Well, the title has little to do with anything. I did get it in my head last night as I left a certain meetinghouse in a town we Charm City. I was walking to my car and the reused salad container (the kind you get in the grocery store) was leaking watermelon juice and balsamic vinegar down my leg. The song is a Breeders song. If you think about it...sticky everywhere isn't really that pleasant. That could perhaps discribe what I am going to say in this post.
I was happy and feeling fulfilled. The group I have been working to start as part of my "volunteering" with AFSC had had its first open to the public event. It went well. We had had a potluck and "fundraiser" for a group called "No More Victims" that one of our group members was feeling called to do something for. We had it after the Women in Black Peace Path along Charles St. It was raining yesterday so there wasn't a big turn out for the Peace Path which is unfortunate, but we had probably 30 some folks for the potluck which was better than I had hoped for. And the Meeting Peace Committee had even agreed to sponsor us and come...so that is always nice.
I wasn't able to get off work in time to join the peace path but had been hoping to get there early to do set up for the potluck. I didn't get there as early as I had hoped but since we had people form meeting agree to help it all came together well. However, Quakers are Quakers. I kept getting told how do things (since I never go to simple lunch I don't know the process) and being asked if I had ever been there before by people I have talked to after meeting. And generally being treated in ways that if I hadn't resigned myself to Quaker ways long ago would have pissed me off.
I love Quakers. I know that my spiritual home is with Quakers, but that doesn't mean I like everything about us. In fact, I think we are actually very annoying at times. There is a general way of treating people that are not seen as being part of the meeting that is condescending and standoff-ish. Young people are seen as being something novel but not to be trusted or counted on...and that is our own doing for not making more of a presence in meetings. However, I have been coming to this meeting for 3 years --fairly infrequently mind you...but enough that I should at least look familiar. I don't expect to be remembered or even to have someone remember that the familiarity is from meeting. But it would still be nice to be treated in a welcoming manner and maybe as if I had a brain. I realize that these are very unkind charges to be making. And if you ask me for specific examples, it would be hard to say why it is I feel this way. I think what makes it worse is that meetings play favorites, picking a young adult that comes with some frequency or who was active as a teen and choosing to hold them up as this shining example and ignoring those of us who come infrequently and may be having our own struggles and tests of faith--those of us that need support and kindness.
This even happened in my home meeting when I returned from Guilford and having been the Quaker Leadership Scholars program for FOUR years. No one made an effort to get to know me (excepting those that I had pre-existing relationships with) and even when I tried to come regularly and get involved in committees still felt like an outsider at the rise of meeting.
I would have let it all go. Done the dishes (which is a long-standing ministry of mine at gatherings like this) and been done with it. However, I asked a friend of mine, who I met at college to come and support this venture. She is familiar with Quakers and has attended meetings in the past though being raised and part of another denomination. She grew up in an intentional faith-based community. We both share a passion for social justice, service, a need for spirituality, and community. As she came to help with the dishes I said, "Thanks for coming, I hope it hasn't been too awkward." She said it wasn't but was a lot like a quieter version of the intentional community she grew up in. We laughed. She said she thought it was funny that no matter where you were old Quaker men all look the same, with food in their beards. I said that the woman all tend too look the same and in a few years I would have my own lady beard and awkwardly out of style way of dressing. We were laughing at this (and please don't be offended, I make horrible jokes about what I love) when someone from the meeting came in and squawked about whether or not we were doing the dishes correctly. I said I had read the signs that were posted and followed that (this was the fourth person to do so). It irked me abit that rather than being thanked for doing this without being asked to do it, I was helping out. But rather than thanks the first thought was "they must be doing it wrong."
I am not doing justice to the odd sense people get after meeting. But if outsiders are seeing it and young friends who want to be involved, included, in community and accountable for living a mindful life--than there is a problem. If those that are hyper-involved in meetings are feeling burnt-out and taxed then it is essential we change our after meeting practices. True that part of this accountability means that I need to go to meeting regularly...which is hard when you feel like there is not a genuine interest in your presence there. At that point I usually think...I could still be asleep. I miss being a part of a community. I am glad that I have the opportunity to start attending something that may be closer to what I crave than what I get at established meetings but sad to that Quakers can be so condescending and rude. But like family, I love that which will always be apart of me at the same time know that sometimes the real gift is that family (or religious community) you create is what sustains and supports you.
So next time you see someone new at meeting...or maybe you have seen them a few times...standing off to the side alone, try talking to them about the weather or things that the meeting is working on....chances are they will appreciate it. And that they will be just as awkward as you--they are afterall at a Quaker Meeting.