Clothe Yourself in Righteousness is a project focusing on Quakerism and nakedness.
For those of you who don’t know me, here’s a little taste of what it’s actually like to talk to me. Let’s not forget I’m Philadelphian (aka crude and a straight forward to a fault) and that no one should be taking themselves too seriously here, especially me.
Also, my Elder/friend/housemate encouraged me to cope something I explained to him, which is that when I growled “You are not a Quaker”, both in my writing and in this video, I was playing with a petty internal voice I have that speaks from a place of pain and despair. This pain formed right before I left Seminary because I felt dejected that I was dedicating my life to a Society that appeared to be without real meaning, or at least where no one would take a stand for it’s value.
Now those wounds are largely healed, and I’m less interested in working with Quakers for the sake of the religion, instead grappling with the question of how a group of terribly privileged people who claim to care about justice (make no mistake, I indict myself) can transition from mostly corroborating systems of oppression to a group that actively and practically undermines them. As I understand Spirit, it seems that if we are Listening, this transition would happen. So… I can’t help but think there are things inhibiting our Listening. This is why my pamphlet exists. So, if you’re interested, there’ll be more on this later, but now I need to rest up for the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference!
That’s right, I said it. You are not a Quaker.
Hey, how can you tell me I’m not a Quaker? According to what definition?
Good question. There are good arguments for why no one can make such a claim. I’ve been a part of these conversations since attending the World Gathering of Young Friends in 2005, where Friends from all across the world and from every branch came together to share about our particular pieces, learn about the others, and ultimately try to resolve what was the unifying factor. Later I was part of this discussion in a major way in a Quaker Beliefs course, again full of different kinds of Quakers studying the branches’ theologies and practices and wondering, ‘is one branch more Quaker than the others?’ ‘What ties us together?’
Things I learned: None of us are practicing anything like original Friends although Conservative Quakers come closest with their combination of silent worship and biblical grounding.
However, silent worship isn’t what makes defines Quakers (no, we can’t cut off the Pastoral Branches).
Nor is a Biblical grounding or a strong Christian theology (that’s right, you also can’t do away with us filthy Liberals).
Likewise, connection to Quaker history and tradition does not make one a Quaker (yep, many authentic Quakers in the world have not even heard of George Fox).
And finally, being an active member of the Quaker community DOES NOT MAKE YOU A QUAKER.
The good news is that I figured out what defines a Quaker and so we can finally have a conversation about why you do not qualify and should stop calling yourself such. Here it is: all real Friends everywhere, throughout our entire history and in every branch, no matter what their theology or worship practices, are committed to one shared thing; GETTING NAKED.
(This is ultimately why this ministry exists– it goes to the root of our religion, which most of us who call ourselves Quakers are totally ignorant of.)
What the hell are you talking about Maggie?! This is an appalling marketing ploy that I don’t appreciate.
Now bear with me! Nakedness is about stripping away all of that which is not righteous, which is not eternal, which came into being not through obedience to Spirit/ Love/ God/ Christ/ Righteousness/ Wholeness/ Etc, but through human disobedience, brokenness, and distance from the Divine. Quakerism is a movement of people, or Friends of God, who engage in the process of inviting the Search Light (aka God) to shine upon all of our coverings (all that is unholy in our lives), so that we can identify them and work to remove them, with the help of God’s grace.
Quakerism is a group of people who are committed to this transformation, and believe TRULY that is it possible and available right now, through our direct connection to the spirit of Wholeness and Righteousness. It doesn’t matter what we call it: Jesus, Light, God, Christ, the Universe, Spirit, He, She, It, etc.
It doesn’t matter if we do it solely through silent meditation or through listening to a pastor or reading spiritual texts or Scripture.
It doesn’t matter if we do it in community or on our own (although history shows that it tends to go better if we’re doing it with the support of others).
The only thing that truly defines Friends as a distinct group and not just a bunch of Unitarians or Christians or a secular social club is that all True Quakers are committed to the process of gettin’ naked as a step in the longer path of being clothed in righteousness, which means a return to right order, or the Gospel Order, or the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Garden or Eden, or total Liberation, or WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT.
To be fair, “True Quakers” also include those of us who don’t know anything about how to do this but WANT this transformation.
So, if you attend meeting because it’s nice, or because you enjoy having a group of liberal friends to talk with about politics, THIS IS NOT ENOUGH TO CALL YOURSELF QUAKER.
If you call yourself Quaker because you like the social messages and the fact that we’re ‘so accepting’ or that we’re not going to stuff religion down your throat, that’s all fine and good, I feel the same BUT THAT’S NOT ENOUGH TO CALL YOURSELF A QUAKER.
If you attend Friends Church so that you can feel connected to God/Christ and do the things a good Christian would do, THAT’S NOT ENOUGH TO CALL YOURSELF A QUAKER.
If you call yourself a Quaker because you went to a Friends School and now work at a nonprofit and always compost your banana peels, THAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU A QUAKER.
Are you all getting my point?
Please stop diluting our movement and muddying the waters with your wishy-washy comfort-driven engagement with this group that you think is cool or enjoy ‘meditating’ with. You are not Quaker. Go join some other group that’s not going to tell you what to do and will accept your lack of interest in real radical transformation. That’s not what we’re about. And yes, we ARE about something. Don’t you dare imply otherwise and I’m sorry if we mislead you by acting like anything goes because we don’t believe in anything specific or challenging. IT DOESN’T. PLEASE LEAVE.
