We Quakers should be cooler than the Sweat Lodge

I have just come back from a "Meeting for Listening for Sweat Lodge Concerns," described as "an opportunity for persons to express their feelings in a worshipful manner about the cancellation of the FGC Gathering sweat lodge workshop this year." Non-Quakers reading this blog might be surprised to hear that Friends General Conference holds sweat lodges, but it has and they've been increasingly controversial. This year's workshop was cancelled after FGC received a very strongly worded complaint from the Wampanoag Native American tribe. Today's meeting intended to listen to the feelings and concerns of all FGC Friends involved and was clerked by the very-able Arthur Larrabee. There was powerful ministry, some predictable "ministry" and one stunning message from a white Friend who dismissed the very existance of racism in the world (it's just a illusion, the people responsible for it are those who perceive it).

I've had my own run-in's with the sweat lodge, most unforgettably when I was the co-planning clerk of the 2002 Adult Young Friends program at FGC (a few of us thought it was inappropriate to transfer a portion of the rather small AYF budget to the sweat lodge workshop, a request made with the argument that so many high-school and twenty-something Friends were attending it). But I find myself increasingly unconcerned about the lodge. It's clear to me now that it part of another tradition than I am. It is not the kind of Quaker I am. The question remaining is whether an organization that will sponsor it is a different tradition.

How did Liberal Friends get to the place where most our our younger members consider the sweat lodge ceremony to be the high point of their Quaker experience? The sweat lodge has given a generation of younger Friends an opportunity to commune with the divine in a way that their meetings do not. It has given them mentorship and leadership experiences which they do not receive from the older Friends establishment. It has given them a sense of identity and purpose which they don't get from their meeting "community."

I don't care about banning the workshop. That doesn't address the real problems. I want to get to the point where younger Friends look at the sweat and wonder why they'd want to spend a week with some  white Quaker guy who wonders aloud in public whether he's "a Quaker or an Indian" (could we have a third choice?). I've always thought this was just rather embarrassing.  I want the sweat lodge to wither away in recognition of it's inherent ridiculousness. I want younger Friends to get a taste of the divine love and charity that Friends have found for 350 years. We're simply cooler than the sweat lodge.

* * * *

And what really is the sweat lodge all about? I don't really buy the cultural appropriation critique (the official party line for canceling it argues that it's racist). Read founder George Price's Friends Journal article on the sweat lodge and you'll see that he's part of a long-standing tradition. For two hundred years, Native Americans have been used as mythic cover for thinly disguised European-American philosophies. The Boston protesters who staged the famous tea party all dressed up as Indians, playing out an emerging mythology of the American rebels as spiritual heirs to Indians (long driven out of the Boston area by that time). In 1826, James Fenimore Cooper turned that myth into one of the first pieces of classic American literature with a story about the "Last" of the Mohicans. At the turn of the twentieth century, the new boy scout movement claimed that their fitness and socialization system was really a re-application of Native American training and initiation rites. Quakers got into the game too: the South Jersey and Bucks County summer camps they founded in the nineteen-teens were full of Native American motifs, with cabins and lakes named after different tribes and the children encouraged to play along.

Set in this context, George Price is clearly just the latest white guy to claim that only the spirit of purer Native Americans will save us from our Old World European stodginess. Yes, it's appropriation I guess, but it's so transparent and classically American that our favorite song "Yankee Doodle" is a British wartime send-up of the impulse. We've been sticking feathers in our caps since forever.

In the Friends Journal article, it's clear the Quaker sweat lodge owes more to the European psychotherapy of Karl Jung than Chief Ockanickon. It's all about "liminality" and initiation into mythic archetypes, featuring cribbed language from Victor Turner, the anthropologist who was very popular circa 1974. Price is clear but never explicit about his work: his sweat lodge is Jungian psychology overlaid onto the outward form of a Native American sweatlodge. In retrospect it's no surprise that a birthright Philadelphia Friend in a tired yearly meeting would try to combine trendy European pop psychology with Quaker summer camp theming. What is a surprise (or should be a surprise) is that Friends would sponsor and publish articles about a "Quaker Sweat Lodges" without challenging the author to spell out the Quaker contribution to a programmed ritual conducted in a consecrated teepee steeplehouse.

(Push the influences a little more, and you'll find that Victor Turner's anthropological findings among obscure African tribes arguably owes as much to his Catholicism than it does the facts on the ground. More than one Quaker wit has compared the sweat lodge to Catholic mass; well: Turner's your missing philosophical link.)

* * * *

Yesterday I had some good conversation about generational issues in Quakerism. I'm certainly not the only thirty-something that feels invisible in the bulldozer of baby boomer assumptions about our spirituality. I'm also not the only one getting to the point where we're just going to be Quaker despite the Quaker institutions and culture. I think the question we're all grappling with now is how we relate to the institutions that ignore us and dismiss our cries of alarm for what we Friends have become.

  • Melyn­da Huskey

    Dear Mar­tin,
    I find myself want­i­ng to qual­i­fy your head­line (not that I have any right to do so!) by say­ing that we Quak­ers should be cool­er than any “Cul­tur­al Appropriation-Quaker sweat lodge” could ever be. I’ve been in lots of dis­cus­sions about this very issue with lots and lots of peo­ple, and the point that I seem most often to make poor­ly (judg­ing from the total lack of com­pre­hen­sion in my inter­locu­tors) is this: Meet­ing for Wor­ship is not nec­es­sar­i­ly cool­er on some absolute scale than any oth­er reli­gious prac­tice – but it OUGHT to be cool­er *to Quak­ers* than any oth­er reli­gious prac­tice. We know we’re not doing sweat lodge right – we can’t, no mat­ter what excus­es we make about cul­tur­al cross-fertilization, and “real­ly respect­ing” those peo­ple whose reli­gious prac­tices we bor­row for day trips to exot­ic “spir­i­tu­al sen­sa­tions,” and how close we feel to Nature when we smudge or take vision-quests. But why in the hell (if you’ll for­give me) are we not doing Meet­ing for Wor­ship right?
    Melyn­da Huskey

