Saturday, May 29, 2010

Friend Thomas M'Clintock

"Religion has been emphatically embodied, not in speculative theories, but in practical righteousness, in active virtues, in reverence to God, in benevolence to man- the latter being the only sure test of the former." -- Thomas M'Clintock in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1841

Thomas M'Clintock was an abolitionist Friend who was among those who separated from Genesee Yearly Meeting in 1848 to form a Progressive Friends meeting. One month later, he and a number of other Garrisonian abolitionist Friends would provide the backbone of support for the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. His wife and daughters were among the principle players in the organization and execution of the Seneca Falls Convention and in the Rochester Convention that followed. Thomas was one of the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments which demanded, among other things, the elective franchise for American women. Part of a vibrant history of human rights activism, William Lloyd Garrison wrote to Thomas, "You have a soul capable of embracing the largest idea of humanity..."

Lucretia Mott called him "a biblical scholar of some renown." He edited the first volume of Elias Hicks's Sermons (1826) and in 1831 worked on the eight volume publication of Works of George Fox. As a leading Hicksite luminary and reformer, Thomas M'Clintock's leadership was critical in the formation of Progressive Friends in the late 1840s. After their split with Genesee Yearly Meeting, the Junius meeting of Progressive Friends (later known as Friends of Human Progress)continued with their work as abolitionists and advocates of women's equality. Their meetings were congregational and non-hierarchical. Women and men met together and members were not required to agree on doctrine or creed. In October of 1848, Thomas M'Clintock wrote The Basis of Religious Association, which stated, "The true basis of religious fellowship is not identity of theological belief, but unity of heart and oneness of purpose in respect to the great practical duties of life."

Friends belonging to or associated with the Progressive Friends meeting in Junius/Waterloo included Daniel Anthony and his daughter Susan B. Anthony, Amy and Isaac Post, Thomas and Mary Ann M'Clintock, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who worshiped with Friends in the late 1840s and 1850s). Lucretia and James Mott were present at the Genesee Yearly Meeting in which Progressive Friends separated themselves from the larger meeting. She gave vocal and written support to the dissidents and assisted them in their organization.

The emergent women's rights movement of the mid-nineteenth century was led and inspired by Quaker advocates of women's equality among whom Thomas M'Clintock wielded great intellectual and moral influence. It is unfortunate how little attention has been paid to his life and legacy. Lately I've been thinking of him, thankful for him, and looking forward to learning more. I'm realizing now how much I owe his open-minded approach to religious association for my ability to make a spiritual home among Friends.

For information on Thomas M'Clintock and Progressive Friends in New York see

Judith Wellman's The Road to Seneca Falls (2004)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Call to Fall in Love with People who Irritate Us for the sake of Divinity

The theme of my thoughts these days has been on little, pernicious stereotypes as related to self-identity. The consideration of "identity" has always been a focus for me as a feminist thinker. As I mature, I note that my own identity is increasingly liminal and border-crossing. It frustrates me at times to never be able to fit neatly into any categories. I would enjoy, just for a moment, to see what it is like to be an easy fit with another group of human beings, but I know from experience that "fitting in" is so psychically uncomfortable to me that it is worth the extra effort of forging friendships based not on commonalities but on time, conversation, and love.

Very many of my strongest connections to others come not from an easy compatibility but from the hard work of laboring with another person through the differences. If, as I believe, the Divine is beyond measure and beyond definition, and if, as I believe, each of us is a unique manifestation of that Divine Energy in our physical and spiritual "bodies" as well as in our perspectives, it is imperative that we reach out to each other as we are not as we believe we should be. I am but one spark of the Divine driven by a desire to join in the company of Light. Too often, I seek out those who are most like me. Worse, I try to make others into my own image, but to mistake my own reflection for the inner Light of another soul is to surrender myself to a tragic and profound loneliness.

