Log in

Quakers are my kind of people - Joe Ibershoff [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Joe Ibershoff

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Quakers are my kind of people [Jun. 20th, 2004|05:07 pm]
Joe Ibershoff
Yesterday I went to the Charleston Friends Meeting -- i.e. the Quaker worship service here in Charleston. I was struck by just how well I fit in with these people; I'm actually inclined to think that at that Meeting, the term "eccentric" probably wouldn't accurately describe me. Compared to most Americans, I'm pretty unusual (maybe bordering on strange at times), but compared to the Quakers at this Meeting I think I'm pretty normal. Here's a glimpse of what I mean:

There were 5 people at the Meeting, plus myself and pianojet (who happened also to be in town this weekend). And in that group,
  • one man has been commuting to work on his bike for 8 years (and he proudly refers to riding his bike as "causing traffic jams"), despite being old enough that his salt-and-pepper hair and beard seemed more grey than not
  • another man (who is equally greyed) went on a 2-day biking trip last weekend with a few family members, and was planning on biking around Kanawha City later that day
  • another man just got laid off from his job in social work (the agency experienced budget cuts) which is disappointing to him, but which excites him because now he can spend the next few months concentrating on political activism leading up to the elections. It also came up that his brother is a member of an intentional community in VA that practices sustainable agriculture, and (in this guy's opinion) they've been doing it long enough that "they really have it down" -- and on top of that this same man (not his brother) lives on the remnants of what used to be a commune, with the land still in Trust
  • a woman I knew when I was in high school (but who I didn't know was Quaker) and who home-schools her very bright children (I took AP Calculus in 10th grade, which was pretty early -- but her son came to my HS to take it while he was in 9th grade; he and I did more than a couple math competitions together) offered that any of us could stop by her house while she and her family are on vacation to pick all the fresh raspberries we want, since it seems they will be coming ripe while she's not around (and mentioned a couple other things we could help ourselves to from her garden)
  • at some point in the conversation, the 5th person mentioned a $.45 gasoline tax in a favorable context
Save the info about home-schooling and such that I already knew, all the rest of that came out in the course of 60-90 minutes of conversation.

A lot of y'all may think I'm kind of a crazy guy... and maybe I am (or maybe I've just gotten used to the idea that I seem so to other people)... but more and more I realize that a lot of my "crazy" stuff really isn't that crazy. If you will allow me a moment of conceit, most of it's certainly a lot less "crazy" than Galileo's ridiculous proposal that the Earth orbits the Sun. ;-) Don't roll your eyes, you know it's true.

[User Picture]From: rosepurr
2004-06-21 08:20 am (UTC)
The Friends are a neat group in most every community. I'm glad you had a good experience with them!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: adarjapheth
2004-06-21 09:59 am (UTC)
I'm not sure if you knew this or not, but bitterlight (Elaine, my light, my love, my inspiration) is a Quaker. She doesn't completely live her life by it, but she was raised as one, and still has many aspects of it in her personality.

The thing is... you and I have discussed my feelings on religion or anything resembling it, so by all rights I should A) disapprove of Elaine, and B) disapprove of you right now, however as she's explained it to me, I actually think Quakerism is something I could really get into were I so inclined. Most everything she tells me about them makes good sense and gels with a lot of my principles.

So I say, you're not crazy at all. If you find something that moves you, go for it. And if you want/need more information on the subject, I'm sure bitterlight would be happy to enlighten you.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zacronos
2004-06-21 01:13 pm (UTC)
Hah! Awesome, I didn't know that. I probably would like to discuss it with her at some point, though I've already done a good bit of exploring on my own. I've read up on them (to be expected from me) and the differences in the subcategories of Quakers, and I've attended meetings at 4 different places (each of which had a somewhat different feel, but were more similar than not as far as Meetings go). I guess neither of you will be in Lexington very often by the time I get there, but if the chance comes up to talk with her about it I might take it.

WARNING: Joe-ramble ahead.

I admit, I've been through some misgivings about getting into organized religion again. I wasn't looking for a place to go, or even passively keeping an eye out for someplace I might like to attend. But I took the belief.net Belief-O-Matic quiz (which includes the statement "Warning: Belief-O-Matic(TM) assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul.", just so you know they're not taking themselves too seriously), and it pegged me as Unitarian, with Quaker and Baha'i close behind. I read a little about the three, and was amazed by how much the Quaker beliefs matched my own (I could see strong similarities to Unitarian and Baha'i... but Quaker was an extremely close match).