Engaging with the Clothe Yourself in Righteousness project over the last few years has inspired many connected ideas and messages that have tended to go no further than the confines of my own thoughts or an interesting conversation. However, I feel that if I were to have real integrity in this ministry, or actually be faithful to the leading of this project, I would share these related ideas through the available avenues, which in internet-world means BLOGGING!!!!
And, with the advent of cheap cameras and video editing programs, it also means VLOGGING! (“Video Blogging”). Never was able to follow through with a Blog or Vlog in the past, but it’s a new day, and I have my co-minister/partner in crime Jon Watts to hold me accountable and feed me potato chips when I get cranky, so perhaps it’s finally my time.
My commitment to YOU (i.e. whoever may be reading this and/or wanting more Nakedness material to feed your soul): I commit to posting a blog or two every week AND a vlog, until I feel “released” (which is Quaker-speak for sensing that you’re no longer responsible for a particular thing) or until my muses desert me.
You may ask, what am I going to talk about? Well, I’m not totally sure yet, but the general themes that have been plaguing my mind for the past few months have been:
1) interpreting/deconstructing the symbol of “Clothing”, which includes examining the many ways we represent ourselves, or hide parts of us, both through physical dress (dare I say costume!?) and also social or political expressions
2) exploring “undressing” or “getting Naked” as a spiritual practice or spiritual discipline a la Richard Foster
3) the role Love plays in all of this, especially relating to what kind of practices and ways of being make real intimacy and vulnerability possible in ourselves, in communities, in the wider world, and in our relationships with the Divine
4) thinking about the practice of “going naked as a sign” in modern day society; what would a comparable radical witness be today? Are there places in our society where modern Prophets are giving a comparable message?
5) the meaning of some of Jon’s lyrics (or at least my interpretation of them)
6) what might this project have to offer to modern Quakerism?
7) other random, loosely related meanderings
What do I hope you, reader, will commit to me? I would like you to try to greet these messages with an open heart, seeking where the words may hold Truth for you. And, that you share whatever support or affirmations—including personal openings—that come up for you so as to support me as a budding, insecure writer and a fellow follower, speaking to an invisible cyber-community. Deal? Great. I knew I could trust you.
Till next time…
Love and Faith,
Maggie Harrison discusses the radicalism of Quakers in the 17th century and how we could be that movement today.
Maggie wrote a pamphlet called “Clothe Yourself in Righteousness, But First Let’s Get Naked!” and co-released it with Quaker musician Jon Watts’ new album. In October 2011 the pair traveled to Earlham College to share their ministry with Scattergood and Olney Friends Schools.
So when I grew up Quaker, what I figured out was that Quakerism was boring as hell. And my middle aged Quaker friends in my Meeting who I love – and they were much radder than your average middle aged person – but they too were pretty boring and mainstream.
And when you learn about a lot of Early Friends and what they did you realize how extremely “not boring” that was… they were, and we could be.
They were revolutionaries. And I wanted to believe that I could be a revolutionary too… that I could be that brave. That my faith – that my experience of the incredible majesty of this world – could move me to do something radical… to change the world.
And when I looked around at the other Quakers that I was hanging out with, who were doing good work, they were part of nonprofits, they were… you know, we took in a family of Bosnian refugees, “woo, weren’t we great?” But that’s not the revolution. That is not Earth-Quaking faith. That’s being a good person. That’s what doing what you think a good Quaker should do. And that is not enough for me.
So I was trying to figure out: what was it that they had that we don’t have any more? What were they doing that no one is doing now?
And that’s where this nakedness comes in. Nakedness was the way that they described what they were doing that made them so full of conviction, so transformed that they could do anything that they felt like they were led to do, no matter how terrifying and how inappropriate it was.
So I looked into nakedness, and nakedness goes right back to the Bible. It goes back to Adam and Eve. It goes back to God making humans and saying “they are good” when they were in their state of nakedness, and then the humans were checking things out, and they were like, “oh I really want to eat that fruit” and they tried it… and they were given the ability to make that decision, to choose away from the order, from the direction of the Spirit.
And then God didn’t actually say, “oh now, you’re bad. You should hide yourselves away from me.” Adam and Eve did. They said, “Oh my God, we’re so embarrassed. Let’s hide ourselves.” And they put on the fig leaves.
So Quakers talk about going back to that original state of nakedness, and going back to it means, “I’m not going to have fig leaves anymore. I’m not going to cover myself out of shame for the parts of me that are broken. For the things that I’ve done, the things that I think, the way I am that is out of line with what is good in this world. I’m not going to be ashamed of that, so ashamed that I don’t look at it. We’re going to take it out and we’re going to put it in the open. We’re going to tear off the clothing, the covering and let the light shine on it. And when the light shines on that, it is scary as hell. But that also let’s it be transformed.
And this was something that Quakers were doing in their meditation. It was something they were doing in the silence, in their journalling, in their talking to each other, they were saying, “Are you getting naked? Are you letting yourself be transformed? Letting all of those parts of you that are not righteous see the light?”
That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want for Quakers. That’s what I want for us, and I think that there are a lot of other Quakers that also want that.