Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Karl Marx, Carl the Communist, Quakers, Convergence, Class and Care - (looking for the great leap forward)

Oh, where to begin ... maybe on a bench, next an old friend, Carl - a Trotskyist by his self description. It rained terribly this morning, and there were tornadoes in New York City, Brooklyn to be exact. We are breathing a hot wet soup which passes for air today.

Carl speaks out


"Well, come the emergence of the Socialist State here," says Carl. "We face the great dilemma of how to deal with the Amish and you Quakers. I suppose we need to offer some plan to encourage some kind of gentle assimilation into the twenty-first century? " Well, I complement him on the depth of his religious faith, wonder at how anyone might claim ownership of a century, and begin again, to try and find words to describe the folly of the single system, conservative message, the next big thing, the great awakening, the catholic church (small c ), orthodoxy, the all powerful, lock step, great and powerful Oz, while we both sit waiting for the great leap forward. And, who wants to be dealt with anyway?
When did it all begin? When we picked up rocks to smash bones of discarded lion kill, in our scavenger - pre flint knapping days, did some early hominid with ADHD find a better way to splinter bone, and some Alpha male make a law that it must be done this way, or suffer a crack on the head? Perhaps.

But, for as long as we have stories, we have been looking for that single answer, and each young zealous generation believes they have it in the new and improved and ever so simple single edged theory of...

And as the old folks said to Bernadette Devlin, before she was McAlisky, as she tells it... "Keep marching for your rights and there will be war." "Oh no old woman, oh no old man, it is a new time, a new world and we just have to show the error of their ways to those who oppress us and... " and soon it was war. Each generation believes in the new answer, even if the new answer is to embrace (converge on) an old system.

I'm glad to see, Liz Opp and Robin both speak of convergence in terms of fuzzy. Good start. But why speak of convergence at all? Was it Emerson who said, "The louder we say us, the louder we say them?" And yet, it is true, we need to draw some boundaries on any abstraction, and this abstraction of Quakerism is like oil on the water sometimes, or is it?

It seems less difficult to draw boundaries on something called a Society of Friends, than something called Quakers. As a society of friends, we seek unity, even definition in unity. Unity is a remarkable thing ... it presumes best intentions. I am sometimes disappointed that some Friends who are rather zealous about defining the boundaries of the abstraction of Quakerism, at times so strongly that they must say it twice, are not overly interested in granting others their best intentions. Friends who neglect to assume the best intentions of others, fortress their cliques, show little faith in those practices which bring us together as a diverse group, processes of clearness, of openness at business meetings ... respect for each other, and at the root is the notion that for me to be right, thee must be wrong ... the single answer to the world's many problems ... my way or the highway.

A few of us, in my Meeting, speak of how to get our meeting to go from a reactive state, where we can't even accomplish the simplest tasks together, to a proactive state where we pull together as a team, a society of friends. In an urban Meeting, in one of the most diverse cities on earth, we are faced with having to find that model of unity in the face of Babel. One friend suggests that the answer is found in acceptance that Jesus is God. My response that I will acknowledge Jesus as God, when the Friend acknowledges God is Jewish, a sort of Zen-light response is less than helpful (thee is welcome to turn the pun Zen-light anyway thee may - I do).

Part of the answer is a trusting silence, but what happens when we must speak as we seek? The question of who owns the 21st century is very like who owns our identity as Quakers. I believe we all own both, it takes nothing from me, to give thy place to thee. The more we empty the cup of our ego and invite God to fill it, the more we are the children of light. Some Friends will say to me, and have, but if we worship different Gods, what then? I suppose my response is to say, my God and thy God are God, thy name for God, and my name for God is ego, and a God who can't laugh at our attempts to sculpt the eternal and infinite into the image of our own ego, well ... just should not have invented irony.

Now, some Friends have, as we have in the past, asked that we examine class, as one of the many divides which creates diversity in our Meetings, and might well create division. Yes, there are class differences which like theology does divide us when we draw it around us as an armor -- working class and owning class alike. It becomes walls to fortress our schools, our social conscience and our testimonies from simplicity to peace. I admit a twinge of pride in great moments of class awareness, such as in the film Matwan, when the IWW organizer says, "There are two kinds of people in the world, those who work, those who don't ... we work, they don't!" But, how true is that. If we are not aware of the identity of our class and work for our class interests, who will? If we work only for the interest of our class, who are we? We can deny an ownership class their right to one thing or another, we can dig in until the great leap forward ... divide and fail ... or we can transcend, not our awareness of, but the walls of our identity. I think that is what it is to be Quaker ... to strive with the late Friend Harry Helmsley and the late Friend Barrington Dunbar to be a society of friends undivided by racialism, class, theology...

