Quakers and the Arts — A Rich and Complex History

The Friends Journal, a North American Quaker publication, dedicated its June/July 2018 edition to the topic of Creativity and the Arts. Various Quakers (or Friends) weighed in about the art they do and how they do it as a Quaker and for Quakers.

  • Joey Hartman-Dow, who collaborated with me for The Amazing Adventures of the Afterbirth of Jesus, writes about being a visual artist. In addition to creating deliciously whimsical characters based on shapes found in maps, Joey recently started a comic book series for the Quaker organization, FCNL. Joey’s piece, Art That Works, looks at the questions that come up for this Quaker artist: What do you want to be? and How am I going to make enough money to survive, in the same weird world I’m trying to change? Included in Joey’s reflections are samples of the gorgeous and stimulating art.
  • Arthur Fink writes about dance, not something that one imagines happens much in a quiet, still Quaker meeting for worship. Applying the practices of freedom of expression and of being self-aware that Arthur experiences in Quaker meeting for worship, Arthur worked with dancers in a studio and photographed them as they moved without choreography. Instead the dancers created their own movements that emanated from within. Arthur’s piece is The Dance Studio is my Other Quaker Meetinghouse.
  • Maggie Nelson writes about an intergenerational Art Camp. Like Joey, Maggie raises important questions: “Creative Friends and spiritual folk are everywhere, but are we recognizing the interconnectedness of our art and faith? What are we missing when we don’t worship with all of our senses? And what does it mean for the Quaker community when its members start experimenting with art and worship?”

I contributed my own piece, A Reluctant Minister. I write about the weird tension I feel from competing roles of artist, activist, and academic. Added to these are the pulls that come from presenting to Friends. Early on a member of the Hartford Meeting referred to me as having a “prophetic ministry.” My reaction to this statement surprised my support committee and has given me something to consider even now in my 15th year of public performing.

I suddenly felt cornered. I explained I had attended Pentecostal and Evangelical churches for nearly 20 years. The words “ministry” and “prophetic” stirred up trauma for me. The “ministry” I had received attempted to “de-gay” me and destroy much of my personality. The prophecies, at times literally yelled in my face, served to undermine my sense of self. Bill nodded and listened. His tone softened as he assured me, “I am talking about something different. You are speaking truth to a generation that needs to hear a message about justice and equality. You are pointing out wrongs in the world and showing people a different, better way. Your prophetic ministry gives light for straight people like me who need to see the world in a fresh, new way.”

As I considered this, I relaxed back into my seat; my fists unclenched. His description of prophetic ministry was getting closer to what I sought to do with my play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, but still, something unsettled me. After a period of silence I spoke, “I hear what you are saying, but it is hard for me to accept that position. It sounds like you see me as a preacher, but I am not; I am a performance artist.”

Check out the many pieces in the current Friends Journal.

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