First, Jeanne Burns on her Quakers and Social Class blog posited that:
Middle and owning class people make the rules, and when working class or poor people don't follow the rules, there are dire consequencesThis was followed up by some interesting comments. I'm sorry she wasn't willing to take it further, but I stand by my suggestion that (A) rules in general are something most folks desire, that they provide strcuture, and (B) that while many rules become means of maintaining position—that they are about the rich stayig rich and the powerful staying powerful—some rules are also about everyone being able to be part of the same "game," whether that game is a marketplace, a social interaction, a religious practice, or a game. And some are about keeping everyone safe and alive.
The second kind of rules are like the measuring kind of grid that has been discussed here before: rules of the marketplace say that certain kinds of contract are binding, that prices can be negotiated in these circumstances but not those, that my $10 is the same as your $10 (and yes, there are rules in many marketplaces that say the opposite, but these are the other, pernicious, keep-them-in-their-place kinds of rules).
As a parent of a seven-year-old, I am especially aware of the third kind of rule, and how easily it can be seen as the first kind ("Why can't I bungee-jump off the roof? It's not fair! All the other kids are doing it. You're just trying to keep me from having grown-up fun!" Not an actual quote, but close enough). Seatbelt laws as another means for the power elite to grab more power.
All rules feel like power-reinforcement tools when you're not in power.
And yet, we humans need some sort of internalized structure. Practices can form much of that structure, but so do rules. I'm thinking of the Rule of St Benedict, the basis for much of western Christian monastic life. It is highly structured and full of rules, but it allows those who submit to it the space to pursue a deeply spiritual path. It removes a variety of external anxieties.
Because at their best, rule systems are like a kind of group handshake. We agree when we walk onto the field that these are the rules of the game, and so we can feel confident that we are not going to have to work too hard to avoid being maimed by the other team.
The other conversation about rules was from a relatively recent arrival at meeting, who asked me via email about the unwritten rules of the meeting. Jeanne also talks about the unwritten rules as specifically enforcements of middle-class values. In her response to my comment, she wrote:
As for rules evolving from truth...there's a very good reason why Quakers have testimonies and don't consider them rules. One is that truth is always evolving; setting the truth in stone makes it that much harder to see new Light. Another is that our testimonies are evidence of our changed hearts, not guidelines to live by. First comes the changed heart. Then the new way to live life. Not the other way around.This is all true. My response to the question about unwritten rules was:
One of the peculiar things about Friends is the weird (from the standpoint of society at large) way there appear to be unwritten rules. Often Friends chide one another for "breaking" these rules, but the rules are uncodified for a reason. In the end, there are structures and habits and usual practices, but no rules, as I understand the term.The problem with rules—or forms in general—in a religious context is how easily they move from "our rules made by us meant to fill our need for structure" to "God's Law." And once something is no longer our rule, but is imposed from above, it becomes something we enforce on others. Like the Grid: I argued earlier that the real problem is not the existence of the grid as a tool for measurement and mutual understanding, but when that grid is enforced back on the earth, and the contours of the land are ignored in the Grid's favor. Same is true for rules: we need them, they are ours, and they give us limits within which to operate in a given context. When they become the Rules of the Parents/God/Ruling Class/Overseer, then they become pernicious. They then become tools of power.
The entirety of Quaker practice comes from the idea that the forms of worship and of living in the spirit ought to emerge out of convincement, of real spiritual feeling. Early Quakers were specifically rebelling against the falseness they saw in churchly "outward forms" and so they rejected rituals of baptism and communion, believing that inward baptism and inward communion were what was important, and that it was too easy for people to fake these sacraments, making them empty forms.
So, there are no codified "rules" as people usually use the term.
That does not mean "anything goes." It is customary, for example, to speak only once, if at all. In extraordinary circumstances, someone does speak twice, but that second spoken ministry had better be something that shakes the meeting's rafters, and it better have the sense that the speaker was given no choice but to speak twice, that he/she was PUSHED into speaking against his/her own reluctance. And that it was not self doing the pushing. If not, other many attenders will think the speaker is being self-indulgent.