This is my blog with Quaker-specific musings, while musings on liberal Christian faith more generally continue on my other blog.

As a little girl, I remember listening to a song Pete Seeger sang, Little Boxes. It was composed by Malvina Reynolds on her way to an FCNL meeting (Friends Committee on National Legislation is the Quaker lobby organization), and it is about conformity, especially the White suburban kind of conformity.

During one part of my Botswana childhood, I was one of 2 White children in a school of about 500 Black children. At other times in Botswana, I didn’t stick out quite as much, but I didn’t fit in. Back in Norway at 11, my parents refused to pay what it would cost for the Levi 501’s with the red tab that I needed to be OK in one of Oslo’s finer suburbs, where we now lived. My parents would only get inexpensive orange tab Levi’s for me, and I knew that anyone could spot the orange color and my “uncoolness” from a mile off. And indeed, the other kids did think I was very uncool and they frequently told me about this truth, just to make sure I didn’t forget.

So I longed to conform. I could think of nothing more wonderful than living in a little box on the Norwegian hillside, indistinguishable from all the other little boxes. If only the verse about the children could have been true about me:

And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,…
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

As a kid who grew up between 3 cultures but not at home in any one of them, being “the same” as all the others sounded heavenly to me. 

About at this point in my blog post I usually ask a rhetorical question along the lines of “What does this have to do with …?” After blogging since October, I’m discovering that this is how I write a blog on faith: I start with the personal (not private) story that informs my faith, then I engage in theological reflection on what I learnt from my experience in ways that I hope will speak to others, and I conclude with a query that encourages my reader to explore that aspect of faith based on your own life experience. This particular story will hopefully tie in with lowering barriers to worship and how we work for a just world.

In my teens, I found rebellion. I came to terms with the fact that I was doomed not to fit in, and by then the cruelty of some of those kids was making me think that – if that was what fitting in meant – I wasn’t sure I really wanted it. As class focus in history and social studies started to move outward from Norway to include more of the reality of other parts of the world, I saw that my classmates really were clueless. I say that as a sympathetic statement of truth now, but at that time it filled me with rage. They were born into astonishing levels of material comfort, and they seemed neither to have any awareness of how lucky they were nor the compassion and sense of moral responsibility that a comfortable person – in my mind – has to have in relationship to those who live a life of material deprivation.

Friends, I am ashamed to say that I became the bully. My anger gave me the strength to make “being different” my trademark. I put on a face of pride and I became the one who mercilessly reminded other kids of their cluelessness. And when I came at it from a place of certainty that I was right, some kids joined my “team”, and my days of friendlessness were over.

Still, my inner drama of desiring a little box on the hillside hadn’t changed one bit. But it was a different kind of “box” and “sameness” I was looking for: not sameness with the clueless kids, but sameness with “enlightened” people. Before I had my first kiss, I was deep into feminist literature, which seemed like a good avenue to community with other enlightened people.  

Speaking of kissing… The objects of my desire didn’t consider this angry teenager to be very kissable, but since we as teenagers were all eager to kiss, I did eventually came by one. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s really clear to me that the reason I got a little ahem, mature, before I married, is that while I was still an angry person, I wasn’t really good relationship material, either. My daughters don’t know to be grateful to have an older and less angry mother.

So, now I get into the “applied theology” part. Fellow Quakers, my desire to be in a box on the hillside may be extreme, but I don’t think it’s unique. We all long to belong somewhere, although each person’s ideas of what the group will look like in which s/he will want to belong may vary. I think many of us come to Quaker Meeeting, bruised and bloodied from the culture wars, and we seek a safe haven where we can lick our wounds and be among people with whom we agree. I also think many of us have finally concluded that “the others” in this culture war are clueless, and we can be a little bit brutal with those with whom we disagree. And finally, in our anger we aren’t very desirable company. 

Friends, we say we want our Meetings to be diverse, and I believe that we are speaking with integrity when we say that. But I suspect that we treasure the “safe haven” of likeminded people more. I am convinced that if we got a little more carefree with disagreement and opinions and words, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and opinions would feel more welcome among us. God calls us to temper our justice with mercy. I think a little humor would be helpful, too.

Query for prayerful consideration:

How can we as Friends temper our desire for justice with mercy and humor?

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