Quaker hybrids

episode 45 quaker hybrids

This time, Quaker academic Christy Randazzo joins us as a guest. They’ve studied all sorts of aspects of Quakerism, and this time we’re dealing with Quaker hybrids. Especially in the liberal Quaker world, you’ll find all sorts of Quaker hybrids. Some have cute names, like Quaker Pagans calling themselves “Quagans” and Quaker Catholics being “Quatholics.”

We talk about various Quaker hybrids we’ve heard of. Mostly Christy talks. They talk about how Quakerism is really flexible, and people can easily bring in bits of whatever their previous tradition was. Three particular Catholic practices that show up are mentioned. Except, well, one of those Catholic practices is actually Buddhist. And we hear about Ham Seok-heon, a Korean Quaker who found the overlaps in Quakerism, Buddhism, and other ideas brought by Japanese colonists in Japan. From this, he created a Korean version of Quakerism.

We also ponder (a little) what practices or beliefs in other religions could be incompatible with liberal Quakerism.



Speaker 2: Welcome to Quaker Faith and Podcast, where we will explore traditional Quaker beliefs and a variety of Quaker beliefs found today.

Mackenzie: Welcome back to Quaker Faith and Podcast. This time it’s me, Mackenzie, and I’ve got a guest, Christy Randazzo. Christy is someone who I met through Micah and friends with Jesus. They were in Philadelphia, and it turns out that they are also a nerd about Quaker stuff.

Christy: Well, I guess you could say nerd. That seems to be putting it a bit boldly. I’m an academic, I guess, by training. I was a youth minister for a long time in the Episcopal church, and then I got the Quaker bug and was convinced. By that point I decided I wanted to get involved in studying theology more seriously, I guess.

Christy: I got a master’s in Theology, then I got a masters in Reconciliation and Peace Theology. And then I just finished up my doctorate from the University of Birmingham in Quaker Theology and wrote my dissertation and have published in, I don’t know, anything that anybody wants me to publish in I’ve been like, sure, why not? I’ll write on that topic. There just aren’t that many academically trained Quaker Theologians out there. We are the few the proud and you know, the active, shall we speak, because someone’s got to write this stuff. So. Yeah.

Mackenzie: And I still haven’t actually gotten a chance to read your whole thesis, although you did let me see one chapter. Well, edit one chapter. So we talked about this time we wanted to chat about hybrid Quaker stuff, or hyphenated Quakers, although I think we were also giggling about the creative names that exist instead of using hyphens like Quackens.

Christy: Yes. Quaker pagans. There’s also Quathiests, for Quaker atheists or non theists. Let’s see, I’ve heard, Quatholics, for Quaker Catholics, Quanglicans for Quaker Anglicans, there are a great number of those of which I guess I would kind of suit one of them. At that point you sort of reach the level of the ridiculous. There isn’t really one for Quaker Jewish because Quwish doesn’t really sound good. Quaker Buddhist, Quaddhist doesn’t really work so it sort of falls apart after a while.

Mackenzie: So, I was having dinner with some folks from Ohio yearly meeting and I said the word Quagen and Ohio yearly meeting is very solidly. They are Christian and they are sure about it. And when I went Quagen, “What’s that mean? Wait, I don’t think I want to know what that means, do I? Don’t tell me what it means. Okay fine, tell me what it means.” And I said it’s Pagan Quaker. And he said, “I was right, I didn’t want to know what that meant.” And then the woman across from me said, “Well, what do they call Buddhist Quakers? Bakers?”

Christy: Yeah. Actually, that is a really good question. I mean, there’s a wonderful analogy to the flexibility of Quakerism in how many people find ways of connecting spiritual traditions, either in their past or spiritual traditions that they’ve found meaningful in their life, along with Quakerism, sort of finding ways of sort of mixing them.

Christy: And you know the analogy as well. Look at the name Quaker, it’s so flexible and we can do things like a Quakeist. And of course, again, it sort of breaks down after a while. But I can sort of extend that out and say that after a while the flexibility starts to break down, there’s only so far you can push what it means to be Quaker until you reach a point where maybe you actually aren’t Quaker anymore. But that’s another conversation entirely. But I know I’m not going to start that can of worms.

