I recently wrote Spiritual discernment to leave Quakers. After that, though, I admit I thought, ‘what have I done? What now?’
I am a bit off balance. Writing helps me find my way through things I don’t have a good understanding of. I try to be spiritually aware as I write. But especially in this case, what follows is definitely work in progress.
It’s a paradox to distance myself from Quakers while at the same time wanting to continue to work with Friends to disavow capitalism, white supremacy and the vast tapestry of damage that comes from them. When I need spiritual support.
Recently I became aware I have a spiritual community with my Native friends, too.
In 2016, I felt an immediate spiritual connection the first time a group of Native people joined a gathering in downtown Indianapolis, to bring attention to the dangers of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Retiring to Iowa in 2017, I was led to a number of opportunities to form friendships with Native people. In the years since, these friendships have deepened. There have been numerous occasions for us to work together. Get to know each other. The photo below is from the beginning of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March in the fall of 2018. A small group of about 30 Native and non-native people walked and camped together over eight days, for 94 miles along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline. The intention of this sacred journey came to fruition as we shared our stories, walking down empty gravel roads through rural Iowa. We began to know each other, to establish trust. Along the way my friend Donnielle Wanatee said, “we are a tribe.” Many blog posts, photos and videos of the March can be found here
First Nation-Farmer Unity – First Nation peoples and farmers working together (firstnationfarmer.com)
This quote by some of my friends speaks to storytelling and Mutual Aid.
Truthsgiving is an ideology that must be enacted through truth telling and mutual aid to discourage colonized ideas about the thanksgiving mythology—not a name switch so we can keep doing the same thing. It’s about telling and doing the truth on this day so we can stop dangerous stereotypes and whitewashed history from continuing to harm Indigenous lands and Peoples, as well as Black, Latinx, Asian-American and all oppressed folks on Turtle Island.Truthsgiving
One way I have continued to learn about Native peoples has been becoming involved in Mutual Aid, which includes Indigenous people. One of the basic tenants of Mutual Aid is everyone comes together to work on the needs of the community. I am so grateful to have become part of Des Moines Mutual Aid. One of the many things I love about my Mutual Aid community is how our spirituality is fundamental to the work we do together, even if the words aren’t spoken.
Those who know me are probably surprised not to see photos of my Mutual Aid friends. That is because police scan social media photos and videos to identify people to subsequently arrest. Not that Mutual Aid is illegal. But Des Moines Mutual Aid folks work closely with Des Moines Black Liberation, and show up at public events. There has been a great deal of unrest in a few cities in Iowa related to George Floyed and police violence.
I admit there have been times when I wished our Quaker communities did more work like my Mutual Aid group. This diverse group of friends embrace the idea of a horizontal hierarchy where everyone has a voice. And are so gracious with those who come in need of food, for example. We know this hunger is the result of the capitalist economy, not the fault of the people needing food. And know we may at some point find ourselves in need of food. We look forward to being together each week. And to be doing work to immediately address survival needs. Something is right when such a diverse group works with such enthusiasm. Several people have told me our Saturday mornings are the highlight of their week. Mine, too.
Forced assimilation and genocide
Over the past several years the horrors of the Native residential schools have become more widely known in White communities, and among white Quakers. My Friend Paula Palmer’s ministry about this has been teaching Quakers about the forced assimilation of Native children. Her research into Quakers’ role in this can be found in her article in Friends Journal, which has a telling title. Quaker Indian Boarding Schools. Facing our History and Ourselves – Friends Journal And is the best resource I have found on this subject.
I can not feel the depths of the trauma of my Native friends, which has been triggered yet again, this time with the verification of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in British Columbia.
But I do see, hear, sense the signs of their utter devastation. Up close and personal as they say. Our spiritual connection is one dimension of this. One of my best friends told me, “I’m trying not to be enraged in my mourning”.
So we have this situation where both my Native friends and I know of this terrible history, and Quakers having some part in it. I’ve written a lot about talking about the residential schools with my Native friends. Spiritual discernment to leave Quakers | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)
I didn’t know if I could face my friends after this latest atrocity, and had been writing about it on my blog.
When I shared some of this on social media, including stepping away from Quakers, some people talked about it being a privilege to walk away. I responded, “reading the comments on walking away, I have a different perspective. What caused me to, at least temporarily, disengage from Quakers was when I saw how traumatized my Native friends were about the remains of Native children at the residential school in Canada. I didn’t feel I could continue working with them, and I see them every week, if I didn’t do something beyond just words, to indicate I recognized their pain, and acknowledged my ancestors’ role in those schools. In any case, I was following a strong spiritual leading I was given.”
One of the many gifts my indigenous friends have given me, is to read some of what I write. So they can continue to talk with, mentor me. A close friend had read of my outrage and sorrow about this latest atrocity. About my turmoil of continuing to work with Mutual Aid. So, even in the midst of his mourning about the children, he took the time and effort to help me.
“Thank you friend. I don’t know what you can do. The church is the church’s past, which is its future. It continues to see my people as obstacles in its endless conquest.
You’re a good relative Jeff. To be blunt, there is too much damage that the church profits from and needs to protect to have any future there.
I wish you the best. I imagine its a hard struggle.”
That is just one of many examples of how my friends have supported me. I am realizing as I work through this, I am truly blessed to be part of the spiritual communities of both Quakers and Native peoples. What a blessing!
So, rather than completely leave Quakers, I am now feeling I can continue to work with Friends to the extent I maintain my spiritual integrity with myself and my Native friends. That means I must conscientiously object to any practice of Friends that continues to support colonial capitalism and white supremacy and all the evil manifestations of them.
Of course I am living within systems of colonial capitalism and white supremacy. It will take time to extricate from that. But what I have done and practice is to begin to intentionally extricate myself. You can begin to do so now as well.
I will continue to work with my Mutual Aid friends. And as my Native friends have asked, teach others about the concept of LANDBACK, and find ways to support that. I will seek to find ways to continue to work with Quakers.
To begin that work, I recently created the WordPress site LANDBACK Friends. And the associated Facebook group, LANDBACK Friends.
On the LANDBACK Friends website is an Epistle to Friends Regarding Community, Mutual Aid and LANDBACK. You can begin your LANDBACK journey by signing that epistle if so led. And if you would like to join the email group related to LANDBACK Friends, you can enter your email address at the bottom of the letter.
What will Friends do?
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 basic necessities and violently enforces white supremacy, 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 white supremacy, and the damages that result. We can engage in efforts, such as Mutual Aid and LANDBACK, to build 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.Read and sign the Epistle – LANDBACK Friends