Tuesday, February 20, 2007

rattling cages

I've been pondering for a while on what it is that makes working with Young Friends different from older groups of Friends. The (ok, an...) answer has been tantalisingly close, on the tip of my toungue but eluding me whenever I've tried to put it into words.

But this morning I've been reading various posts (like this one) about the Young Adult Friends Gathering in the USA and a penny finally dropped into place.

I have repeatedly come across this same sentiment amidst YF circles, be it local or international, that if things aren't right you look at the issue, share feelings, find out what is 'wrong' and then work out together (or by that trusty Quaker method of setting up a committee to report back) how to fix it, seeking spiritual guidance along the way.

What I've come up against time and again amidst older Friends is a reluctance to even look at the issues, and a tendency to take even the suggestion of looking at it as a personal attack and critisism.

Quakerism is hugely important in the lives of many Young Friends, we love it for all it's faults and failings. Maybe it is partly because of our relative youth (and despite being past the 'official' YF age range I'm still in the lower half of the age range in our Meeting by a looooooong way) we want it to move forward, push it to live up to the radical stance of early Friends who weren't afraid of pushing the boundaries of society and didn't just sit back and rest on their laurels once established. We see the ideals and want to reach for them, recognise our failings and want to do something about it rather than turn a blind eye, we're prepared to push ourselves, and others, beyond our comfort zones.

There are of course ways and means of doing this, and we don't always get it right first time. But that's how we learn. Shaking things up is a risk, this is why the idea of testing concerns has become so important within Quaker circles - making sure that you have a valid concern and it is based on more than just one individuals personal opinion, testing it before the spirit, others in the Meeting, elders... and then speaking out.

What happens after you are a YF? - a question posed to one of us by a 12yr old at Summer Gathering, the flip answer given was 'Nothing, you just become old and boring'. I guess it is up to us as a generation to make sure that we don't, in the same way Jonathan and Leith made a personal committment to hang in there and raise the age range of YFs here simply by keeping on coming back (which has worked!) we have to make sure we don't become old and boring, that we don't lose that fire in the belly nor the desire to live up to what it says in our Faith & Practices that we stand for and believe in.

If we don't then I hope the YFs of the day will have the guts to stand up and speak out, to remind us of what we have lost.


Anonymous said...

I hope that you never cease to be YFs at heart, and that you will carry your enthusiasm, energy and preparedness to look for better ways with you. Sure it will stir things up, but it will stop the Society fossilising.


Anna Dunford said...

Thanks Dad =)

Lovin' Life Liz said...

Thanks for this post Anna, I was all smiles and thinking AMEN while reading it!

MartinK said...

Hi Anna,
In my experience in liberal US Quakerism, the most common answer what are you after Young Friends is simply that you become an ex-Quaker. Or at least an uninvolved one. At the last liberal Quaker gathering in the US, there were nine 60-somethings in attendance for every 30-something. Ouch!

Even though the numbers clearly show there are issues that need to be addressed, it can be dangerous just to mention that there's a problem and a generation gap.

I've raised hackles at workshops for suggesting that my experience of being a young Quaker might differ from the young Quaker experience of those now in their 60s. At a conference looking at youth issues a few years ago, all the young people in attendance said that they wanted to have more serious cross-generational conversations about what Friends believe; almost none of the older people in attendance put that down as a priority.

I don't know what the answer is, except to get our conversation and support from wherever we can--blogs, segregated conferences, whatever. And to set the example that it's possible to have serious discussions (and disagreements) about faith and the meaning of Quakerism while still respecting each other.
Martin the Quaker Ranter

Chris M. said...

Thanks, Anna. I think you've put your finger on it.

What was so valuable to me at the Pacific Yearly Meeting annual session last summer was the fact that they put aside the usual business and spent a lot more time looking at what we are called to do as a community. It wasn't "productive" in that it didn't produce any new committees (thank goodness!) or any new processes. Instead, I felt a recommitment to engage in the traditional Quaker process together. It was my sense, and I hope that younger Friends who were present would agree, felt included in that work.

I'm greatly encouraged by the reports back from the YAF gathering in Burlington, New Jersey.

Also, there will be a YAF workshop at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in California, April 13-15. It will be led by Betsy Blake, a YAF from North Carolina.

Sebastian said...

It seems to me that to be a friend propperly one ought to be young at heart and ageless in spirit/soul. Like George Fox, William Penn, John Woolman(of course). There is definetly an openness to listening beyond one's understanding and keep listening without a purpose actually trying to grasp...embracing, yet not only in silent worship but when listening to others that i think is beyond adjusting what one hears to what one's concept of righteoussness or true quakerism is that i think is most present with young friends, this i think is part of worship, to listen in the state of silence without listening just silence, that is to hush and hear what is told without one's own judgement coming into play. Quaker youth is most challenging in that it transcends age, regardless of the period of his life i think of woolman, jones, etc as youthful. It recquires methinks more of a commitment to stay young regardless of age...after all wasn't it the jesus who said one should be like a child?

Belle And Sebastian said...

It isn't so much that I want to stay young forever, but that I want to grow from my experiences as a younger Quaker. If you remember the experiences of youth, AND the values of your youth then you can put them into practice as you get older and the world becomes more complicated as we have to take on more responsability. The best way to do this is to find something positive you love in life use it for the greater good and give back to the community. Everyone is waiting for a revolution to occur meanwhile the small acts of kindness that are a struggle against the world go unnoticed. Rejoice. There is hope. Put one foot in front of the other and live.