Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Looking for home: (feeling sorry for myself.)

I have never fit in anywhere except perhaps in my own family. Some people are completely content with being a misfit. Others try all their lives to conform. I don't want to conform (perish the thought!) but I want to be at home among the people in my community. I guess I'm looking for "You're a real dork but we love you anyway."

Many years ago, I left the UCC when my clergyman father had a run-in with his congregation. They were angry with his pro-gay rights position and his decision to marry a lesbian couple. At the same time, he asked the congregation to support one of their members, a young man who was reared in the church, now dying of AIDS. Our entire family was thrown into one of the worst experiences of our lives. There were vicious attacks and rumours about my dad, false accusations, back-stabbing and bitterness. Those who supported him (people who came from the lower-income bracket of the church) were also alienated from the church. It was awful and humiliating. We were severed from our community.

I had grown up in the church in a very real sense. As the minister's family, we'd served several congregations of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. We'd been the first to arrive and the last to leave. We visited parishioners with our dad and had to go to all the dinners and events. I remember watching him put on his robes and I recall leafing through Cokesbury catalogs and trying on his clerical collar. We folded bulletins, listened to him practice his sermons, acted in all the Sunday school plays and taught Sunday school ourselves when we were older. We suffered through meetings and late nights and fielded calls from bewildered, hurt, depressed and even suicidal congregants who were not able to distinguish between my father's professional role and his family's need for privacy. We had poor people and drug addicted people live in our homes. Days would pass without our seeing our dad because he was counselling, advocating, assisting. He was with people when they were baptized and married, grieving and dying. And we were there with him most of the time. We didn't go to church. We LIVED the church.

Meanwhile, he was instructing us in liberation and feminist theology. I was reading his grad school books. As a teenager, I was reading Paul Tillich and about the Nag Hammadi library. I kept a postcard of Colgate Rochester Divinity school/Crozier Theological seminary with me because that was where I most wanted to be. It was Martin Luther King Jr.'s alma mater and his nephew graduated with my dad. (I did end up going there for one semester.) My great-grandfathers were ministers. We were descended from Jonathan Edward's brother. My Cousin Emily was one of the first women ordained in the Methodist Church in England. She preached in country churches in the United States back in the 1920's. It seemed like it was my destiny to become a minister and to follow in my father's footsteps. Indeed, I received my calling when I was thirteen years old.

So it was terrible when our church rejected us. I have never felt so betrayed and bewildered in all my life. This was around the same time, probably not coincidentally, that I was becoming a Neo-Pagan. By the time I reached college, I was pretty well on that path. My father was becoming a secular humanist and my mother and sister were becoming very unorthodox in their spirituality as well. Actually, this process was probably initiated two decades earlier when my father began seminary. His tendency thereafter was toward an extremely liberal interpretation of the faith and he taught us that responsible biblical criticism rejects fundamentalism. So, it wasn't that I was abandoning Christianity at all. I was abandoning it as an orthodoxy. To me, the bible was a collection of occasionally poignant and useful illustrations interspersed with a great deal of hateful text. Jesus was a nice guy but I'd read enough to know that his ideas were not unique and are not unique now. I don't see him as any more or less divine than any other human being. Love him still. But I don't worship him. I had to honor my calling so after I dropped out of Colgate Divinity school where surprisingly enough they weren't tolerant of pagans, lol, I moved onto Antioch U. and got my grad degree in Women's Spirituality, focusing much of my attention on Christian feminist theology which I studied alongside pagan Thealogy. I like liberal Christian theology. I respect it. I just like TheAlogy better.

In any case, I was content to lead the life a spiritual individualist, a solitary practitioner. Lately, however, I have begun to crave belonging to a group of people who share my values. I'm getting tired of living in what seems like a twilight zone in which no one seems to be concerned about animal rights, or child labor, or environmental degradation and endless wars. I want to be with people who think that feminist, vegan, pagan people are good people and not nutcases. I want to be among people who share my love of "discipline" as a spiritual concept. I want a spirituality with a focus in practice rather than in doctrine. I want to be among people who are excited by history and thea/olgical concepts and willing to kick these ideas around as equals.

Most importantly, I want a place where my children can grow, a refuge in an angry world where they won't have to be "weird" or where "weird" is a good thing. I can't be with them forever and I can't guarantee that they will have the support of long-lived spouses, friends and partners. I want to provide them with an opportunity to have a community to hold them up when they are weak, to bring them solace and comfort, acceptance and challenge when I cannot do it anymore.

My research drew me, over several years time, to the Quakers. First I did lots of historical research as I initially explored their relationship to Spiritualism and the current Goddess women's culture. I read lots of material about contemporary Quakers and their diversity of beliefs. I was thrilled to find that there are non-theistic and pagan Quakers! Hurray! Then I began reading blogs and delighted in the thoughtfulness and engagement I found there. In the Protestant churches, it was like pulling teeth to get the people to actually THINK about their faith. They wanted to leave that to their minister.

Finally, we began attending a meeting. We've been there some months and we're still feeling it out. My husband feels very much at home but I am still cautious. Sometimes I think they don't know what to do about my kids. Other times I sense that they pity me. I don't always get the point of the extended silences since I find so much spirit in conversation and it frustrates me that they don't talk to each other more. I get irritated with them for being so much older, and more financially comfortable than I am. When my kids are running around, I'm scattered and unfocused and I'm afraid I'm bringing the spirit of the whole meeting down. What if they think being a SAHM is a cop-out? What if they think I'm too bold or aggressive. I believe in standing up and fighting for my causes. What if this offends? If I have to pretend that I am placid, I'll feel all scrunched and miserable. what if, what if, what if...?

More recently, I began to participate in Quaker blogs. That has been almost entirely a failure in the sense that I find myself very bewildered by people's reactions to me. I don't speak much after meeting during the social time. I'm glad I don't. What if people reacted to me there in the same way? (I get really excited about dorky things like history and theory and then when I share my excitement, people think I'm being an ass.) Could I handle that in front of people. Would I cry or say something dumb? We have to take a long break from meeting because of scheduling so this will be a time of soul-searching for me. If anyplace shares my values, especially peace and simplicity, it is the Quakers. But maybe I can't fit in in with them just because I don't fit in anywhere. Maybe I will have to pack up my spiritual backpack and move on. But oh, I don't want to. I want to be home. I really want to be home.


Maureen said...

Hi there, I've been enjoying your blog very much. I was actually surfing through because you listed "plain dress" as an interest. I'm currently studying to be an archivist and a librarian, and I'm doing a bit of research about contemporary quakers and plain dress, and how individual plain dressing Quakers see this practice in relation to memory and collective memory. Would you be willing to chat a bit about this subject? I was raised as a Friend, and have already done quite a bit of research into some of the historical contexts, so don't think that you would have to get me up to speed on some of the Quakerism 101 parts, although I would be very interested in your interpretations of central Friends' testimonies. In any case, I look forward to hearing from you!

Plain Foolish said...

Howdy. I found you through the answer you gave to the "Quakers and Social Class" questions, and shared your blog with my husband. I very much identify with what you've written here. My religious/spiritual path has been... well, a bit of a tangle, to be honest.

Anymore, I don't have a one-word answer when people ask me what my religion is. It feels like my choices are to either lie or to bore them to death. The best I've come up with is "Independent."

Odetta said...

Good words.