What can I do?

I am glad to have received the following email message this morning.

I’ve been struggling. I was wondering if you were going to write anything about the recent protests and being Quaker? I obviously support BLM but I am struggling to justify the violence happening in cities. I understand the reasoning behind it but I don’t know what to do. I’m a nontheist quaker. And was raised nontheist quaker and so I don’t have any prayers to believe in as your most recent post suggests. Do you have any suggestions for me?

I’ll try to answer these questions.

Some years ago I was able to hear the indigenous spiritual leader, Arkan Lushwala, speak. He eloquently expressed what I, too, believe.

“Everywhere people ask, “what can we do?”
The question, what can we do, is the second question.
The first question is “what can we be?”
Because what you can do is a consequence of who you are.
Once you know what you can be, you know what you can do.”

I’m going to try to explain how I’ve answered these questions in my life.

The person who sent the email above says she is a nontheist quaker. I believe in the Spirit and always seek guidance from God. Hopefully how I put that guidance into practice might be helpful to those who don’t believe in God.

The first question is what can we be, who am I?

I am a white Quaker, born into a rural Quaker community in Iowa. I was greatly influenced by the Quaker men who went to prison because of their refusal to participate in a peacetime draft. That taught me that it is crucial to act according to your beliefs, despite the consequences. When I came of age, I became a draft resister.

Another piece of who I am is rooted in protection of our environment. Raised on farms gave me a connection to the land. Family vacations in the Rocky Mountains were awe inspiring. I moved to Indianapolis when I was 20 years old (1970) and was horrified by the smog (this before catalytic converters). I had a terrible vision of my beloved mountains hidden behind clouds of smog, which made me refuse to own an automobile for the rest of my life.

I heard stories of Quaker involvement in the Underground Railroad. I witnessed the treatment of people of color during the civil rights struggle. Was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

And learned the terrible history of the genocide of indigenous peoples by White settlers.

The answer to who am is a Quaker, an environmentalist and protector of Mother Earth, a draft resister, someone radicalized to work for peace, racial and indigenous justice.

As Arkan says above, “what you can do is a consequence of who you are.
Once you know what you can be, you know what you can do.

Being a Quaker means working for peace. What I did as a result is turn in my draft cards, and work for peace as the occasions arose. Several years ago I helped arrange for Quakers working in North Korea to come to Iowa to tell us about their work. This built on a visit of North Koreans involved in agriculture who came to our Quaker meeting community some years ago.

Being an environmentalist and protector meant I lived by life without an automobile. And led me to be trained to organize and execute actions against the Keystone XL pipeline. And to use that training to help organize events related to the Dakota Access pipeline. Led to delivering a petition to the Morgan Stanley office in Indianapolis, asking them to stop funding fossil fuel projects. And to defunding Chase bank for the same reason. My meeting in Indianapolis also closed its Chase account. And to participate on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March (more below).

My concerns about racial injustice lead me to join in the work of the Kheprw Institute, a black youth mentoring community.

And for some years now I’ve been building relationships/friendships with indigenous people. Two years ago I marched 94 miles over eight days along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline through central Iowa. Since then I’ve done things to support my native friends. Most recently attending and writing about a program of my friend Christine Nobiss, of Seeding Sovereignty called SHIFT the Narrative.

What can I do?

In these tumultuous times, many who support racial justice, those against police killings, want to express their solidarity. Want to be on the streets. I am grateful to those who are doing so. I am definitely not saying it is not important to participate in these struggles today related to racial justice.

But that isn’t what I am called to do. I am called to continue these past years of work to build relationships with and support native peoples.

Whatever you are wondering about doing, if you haven’t already thought this through, it is important to clearly define who you are. Then you can answer the question, what can I do?


Action is extremely necessary at this time.
This is not a time just to talk about it.
The most spiritual thing now is action.
To do something about what’s happening.
To go help where help is needed.
To stand up when we need to stand up,
and protect what is being damaged.
And still, this action needs to be born
from a place in ourselves that has real talent,
real intelligence, real power,
real connection to the heart of the Earth,
to universal wisdom,
so our actions are not a waste of time.
So our actions are precise,
our actions are in harmony with the movement,
the sacred movement,
of that force that wants to renew life here on Earth
and make it better for the following generations.

Arkan Lushwala

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply