Friends in my Quaker meeting in rural Iowa have been praying and discussing what we are being led to do at this time, when there is so much suffering in the world. “Being led” means discerning what the inner light, or spirit, or God is saying to us.
During these discussions the concept of prophetic vision came up when we considered whether we had a shared vision. It seemed we didn’t have much of an understanding of what prophetic vision meant.
Quakers have always identified themselves as being a prophetic community, asserting that their faith is ‘not a notion, but a way’. Typically, Friends see action as being the primary response to their deepest spiritual experiences. In this blog post, Martin Layton explores the significance of this aspect of Quaker witness.
Truth is our guide
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.
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.
The following is from a blog post I wrote several years ago. Why Quakerism is not prophetic | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)
“Quakers will only be truly prophetic when they risk a great deal of their accumulated privilege and access to wealth. Prophets cannot have a stake in maintaining the status quo. Any attempt to change a system while benefiting and protecting the benefits received from the system reinforces the system. Quakers as much as anyone not only refuse to reject their white privilege, they fail to reject the benefits they receive from institutionalized racism, trying to make an unjust economy and institutionalized racism and patriarch more fair and equitable in its ability to exploit. One can not simultaneously attack racist and patriarchal institutions and benefit from them at the same time without becoming more reliant upon the benefits and further entrenching the system. Liberalism at its laziest.”Scott Miller https://friendlyfirecollective.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/scott-miller-on-why-quakerism-is-not-prophetic/
That is another way of expressing what I’ve been trying to say lately. For example in A Radical Turning, that our capitalist economy and the political and policing/military systems that enforce it are inherently unjust. Placing little value on resources, including human labor, and siphoning vast wealth to those already rich, leaving millions impoverished. Consuming resources at rates many times greater than they can be replenished. Polluting our land, air and water. Built on white supremacy, militarism, and systemic racism. The triple threats that Martin Luther King, Jr, warned against; racism, militarism and materialism.
As Albert Einstein stated, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Think about how profoundly true that is. That is why incremental changes have not worked. We MUST “think outside the box.”
An example is the failure of Quakers to address environmental chaos because most continue to drive cars, fly in airplanes, have homes with air conditioning, and include red meat in their diet. My decision forty years ago to give up having a personal automobile was my attempt to be more true to my environmental concerns. To obey what the Inner Light clearly said to me. Time and time again when I got into discussions about our environment, the first thing someone would say would be along the lines of “well you drive a car, don’t you?” If you can’t say “no I don’t”, you have lost any authority to try to get others to care about our environment. As Scott Miller puts it in the quote above, “Any attempt to change a system while benefiting and protecting the benefits received from the system reinforces the system. “
My vision of creating diverse, self-sufficient communities with simple living structures, communal kitchens, growing food in surrounding fields is a way to escape the capitalist system. And if everyone is truly welcome to live and work in these communities, which will require much physical labor and energy to create and maintain, that has the potential to avoid systemic racism. A commitment to nonviolence could create more just and peaceful communities without police abuse.
In years past it was easy for people to dismiss these ideas, and believe they would never come about. They would point to the eventual failure of the vast majority of intentional communities. The difference at this point in time is that climate chaos is beginning to overwhelm our economic and political systems. And will increasingly do so in more ways. Many thresholds are being crossed, which trigger destructive feedback mechanisms, that even more severely stress and break these systems.
We will soon be forced to find alternatives to our existing social and political systems. Now is the time to figure out the best alternatives, before environmental and social chaos catches us unprepared. We can also be addressing systemic racism, militarism and materialism in the process. This article discusses ideas for designing and building such communities. https://jeffkisling.com/2018/02/22/design-and-build-beloved-community-models/
As Scott Miller says above, “Quakers will only be truly prophetic when they risk a great deal of their accumulated privilege and access to wealth. Prophets cannot have a stake in maintaining the status quo.”
I would contend the reason our Quaker meetings are getting smaller is because most of us are too entrenched in the current, unjust economic and political systems. But I also believe we could speak to these times if we build alternative, Beloved communities. This year I’ve been learning about and involved in the concept of Mutual Aid. This is how I believe we can build such communities today.
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