Welcome to the Friendly Quakersaurus!

Friendly Stegosaurus

Welcome! Welcome to the Friendly Quakersaurus.

Kwakersaur (the semi-extinct species)

I’m not entirely sure just what this space is going to look like. The first Quakersaurus was birthed way back in the 1990s some time with a vanity website. Then it migrated over to a creature called Blogspot (now Blogger) as a blog. It then morphed again into the Kwakersaur Friendly Skripture Study communal blog which I continued to coordinate/facilitate until I passed the work on to someone else. I believe that critter is been extinct for some time now.

But we belong to an era of Jurassic Park were extinct critters can be resurrected with the right technology. And for now the technology is Facebook and WordPress.

I have a wide range of interests which I focus on with some obsessive precision. I like dinosaurs and fossils. I’m also fascinated with Quakers (mostly of the 17th century variety) and Christian spirituality. Here in Canada we are in the middle of an election and so I would be very surprised if politics didn’t find a way of creeping into the mix. I also have personal irons in the fire related to disability rights especially from a faith-based perspective.

All of which is to say, again, that “I’m not entirely sure just what this space is going to look like.” Join me if you wish.

2019-10-26

In the interest of full disclosure. My actual connection to the Quaker communities is somewhat tenuous currently.
I began my association with Friends in 1982 when I attended a Friends’ meeting after running into a book in the public library. I have participated actively in the life of two monthly meetings in a number of roles and represented Quakers on outside bodies. I was also married in a Friends’ Meeting under the care of that meeting and after the manner of Friends. But somewhere along the line life got in the way. Geographically participation in the life of a Quaker meeting became difficult, and then for variety of reasons it became emotionally difficult and then I simply found myself elsewhere.

Recently — and by recently I mean on and off over the last year or so but increasingly more over the current year — I have been missing my connection to Friends. I find my nose in 17th century Quaker literature (mostly Isaac Penington, but occasionally George Fox and James Naylor) and have managed to to attend a Quaker meeting three times in the last year and a half (which doesn’t seem like much, but it is more than I have done in the preceding decade).

fides quarens intellectum
(faith seeking understanding)

Anselm of Canterbury

George Fox Epistle IV [1651]

All Friends, mind that which is pure in you to guide you to God, out of Babylon, out of confusion: there all the world is; there is the seat of the beast; there are the false prophets and deceivers, as well within as without. One voice of deceit (“deceti” GFW7) knows not another, nor any of them the voice of the living God.

But, dear friends, mind the light of God in your consciences, which will show you all deceit; dwelling in it, guides out of the many things into one spirit, which cannot lie, nor deceive. They that are guided by it, are one, who have been made to drink into one spirit; and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. All jarrings, all schisms, all rents are out of the spirit, for God hath tempered the body together, that there should be no schism in the body, but all worship him with one consent. And as the power and life of truth are made manifest, watch in the discerning one over another.

And be aware of discouraging any in the work of God: the labourers are few, that are faithful for God. Take heed of hurting the gift, which God hath given to profit withal, whereby ye have received to life through death, and a measure of peace by the destruction of evil. Pray, that peace may be multiplied, and the ministration of life, to the raising of the dead, that “the seed of the woman may bruise the serpent’s head,” discover all deceit, and rend all veils and coverings, that the pure may come to life, which deceit has trampled upon.

George Fox

And all take heed to your spirits; that which is hasty, discerns not the good seed. Take heed of being corrupted by flattery’s; they that know their God, shall be strong. But take heed of labouring to turn the just aside for a thing of nought, but know the precious from the vile, the clean from the unclean; these shall be as my mouth,” saith the Lord, for his work is great, and his gifts diverse. And therefore all mind to your gift, mind to your measure; mind your calling and your work. Some speak to the conscience; some plough and break the clods; some weed out, and some sow; some wait, that fowls devour not the seed. But wait all for the gathering of the simple-hearted ones; for “they that turn many to righteousness, shall shine forever.”