The thing that really moved me is their belief in the individual spiritual journey -- i.e. there is not one way to experience God/spirituality, there are many. God will lead different people to different things, and this is a Good Thing. This belief eliminates many of my issues with them as an organized religion (though one result is that it makes Quakers a little less coherent as a group than most religious bodies). The fact that it is composed of peers, rather than a hierarchy with authority figures, helps as well (some Quaker groups hire ministers, but most specifically do not want one).

So for myself... Quakers (or at least the groups I have been to) do not turn me off the way nearly every other organized religious group does. But I still wrestle with the fact that most people will not know these things. If I say "I am a Quaker", then that will subtly reinforce the idea many people already have that says "it is not OK to think for yourself spiritually" -- which is about as opposite from what I believe as you can get. It will undermine the idea that one can be meaningfully spiritual without fitting into a pre-existing category, or at least fail to encourage that idea. It will encourage categories as a construct for conformity, rather than merely labeling as a communication mechanism. Et cetera -- I'm sure you know the kind of thing I'm talking about. On the other hand, my beliefs pretty much do fit into the category of "Quaker", and that was true even before I had a clue what Quakers believed; my mindset and approach to life is also pretty typical for Quakers. Thus, "Quaker" happens to be a pretty accurate description of me, in both what it means and what it implies (for those who know). I attend Quaker worship services (silent meditation, sometimes accompanied by a little singing beforehand) because they serve as a good reminder to me, and because the community always seems very good and strong (I've been putting more and more emphasis on "community" in my life, and it's nice to have like-minded people to bounce ideas off of). So I guess, when it comes down to it, I've decided that attending Quaker Meetings and even being part of their community is definitely a positive thing for me. I can do that without calling myself Quaker, but then I would be Quaker in all but name, with my refusal of the label serving only as an act of rebellion against the principle of labels, even though in this instance the label is appropriate.

So that's where I stand. I'm somewhat uncomfortable with taking on the label and making myself "officially" part of the category. But other than that... I'm pretty much Quaker. I don't agree 100% with all ideas that are commonly held by Quakers (for instance, I'm not a complete pacifist), but Quakers don't seem to like conformity any more than I do, so we're all ok with that. Given a bit more time, I'll probably become comfortable with the label.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: adarjapheth
2004-06-21 07:16 pm (UTC)
Hmm, neat. Yeah, I understand where you're coming from on this... I think I'd research it more if I wasn't so hesitant to choose labels myself.

Good ramble though, I liked it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: finding_helena
2004-06-21 09:54 pm (UTC)

hi *waves* Colby said I should drop by

Hmm... that's an interesting point you make about refusing labels for the sake of not reinforcing the label thing. That never really bothered me much, because like you say, Quakerism is very individualistic. It's been especially so for me, because I was raised in an unprogrammed background (that is, silent worship). My mother got into Quakerism when I was about five. She always advanced the theory that Quakers could believe almost anything and still qualify as Quakers, and so I've retained that--though I was loath to call myself Quaker when going through my obnoxious atheist adolescent phase, but y'know, you'll get that with anything. I've always liked Quakers for their willingness to be at odds with the world in pursuit of what they want, and in general, I really like the Quaker community. I keep forgetting to go to Meeting, though, but when I do go, it feels rather like coming home. I just graduated from a Quaker school, and it did have its share of disappointments, especially some due to people not really wanting to be part of the community and being jerks, but I'd have to say on the whole they're a great bunch of folks.

There are some Quakers who are more narrow on what beliefs are acceptable, though. In my experience, programmed Friends (that is, the ones with ministers) are more likely to be this way. My ex-boyfriend Howie comes from a programmed Quaker background, and last summer he got a job at a summer camp run by programmed Quakers. This place listed as one of its requirements for being on staff "Commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior" and said that a belief in Christ was one of the essential tenets of Quakerism. Since I was raised to think Quakers can believe whatever they want about Jesus, that kind of put me at odds with that place, because their party line excluded me from being their kind of Quaker. Gak. Don't let them put you off, though.

Anyway, that's enough of a ramble from me for the moment. I liked reading this. And as a fellow lacker-of-car type, I am in awe of your plan to ride your bike 240 miles.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: findtara
2004-06-22 10:14 am (UTC)

Re: hi *waves* Colby said I should drop by

I've been given very few impressions about Quakers, but the belief in Christ as savior was one. It's really interesting to find out that for some, it is not a requirement. That's something I've never run into before, and it really makes me want to look into it more.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zacronos
2004-06-23 01:04 pm (UTC)

Re: hi *waves* Colby said I should drop by

> It's really interesting to find out that for some, it is not a requirement.

