Epistle: a poem or other literary work in the form of a letter or series of letters

My intention in starting this blog five years ago was to learn to write about matters of the Spirit. I feel we are living in a time of great spiritual poverty. Perhaps something I write might be useful to someone seeking. The process of discerning what to write about, and how to express that, is a spiritual practice for me.

But lately I’ve wondered if I write too much. The messages might get lost in the volume of words.

For the past year I’ve been learning and writing about the concept of Mutual Aid. The more I’ve learned and experienced about Mutual Aid, the further I have traveled away from the thinking and experiences of other Quakers and friends. Which isn’t surprising because Mutual Aid is a rejection of, a replacement for capitalism, as I try to explain in the epistle below.

As I wondered about a different way to express what Mutual Aid is, and the reasons why I believe Friends should embrace it, I was reminded of a powerful epistle I read at a time when I needed guidance. An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription was written around the time I was praying about resisting the draft (Selective Service System). At the time of the Vietnam War. I was about to turn 18 years of age, when registration with the SSS was required for all young men in this country. That epistle eloquently expresses the reasons why they felt Quakers should not participate in military conscription. Iowa Quakers Don Laughlin and Roy Knight were among the signatories of that epistle (see below).

I decided to write an epistle related to Mutual Aid, the draft of which is found at the end of this.

But first I wanted to share another epistle, Iowa Young Friends’ Giving Voice Epistle.

Iowa Young Friends’ Giving Voice Epistle

Dear Friends of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative and beyond,

We began our Young Friends program talking about the theme of this year’s annual sessions, Accompaniment and Giving Voice. In the spirit of this theme, we have decided to “give voice” ourselves, and share more deeply with the greater Yearly Meeting through an epistle expressing our perspective as Young Friends. We spent almost an hour and a half in a worshipful discussion on Fourth Day morning, sharing deeply about our concerns for the world, what gives us hope, and what it means to accompany someone.

Accompaniment is, to us, a type of listening, and being there for those in need of care. We shared who we feel compelled to accompany, including racial and religious minorities, refugees, undocumented immigrants, victims of sexual assault and child abuse, people who choose to get abortions, LGBTQ people, and even people who may share different beliefs than us. We noted that it is still possible to listen and accompany people, while actively disagreeing with what they believe.

We spoke about many of our concerns with the modern world. The two that we kept returning to throughout the discussion was polarization in our society, and our clear concern on the changing climate and how it will affect our lives. We see the polarization in our society furthering a pattern of not listening to one another and encouraging a culture of hatred. We noted that by listening, we can often understand the struggles behind an opinion with which we disagree. We are also very concerned with the changing climate, and the displacement of people and wildlife that comes consequently. We recognize that a lot of the issues we care about are related to the environment, and that there will be an increase in poverty and war worldwide if we don’t actively try and reverse climate change.

We also have a lot of hope for the future. We understand that we are living in an age of technological advancement, and while there are some negatives to this, we also see a lot of hope in what that might bring. We see that technology can be used as a tool to share ideas, connect with people across the globe, and find helpful information. We see that more medical advancements can be made, and that innovations could improve access to food, clean water, and quality of life for many worldwide. We find hope, often with the help of the internet and social media, in seeing people speaking their truth to power all over the world. This includes people speaking out for women’s rights, resisting ICE raids, being stewards to our planet, and our fellow young people leading the movement on gun reform. 

We appreciate the space IYMC gives us, to accompany and give our own voice.

Love and light to all,

IYMC Young Friends 2019

An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription

Dear Friends,

It has long been clear to most of us who are called Friends that war is contrary to the spirit of Christ and that we cannot participate in it.  The refusal to participate in war begins with a refusal to bear arms.  Some Friends choose to serve as noncombatants within the military.  For most of us, however, refusal to participate in war also involves refusal to be part of the military itself, as an institution set up to wage war.  Many, therefore, become conscientious objectors doing alternative service as civilians, or are deferred as students and workers in essential occupations.

Those of us who are joining in this epistle believe that cooperating with the draft, even as a recognized conscientious objector, makes one part of the power which forces our brothers into the military and into war.  If we Friends believe that we are special beings and alone deserve to be exempted from war, we find that doing civilian service with conscription or keeping deferments as we pursue our professional careers are acceptable courses of action.   But if we Friends really believe that war is wrong, that no man should become the executioner or victim of his brothers, then we will find it impossible to collaborate with the Selective Service System.  We will risk being put in prison before we help turn men into murderers.

