Quakers release podcast of silent meeting

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/17/quakers-release-podcast-of-sil.html


Quakers are cool.
(Full disclosure: I’m not a Christian. [Indeed, not religious at all.] But if I were, the Quakers would be my peeps. They’ve consistently been on the right side of every issue that’s come down the pike; I feel like there’s a very solid moral-ethical intuition grounding the whole community.)


The processional hymn will be 4’ 33".


You’ll probably be interested in this, then:


The origins of the Quaker abolitionism, a dwarf named Benjamin Lay!


As someone who went to a Quaker school, this makes me v v happy.


Benjamin Lay was an amazing radical! When he was trying to get other Quakers on board with abolitionism, he smuggled a short sword and a Bible rigged with a bladder full of red juice into the Meetinghouse, stabbed it dramatically, and flung “blood” all over nearby members of the meeting.


OMG! I wish I could have seen that shit! Amazing!


Around the corner from us in my old Brooklyn neighborhood was a small grocery store owned and run by a Quaker. (I vaguely remember his name… Ben. The only Quaker I ever knew – as far as I know.) I was about 10 years old when I entered his store looking to pick up some items for my mom. Ben knew we had a puppy, so he offered me the stringed, butt end of a large pepperoni sausage he was done with and thought our puppy could nosh on. Being a brain-washed overly polite 10 year old, I politely turned him down. He gave me an amused, are-you-crazy-kid? look and insisted on the gift. I took it. So, whenever I see puppies, I think of good old Ben and Quakers. And vice versa.


Mostly. At least, in the United States, there’s a split on feminism/gender/sexuality. Some of the extremely conservative meetings are indistinguishable from the worst of evangelical† fundamentalist‡ baptisers. It is primarily in the Midwest.

Personally, I blame the surrounding fundigelicals, and those meetings that oppose self-determination for women, reproductive health and queer rights are too much yoked to the outsider and should separate from the world.

But note that I’m saying this online. It’s nice to see other younger Quakers doing outreach, though. Part of the reason I’m no longer affiliated with any Friends meeting†† is because I’m at least two generations younger than most, so we’re fundamentally working on different definitions of Simplicity and Peace. (The other reason is because even the most open-minded meetings have more than a few members who have significant issues with Non-theist Quakers. Deism appears to be the far limit for most Quakers.)

† which Quakers do not do - it violates a person’s self-determination
‡ also not our bag, because that raises the Bible to an object of idolatry
†† I attend UU meetings most of the time; I’m non-theist, but find Quaker practice & principles too valuable to discard just because I don’t believe in a deity.


I agree with everything you’re saying, but


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Real question: when you say “meetings that oppose self-determination for women, reproductive health and queer rights are too much yoked to the outsider and should separate from the world” – is “should separate from the world” just a really gentle pacifist way of saying they can go to hell?


Err… erm… I’ll give you Urban Midwest, but there’s so little cultural difference between the suburban and rural Midwest that I’m not willing to make that distinction.

Fair; I was mentally comparing Chicago and a-meeting-that-shall-remain-nameless-but-is-in-rural-Ohio-near-the-West-Virginia-border…


Um… it can be interpreted that way. :slight_smile:

But actually, no. To separate from the world or worldly things is essentially the same thing as consciously uncoupling, or examining one’s privilege. It’s the meditative process of self-examination with the goal of changing one’s thoughts, actions, reactions and behavior. You can also call it meta-cognition. It’s thinking about how we think and what builds our thoughts, beliefs, and practices.

In Quaker history, being connected to the world was much like being Vichy. For the most part, early Quakers were denied access to the legal and financial system under the Church-state entity called the Church of England and English Civil law, which is why Quakers developed their own financial systems. (And this isn’t just about banking - it’s also about marriage law and inheritance law, since the CoE dictated who got married, so all children born to Quaker unions were legally illegitimate and therefore couldn’t inherit…) Someone who caved to the pressure and paid the parish tithe or got married under CoE rules were acknowledging the authority of the state, and by acknowledging that subset of authority, were accepting the state’s right to, for example, demand military service. When a community has to rebuild anything that fundamental for itself, that in-depth examination of principle tends to over-flow to other aspects of the internal culture. Which will endure for a while.

Which is why more liberal Quakers are just aghast at the very conservative meetings. They’re denying hundreds of years of history and resistance to authoritarian rule because they’re squicked out by public displays of affection. And thus, they need to step back, unyoke themselves and separate from the worldly to recognize the Principles.

It’s an old term and it’s one of the oldest tools in the Quaker toolbox.


Thank you for this very generous and informed explanation!



I would be extremely grateful if you could expand on this statement, give examples, whatever:

“I’m at least two generations younger than most, so we’re fundamentally working on different definitions of Simplicity and Peace.”


Susan (older Quaker)

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“Fundamentally different perspectives on Simplicity”; specifically technology. I’m not quite a digital native, but close. First computer was a TI 94A when I was 8, I learned BASIC by typing hundreds of lines of code from magazines into a tape drive; got BBS access at 13 (except from sundown on Saturday to dawn on Monday because the BBS admin unplugged it for the Sabbath…) I’m a research shrink, and as an undergrad, I was a rarity because I was deeply computer literate in a time when that was just rare outside of comp sci and the hard sciences. I’ve stayed on the math/stats side of psych ever since.

