“An honest but annoying group of people”

March 30, 2021 | By Ryan Higgins-Newman, BHFH Resident

Dear Friends, 

This is Ryan Higgins-Newman (Jen’s spouse), bringing you the digest message today. I want to share with you something that I read recently:  

“During the latter half of the seventeenth century, England was wearied by an honest but annoying group of people. The Quakers insisted on disregarding the niceties of the times. They refused to doff the hat, preferred to go to jail rather than to swear the oath, and to suffer the constant abuse of life and property rather than to pay the compulsory tithe into the Church of England.”

-Arthur O. Roberts, The Concepts of Perfection in the History of the Quaker Movement, 1951 [emphasis mine]

While I pulled this quote primarily because I found it to be funny, I think it tells an interesting tale of the Quaker religious ethic. Early Friends carried with them the reputation of being frustratingly faithful. When I think about my own spiritual life as a younger person (28 years), I often worry about sounding more spiritual than I actually am. I went to a religious undergrad (George Fox University, where I actually met Arthur Roberts at the retirement community across the road), and then I spent a year attending two different Quaker meetings every Sunday in Eugene, Oregon, because I couldn’t decide if I liked the programmed church or the unprogrammed meeting more, and then I shuttled my way out to Boston to attend the School of Theology at BU.

Religion and religious life are things that I carry and yet I don’t always know what to do with them. I acknowledge them as deeply important aspects of my life and yet most of my waking hours of the week they come as a secondary thought. Instead, I conform to societal norms around me in my social and work lives.

I prioritize politeness over telling my truth out of fear of being perceived as annoying. I tell myself that I would much prefer to be liked by everyone around me for who I am not rather than be disliked for who I am and what I actually believe.

So while I may not “disregard all niceties” for the sake of a pure disobedience, I have begun to wonder what elements of modern life in America I am not okay with and how I might begin my annoying protest by refusing to participate in the abhorrent elements.

Be well,
Ryan