It matters little what men say they believe when their actions are inconsistent with their words.  Thus we Friends may say that all war is wrong, but as long as Friends continue to collaborate in a system that forces men into war, our Peace Testimony will fail to speak to mankind.

Let our lives speak for our convictions.  Let our lives show that we oppose not only our own participation in war, but any man’s participation in it.  We can stop seeking deferments and exemptions, we can stop filling out Selective Service forms, we can refuse to obey induction and civilian work orders.  We can refuse to register, or send back draft cards if we’ve already registered.

In our early history we Friends were known for our courage in living according to our convictions.  At times during the 1600’s thousands of Quakers were in jails for refusing to pay any special respect to those in power, for worshiping in their own way, and for following the leadings of conscience.  But we Friends need not fear we are alone today in our refusal to support mass murder.  Up to three thousand Americans severed their relations with the draft at nation-wide draft card turn-ins during 1967 and 1968.  There may still be other mass returns of cards, and we can always set our own dates.

We may not be able to change our government’s terrifying policy in Vietnam.  But we can try to change our own lives.  We must be ready to accept the sacrifices involved if we hope to make a real testimony for Peace.  We must make Pacifism a way of life in a violent world.

We remain, in love of the Spirit, your Friends and brothers,

Don Laughlin
Roy Knight
Jeremy Mott
Ross Flanagan
Richard Boardman
James Brostol
George Lakey 
Stephen Tatum
Herbert Nichols
Christopher Hodgkin
Jay Harker
Bob Eaton
Bill Medlin
Alan & Peter Blood

Finally, following is a DRAFT (not the Selective Service System draft) of the epistle I’ve been working on related to Mutual Aid, community and capitalism. It has not been approved by any group. I welcome any comments. jakislin@outlook.com

DRAFT: An Epistle to Friends Regarding Community

Dear Friends,

The measure of a community is how the essential needs of its people are met. No one should go hungry, or without shelter. Yet in this country known as the United States millions struggle to survive. The capitalist economic system creates hunger and houselessness. A system that requires money for goods and services denies basic needs to anyone who does not have money. Black, Indigenous, and other people of color are disproportionately affected. A form of structural racism. The capitalist system that supports our material lifestyle is built on stolen land and the labor of those who were enslaved in the past or are forced to live on poverty wages today.

It has become clear to some of us who are called Friends that the capitalist economic system is contrary to the Spirit and we must find a better way. We conscientiously object to capitalism. Capitalism is an unjust, untenable system, when there is plenty of food in the grocery stores, but men, women and children are going hungry, living on the streets outside.

How do we resist? We rebuild our communities in ways not based upon money. Such communities thrive all over the world. Indigenous peoples have always lived this way. Generations before our own did so in this country. Mutual Aid is a framework that can help us do this today.

The concept of Mutual Aid Mutual is simple to explain but can result in transformative change. Mutual Aid involves everyone coming together to find a solution for a problem we all face. This is a radical departure from “us” helping “them”. Instead, we are all working together to find and implement solutions.  To work together means we must be physically present with each other. Mutual Aid cannot be done by committee or only with donations. We build Beloved communities as we get to know each other. Build solidarity. An important part of Mutual Aid is creating these networks of people who know and trust each other. When new challenges arise, these networks are in place and ready.

Commonly there are several Mutual Aid projects in a community. The initial projects usually relate to survival needs. One might be a food giveaway. Another helping those who need shelter.

Many Mutual Aid groups also have a bail fund, to support those arrested for agitating for change. And accompany those arrested when they go to court.

It matters little what people say they believe when their actions are inconsistent with their words.  Thus, we Friends may say there should not be hunger and poverty, but as long as Friends continue to collaborate in a system that leaves many without food and shelter, our example will fail to speak to mankind.

Let our lives speak for our convictions.  Let our lives show that we oppose the capitalist system and the damages that result.  We can engage in efforts, such as Mutual Aid, to build and live in Beloved community. To reach out to our neighbors to join us.

We must begin by changing our own lives if we hope to make a real testimony for peace and justice.

We remain, in love of the Spirit, your Friends and sisters and brothers. 

Note: Modeled from ‘An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription’

capitalism has violated the communities of marginalized folks. capitalism is about the value of people, property and the people who own property. those who have wealth and property control the decisions that are made. the government comes second to capitalism when it comes to power.

in the name of liberation, capitalism must be reversed and dismantled. meaning that capitalistic practices must be reprogrammed with mutual aid practices.  

Des Moines Black Lives Matter

“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.

Scott Miller

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