Quaker Public Engagement

I write a lot, in a lot of places.  This is a spiritual calling for me.  I am led to share what the Inner Light says to me.   Years ago that was done mainly via email, since the people I most often shared with then were in places beyond Indianapolis.  I eventually got the message that I was often sending too much.  There can seem to be pressure to respond to email.  While I was always open to responses, I learned early on that just wasn’t going to happen very often.  But that didn’t matter, because I was called to share.  What happened after that was in God’s hands.

But I learned that using a blog provided a different, better way to approach this.  That provided a way to change the flow in the other direction—anyone who was interested could come to see what I was led to say, if they knew the address of the blog, rather than me sending writings to them.  One of the values of social media apps like Facebook is to help people find the blogs that cover the things they are interested in.

There are actually any number of times I am apprehensive about sharing things, realizing I may offend others in certain cases, or that I am working on trying to understand things I know I am ignorant about, and am probably saying it wrong, or have the wrong idea.  These past several years beginning to connect with the Kheprw Institute and Black Lives Matter are prime examples, and I have gotten things wrong.  But I can only trust that the Spirit will help me sort that out, and I most strongly believe we grow when we take risks and make mistakes, if we choose to learn from those mistakes. That takes a conscious effort to do.  I have often stated that I now look for risks to take, and mistakes to make, for that very reason.  That has significantly enriched my spiritual condition.

Part of this comes from regret that I wasn’t effective enough over all these years to make Friends see how important it was to give up their cars.  Forty years ago, if personal automobile ownership had been addressed by Friends, I believe we would have significantly modified the path toward environmental destruction that we are faced with now.

Also, the reason I am writing more now is in reaction to the death of Randy Porter.  A significant part of the grief process was a re-examination of just what our purpose is while we are alive.  I was completely devastated and at a loss, and the way I began to be able to deal with that was by turning more toward the Inner Light.  I have become much more in touch with that, partly because I am listening more often and more deeply.  And partly because I’ve finally become more consistent in actually trying to be faithful, rather than use what the Spirit is telling me to fit into my existing vision and plans.  When I began to loosen my attempts at control, I experienced a significant deepening of my spiritual life.

Another part of this has been my experience with the KI community.  I don’t think I would have really been as readily accepted into that community if it wasn’t for how I was led to respond at our first meeting, which I’ve written and spoken about a number of times.  First, they have a strong environmental justice focus, and by being able to tell my story about cars, they believed I was committed, as they were.  But probably more significantly, when their probing to see what really made me tick left me wondering what to say, the Spirit moved me to talk about Quakers and how we believe there is that of God in everyone.  It was immediately apparent that they understood and responded to that in a strong way, and that was the end of the interviewing.  That experience made me see how important it is, when the time is right, to share my spiritual life outside of Friends circles, which was a very new idea to me.

I was also deeply involved in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance during that time.  To finally find a handle to begin to address our environmental crisis was really meaningful to me.  I had been so frustrated for so many years that I couldn’t find a way to frame the situation that would result in any practical progress.  One of the important things that came from that was the creation of a (small) community of the people in Indiana that were passionate about this issue.  What surprised (and pleased) me was that as I became involved in other social justice organizations and issues, many not related directly to the environment, these same people showed up there, too.

I was committed to making sure the people involved in the Resistance in Indianapolis were well educated and trained in the theory and practice of civil disobedience.  The rest of the group was glad to let me handle that part of our training sessions.  Later, I did the same civil disobedience training for Indiana Moral Monday and, recently, Black Lives Matter.  This was also a deeply spiritual matter for me, and part of the training related to Quakers’ history regarding this.

During the protests related to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle in Indiana, Indiana Moral Mondays held a public event at the state Capitol, where faith leaders were invited to speak against it.  The term faith leader was foreign to me, but when Erin Polley, our AFSC staff person, invited anyone from North Meadow to speak at the event, I felt it important that some Friend do so.  When no one else volunteered, I did.  When Erin introduced me as a Quaker, there was a surprisingly enthusiastic response.  I realized Quakers had not completely faded from public memory.

Another way of speaking out has been having letters to the editor published.  “I believe that climate change is a moral issue.  I believe that we have a responsibility to care for the Earth, marginalized peoples, and future generations. ”   IndyStar  Sept.25, 2014

At the many social justice meetings I attend, the practice is to begin by having everyone introduce themselves.  I used to say I was from the Keystone Pledge of Resistance (these were often environmental meetings).  But now that the Keystone effort is on hold, at least for now, I usually just say I’m a local Quaker.

