Number 9…

(This is a part of my “Top Ten things that drive me crazy about Quakers” list.)

9. Our jargon

“Are you FGC or EFI?” “Are all hearts clear?” “Is that an FUM or EFM field?” “That of God in each person.” NWYM, AFSC, YAF, FWCC. “The Light Within.”Acronyms. Phrases. Insider code. If we were TRYING to make ourselves incomprehensible to others, I don’t think we could do it any better than we do now. I’d love for us to work harder at sharing who we are and what we think in fresh, understandable ways.

12 thoughts on “Number 9…

  1. Hi Gregg,
    A bit part of the issue is institutionalism and the sense that our spiritual identity comes from our associations. From what I’ve seen all of our institutions are stunted in one way or another–they’re all less interesting that any of the individuals that make them up. They over-define themselves against the other institutions while ignoring the elephants in the middle of their respective rooms that would split them apart. To be an insider requires learning the Quaker-speak and learning how to dance around the taboo subjects. I don’t suspect our incomprehensibility is accidental.

    I don’t want to go on too long here, but I’m processing my last eight years in Quaker acronym world and I’m struck by how small it is. I’d guess that only 3% or so of Friends of any stripes could accurately identify your acronyms. Most Friends are outsiders to any institution (even if the institutions claim them). I think the blog world is one way we’re connecting laterally and I wonder how it will effect the big institutions over time. Remember, none of your acronyms are more than about 100 years old and all of these institutions were contructed on certain highly-centralized communication and social models which are not the only game in town anymore. It will be interesting to see how things evolve over the next twenty years.

    Another point I won’t belabor here: sometimes it’s important to use less-comprehensible terms so people understand we’re not what they think we are. I remember the time when a well-known Conservative Friend gave a weekend workshop at a universalist meeting I attended. He spent most of his time trying to translate what he was saying into the Buddhist language (really!) that he thought members would understand. Making it so accessible meant most attenders probably went away thinking that Conservative Quakerism was Buddhism with funny words. I would suspect that similar translation issues happen when Friends too freely translate our beliefs into mainstream Evangelical Christian words. There’s a necessary tension between being accessible and being peculiar. We Friends don’t always hold that balance particularly well…

    Thanks again for this series. I hope it doesn’t inspire me to write so much for each, I have to find a job!!
    Yours, Martin


  2. Too bad you didn’t run this by the NWYM OSG, but I bet your concerns could be addressed by the AC during MWB at NFC.

    Or maybe Quakers are just up on TXT speak before their time.



  3. Oooh. This didn’t make my list, but it’s good. I’d add First Day School to the list of jargon. A boundary-crossing Friend said recently that he finds that it’s the Friends who are least likely to actually object to pagan stuff who are most attached to the Quaker peculiarity of numbering the days and months.

    It’s also true that what sounds like a cliche or insider speak to one Friend can be fresh and helpful to another when we cross our institutional boundaries. I remember very clearly the first time I heard the question, “Are all hearts clear?” July 2006, @ NFC. It seemed like such a good way to close open worship. I didn’t know it felt cliched to some Friends. I’m waiting for my next chance to facilitate worship sharing – I want to use this phrase.


  4. Robin, That’s so funny! I wanted to use the same phrase at the end of worship at CPQM* at SFMM** of the RSOF last Seventhday!

    Martin, remember that Friends prided themselves on being a peculiar people well before all the acronymed organizations developed. Quakers have been using hedges since the days of quietism.

    Gregg, Thanks for driving yourself crazy with this list stuff! We’re certainly enjoying it.

    * College Park Quarterly Meeting
    ** San Francisco Monthly Meeting


  5. Hi Chris: I like peculiar, I just think there’s a distinction between institutional insiderness (my first two paragraphs) and peculiarity (my last). I also understand the whole hedges thing but at the same time worry about them as they often seemed to serve Friends as hedges against race, class, culture, etc. I’m sure we’ll all be set straight when Gregg presents us with promised #8!

    Hi Gregg: yes as my comment got longer I thought “this is a blog post.” I’m just keeping a low profile as I job hunt. My comment feed ( is my real shadow blog these days!

    ps: Cool new theme.


  6. It seems like Margaret Fell was annoyed by some of these same things too when she urged Friends to mind the “inward work of almighty God in our hearts” instead of outward things when she called the fuss over dressing in one color a “poor, silly gospel.” One question seems to be, should we be distinguishable from “the world” or not? After all, won’t they will know we are Christians by our vocabulary?

    Another question may be, if we are distinguishable from the world somehow, how do we welcome others into our world? In my volunteer training packet I have a list of special education and disability related acronyms…maybe we could print our Quaker-speak words and phrases on the back of the bulletin along with their definitions! That would help people conform more easily. (Not serious, please don’t try to set me straight.)


  7. I’m not sure I’m setting anybody straight with number 8, but if I keep getting comments like this, whatever I post is worth it! Thanks!

    And about the theme…it will be back. But it’s having some issues, and I don’t have time to fix them right now. This one has issues, too…my tabbed blogroll is dead, I think because wordpress 2.1 broke it. I’ll tinker this weekend.


  8. Some wise person said that ” Pride is the root of all evil.” Darn, who was that? The topic of this post was pride… I think it is all to easy for Friends to fall prey to “distinction” and differentiation when politics or social justice issues come up in our discourse with others. It is simply too easy to be ‘correct’ in these areas because there is so much material to work with; so much that isn’t right. However, I think Gregg hits the nail on the head– we need to focus more on what makes us spiritually unique. The Quaker’s profound history and spiritual practice — awareness of the Spirit through experience, via quiet introspection, prayer, meditation. Whatever you label the practice it is experiencing God in the present. When one hears the still small voice that can only be a very humbling experience.


  9. I’ve been a YM transplate most of my life (Easter region to SWYM, to MAYM, and then to NWYM). After you learn the YM acronyms you then get to learn the Quaker family trees.


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