Mackenzie: I’m trying to figure out what the equivalent Quaker version of “them’s fighting words” are given the whole not fighting thing.

Christy: Ah, yeah, yes, yes. Them’s passive aggressive frustrating words? Yeah.

Christy: But no, I think that, again, knowing that Quakerism does have this inherent flexibility actually gives us a wider lens towards encompassing other traditions than I would say the vast majority of Christian denominations and traditions. I think that that flexibility allows us to encompass many other religious traditions and faiths, and ways of expressing spirituality and connection to something greater than ourselves than many other traditions and faith communities.

Christy: So, I don’t think that it’s awful to say that you do eventually reach a point where maybe you aren’t Quaker anymore. You know, you can only push, something that’s incredibly flexible to a point where it starts to fall apart. But I think that you can push us way farther than you can push a lot of other traditions. So, yeah, that’s sort of my defense of that, I guess.

Mackenzie: I’ve heard some friends, especially in liberal traditions, say that the one solid absolute thing is that you have to be onboard with the antiwar passivism stuff. And so I could see there being some, like, Sikhism has, as far as I understand, a requirement to do defense of a third party to the point that Sikhs are required to carry a small knife. And it’s generally a little ceremonial thing, barely bigger than a nail file that satisfies the requirement. But the idea of defend them by putting yourself in harm’s way versus defend them by attacking the aggressor would be two different things kind opposed, I suppose.

Christy: Although at the same time I think that … And this could also be opening all manner of cans of worms here, but you know, you look in history with the free Quakers involved around the time of the American revolution. There are …

Mackenzie: Hang on, you should probably define that.

Christy: Right. There are Quakers who during the American revolution called themselves free Quakers who were, again, broadly speaking here, wanted get involved in the revolution, felt a moral compulsion to actually engage in the fighting for, I guess, the rebellion at that point against colonial rule.

Mackenzie: Though they did get disowned for it.

Christy: And they made an argument around the idea that the greater violence was caused by the colonial rulers themselves by the British, and that what they were doing was actually defending against people who were trying to repress them and they were trying to protect people who were being harmed by this sort of, again, oppressive regime.

Christy: And I think that kind of reflects the fact that passivism and the Peace Testimony in and of itself is a, you know, there isn’t one sole defined way of actually how to express the Peace Testimony within Quakerism. And throughout the centuries we’ve kind of gone in a lot of different directions in that.

Christy: So, I think that one of the challenges that people find when they come into Quakerism from other traditions is the fact that their other tradition might have a more, I guess, codafide sense of what things mean. Whereas Quakerism has sort of generally, even across the wide spectrum of Quakerism, has really emphasized that you need to consistently return to that inner voice, God, the light, the inner light, inward light, the seed of Christ, something that connects you to something greater that sort of guides you, and that through the community and then through your connection to the divine, those two are sort of marrying communion.

Christy: And as a result through that dialogue, you’re discovering and discerning what’s the right way to act and what’s the right way to sort of be in that moment. Which means that some people think of it as a religion on like a personalized/individualized religion, but again, that forgets the community element. But it is a little bit more up to you than other traditions might be, and that kind of allows for both flexibility, but it also requires a bit more engagement and wrestling with questions, I think.

Mackenzie: I was going to ask what you meant by engagement.

Christy: Trying to figure it out. At its core, trying to figure out what it means to be actually peaceful. Trying to figure out what it means to be in your heart connected to a God, let’s say, of peace, or a tradition which emphasizes-

Mackenzie: Universe.

Christy: Yeah. The idea that there is a harmony within the universe which necessitates peacemaking, or something, And I think that the insistence of trying to continuously, moment by moment, figuring out what does it mean to be a peacemaker in this time, in this moment, requires you to constantly go back and engage in whether it be prayer, meditation, both individually and communally. It’s that wrestling, I think, at its core, which I think makes us unique. If I’m going to say what is inherently Quaker, it is that wrestling, And then you know, you’re wrestling with what peace making is, with what simplicity is, with who is God, who is Christ. If you’re going to be more of a Christ centered tradition, who actually is Christ? All of this is something much more about the question of wrestling.

