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An Open Letter to my Quaker Christian Friends: Part 2 of 2

Well, so, as I said in my previous post, what I would ask of Quaker Christians is
to stay low to the Truth, not to hide it or apologize for it.  ...Do not share one syllable more of your Scriptures than the "Spirit that gave them forth" is speaking in you--but equally, do not share one syllable less.
And for all Quakers, Christian or non-Christian, I'm suggesting that
When speaking from Spirit,  we use whatever language That Spirit lends us--and that we remember that the standard is not to be "nice" to anyone: be bold!  But do not speak beyond what is given you to say: be low. 
It's not enough to speak your truth, as you experienced it once, years ago.  You must speak from love, in the present moment, and from Spirit, also in the present moment.
Is there more? What else do I need from Christian Quakers, specifically?

I want you to understand that, as a Christian, even as a Quaker Christian, you possess a significant amount of privilege in our society.

No movie or television character will share my religion, unless it is the defining characteristic--generally negative--of who they are. There are almost no elected officials who share my religion, and a number of elected officials would like to strip me of my right to exercise my religion freely. If a member of my religion commits a crime, that crime is attributed in part to our shared religion. All these things are commonplace to religious minorities in our culture--but outside the daily experience of Christians.

I hope it is not necessary to remind anyone here of the long and painful history of mission and empire that Christianity has been part of.  Do I need to explain that it is still the case that those of us who are not Christian are often treated like second-class citizens? As a Pagan, I am susceptible to being fired for my religious identification, despite a clear Constitutional ban on such a thing in my country. I've seen friends' child custody and adoption rights endangered or challenged based on their religion. Pagan children are sometimes harassed in schools by teachers as well as students, and Pagans, like Muslims and Jews, are subject to religiously-motivated threats and vandalism by their theoretically Christian neighbors.
From "Why the Cross and the US Flag are Under Attack"

And in some parts of the world clumsy and unethical missionary practices, old and new, have combined with pre-existing magical beliefs and spawned literal witch hunts, in which children are persecuted and even killed for the suspected "crime" of witchcraft.

I don't want to sound a note of victimhood, here. Many people around the world struggle with far worse disempowerment than I have ever experienced, and I know it.

But I also do know what it is like to be viewed with suspicion simply for how I experience my spiritual life, and I have had to be aware of risks and injustices that, had I been a Christian, I might not have understood.

Because I wouldn't have needed to understand them.

And that's what I mean by Christian privilege. It's there, like racial, economic, and educational privilege--all of which I possess, incidentally, so I'm not trying to shame anybody.

But when it comes to the privileging of some religions over others, I need you, my spiritual family, to know that this is real, and part of the world that we are sharing with one another.  To be in kinship with me, I need you to try to see, at least a little, how the world might look through my eyes.

And then it gets hard.

Because as you see it, I need you to let your hair down. I need you to stay real with me.  I don't need a rescuer.  I need a friend, an equal.  And unless you are yourself actively contributing to religiously-motivated hate (in which case, cut that shit out right now!) I need you to relax.

When you see an injustice around religious privilege, yes, of course I want you to confront it.   Just the way I hope you do any other injustices you encounter. And I want you to keep your eyes open; don't fall asleep, because this stuff creeps in all the time.

But don't get bent out of shape about it. Please.

I know I can't speak for everyone in the world who has ever experienced bias. But I can speak for myself, and I do not need or want your guilt.  (Can I play a drum with it?  Buy a pizza with it?  What earthly good is your guilt to me?)

If you are behaving with prejudice, cut it out.

If you are contributing to injustice, stop.

But for injustices you, personally, have not committed, you, personally, have only the obligation to see, to understand, and to act to correct what injustices you can As Way Opens. Best done, if Quaker teaching is any use here, by staying low, open to the leadings of the Inward Guide, and then acting boldly and faithfully.

But that's it. Don't ask me for forgiveness, because (unless you've been acting with prejudice, in which case, see above) there's nothing to forgive.

For one thing, your ancestors didn't do bad things to my ancestors--our ancestors are in common. As a modern Pagan, I am, like most of you, descended from a long line of good Western Christians.

Furthermore, even if your ancestors had done my ancestors wrong, and mine somehow not done wrong to others, I can't see any way any of that relates to you and to me, standing next to each other today. We can neither of us change the past, and you have no standing to apologize for crimes you didn't commit.

In fact, I am depressed by such apologies: by offering to be my whipping boy for injustices and crimes committed by others or in other times, you diminish me.

In what way is it more your place to expiate those others' guilt than it is my place to see you clearly, for yourself and yourself alone, and to release you from debts you never incurred to begin with?

If this fits is some kind of original sin thing, take it up with Jesus. I have no use for such a doctrine--it's one of the things we don't share, and aren't likely to.

What then? What's left to ask?