  • Hi Melyn­da,
    The pop­u­lar­i­ty of the sweat lodge among younger Friends should be a fire alarm to the Quak­er estab­lish­ment (maybe it is, maybe we’ve respond­ed by just evac­u­at­ing the build­ing!). I’ve been amazed at how many seemingly-solid Quak­ers seem obliv­i­ous that most of their chil­dren just don’t care about Quak­erism. Old­er Quak­ers are so grate­ful to have young peo­ple around that they don’t even want to acknowl­edge that the kids are par­tic­i­pat­ing in altar- and ritual-based reli­gious prac­tices total­ly at odds with 350 years of Quakerism.
    I some­times won­der if this isn’t a repeat of nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Revival­ism. There too the kids all start­ed jump­ing on the hot reli­gious fad, one that promised them more instan­ta­neous reli­gious excite­ment than they found in Meet­ing. As I under­stand it, the lead­ers then were younger birthright Friends from pow­er­ful Quak­er fam­i­lies who didn’t want to rein their own kids in. Being a next-generation leader was more impor­tant than being a faith­ful Friend and enough weighty Quak­ers looked the oth­er way and were obliv­i­ous to the seeds of schims their actions were sowing.
    Just because an expe­ri­ence has brought some­one to Quak­erism doesn’t make it Quak­er. Here’s a fas­ci­nat­ing account of “Quak­er con­ver­sion after LSD use”:http://​www​.csp​.org/​n​i​c​h​o​l​a​s​/​A​1​4​.​h​tml. I recent­ly heard a respect­ed Friend give his spir­i­tu­al sto­ry to a Quak­er audi­ence: the first half hour was a detailed cat­a­loging of seri­ous drug abuse back in the 1970s and the spir­i­tu­al insights he gained while high. It end­ed up work­ing for him, but how many rela­tion­ships did he man­gle and how many of his friends died or nev­er came out of the spir­i­al of self-abuse? Revivals and sweat lodges are non-chemical ways to get a spir­i­tu­al high. You can see and smell the King­dom from their van­tage point and some do come back down to retrace the jour­ney by foot. But these easy highs aren’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly good way into Quak­erism; it’s too tempt­ing to keep using them over and over in lieu of the hard work (“jus­ti­fi­ca­tion” and “sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion” in Quaker-speak) and to nev­er get to the unmedi­at­ed expe­ri­ence we Friends celebrate.

  • Melyn­da Huskey

    I was talk­ing with Joan about this on the way home, and as usu­al, she came up with an expla­na­tion in song (she’s melo­di­ous that way).
    Why do these young Quak­ers want to build sweat lodges? As you sur­mised, it all boils down to this:
    “We want the funk / Got­ta get the funk / We want the funk.”
    Once upon a time, of course, Friends *were* the funk. The Young Friends of Bris­tol and Read­ing kept Meet­ing for Wor­ship while their par­ents were in jail for conscience’s sake. Then the funk shift­ed – it was all about Evan­gel­i­cal revival, the Sabbath-School move­ment, and some funky, funky creeds. And then again, it was funky to build a New World Order full of Kingsley-style Chris­t­ian Social­ism, all mus­cu­lar and visionary.
    And now, sad­ly, Quak­erism has come to this: the funk is in faux-sixties spir­i­tu­al­i­ty – white peo­ple in dread­locks, macramé hemp chok­ers and Zen pow­er bracelets, roam­ing around the world seek­ing what we may devour of oth­er faith tra­di­tions – with­out even *try­ing* to be faith­ful to our own.
    P.S. I’m a big crank. So in the inter­est of bal­ance I will say that the last issue of Friends Jour­nal had some pro­found­ly mov­ing and thought­ful arti­cles in it, and I didn’t throw it across the room once. And I will also say that the Oxford Study Bible using the Revised Eng­lish Trans­la­tion is superb, and has real­ly great maps. And we had real­ly great sparklers this year, cour­tesy of our friend C. on the Nez Per­cé Nation, where Catholic and Pres­by­ter­ian and Sev­en Drum folks all go to sweat.

  • Ann

    So much of this blog is why I am reluc­tant to apply for mem­ber­ship. Grant­ed, I’ve only been an atten­der for a year, but while I want to be a Quak­er in the reli­gious, spir­i­tu­al sense, I don’t feel like I want to be a part of the actu­al Meet­ing. I don’t want to be an activist. I want to be just plain old, some­what spir­i­tu­al, con­cerned, reg­u­lar me. Can’t I be just a Quak­er and a mom? Or do I have to defend abor­tion clin­ics, too? (That is what the focus on a Quak­ers and Activism talk seemed to be, it was run by some­one who worked exten­sive­ly with Planned Par­ent­hood, a group that tried to talk me into abort­ing my first born.)
    Quak­erism is what I thought I was look­ing for — it may still be. But not the Quak­er CULTURE and much of the community. 🙁
    If it mat­ters, I am a 35 year old mar­ried moth­er of 3. How boring. 🙁

  • Chris Segal

    Have you ever heard George Price explain his train­ing and his under­stand­ing of the tra­di­tion? Hav­ing done mul­ti­ple sweats with George, I am entire­ly con­vinced that a) the sweat lodge is a legit­i­mate spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence along the lines of Quak­er meet­ing b) George has appro­pri­ate train­ing from Native Amer­i­cans c) FGC should not be cav­ing in to demands of oth­er Indi­ans that there be no Quak­er sweat lodges (so long as the dif­fer­ences between the Quak­er sweat lodge and the real Indi­an sweat lodges are made clear) and d) the sweat lodge is entire­ly com­pat­able with Quak­erism and Christianity.
    I should men­tion that I am a (for­mer) young friend from Philadel­phia, a con­vinced Friend, and a Chris­t­ian, so I feel that I at least am a counter exam­ple to your fears.

