02 October 2009

Friends as a Corrective for Culture

I'm always grateful when reading something, be it a blog, or a classic text, or the Bible, or any other spiritual writing, wakes me up from the slumber of apathy or indifference that comes over me from time to time. I find the structure of society lends itself to such numbness. Multi-tasking is the new opiate of the people. At least I can say it is for me. If the demands of our society keep us so busy that we cannot think, what is to become of us?

I'm going on record against it. Nothing good can become of dividing one's self in six different directions at once. What can be said for transporting one's children across town to their myriad of activities while conference calling with one's staff, yelling food orders into the microphone at the fast food place, while contemplating the next move to be made in one's approach to their client. It's an accident waiting to happen, literally and figuratively.

How can this multi-tasking ability be considered such a positive talent to possess, when it means quite frankly, that no one gets my undivided attention? This is the antithesis of how I want my life to be. I suspect that is true for many others as well, but most of the time we are moving so quickly, we don't have the time to stop and regroup.

I was reading Plainly Pagan's post A Quaker Mask of Respectability, when I woke up. Her call to others to recognize her spiritual need for connection spoke to me, and led me to the place of this blog. It lead me directly to the history of my own same feelings. How long I have wandered in the wilderness, silently crying for recognition. I honor her ability to speak aloud.

Everything that being a Friend has led me to has been counter-intuitive to the prevailing culture of individualism.

Where my society would call me to be a staunch individualist in all areas of my personal and working life, my faith calls me to be a member of community. Where my government calls me to war to protect the peace, my beliefs tell me that peace cannot be borne out of violence. When culture tells me that I must protect what I have and hold on to it, lest I be taken advantage of, my conscience tells me that if I leave my door unlocked and give away what I have, there will be no way my enemy can take advantage of me.

Still it is hard to live counter to the prevailing culture, in fact, it is almost impossible. Living in this dichotomy, most of us strike our own level of comfort or balance in the midst. We may function in the society to the degree we must, and end up closeting some of our beliefs to be shared only with a close few. I believe it's fairly common for some of us to throw our beliefs overboard for a period early in life, in order to strike out and make our way in the wilderness of adult life. Perhaps we settle for a moderate religious life, when we begin to have children and want them to have the "right" upbringing. Some of us come to Quaker Meeting on Sunday, desperate for the hour of quiet and the chance to shed off the weight of the garments of our outer lives, then hastily returning to the demands of the day..

I'm grateful that not everyone feels such a need to pull on the garments of our society; not everyone rejects the inner pull toward community. We all exist along a continuum that reflects the paradox of our need to fit and our need to follow our beliefs. Those who stand in the place of holding their belief up for others to see, who are not able to hide their Light under a bushel, make clear the path for those of us not able.

I'm struck that by the period of late middle age, even those of us who have had to sacrifice our "idealism" have begun to search more ardently to find real meaning for our lives, and we have begun to re-awaken to the lofty ideas of our youth, of living more and more in accordance with our values. It's appropriate at this time, because many of us are also being freed from the bondage of daily work through retirement. Without the demands of providing for our families by working in the outside culture, we are now again free as we were as adolescents, to bring our creative, spiritual thoughts into reality.

This individualistic, multi-tasking, fast-paced world does not make it easy for quiet faiths like the Society of Friends to survive. In a world where loud and fast is the norm, we are quiet and slow.
Where being a staunch individualist is the highest cultural value, we base our actions and decisions on the sense of the whole. Yet it is precisely this that we can offer to the seeker, the unquiet one.

Our Society is the corrective for the frailties of the secular society. Where society breaks families and friends apart, we gather them. Where the wheels of industry grind loud and hard, we offer solace and silence. When the long hours and hard work deprive the individual of energy, we offer the place to recharge their inner batteries. Don't we?

So many an attender has commented to me after worship on how inviting the silence was, how there was something they had not felt before in both the quiet and the messages. Many have said they felt a Presence there, or felt the spirits of those come before.

We need to be certain that in our meetings, we do carry sense of Presence forth into the world, and certainly into the time surrounding worship. Are we greeting worshipers as they arrive in a spirit of love and grace? What are we doing to help our community to incorporate and carry the peace they gain from worship into the rest of their lives? Are we risking to be vulnerable amongst each other, so that the Spirit may flourish and grow among us?

Too often I hear people say that they wished they could participate in a meeting activity but were too busy to stay or come back. What are we doing to insure that the activities offered in second hour or religious education are meaningful and relevant to the needs of our community? Do we send our Friends forth into the coming week carrying something that will uphold and uplift them in their daily life?

I have no doubt that we are offering something of dire need in this lightning-paced technology-laden world of the twenty-first century. My own meeting seems to be growing with new attenders. Our anniversary celebration of this year has given us cause to speak out, and we have chosen to use this time to invite the curious and the seeking. I see that the task before our meeting is not just to attract those travelers to us, but to nourish and sustain them in ways they are not finding in their everyday world.

In my own life, I see that this calls me to a new place too. Like those travelers, I came to the Society of Friends seeking, starving and stretched beyond my limits. Slowly, as I worshiped among
Friends, I came to see that I was a Friend long before arrived, but had not until now found my home.
I did go through a period after a few years where I began to question whether Quakers could meet my needs. I was again feeling parched.

Thankfully, I had been given the gift of silent worship and prayer, which I now knew was available to me in any time and place. Here I learned the true meaning of Fox' words, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition." Through the nourishment of the Light, I also came to see that I had to ask what I could offer, allowing God to work through me.

When I began to ask what I had to give, and I began to surrender to the power of Spirit working through me, I found that I indeed had not come to Friends by accident. I had been Led. But what was more amazing than opening to that leading, was finding that I really did have something to offer. The real gift was not in what I had come to receive, but in finding what I had come to give, most of which I am still uncovering.

If we are, as the Society of Friends, to serve as that corrective for our prevailing culture, then we must be willing to make ourselves available to be a growing community: What have you come to give to your community? What part of the whole are you holding? Would you deny to your Friends that part of wholeness that only you can bestow?

The paradox of community is the age old lesson, that it is in the giving that you truly are fulfilled.


  1. Linda,
    I publish a magazine for Quakers in Arkansas on behalf of my monthly meeting. i would like to ask your permission to print this blog entry. It speaks to our condition! my email is: joticof@aol.com

    Hope to hear from you,

    Tina Coffin

  2. Hi Tina --
    I'd be honored if you would like to reprint it. If you could also direct people to my blog in your reprint, I would be very happy.