Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Quaint is a Funny Word

I just added a “new” book to my library. Published in 1952, Laughter in Quaker Grey is a collection of “humorous stories from a fresh source, together with anecdotes grave and gay of the Society of Friends” as collected by William H. Sessions.

Let me share a story from the book about “The Quaker and the Organ,”
“Friend Maltby, I am pleased thou hast got such a fine new organ in the church.”
“But,” said the Clergyman, “I thought you were strongly opposed to having an organ in a place of worship.”
“So I am,” said the Quaker, “but if thou wilt worship the Lord by machinery, I would like thee to have a first-rate instrument.”

The subtitle describes the book as a “new collection of quaint and humorous stories”. Yes, there are humorous stories, but don’t look for loud guffaws inside the covers of this book. The stories collected range from humorous to thought provoking to peculiar. I suppose that’s appropriate because Quakers in general range from humorous to thought provoking to peculiar.

Many of the stories are, as the subtitle suggests, “quaint” – they fit a dictionary definition of being “strange in an interesting or pleasing way.” Others fit a second definition: “Very strange or unusual; odd or even incongruous.”

We enjoy “quaint” things. That is why we have museums, living history establishments like Conner Prairie, and antique stores.

On the other hand, we don’t want to be considered “quaint.” The word suggests “old-fashioned,” “out of touch,” “irrelevant” and “not-to-be-taken-seriously.” Being considered quaint is not necessarily a compliment.

We share in a long history as part of the followers of Jesus known as “Friends.” We continue traditions and practices that have grown out of that history. This brings us a new challenge. How do we enjoy our history and live our traditions without becoming little more than a “new collection of quaint and humorous people?”

As Friends, we know that the answer to that is grounded in the living presence of Jesus. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

We are not stuck in the past like a “quaint” display in some museum. Rather we are living in the present and in the presence of Jesus.

That’s good news.