Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Role of Reclaiming in the Coming of the Blessed Community and Why Quakers Should Do It: Some Thoughts.

As I have been reading into New Monasticism I have been particularly struck by the idea of reclaiming. To reclaim something means that it belonged to someone else who either marked it as unwanted or gave it away. My first exposure to reclaiming was probably the fact that I grew up wearing almost exclusively hand-me-down clothes. While other people, especially young people, would never think of wearing something that wasn’t new I have never thought twice about wearing second-hand
clothes. Even when I have been able to afford new clothes I prefer to wear second hand.

Another experience I have had with reclaiming is with the reclaiming of words, particularly with the word “queer”. Even a generation a good the word queer was a hurtful, hateful word, much as ‘faggot’ still is. Slowly though ‘queer’ has come to be a positive word both politically and academically. While studying in college I studied a lot of queer theory, academic theory that is based on the idea of finding new ways of seeing things, seeing patterns and understanding certain social realities in ways we have not thought of before. Queer theory is about reclaiming, creating, and opening up new space. The word queer is much the same way. I myself feel most comfortable with affixing myself with the label ‘queer’ more then other labels because it is reclaimed to mean something that creates new space and new understanding.

I have never thought about reclaiming space though, or goods per say. However New Monasticism advocates doing just that, and I like that idea. To me reclaiming space, and resources, and ways of living we have been taught to think of as useless or not as good is in line with the teachings of Christ more so then many other forms of political and social activism. Because when we reclaim we do not merely point out where someone is wrong but create an alternative way of seeing, understanding, and acting in the world. We also build communities that way, rather then blindly striking out against the Powers That Be out of anger and hate. It's a harder road but one I do believe Christ taught us to follow. I think Christ taught us to be careful of ways of resisting power structures that are hurtful and hateful and do not build communities. I like the idea of not taking ourselves out of the world and creating our own Utopia off in the forest somewhere, but instead being right there. I like the idea of being right in the middle of things, yet also living a life in God’s image, a life that creates a space for something new. The first mark out of the 12 Marks of New Monasticism talk about reclaiming places of Empire. For me Empire in this context is not referring to a political or social historical reality per-say. Instead it means our fall from Gospel Order, all the things, and systems and oppression in the world that keep us blinded to the Blessed Community. Reclaiming places and in general resources means taking something that the Empire has decided is bad, or just not worth the time and making it into part of the Blessed Community. That can be reusing abandoned houses or building, second hand clothes or furniture, spaces that are considered contaminated, and taking in people who have been cast out. I like reclaiming because it is refusing to play by the rules of Empire. My mother will tell you that I dislike following rules I see as pointless or useless. It’s true I don’t, if a rule is good and helpful and there for a reason I’m totally about following it to the letter, if it’s useless and hurtful though I say why bother? So we rock the boat, we are Quakers and more importantly Christians that’s what we do. I think reclaiming is particularly important for Quakers, especially Liberal Friends because as Liberal Friends we have grown very used to throwing things away. We have gotten rid of beliefs, Church structures, theology and traditions. Yet as Christians and as Friends what we should be doing is reclaiming. Not just in our own religious community, but also out in the world. Reclaiming is a part of God’s politics; it’s a form of protest that creates, and builds something new. We talk a lot in the Liberal Quaker community about acting out of love, and then rely, rant and petition against people like conservatives, Fundamentalist Christians and Republicans. A lot of times I agree, some of what these people do is very wrong and goes against all of the things I believe in as well as how I understand the Church. On the other hand we don’t really try to reclaim anything, and that kind of protest doesn’t build, it doesn’t form communities, it doesn’t make anything new. Brian McLaren calls himself Fundamentalist in A Generous Orthodox, in the Quaker community I am considered very conservative and I would even call myself evangelical. Neither Brian nor I mean these terms in the way they are usually used, but then that’s the point of reclaiming.

I love the idea of reclaiming. I love the idea of taking words, rituals, spaces, things and saying to Empire ‘we aren’t going to play by your rules. You’ve meant these things to be useless, and hurtful, but you don’t have that kind of power over us. We are going to use these things and build a new community with them.’ I think that is what God’s politics is all about, and therefore that is what Quaker politics should be about as well.

9 comments:

practicalmysticmusings said...

I totally agree with you about re-claiming!!! I too studied queer theory in university and am fascinated by the process of re-claiming words that have had the power to hurt. I'm also a Friend - I had a big break from 19 and now, at 39 am coming back to Quakerism in a big way! I guess I'm reclaiming it!

Johan said...

Found myself saying "amen" more than once while reading ... and then again very much at the end: Sometimes "reclaiming" and saying YES to God must must must mean saying NO to "Empire."

Saying a Godly NO to Empire can be a lonely thing--thank God we don't have to do it alone!

Warmest thanks.

Anna said...

Hi Friends,

Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts.

Sometimes "reclaiming" and saying YES to God must must must mean saying NO to "Empire."

Very very true words Friend, thee speaks my mind.

Peace and Joy,
Anna.

Amy said...

Wow! I like this one very much. Thanks

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