Heeding Our Inner Signals

Commuting from the northeast suburbs of Philadelphia, I have close to 40 minutes each direction of undisturbed time (thanks to the newly instituted "quiet ride" cars on our trains) to use for whatever I wish. Many riders read newspapers, and these days there are a wealth of stories that could catch my Quaker eyes—healthcare, nuclear disarmament, consequences of global warming. Or I could snooze—and on afternoon trips, after a day of editing Friends Journal‘s feature articles and corresponding with authors, that’s often what happens. But when I am not asleep, how have I been using this gift of time?

Well, for the last couple of weeks I have been crawling through Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice, the monumental historical work by Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye (reviewed in FJ, Nov. 2009).

Being a historian by training, as I read I carefully check endnotes, to take in the kinds of sources authors used. This book is loaded with notes— over 100 of the total of 548 pages. That helps to explain why I— admittedly a slow reader—have so far only reached page 137.

Much of this book still lies ahead of me, but what I find absorbing at this stage of reading is the extent to which many Friends in the 18th and 19th centuries took their moral convictions seriously. They allowed their lives to be disrupted and completely uprooted (and—yes—refreshed) time and again, not by economic necessity but by a desire to live justly, as they at the time understood this. I am awed by how these Friends invested their time and money in undoing the evils of enslavement.

Flash forward to 2010: We Friends live in a very different world, one of information overload, environmental challenges, and daily complexities that threaten to steal every moment of our available time. We no longer set ourselves apart from others, as Friends did 200 years ago; we spend most of our lives interacting with non-Friends. How do we keep a focus in our faithful lives? How do we even understand our calling?

Of course, Friends Journal aspires to be helpful as Friends continually sort this out, and this magazine’s offerings—taken together, over time— aim to address the evolving moral issues we face.

This month’s articles speak to a variety of themes. In "Here Slavery’s Death Began" (p. 6), Ray Lane takes us back to the time when Friends were not even clear that slavery was evil. In "Traveling with the Gaza Freedom March" (p. 9), David Hartsough lifts up intolerable conditions in one place we are prone to ignore. Pamela Haines, in "Faith and Economics" (p. 11), raises the big questions of our economic system. In "Living in the Life and Power" (p. 13), Patty Levering looks at the biblical roots of moral strength. In "La Maison Quaker" (p. 16), Judy Kashoff recounts an amazing story of the exercise of moral responsibility. And in "A Brief Dance with Death" (p. 19), as Holly Jeffries suddenly finds herself pondering personal mortality, her horizons change.

These essays are all about listening to inner promptings and attempting to be faithful to them—concerns of Friends all along in the history of our Religious Society.