Mind the light, that all may be refreshed one in another, and all in one. And the God of power and love keep all friends in power, in love, that there be no surmisings, but pure refreshing in the unlimited love of God, which makes one another known in the conscience, to read one another’s hearts: being comprehended into this love, it is inseparable and all are here one. And keep in the oneness, and note them that cause dissension, contrary to the gospel ye have received; that one pure faith may be held in all, to guide and preserve all in the unity of the Spirit and bond of peace; all one family of love, children of one father, and of the household of God.

Friendly Stegosaurus

Anger (again)

I am less than happy with my last post (click here). The topic like it’s subject is messy and I think I tried to cover too large a territory such that I treated no one aspect well (enough). It is possible I have a perfectionist streak.

Friendly Stegosaurus

Just as soon as I hit “publish” on my last topic I was faced with an image of Quakers at protest marches. Some marching down the centre of streets carrying placards. Others dumping pigs’ blood on the stairs of government buildings during the Vietnam war. And now, more recently chaining themselves to trees to prevent clear cut logging. And the image of passive-ist instead of pacifist Quakers that seemed to stand behind my last posting seemed all wrong.

And yet, the tension between those two images/models — both of which may be stereotypes — is a part of who we are and how we live as Friends. Because most of us live in that messy middle between the contemplative and the activist.

I myself tend toward the contemplative end of the spectrum. But I’m also self-aware enough to know that as an introvert, and as someone who therefore internalizes both his privilege in this society and his marginalization, that playing the contemplative role tends to meet my ego-needs as much or more than it does my quest for communion with God. And I take for granted that for at least some of the activists out there a similar process is in play. We are after all human beings and there’s only so many ways you can screw up and as a result most of our tragedies are variations on a handful of themes.

Adventures in Self-Censorship

What about Britain YM’s YM this year? No-one was actually bad, but some failed to see the damage privilege does and spoke their complacency. That hurts others.

C.F.

I cannot speak to the Britain Yearly Meeting situation. In context, I assume that a decision (or lack of decision) at the last session of BYM had the potential to do harm to trans people and C.F. attributes this to people acting from a place of privilege.

This is one reason why it is so important to hear the early Quaker witness that the Light/Seed in the conscience is experienced in the conscience but is not identical with it. Conscience is a human construct — it is at best the thing in us which answers the question, “But what would mother say…” but the Light that shines in the conscience is the gadfly which constantly asks us, “What is God calling us to in this situation?”. Without making this distinction we conflate the voice of the status quo with the witness of the transcendent.

If C.F. Is correct in her interpretation of what happened at BYM — and I have no reason to believe she is not — it isn’t terribly surprising. They are and we are after all human beings. And human beings are predisposed both genetically and culturally to play the short game. The life of faith calls us to play the long game — a very long game in some cases. We nailed Jesus to a tree 2000 years ago and are still trying to figure out how to live the Law of Love. Of course the situation’s a little more urgent now — playing the short game has led us to an ecological crisis where there may not be enough time to continue playing the long game.

And of course at least some of those people who were not “actually bad, but… spoke their complacency” may very well have been trans or trans allies who suddenly felt unsafe and so chose to play the short game.

Back in the yearly 2000s I found myself visiting a friends meeting of which I used to be a member. Someone present rose and spoke in meeting about the injustice suffered by Robert Latimer. Latimer was not a Quaker. He was a farmer who gently placed his disabled daughter into his vehicle and then ran a hose from the exhaust pipe through the window and started the engine. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years.

Now I and many other disabled people like me felt personally threatened by Robert Latimer and his conviction that he did nothing wrong. And when we have said so in more or less progressive circles we have suffered harassment for it. It’s not so much that I want to hurt Robert Latimer (who is now out on parole — this meeting was a very long time ago) but that I suspect that if we allow the state to treat such cases differently than other murders our own safety as People with Disabilities in our communities would be put at risk.

So hearing this spoken as ministry in a friends meeting that I used to think of as my own was quite jarring. But even more than that — for let’s face it I was not surprised that at least some friends were sympathetic — even more than that was the wording that begin the ministry: “it is obvious…”

It is obvious. All reasonable people believe as I do. That willingness to speak globally in this way was something I had not heard spoken on the floor of the Quaker meeting before. Yeah in conversation. Not in ministry.