There's this: If I have no business turning you into a scapegoat for all the generations past who have ever harmed anyone in the name of Jesus, I also think you have no business turning me into a mascot for your tolerance and good intentions. I don't want to be a symbol of your goodness; I don't want to be anything more or less than what you probably want to be: a human being among other human beings.

Along those lines, I ask you not to abuse your newfound (or longstanding) empathy for me and mine by rushing to speak for me. Specifically, I would ask that, as an advocate, you not speak to my concerns before you allow me a chance to speak them for myself.

This is harder than it sounds, I know. Quakers love to set injustices right. We work hard to empathize with oppressed peoples. We want to be advocates. We want to be the good guys, and we want to speak out for people who have been marginalized, because it feels so good to be the voice of righteousness.

However, it is tiresome to the person whose cause you're espousing, to be spoken for when we'd rather speak for ourselves.  Certainly, we'd rather not be shut out of discussions of our needs by the voices of eager advocates.

Does this happen? Yeah, this happens. I've seen it happen.  And I don't know for sure how it feels to be a member of any other minority group among Friends, but for me, it felt both sad and silly.

I have vivid memories of being present at one particular meeting for business where a minute addressing Quaker theology was under discussion. Discussion was heated, and spiritual discipline around Quaker process was thin. This is a sensitive point among Liberal Friends, and naturally, there were many speakers who were deeply grounded in a Christian perspective.

Others spoke to a non-Christian perspective.  The difficulty was, many of the speakers had no lived experience of that perspective.  They were speaking for me and mine...  I watched, silenced, as Friend after Friend rose and spoke.

On the one hand, it was gratifying to matter.

On the other, I was sitting right there, unable to get the clerk to even see me, lost in a sea of non-Pagan Quakers who were eagerly representing what they thought was my point of view.

What is there to say to that?  Thanks for trying, guys?

Why were so many Friends in a hurry to speak for me, and for others like me, that day? Was it partly a failure to imagine that I might be able to speak for myself? Does my lack of privilege, make me somehow less than, and in need of rescue?
It seems to me I've seen this around more kinds of differences among Quakers than our theology. I am beginning to suspect that we Quakers have a disturbing tendency to objectify, through our pity or our zeal, those we want to feel ourselves to be "helping." I think I've seen us do it to our youth; I think I've seen us do it around race; I think I've seen us do it around social class, educational background, and mental health.

Somehow, deep down, many of us with privilege begin to think of ourselves as saviors, and to see those with less privilege as Others, as objects, as charity cases.

Oh, it's almost always couched in positive terms.  I don't think the condescension is apparent to the speaker.

We mean well, we Friends.

Do I do this sometimes? I don't want to think I do, but I might. I've mentioned that I am, relatively speaking, a distinctly privileged person in this culture myself, in most ways. I hope that my own experiences of being Othered have helped me to recognize the problem. 

The only wisdom I've got, as an Insider/Outsider, among Friends and in the wider culture, is this: while it is indeed good to speak out against injustice, we need to do so with some humility.  Listen before you speak on the concerns of others.  Is it Spirit's yearning for justice that's driving you to your feet, or your ego's yearning for importance? 

If it's the first, rise up!  If the second... hang back.  Wait and see if there's a better leading about to break in. 

Be bold but low; it turns out to be a theme.  

Be open to learning from Spirit and from your family.  Know that, in your hunger for justice, you are not, you have never been, alone.

          *          *          *

This discussion is also being carried at Quaker Universalist Conversations.


Joanna Hoyt said…
Thanks. There's a lot here that I need to sit with before I can respond adequately. For now-- I realize that my commenting on Jim Wilson's open response to your open letter could be an example of the kind of unwanted jumping-in you describe. I didn't think you were pathetic and needed saving; I did think that maybe there was a simple miscommunication going on that could be set straight. I might have been wrong.
Joanna, I don't think your comment was such a thing. In that case, you had access to a forum I do not: Quaker Quaker is clear that its version of the Religious Society of Friends is "Primitive Christianity Revived." I have no membership there for just that reason, and so I am very grateful for your comments.

I think you understood exactly what I was trying to say, and I am glad that you said it where I could not. Sometimes, there's a place for advocates! It's just that all of us need to pause for a moment before we assume that it's our job to take on a role, especially when a little reflection might show people ready to take on that role themselves.
(Just to be clear, to those who might not be aware: Quaker Quaker blogs require membership at Quaker Quaker in order to comment. I haven't got one.

The site would almost certainly allow me to have a membership there, and for a time, I did. However, my own integrity discouraged me from keeping it, as it became obvious that my version of being a Quaker was outside the definition there.