That's one of the things I like best about the Quaker beliefs -- believing that it's okay for others to believe significantly different things. Quakers care more about how to live life than what a person specifically believes. Actually, I just found a link to an article about non-theist Quakers: http://nontheists.quaker.org/QUF_umbrella_expanded_2_2_02.pdf

In my experience over the past several months with Quakers (I've talked to Quakers at two congregations (called Meetings) in Maryland, the one here in Charleston, and the one in Lexington; I've also looked around quakers, and done some reading online), they are pretty unconcerned with dogma and doctrine. There are "typical" Quaker beliefs that most ascribe to (such as pacifism), but there is no real requirement for those either. Here's something from the Lexington Friends web-page (at http://lex-ky.quaker.org/):
The beliefs you will find in our meeting are very diverse. Although Friends have a tradition in Christianity, we have always held that all people have that of God within. So it is easy to find in our midsts those who would say they are Christian, some would say they are responsive to Christian beliefs as well as other religions, and some might say they are not Christian at all. We try to embrace this diversity as we have no set creed. The only test for becoming one of us is a willingness to become a part of our worship community.

I've seen the acronym SPICE used several times to describe the core "testimonies" that Quakers tend to focus on: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. Different Quakers have focused on these things in different ways. A few hundred years ago, equality issues included things like not doffing a hat towards aristocrats (which caused them to be persecuted severely), and fighting slavery (Quakers were some of the very first white people to publicly denounce slavery); today it has to do with promoting education and trying to help people break out of the poverty cycle, or supporting the GLBT community and working for recognition of same-sex marriages. Stuff like that.

Last time I was in Lexington, I went to a Meeting and put a note on the front door of the House inviting people to join me if they wanted. Only Drew seemed interested, but he had to work that morning. I like the Lexington Meeting pretty well, so I'll probably try to attend when I'm in KY again. If you or anyone else wants to come with me sometime, that'd be great. :-)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zacronos
2004-06-23 11:19 am (UTC)

Re: hi *waves* Colby said I should drop by

Hey, thanks for stopping by. :-) I appreciate hearing about your experience as a Quaker. To bad Colby's moving away from Lexington -- you seem like a really cool person, from what Colby's said about you and now from looking at your journal a bit. :-( Ah well, I'm sure I'll get the chance to meet you at some point.

The bike ride was awesome, though it turned out to be about 250 miles when it should have been around 225 (due to not watching my compass and a poorly drawn/labeled map). In a couple weeks, I'll probably make the return trip. I think I can pare it down to about 210 miles and do it in 3 days this time. :-)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: fleur_de_soleil
2004-06-21 01:56 pm (UTC)
i wasn't aware quakers were still 'up and about' in places :\ [ignorant me]
but in response to your ideas being viewed as odd; maybe this will change gradually! i don't know about in the states, but in canada there is a very slow revolution where ideas and actions that used to be viewed as 'tree-hugger-ish' or just "not for me" are becoming steadily mainstream. although i'd like to assert that we are a much more progressive and leftist society (we like to think this)in reality, we're all talk no walk. even yet, vegetarianism, sustainable living and implementing 'ideas of spirituality' into action is catching on. ten years ago, when i said i was a vegetarian, people would wonder how i was still alive at all! there is talk in my city of biodiesel public transit and "white bikes" (a la amsterdam). when i run in the morning i no longer get the feeling that everyone keeps to themselves..i think people are beginning to realise that possessions and expensive homes will not fill the holes in their hearts if they are cold and unfeeling
OR maybe i'm just a crazy optimist
anywhoo, now that i've rambled forever, i'll stop. but the idea here is that you should keep doing what you do, people are catching on! and its very exciting! :)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zacronos
2004-06-23 12:02 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, Quakers are definitely still up and about. :-)

And I know what you mean -- I feel like this stuff is spreading more and more, becoming much more accepted as people get more accustomed to it. Especially among younger people. I get a little excited when I start thinking about how the voting demographic might change over the next 5-10 years, just due to up-and-coming voters.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: robotcharlie
2004-06-22 07:04 am (UTC)
this is how i feel when i go to green party meetings. although i don't really have a great love for the green party, i can't seem to get away from it. i always find unique connections with the people who are involved that i can't find elsewhere in this area.

do you know if most quaker meetings that small?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zacronos
2004-06-23 12:20 pm (UTC)
I think having a Meeting of <10 attendees is pretty small. It's kinda nice, since I've gotten to know the members so quickly. However, I also like the Lexington Meeting -- when I was there a few weeks ago, I think there were 25 or so, which is enough people to have singing before Meeting. :-) It will probably take more than a few attendances before I start to get to know most of them, but after I get past that threshold I imagine the larger number won't bother me (I tend to prefer small groups in general).
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)