  • So much commentary!
    Chis, Yes, George Price’s sweat lodge is a legit­i­mate reli­gious expe­ri­ence. It’s just not a Quak­er reli­gious expe­ri­ence. _This is not how we Friends reach out to the divine._ I’ve heard a num­ber of sto­ries of how young Friends first touched the divine through the sweat lodge and then came into Quak­erism. This also hap­pened when Revivals became pop­u­lar with nineteenth-century young Friends. From Thomas Hamm’s excel­lent “Trans­for­ma­tion of Amer­i­can Quak­erism”:http://​www​.quaker​books​.org/​g​e​t/0 – 253-20718 – 5
    bq. But most of the mid­dle party…tried a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act. Ini­tial­ly favor­ing the revival, and in many cas­es active­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in it, they became increas­ing­ly skep­ti­cal as the revival­ists seemed bent on over­throw­ing all of the old land­marks. At the same time, the con­tin­ued to appre­ci­ate the new ener­gy and vital­i­ty it seemed to cre­ate. Thus they tried to carve a mid­dle way. They would accept “order­ly” revivals. They would accept con­verts, if they were schooled in Quak­er prac­tices after becom­ing mem­bers. They would accept singing, if “done int he spir­it.” But they eschewed second-experience san­tifi­ca­tion and feared the arro­gance they per­ceived in the revival ministry.
    A few months ago I met Thomas Hamm and thanked him, explain­ing that _Transformation_ had helped explain present-day Quak­er dynam­ics. He replied, “the script doesn’t change, just the actors.” Any­one want­i­ng to under­stand the sweat­lodge move­ment in modern-day Quak­erism should read _Transformation_.
     — — —
    Ann: well I’m just a mar­ried 37 year old father of one. Pret­ty bor­ing too, poten­tial­ly. Yes, there are a lot of Friends for whom activism is the extent of their Quak­erism. I find it sad, and kind of use­less, for their activism gen­er­al­ly seems futile and self-serving. Being both an activist and a Friend, I’ve found that my own work has been most effec­tive in the world when I was fol­low­ing the spirit’s call­ing and doing dis­creet, non-dramatic actions. I.e., when I was being pret­ty boring!
     — — —
    Melyn­da: yea, the June issue of Friends Jour­nal was pret­ty good, wasn’t it? I need to read through it more…

  • Mar­tin,
    This was such a great post; and look at all of the respons­es you got. Seems to have struck a nerve.
    I com­plete­ly agree that a sweat lodge can be a legit­i­mate, authen­tic sprir­i­tu­al prac­tice; but it isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly from our tra­di­tion. You hit it on the head when you sug­gest that adults feel the need to look out­side of our tra­di­tion to keep the youth engaged. Actu­al­ly, a lot of adult Friends do the very same thing: sup­pli­ment­ing their Quak­erism with all sorts of oth­er spir­i­tu­al­i­ties and activism.
    And Ann — thank God for being bor­ing. Some of the most bor­ing peo­ple in the world have made incred­i­ble dif­fer­ences in oth­er people’s lives!

  • Jef­frey Hipp

    I nev­er took part in the FGC sweat lodge, so I can’t speak per­son­al­ly of its awe or its asinin­i­ty. How­ev­er, I spent the past week at the Gath­er­ing dis­cussing the tra­di­tion with a good num­ber of oth­er young adults who found the expe­ri­ence to be one of the most pro­found reli­gious expe­ri­ences in their lives.
    To me, this is not a sign that the sweat lodge (leav­ing aside the issues of cul­tur­al appropriation)is a detrac­tor to the spir­it of Quak­erism. Rather, it should serve as a wake­up call that we have absolute­ly failed to engage young peo­ple in spir­it of Quak­erism and the pow­er of silent worship.
    From ele­men­tary to high school, young Friends are whisked away from a meet­ing for wor­ship after the first 15 min­utes — many have nev­er expe­ri­enced an entire meet­ing for Wor­ship, much less the awe of a gath­ered meet­ing. Of course, many old­er adult Friends haven’t either — we have low­ered our expec­ta­tions for the Silence — rather than expe­ri­enc­ing the pow­er of Christ in our midst, we — at best — hope for a nice, peace­ful escape from the fran­tic pace of life beyond the meet­ing­house. We quelch true prophet­ic min­istry — “elder­ing” those who rise to speak from the apoc­a­lyp­tic pow­er the ear­ly Friends basked in, or even (in worst cas­es) those who speak a bit too con­fi­den­tal­ly about the exis­tence of God.
    Our first day school pro­grams are much more com­fort­able with field trips to Bud­dhist silent retreats than appli­ca­tions of Jesus’s teach­ing in our lives, and writ­ings from ear­ly Friends are cut apart, past­ed togeth­er and rid­dled with ellipses so that they will flim­si­ly sus­tain the illu­sion that we are doing things today just like they did back then. An dis­turbing­ly large por­tion of young adults raised as Quak­er who I have spo­ken with tend to view the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends as a sal­ad bar reli­gion that has lit­tle to do with faith in God or a cor­po­rate set of beliefs beyond paci­fism and Quak­er rit­u­al. In short, first day school is far too often a pro­gram for find­ing the reli­gion they can enter into once they leave their par­ents’ house and aban­don Quakerism.
    So if cer­e­monies like the sweat lodge are where young Friends find the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence God, so be it. They cer­tain­ly aren’t find­ing the Spir­it in our intel­lec­tu­al­ized, sec­u­lar­ized and elit­ist meet­ings. But if we are to con­tin­ue to acqui­esce to this fact, why are so many lib­er­al Quak­er lead­ers wring­ing their hands in agony, won­der­ing why these young peo­ple are leav­ing our meet­ing­hous­es in droves?