Whether or not that makes sense is not actually my business--Martin Kelley, the site owner, has a mission that he has discerned on his own. It's his right to run his website as he feels fit... I just don't belong there, so I let my membership lapse.)
Hystery said…
Being bi-spiritual, I can pass as either/or and therefore usually avoid any unpleasantness. When I speak for either Christians or for Pagans, I tend to speak as if I'm speaking for "the other" because to speak for myself leads people to hear me as complainer rather than as champion, and I much prefer to the champion role. My Christian self defends the Pagans and my Pagan/freethinker self defends the Christians and when asked just who I am, I tend to respond with a dismissive shrug, as if the answer is not important. I am a floating eyeball. It is safer that way. And this is all to say that this is a brave thing you are doing here. My Christian and Pagan selves shall take it and turn it round and round for awhile and see how your message moves within us.
Joanna Hoyt said…
I realize I commented too soon, before I was clear enough, before I had separated my defensive responses from the core of what I really have to say. I'm sorry for that. I've taken those comments down and I am trying again.
Dear Cat, you've asked me, along with my co-religionists, to understand, at least a little, how the world might look through your eyes. I don't know if I get it yet, but I am listening. Here's what I am hearing--let me know if I am getting you wrong.
I hear that you've been keeping faith with the sacred in the way to which you were called, and that this way is Pagan as well as Quaker. I hear that this has resulted in your personally feeling marginalized, suspected or written off because of your spirituality, and that you fear that you could lose your job in the field to which you were called because of religious suspicion. I hear that you feel painfully aware of the difficulties faced by others in your Pagan spiritual family, including custody issues, harassment and vandalism. That sounds hard. I wish you healing and courage. When I hear people around me engaged in hostility toward or dismissal of your people I will say something about it--after trying to discern appropriately whether there are others of your people there who would rather speak for themselves first, and whether God is calling me to speak as opposed to me feeling that I have to speak in order to prove that I'm a Nice Person. If I've heard this part of what you're asking correctly, I can do that.

I also think I hear you identifying Christianity en bloc (though not any particular Quaker Christian) with empire and oppression. I may be mishearing this; your summary, and your link to what strikes me as one of our less thoughtful and courteous sites, gave me this impression. I do know that people calling themselves Christian have done a great deal of harm, and sometimes justified it by invoking their--and my--religion. I think great harm has been done in most of the names of God, and in the name of justice, freedom, love… I also know that people calling themselves Christian have sone a great deal of good, and sometimes been guided and motivated by their--and my--religion. I think great good has been done in most of the names of God, and in the name of justice, freedom, love...
Joanna Hoyt said…

And I think I hear you saying that Christians do not face the kind of hardships Pagans face. This is not altogether clear to me. I have not heard of custodial rights in this country being threatened on the basis of a parent's Christianity; I can see that this would be an especially frightening injustice. Religion-based firing is sometimes claimed by other Christians, but I don't know enough firsthand to evaluate these claims. I do know Christian friends who have been taunted or harassed or had their property vandalized on account of their religion. And I have experienced being suspected as 'a flake or a threat", being dismissed as lunatic or neurotic for being religious at all, being stereotyped as ignorant and bigoted because of my religious affiliation, losing valued relationships because the other person disapproved of my religion (and no, I was not attempting to convert them).
… I think that we--we humans, all of us--have a dangerous tendency to hurt each other precisely around the things that are most precious to us. To mistrust different expressions of the sacred. To feel defensive about what openness to others' words and lives might require of us. I think we all have to work on this.

I am learning how to be a bridge person in some contexts. To say, when groups of Christian friends are talking about those awful Others, "But I know some of those people. Let me tell you about their lives, their faithfulness." To say, when groups of progressive non-Christian friends are talking about those awful Christians, "But I'm one of those people, and I know a lot of them; let me tell you about some of their lives, their compassion." And, when I can, to listen to the wounds under the hostility. I am trying to keep an eye on my own assumptions about Others. I don't mistrust other spiritual traditions as such. But there still are some spiritual tendencies to which I strongly object, such as the tendency to say that people who suffer from poverty, sickness or trauma have caused their own misfortune by bad theology or negative thinking, or the tendency to try to use either Spirit or the appearance of spirituality to get money and sex and power. Those occur in, and don't represent the whole of, many different traditions...but I still am closed against them, and don't really even wish to be otherwise. And I know some of my friends feel this same closure against Christians or Pagans or… and I don't know what to say to them.
Daniel Wilcox said…
Hello Cat,

Your 2 posts have created a deluge in my mind…

I feel a little ambivalent about whether I should be responding since I don’t know if I am “Quaker,” “Christian,” or “Friend.” Currently, others don’t think so and I think not, but I do fit within those terms in an extremely broad sense.

So here goes:
#1 I find it confusing that you deny the Christian label, yet affirm the Quaker one, and claim the Pagan one. And am baffled/disheartened by your denial of being a follower of Jesus. That I hadn’t expected, nor do I understand.

I don’t see how you personally fit into the Pagan worldview, despite your glowing descriptions of the “Old Gods” instead of monotheism. As a literature teacher for many years, I taught some of Paganism’s worldviews and their ethical systems. Always found them very troubling ethically! And when reading current Pagan blogs, I am often appalled by their ethical views.