So much of our identities are both constructed and relational and yet one would never know this from the way that folks lob defining words at other people like weapons. Words are tricky things. They help us communicate ideas even as they interrupt the freedom ideas require to grow. There are a million things I could say on this topic but I will focus only on one bit of advice. Instead of defining the person sitting across from you, that person who frustrates your conceptions and definitions and irritates the snot out of you with their "wrong"-ness, try listening to them instead. Listen deeply and patiently. Listen passionately and faithfully. Let them tell their own stories. Let them define their own words. Hear them into Fullness. When you are unsure, ask for clarification. Perhaps they are using your cherished words differently than you do. Perhaps their experience taught them different truths than the ones you love. Be cognizant that it is possible that they too are learning what it means to be a human being and that they too are doing the best they can in the circumstances of their own lives and that miraculously, you have met them, this facet of the Divine, this Spark of Life, in your own travels. A million circumstances could have kept them from you and yet here they are with you! Here is another story, a story you have never heard before, and you may hear it if you are willing. This is a miraculous and joyful thing though it may also be hard and bitter in the execution. All Thought is seeking to know in all the ways that Knowledge can be found. It takes an Infinity of us to accomplish this. All of Life is yearning for Itself. Honor your own experience and do not apologize for it. It is a unique manifestation of the Divine that only you could accomplish. But remember, you do not hold the entirety of the Divine in your heart. If God is anything, S/He is a Process, a Relationship, a Love Unfolding. All of Life is yearning for Itself. We are called to desire each other, to touch each other. We are called to listen and to fall in love with the "Other" though the Other may be very strange. I cannot explain the mystery of falling in love with difference and finding there my deepest Self. But it is a good thing and I want more of it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Can A Pagan Environmentalist Not Like Being Outside?

How can a Pagan environmentalist not like being outside? Easy. I just don't. Doesn't that mean that I must not be a real Pagan and I must not be a real environmentalist? Apparently not since I am clearly an environmentalist and I am clearly a Pagan and I clearly do not like being outside. A zebra with spots! Good Lord! I am proof that such an animal exists. Let me explain my deviance.

1. There are lots of insects outside. I love insects. They are endlessly fascinating and beautiful comrades in my journey through life. I refuse to kill or injure them--- but I'm also not keen on having them land on my lips and eyeballs. I'm not thrilled about mosquito bites either and I can live without bee, wasp, hornet,or yellow jacket stings. I find it distressing when an insect, the fragile and exquisite handiwork of my Creator, dive bombs my potato salad. Being outside seems to invite this unpleasant insect attention.

2. I am almost always too hot or too cold even indoors. In Upstate NY, the weather changes rapidly. My children went swimming for the first time this year during the first week of May. Later that week it snowed. We have snow in May and heat waves in December. We have ice storms, windstorms, and lightning storms. These are great and interesting phenomena but I prefer to be indoors during them. I also find that prolonged exposure to our more typical forms of weather which consist primarily of icy cold, clammy drizzle, and muggy heat bums me out. I do like to spend time outside sometimes, but I like it to be purposeful and I like it to be limited in duration.

3. Indoors is where people read and talk. I find these activities stimulating Outdoors they throw spherical objects at each other and insist that I help them with yard work. I do not enjoy these activities.

4. The outdoors is very dirty. I do not like to feel soiled. Yucky.

5. I live in rural America. The outdoors smells of flowers. And manure. Mostly manure. Do the math. Also, one of our primary crops is cabbage. Have you smelled cabbage fermenting in the fields?

I always say, "I love Nature...in theory." This is a joke. Mostly. But I do love Nature. I support it as best as I am able and hope to keep learning how to increase my abilities to be Nature's ally. I am a committed Crunchy Green Earth Mama. I breastfed all my children well past the age at which they could engage in stimulating conversation with me regarding the merits of breastfeeding. I am a vegan who chooses locally grown and organic foods (when I can get them in a region that has a growing season of about six days somewhere near the end of August). I stand opposed to wastefulness, consumerism, commercialism, capitalism, and unnecessarily shiny fabrics. I support environmentalist causes, read environmentalist publications, and teach environmentalist topics to my students. I just happen to not like gardening, outdoor play, or having to stand anywhere that is too sunny, breezy, nippy, or damp.

