By Marty Grundy. Inner Light Books, 2020. 57 pages. $25/hardcover; $15/paperback; $10/eBook.
A Call to Friends begins with a look at our “desperate times.” The litany of troubles, problems, and issues is familiar, but seeing them all listed out can be overwhelming and discouraging. Our world seems to be coming apart at the seams. We might feel this is a uniquely hopeless moment in history: one that requires more correction than we are capable of. But then, Marty Grundy draws parallels to the situations of early Friends, first gathered in a kingdom that had recently decapitated its king; of the early Christians, who suffered under the domination of an oppressive empire and a rigid, patriarchal social system; and even earlier, to the lamentations of the Jews in Babylonian exile.
Jesus offered an alternative for those at the mercy of cruel and unjust systems—not a new political structure but a new model founded on love in interpersonal relations. This call was summarized by Paul in his epistle to the Romans (12:2): “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” At that time, the “pattern of this world” would have been described by nearly everyone as “just the way things are.” Paul doesn’t dispute this but writes that it was not the way things ought to be or need to be. He advocated a new “pattern,” a new way to relate to friends and foes alike.
This call was echoed by George Fox, who urged Friends to “be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them.” Again, the call is to live as an example, as one who has profoundly different relationships with all other people.
Grundy clearly sees the wreckage strewn by the “patterns” established and maintained by today’s United States empire. In response, she is reissuing the call, which is both new and old: allow ourselves to be transformed so that we will again be patterns and examples to everyone we meet.
Quaker involvement in social reform movements dates back centuries. For at least a hundred years (going back to the founding of Friends Service Council in Britain and American Friends Service Committee), there has been a professional service branch to the Society of Friends. This has been complemented by many individual Friends who contribute their money, energy, and time. Too often, however, the spiritual side of this work has been seen as subsidiary to—or even as a distraction from—the hard work that needs to be done in the “real world.”
Outward action is absolutely necessary, but when we depend on our own strength to sustain it, we risk being ground down by the well-entrenched, well-funded patterns of empire. In our moments of exhaustion, we risk coming to feel that it is “just the way things are” and that resistance truly is futile. When we depend on our own sense of what is important, we risk feeling self-important. And when the inevitable setbacks occur, self-doubt eats away at our convictions and leaves nothing to sustain us.
This book is a call to reconnect to our spiritual roots and to draw renewed strength for our work. Grundy is asking us to build on a spiritual foundation. She reminds us of the sustaining strength that only comes from being spiritually transformed and that such transformation is not something we can do to ourselves. It requires giving up on our own strength. Fox reported that his first great insight came only “when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do.” Grundy is calling on Friends today to follow that example: to surrender all hopes in ourselves and put our trust in God/the Divine/Spirit/Love/Jesus/the Inward Guide. Let that show you which of this world’s myriad needs is your unique calling. Turn to that spiritual center when you fall (as you will) and when you lament (as you must).
Finally, Grundy reminds us, “We’re all just bozos on the bus, needing and helping one another.” Our work is seemingly limitless. No one of us can stand alone; we need our communities, our meetings to sustain and comfort each other as we undertake our own unique work.
This is a wonderful book for a meeting to explore together: a quick read but a rich resource. This review only scratches the surface. The book group in my home meeting spent two very fruitful sessions discussing it, and we could have gone on further. I highly recommend it.
Paul Buckley is a member of Community Friends Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of numerous articles and books on Quaker history, faith, and practice. When possible, he travels in the ministry urging spiritual renewal among Friends. His most recent book is Primitive Quakerism Revived: Living as Friends in the Twenty-First Century.