So it’s incomprehensible to me why anyone, let alone a Friend, would call herself a Pagan (though I do know Lewis, a Christian, who wrote Till We Have Faces, looked at parts of Paganism with admiration).

#2 Probably part of this is a problem of terms. What does the word Pagan mean? In many ways, in the denotative sense, and historically, it is an ethically negative term like Christian. But like “Christian” it has become such an empty-receptacle of a word that I suppose Pagan means what the identifier means it to mean:-)

#3 Also, I suppose I am more of a rationalist. When you speak of being a worshiper of “the Old Gods of forest and field,” my skeptical meter kicks in. To me it’s one thing to speak of the spiritual in metaphors or philosophically, another thing entirely to literally believe in “the Gods.”

And I admit in my most emotional spiritual “openings,” and even in my conversion, I never had “Damascus” experiences such as you describe. So I probably can’t really “hear” where you are coming from.

#4 Your complaint about how Pagans get unfairly treated leaves me cold. I’ve gotten so tired of hearing this same complaint for many years by Evangelical Christians. Why should anyone expect/demand that the dominant culture/worldview should treat them equally? Especially if their worldview is contrary/opposed to the main one?

What I do appreciate in your blogs is great writing, clarity of expression, and deep sincerity/ sense of empathy.

In the Light,
Daniel Wilcox
Hystery, thanks for your comment. There's nothing that makes me happier than for something I've shared to lead to someone turning it "round and round for a while"... except maybe when it's another writer who does it, and maybe shares what came out of that turning, somewhere down the line.

Joanna, thank you for taking the time to wrestle with what I've posted--especially since the person posting it is far from flawless, either as a human or a writer. So I don't write with any kind of ultimate authority, and I appreciate you taking my words seriously enough to weigh them.

On the subject of Christian privilege: it's really important for us to keep in mind, all of us, that privilege is not generally something we ask for. I know I didn't ask to be a privileged white girl, and that many of the things that have made my life easier have come at an unexamined cost--especially historically--to other people. All I can do about that, I think, is know that it is there, be alert for ways it's sometimes perpetuated by my broader culture, and challenge it when I can.

It's the same for Christians. I don't think we get to hold individual Christians to account for the actions of dominionists and Christianists throughout history. (I'm choosing those words to make it plain: it is the institutions and individuals who use Christianity and Jesus's image to be a flag, a tribal loyalty test, or means of controlling others who have caused virtually all the harm done by followers of Jesus in the years since Christianity began. And I don't think it's a reasonable reading of any of Jesus's words, at least, to use his church in such a manner. I hope that helps.)

But Christians, in the United States in most of the Western world, enjoy a ready acceptance that members of other religious groups often lack. This is a legacy, in part of the determined and sometimes forcible suppression of other religions (and of atheists) throughout much of the last 2000 years. That's just the history--in the same way that white people in my country are the beneficiaries of slavery and land theft, and sometimes outright genocide.

It's not, I think, the fault necessarily of either Christianity or whiteness. But it's part of the baggage, and we might as well own it up front.

Likewise, we might as well acknowledge up front that, while Christians can also be the targets of suspicion and bias in our culture, there is far more persistent and troubling bias based towards members of other religions. Again, to make a parallel around race and racism: of course I've been in situations where my whiteness has been a factor in judging me critically. However, the fact that my racial group occupies more positions of power, has their hands on more of the levers of power, matters. I am much less likely to experience serious and even life-threatening bias due to my skin color than is someone who is black or Latino. That's just true, and I don't have to be a mean person or a bad person, or descended from mean people or bad people, for it to be true.

I think I do have an obligation to recognize that it is true, and look for ways to challenge it--and I need to be cautious about letting my privilege lull me into believing myself to be an ideal advocate, in the sense of better than those who have direct experiences I lack (!), without testing that perception very, very carefully.

That's the whole reason I raised the issue of privilege. Nobody is going on trial for the sins of their ancestors. We're just trying to take into account experiences we may not have had, and to be a little more clear and alert around listening to those who have had them.

Does that make sense?
Daniel, hi!

The only requirement for posting at this blog is that you find the discussion interesting enough to want to comment on it, and that your comments are not simply designed to insult or inflame (ie, no trolling. *grin*). So it doesn't matter to me one bit whether you identify yourself as Quaker, Christian, Pagan, or none of the above. Your words are welcome.

As to how it happens that I term myself Quaker, but not Christian, have you yet read my essay on this blog, What Do You Mean, Quaker Pagan? It reflects my best attempt at a quick answer to that question.

If you have read it, and you still have questions, I'd be happy to answer them; just let me know. (I'll give you a shortcut on how I refuse the term "Christian," because it is perhaps possible to define that term broadly enough that you might be able to squint hard and make me out to be one: I say I am not a Christian because I know of no definition of Christian that would include me that would not also include, for instance, Mahatma Gandhi--a nice guy and an excellent role model, but not by my lights or his own, a Christian.)

