Advocating and Witnessing through Politics
I sympathize with Tom Adam’s earnest concern that the current political spectacle often feels divisive and unworthy of our attention and participation (“Caring Too Much To Vote,” Friends Journal, January).
However, I have a different view. For more than three centuries Friends have provided an effective, courageous, Spirit-led witness in the political arena, and I consider it my spiritual obligation to honor that heritage by engaging in the current political process, as faulted as it may be.
Friends engagement in politics has never been easy, and Friends’ political witness most often existed in an historical context at least as mean, fractious, and dysfunctional as it is today. For decades, as we know, Quakers were repeatedly frustrated in their efforts to gain women’s suffrage and end slavery. In contemporary terms, for 70 years Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) has met considerable resistance but has nevertheless persistently and faithfully lobbied against war, supported disarmament efforts, and struggled to support human and environmental rights, to name just a few of its challenging causes. I find Friends’ faith-based, persevering participation in local, state and national politics a powerful inspiration, and I am grateful for our Quaker witness that has contributed enormously to improving peace and justice issues in our nation.
For the past eight years I have served as a member of the FCNL Field Committee and most recently on the FCNL Executive Committee. In this capacity I have had the special opportunity to work with the FCNL educational resources and staff support to lobby at the national level. During this time I have seen both heartbreaking setbacks and significant successes in our lobbying efforts for peace and justice, and I have developed such a deep respect and admiration for FCNL’s resilience in this work.
I strongly support and encourage other Friends to communicate regularly with their elected officials and their staff and to develop the personal relationships that are the bedrock of effective lobbying. As a tribute to contemporary FCNL lobby work, on recent Hill visits with my congressman, senators and their staff I have been especially gratified by their repeated, genuine expression of high regard for FCNL’s reliable peace and justice witness.
In response to Tom Adam’s comment that he “cares too much to vote,” I would say that I care enormously about my voting privilege and my need to be engaged in our historical Quaker practice of advocating and witnessing to our broken but politically redeemable world.
I am very new to the Quaker Faith. The more I learn about people who call themselves friends the more I am amazed how perfectly they answer questions I didn’t even know I had! I have been struggling with how to respond to people suffering great loss. Reading “A Holy Place” by Debby Churchman in the February 2013 issue of Friends Journal gave me a beautiful answer. How friends and family responds to or remembers an individual is what to hold on to – the expanding love generated by that life. Thank you for printing that!
I am new at being a Quaker and come from many years of a very strict religion with very definite ideas about God and Jesus and the Spirit. I think I have wondered more than I should what people believe about God and Jesus and the Spirit and do not often hear people at my meeting sharing their personal beliefs. This is my problem as I cannot come to everything. A couple weeks ago a wonderful guest came to our meeting and talked on clerking. It was so enlightening for me to think of all our meetings as worship. She also shared her belief about God as it has evolved. She is such a happy and wise woman. Somehow I realized distinctly from the Sprit then that it didn’t matter how we all believed or didn’t believe about God and Jesus and the Spirit, that we could all have our own beliefs and yet still be a loving community in every way. What a great blessing this insight has been to me. I am most grateful for your magazine and what people share.
Anne Lamott’s Simplicity
I’ve read all of Anne Lamott’s non-fiction, and I admire her immensely. She is brutally honest, loving, and forgiving in all her relationships, especially her relationship with the God of her understanding, and she has a wonderfully disarming sense of humor. It is these qualities that make her my “soul sister.” I am currently reading “Help, Thanks, Wow,” and I am enjoying it, but my among MY favorites are “Traveling Mercies,” and “Plan B,” narratives about her own life and struggles with addiction, faith and her friends and family.
Sometimes it is in simplicity that Light shines the brightest. That is part of Annie Lamott’s gift–keeping things simple. My “help” prayer of the moment is to let my arthritic hands be able to write this comment without pain. I think that sometimes when we try to pray for the big things, we ignore the little things that get in our way. Part of a life of integrity is to be connected to God at all times. We need to be aware of the little things. We need to present in our own lives and that of others. We need to decrease the distractions that obscure our awareness. Why am I sad? Wasn’t the person’s smile beautiful when we said thanks? It is by saying “help,” “thanks,” and “wow” for the little things that we find a base from which to approach the big issues in our life and the world.