Where does this leave us -- the all inclusive us? My friend in Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland, Maz, just had her birthday a few days ago. I should give her a call. When my wife and I would pick at each other, in the first days of our long decades together, Maz would simply say, "be good to each other." Maz, thee has summed it all up.
Be good to each other.


At 2:20 AM, Blogger Bookdreamer said...

Hi, yes lets have that pint or two to sort out class, revolution and the peace testimony!

My concern with the convergence wave is that( and I have said this) it could all to often mean let us of the liberal conservative- conservative liberal centre join together so the extreme wings go their own way. A parody of the truth maybe. But I raised the way that "convergence" took place in the Irish peace process, when sides had to move on, give up on old ways and transform in to ways of working unimagined when they started.

To me if convergence is to mean any thing it has to be the two wings- Evangelicals and Liberals that get into conversation and transform.

When I asked what would you give up or want transform to enable Quaker peace process and reconciliation/
convergence, I received silence.

For me convergence is not about restoring some golden age unity but ways of building fellowship that draw on our different strengths and perspectives and offers a richer way of seeing and being in the world.

Linking rather then converging: building a chain rather then melting a pool.

At 5:01 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Thy concern and mine are exactly in unity ... there seldom is (if ever) a golden age of unity in any history. In ours, the formative years of our faith were fraught with division on such topics as slavery or whether or not to remove one's hat when those of another faith were praying. There are examples in our past of anti-Semitism, and from the quality of those who held those beliefs, I am convinced that the ignorance they exhibited would not have survived the history which came after their times.

I wonder, at times at the need to divide off and define walls in our faith. Not to say that Liberal Friends are without fault, or are a single entity today. The Hicksite tradition has been joined on the Liberal part of the Quaker equation by a variety of traditions, some of which are anti-Christocentric. I find a great difference in accepting others who are either Christocentric or not, the original Hicksite definition, to the anti-Christian stance I find in some New Age Quakers. I think it is this openness to new light and the light of others that is a strong part of our Quaker tradition and this is what we give to moving us both into the center. What I give to the unity of a Meeting which has both Wilberites and Hicksites and New Agers, is that I question my messages which might deny the special nature of Jesus as Christ - writing observations here, rather than preaching at Wilberites in Meeting. The same is true, I find of some Christocentric Friends, in not preaching at us about the divinity of Jesus as Christ. However, some do preach at us, seeking convincement of Hicksites and others during Meeting ... sometimes to the anger of New Agers.

I am not sure of the degree that Irish Republicanism could not dream of concessions made. What changed in Ireland was the fall of the USSR, and the government of the Irish Republic allowing US planes to land on "neutral" soil on their way to bomb Iraq. The cold war reasons to occupy parts of Ireland were subject to change and Britain found, suddenly, they could talk to the IRA - after the IRA had stated their readiness to talk from the day the first riffles fired to support the 1911 elections in 1916... I think what is needed in Ireland (and has not yet been done), and what is needed in the RSOF is a truth and reconciliation process(in Ireland WITH equal self examination by the British Government - anyone in touch with John Staulker? ). Rather than a parody of the truth, it is a recognition that the truth belongs to God alone, and all we poor flesh may do is be honest with each other as we both, together seek some glimpse and sense of God's truth through faithfulness more than faith.

I like thy idea of a chain rather than a melting ... I've often described a painter's pallet as another model of human societies... a blending at the edges where cultures meet, with retention of original hue in the center ... all working together...

Well ... all the best

At 5:04 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Hello Lor,

Please forgive me for posting this here, but I misplaced your e-mail address. Could you please send it to me at henro1962(at)


At 11:05 AM, Blogger earthfreak (Pam) said...


lovely post, I'm glad to see thee blogging again!

We have shared similar concerns about "convergence" for a good while now.

But, oddly, I don't think the answer is to not speak of convergence *at all*

I suppose I assume that the subject arose because of some need. No, it is not THE ANSWER, but starting to talk about the gaps and the places things are shifting is important too, I think.

My frustration with convergence has always been a sense that the less theologically "liberal" in my meeting want to move away from me, and towards the more liberal in less liberal meetings. I find "convergence" a misnomer, it seems like maybe just a change of focus.

And I don't particularly understand the value in it. What do quakers who don't mind war, and ministers, and advocate exclusion of gay folks, have in common with us? what is this "quakerism" that still binds us? I suppose as a queer person I'm more afraid of it than some (the expectation that I should "see past" another person's opinion that I deserve death, or at the very least don't deserve marriage) In some part of me I realize that that sort of peace making is the most important (and perhaps if they knew me as a child of god, they would no longer want to kill me, but trusting them to do that is pretty difficult to me)

But more importantly, if we know that there is neve going to be one be-all end-all answer, but we still have to live and try to make things better, what do we do? How to move "forward" while acknowledging that there is no real goal, or it is, at least, unreachable.


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