Spiritual Journey Snapshot
Recorded by Dee Duckworth
“My mother was Episcopal, my father was Jewish, I grew up around Catholics, and I went to a Quaker college.” This is the one-liner version of Brian’s spiritual journey and, when it’s unpacked, it actually says a lot of what is important.
Growing up, Brian celebrated Jewish holidays with his father’s family and went to church with his mother on Christian holidays. His parents, though neither practiced their faith, wanted Brian to have a cultural knowledge of their religions. His mother gave Brian a child’s version of the Bible as a kid and he studied the history of world religions with his father. It was important to his family that the children have the knowledge they needed to make choices for themselves.
However, when asked if Quakerism was an aspect of Brian choosing to apply to Earlham College, his answer was an adamant “No!” In fact, that aspect of the college gave him pause, as his parents were “very leery of faith-based commitments.” It wasn’t until later that Brian learned there was considerable tension, including name-calling, between each parent and their respective in-laws. Brian had learned to respect religion “like you’d respect a chain saw,” having learned about all the faith-based conflict around the world, and having experienced anti-Semitism growing up.
Even on his initial visit to Earlham, Brian could feel a difference – he felt at home, accepted, valued. In New Jersey, Brian grew-up in a “very violent” working class neighborhood with “lots of physical violence.” Though guns were not in evidence, knives and chains were and, being different, Brian “had the tar knocked out” of him more than once. Understandably, the atmosphere at a Quaker college spoke to him.
With Friends United Meeting headquartered in Richmond, Indiana, too, the Quaker influence was strong, but not intrusive at Earlham – more like a “flavor.” It wasn’t until he transferred to RPI after three years that Brian noticed himself missing Quakerism. So, when a friend suggested attending Albany Meeting, Brian agreed, and so it began.
Being a Quaker coincides with Brian’s values: “None of us gets to say, ‘This is how you have to be!’” God is inclusive and would not value one religious view over another; there is wisdom in all faiths, in all cultures. At Earlham, the cantor at the synagogue attended Meeting on Sundays and considered herself a Quaker. Faith community is important, especially when you did not have community growing up. Community is the Divine in all of us and God is that which is greater than the sum of all life.