What if you gave a war and no one came?

Yesterday I wrote about a leading I had to urge people to respond to the Flint, Michigan, water crisis–Sound the Alarm.    Michael Moore has an excellent response web page here.

Leadings are difficult to explain.  As a scientist I work in a framework we like to believe is based upon facts and logic.  But the more we learn about our world and how it works, the more we realize how much more there is that we don’t know or understand.

Spiritual matters are often seen as almost an opposing viewpoint.  What our spiritual beliefs are and how we express the spiritual aspects of our lives don’t flow from the intellect, but from what we are able to discern and understand of that spirit that does live within us all, connecting us all to each other and everything in our world and beyond.  The heart versus the head.

As a Quaker scientist I don’t have a problem with the idea of integrating the science and the spirit in my life–the actual accomplishment of that doesn’t always go as well as I’d like.  But I have faith that it will always, eventually, happen.

Yesterday I awoke with a strong leading to raise up the issue of the lead contamination of the water supply of the city of Flint, Michigan.  Perhaps it was because I am sensitive to the profound and lifelong effects of neurological damage in children because of my work here at Riley Hospital for Children.  Maybe it was because I have been learning more and more about the privileges of being white in our society.  Maybe because I see more situations where people could help, but choose not to do so.  Maybe because I see friends of mine working so hard with Black Lives Matter, and seeing how they are affected when the message seems, time and again, to be that black lives just do not matter.

Water is obviously essential for life.  And we depend upon our municipal governments to supply us with clean, safe water.  But in Flint, Michigan, saving money was more important than the well being of the citizens the government is supposed to represent and serve.  And the government is resisting accepting blame and fixing the problem.  These people need our help.  The problem is urgent because of how essential water is for life.

So I reached out to everyone I could think of.  I also made suggestions that people write letters to the editor, contact their representatives, contact authorities in Michigan.

I only received one response which I really appreciated (anonymous since I haven’t asked permission to share the name)  “Thank you for sharing this call to action, Jeff. I feel your prophetic rage. I pray that Friends respond to this injustice.”

But the thing about leadings is that you try to do what the leading is telling you to do, and whatever response there is or isn’t, is really not what you are concerned about.  Very often one learns in another time and place, that someone did do something in response.   We are supposed to sow the seeds.  What happens next is out of our hands.


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2 Responses to What if you gave a war and no one came?

  1. Liz says:


    I feel bad that our collective silence and non-acknowledgment about your previous post has discouraged you, or has made you doubt our collective conviction that the country is messed up in so many ways.

    I’d love to hear from Michigan Friends about organizations that they are aware of that are responding to this water crisis in Flint: Where might we donate funds? Whose office do we call to insist on a change in direction? Has anyone heard from any organization/group led by people of color about how *they* would like to see supportive/concerned white Americans turn out and show up?

    In a crisis, give me something specific and concrete to do. Tell me how it positively impacts the people who are suffering, and tell me how it connects with people who are also doing something concrete.

    Before you suggest that I write a letter to Congress, let me share this with you too:

    Years ago I stopped supporting the minutes and letters that Quakers put on the books and tuck away in our records, thinking we have done something significant. (I don’t stand in the way of them going forward; I simply am not in unity with that approach any longer.) Systemic racism doesn’t change with paper, pen, and a stamp (or an email). Though my experience in justice work is short thus far, I have seen systems change when we are strategic in building cross-class and cross-color coalitions; when we put our bodies on the streets and in front of the decision-makers’ place of work day after day; when we follow the leadership of the folks who are directly impacted by the horrors of Flint, of Ferguson, of our own backyards.

    I also believe that your sounding the alarm is one drop among many. The drops are out there, Jeff; maybe you can’t see or hear them all falling, but they are there: “Drops of water turn the mill/Singly none, singly none.” (It seems to me you will hear soon from Michigan Friends who are participating in the Small Group Ministry program, for example.)

    And for me, tell me about the *children* you know who have been affected by poisoned drinking water. What are their names? How did you meet them? What do you cherish about them? When you share these details with me, I will care more deeply about them, and it won’t simply be an intellectual understanding of how dire the situation is.

    Lastly, tell me *how* you became sensitized “to the profound and lifelong effects of neurological damage in children” while you’ve been working at Riley Hospital for Children. I have an assumption that you didn’t *used* to be sensitive to such effects, but you have seen something, experienced something that has left you with an imprint so powerful that you cannot stay silent… Bring me into THAT experience, and I will grab my bell and ring it for justice alongside you too.

    In the Light,

  2. jakisling says:

    Liz, Thank you for these helpful comments. I understand the points your are making. The specifics related to children I cannot share because of patient confidentiality and also respect for the patient/family privacy.
    I also agree that letters and minutes are a problem when that is all that is done. The other side of that is the number of times I’ve been told by FCNL staff that on some issues a half dozen letters had a large impact. I know things are different now when people can just push a button on a website.
    But I think the value of minutes, especially, is that is does encourage conversations, and should challenge the people involved to be open to what others are thinking, so that agreement can be reached (Imhotep “conversation is underrated”).

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