  • George Price

    Mar­tin — It is sad that you have to make inac­cu­rate char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of me or what the Quak­er sweat is or is not. Your ideas that some­how we shouldn’t do sweats bor­der on racism (if not a total embrace — albeit uncon­scious). I have found that Native Amer­i­can ideas about the nature of our rela­tion­ship with the divine are a pro­found. If you would read Black Elk Speaks you would find that there is an evan­gel­i­cal pow­er in Black Elks vision that speaks increas­ing­ly to us today.
    I have nev­er pre­sent­ed myself as any thing oth­er than a Quak­er — it is hurt­ful of you to say that I am pre­tend­ing to be an Indi­an — wear­ing feath­er and beads — I don’t know where you got that idea oth­er than from you own imagination.
    Many Friends have got­ten incred­i­ble insight which has fed their meet­ings for wor­ship from Yoga, Zen, Judaism, and many oth­er dis­ci­plines. The nature of religous expe­ri­ence is syn­cret­ic, ever evolv­ing and chang­ing. In years past reac­tionary Friends tryed to stop peo­ple from danc­ing and singing. I don’t think you would get far try­ing to tell Friends that singing is unQuak­er­ly — but peo­ple think­ing like you are have in the past.
    To call Jung psycho-babble reveals your lack of under­stand­ing. Many Quak­er psy­chol­o­gists use Jung as a guide. Jung by the way thought that Native Amer­i­can ideas about the nature of spir­it held great wisdom.
    The sweat­lodge is much more pow­er­ful than your small ideas. FGC can can­cel it, at its own loss, but the sweat will con­tin­ue. Chris­t­ian mis­sions cen­turies ago tryed to stop the Russ­ian Ban­nia and the Finnish sauna, which both had a lot in com­mon with the Native Amer­i­can sweat, but those rit­u­als keep rais­ing them­selves from the dust. The Nava­jo sweat was made ille­gal by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and Quak­ers were asked to lead it in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth century.
    The sweat was for me the thing that made me more of a Quak­er — before you dis­miss this idea you should ask oth­ers — hun­dreds of whom have had the same expe­ri­ence. It is a gift of life the stodgy Quak­ers who think Quak­erism is some kind of his­tor­i­cal arti­fact that we must be vig­i­lant in guarding.
    Quak­erism is above all a com­mu­ni­ty and a method  — It is sad that some Friends have reduced them­selves to damming oth­ers for the places they have found light.

  • Hi George,
    I’m glad you’ve found a gift of light. And I’m total­ly with you in want­i­ng to break down the walls of the “stodgy Quak­ers who think Quak­erism is some kind of his­tor­i­cal arti­fact that we must be vig­i­lant in guard­ing.” But I want to be a Quak­er. And prac­tice Quak­erism. And no, that’s not about Jung. And it’s not about hymn singing, which is usu­al­ly dis­tract­ing and kind of lame. That doesn’t mean I’d want to stop any­one from singing or play­ing Indi­an. You’re not an embat­tled eth­nic or polit­i­cal minor­i­ty, my friend, and com­par­ing your­self to the Nava­jo being beat­en down by the U.S. cav­al­ry is just tad bit ridicu­lous. To call me a racist for some­thing I didn’t say is par­tic­u­lar­ly sil­ly: you do know read­ers can just scroll up the screen, don’t you?
    No one’s try­ing to keep you from con­duct­ing sweat lodges. I’m sure the smell of burn­ing sage will nev­er depart the camp­fires of Camp Onas and Camp Ock­an­ick­on and that you will lead nom­i­nal­ly Quak­er chil­dren in artic­u­lat­ed rit­u­als there for the rest of your life. But is Quak­erism so irrel­e­vant that we have to ditch it for a pro­grammed rit­u­al just to keep the kids inter­est­ed? I don’t think so. There’s an ocean of young seek­ers out there yearn­ing for what Quak­erism promis­es to offer. There still is a great peo­ple to be gath­ered togeth­er, and we don’t need a bark­er out­side offer­ing them some recy­cled spir­i­tu­al­i­ty as a door prize.
    As long as you insist that the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends endorse the sweat lodge rit­u­al (and its altar, priest­ly func­tions and con­se­crat­ed spaces), your truest pre­de­ces­sor will not be Black Elk, but David Brain­erd Upde­graff. He tried to sell us Quak­er sprin­kling water and you’re offer­ing up burn­ing sage but in the end all we need is to stand still in the Light. Those of us who have tast­ed of its hon­ey know that every­thing else is emp­ty calories.
    I think Friends have some­thing spe­cial and the more we pre­tend to be some­thing else, the less we are who we are. There’s no rea­son you have to call your sweat lodge “Quak­er.” Just because you grew up as a Friend (and yes, I’m assum­ing you’re part of the ancient Quak­er Price fam­i­ly) doesn’t mean that the spir­i­tu­al­i­ty you’ve embraced needs to be shoe­horned into the spir­i­tu­al­i­ty you inher­it­ed. Some of us are embrac­ing Quak­erism and we’re on fire and we want to sing joy­ous­ly of our bap­tism of the Holy Spir­it, a free­dom that doesn’t fit into stodgy rit­u­als _whatever their origin_.

