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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Faith or Fashion among Friends

Seth Arthur Lorcan Florence (Mum) by Eugenie Gilmore-Otway

Dear Friends:

I find a lot of wisdom in the plain faiths which have not given into the fashions of the day. A plain Mennonite was quoted in a recent book, "We aren't told by our church what jobs to take, but, if you can't dress plain in your job, it is likely the wrong job to be doing." That statement is a deep river.

It gets back to me, from many Friends, that many feel those few of us who still dress plain are eccentric. A few, very few Friends actually say this to our faces. On the other hand, in the world at large, we find our plain witness is understood and we can dress plain in our work lives, as we travel, as we visit other churches, other communities, other nations. "If you can't dress plain in... it is likely the wrong..." What has become of our faith, when people wear bits of army uniforms to Meeting without thought, and it is not eccentric in a community that witnesses to peace... where Friends can wear business suits which cost far more than their cloth is worth - valued as a statement of class and fashion, but to dress to one's faith as a Quaker is considered anything from quaint to eccentric.

There is a lot about being a Friend in the Society of Friends today that seems to have gone out of style with plain dress. The depth of thought which rose out of our birth in a faith called the "Seekers" seems to be becoming out of fashion. Our faith, more than our clothing should be free of the slavery of fashion.

But, in my life time I watched as the deep discourse of my childhood was dumbed down in response to the fashionable discourse of the day. Eldership was rejected with the coming of the generation which worshiped youth and rejected the old traditions which they saw as autocratic. Some traditions were, but the baby was tossed with the bath water.

I remember more wisdom from my First Day teachers of the early sixties than from any other point in my experiences with Friends. Take for example, the view on sin expressed by one of my early First Day teachers, I think it might have been Herb White.

Sin, he said, is not about right or wrong, it is about separation. Sin is when even good things I do, set me against others and God.

Such wisdom would serve us well today, as we alienate each other over the business of the Meeting.

The next epoch I have seen is the effect of "Identity Politics" on seeking within the Society of Friends... it seems the youth culture gave way to the "shut up" culture. Who was talking became much more important than what was being said. It was true, there was a White male Establishment, but once again, the baby was thrown out with the bath water and more and more the conversation was focused on "listen to me" rather than the quality of what was being said.

I hope we go back to the simplicity of our faith - seeking God in our daily work, not just a hour a week in worship. All the good, hard work of innovators who wanted more voices heard, from the young to alternatives to the White middle aged male, seems to have turned this process of waiting for God's will expressed in our Meetings, over to a cynical few who would lead... maybe even a cynical majority... it is hard to know the state of the Society with so much happening in back rooms and cliques.

In the dumbing down of our culture, there are many who say I write too much. I think of the letter from the Birmingham Jail... the correspondence over the Hicksite\Orthodox split, the old age of writing... and I hear what Friends are saying, and wonder why they have little response other than you write too much. Well, there we are, living in the "shut up" generation, and seeking light in a sound bite.

For me, I think we should be cautious with every fashion, from fashion of thought, to the statement of our clothes... I think that testimony of our past has wisdom and depth today.

All I know is that I miss the faith of my youth.

She likes Quakers

Thine in the light


At 6:32 AM, Blogger Melanie said...

Lorcan I agree with you.

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a closer look at those Punks at the bottom of your post. They actually look really old.

I bet they are lawyers on a day off

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