Because I’m focusing on NaNoWriMo and writing 50,000 words of fiction this month, I thought I’d pull up a few posts from the archives. This particular post was written about 3.5 years ago and was part of my OC Pilgrimage series, where I attended various churches and visited religious sites in Orange County and reported on them. I’m reposting this to reflect on my current association with the OC Friends Meeting as CatGirl and I prepare to be its representatives in DC.
Liberal Quakerism is in many ways the antithesis of modern Mormonism, which is probably why I like to escape to the local Meeting on occasion. Jana shares some of my sentiments–she’s said many times that if she weren’t born into the LDS Church she’d be a Quaker. If I have a second church home, it’s the Orange County Friends Meeting.
I have to make a distinction between liberal and other types of Quakerism here. There are various flavors within the greater Society of Friends, such as the Evangelical Friends who have structured (“programmed”) meetings, permanent ministers and basic creeds concerning Jesus’ divinity. The Meeting I visited is of the “unprogrammed” variety within the Liberal Quaker tradition. There are no creeds, no ministers, and no real structure to worship.
The OC Meeting meets in downtown Santa Ana, on the 2nd floor of a run-down office building. They could meet in a non-descript suburban strip mall or office park, but they’ve chosen to situate themselves in an urban environment. They support programs for at-risk youth within the same community. Most of the meeting for worship takes place in a small room, on inexpensive but comfortable chairs arranged in a circle.
So what do you do at a liberal Quaker meeting? Simple! You sit.
Well, you also listen. And sometimes, when lead by the Spirit, you speak.
But mostly you just sit and listen.
Over the space of about an hour (I got there a bit late), I counted:
7 people who looked under 40.
One woman over 90 (but didn’t look it).
A dozen hideous feedback screeches from the two hearing aids in her coat pocket.
6-7 cars blaring Latin music (with accordions).
6-7 cars blaring hip hop music (with deep bass).
Male Quaker voices: four.
Female Quaker voices: six.
There was an abundance of speaking because towards the end of the meeting, attendees responded to the “queries” read by the Meeting’s clerk (a woman). The queries consisted of soul-searching questions, in this case regarding seeking and following the Spirit.
The quiet sitting is one of the things I find appealing about the Society of Friends. For all of my affinity to and study of Buddhism, I have a hard time meditating in the Eastern Zen or transcendental ways. Even though liberal Quakers are reluctant to espouse any creeds (and you’ll find them coming from Christian, Jewish and atheist backgrounds), the tradition is rooted in 17th Century English Protestantism. I’ve found that I love meditating in the Christian tradition.
In my mind, Quakerism has a wonderful blend of accessible Christian mysticism–a focus on the experience of “that of God” within every human–and then acting within the world on the revealed light and truth received. This is the tradition, though it has been relatively small in numbers throughout history, that produced William Penn and his great political experiment, suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, prison and social reformers like Jane Adams and Elizabeth Fry, early U.S. patriots like Thomas Paine and Dolley Madison, and countless abolitionists and pacifists. Also Dave Matthews. And Walt Whitman. Note the number of famous female Quakers! This cutting-edge progressivism and powerful activism is the other side of the silent, mystic Quaker coin.
So, to wrap up my Mormon-Quaker comparison:
Where Mormon men wear white shirts and dark suits and women are required to wear skirts or dresses, Quakers dress comfortably in jeans and corduroy and a few pairs of Birkenstocks. This is part of a long tradition of being “plain” in appearance.
Where Mormonism has a strong vertical hierarchy, Quakerism is about the flattest, most egalitarian of religions I know. Everything is run by committee and from what I’ve heard and read, sometimes it’s a miracle that things get accomplished.
Where Mormonism has well-defined gender roles, there is no visible difference between men and women in Quakerism.
Where U.S. Mormon culture can be heavily jingoistic, Quakers deplore war and emphasize the humanity of individuals before their citizenship.
Where modern Mormonism tends to preserve social fossils like second-class status for men of African descent (until 1978) and women (still going strong), Quakerism is sometimes decades (or even centuries) ahead of their time.
You can tell that I’m just a wee bit biased towards the Quakers. Why am I not a Quaker then? Because Mormonism is family.
But I’m not adverse to calling myself a Quakerish-Mormon. A Quaking-Mormon? A QuakMon? I’ll have to puzzle this out…