Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quakers and Homosexuality

In my local meetings, people are committed to honoring loving same-sex relationships.  I would like to tell people that Friends collectively support the human rights of all persons regardless of sexuality.  Sadly, I cannot do this.  I am seriously bummed out by NY's dual affiliation status and I am unwilling to accept that those who accept FUM's policies or who indicate that homosexuality is a sin are members of the same faith community as myself.  I am not interested in sharing community with those who are hateful enough to allow sloppy interpretations of ancient texts (a hermeneutics of bigotry?) to justify condemnation of human beings.  When asked to choose between the rights of LGBT people and the religious sensibilities of homophobic Friends, I'll turn my back on conservative*** Quakers every single time.  Without exception. Make no mistake.  Opposition to gay rights is every bit as ugly, inhumane, and backwards as racism and sexism.


There is no rational or intellectual justification for bigotry.  Not ever. 

  The ancient perceptions of human sexuality are so dramatically different from our own that it becomes nonsensical to apply their reactions to various sex acts to our modern context.  Scholars of the Hellenistic world indicate a starkly different organization of sexuality than what we understand as a gay sexual relationships.  Pederasty, male prostitution, and the hierarchal relationships between a powerful adult male and a passive younger male are not in the least bit the same as a healthy sexual relationship between consenting adults who love each other as equals.  Hellenistic people did not see people as gay or straight but as powerful and not powerful.  Powerful men had sexual access to adolescents, younger men, slaves and women.  Younger people (both male and female), slaves, and all women were expected to submit and older men were expected to dominate.  Their sexual models were vertical rather than horizontal.  Pauline emphasis on reciprocity in sexual partnership challenges such a vertical construct.  This is just one of many arguments surrounding the changing patterns of gender and sexuality over time that require our attention before we arrogantly assume we understood ancient people's attitudes about sex.

Even if there were not great cultural and linguistic stumbling blocks to the application of biblical language to modern morality, I would not give a rat's ass about the bible's injunctions against homosexual relationships.  Common sense and human decency tell me that if someone loves another a human being and behaves toward their beloved with respect, joy, and tenderness, then that relationship is a blessing to the entire human family. To stand in the way of such a loving relationship is to stand on the side of injustice and intolerance.  It is to make oneself the enemy of the best humanity has to offer. 

I am proud that Quakers were ahead of the general population on such issues as pacifism, slavery, Civil Rights, and women's rights.  To be historically accurate, we must point out that in all these movements, a few radical Friends stuck their necks out and lots of them got themselves read out of meeting because they were quicker to perceive injustice than their brethren.  Progressive Friends in the nineteenth-century remain my models for appropriate discernment practice.  I cannot believe that divine justice could ever tolerate the destruction of families, the restriction of reciprocal love, or the mockery of rationalism.  How much discernment and revelation does it take to uhold the basic human rights of another human being?  How long must we wait?  A generation?  Two generations?  How many good people are we willing to hurt in the process?  How many of their children?  Seriously, what God asks us to be infernal, controlling, irrational, judgmental, busy-bodies until a discernment process tells us we no longer have the right to tell other adults who can stick what where?  (With so much misery in the world that needs our attention, why do so many people have such a perverse interest in other people's goodies?)

Bottom line:  When the Bible, the Church, or the Law oppose my heart's joyful response to another human heart, then I stand with my heart.  Let the Bible, the Church, and the Law be damned.


***In this case, I use the term "conservative" to indicate political and social conservatism as experienced in the United States. I do NOT mean "conservative" as in Conservative Friends who are conserving Friends' religious and traditional integrity. While conservative Friends may differ from me in that they tend to be far more Christ-centered than I am, there is not necessarily any profound difference in our understanding of social justice issues. My issue with conservative Friends is when they behave like so-called social conservatives. These terms are not synonymous and I apologize for the confusion this may cause.

For a continuation of my thoughts, albeit in a more wise-ass fashion, please refer to O Canada.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Quaker Mask of Respectability



We've been away from meeting for worship for most all of the summer. There's always a reason. Sort of. We're either sick or we're tired or we're sick and tired.

It makes me sad to think about it. Why can't I get myself to meeting? What is wrong with me?

My feelings about meeting for worship are layered and intense. In the silence, I feel profound Presence and I also feel it in the words people speak into that silence. I almost never get through a meeting for worship without tears. Even apparently simple messages move me profoundly and the intensity of emotion surrounding me is palpable. Still, all of that is just a tease. When everyone stands up and shakes hands, the spell is broken and I'm surrounded by strangers who don't know my name and don't actually give a damn about me or my family. When they do talk to me (and usually they don't) their masks are back on and they are bland, respectable, officious, and busy. What do I expect? I am just the same. I fuss over my kids and when someone asks me a question, my mind races to find the appropriate formula so that I can supply a politely phrased and bland response that will not betray any unsightly emotion. "I am depressed and lonely. I feel isolated and have been in a panicked despair over my sense that life is a series of crushing, humiliating circumstances beyond my control followed by painful disease or injury resulting in personal annihilation," is not the kind of response anyone wants to hear. They want to hear, "I'm fine. How are you?"