Okatie, South Carolina
Community colleges and equality
In N. Jeanne Burns article, “Blue-Collar Welcome” (FJ Jan. 2013), I was surprised to read that a Quaker or attender would make a statement suggesting a woman who transferred from a community college couldn’t be smart and talented.
Many full-time community college students could have gone for the entire four years to a state or private college, but chose to attend the first two years at a community college because of the costs. (Doesn’t this fall in with the Quaker idea of simplicity?)
Fortunately, at the meetinghouse that I attend, I’ve never encountered anybody making a derogatory statement about community college students. Otherwise, I might have stopped attending. I would like to think that my local meetinghouse is similar to other meetings in that respect and not the exception. If it is the exception, and many Quakers and attenders have such a view about community colleges and their students, then I can see why the Religious Society of Friends is losing members. (In my former denomination, the Episcopal Church, I never heard disparaging remarks about community college students. Meanwhile, I have heard many people say that the Episcopal Church can be elitist; although, I’ve never encountered any snobbish Episcopalians at my former church.)
Overall, I feel that Friends and everybody else should guard against stereotyping in many ways, including where someone receives his or her education.
Snapshot of an Israel/Palestine trip with Guilford College students
I have been shopping at a local grocery store in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem to get water, sweets, and other things. Over the course of the week, I’ve dealt with the same man behind the counter until he asked me where I come from. I told him the States, but that I once taught at the Ramallah Friends Schools. He smiled and asked if I knew Peter Kapenga (former Principal there and Earlham graduate). I told him I did, and then he mentioned that he had spoken with him about a book, “The Hour of Sunlight,” a book about an East Jerusalem Palestinian boy during the first Intifada who got caught up in the uprising and made a bomb with some friends to take to Jewish West Jerusalem, but it blew up prematurely and killed one of the boys. He was arrested and spent ten years in Israeli prisons, where he learned Hebrew, organized a learning community, and committed himself to peace activism. After leaving prison, he worked with peace groups and wrote this book with the help of Jen Marlowe.
I said that I knew the book, that I gave it a positive review for Friends Journal and recommended it to my college group studying here. I asked him if he knew the co-author, Sami al-Jundi. He responded, “I AM Sami al-Jundi!”
Needless to say, he’ll be speaking to our group this Sunday evening! It’s a small world for Quakers.
More Views of Abortion
Benjamin P. Brown states that “the Peace Testimony does not necessarily proscribe abortion” because (he claims) it does not cause suffering and therefore is not violence, but then suggests that causing a woman economic distress is an act of violence. He states early on that the words “necessary evil” always gave him pause. Then, while he jumps through hoops to avoid calling abortion evil, he seems to accept as a given that all abortions are necessary. If one’s Quakerism includes belief in the Bible (which I realize is not necessarily a requirement), one might find some guidance as to when one is imbued with the Inward Light in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
Brown appears to agree with John Woolman, that “All we possess are the gifts of God,” and states that this includes our bodies. I suggest also that this absolutely includes the developing fetus inside any woman. And that the one place where Brown most surely speaks truth is where he says “We have a responsibility to use it wisely, to treat it well.”
We talk of unwanted pregnancies and a woman’s choice. or we talk of pro-life and a baby’s soul. From time to time a father is mentioned in passing. Either he has rights too, or he has obligations he is shirking. We should be talking about unwanted abortions and a loving god. The easiest way to prevent abortions is for men to get vasectomies. Men have a right to vasectomies as fundamental as those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Like all such pursuits, your neighbors also have rights, inalienable. One is to not pay for the upbringing of your kids; another is not to suffer alone the internal, emotional, and spiritual costs of the abortion. Women alone should not be left to the untender mercies of a loving god, a god who loves the weak and the vulnerable.
Michael Eric Burnside