Publishers of the truth

I often refer to the article written by James Allen, Pontoon Archipelago or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. Clearly we are living in increasingly chaotic times. Collapse is an apt characterization.

I hadn’t thought of warning you, readers of my blog, that you might not be ready to hear the dire conditions I often think and write about. I think Allen is correct to provide this warning. “I feel obliged to issue a warning that you may find this essay a difficult excursion. If you are already in a vulnerable state of mind, you may consider waiting until you feel more resilient before reading on.” You might not be prepared for what follows here, or in most blog posts I write. That is not a negative reflection on you. Rather an indication of the grave danger we are in, and how unprepared most of us are to respond.

Dear reader

I offer you this essay in the hope that you may find something within it that will keep you buoyed in the years ahead. It reflects my own attempt to understand the converging crises in our near future, and to grapple with the question of what I might be able to offer that will be useful in that future.

It was the birth of my first child that catalysed a sense of urgency to take the idea-threads I had been tracing for some years now and to weave them into a relatively coherent whole. As any conscientious parent will testify, there are few things that will sharpen one’s focus on the future than a deeply felt sense of responsibility for a new being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

The viability of our civilisation is uncertain. While opening our eyes means we’ll confront darkness, keeping them shut means it’ll stay dark. Let’s dare to look and start building new worlds alongside the old

James Allen

I return again and again to the question of what we can do now. I think there are two broad categories.

  • We have to look deeply into ourselves. As Arkan Lushwala says, “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”
  • James Allen writes “if we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.”

Prophets are sometimes misrepresented as fortune-tellers, but it is more accurate to think of them as truth-tellers. As Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann explains,

The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.

In the seventeenth century, Friends proclaimed themselves as the ‘Publishers of the Truth’. ‘The Lord opened my mouth,’ wrote George Fox, ‘and the everlasting truth was declared amongst them, and the power of the Lord was over them all.

As Robert Lawrence Smith  reminds us, from their beginnings Quakers have held that truth ‘restores our souls and empowers our actions. Truth is our guide and truth is our liberator.’

This links back to the idea of ‘testimony’,  the name we give to Friends’ shared behaviours, located in the sphere of everyday life, which are usually seen to be a challenge to conventional ways of behaving or are reflective of their experience of personal transformation. Individually and collectively, Friends’ testimony asks them to seek out the truth in their lives and to uncover destructive falsehoods. Crucially, they have always recognised that although this can be a cause of discomfort, it often leads to a more meaningful life or deeper sense of inner peace.

The Publishers of Truth

The article contains the story of John Woolman’s vision of oppressed miners.

I was then carried in spirit to the mines where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved for His Name to me was precious. Then I was informed that these heathens were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ, and they said amongst themselves, ‘If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant.

Here Woolman enters into the plight of the oppressed and forces his readers to consider both their complicity in this suffering and their response. Like other prophets before him, his tactic is to make those who considered themselves to be righteous confront the discrepancies between their professed faith and their actions in the world.

Publishers of the Truth.  by Woodbrooke.

George Fox understood how the Spirit, in whose presence Quakers wait in worship, can empower people to work for this more just and compassionate world. In his Journal, he wrote:

The Lord had said unto me that if but one man or woman were raised by His power to stand and live in the same Spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles around.

Quakers are not merely prompted into uncovering difficult truths for themselves, but are called to be truth-tellers on behalf of the powerless; even if this is inconvenient, socially embarrassing, or dangerous to do so.

Publishers of the Truth. 24th January 2019 by Woodbrooke.

Yesterday I explored this idea of radically rethinking our stories, not only rethink them, but share them with others. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.Richard Wagamese.

The mechanisms for sharing our stories are well known, i.e. publishing them on the Internet via various social media platforms. Facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc. And blog posts. It is rather amazing that we have these free tools to share what we write with the whole world, or as much of it that has Internet access.

These are the challenges we continue to face today, to confront the discrepancies between our professed faith and our actions in the world.

And we need to share our stories with each other. To listen deeply. Quakers are not merely prompted into uncovering difficult truths for themselves, but are called to be truth-tellers on behalf of the powerless.

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