Reflecting back on it much later I sought as a rhetorical move — very few people ever start a sentence “it is obvious that…” When in fact what they are about to say is obvious. Obviousness is a label you put on something to prevent it from being challenged. And that’s why it’s so strange in a meeting for worship — it’s about rhetoric and arguments and silencing dissent.

Learned Helplessness

I did not see that then. I felt anger but more than that I felt helpless, bound by the conventions — ironically, for a group that doesn’t like being bound by rules, quite rigid conventions — of meeting for worship. You see, I had already risen to speak and you are not supposed to speak a second time in the same worship meeting. And if I spoke it would be almost certainly seasoned with my feelings of anger and isolation and would almost certainly speak to the ministry of the other person — another line in the sand not to cross. So I sat there quietly seething hoping someone else would speak.

Other factors that I allowed to limit me in that moment:

  • I had recently come from yearly meeting and had met with someone seeking a petition signed for the same Robert Latimer; I had been assertive enough to refuse, but the person had not been willing to take no for an answer and had repeatedly sought me out to the point of my becoming quite distressed.
  • A lifetime of living with disability in this world — a world convinced that a disabled life is not as worthwhile living as an able-bodied one.
  • My own temperament — or perhaps learned helplessness: my default settings seem to be don’t rock the boat — especially if one is going up against authority or the group consensus.

No one else spoke. Which I interpreted as consent to the “ministry”. That is I think in retrospect reading too much into the situation. Silence does not automatically imply consent in Quaker contexts. But nonetheless that’s how I read it and I think in some ways my relationship to Quakerism’s changed from that point on. I continued to participate but with less commitment and enthusiasm. I forgot that we were in the long game.

2019-10-28 – Addendum

Saw this and it spoke so much to what I was trying to say in so many more words:

You Wouldn’t Like It When I Get Angry

Sometimes Quakers have a problem with anger.

Friendly Stegosaurus

Okay so let’s be more honest (which in liberal Quaker circles often means let’s get autobiographical): Sometimes I have a problem with anger (and my association with Friends has reinforced less than helpful habits surrounding that problem).

Here’s where I run into trouble: I tend to become agreeable to defuse conflict. I smooth out the ruffled feathers. I bite my tongue and bide my time. The one thing I want to avoid is an amygdala hijack — mine or someone else’s. Which is silly because my retreat (on the flight/freeze end of the fight or flight spectrum) is itself an indicator I’m already in hijack.

Quakerism — especially the set of practices that informs participation in waiting worship is also a skills training ground in impulse control. When we are eager to act: we are told to hold it in the light; when we feel we have been given something to say: we test our leading to speak.

And Friends learned these practices from the scriptures. As Jacob, brother of Jesus, instructs us:

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger— for human anger doesn’t produce the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20

And of course Jacob’s own brother (as confirmed by all four gospels) had another perspective:

Now the apostle Paul, yeah, the guy famous for being in your face and out there and challenging people. That apostle Paul is where we get the more moderate position parked between the two extremes of Jacob and Jesus.

“Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down on your anger

Ephesians 4:26

None of which answers the core questions of what to do when your anger may be justified. What do I do with the rage when I or people I care for have been targeted unjustly? How do I know if this is human anger that does not serve God’s righteousness or whether it is time to turn over the tables?

Healing & Wholeness II

Friendly Stegosaurus

(continued from Healing & Wholeness I)

The Tyranny of Our Expectations

We live in an era of identity politics. It’s not enough to be human anymore but we have to be a hyphenated human and sometimes were a hyphenated-hyphenated human. I’m not a Christian; I am a white-male cis-het Christian, sometimes a Quaker and sometimes a United Church goer living with a disability. The box I’m in gets increasingly cramped.Theologian Stanley Hauerwas talks about this world as a life lived among the fragments since the collapse of Constantinian Christianity. And he speaks of it as specifically related to ethics.

We also live in an era of shock and awe. We are constantly being surprised and shocked by what other people say and do. We even have people who seem to be professionally disappointed in other people. We see it on TV all the time: someone with a microphone in their face expresses how shocked and horrified they are at some such thing and your guts tell you that they aren’t — they are reaching for their 15 minutes of fame or repositioning the conversation to score ideological points.