As to how I fit into Pagan worldviews, you are right in that Paganism is a really broad umbrella; there are in fact Pagans who question the use of the term at all for a group as diverse as we are, and wonder, as you do, whether it has any meaning. My essay, above, will give you at least a back of the envelope sense of how I use the word. To be brief here, I mean those followers of a Western religious tradition, old, new, or syncretized, which recognizes the sacredness of the material universe and especially the living planet earth, and which recognizes the feminine as equal with the masculine in all senses.

My own specific background is Wicca, but my experience within Paganism has been much broader than that, so I don't use that label because a lot of what I do comes from beyond that paradigm. It's just a little too small for everything I do to fit inside it any more.
As for being troubled by the ethics of Pagans, as reflected in blogs you have read, I will acknowledge three major areas of theological difference that might trouble some Christians: First, we do not believe that the world is fallen, or that we will be damned without spiritual intervention.

Second, since we don't believe that nature is fallen, we don't believe that things that are sometimes painful to humans, like disease, grief, and death, are evil. They are part of how it all runs in balance, and we strive to be OK with that, despite our limited human perspective. (I still hate ticks, though. I only recognize that they are sacred in theory--in practice, I'm not yet spiritually deep enough to bless their blood-sucking little selves, I'm sorry to say!) This also troubles some Christians, who believe it is possible and desirable to live eternally without those things. Pagans generally don't believe that--though exceptions exist.

Finally, drawing on the sense Pagans have that the material world is sacred, we do not conceive of sexual activity as immoral in and of itself. Quite the reverse: where willing and competent partners come together in love and respect, that is to many of us a high sacrament. ("All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals," says the Charge of the Goddess.)

This does not mean that the abuse of sexuality is accepted: anything that is sacred deserves to be treated with reverence and care. And while that applies to all the universe, those Pagan religions that see in sexuality a celebration of the highest sacrament therefore logically see things like rape, sexual abuse, and using other people in order to obtain sexual gratification as blasphemous, a desecration.

However, it is quite true that Pagan sexual ethics differ significantly from what many sexually conservative Christians see as an ideal. If you have noted that and are uncomfortable with it, I will just say, yes, that is a genuine point of difference between us.

Ethical reservations outside those three areas I would see as being about the individual blogger whose words you were reading, however. And just as you can surely find among any group of Christians those whose ethics, as they live them out, seem very far from Christian ideals, you will certainly find among Pagans those who do not live up to our ideals, either.

For my part, I think it would be hard to find better models of ethical behavior than I find among such Pagans as Teo Bishop of Bishop in the Grove, Allison Lilly of Meadowsweet and Myrrh, and Thorn Coyle of Know Thyself. (Links to their blogs are all listed in our blogroll; I highly recommend them.)

But, of course, I am a Pagan.

Let me know if I can help you with any other questions.
Joanna Hoyt said…
Cat, thank you for your gentle and thoughtful response. I keep trying to formulate an adequate response and deleting the attempts...I think this is because I am still struggling to put what I know of history, what I observe of the present culture, what I have experienced myself and what I hear from Christian and non-Christian friends into a coherent whole. And I keep finding places that don't seem to come together. I guess the best that I can say for now is that I will keep looking and listening.

Something further is trying to thrash itself out inside, and when it comes clear I think it will maybe be a blog post; if and when that happens, is it OK for me to reference/link to this post?

Thanks again for the questions you open. (And, incidentally, for your open and stirring spiritual journey series from some years back, which I just read...)
Joanna, I would love it if you linked back.

I don't know if there's a greater compliment to any writer than to have someone thinking their own thoughts and coming up with new ideas after reading something we write.

And I enjoy reading your ideas in any case.

Daniel Wilcox said…
Hello again Cat,

I'm back from LA, where I was helping care for my elderly parent (where's there no Internet or time, etc.) and just saw your comments on my comments. And now I have comments to the third power:-)

The reason I mentioned before “whether I’m Christian or not” was more to the point that I’m not too concerned about that about you, since the term has such a horrific past.
I was mostly disheartened with your negative comments about Jesus. (“Nope. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Jesus Club.” From your previous blog)

I agree with you about Gandhi, mostly, his being a good human role model (except in his relationship to his wife).

What I find troubling about Paganism (besides it’s partially horrific past), is that some (many?) modern Pagans that I’ve read or read about seem given to the justification, even glorification of violence, and don’t subscribe to life-long monogamy, and seem, (from my scientific perspective) given to superstitious beliefs.

In reading at least 5 years of your blogs, I admit that often you (and Peter), seem ‘my kind of Pagans,’ if I had that category in my mind. You demonstrate intellectual brilliance, literary creativity, and spiritual sensitivity.

Actually, only two of your blogs brought me deep opposition and grief—the one on how you don’t follow Jesus and one from a year or two ago about how you don’t think disease, etc. in the natural world were evil!

