October 18, 2005

Membership, and a new Quaker blogger:
A Friend After 50 Years

Welcome to the Quaker blogosphere, Dave Carl of A Friend after 50 Years. Dave Carl has a post about his request for membership, a topic which begs a few questions to any Friend out there:

What was your experience for applying for membership? Why did you do it when you did?

And:

What are some of your favorite questions from any membership clearness committee in which you participated?
Here's the text of the letter I sent to the monthly meeting, requesting membership under their care:
Dear Friends,

I am writing you to request membership, and for the Meeting to provide oversight, care, and nurture for my membership.

Why do I seek membership now, after 7-plus years of involvement among Quakers, including more than five years at another Friends Meeting?

Well, one morning a few weeks ago I woke up and heard myself say to myself, “I’m ready to request membership.” Another morning, shortly afterward, I woke up and asked myself, “Would I have regrets if I died tomorrow and had not requested membership?” and the answer came back, “Yes.”

And so what is my struggle, what do I wrestle with, and what shadows do I wish to bring out into the light as I request membership?

One. I fear losing my identity, that I will be clumped in with all the other Quakers, thereby in a sense erasing my history with the Friends Meeting where I originally attended as a young adult.

Two. I fear and resist being placed in the same small box of assumptions, presumptions, and preconceptions that I have been placing on some Quakers. I don’t seem to have such worrisome assumptions about all Quakers, though.

Three. My heart, in many ways, still belongs to the Meeting where I first attended. At times I miss these Friends terribly.

Four. I want to define MY membership and participation among Quakers MY way. Ahh, the adolescent within me is alive and well.

Five. I am not feeling ready to surrender to this “awakening.” I still wrestle with God about it.

Six. I wish to honor my Jewish upbringing, and I am still in the process of resolving being a Jewish Quaker. Sometimes when I say, “I’m Quaker,” I feel I am betraying my Jewish heritage. Saying “I’m a Jewish Quaker” doesn’t feel entirely right either.

While there is much more about my 7+ years of involvement among Quakers that I could include here, I’ll leave the rest of it for the clearness process, and for any personal conversations with me that are to follow.
Blessings,
Liz

6 comments:

Zach A said...

Would it feel any more right to describe yourself as a Quaker Jew, making Jew(ish) the noun rather than the modifier?

I feel like this might be a stupid question, but I find this kind of linguistic issue fascinating.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for your question. It's one I have thought about many times.

I do not consider myself a Jew because I no longer practice the religion itself: I do not engage in its worship services, its Holy Day services, its rules of keeping kosher, its rituals. I do not study Judaism, I do not draw on Jewish traditions for when I am in pain or for when I wish to celebrate an occasion.

On the other hand, according to Jewish law (a law I do not knowingly live by), many Jews would consider me Jewish because I am born of a Jewish mother.

When I first became more active in Quakerism shortly after college, I considered myself a Quaker Jew. Then, a number of years later, as I felt I was growing into being more faithful to my "measure of Light" as I understood it, I began to consider myself a Jewish Quaker: that is, I became a member of the Religious Society of Friends who still had enough spiritual and/or cultural ties to the Jewish faith that I was not ready to let go of that identity completely.

(About six years ago, I came across a Pendle Hill pamphlet written by someone who was pursuing membership in the RSoF but who was not clear to let go of her/his Judaism. In the case of this writer, the result turned out the opposite of my own. As I recall, the author returned to Judaism and has held onto some Quaker principles. Perhaps she/he would identify as a Quaker Jew...?)

I think your question raises important pieces about liberal Quakerism, the kind that is embracing a sort of multi-faith community which gathers together on First Day for unprogrammed worship, religious education, and fellowship.

I don't know what the synagogue of my youth might think if they learned that I participate in a faith tradition that historically is Christian-based (though I don't accept Jesus as Lord and Savior) and the journey that has brought me to where I am.

It's clear to me today that I identify as a Quaker who was raised in a Jewish household. But I know that my own self-concept and religious identity will change as I continue to live in the world.

Blessings,
Liz

Tony B. said...

Liz,

I am about to ask my meeting to accept me as a member myself and came upon your blog accidental like from a link to another Quaker blog. I too am struggling in ways not dissimilar to you.

I was raised a Catholic, even taught converts and youth about the faith 20 years ago. I left the church after I got married and while I idebtify with the core-Christian tenents of Catholisism (especially mysticisim, social action, Franciscanism), I have always had trouble with other Catholic doctrines (Pope, Marianism, hard and fast dogma) and Identified with Quakers intellectually for years.

I've only been attending for a year, but am certain I have found my spiritual home. I origonally felt I could just be an attender, and nominally hang on to my Catholic identity. My family is Italian American, and that means we are Catholic and all the stages of life are punctuated with Catholic ceremony. That traditional affiliation has a avery strong pull on my heart.

Reading your blog has helped me to realize that I will have to find a way to do both - be the family centered guy who loves bocce ball and pasta and at the same time identify my spiritual quest with Friends.

Somehow, I think St Francis and Abraham would all feel at home in our Silent Worship, and that comforts me.

Peace,


Tony

Anonymous said...

Liz,

Your reply post above interests me, partly in how it contrasts with my own identity. I very much consider myself a Jewish Quaker, in fact a Jewish atheist Quaker, although the order of the monikers doesn't particularly concern me. However, I was not raised in the Jewish religion. My Jewish heritage comes through my dad, so many conventional-minded Jews would deny my Judaism, plus my dad has been agnostic since losing his dad to the Nazis in '39.

From my perspective, Judaism is a religion (perhaps several religions), but that's by no means all it is. It is a history, a heritage, a sort of family resemblance of ethnic/cultural/behavioral/moral/intellectual patterns. It is hard to describe or nail down but there are times when I see and recognize it very clearly.

I have to say, without the long history of Jewish suffering and oppression, I'm not sure it would mean that much to me. I'm not sure that make sense, but there it is. As things stand, I can't think of myself without that piece of who I am.

James Riemermann

Liz Opp said...

Tony B. and James, thanks for stopping by. I get the sense through each of our journeys among Friends, that claiming, reclaiming, or moving away from a particular identity is a choice that each of us makes in our own time.

Because of the sharing you each have offered here, it's clear to me that identity or religious affiliation is not a "one size fits all" phenomenon.

Blessings,
Liz

Anonymous said...

Being Jewish (which I am) is like being part of one of the american Indian tribes. Sure, religious beliefs and practices are part of the tribe's way of life, but so too are the foods, crafts, values, social customs, manner of dress, traditions, etc a part of the tribe's way of life. And although some of that stuff is influenced by and connected to the religious beliefs, most of the tribe's way of life is distinct from the religious part. So too with Judiasm. Being Jewish is a way of life, not just a religion and as you probably know very well, there are lots of Jews who can't recall the last time they were in a temple, but they still consider themselves Jews. I grew up in the Philly suburbs and have always believed that in the northeastern U.S., there is really very little difference between Catholic culture and Jewish culture. Except for the religious part, the religions are almost identical (hope that was not too confusing). I think that being Jewish, Catholic, or Quaker is a way of life which includes some religious beliefs, but the Protestant religions don't really seem to be that way. (Quick, name a Methodist food? Didn't think so.)