But that humility came under attack in the ensuing decades. Self-effacement became identified with conformity and self-repression. A different ethos came to the fore, which the sociologists call “expressive individualism.” Instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation could be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.
David Brooks, "High Five Nation," The New York Times 9/15/09
"There is a general way of treating people that are not seen as being part of the meeting that is condescending and standoff-ish. Young people are seen as being something novel but not to be trusted or counted on...and that is our own doing for not making more of a presence in meetings. However, I have been coming to this meeting for 3 years --fairly infrequently mind you...but enough that I should at least look familiar. I don't expect to be remembered or even to have someone remember that the familiarity is from meeting. But it would still be nice to be treated in a welcoming manner and maybe as if I had a brain. I realize that these are very unkind charges to be making."
Quaker Harlot James at quakingharlot.blogspot.com/2009/09/ive-got-sticky-everywhere.html
When I first came to Quakers, I experienced the insider/outsider divide James discusses in the quote above, and would have fled, had I not had a strong sense of calling. I was astonished at how self-congratulatory some Quakers were about the simple fact of being Quaker. Pride.
I remember once a question coming up at my meeting about "some people" being uncomfortable with calling meeting for worship, well, meeting for worship. The problem was the implication in the word worship that we were adoring a higher being or in some way were coming as supplicants. How about "meeting for meditation?" At this point I said I came to meeting to worship to worship, not meditate, and if we changed the wording, I was out of there. I thought, more angry at God than my fellow man and woman, that I have put up with a lot to be faithful to the call to be a Quaker, but if we're not at least attempting to worship, I, like Jonah, was going to head for being swallowed by the whale. In any case, that rather bizarre--but not too surprising--idea of meeting for meditation was dropped, but not the underlying assumption that the so-called "God within" makes ME the center of the universe. Pride.
I fear that pride goeth a fall and that for all our sense that Quakerism has been on the right side of history, such hubris as infects it will cause a huge blunder. I wouldn't be surprised if a century from now Quakers won't look back at this period of their history with embarrassment or shame.
Clearly, if we have the truth, are smarter than everyone, and are "better" than all those "evangelicals," our condescending mindset will be apparent--and alienating-- to newcomers. Like Martin Kelly, I too see the age demographics and I too worry, though I trust in God to refill the ranks when we become meek and broken spirited and yes, humble. Do such words offend? Surely, the quality of humility is not strained in the Quakers. Therefore, Harlot James teaches us. Posts like James's, written with such humility and so from the heart, can prod us to do better.
But truly to do better--and this ultimately is the point of this too-long post--we need to transform. I remember early on in Quakerism reading an editor's letter in a Friends' publication. The editor spoke of two Baptists turning up at her meeting, looking for a place to stay for the night. She didn't want to host Baptists (at this point, the red flags started to fly up in my mind--replace Baptists with blacks, gays, Muslims, Jews and see how that sounds)-- but, sigh, since the meeting had committed to hospitality, she had no choice. Anyway, she was pleased to report that the Baptists caused no trouble, stayed for Meeting for Worship the next morning, even spoke !! and she thought they "had learned something from us."
OK. I wanted to tear my hair out. What did the Baptists SAY at Meeting for Worship? Is it even slightly possible that God sent those great unwashees to us to teach US something? Why is the prevailing attitude so often what WE have to teach others? What makes us so holy? Why are we so unwilling to expect that others will teach us? Until we have the change of heart--the humility-- to wish and to hunger to learn from newcomers, visitors, strangers, and yes, perceived "enemies," I believe we will continue to shrink. We need to be transformed--that's why we are Quakers--and we do that through humility. We should be filled with gratitude when newcomers or infrequent attenders attend our shrinking, fading, boring meetings in shabby (sorry, I meant "simple" and if you don't "get" that, we will judge you) settings. We are not doing THEM a favor by allowing them into our exalted meetings. They are doing us the favor. God has sent them to teach us something, if we have ears to hear.
Am I being too harsh? I thought about "nicing" this up and decided not to pull my punches. Do you find Quakers too prideful? Can we improve on the humility front? How?