  • George Price

    What is the “Quak­erism” you are prac­tic­ing? If you prac­tice enough maybe you can take it on the road (sor­ry I couldn’t help myself). For myself and most of the Friends I know our “Quak­erism” isn’t just some­thing we do Sun­day morn­ing or just in meet­ing for wor­ship. It extends into every aspect of our lives. What I learned from Native Amer­i­cans helped me to under­stand on a vis­er­al lev­el a deep­er mean­ing of that idea. It deep­ened my meet­ing for wor­ship. It helped me become a bet­ter Quak­er. I couldn’t dis­agree more with your state­ment that wor­ship isn’t enriched by our quests for knowl­edge in oth­er areas.
    I can’t fig­ure out how by cit­ing a fact about Nava­jo — Quak­er rela­tions you inferred that I was com­par­ing myself to the Nava­jo. Either I am miss­ing some­thing or you are twist­ing my words. That is nei­ther a truth­ful or “Quak­er­ly” activity.
    I glad you are not into ban­ning the sweat lodge. Oth­ers are into ban­ning the Quak­er sweat and it has been can­celed at FGC.
    Your objec­tion to us call­ing it a Quak­er sweat seems ana­ly­gous to straight peo­ple say­ing that gay mar­riage is hurt­ing them. There is a bound­ery prob­lem with that idea. We have been accept­ed by dozens of Quak­er insti­tu­tions, many see that what we are doing is nur­tur­ing to par­tic­i­pants and has strength­ened the Soci­ety of Friends.
    Your reli­gious parochial­ism serves nei­ther you or the Soci­ety of Friends. Meet­ing for Wor­ship will not be less­ened or dilut­ed from encour­ag­ing Friends to under­stand the uni­ver­sal nature of God. That all religons have at base an idea that ever­thing comes from one source. What­ev­er tools we use that take us clos­er to that under­stand­ing of a uni­ver­sal source will only help the human race. The world is at war today most­ly because of per­ceived religous dif­fer­ences. As Friends we should be lead­ing the way in peace mak­ing through respect­ful lis­ten­ing and tolerance.
    I am glad you feel a fire in your spir­it. I won­der why you also feel the need to den­i­grate oth­ers’ lead­ings. “Nom­i­nal” Quak­er chil­dren? Your igno­rance of the nature of rit­u­al and the dif­fer­ence between liv­ing and dead rit­u­als is unfor­tu­nate. Meet­ing for Wor­ship IS a RITUAL. Whether it is dead or alive is up to the participants.
    Your claim to the exclu­sive­ness of your spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence (“emp­ty calories”?)is a sym­tom of your unrec­og­nized racism. Now care­ful here — I didn’t say you are a racist. All of us have racist ten­den­cies in our uncon­scious — those of us who under­stand that can come to grips with them and learn to grow beyond them. Those of us who don’t are con­demmed to make ever more clever jus­ti­fi­ca­tions of them (Its my peo­ple). Born again Chris­tians think that the only way to find God is their way — so do fun­dal­men­tal­ist Moslems. If there is some­thing that we as Friends have that is spe­cial it is our peace­mak­ing and tol­er­ance for a vari­ety of spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence. Like I said the sweat and improved my access to the “gath­ered meeting”.

  • Hi George,
    Quak­ers believe that the best way to God is to strip away the rit­u­al. It’s what makes us Quak­er. I think Quak­ers going off and explor­ing oth­er reli­gions is fine. William Penn par­tic­i­pat­ed in a sweat lodge and found great soli­tude in it. John Wool­man sought reli­gious oppor­tu­ni­ties with the Lenape with whom he came in con­tact and real­ized the pow­er of the God in the intere­ac­tions. These very deep Friends real­ized, as you do and as I do, that we are one in the Spir­it and that we are enriched shar­ing spir­i­tu­al oppor­tu­ni­ties with oth­ers. But nei­ther of them returned to their meet­ings to say that the children’s pro­gram should now fea­ture a sweat lodge. As Friends, they knew that the rit­u­al would become dis­tract­ing. If this cen­tral learn­ing of Friends is some­thing you don’t agree with, why stay?
    >Your igno­rance of the nature of rit­u­al and the dif­fer­ence between
    >liv­ing and dead rit­u­als is unfor­tu­nate. Meet­ing for Wor­ship IS a RITUAL.
    >Whether it is dead or alive is up to the participants.
    No George, actu­al­ly it’s up to Christ in our midst. You’re right that Meet­ing for wor­ship is often a dead rit­u­al, but what makes it real is God. And our path to God is through still­ness. Spir­i­tu­al con­vic­tion and racial eth­nic­i­ty are two dif­fer­ent things and you mix it up sim­ply to play the race card (thanks for the clar­i­fi­ca­tion though: it’s good to know that Doc­tor Price doesn’t think I’m a racist, just that I have uncon­scious racist ten­den­cies). I’m not a racist for think­ing you’re wrong. And I’m not a reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ist in say­ing that reli­gious tra­di­tions have lim­its and bound­aries. There are some “big gen­er­a­tional differences”:/quaker/emerging_church.php at play in your charges that any lim­its to indi­vid­ual expres­sion con­sti­tute a form of big­otry. “Are we all ranters now?”:/quaker/ranters.php
    Any­way, thanks for post­ing (I guess), but two long and hos­tile mini-essays are prob­a­bly enough on my site, thanks. I’m being more than fair post­ing these two. If you start a blog, let me know and I’ll put a link from this page.