My "God" is in Nature. True. But my "God" is also in intellect, in conversation, in relationships, and in thought. These things are natural too. Just as lots of Christians do not really like to spend their entire day worshiping in the temples of their faiths (often there is a funny smell), I do not really like to spend my entire day in what others perceive as the temple of my faith. So I will continue to honor nature in my own way, here by a window. The trees are indeed, lovely, dark and deep. But I have kitchen floors to sweep, and lots to read before I sleep, and lots to read before I sleep.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Dream: Quakers and an Earthenware Pot

I dreamed that blogging Friends were looking at evidence of Jesus' life among us. It was a crystal bowl of exquisite design said to belong to Christ and his followers. Various Friends discussed their beliefs related to this ancient evidence. I remained unimpressed by the vessel because it appeared to be manufactured at a later date and betrayed a European and even American artistic and industrial background. The glass was too clear and the edges too crisp. Even so, it was impressive, old, and fragile. In fact, it was so old that it was chipping away. One could see that underneath was an even older vessel made of red clay. I could see the hand-turned pot beneath the shine of the crystal and I could even touch the earthenware bowl's base where it was completely exposed at the base. Touching it sent shivers right through me.

And I thought, "What if this is real? What if he was real?" And I thought how much I wanted to believe not in the beautiful crystal form but in the rude, red earth beneath.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Day Contemplations

May Day is one of my favorite holidays. We usually go to our favorite Mennonite greenhouse and buy plants and flowers and then give them anonymously to older family members and neighbors. "Anonymously" is maybe a stretch. I imagine they know that we are behind the new hanging basket of flowers outside their doors. They aren't stupid. Still, it is fun to sneak up with the blooms and then sneak away to admire the gift from a distance.

This year we didn't do anything for May Day. My husband's new work schedule combined with my unusual teaching schedule temporarily eliminates most possibilities of religious observance. Nevertheless, this May Day, though uncelebrated, did not go unrecognized in my heart. I spent it contemplating my status as a Pagan and wondering at my inability to draw close to others who share that identity.

It is curious to me that the more Pagans I know, the less "Pagan" I feel. On the other hand, I am finding that I am more and more likely to consider myself "Quaker" without the hyphen. The words I have used to describe myself have changed since my father baptized me as a toddler. Since then I have been a consecrated soul though the words that describe the consecration shift. The funny thing is that my spiritual sensibilities don't change much at all over time. The same feelings and core beliefs I had as a young Christian girl are the same ones I possessed as a Pagan teenager and young adult and as a Quaker Pagan mother. Perhaps the feelings are processed, analyzed, and organized differently within the context of my educational and evolving experiential context, but basically, I haven't changed that much. Certainly, I have not had a "conversion experience" so much as I have played with words and metaphors for what my heart experiences wordlessly and this has resulted in an evolving terminology.

I am a "solitary practitioner." I have a shelf of familiar Pagan and Wiccan books. As a young woman I was more likely to play with ritual, prayers, altars, and candles but I never took such play seriously. I recognized it as play and believed that the play itself was the worship. It was signal to my unconscious self that now was a time to release the rational and the cerebral and to relax happily into a world of dream-like symbolism. Had someone asked me then what books to read to understand Paganism, I would not have suggested any of these books (unless I knew that they were also capable of that kind of play). I was far more likely to suggest academic texts written for non-pagan and/or feminist audiences. If asked if I believed in any of it, I would have said that performing a ritual or saying a prayer or invoking a spiritual entity was really an engagement with a deeper, less accessible part of my own psyche and therefore a means whereby I could engage with the Divine less encumbered by the linear, rationalist chains I drag around. My Goddess is Hel but is she a real Goddess? And I would think, "What is real?" But if you pressed me more, I would say that She is a manifestation of memory, pain, and desire and therefore real to me and that She, like me, was a part of a Mystery Far Greater and Wilder. But is Hel a living Goddess of static and historically verified form whose worship I could honestly pass on to others? Hell, no. I'm just not that kind of Pagan.