Mackenzie: Shifting somewhat. I thought we could talk about what aspects of Quakerism find easy parallels in other religions? Or what practices overlap that make it easier to do that hybridizing?

Christy: Right. I mean, there’s the obvious, where if you’re going to be looking at, let’s say, an emphasis on peacemaking you’re going to find obvious connections with the other peace Churches. You know, you’re looking at the Mennonites and you’re looking at, in America, the Church of the Brethren. Not like in Britain where they have the Plymouth brethren, that’s another thing entirely, but-

Mackenzie: Oh, but they do have some overlap with us. The Plymouth Brethren also are in India. They do have a similarity to us. Do you know that?

Christy: True. That is true. And that’s another whole podcast entirely.

Mackenzie: I have a friend in India who is a Plymouth Brethren.

Christy: Well, there we go. I think that it’s when you boil it down you have these sort of core elements of what does it mean to be a friend? And I think you have the question of peacemaking and that’s going to again, you know, it’s going to connect us to the practice of peacemaking, will be connecting us to Buddhism and the emphasis on being at peace with the world and connecting, aligning yourself so that you aren’t … Simplicity would be a similar question with Buddhism where you’re not focusing on needing things, that idea of getting rid of want and desire. It has a connection to Buddhism.

Christy: But I think that when we get into that kind of a question, I think the obvious ones are kind of obvious, but the ones that are sort of more interesting I think are the ones that you don’t expect.

Christy: So like for example, there’s a tradition within Zen Buddhism where your meditation is about completely cleansing your mind. And oddly enough, there’s a guy named Thomas Keating who was a Catholic monk who sort of looked at this form of literally just emptying your mind and just being present in that space. And he thought this was a great way of actually emphasizing the Catholic monk focus on being emptied of everything and just being filled by God.

Christy: So, he had to add in the god part obviously to the Buddhist meditation, but he created this idea of centering prayer. Where you’re literally emptying what’s there and just being present, and if something bubbles up that might be the voice of God, it might not be, but you’re supposed to just sort of be present and allow God to inhabit you or Jesus to inhabit you from a Christian perspective.

Christy: And that sounds really similar to the silent waiting[inaudible 00:16:36] worship where you are waiting and being present and simply I’m trying to remove what’s going on and just seeing what emerges. And that’s really kind of awesome and a weird kind of connection there that actually I think again, I was raised Roman Catholic and that really helped me because I was involved in a lot of meditative practices as a Roman Catholic, and that really connected.

Christy: So I think meditation and meditative practices are often times a lot of ways people connect in. So you get a lot of people who are involved in Buddhism, kind of connected there, a lot of Christian meditation kind of connected there.

Christy: But another weird connection you could find is with Hinduism, with the fact that, well, this idea that God or the divine has many avatars, the divine has many faces. This sort of, you know, you can have all these different … So you can conceivably, according to a Hindu man[inaudible 00:17:40], you could definitely be a Christian and be Hindu, that wouldn’t bother them.

Mackenzie: Is Jesus one of the avatars?

Christy: Yeah. Jesus is just an avatar. And another way that God sort of presents God self, and that sort of idea of openness, I think, again, from a more, I guess liberal, Quaker perspective, which actually kind of really work and would allow some way in.

Christy: So, I think a lot of it is, we have our practices and that kind of draws people in, you know, there’s the obvious people who were involved in the peace movements and connected to Quakers and were like, “Hey, these people sound cool.” And then they’ll bring in their own traditions with them, they’ll bring in their own belief and their own faith with them and create more of this interesting millage, this sort of mixture.

Christy: But I think in the end what it really boils down to is what are the kinds of practices and ideas that are amenable to that. It really is about the question of we are both active and contemplative at the same time. So if you are from a tradition that has not emphasized contemplation and that makes you feel uncomfortable, that might be something that is not gonna really work well with you. And that might sort of be something that’s not going to work to connect you in.

