Quakers and Remix Culture, Part I
This past weekend, Berkeley Friends Church brought C. Wess Daniels to be the speaker at their annual Quaker Heritage Day. I love the format of this event: a full Saturday morning and afternoon, with someone who has thought a lot about Quakerism sharing some background on a topic (often from Quaker history), and inviting the whole group to reflect on how this fits with our experience as Friends. People attend from programmed and unprogrammed meetings across California. The same speaker gives a sermon at the church on Sunday.
Wess is the pastor of Camas Friends Church in Washington, and a doctoral student in theology at Fuller Seminary. He talked about the characteristics of participatory culture, and the parallels he sees to Quaker tradition. I’m looking forward to whatever Wess posts about that on his blog, and won’t try to reiterate it all here. Some of the writers he cited were Vail Palmer, Lawrence Lessig, and Henry Jenkins.
One of the most intriguing (and perhaps the most approachable) of the characteristics was “remix culture.” Wess’ basic description was that many people are moving from a “read-only” encounter with texts, to a collage or remix which brings their own experience into an interaction with pieces of different existing works. The resulting new creation may challenge the intent of the original works. Some of Wess’ examples of remix were:
• YouTube videos that sample classic songs, and reinterpret them in combination with newer ones
• Early Friends’ epistles that quoted the Bible extensively without citing sources
• James Nayler’s 1656 re-enactment of Palm Sunday
• A disciple needing to integrate and live a master’s teachings, rather than trying to preserve them unaltered.
It strikes me that Quakers are actually quite well-practiced at remix culture. Ever since George Fox wrote that “this I knew experimentally”, we have been challenged to integrate spiritual messages into our own lived experience. And his spoken ministry of “What canst thou say?” gave Margaret Fell the conviction not just to listen to others’ professions of faith, but to seek and speak of what she learned through continuing revelation. The juxtaposition of many voices in our messages in worship and business, and responses to queries, have most of us in the habit of contributing to collages.
I am challenged by ministry that was given to me on Sunday, in the open worship after Wess’ sermon. I had a visual image of a kaleidoscope, in which we are all pieces of different colored glass. In our business meetings, we are shaken up and moved into different arrangements, and our decisions settle into an order which none of us might have imagined. We let our meetings start to die if we stop seeing each other as translucent, if we assume that anyone is opaque, or do not let ourselves be open to the Light that might shine through us.
When have I seen others as opaque, in my meeting, my family, my workplaces? When do I appreciate that “my” light can blend with and be changed by that which shines through others?