As many long-time Cafe regulars know, I've threatened to become a Quaker on more than one occasion.
Of course, one can't actually threaten to become a Quaker - to threaten to become a Quaker is like volunteering for the draft. It obviously misses the point.
That being said, it seems more and more these days as friends are converting right and left to Roman Catholicism - it just makes more sense for me to just get it over with and become a Quaker.
The idea of silence and non-violence has become quite attractive after the last few years of verbal hurling and pie-throwing. It's not completely out of the blue, as it were, as my ancestors were Welsh and English Quakers who fled the oppression of the established Church of England for religious freedom in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (hmm, some things don't change). In fact, we'd still be Quakers today no doubt, but for my great-great-etc. grandfather "Stevie" Ailes who headed out from home with his brother and met up with two Protestant-Irish sisters just in from Ireland. His brother married one of the them and Stevie married the other and for some reason, that got them both expelled from the Friends Meeting House.
But the time has come to revisit the strain of Christianity founded by the great George Fox. There is much to compel in the tradition, not the least of which is its focus on silence and what they call passive resistance. Only in recent years have Quakers been labeled as "pacifists" when in fact what they practiced in the past was "passive resistance." Modern Pacifism (which does not recognize the inherant evil that must be resisted) is something that is relatively new, introduced by people like Leo Tolstoy at the turn of the 20th century. Good job, Leo - that Soviet period was just a blip.
But passive resistance is far closer to the biblical model of "turning the other cheek." It's another way of getting what one wants by resistance, not by giving in. It's exactly what we've been doing in Virginia, where until the new presiding bishop intervened, Virginia understood that people take actions under conscience - including consciously objecting which is a form of passive resistance that must be respected for its Christian tradition (except when it resists the ruling majority's ideas, which of course then defeats the whole purpose of resisting, says the ruling class, and we hear the Borg command echoing on the plain, "resistance if futile," oh, but never mind). It's not that we don't care, but rather than we care very much not to give in. That being said, no one ever went out to Culpeper and picked up few loose canons, thank God. Canons from Richmond sufficed quite well instead. George Fox knew a thing or two about that.
There is the issue, however, that half my family are intimately connected to the United States Armed Forces, and in particular - the U.S. Navy. We are happily and heavily indoctrinated from babyhood to make yearly pilgrimages to Annapolis and pay homage to the old goat (no, not the commandant, who was once my grandmother's third husband, but that's another story). We are taught from the moment we begin to utter our first word to shout-out at the end of the Star Spangled Banner, "Go Navy, Beat Army!" We teach our pets not to fetch the "Army Bone," but only the "Navy Bone" for their reward. We are taught to have sea legs before we can walk and to run up and down passages in submarines before we have sense, but we are cautioned against spilling chocolate milk on the captain's chair in the Officers Mess. It's amazing, really, that my Brother the Methodist has done as well as he has.
Because of the proximately of the national nuclear arsenal to some of my family members, I have decided to let them know of my decision to become a Quaker here at the Cafe. Hopefully, my proximately to the Nation's Capital will discourage them from launching a nuclear brigade, but then on second thought, perhaps that's not so helpful after all.
The next thing that I found quite attractive about returning to the religious practice of my family's roots is silence. Many years ago I went to the All Saints Convent at Catonsville, MD and practiced the discipline of silence for five days and lived to tell about it. I did not go screaming from the compound, but in fact, actually found it quite pleasant. It wasn't just that I didn't have to speak, but there was relief in knowing that no one was speaking to me not because I had somehow been placed in the doghouse, but that they were forbidden to do so unless, of course, they needed to say the word "Fire!"
I found the whole exercise quite enjoyable, especially when it came to helping prepare breakfast each morning when the entire convent practiced the Great Silence. There's nothing quite like pointing over the table at the jelly and then at the bread and then at your mouth and trying not to laugh with a bunch of nuns to make life quite pleasant.
The other positive about the Quaker life is the opportunity to engage in this troubled economy in plain dress. Now we know that plain dress and the Quakers is not what it used to be, but we don't expect to see any Quakers on the front pages of the National Enquirer either. We may throw away all our fashion magazines and accessories and just dress plainly. One may need to change from all black to all brown, but that is a necessity one is willing to make. No more shopping malls, no more scanning People Magazines, no more Paris Hilton. For that matter, no more Hiltons period.
Now I recognize that the Quakers are not the Amish and more's the pity. I always found the Amish buggies quite picturesque and conducive to reducing stress.
One year at Truro, one of our members had done a short-term mission with the Amish and met his future wife (funny how that happens) and they got married at Truro. It was quite memorable to see all those black Amish buggies parked in the Truro parking lot. It's too bad Quakers don't have buggies. But perhaps they drive ancient Toyota Turcels instead. In which case, I'll be in luck.
Seriously, though, there is so much to commend the Quaker life, officially known as the Religious Society of Friends. Doesn't it sound rather delightful to belong to a religious community where everyone knows your name?
Another benefit in becoming a Quaker is that, as Wiki reports, "unlike many other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has tended away from creeds and away from hierarchical structure." What a relief! No more having to stand up and recite a bunch of words all the time - especially since as of late I have been known to shout rather loudly "AND THE SON!" Creeds are so divisive, we're told - you have those who believe what they are saying and those who just reinvent the meaning depending on the time of day. And think - no bishops either. Just think about that for a minute. Think of all the free time. Bishops take a lot of work.
And then there was George Fox. He had a few issues with the Church of England too that landed him in jail on more than one occasion. That resonates. No wonder Pennsylvania is on the Watch List.
Of course, there has been this issue that the Quakers - believing that Christ is the Word of God, over the Scriptures - and their assumption that they were all united on the Scriptures to keep their theological understanding of Christ in biblical check, at some point decided that the scriptures were not as important as George Fox and the original Quakers thought and apparently have thrown them over for more progressive thought. And the passive-resistance has turned into resentful pacifism, which just stuffs all the angry feelings inside a toxic collective, spewing passive-aggressive responses to everything the group disapproves and snifs about.
Ah, but we're used to that.
No, I think it is time to return to the plain Friends Meeting House of my family's early American roots, where we sit in silence and wait for the Spirit, we stand for what is good and we resist what is evil, and we always remember to say Thee.
Of course, if it doesn't work out, we can always go back to driving the bus.
PLEASE NOTE: Tomorrow is the Cafe's Third Anniversary. Our very first post covered a personal meeting and lunch at Arties with the Bishop of Rochester. So tomorrow we will make him our Patron Saint, because that is what he is. In celebration, we will name a new dish after him, which of course, will be on the house. Hopefully he won't be too upset about the Quaker thing.