20th October 2007


I’m reflecting on this here because I had a tough time posting a comment containing the link on Maeve’s awful but insightful unedited eight minutes trying to say “decaf coffee” and imitate the bourgeois maundering of an actress from NoCents on that company’s entry in the Cookie Contest. The NoCents script was didactic and boring and offered a gratuitous bow to the use of cookies to foster “community” in browser-land. Hanh???

About four years ago, Martin Kelley said,

I propose a little amendment to the modern Quaker testimonies. I think it’s time for a moratorium of the word “community” and the phrases “faith community” and “community of faith.” Through overuse, we Friends have stretched this phrase past its elasticity point and it’s snapped. It’s become a meaningless, abstract term…

Martin goes on to expound on matters of “faith” and “god” and such, areas where I don’t think we agree; but in this matter of the overuse of the word “community,” I am right with him.

Martin continues,

The “testimony of community” recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. It was the centerpiece of the new-and-improved testimonies Howard Brinton unveiled back in the 1950s in his _Friends for 300 Years_ (as far as I know no one elevated it to a testimony before him). Born into a well-known Quaker family, he married into an even _more_ well-known family. From the cradle Howard and his wife Anna were Quaker aristocracy. As they traveled the geographic and theological spectrum of Friends, their pedigree earned them welcome and recognition everywhere they went. Perhaps not surprisingly, Howard grew up to think that the only important criteria for membership in a Quaker meeting is one’s comfort level with the other members. “The test of membership is not a particular kind of religious experience, nor acceptance of any particular religious, social or economic creed,” but instead one’s “compatibility with the meeting community.” ( _Friends for 300 Years_ page 127). So what is “compatibility”? It often boils down to being the right “kind” of Quaker, with the right sort of behavior and values. At most Quaker meetings, it means being exceedingly polite, white, upper-middle class, politically liberal, well-educated, quiet in conversation, and devoid of strong opinions about anything involving the meeting. Quakers are a homogenous bunch and it’s not coincidence: for many of us, it’s become a place to find people who think like us. But the desire to fit in creates its own insecurity issues. I was in a small “breakout” group at a meeting retreat a few years ago where six of us shared our feelings about the meeting. Most of these Friends had been members for years, yet every single one of them confided that they didn’t think they really belonged. They were too loud, too colorful, too ethnic, maybe simply too _too_ for Friends. They all judged themselves against some image of the ideal Quaker–perhaps the ghost of Howard Brinton. We rein ourselves in, stop ourselves from saying too much.

“Compatibility with the meeting community,” what a loathsome criterion for participation.

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 20th, 2024 at 9:20 and is filed under Creative Arts, Irascible Nonsense, Philosophistry and Stuff, Truth and Falsehood. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. 1 On October 21st, 2024, William "Papa" Meloney said:

    “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” - Groucho Marx.

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