Of the two, the one on “natural evil” is the most troubling to me, not because of any belief on my part in the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, because I strongly oppose that pernicious doctrine.

But as a former health care worker, teacher, person involved in fighting against “natural evil” in developing countries, etc.blah blah;-), I must admit I strongly disagree with your statement (“…we don't believe that things that are sometimes painful to humans, like disease, grief, and death, are evil.)

In fact, I hate disease, death, etc.(especially when they take the young), do think that all of that stuff—what some term “natural evil”—is obscenely wrong and to be fought against with all our might and goodness and technical brilliance.

In this sense it sounds like your Pagan view, strangely, is closer to the Christian Calvinistic position where, also, disease, death etc. are the will of the Transcendent.

I can’t even comprehend how you can think such a thought:-( which shows, of course, why I am not a Pagan, even though I do think the world is sacred. My wife and I have been environmentalists of the “sacred” sort way back to the early 70’s.

Thanks for the suggestions of Pagan blogs to check out, though as pointed out by my previous post and this one, I am probably about as far from Paganism as one can get both emotionally and intellectually.

But I have been given much to think about by reading your creative blogs:-)

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox
Joanna Hoyt said…
Thanks, Cat.

Cat and Daniel, I'm finding your exchange fascinating. I read Cat's comment on the ethical differences between Paganism and Christianity and thought "But that summary of the Christian position isn't where I am at all! Are most Christians?" I don't think that death or pain are evil in themselves (though I think that deliberately inflicting them on others, or selfishly doing things for our own gratification that make them more likely to befall others, is evil). However, it seems Daniel does agree with the Christian position as Ct has described it...

I don't personally know any Christians who think sexual activity or desire is intrinsically immoral, though I and many whom I know do believe that it's only rightly expressed within certain boundaries (in my belief, a long-term covenant relationship between mature persons involving full life-sharing; I would say 'marriage', only some people's covenants still are not allowed to be called marriage now). I can think of some early Christian theologians who seemed to take a pretty dark view of sex generally...
Joanna Hoyt said…
And obviously I can't speak for Cat, but I think it is possible both to believe that death, grief and pain are not evil--that they simple *are*--and to support efforts to heal the sick, feed the hungry and comfort the bereaved. Anyway, I do.
Anonymous said…
Dear Cat,
I don't even know where to begin in my response to you, but I do seek conversation and broader understanding and learning, so I will try. Please bear with me.

When I first read your post, it initially led me down the "am I crazy?" or "Is Cat crazy?" line of thinking. By now, I have enough experience to know that perhaps the premise is not helpful, rather than questioning the individuals involved. Whereas 'privilege" is an important prism in many situations, I think it is primarily helpful in seeking justice and equality.

However, membership in the religious society is not fundamentally about justice and equality, although those are testimonies we commit to and values that guide our lives.

Instead, participation in the Religious Society of Friends is about supporting each other as we learn to experience the Divine and live from a spiritually grounded place. Privilege isn't a useful measure in that context, because we can grow spiritually regardless of the circumstances. No-one would suggest that slaves were deprived of spiritual richness, though they most certainly suffered deprivation of freedom, material and physical wellbeing, and experienced emotional losses we can hardly conceive of today.

So to me, referring to privilege as the basis for actions in our spiritual community is, well, not helpful. In a spiritual community, I think the better tool for analysis is asking how we help one another grow in spiritual and religious experience. As I have said in response to your previous post, I think it is spiritually deadening to ask people to practice self-censorship.

God can silence me, God can give me words. God is the only authority on this, and I find it hugely offensive when other humans try to censor my words only because of their Christian content. Trying to moderate other people's speech is oppressive.


Anonymous said…
Whereas privilege is a useful tool for measuring equality and justice in a society, which after all is founded on principles of equality and justice. it isn't in my mind a useful tool in setting goals in a religious group. A religious group - even while it promotes equality as a spiritual value - is fundamentally about creating circumstances that are conducive to experiencing the Divine and growing spiritually. Thankfully, you can deprive people of justice and equality, but you can't easily deprive them of spiritual experience.

So "privilege" isn't a useful tool for analyzing this question, in my mind.

Instead, our focus as a religious group is to support people in whatever helps them experience the Divine and put the Divine at the center of their lives.

Are you encouraging people to experience the Divine if you are telling them to please censor themselves? To me, trying to silence one voice at the expense of others is the clammy hand of oppression. ALL should be encouraged to speak freely.


Well, let this be a lesson from me not to take a vacation from the blog! I do apologize for neglecting these comments for the past two weeks--between canning and freezing vegetables, and attending NEYM's annual Sessions, I've been away from the Internet most of the time.

I'm going to respond to your comments in reverse order, if I may.

