Among Friends: Convicted Friends

There’s a trope that gets posted on church message boards around this time of year: if you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence in your life to convict you? The basic concept can be easily adapted, of course: how do we live out our lives as Friends? If we took away our Quaker lingo and Quaker ID cards, would we be identifiable?

How we answer this matters. Most of us spend far more time in workplaces and schoolrooms than we do in waiting worship. We spend more time at work than in our committees or volunteering. Some of us are lucky enough to get paid to serve Friends (thank you!), but to be perfectly honest, my to-do list is largely indistinguishable from that of a senior editor at any small monthly magazine.

Here at Friends Journal, if you wanted to try to suss out our Quaker-ness, you’d have to look at the people we try to listen to, and the questions we ask of them. In this issue, Zachary Dutton describes how the office culture at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting allows its staff to set aside certain professional norms and to have spontaneous impromptu meetings as necessary. As he admits, though, it’s often easier to live out our Quaker faith among Friends than in a non-Quaker setting.

As a correctional chaplain working with victims, Phyllis Taylor might be on the other end of that spectrum. When I emailed her with a last-minute editing question, she started her reply with an apology for not getting back to me that same day. She had been testifying at the resentencing of a juvenile offender and following up on a case of domestic abuse. Before responding, I had to take my hands off the keyboard for a moment and say a little prayer for Phyllis and for the lives she touches. I’m grateful that there are Friends like her representing us in the world.

“If you had to describe what made our school Quaker, but you couldn’t use the words ‘silence’ or ‘meeting for worship,’ what would you say?” This was the query that educator Mike Mangiaracina brought along with him as he left private Quaker schools to work in the D.C. public school system. He found that the question helped him bear witness, hold truths, and find spiritual connections in the new, secular setting. We can let our lives preach in whatever work we do.

Two articles look at great Quaker capitalist families of earlier eras. Many of the Quaker businesses that Anthony Fuller and Jeremy Evans describe in their articles were innovative and progressive in many ways. But I’m just as interested in the ways they fell short. It’s easy to be outraged at the blind spots of earlier Friends who share basic values that we still profess, but I find it humbling, as well. Our belief in continuing revelation suggests that we might still be living our lives in ways that don’t fully reflect our values.

With that thought, welcome to 2017. Whatever your political leaning may be, it’s shaping up to be a dramatic year. There will be plenty of opportunities to exercise Quaker discernment in our personal and work lives: to stop when needed, ask questions, sit in uncertainty, and be open to unexpected answers. Could we be convicted of being Friends?


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