And it is by way of living in our little fragments that we come to be formed by a an increasingly narrow set of expectations. We hear over and over again that there is no such thing as common sense. That’s because we hold nothing in common any longer.

And so I spent the better part of my last post (Healing & Wholeness I) mapping out the kinds of expectations I bring to this whole conversation about what it means to be healed and what it means to be whole. As a way of starting the conversation about why I expected (erroneously) people on the more or less progressive side of spiritual fence to look at their assumptions differently.

And Words Shape Our Lives

We all get into habits is speaking and sometimes those habits of speaking come out of our places of privilege and sometimes out of our places of hurt. And they have a funny way of rubbing each other the wrong way.

A hotly debated issue within the community of disabled people for example is People First Language. In essence, do we say “the disabled” or do we say “people with disabilities”? And well the general rule has become people first — there are a number of us who have questions about it. A number of us who wonder whether or not we would be who we are with a disabilities.
So when I call out certain language use is less than helpful I want to make it clear that I am not condemning the language user. I’m asking people to attend to the language they use and how it might be heard and what its implications might be.

Healing & Disability

So here’s the story:

Someone well-known in a social media community and regarded with some affection — in Quakers we would say a “weighty Friend” fell ill. And because the social media space was largely sympathetic to faith spirituality religion — whatever you label that dimension of the human experience — people began to offer prayers for recovery.

Recovery” is uninteresting word. Rather like its cognate “recuperate“. In the prayers (or at least some of them) followed on that theme. “Praying for a full recovery” or “praying for restoration” or that God/Spirit/The Divine would bring the person “back into wholeness”. All of which seem to imply — at least in their grammar anyway — that the person was whole before they became ill and that the coming whole again means a return to the condition they were in before they became ill.

Living Into the New Normal

There are some traumas we cannot recover from. We cannot hit the reset switch and go back to where we were. Ever.

Sometimes it takes dealing with a disability – the trauma, the relearning, the months of rehabilitation therapy – to uncover our true abilities and how we can put them to work for us in ways we may have never imagined.

Tammy Duckworth

For at least some people in the disability movement this talk of recovery and recuperation — this getting back to normal is simply a reminder that in this society, despite all our positive talk about how all of us are of equal value, despite all that: the worth of a human being is routinely judged on our abilities to generate wealth for other people and their abilities to present ourselves to others as potential sexual partners with pornography often setting the standard. In other words human worth is socially constructed and those constructions are rooted in the values of the culture — which in ours means the ability to buy and sell human beings.

To become traumatically disabled — and that does not necessarily require us to be injured in a way that we cannot come back from physically. A stroke a cancer and amputation such as Tammy Duckworth’s, all hit us where we live. And if we are brought to full functionality — our sense of who we are in the world still changes dramatically.

Nearly 4 years ago my wife lived through a stroke just days before Christmas (click here). I remember standing in front of the Christmas tree in the food court of the hospital after having pushed her wheelchair down there for respite from the stroke rehabilitation ward. With all that she had lost or had seemed to have lost at that moment her greatest anguish was her inability to sing in the choir Christmas Eve. Her singing voice was the major way in which she participated in the life of our faith community. And it was an integral part of who she was.

Today she sings in the church choir. Again. She also is back at work — although at reduced hours. And she is just begun to volunteer on that same stroke rehabilitation ward talking to people who have survived more recent strokes about what is coming and what community resources are available to them. My wife stopped using the wheelchair scant weeks after the stroke; she walks with a cane which she often forgets in corners and has to run back to rescue from time to time. She is rebuilding a life. It is in my opinion a whole life. But make no mistake it will never be the life she left behind on Christmas 2015.

We each of us leave this life with more scars than we entered into it with. Not all of them are visible. Next time you start to assume that a disabled life is not worth living because of what it prevents you from doing ask yourself what makes your life worth doing and whether it is all that praiseworthy. And remember that your judgment on us has significant implications for how we build a society together. Our values point towards the kind of world we want to live in. And who will be excluded from it?