Quakersusanne, without denying that the question of membership is an interesting one, and not without controversy, I'm not actually trying to address it here. There do exist Pagans (and non-theists, and Buddhists, etc.) members of the liberal branch of the Religious Society of Friends. They have been discerned to be members by their monthly meetings, who know them best, and while that is something that shocks and concerns some Quakers, within and outside of the liberal branch of Friends, it has been my experience that those who share a bench with us in worship, and who engage in the different processes of Quaker life with us, find it much less controversial than those who have not had direct spiritual encounters with us.

We're here, and we're here with the normal processes of discernment of our meetings.

That said, should non-Christian Friends be treated as less welcome, less valued than Christian Friends within our meetings because of our "queer theologies"? Do we want to create a second class of membership, for those who do not meet certain doctrinal measures of fitness?

I don't think we do. When Friends have created such measures in the past, it has not generally been helpful, at least as I read history. And that given, I think that questions of equality and justice are relevant within our meetings, as in the world outside them.

To name another case: we have among us Friends with more and less money. To the extent that having money gives one more standing, more "weight" among Friends, surely we can agree that we have a problem? The trouble is, of course, that no one ever sets out to discriminate against those with less money--rather, the implications of our procedures are lost on those of us who are financially well off, because we have a blind spot around money and class issues.

That blind spot is not due to malice, but rather, privilege. Most of us need to learn to be sensitive to lacks and wounds we have not experienced ourselves. And so discussions of class and privilege within the RSoF, though not always conducted as lovingly as I could wish, are not at root an attack on those with money, but rather an invitation to examine our financial privilege, and to grow in our empathy for one another.

That empathy may require us to act differently, as it opens Way for Spirit to transform our hearts. But often, the invitation for Spirit to do that begins with a close examination of our hearts, looking for those places of unknowing that come out of our privilege.

It is in that manner that I am inviting Christian Friends to examine how their privilege may play into interactions with non-Christians within the RSoF.

And, obviously, if Quakers are not willing to open ourselves to the Light, and to examine our internal conduct for how is or is not consistent with our sense of equality and justice, we're going to make lousy witnesses for equality and justice outside of our meetings.

I hope that's a bit clearer.
Finally, Quakersusanne, you say that when you first read my piece, you asked yourself if you were crazy or if I was. I'd like to suggest another couple of options: either your reading of my piece, or my writing of it, was less clear than I might have liked, because I think we actually disagree very little.

Here's what I mean: in your first comment, you wrote that "God can silence me, God can give me words. God is the only authority on this, and I find it hugely offensive when other humans try to censor my words only because of their Christian content. Trying to moderate other people's speech is oppressive."

From that comment, I can see that you did not take away my meaning--perhaps because I wrote it badly. Because I actually agree with you. When I speak of being "bold but low," what I mean is not that you should censor yourself or be censored by any human force at all. The point of my writing is that, when we are speaking in spiritual contexts--speaking in meeting for worship, in meeting for business, in the course of religious education within our meetings, or while sharing our spiritual journeys with one another, for instance--we do so with tenderness and care enough to sense what Spirit--when God--requires us to say.

Be bold in expressing whatever is given you to say by Spirit, in whatever language is given you.

Be low enough to hear that small still voice, if you begin to outrun your guide.

Of course this is difficult, and it is inevitable we'll cause one another hurt accidentally. But we will do much better, because we will have been much more faithful, when we slow down enough to listen for God's guidance when we are in dialog on sensitive topics.

If that's censorship, I'm for it. Otherwise, utterly opposed.

While it may or may not be helpful for Quakersusanne, one conclusion I have come to this month, out among my beans, is that I need to rewrite these two essays to be much clearer than I was in the drafts that are up at the moment (August 13) on one point:

My request to test carefully and tenderly what you are saying, and to speak only from the Life when speaking from scripture or in dialog with non-Christian Friends is confined only to speaking in worship, planning worship and religious education within our meetings, or in direct dialog with non-Christian Friends. I'm still struggling for words here, and to avoid being wordy, but what I'd cut in the hopes of being briefer turned out to be very important.

I'm not trying to say that you can't give an explicitly Christian or Biblical message in worship--only that you test carefully whether you are being prompted by Spirit to do so. (Wouldn't you anyway?) I'm not asking you to not teach Bible stories in First Day School--only that you test carefully whether you are being prompted by Spirit to do so. (Wouldn't you anyway? I know--sometimes our committees forget to listen for Spirit. But does it usually work out well when we do?)

I am not asking you not to mention your Christianity in fellowship, nor to avoid speaking of Christian stories, texts, and understandings that speak to your heart--only that, when you are speaking one-to-one with a non-Christian Friend who had not (as I have done here) invited you into dialog, that you test carefully whether you are being prompted by Spirit to do so.

Here is the place you might forget to be tender, because, as a Christian, you probably (though not certainly) have not experienced a lifetime's worth of attempts at conversion that take no account of what valid spiritual promptings within the person being addressed might exist outside of the mental map of the person witnessing. The fact that the Bible has been used as a blunt instrument by some Christians does, sadly, mean that all Christians wind up needing to demonstrate a willingness to be teachable as well as to teach, and to listen as well as preach.

