Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hyphenated Morris Dancers

The next entry from my old Quaker blog, from June 25, 2008:

On Liz Oppenheimer's The Good Raised Up blog, she recently discussed the nature of "hyphenated Quakers" like Buddhist Quakers, pagan Quakers, etc. One of the comments in the thread was Liz's:
The thing I still wrestle with, though, is what to make of--and how to labor with--Friends who are actively engaged in another tradition and who draw on language from or actively request inclusion from a practice other than Quakerism and think nothing of it.
In talking about bringing in outside influences, a decidedly non-religious context occurs to me. I'm a morris dancer. We perform dances that were part of specific village traditions. And yet, each team develops specific distinctive stylistic variations based on who the team is. So there's a mixture of "we do it this way because that's how morris dancers do it" and "how about we try this," and thus teams both have a link to tradition and a freshness. In the folk community, the phrase "living tradition" I think sums it up nicely.

The question I ask seeing different morris teams, is are they changing things for the sake of novelty and cleverness, or are they looking for the best dancing they can do? That cleverness is like the "outward forms" that Friends have generally sought to avoid, but as Liz points out throughout her blog and other ministry, this too often been taken as a total abolition of forms, which it is not. Quakers have had a lot of forms, but they were taken up in aid of true connection with Spirit.

There is some of both among formally hyphenated Friends, as well as among those of us who do not have a named second religious tradition to hyphenate to, but who come from outside Quakerism. Some things we hang on to for form's sake or traditions sake, and some things we do because they allow us to come closer to the light.

The question remains from Liz's original question, how do we then apply corporate discernment to practices from outside Quaker practice? For me, one part of that is to encourage more Friends to "own" all their practices, and not let us get away with categorizing things as "our Quaker practices" and "our non-Quaker practices." But the counter to that is to avoid the temptation of too quickly condemning a practice as "unQuakerly" because it falls outside Quaker tradition.

Discernment, discernment, discernment.

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