  • Paul Land­skroen­er

    I’ve become a reg­u­lar read­er only recent­ly and am enjoy­ing your blog immensly; I am in sym­pa­thy with most of your views and am glad to find oth­ers here of sim­i­lar feel­ing (includ­ing a cou­ple from my own meet­ing … you know who you are).
    On my first peruse of this thread, I found myself much more agree­ing with your posi­tion, Mar­tin, and have cringed at many of the non- or bare­ly tan­gen­tal Quak­er activ­i­ties and groups that I see at Gath­er­ings, activ­i­ties that I man­age to tol­er­ate but with a mix­ture of bemuse­ment and sadness.
    But as I thought more about it, it began to hit clos­er to home and won­der whether I’m part of that problem.
    I have led twice on shape note singing from the Sacred Harp. A lot of Quak­ers sing from the Sacred Harp; many of us do so from time to time in the meet­ing­house after meet­ing. Some reg­u­lar singings are host­ed in meet­ing­hous­es. There’s been an after­noon Sacred Harp singing at FGC for at least 20 years now; and oth­ers besides myself have offered work­shops on it. Occa­sion­al­ly songs from the Sacred Harp find them­selves being sung in meet­ing for wor­ship (by an indi­vid­ual min­is­ter, not a group).
    But Sacred Harp singing is not from the Quak­er tra­di­tion. Indeed, although Sacred Harp singers do not pur­port to be a church or demo­ni­a­tion, there is a coher­ent, iden­ti­fi­able, grow­ing, and vital com­mu­ni­ty of Sacred Harp singers (trac­ing its con­ti­nu­ity back to at least 1844) and has its own com­mon­ly devel­oped mores and tra­di­tions and which func­tions in many ways like a church, par­tic­u­lar­ly with respect to pro­vid­ing pas­toral care of each oth­er. (Inter­est­ing­ly, it has also — like Friends — had its schisms and dis­agree­ments over ortho­doxy and the intru­sion of moder­ni­ty into the tradition.)
    More­over, while the reli­gious beliefs of singers is at least as diverse as those among Quak­ers, Sacred Harp singing is explic­it­ly reli­gious in nature. While the songs express a range of the­o­log­i­cal beliefs, the major­i­ty are cer­tain­ly cen­tered in a difficult-to-label-accurately the­ol­o­gy more com­pat­i­ble to Pri­ma­tive Bap­tists’ or Methodists than Friends’. (Iron­i­cal­ly, though, the diver­si­ty of — and gen­uine respect for — reli­gious beliefs among Sacred Harp singers is much wider than among Friends.)
    Yet I am one Friend who has found my way back to Jesus, the bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive, and Quaker-Christianity through singing this music. It has refreshed and reawak­ened my inner life and has giv­en me insight and a vocab­u­lary from which I can bet­ter under­stand the writ­ings left us by George Fox and oth­er ear­ly Friends. It has thus been an aid to my reli­gious life as a Friend. (And I am not alone in this; many singers have found their ways back to their church homes through singing these songs; singing these songs is a very pow­er­ful practice.)
    So my ques­tion is, how does your (our) cri­tique of the sweat lodge con­tro­ver­sey apply to Sacred Harp singing at Quak­er events? In my own mind, I see a clear dif­fer­ence, but I’m not sure how to artic­u­late what it is. Is it because it’s MY sacred cow being gored?
    (I know of no objec­tion by tra­di­tion­al Sacred Harp singers to its being sung at Quak­er gath­er­ings, which is one dif­fer­ence, and there isn’t any sig­nif­i­cant cost to FGC of spon­sor­ing a Sacred Harp work­shop as there is to a sweat lodge, but I’m won­der­ing about more prin­ci­pled differences.)
    What do you think? Is singing from the Sacred Harp an inapro­pri­ate activ­i­ty at a Quak­er gath­er­ing? (or, put dif­fer­ent­ly, anoth­er piece of evi­dence of mod­ern Quak­er decadence?)

  • Hi Paul: first off, thanks for post­ing. Glad to know you’ve been enjoy­ing the blog.
    And what a debut in the com­ments – you don’t mess around! I think if we start look­ing at a lot of prac­tices, we’ll start ask­ing our­selves these kind of awk­ward ques­tions. First off, let me repeat that I’ve nev­er called for a ban of the sweat lodge: I don’t want to get into this sit­u­a­tion where we’re decid­ing what’s orth­dox enough. Because there’s a lot of things we do that don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly real­ly fit Quak­erism. I pre­fer to take a pos­i­tive atti­tude, to share the Spir­it and open­ings that I’ve received.
    The sweat lodge has become a focal point part­ly because it’s the front line of an unac­knowl­edged gen­er­a­tion gap in FGC Quak­erism. A lot of teens and twenty-somethings brought up in Quak­erism just got total­ly ripped off by years of reli­gious edu­ca­tion that was too chicken-shit (par­don my French) to tell the good news or teach reli­gion; that focused on char­ac­ter build­ing exer­cis­es and accul­tur­a­tion into hippie/lefty cul­ture. I think character-building is fine and I’ve got more than a lit­tle left/hippie in me but there’s more to Quak­erism than this.
    I don’t think the prob­lem is occas­sion­al­ly vis­it­ing oth­er reli­gious prac­tices. You run into trou­ble when you just too involved in the minu­tia of the prac­tice or start think­ing that it’s Quaker.
    About ten years or so ago, a few peo­ple in the adult young Friends pro­gram at Gath­er­ing did a Brethren-style “love feast.” That first AYF feast was rev­er­ent and focused on how the group was re-enacting the dis­ci­ples’ last meal with Jesus. Some­how, with­in just a few short years this became an essen­tial AYF rit­u­al. At the last one I attend­ed (a few years ago), the high point seemed to be shoot­ing whipped cream into each other’s mouths and doing sug­ges­tive things with bananas; the idea that we were shar­ing a meal with Christ was kind of lost. It’s not that shar­ing a Brethren rit­u­al was a prob­lem, it was that we now thought this some sort of Quak­er or AYF rit­u­al. And isn’t that the Quak­er warn­ing: that we should be wary of rit­u­als but soon­er or lat­er we will take them too seri­ous­ly or not seri­ous­ly enough and get into trouble?
    Well, all this isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a sat­is­fac­to­ry answer. You’re rais­ing real ques­tions: how do we stay open to the fas­ci­nat­ing diver­si­ty of mod­ern Quak­erism but also put for­ward some vision of iden­ti­ty that has (tra­di­tion­al) Quak­erism as its influ­ence and God as its architect?