Discussions that can be read as attempts to "save the heathen" need a little extra care. And speech that is an attempt to convey the Truth as given you by God require that extra care.

But casual conversation is not the issue, and my sparing the words to make that clear was a mistake. (It's my intent to edit the original piece to change that. And I apologize for the confusion I generated along the way.)

Daniel, Joanna's words speak for mine with one exception: my sexual ethics are a bit more complex. I don't believe that all sex outside of covenanted relationships is not "rightly expressed." I also do not believe it is necessarily immoral not to embrace lifelong monogamy.

In practice, that's often going to look a lot like lifelong monogamy or a covenanted relationship, but there are, I believe, important exceptions. (Some I know for myself, and others I believe I have seen illustrated in loving, respectful relationships that don't fit that box.)

I do believe that our current culture quite wrongly encourages us to treat sex and one another's bodies as commodities, and encourages a dehumanization of lust and pleasure that I find deeply disturbing.

As I think I mentioned, sex is often viewed by Pagans as sacramental. The objectification and commodification of human beings in the pursuit of sex, however, I see as blasphemous. That's what happens when the sacred is treated as if it were profane.

And if that strikes you as immoral, well, then, I'm immoral.
Last comment, to Daniel:

You say that you were "disheartened with your negative comments about Jesus. ('Nope. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Jesus Club.' From your previous blog)."

I think you must be reading these words very differently than I do. I did not intend to reflect on Jesus when I spoke a bit flippantly about the "Jesus Club." Instead, my comment was intended to address the tendency some Christians have to make being a Christian (or, more accurately, their sort of Christian) into a litmus test for the worth of a human being.

People have been turning their personal image of Jesus into a flag to rally around since at least the days of Constantine said "in this sign I conquer." I think that's a pretty terrible distortion of what I have learned of the gospel at second hand from my Quaker Christian friends, at least, but I see it all around me in the world: Jesus as loyalty test, as tribal marker.

I don't think Constantine's Jesus and my Quaker Christian friends' Jesus are the same. One I think was a convenient fiction, and is to this day, among a certain sort of "believer" who is more interested in self-promotion than in compassion. The other?

I don't know him, and if asked, "What canst thou say?" of that Jesus, I will have to answer honestly, "Not a lot."

But what I've seen reflected in the compassion, love, justice, and joy of the Quaker Christians I know best makes me think he must be a pretty good guy. Certainly, too nice a guy to join Constantine's club... or anything much like it.

I don't know, however, so I'll drop that subject. But I would like you to know that it is the phenomenon of using Christian identity as a loyalty test that I am disrespecting--not the figure himself.
Daniel Wilcox said…
Hi Cat,

Thanks for your clarifying comment to me:-)
Semantics! How often words confuse.

I so misunderstood your original point against "Jesus." I thought you were referring to the Palestinian laborer who said "love your enemies," etc. The one the NT
speaks of being the image of what
the Divine is like.

But you clarified:
>I did not intend to reflect on >Jesus when I spoke a bit >flippantly about the "Jesus Club." >Instead, my comment >was...Christians have to make >being a Christian (or, more >accurately, their sort of >Christian) into a litmus test for >the worth of a human being.

Here, it seems we totally agree! Jesus himself was totally against religion which marginalized and dehumanized others!

Then you say you were referring to
>....Constantine's Jesus

OH! I've never been a member of that club either, in fact am totally opposed to it; I see I did misunderstand your original post big time. Sorry.

In the Light,
Daniel Wilcox
To summarize your two posts, you are saying you are grateful that you were welcomed into a Christian denomination, but having joined, you now would like to remove the Christian identity of the group. How am I to avoid concluding this is as a hostile and aggressive move, despite your gentle language?
Joanna Hoyt said…
Cat, I realize my comment on sexual ethics was highly unclear--sorry. When I spoke of 'sharing a whole life' thing I didn't mean to convey that I thought marriages should never be broken--a lifetime commitment is what i would hope and strive for, but I have seen enough really destructive marriages to know that sometimes stepping apart is better. I was thinking of 'whole life' more in the sense of sharing not only sex but also householding and responsibility for one another and for any children who might come along--once again, so long as this responsibility can be exercised in a way that does not do harm to either partner or the children. I didn't state that clearly at all.
Thanks, Joanna.

This one is very hard to articulate--though also very important.
I honestly do not believe that is what I am saying, and I know that what is in my heart is neither hostile nor aggressive.

More than that, I don't think I can tell you.
Anonymous said…
I found this after googling something (?) not sure what, about Quakers. Actually i found your first post first.

I had forgotten how your words so often speak to my heart, and I had not realized how much I missed reading your writing.

It is past time for me to be off the computer for the night, but I am so glad I found your words again.

Anj (Angela York Crane)

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