This afternoon, at West Hills Friends, we welcomed Carole Spencer to our monthly Kindling Conversation time. The topic..."The Dark Side of Quakerism." Carole, a historian of Quakerism challenged our rosy picture of our history. We (Quakers) champion our progressive stances on slavery and rights for women as hallmarks of our tradition and our place within the Christian world. Carole challenges this history, noting that yearly meetings were quite reluctant, even outright dismissive of voices that called for freeing of slaves, and equality for women. She highlights the prophets of our tradition, Friends on the fringe of the interior of our tradition calling and urging their communities to pursue a counter-cultural perspective on topics like slavery and women's rights.
I highly recommend that you listen to Carole's entire talk, which is embedded below. It is an hour long, but is well worth your time.
One thing that I've been sitting with all day is the idea that we kill our prophets. Well, not all of them, but it seems to be a common end for those who speak prophetically from the edge. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Ezekiel. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Harvey Milk. Oscar Romero. Jesus.
We kill our prophets. We disown them. We silence them. We hush them. We imprison them.
We do all those things because we don't like what they are saying. We don't like what they are saying because it seems crazy. We don't like what they are saying because it challenges us too much. We don't like what they are saying because they challenge structures of power.
To be honest, the last ten years of my life have felt uncomfortable. At times I've hated this. I'm uncomfortable because I feel like I'm in a constant state of being challenged about my assumptions and my beliefs. It has been uncomfortable because I've been embarrassed when my ignorance has been called out, or when I've had to learn a lesson the hard way (by unknowingly hurting someone's feelings). Actually, to be even more honest...I've hated this more than I've enjoyed it.
It's true that our world is changing quickly. There have been many opportunities to be resistant to the idea of white privilege. There have been countless opportunities to be angry when my assumptions about race have been challenged by people of color. There have been many times when I've realized that I've failed at being a good ally to my LGBTQ friends. There have been many times when I've felt threatened by new ideas, or ways of talking.
In all of this, it was easy to feel overwhelmed. I was sensing the urge to find that patch of land in the deep Cascades, build a cabin and become a hermit. Ok, maybe that's a bit dramatic...but I have thought about suspending my FB account because it was just too stressful to log on and have my world turned upside down every time.
Here is where Carole's message about our prophets is hitting home. I need to hear the prophets of our day. My own sense of wanting to withdraw was my own way of killing them, of silencing them. I am feeling called, more than ever, to stay in that uncomfortable place of listening to stories that are different than mine, realizing that I am surrounded by ordinary and extra-ordinary prophets.