  • Mar­tin, I’m glad I took the time to review more of your ear­ly entries.
    First, I feel sad read­ing the exchanges between you and Friend George. I sense that each of you present a piece of the Truth, but the Light is dimmed by the sting of your lan­guage towards one anoth­er. Being firm in one’s belief and con­vic­tion is one thing; using one’s beliefs and con­vic­tion for what feels to me to be a type of one-upsmanship is anoth­er. And it makes it hard­er for me to read through the exchange as a result.
    A part of the Truth that I under­stand George lifts up is that there is a Pow­er that for some is more read­i­ly accessed through the rit­u­al of the Quak­er sweat­lodge expe­ri­ence. On the oth­er hand, a part of the Truth that I see you lift­ing up, Mar­tin, is that for oth­ers, a liv­ing Quak­er faith is weak­ened when the mem­bers of the faith com­mu­ni­ty look out­side of their direct rela­tion­ship to the Spir­it and covenant com­mu­ni­ty for guidance.
    What I see in the exchange is that George speaks to his expe­ri­ence as a con­tem­po­rary Hick­site Friend, and that you are speak­ing to your expe­ri­ence as a con­tem­po­rary Con­ser­v­a­tive Friend. Part of the trou­ble from where I sit seems to be that each of you wants the oth­er to accept your view as the Right One. “Quak­ers become stodgy if they stick to their old ways” is sim­ply the oth­er side of the coin of “Quak­erism is weak­ened if they bring in too many ideas from oth­er places.” And “Quak­ers are fed by being exposed to new ways to con­nect with the Spir­it” is the oth­er side of the coin of “Quak­ers are fed by dig­ging deep into their tra­di­tion of strip­ping away so that only the Spir­it remains.”
    From my own expe­ri­ence, I know that I get the most defen­sive, most pro­tec­tive, and most aggres­sive­ly crit­i­cal when that which is dear to me is chal­lenged or con­test­ed. It is clear to me that you and George each dear­ly love the Quak­erism that best speaks to your con­di­tion. And you see that same Quak­erism speak­ing deeply to the con­di­tion of oth­er Friends as well. Is it a won­der that you’d defend, pro­tect, and crit­i­cize, based on that conviction?
    This exchange seems to high­light for me the essen­tial dif­fer­ence of (at least) two branch­es of Friends: Hick­site and Con­ser­v­a­tive. Yet nei­ther has the access to all the Light, which is why we need to dis­ci­pline our­selves to lis­ten to each oth­er, even in disagreement.
    Paul L, you raise an inter­est­ing ques­tion about a pos­si­ble par­al­lel between the Quak­er sweat lodge and the place of Sacred Harp singing among Friends.
    One dif­fer­ence is that it seems as though Sacred Harp singing did not emerge from an oppressed peo­ple and there­fore is not con­tro­ver­sial among the indi­vid­u­als and groups con­nect­ed to it (Sacred Harp).
    Anoth­er dif­fer­ence is the ques­tion of whether or not young adult Friends and oth­ers con­nect­ed to Sacred Harp are hav­ing pro­found, col­lec­tive expe­ri­ences with it: if Sacred Harp singing were dropped last minute at the Gath­er­ing, would a lis­ten­ing ses­sion be called? Would young adult Friends or some oth­er sig­nif­i­cant­ly large group be devastated?
    (Cer­tain­ly you would be, I don’t doubt that!)
    There is a dif­fer­ence, then, about the pow­er giv­en by the com­mu­ni­ty – or a sub­set of that com­mu­ni­ty – as to the weight of a cer­tain activ­i­ty with­in Quak­er prac­tice. You speak open­ly of how your spir­i­tu­al and Quak­er life have been trans­formed by your par­tic­i­pa­tion in Sacred Harp singing, and you share your joy enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly with oth­ers. But I have nev­er felt or feared that your expe­ri­ence would become the basis of oth­ers’ hunger for being in touch with the Divine. And so it is less con­tro­ver­sial in that regard as well.
    (Maybe I should check back with you on this, though, after the next Gath­er­ing. smile)
    I feel as though this com­ment to you, Paul, is not com­plete, but I can­not come to clear­ness at this late hour, so it will have to be left as is.

  • Hi Liz: well we’ll just have to agree to dis­agree on this. I think it actu­al­ly is okay to say a prac­tice doesn’t come out of the Quak­er tra­di­tion. Part of the rea­son the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends has such an iden­ti­ty prob­lems is we’re too afraid to talk about what isn’t Quak­er. To say some­thing isn’t Quak­er isn’t to say it isn’t legit or isn’t use­ful, it’s just to say it isn’t our way.

  • Hmm. Some­thing in my inten­tion got lost in my post.
    I agree that it is nec­es­sary to point out if a prac­tice doesn’t come from Quak­er tra­di­tion. I can­not be a more faith­ful Quak­er if I seek the Spir­it through read­ing Torah, for exam­ple: it is counter to a basic tenet of Quak­erism, about how we come to know God.
    Of course I’m want­i­ng to be cer­tain I’m clear with you, giv­en what you raise as iden­ti­ty prob­lems and what I am prepar­ing for the Gath­er­ing. I don’t wish to rehash what has already been shared: instead, I’ll affirm that I do see you and me on much the same page: draw­ing on and nam­ing Quak­er tra­di­tions helps strength­en one’s Quak­er iden­ti­ty, as does strip­ping away and not rely­ing on the prac­tices of anoth­er tradition.

  • Julie

    Ummm, not to cre­ate too much of a dis­trac­tion here, but actu­al­ly read­ing “Torah” (if by Torah you are refer­ring to the Hebrew Bible or the Old Tes­ta­ment) *IS* part of Quak­er tra­di­tion. As Chris­tians, Quak­ers his­tor­i­cal­ly have read the Bible and all parts of it, includ­ing the OT. They wouldn’t have referred to it as “Torah,” of course. So on this lev­el a com­par­i­son between read­ing tra­di­tion­al­ly Jew­ish (and Chris­t­ian) Scrip­ture and par­tic­i­pat­ing in a non-Christian indige­nous reli­gious prac­tice and call­ing it “Quak­er” is hard­ly a use­ful one. But I real­ize this is an aside…