On another shelf I have books of more academic interest for the study of spiritual feminism. Marija Gimbutas, Mary Daly, Charlene Spretnak, Mary Condren, Merlin Stone, and Carol Christ share space with books by Christian feminists like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Renita Weems, and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. I'm far more interested in these conversations than in discussions of faeries and gods which have never been anything more than imaginary playmates for me. Give me a good sacred debate about ethics and history. I do not need the author to identify himself or herself as Pagan. Some of my favorite "Pagan" writings come from Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and Theosophy. I confess that I have never read Starhawk. I tried, but it didn't take. I found Margaret Fuller and Matilda Joslyn Gage more to my liking.

I recognize the equinoxes and solstices and celebrate our family's Pagan holidays of Halloween and All Souls' Day, Yule, Bride's Day, May Day, and the Sauerkraut Festival (Lughnasa). On Halloween and All Souls' Day we leave apples on the graves of our ancestors and loved ones. On Yule we seek the Holy Child in the woods by candlelight. On Bride's Day we bake a cake and decorate the house with silver and white. On May Day we seek flowers (and Mennonite bulk foods) to celebrate the return of green. At the Sauerkraut Festival, we welcome home family from around the country who join us in feasting on local produce. We watch the parade and walk around the village remembering childhood then come home to play dominoes and share stories around the old dining room table with the elders.

If someone were to ask me how I worship, I would say that I do it by hanging laundry on the line and if they asked what I believe I would say that I believe that all that exists is en-souled. I would say that we are paradoxically one and One and that this is all I know of God. I would say that humanity is the tenant and steward of Nature (though perhaps we will soon be evicted for our abuse of this office). I would say that love is our mission and life is our school. If you asked by what principles I organize my life I would say, "Simplicity, Sustainability, Pacifism, Equality, and Compassion." And if you asked what I am here to do, I would say that I am here to learn and to share what I have learned. And what of sin? I would tell you that sin is to willfully live apart from one's calling and to willfully separate another soul from theirs.

I think I would not have questioned whether or not to use the term "Pagan" to describe myself if I had not begun blogging and if I had not then been introduced to so many other Pagans in the blogosphere who seem to take the forms and the history so much more seriously than I do. I think, perhaps, what is happening to me is similar to what happened to my family when I was an adolescent. It came to pass that we learned that what we understood to be essentially "Christian" was not truly what other Christians believed and practiced and since we were the minority, it was easier to stop calling ourselves Christians than it was to try to conform to them. In that time too I found that "Pagan" also defined my essential Christian faith and was indeed a better term since it encompassed not only love for the collective and individual souls of humanity but for the entire Cosmos. I found in it that death and grief and light and hope and pain and passion and paradox all have a home in the Divine.

On this May Day, I contemplated my Paganism as I rode through the countryside on the way to the grocery store. I know nothing of covens and little of ritual. My interest in mythology is academic. My Paganism is in the orchards and the farm fields and in the vineyards. It is in the cemeteries rich with ancestors. It is in my woman's blood and my maternal fear. It is in grief and longing and hope and hunger. It is in the land, in my bones, in the way my husband smiles at our children and in the May Day flowers still waiting for us at the Mennonite greenhouse. I owe no allegiance to any pantheon. Mother Mary/Sophia/Christ, Hel, and Aslan most often populate my symbolic landscape but they are only shadows of that which hovers in and about and through and near me as I hang socks on the laundry line. I don't need to name that. I don't need to know. I don't even know what questions I would ask although I know the answers are "Yes and always."

And here my sentiments outstrip my sense so I must stop. Perhaps it is not important for me to know if I am properly Pagan or properly Quaker or properly Christian or properly non-theistic. I suppose I am not properly anything except myself which is what I am called to be. And perhaps that is just exactly enough.