Christy: But whenever we get involved in these kinds of questions you also have to engage with the fact that, you know, what kind of Quakerism are we talking about? Are we talking about liberal Quakers, the sort of silent waiting worship for an hour, God can be any number of different things. Or are you talking about this sort of Evangelical or even Pentecostal friends?

Mackenzie: Which our last episode we talked about charismatic stuff and Quakers.

Christy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, and that whole history, that whole heritage there. So, the idea of contemplativeness would not … I’m not saying that it’s not in presence, it’s very much present, but it’s not as overwhelmingly present as it is in liberal friends.

Christy: So like for example, there are people I know who’ve been very interested in Evangelical friends because they sort of took this idea of, you know, they may have been Mennonite or they may have really frankly just read the Bible and the fact that Jesus says, “Hey, blessed be peacemakers”, funny how that works, and they wanted to take that seriously.

Christy: So I think that would be a practice question. They got involved in the practice of peacemaking and Quakerism Evangelical friends communities that drew them in, you know?

Mackenzie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Christy: I don’t know that there’s going to be an obvious way of saying, okay, this is the way that people are going to connect to Quakerism, but there’s so many people who get involved in Quakerism. One of the beauties and challenges of our tradition is that we’ve really opened it up to a certain extent. I mean, knowing your background in software, it’s sort of like open source software in a lot of ways.

Mackenzie: Oh, I like open source.

Christy: Yeah. It’s this idea of like there’s so many different ways that you can mess with a tradition. There are certain things that you have to stick with, there’s certain ways that the language has to sort of be used, there are actually certified things that you can’t go past and not sort of not really be Quaker. Again, I’ve opened myself up to all the slings and arrows and know that that’s gonna happen.

Christy: But I mean, even something obvious like some of the rules that people just sort of pick up like, okay, don’t talk twice in meeting. There are these things that we know, but we don’t want to accept them as actual rules even though they are.

Mackenzie: The clerk of Baltimore yearly meeting, Inter meeting Marcy Towel, she told me that she was visiting a meeting and she was chatting with people, I don’t know if it was before or after, but somebody said, “Well, you know that feeling before the second time you speak in meeting?” And she was like, “No.” She’s like, “Well, yeah, you know.” And the person who explained that in her meeting it is customary basically that you speak once and that sort of sets the stage for your message. But then God’s gonna give you the rest of the message later on in the meeting. So you speak once and might only be a couple of minutes, and then toward the end of the meeting you’re going to speak again to complete that thought.

Mackenzie: I think that was in Baltimore yearly meeting too.

Christy: Yeah, I have heard that never. Wow. Okay. All right. See, this is the beauty about being … Like, I call myself a Quaker Theologian, and it’s such a tiny little tradition, but I think you can really enjoy it and have fun with it and never get bored because you’re always going to be like, okay, that’s new. I didn’t know that.

Mackenzie: Oh, but that isn’t actually new, because-

Christy: Oh, no, new to me, that is.

Mackenzie: Okay. Well, yes, new to you, but I’m sure that you are aware of Job Scott.

Christy: Yes.

Mackenzie: Right?

Christy: Yes.

Mackenzie: So, Job Scott, when he spoke at Sunbury? Sudbury? Whatever, somewhere in Pennsylvania, he spoke twice at that meeting and this was back in the days when meeting was several hours long, but he spoke for like 45 minutes first and then later on in the meeting he spoke for another 15 minutes.

Christy: Well, and that’s the thing, is I think one of the beauties of our tradition and challenges of our tradition is that we have this amazingly rich history that we oftentimes forget when it’s convenient.

Christy: So we have this experience of, for example, of recorded ministers, people, and we did it for centuries-

Mackenzie: 300 years.