  • Petey

    My con­cern with the sweat­lodge issue comes from one of process. I have lost all faith in FGC cen­tral com­mit­tee as well as all faith in the ad-hoc racism com­mit­tee. It seems as one got duped, and the sec­ond exists as a McCarthy­is­tic com­mit­tee to pres­sure peo­ple whom the lead­er­ship finds troubling.
    If we as Quak­ers want to dis­cuss racism, let us dis­cuss it in an actu­al com­mit­tee — approved by a meet­ing — not an ad-hoc shad­ow com­mit­tee that meets only when and with whom it choos­es, and lis­tens to only whom it chooses.
    Fur­ther­more, if we are to con­sid­er the claims of those out­side the com­mu­ni­ty against the sweat­lodge, is it not rea­son­able that those mak­ing alle­ga­tions have actu­al knowl­ege of that which they are offend­ed by. Mere­ly read­ing a descrip­tion does not begin to describe the Quak­er sweat in terms of tra­di­tion, his­to­ry and prac­tice. That the accuser has not tak­en the time to vis­it gath­er­ing and make her claims before those she brands racist  — real­ly all who have par­tic­i­pat­ed in the quak­er sweat — shows con­tempt for our tra­di­tions of open process. That we have yet to have an open and trans­par­ent deal­ing with this mat­ter is a mas­sive fail­ure of FGC lead­er­ship and needs to be dealt with. The con­ver­sa­tion of Gath­er­ing this year amongst the AYF com­mu­ni­ty was about the sweat. Had the com­mittes come to the same con­clu­sions fol­low­ing a more just, trans­par­ent and open process I have a feel­ing we would be more easy with it’s lead­er­ship. As it stands right now, I am about as easy with the lead­er­ship on this issue as a pas­sen­ger on a bust­ed roller­coast­er. Process hasn’t been fol­lowed, and we need to find lead­er­ship who can speak to the truth of this issue with­in actu­al quak­er process — not mere­ly quak­er politics.
    If we get rid of the sweat for good, what oth­er groups will be next? Some peo­ple don’t like heal­ers at gath­er­ing — will they be gone? Some don’t like GLBT folk, will they be next? Where will it end? Where then will we find the unique spir­i­tu­al space that is the meet­ing­house where tra­di­tions meet eachother under the ban­ner of God. The polit­i­cal mar­gin­al­iza­tion of one groups ulti­mat­ly mar­gin­al­izes the spir­i­tu­al pow­er of the gath­er­ing as a whole because it says to peo­ple that their gifts are not want­ed. This in con­trast to our long held belief that there is “that of God in everyone”.

  • Hi Petey: first off, don’t post mul­ti­ple posts under dif­fer­ent names or I won’t let your com­ments through. You can cam­paign for the sweat lodge on your per­son­al blog.
    That said, the pro-sweat lodge orga­niz­ing I saw hap­pen­ing this week (the 2005 Gath­er­ing) was orches­trat­ed by a cou­ple of white-haired old men with long-standing axes to grind against FGC. It feels very oppor­tunis­tic to me to hear old men speak­ing out on behalf of young peo­ple, “espe­cial­ly when they rou­tine­ly ignore young Friends with real gifts”:http://​www​.non​vi​o​lence​.org/​m​a​r​t​i​n​k​/​s​e​l​l​i​n​g​_​q​u​a​k​e​r​i​s​m​_​t​o​_​t​h​e​_​k​i​d​s​.​php. There’s a lot of dema­gaugery going on, with the whole para­noia about secret com­mit­tees – Petey, if you both­ered to be more involved with FGC (like, actu­al­ly vol­un­teer and par­tic­i­pate in com­mit­tees) you would have spent dozens of hours talk­ing about this over the past few years. The young peo­ple respond­ing to the gray-hair’s orga­niz­ing about this all tend to be cul­tur­al Quak­ers at best.
    That said (again), I agree with a lot of what you write. I don’t think the can­ce­la­tion of the work­shop has much to do with racism (lib­er­al Friends are hid­ing behind racism for a lot of our the­o­log­i­cal debate right now, e.g., renam­ing of “over­sight com­mit­tees”). If I’m right and the motivi­a­tions are not hon­est, then this is all going to come back at us and bite us on the ass.
    The real prob­lem I see is twen­ty years of FGC Friends not sup­port­ing youth lead­er­ship. Twen­ty years of tokenism. Twen­ty years where the only qual­i­fi­ca­tions con­sid­ered for com­mit­tee mem­ber­ships have been one’s par­ents (lead­ing to some very unqual­i­fied com­mit­tee mem­bers indeed). Twen­ty years where bold vision­ary young Friends with gifts for prophet­ic min­istry “have been cut off and marginalized”:/martink/passing_the_faith_planet_of_the_quakers_style.php. Twen­ty years of lib­er­al Quak­er lead­er­ship that is scared shit­less to talk about the­ol­o­gy or Quak­er identity.
    Even now, the whole sweat lodge debate is large­ly between sixty-something old codgers play­ing out long-standing rival­ries. If it weren’t the sweat lodge, they’d all be fight­ing over some­thing else. If you need Chuck Fager and George Price to fight your future for you, then there is no future.
    I’m glad you’ve found your voice (this post hits all the Fager/Price talk­ing points yet doesn’t resem­ble any posts you’ve writ­ten on your own blog). I look for­ward to read­ing more on that site.

  • Petey

    That you insult peo­ple who hold dear the Quak­er Sweat and call me to use my blog for the same pur­pose that you use yours for (the­o­log­i­cal cam­paign­ing) is both sad and wrong. Please, friend — name­call­ing is unquak­er­ly. You can choose to let this through to your blog or not, I don’t real­ly care — this is more for you than for your audi­ence. Please, don’t insult peo­ple, don’t com­plain when peo­ple respond to your cam­paigns with counter-campaigns of their own, after all — at the end of the day, it’s just ideas, and if ideas are so scary that they war­rant name­call­ing then what of God in con­ver­sa­tions can be found here?

  • Hey Petey: I have no inter­est in get­ting into a flame war with you. Any­one who wants can scroll up and see that I didn’t call you names or insult you. “Quak­er Ranter” is a per­son­al blog. Like any per­son­al blog I write about the things I’m inter­est­ed in. In my case its Quak­erism. I like talk­ing about it, its iden­ti­ty, its boundaries.
    I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly care about the sweat lodge. I think its sil­ly and has lit­tle to do with Quak­erism but I’m not wast­ing my time cam­paign­ing. This was a sin­gle post a year ago – that it’s one of the few things that came up when you typed “quak­er sweat lodge” in Yahoo isn’t my fault. If you think I’m full of it then just hit the back but­ton and fare thee well.
    Your Friend, Martin

  • Keith_wb

    hey folks, i’m from man­i­to­ba and have been invit­ed by a cree friend to expe­ri­ence sun dance with him. not as wor­ried about the min­gling blood or exhaus­tion in the sun thing as much as how to respect his expe­ri­ence with­out com­pro­mis­ing quak­er con­cerns about forms being dis­tract­ing of substance.