Still, I have these expectations. For instance, I expect that people might say hello to me and smile at me as if they mean it and I expect that spiritual topics not be received with the same distaste as if I'd told them about my sexual habits. I get a very strong sense that "we don't talk about those things here." No one really says it but their body language and their apparent reluctance to share personal experiences of worship broadcasts that sentiment loud and clear.

To be fair, I wonder if I'd really be comfortable discussing spiritual matters with anyone offline where it is so much more critical to maintain the facade of respectability. "Hystery" doesn't have to worry about what anyone thinks of her so she is free to speak openly of her spiritual journey, of her doubts, and her deep fears. If I were to do that in the real world, it is unlikely that I could keep my job for long. Real world relationships, unless they are very intimate, do not bear that much weight and people with responsibilities don't talk about spiritual hunger. They don't expose spiritual wounds-- not without first bandaging them nicely in tidy strips of "rational objective discourse." I've been burned often enough online to know that I don't think I could handle similar rejection face to face.

I'm a closeted spiritual person in many ways and I'll bet you lots of other Friends are as well. Where I live and make my living, I cannot afford to show that I am a haunted soul. In the sane and secular halls of America, to be a Pagan is to be a liberal fruitcake and to be a Christian is to be a conservative wing-nut. I dare not expose the extent to which I am "touched", as we say here in the country. My rational self forbids it.

Maybe we are all wearing masks. I cannot be the only one who removes it in the deepening silence when I think that no one is watching. Why else would Quakers tremble and weep in meeting as I know they sometimes do? I watch the light pass over their faces and I feel the energy whirl in the heavy places between their words. They must also be "touched." Is that not the point? If you sit in a circle and open yourself to Spirit(s) what do you suppose will happen? The brain is a funny thing. My little seizures might explain it all but I doubt that. In no other place but in meeting does my body sweat and tremble with the efforts of the soul. No wonder we are all embarrassed at the end. What if we are all just insane? What of it? Perhaps if we don't say it out loud, we do not have to face that truth. What if the Divine is actually talking to us? What of it? Perhaps if we don't say it out loud, we do not have to face that Truth either.

How much of that prejudice and fear of being exposed do people bring into meeting with them? Where the Divine touches us most deeply is also the heart of us where we are most tender, exposed and vulnerable. How do we dare share that in public? How can we expect others to do so? Are there other closeted spiritual people in my meeting peering out at me under the respectable, nice masks they wear? At the rise of meeting, do they too hurriedly wipe tears from their faces before drawing a mask of respectability over their eyes to hide the naked fears and hopes that haunt them at night?

Oh yes. We wear our masks and we engage in the ritual dance, making a religion of our respectability. We call out the holy words of denial as if we were not really (oh, certainly not!) sitting together in the open each with a wounded soul turned toward the Light. We sing out the protective verses designed to settle us safely back into the mundane world, "How are you?,"-- " I'm fine, thanks. How are you?"

What would happen if we told the truth?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Looking for Work.

Although I want to write a continuation of the last post, "Christ has come to teach the people himself", I find that I am not able to do so at this time. It would actually require a little thought on my part and right now I feel as though I have no thought to spare. I'm teaching a Western Civ. class and a women's history class right now as well as educating my own children in literature, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, math, science, history, health, religion studies, art, music, and geography. It will take me half a beat to settle into that schedule before I can blog properly again. (This entry, although boring and irrelevant to the general theme of this blog, is good evidence that I am making progress toward that end.) I also need to prepare for African American history to be taught in the second half of this semester and a Western Civ. II class for next semester. I also need to begin building a history of nursing and midwifery class to offer to my department chair as a potential special topics course for our nursing students.

I'm also revising my CV because I need to find work. Although next semester I hope my department chair will throw four classes rather than just two or three my way, I'll need more income to compensate for my husband's need to take a low-paying, part-time job in order to go back to school so he can find decent work again. (I could devote another entire blog to the loss of union jobs, benefits, and health insurance particularly among male workers. I'm finding it is much less fun to be a part of historical and economic transition than it is to write and teach about it.) In any case, I need to step it up on my end to compensate for his difficulties. This has been a rough year for us financially and we're slipping backwards. I'll need to either get more frequent flyer miles by doing adjunct work at more than one college or work toward getting a full time position at a college or university. I'm pessimistic about my chances right now. Although I'm confident as a teacher, I'm not good at selling myself to potential employers. I always imagine people in suits are annoyed by my very presence so I cannot imagine anyone hiring me. No matter. I have to do it anyway. I have to put myself out there because my children cannot live on books alone. I'm hoping that five years of teaching experience in both brick and mortar and online classrooms will help me out but there are an awful lot of people just like me out there looking for jobs.

If you know anyone who wants to hire someone with teaching interests in history, women's history and philosophy of religion, historiography and research methodology let me know. (Why in the world didn't I study anything practical? *sigh*)

So that's what's happening right now with me and why there are larger gaps between blog posts. Wish me luck.