Christy: Yeah. And even to look at our meetings, like the record minister sat in the benches, and there aren’t that many facing benches. It is a pretty sort of obvious like, you know, these are the people, they’re kind of elevated, and we expect them to speak, and people would come to meeting having thought about something ahead of time and may come feeling relatively prepared. Now, it might emerge in different ways, but they will have come and people invited them to speak and they will stand and the expectation is they were going to say something.

Christy: Now that idea is anathema, why would you come to meeting ready to say something? And that switch is relatively new. If we want to look at the time, but that’s become sort of a concrete expectation, you know, the idea of you only speak once at a meeting. Well, I mean it is a thing now but it’s obviously not a thing across the entirety of the whole tradition.

Christy: I think one of the, again, getting back to the whole concept of hybridization in Quakerism, we’re always going to try to find a place for us, I think, when we look for a spiritual community and I think that’s the whole point. We want to feel connected and we want to bring a part of who we were and who we want to be to a community. So, we’re always going to bring all of our baggage with us and that baggage is going to inform how we engage with the community.

Christy: And because Quakerism is an individual within a community and a community being informed by the individual and this whole dialogue, the community will shift and the individual will shift. And because we are really kind of a really diverse, crazily diverse world, we have a lot of different ideas out there that come in. I mean, one of the challenges of course of opening ourselves up after Quietism is that it was like, wow, the world had shifted so much and we had all these new ideas coming in and we kind of pinballed back and forth between this and this and this and this. One of the beauties that we have is that we sort of came down to the conclusion of, okay, what does it mean to be Quaker?

Christy: We are practicing, we are contemplating. And within that sort of dialogue between those two entities, those two core ways of being, we kind of are opening up life, what it means to exist. It is to contemplate and then is to act on that contemplation then it is to contemplate about the action, and we go back and forth in this dialogue.

Christy: So, when we’re looking at someone like, for example, Ham Seok-heon, and I know I’m butchering his name, is this Korean Quaker, who he started off as-

Christy: Go ahead, sorry.

Mackenzie: I couldn’t parse what the name you said was, and please email me or send me a message like text telling me what the name is so that I can get it correct when I’m typing up the show notes. But when you said it at first, it just made me think of the last name Sir Conan that shows up in Dune.

Christy: No, I’m totally butchering it. It’s Ham and then S E O K H O E N, but then we’re also talking about English version, Anglicized versions of Korean, which is never accurate. And anyway …

Christy: So, Ham Seok-heon in the 1900’s, in the 20th century he was a Korean Quaker who was involved heavily in the reunification movement to try to bring North and South Korea back together again. He’s this postcolonial hybrid Buddhist/Christian Quaker who kind of created his whole Quakerism, his whole vision of the world because he met Howard Brenton and started reading some stuff and it was like, okay, I guess I’m a Quaker. And then created this whole way of thinking about Quakerism in this whole sort of tradition in Korea, you know, sort of Korean Quakerism, and sort of really been impacted deeply by Ham Seok-heon attempt to make sense of what it means and what it meant in the 1900’s to be a peacemaker in the midst of an oppressive society with Japan oppressing Korea, and then everything that happened with the war and everything else after that.

Christy: And then with this whole mix between a strong sort of Presbyterian, particularly missionary involvement in Korea with the sort of centuries millennium of Buddhist tradition within the country. So already you have the Presbyterian, Christianity and then the Buddhism coming in there, and then you’ve got the Japanese sort of colonial elements coming in there. It’s all sort of coming into this mix, and then he’s trying to make sense of all of it and creating this whole Quakerism out of like the whole thing and this beautiful thing, this beautiful theology that kind of brings it all together.

Mackenzie: I had no idea that there were Quakers in Korea at all.

Christy: Yeah. There’s a whole meeting in Seoul, and I think there’s several other meetings throughout the rest of the country. I’m not as knowledgeable about that, but I know that there’s at least a meeting in Seoul.

Mackenzie: Alrighty.

