Saturday, May 12, 2012


Yesterday I ran into a young man whom I know vaguely through the local Conservative Quaker worship group. I have done child care for them on occasion, and have a number of friends in the group, but have never really been an attender. I attend the larger liberal meeting slightly farther away from my house, but much closer to my heart.

 We chatted for a while about Quakers, how I haven't been around for a while (their Sunday school program has been up and running for this school year, so my services haven't been required) and somewhere in this conversation he said something like, "I understand you to be something of a lapsed Quaker"

Um, what? I mean, I'm not super-Quaker or anything, nor do I strive to be, but I'm a member of my meeting, attend pretty regularly, and have considered myself a Quaker consistently for over twenty years. At no time have I considered myself anything along the lines of "lapsed" I mean, so, okay: He saw me at his meeting a few times and hasn't in over six months. Perhaps I have even presented myself as somehow failed. Sometimes I am surprised at how self-deprecating I can be when I actually listen to myself.

 But my first thought was that OF COURSE anyone who knew me through that group would think I was "lapsed" - not that I am not adequately committed to my Quaker community, but that said community doesn't really "count" when it comes right down to it. We are all lapsed, or at least inadequate, Quakers.

 A few months ago I was talking to another friend who is part of this worship group about a mutual friend who had left it a number of years ago. He said that his impression was that they were "too Quaker" for her. I know that she might say it was too christocentric, too controlled, too rule-bound, too concerned with being some image of a "good quaker", and therefore too far from God, as well as too dominated by one or two strong personalities. But no, not "too Quaker" - not at all.

The thing is, I dont' think these comments were malicious in any way. In fact both led to rich and satisfying conversations where I did not feel judged in the least for my imagined shortcomings. In one case it seems he's actually a liberal friend at heart, but little enough of a morning person that meeting at 4pm is significantly more appealing than meeting at 11am. I can understand this, though my life hasn't been that way in a long time.

But that almost freaks me out more. It's not a position anymore. It's like it's in the water. It's just a "given" that quakers who do not do things the way they do are less quaker. I guess I can't explain how or why that makes me queasy, but hopefully it's apparent?

 In the course of conversation he said that one friend speaks of it as wanting to play basketball, and if you're playing basketball everyone you're playing with should be playing basketball too. If some people are playing tennis then it just doesn't work. I have heard this metaphor before, and it made sense to me, though it didn't sit quite right. Of course you can't play basketball and tennis on the same court at the same time, in any useful way. I get it.

And yet. I finally realized that the problem is that I DON'T want to play basketball. The thing is, I don't want to play tennis either. The point of Quakerism to me, the hook, the draw, is that we are not playing a game (mostly/hopefully) with a bunch of rules set out beforehand. We are waiting on the light. We are open to continuing revelation.

It's not a game at all, but if it was to try to be, it would be a "new game" - no rules (beyond basic, "be good to each other"), no lines on the court, just a goal (a little bit of a stretch, it's not like we have an actual achievable goal set out, but something almost like it?) and a community of people working toward it. A community with all of the knowledge and baggage and shortcomings and gifts that its members bring. I really really like it that way. And I've been blogging forever (once a year, anyway) and still seem to be talking about the same thing. Makes me sad, I wish it wasn't such a persistent topic.

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