Also at this time, I was introduced to Derek Glass, who was looking for video projects for his interns to work on.  Next, he offered to publish copies of my blog posts on a new website he was creating, Sustainability Scout Indiana.  The idea was to pull in blog posts written by organizations and people who were working on sustainability issues in Indiana, so there would be one place people could go to see the latest writings and events.  The website needed an icon/image from me to represent my blog posts.  With some hesitation, I selected the classic Quaker Man image.  This was yet another step in coming to feel comfortable that I could represent my writings as my own, but that meant they came from a Quaker perspective.   This has meant that anyone visiting Sustainability Scout will see a great number of articles with the Quaker Man symbol.   Although this wasn’t planned on my part, I was beginning to be seen as a public face of Quakers. Another example of this is when my friends at Earth Charter Indiana included as story I wrote, “Cars as Weapons of Mass Destruction” in the book they just published, they added “A Quaker’s Story” to the title.

As my blog posts changed to be more about race and social justice issues, I would occasionally check with Derek, since these seemed to be diverting from the intention of the sustainability website.  Each time he indicated he wanted to continue to include them, indicating he thought these faith based discussions were important to the wider community conversations.  He and his wife are planning to get rid of one of their cars, and bicycling even more.  We had been working on projects together for over a year, and wanted to meet face to face.  That happened by both of them joining us for the hour at one of our weekly peace vigils.

Now KI has invited activists who they have a history with to join them in a similar aggregated blog, this one about social justice work, called Rise Up Indy.  I was very pleased to be invited, recognition that they appreciate the work of Quakers working with them, and an opportunity for Friends to share their work with the activist community in Indianapolis.  This is one of the things that is beginning to happen as a result of the connection of North Meadow Friends and the KI community facilitated by our adoption of the Quaker Social Change Ministry program.

More recently, I’ve begun to bring the sign Quakers Know Black Lives Matter to the weekly peace vigil.  This has resulted in quite a few interactions with people of color, who universally express appreciation for support from white people.   Barbara, who teaches at the local urban university, began to attend North Meadow Meeting several weeks ago.  She said she came because she had been looking for a predominately white group who was supporting Black Lives Matter.

I’ve mentioned the number of North Meadows attenders has increased over this time, mainly young people, some with families.  When someone asked some of them why they began to attend, their answer was “activism”.

Last week I took a day off so I could attend the day long Moral Political Organizing Institute Summit, with Rev William Barber.   Rev Barber spent the weekend with us two years ago when we launched Indiana Moral Mondays.  He spoke at the Democratic National Convention this summer.  The Summit was another occasion when faith leaders were invited, because it is expected that we will be the local leaders of a new national civil rights movement.

The final piece of this is the rapid decline of participation in organized religion, primarily among white Christians.  The main reason for that is disagreement with judgmental attitudes. Most commonly attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, but also people of color and immigrants.

So, all this has led up to an opportunity to speak to what I feel is a huge spiritual need today.  I believe this is a large part of the reason I have been moved to write so much in so many places.  But people need to know where to find Quaker writings if they are interested.  Their interest is also very much focused in the present.   That is why social media is such an important tool.  Those of us who use these tools each have multiple electronic webs we are connected to others by.  Because of our physical separation, we often miss the community building of actually being in the presence of our friends and family.  We miss the opportunities to visit and exchange ideas.  Facebook and other social media tools have helped many feel they belong to one or several (digital) communities.  It is in these places many people look for spiritual answers.  Aren’t we called to speak to that, in whatever manner we are led?  I would encourage more Friends to learn about and use these tools as ways to share our faith. It is easy to set up your own, free account for Facebook, twitter, etc.

I wrote this in an effort to explain how important I feel it is for us to speak out in public as Quakers, and how useful social media can be for this.

How important it is to provide ways for seekers to learn about the spiritual resources we have to offer.   We have to find ways to identify our Quaker message in public, so others can find us.

And to encourage us to speak up for marginalized people, using these tools. These are powerful resources to help us with our peace and social justice efforts.



This entry was posted in Black Lives, civil disobedience, climate change, Indiana Moral Mondays, Keystone Pledge of Resistance, Kheprw Institute, peace, Quaker Meetings, Quaker Social Change Ministry, race, Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Quaker Public Engagement

  1. The Leckbands says:

    thank you Jeff for sharing…and inspiring.

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