Examining Traditions in the Light

This is the sixth of a series of ten blogs about ten cultural flips for multiage inclusion. It’s not enough to shift our culture. We really have to flip it.

 

Cultural Barrier #6: Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

First off, props to my good F(f)riend Callie Janoff, who works with aging Friends. When I showed her my list of cultural barriers, it had nine points on it, not ten, and I asked her, “What’s missing from this list that’s important to the older end of the age spectrum?”

The conversation we had then led to the addition of this particular point.

The first thing Callie pointed out related to amplification. She reminded me how many meetings don’t use microphones, often “because this is an historic meetinghouse and we’ve never used them in the past two hundred years.” To which my personal response is, so what? I strongly suspect that, had George Fox had access to microphones (not to mention Twitter and Facebook and cable television), he would have used all means accessible to him to amplify the prophetic message he carried. If some members of the meeting can’t hear the ministry because the rest of us have something against using electricity (?), then what are we doing even claiming to be the beloved community?

Valuing tradition over the needs of living Friends is tough on the other end of the age spectrum, too. If a wheelchair can’t access your meetinghouse, neither can a stroller. If there’s no diaper-changing facility or space for mothers to nurse (or pump), then your meetinghouse is actively inhospitable to young families. And it’s not just about physical facilities. Is there some reason we can’t have a stretch break every thirty minutes in business meeting? That would make a big difference for both young and aging bodies.

 

Culture Flip #6: Regularly reexamining physical facilities, procedures, and practices in the light of how they are working for our communities today; recognizing the difference between our Spirit-led testimonies (which are eternal) and how we express those testimonies (which may need to change as circumstances change)

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

I’ve talked a little bit before about how you might assess the difference between Spirit and culture in your meeting, but here’s an exercise to try that gives more detail…

First, take about two minutes to list everything you can think of that happens in the course of a typical Sunday at your meeting. An incomplete list (for an unprogrammed meeting) might look like this:

– A member of Ministry and Counsel greets people at the door and shakes their hands

– We wear nametags

– We stop talking when we go into the meeting room

– We sit still

– We sit on benches

– We open ourselves to the Light

– If somebody has vocal ministry, they stand

– Children go to First Day School

– The kids come in for the last fifteen minutes of meeting

– At the end of meeting, the clerk stands up and says “thank you, Friends”

– We all introduce ourselves after the meeting

– We have coffee hour in the fellowship room

Again, your list could probably be a lot longer, though it might not need to be long the first time you try this activity.

Once you have a list written, take another five minutes and see if you can rewrite the bullet points in two columns.

What Spirit Requires of Us What We Do Because It’s Part of our Culture

(we’ve always done it this way, it’s easy, etc.)

– We open ourselves to the Light

 

– A member of Ministry and Counsel greets people at the door and shakes their hands

– We wear nametags

– We stop talking when we go into the meeting room

– We sit still

– We sit on benches

– If somebody has vocal ministry, they stand

– Children go to First Day School

– The kids come in for the last fifteen minutes of meeting

– At the end of meeting, the clerk stands up and says “thank you, Friends”

– We all introduce ourselves after the meeting

– We have coffee hour in the fellowship room

You might discover, as in this example, that almost everything falls into the “culture” column. But maybe you’ll notice that you need to add a few things to the “Spirit” side – things that motivate the things you do on the “culture” side, like this:

What Spirit Requires Us to Do What We Do Because It’s Part of our Culture

(we’ve always done it this way, it’s easy, etc.)

– We open ourselves to the Light
– We show that we are happy to see one another – A member of Ministry and Counsel greets people at the door and shakes their hands

– We wear nametags

– We respect the worship space and those worshipping within it – We stop talking when we go into the meeting room
– We ensure that everyone can see and hear the vocal ministry – If somebody has vocal ministry, they stand
– We care for our children – Children go to First Day School

– The kids come in for the last fifteen minutes of meeting

– We spend time enjoying one another’s company – We all introduce ourselves after the meeting

– We have coffee hour in the fellowship room

 

 

 

 

– We sit still

– We sit on benches

– At the end of meeting, the clerk stands up and says “thank you, Friends”

There’s good reason to identify the difference between what Spirit requires of us and what we go along with due to cultural norms. In fact, there are two good reasons.

#1 – If we intend to fully welcome those who don’t share our meeting’s existing culture, we must be willing to allow the meeting’s culture to change.

#2 – If we intend to be fully faithful to God, we must cling unwaveringly to what Spirit requires of us.

When is the last time that Friends in your meeting reassessed your traditions in the light of the needs of living Friends? Are you faithfully expressing your testimonies in your behaviors, or are you reenacting the behaviors of some Friends from the past who were expressing their testimonies? If your community has discerned that Spirit calls you to ensure that everyone can see and hear the vocal ministry, why wouldn’t you be using microphones? If your community has discerned that Spirit calls you to care for your children, why wouldn’t you prioritize the needs of breastfeeding mothers?

Tradition is an important teacher, but only when we remember to ask why. Otherwise, we are not following our spiritual ancestors’ examples of faithfulness. Instead, we are simply following our spiritual ancestors, rather than following God.

The Cultural Barrier The Flip!
Perception that Friends’ meetings are internally focused and irrelevant Doing frequent work and service in neighborhood communities outside the meetinghouse walls
Equating seriousness with sacredness Behaving as though joy and gratitude are as holy as struggle and lamentation, including 50/50 time division for the whole meeting between play together and work together
Frequent use of Quaker terminology without context Practicing brief, clear explanations and contextualization of all terms and references to institutional structure, every time, in the moment, as we go
Communicating solely through paper publications and websites Developing a meaningful presence on social media (for internal communications and outreach)
Idolatry of Quaker process Building a permission-giving culture (the default answer is ‘yes, and how can I help?’ unless there is a strong, Spirit-led reason to hesitate)
Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends Regularly reexamining physical facilities, procedures, and practices in the light of how they are working for our communities today; recognizing the difference between our Spirit-led testimonies (which are eternal) and how we express those testimonies (which may need to change as circumstances change)
High financial cost of participation in gatherings Shifting to pay-as-led pricing; changing locations and structures of gatherings so the actual cost is lower
High reading level (high school and above) of almost all of Friends’ written materials Using shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary in all documents
Isolation of parents (among Friends and in society in general) Providing childcare at all meeting events without exception; prioritizing spiritual and practical nurture of parents
Consistent physical separation of age groups Aiming for multi-age inclusion around 50% of the time, including integration both ways (younger Friends in traditionally older Friends spaces/activities, older Friends in traditionally younger Friends spaces/activities); providing meaningful support to make full participation possible in both directions

 

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