If you cycle through my last few months of comments, you’ll see that I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about who “we” Friends are and who we serve and the consequent question of why we organize into local meetings, national affiliations, blogs, etc.
Essential to this thinking has been Jeanne B’s Social Class and Quakers blog. There are many ways to tease out the way culture and faith work to reinforce and sabotage one another, but class is a good one. If you travel from one theological brand of Friends to another, from one cultural zone to another (e.g, urban vs ex-urban vs rural) you’ll see marked culture differences. Just take a look at the potluck array if you doubt me. Jeanne talks about the urban liberal Quaker stigma against Cool Whip and a great link she turned me on to talks about some of the ways the alterna-lefty culture can unwittingly separate itself from potential allies in social change over tofu (update: more recent work from this organization can be found at classism.org).
Since falling out of the rarefied world of professional Quakerism a year ago, I’ve become more local. I live in a small, largely agricultural town in rural South Jersey roughly equidistant from the region’s skyscraper metropoli (I don’t give its name for privacy reasons) and residents range from multi-generational families to Mexican farmworkers to people who got in trouble up north in NYC and are looking for a quieter place to come clean. I don’t see Quakers in my day-to-day life anymore but I do interact with a more representative sampling of America, people who are all trying to get somewhere other than where they are. Jesus would have been here. Fox would have preached here. But what do modern liberal Friends have to say about this world? As Bill Samuel wrote on Jeanne’s blog issues of safety-net public assistance that seem like do-gooder causes for most well-off liberal Friends are matters of personal practicality for more economically diverse religious bodies (the child care program that President Bush vetoed last month is the same one that let me take my fevered two year old to the doctor last Friday).
Last First Day I heard a good orthodox piece of Quaker ministry couched in a learned language, all talk of justification versus sanctification, with a bit of insider Quaker acronyms thrown in for good effect. I love the fellow who gave the message and I appreciated his ministry. But the whole time I wondered how this would sound to people I know now, like the friendly but hot-tempered Puerto Rican ex-con less than a year out of a eight-year stint in federal prison, now working two eight hour shifts at almost-minimum wage jobs and trying to stay out of trouble. How does the theory of our theology fit into a code of conduct that doesn’t start off assuming middle class norms. What do our tofu covered dishes and vanilla soy chai’s (I’m so addicted) have to do with living under Christ’s instruction? And just which FGC outreach pamphlet should I be handing my new friend?
Enough for now. More soon.