For people 40 years older than me, computers and the internet have always looked a lot like a fancy TV, and to them, my requirements for more processing power/security/connectivity/reliability seemed extravagant. (Why not keep using this Mac0S7 or Win95 box? It still works, right? Sure, but it takes 20 days versus an over-night batch process, it uses as much electricity as charging a small car, and I have to write all of the security code by hand because it can’t take a modern browser — so why not just don’t plug it into the phone? At which point I go give myself some closed skull trauma banging my head on my desk because Peace is my difficult testimony.) Or my advocacy for using an email list, or a twitter account, or website, to communicate seems like an unnecessary complication when they can just pick up the phone or run off a few hundred copies and stuff some envelopes.

In the last ten years or so, that’s become much less true, but even now, some FSC prefer phone trees and flyers for community organizing. (Which, given how burnt some FSCs got by surveillance, I understand.) I don’t think those are flawed tools in and of themselves, just too limited and we’re handicapping ourselves. I get it, learning is difficult and the state of learning is confusion, which is uncomfortable, but we use the Simplicity/appropriate technology excuse as an excuse and an evasion and that’s not healthy. (It’s also bad for growing the organization, because it’s in our best interest to talk to our allies and accomplices on their terms, not force them into ours.) Simplicity should not refuse technological adaptation; it’s evaluating technology and using it in a way that maximizes human access and time for other matters. (And the issue rolls over to other aspects, like how we interact with other consumer tech, personal choices, media. Which pulls into the intersectionality of Peace/Equality, and it gets messy. The Dishwasher Argument comes to mind…)

And on Peace: what my generation learned from prior generations of activism is the deep value of intersectionality and cooperation, despite philosophical differences, as well as the value of studying and understanding war and violence. So, example: I have no problem working with antifa and bloc groups. I learned resistance from west coast Quakers and Panthers. I cut my teeth in HIV/AIDS activism and bloc’ed through my teens and twenties. Even now, I find demonstration frustrating if we have no plans for turning demonstration into direct (non-violent) action if demonstration doesn’t result in some change. My working method with antifa and other young enthusiasts whose passions may outrun their thoughtfulness is to counsel them to act in solidarity, to be accountable to one another, be the shield, not the sword, and realize that I’m not their mom or their parole officer. I’m not an authority. We work together by cooperation and consensus. When I serve as interface, we propose limits: shields are okay, they are not weapons. Weapons aren’t. Goggles are okay, face masks are okay; gas masks really aren’t. My job is to present, maintain, and communicate boundaries, while leading by example and with love and respect for the individual’s agency. So yeah, if we’re facing white nationalists, and I’ve got a group of white anticapitalist antifa and they want to be front-line, I’ll advocate for them to be front-line. They’re young so they heal faster, they want to be there, they have enough white privilege that getting arrested is less likely to be long-term devastating for them. As long as I know that they’ve trained together to hold their defensive line, I respect their autonomy. It’s not encouraging violence - they’re not the ones throwing punches. The person doing the punching has the choice to not punch; Peace does not require we allow a puncher to hit flesh when we can shelter ourselves and others behind a piece of plywood, a door, or a textbook.

Quaker history and philosophy is explicitly anti-authoritarian, but individuals may not be. It’s possible to be a pacifist authoritarian, and that impulse magnifies in organizations. (That’s Organizational Psych 101.) As individuals and an organization, we can be willfully resistant to the language and philosophy of conflict. It’s in our best interests to study the philosophy of conflict, from Sun Tzu to whatever academic papers the Pentagon press put out this week. We don’t have to agree, we do have to know how those who advocate for the use of violence think, and we have to be careful to not use our personal pacifism to maintain our clean hands, while allowing others’ violent actions to perpetuate injustice that benefits us. (It’s the difference between volunteers choosing to be a front-line defense, and draftees being forced onto the front-line.)

We (encompassing all of the Peace Churches, and a lot of our Midwestern mainline Protestant allies, so it’s also regional/generational) also have a “house communication style” that isn’t great at acknowledging and managing frustration, opposition, disagreement and anger. Too often, we suppress our anger in service to peace, and instead of subverting it into action, we turn it into passive-aggression and a covert authoritarianism that is physically non-violent, but emotionally controlling and manipulative. People who have spent 60+ years channeling frustration into passive-aggression do not do well when called on it. In greater service of Peace, it’s critical we handle defensiveness and passive-aggression in postive, pro-social ways, but in the moment, it feels like an attack. So that’s a difference in perspective that can be insurmountable. In that case, it’s often better to disengage until the other person is willing to address it, or it stops being a problem.

That’s long but still exceptionally short and limited description of the generational and locational shift. I guess my tl;dr is this: after the battles of the 60s and 70s, the activists of their age needed time to regenerate and rebuild their lives because those battles were draining and difficult. Those of us born after those battles had very limited mentorship and had to build our interpretation of the principles for ourselves and through the lens of the challenges we faced. For us, technology was a natural tool, and we didn’t require an absolutist stance on pacifism because we weren’t being pressed into military service, while at the same time, we began to recognize the violence inherent in emotional abuse and manipulation. Which altered our definitions of the Principles.


wow! this is an AMAZING response. I just read through it quickly and want to think about it more. I especially resonated with what you said about us oldsters not wanting to get with the program technology wise (I still use a flip phone and don’t text), and about the passive aggressive tendencies of folks in the habit of “suppressing our anger in service to peace” -

I think you’re right on target about the effect on younger folks not having been pressed into military service, and about the manipulative authoritarianism sometimes hidden in plain sight, for those with eyes to see.

I just joined boingboing, after my techy cousin sent me the post to which we’re replying here - do you blog somewhere, or whatever it is folks do for writing nowadays? Sorry - I’m seriously behind the curve, despite having been a computer programmer in my youth…



Speaking of Quaker history, though, I’m pretty sure there were some early debates that resulted in a strong norm against recording meetings. At the time this meant not writing down the messages, but I imagine a video or audio recording would have horrified them.