"Whatever God had, at any time heretofore, thought fit to command in particular cases, is consistent with him still." -Thomas Story
Nakedness in the 17th Century
Quakerism was a radical religious movement in its time.
Though modern Quakerism is a fractured and disjointed group, the origins of the movement were hyper-focused on dissecting and rebuilding spiritual life in 17th century England… a place and time when the church served the function of maintaining the status quo of oppression and severe inequality.
The Early Quakers (“Friends”) sought to break down the apathy of their countrymen, reminding them that Christianity began as a radical movement of action and personal commitment, now diluted by the rites, rituals and hierarchies of the modern church.
In order to make their point, Quakers sometimes found themselves creating spectacles, for which they were often arrested or worse.
Nakedness in North Carolina
When Jon Watts moved to West Philadelphia in 2010 to be closer to a burgeoning Young Adult Quaker movement, he was reconnected with his old friend Maggie Harrison, who had been working on a research paper for the Earlham School of Religion.
Maggie's paper was about nakedness, and she had done her homework. It shed light on the Early Friends' practice of "going naked as a sign"... the stories, the theology, and the implications for modern life. It was powerful. It was playful. It was kind of difficult work. And Jon was inspired.
If we rewind a bit, they both might have seen it coming.
It was a warm Spring afternoon on the campus of Guilford College in 2006. Jon had just completed his first full-length Quaker-focused album, and Maggie her first year at Guilford. Finals were going on in classrooms all over campus, and there was an air of seriosity on the quad.
In a fit of spontaneity, Jon and Maggie (who knew one another less deeply than you might imagine) stripped off their clothes to do a lap around campus, complete with celebratory yipping and attempts to climb art sculptures, hoping (in part) to give the madly scribbling students behind the open windows a temporary reprieve from the singular stress of their focused test taking.(Full Interview)
Nakedness in Public
With the Spirit as their guide, Jon and Maggie set out in 2010-2011 to bring their ministry of nakedness into an appropriately authentic public format. For Maggie, that meant exploring old texts over long hours in various Quaker libraries, exploring Nakedness in her own spiritual life, and writing a devotional pamphlet.
For Jon, it meant searching himself and engaging with his muse to write the songs for an album, always asking "what canst thou say?", with the underlying intention of radical authenticity... or nakedness.
For both Maggie and Jon, the work was difficult. The transformation was real. The product is inspired.
Nakedness in Philadephia
One beautiful Summer evening in 2011, a group of giddy Friends piled into Jon's Volkswagon van and, along with photographer Mike Goren, made the trek out to a lake outside of Philadelphia to frolic in the water and woods in the fading light.
Yeh, that's what we're talking about.