Mackenzie: Something that I was thinking about earlier when you were talking about Buddhist meditation and the Catholic Monk Contemplation thing was I thought of two practices I’ve heard of from Catholics that seem to mesh well with Quakers. One of them was at a Friend’s of Jesus thing. We did Lectio Divina. For anybody who is not familiar with that, because I just said something in Latin, it’s reading a passage from the Bible and contemplating that passage and then reading it again. And we did it with different translations each reading. So that was one thing that I thought of as like, it’s a Catholic practice, but it works really well for Quakers.

Mackenzie: And the other one was I think you said that at some point you used to be … Well, you didn’t say on this episode, but you told me before that you used to be a Franciscan, and I know that’s not the same thing as Jesuit, don’t worry, I’m not about to make that mistake.

Christy: No, that’d be awful.

Mackenzie: But, I remember hearing about ignation, like this agnation way of reading the Bible where you’re putting yourself in the shoes of somebody in the story, and it really reminded me of what I have read of, well, you know that I read a book called Face to Face by T Vail Palmer Jr, where he talks about how early friends were putting themselves in the shoes of people in the Bible and looking at the world from that perspective. And so when I heard about that recognition thing of imagine yourself in the story, it made me think of that.

Christy: Yeah. And that sort of idea of being truly empathetic, actually being present with somebody as they are engaged in a faith journey. I mean, we are a narrative theological tradition, Quakerism. We emphasize the telling of narrative and the reading of narratives. We place high value on John Woolman’s journal and Margaret Fallows journal. All these journals from early Quaker women.

Christy: We read even faith in practice when we talk about sort of so much of the extracts from faith and practices across Quakerton are either from people’s stories, from people’s narratives, people’s perspectives on things, from their writings and the stories they tell in meeting, the testimony they give. I think the idea of sort of being very empathetically placing yourself within the scripture, yeah.

Christy: I mean, like I said, I think that conceivably one can, if you’re really open to it, and I’m not saying to be stretched too far, you can find connections between much of what Quakerism is engaged with and your previous tradition. I mean, you could even say that, for example, the idea of like a lot of people, oddly enough, who are Roman Catholic find a lot of connections with Quakerism because of the emphasis on beauty in silence and presence, the idea of sort of being … There’s this moment right after the Eucharist in a Roman Catholic service, and other traditions have this as well, but I think when I was Roman Catholic I found it really prominent. And there’s just this moment where everyone just sits down and just sort of sits there and no one moves until the priest stands up and says, “Okay, let’s have the final prayers.”

Christy: I remember as a kid the priest would just sit there a good two minutes. Which granted, you know, as a Quaker now, two minutes of silence, that’s nothing, so it’s nothing, but if you know anything about a Catholic service, it’s active all the time, there’s people who are getting up and moving and you’re-

Mackenzie: Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight?

Christy: Exactly, exactly. Kneeling and sitting and moving, walking. But that break, that space, is sort of emphasized, and the idea of silence having value I think is a great connection. It’s not something you’d think of automatically, but it’s like these things, like the smells of your childhood you don’t really think about, and then suddenly like you smell something and it smacks you in the face. Like, oh my God, I’m overwhelmed by the connection and I hadn’t made it before.

Christy: I think that’s kind of what happens when people get involved in Quaker practice and Quaker worship, is that we have these little things that people find connection to, and I think in part also because they really want to. We have a lot of people coming from different traditions and people want to find home in Quakerism, and they’re striving to be connected.

Christy: So they’ll see things within our practice and theology and contemplativeness that others might not see, but they have the eyes to see it because they’re looking for it. They’re looking for connection, they’re looking for home.

Mackenzie: Well, I think that’s about time. So, thank you for coming on the show this week, very last notice as it was, or last minute notice as it was. And I hope I get to see you again soon.

Christy: Absolutely. And thank you very much for inviting me. And I’m sorry, I think that one of the challenges of getting an academic on is that they tend to just kind of ramble on for a very long time. Hopefully I said something that was interesting to somebody.

Mackenzie: Well, I’ve known you for about a year and a half, so I’ve kind of gotten used to the rambling.

Speaker 2: You can find us on the web at Quakerpodcast.org, as Quakerpodcast on Twitter, Facebook, or Patreon, and on iTunes.