't think it's a coincidence. My first guess would be that the reason most Friends meetings are segregated by class is the same reason that the vast majority of institutions in the United States, as well as the rest of the world, are segregated by class. And that is, class divides are real, not merely habitual and cultural. They divide the haves from the have-mores from the have-nots.

Once again, I support efforts to be more welcoming to everyone who shows up. But the only way we're really going to really eliminate the divisions between classes, is by eliminating the conditions that create a class system. It's about economics, not cultural quirks.

I think focusing on our quirky Quaker culture is a complete red herring. Bringing more poor people into our meeting would be great. But the underlying problem is poverty.

Allison said...

Hi James,

You are free to disagree of course. I just find it interesting that there are plenty of activists of various colors and classes that aren't finding their way to RSoF, and I think there are definite reasons for this.

And since the numbers of Quakers are going down, I think it's important to analyze why this is without resorting to proselytizing. Because obviously, whatever people are doing to be "warm and welcoming" isn't entirely working.

I also have a problem with calling Quaker culture "quirky" when there are a lot of other words we could call it. Are experiences, either overt or subtle, of racism, homophobia, and classism "quirks"?

James Riemermann said...


I really don't know if I disagree, because I don't grasp what it is you're asserting.

What are the definite reasons? And what is that analysis--at least in short? And do you mean to say that Quaker culture is intrinsically racist (in contrast with the completely reasonable statement that Quakers sometimes exhibit racist attitudes/behaviors)? You seem to suggest it, but you stop short of actually saying it.

I absolutely agree that racism is a terribly serious problem in our society, in fact in most societies, and I don't think Quakers are immune from it. Nothing that I said here suggests otherwise. In my experience they have a greater resistance to bigotry than most other groups I have known, but they certainly aren't altogether innocent.

James Riemermann said...

I feel kind of bad about some of the comments I've made, here and elsewhere, on the subjects of race and class and bigotry, because it seems I'm being heard as saying that they're not serious problems, or that Quakers are innocent. or for that matter that I am personally innocent. And I don't feel that way at all. My flaws, my ignorance, my ability to hurt others through thoughtlessness, are as great as anyone's.

And I think I was kind of prickly in my last response to Allison. I apologize.

But I do often get the sense that the way many activist Quakers around this issue frame the questions is divisive, overly rhetorical, and often sacrifices subtle and troublesome truths for simple half-truths. It is easy to say "we're racist and that's why people of color don't come to our meetings," but the reality is far more complicated and subtle and tangled than that. Reality always is.

I also think the some of the conventional Quaker criticisms around race and class and other marginalized groups tend to downplay massive economic and justice-related questions that actually destroy millions of people's lives. While mostly white Quakers are having workshops trying to get everyone to admit they're racists, poor black communities are being destroyed by drugs and crime fueled by cynical politics and hopelessness borne of centuries of horrific repression and an economic system that doesn't care about people's personal happiness.

It's not that I think these questions of class-based unease in our meeting houses should not be raised. But I don't think polarized rhetoric and accusations of racism are the best way to grow beyond it. The Quakers I know are, by and large, people of terrific good will. I think we should build on that rather than trying to poke holes in it and make people feel guilty.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I'm afraid I cannot agree with you, Allison, when you write, "If we are called to "answer that of god" in everyone, and HUGE swaths of humanity are turned off/chased away by how we're doing things, that's not "okay""

There is a difference between a theology that will appeal to "huge swaths of humanity" and answering that of God in everyone. While I resolutely agree that there is that of God in members of the active military, for instance, I do not believe that the majority of career military are going to find the Quaker peace testimony "appealing" anytime soon. Which is more than "okay", because answering that of God has much more to do with witness than appeal.

That doesn't answer questions about classism among Friends, of course. I suspect, though, that the reason why liberal Quakers are so likely to belong to educated middle-class professions has little to do with theology, and more to do with modern history among liberal Friends. I'm under the impression that a lot of liberal meetings are like mine: relatively recent flowerings that found their roots, in terms of who joined meetings when, in the anti-war movement of the 1960's. Which centered largely on college towns, which is why you're likely to find so many liberal meetings in and around college towns.

In places like Kenya, where the history of Friends is different, the demographic is different. Of course, so are Friends--modern liberal Quakers are only one small wedge of the Quaker pie. My point is that the theology is not so much the defining point as the local history of our meetings.