Abbotts to the World’s Costello

The Meeting House by Mark Reigelman II, on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, Mass. Photo excerpt © Sarah Nichols (click for full dimension)

Imagine my surprise when I tucked in to watch the latest episode of Catastrophe, a lewd and hilarious comedy series that’s streaming now on Amazon Prime Video. In the second episode of the show’s fourth and final season, main character Rob, an American in London played by Rob Delaney, gets a visit from his sister, who has become a Quaker. She takes him to visit a Quaker meeting—his first time. Rob’s encounter with Friends is played for laughs in a way that highlights the comic place of the Religious Society of Friends: we’re the “straight man.”

Perhaps no stereotype about Quakers endures more than our strait-lacedness. In much of the public imagination we are silent, unflappable to the point of impracticality. In Catastrophe, Rob is intrigued by meeting for worship and attracted to Friends, but after a few deep conversations and return visits he eventually storms out after finding this friendly, good-hearted group insufficiently worked-up about the state of the world. The temper Rob tries to suppress, while very human, doesn’t seem to fit with the laid-back Quakers he meets (including, notably, a tremendous deadpan performance by Geoffrey Burton as Rob’s Quaker foil). It’s a tidy resolution to a short-lived subplot, but hey, I consider it a small victory whenever Quakers register enough to warrant a brief bob above pop culture’s water line.

Our cover features The Meeting House, a 2017 installation by the artist Mark Reigelman II. It’s a lemon-yellow structure inspired in part by Pembroke Meetinghouse, the oldest surviving in Massachusetts, and it’s been sunk at a jaunty angle into a lush lawn in Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway. To me it speaks of Quakers’ simplicity and peculiarity, but also our persistence even if our angles don’t parallel the world’s. And I can’t help but take it as a reminder not to take ourselves too seriously.

One piece in our pages this month merits a bit of explanation. Don McCormick’s “Fox News: George Fox Speaking” originated as a sketch performed at Pacific Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions by an ensemble of the meeting’s teenagers. We are told it “brought the house down.”

As always, we welcome your feedback. Corny Quaker jokes are welcomed, as well—we might even run a few in the Forum.

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