Wednesday, April 01, 2009

BabyBlue announces plans to become a Quaker

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.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't quite feel right to me, but honoring the tradition I would never say that out loud to you.

And while I'm not saying anything out loud, I would rather think it is time for you to take the creed which you shout and be the founder of a new women's active/contemplative religious order, and exactly at a time when other orders are failing.
I would even offer to be the chaplain, and I could immediately provide 6 women who would not become professed, but would become your first society associates and begin earnest prayer for the success of the order.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking this is an April Fool's essay? But then it could be the real thing....I'm confused...
Does typing count as part of the Great Silence? If I can twitter and blog I could keep my mouth shut for a long time...
-Katie in Georgia.

BabyBlue said...

Rob, Do you think we could wear black instead of brown? I'm not a big fan of brown.

Katie, that's a good question whether one can Twitter and be silent.


Anonymous said...

An Augustinian habitual fashion designer could help you with personal tastes, although classic white with scapular color options seems good stewardship.

And I forgot to mention that although the associate members will be released from such, professed members such as yourself will be required to renew vows of celibacy (I'm sure you are chaste) on an annual basis. Today seems a good date.

BabyBlue said...

Obviously, that may have been what got Stevie and his brother in trouble in the first place. I for one am rather glad it did.


Anonymous said...

if you do move over to the Quakers can you send me a free case of oatmeal?

BabyBlue said...

I thought you guys would want the hats.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I could twitter silently :) twinkling eyes and flying fingers don't count as 'speaking'.

I like the white robes with colored scapulars! Could I wear a pink one?

Katie in Georgia

Anam Cara said...

I'm willing to bet that if you go back enough generations, you'll find Orthodox. It's just a matter of when you want to stop looking.

Anam Cara said...

Hey, Baby Blue, if you want to experience Orthodox Easter, the schedule for our services can be found at teh website below. When you get to the church's site, you sill find things both on the calendar and in the Newsletter for April.

Your Easter is our Palm Sunday, so you can go through Holy Week with us. It's something you will never forget!

BabyBlue said...

I can imagine Anam Cara that an Orthodox Palm Sunday (and Easter) would be amazing. Thank you for the info!

That's an intriguing thought about how far back one can go (before we are related to everybody!). The deal is that my family tree is so fiercely Protestant that you have to go back to pre-Henry to just get the Western Church sorted out.

Before that - well, it's Welsh and Scottish and English and French, Irish and a German who strayed into western Pennsylvania for some reason. Of course, with the red hair we have to wonder about those dastardly Vikings who did spend some time raiding Russia and Turkey in their longships - so you could be on to something thing there!


Anonymous said...

I also have a Colonial forebear who left a Quaker community to marry (and presumably settle in VA?) My 4xg-grandmother, one of 9 or 10 in a Welsh Quaker family (Lewis) that left a southeastern PA meeting for the Hopewell Meeting in northernmost VA in about 1780s, left Hopewell Mtg. to marry in 1789 a VA Anglican in Winchester VA. I've pondered if she wandered alone at night through the primitive forests of those hills - how exactly did that work? Anyway, the VA Anglican was in fact the son of a supposedly 'Ulster Scot' private in the Revolution, who probably had Gaelic origins in truth but fell in with Protestants once in the Colonies. The Quaker origins of this ancestress were unknown to the descendants until about 5 years ago, because having been 'read out' and disinherited after she left the Meeting, the only records of her background were in obscure records that eventually appeared online.

Anglican with his collar on backwards said...

But what if we don't like Oatmeal? ;-)

BabyBlue said...

Well, there's always the hats. AWHCB.

Anon, just imagine if your 4xg-grandmother met my great-great-etc. grandfather out on the road. We all might still be Quakers.

But then again, we probably wouldn't be here, all things considered. Thank God they ran into trouble along the way!


David Wilson+ said...


Were your Irish Protestant ancestors Anglicans,Presbyterians, Baptists or Methodists or none of the above?


Keith Bramlett said...

Happy Third Anniversary tomorrow and may there be many more as an Anglican. Btw, cute picture of you as a young girl in the red dress.

BabyBlue said...

That is a very good question. I have a Pennsylvania Protestant Irish ancestor Mary Agnes Nixon (the one who married the wandering Quaker) and I have a Virginia Protestant Irish ancestor Jane Walker (who actually dressed like a Quaker, I've seen her portrait).

I think they were both Presbyterian, or at least Northern Ireland Presbyterian of the period being probably Ulster Scots in origin. That would be my guess.

Mary Agnes Nixon was born in 1795 in Fermanagh Co. Ireland and married Stevie in 1814. She would have been three years old during the Irish Rebellion, but also seems to be in that wave of immigration out of Northern Ireland and to the U.S. when that failed. She must have come with someone - but she remains a mystery to me. She and her sister Elizabeth who married Stevie's brother James. Their marriages to the two brothers got them expelled from the Quaker Meeting House. There's a story there somewhere.

Jane Walker was born in 1786 Near Londonderry, Donegal, Ireland and came over in 1800. Her father took part in the Irish Rebellion in 1798 which didn't turn out very well and he left Ireland for Virginia with at least two of his children, including Jane.

I've never even thought of contrasting and comparing Jane and Mary Agnes. What an interesting idea. Obviously, life must have been pretty hard in Northern Ireland for them to leave when they were young.

I know a lot more about Jane. Her portrait, painted later in her life, hangs in my cousin's house in Buckingham County. She's actually dressed like a Quaker - with the collar and plain dress - it may have been the period. She looks a bit fierce in the portrait, but then she'd been through a lot in her life. The Irish Rebellion had caused her to flee Ireland with her father and brother when she was a teenager and then she lived through the American Civil War, losing her youngest son at Gettysburg.

Why do you ask, David?


anndw22 said...

Hmm! you have set me to musing about my Quaker relatives one of whom was famous for the felt hats he made--thick enough to carry water to help put out a fire or strong enough when rolled up to use as a stout weapon in case of an attack (which evidently happened on occasion...I'm not sure how frequently). How serious are you about this? I like the idea of the quiet and the prayer.
God bless, Ann : o )

BabyBlue said...

Actually, I know this was for that interesting day of April 1, but yes, there is much that I do admire about the old Quaker traditions twenty years after mixing it up with the Episcopalians - there are times when simplicity of worship and life is very attractive, especially these days. I know that many who come into the Episcopal Church seems to go up the latter in formality and structure, but even now I seem to be inclined to go towards the Quaker traditions - some of which, interestingly enough, have found their way back into the Alpha Course where we "wait" on the Holy Spirit in silence.

Of course, the Quaker church by and large today is not that much different than the Episcopal Church is today in practice and politics. It's changed a lot from where it's started and there's a lesson there that when we diminish the place of scriptures which George Fox and his disciples and took for granted, and perhaps not a few Episcopalians took for granted all those years ago.

There is indeed a lesson there for thee and me.


Anonymous said...

Obviously thee does not spend much time with Friends or thee would have not written so blindly. Your sarcasm, cold-hearted wit, and obvious superiority should help you stay within the Anglican fold quite handily. We practice an open door as Friends and thee is welcome at any time. Wit and all.

BabyBlue said...

"Sarcasm," "cold-hearted wit," "obvious superiority" - are you sure you are a Friend?