Monday, February 20, 2006

honest quakers

"Honesty is the best policy," but what if it goes against polity?

What if what we are called to say and do is different from what church tradition, or the understanding of orthodoxy, says is the "way of God"? What if church tradition is wrong? Or what if overuse has made it obsolete? How do we create renewal in a church without breaking away from it? How do we call people back to faithfulness when it is so much more comfortable for a church to stay in its own ruts, creating and sustaining its own direction, forgetting to listen to God?

How do we gain the courage to allow ourselves to listen fully to God--which entails a listening with follow-through? How do we give ourselves and our churches permission to act on radical things they hear from God?

Early Quakers acted on honesty and were known for it--they were some of the first to institute standard pricing; they were known for speaking the truth, letting their "yes" be "yes"; they spoke out against injustice when they saw it and did not continue to live by that injustice until it was eradicated--they created other ways to live. They refused to wear clothes dyed by slaves. They refused to own slaves. They refused to join wars or pay for them or in other ways be involved, except to help the injured from both sides.

Where is our honesty now? We say we disagree with overuse of fossil fuels--and yet we still use them in our cars and to heat our homes (check out biodiesel). We say we disagree with the use of individuals in other countries not being paid a fair wage for the products they make for us, and yet we bargain shop, looking for the best deals, the cheapest product (help work for Fair Trade). We say we believe in the equality of all people, and yet an equal rights amendment for women has been routinely set aside since 1923, and women in the United States receive less money for the same jobs as men (read about it here). Individual rights are routinely disallowed in our country as basic freedoms are taken away through wiretapping, discriminatory searches at airports, and inability of individuals to obtain rights to become citizens.

We say we are against war, and yet Quakers are so comfortable living lives of luxury that we're not willing to do what it takes to be allowed to not pay taxes that support the military. We are no longer willing to go to jail for our beliefs. We are definitely not willing to live at the kind of "simple" level it would take to not be elligible to pay taxes so we wouldn't be supporting the military. We aren't even willing to support with our lives and money groups who are working for nonviolent resolution of conflicts around the world. (There are individual exceptions, of course--check out this story of a Quaker working on war tax resistance. And here is a group working on the Peace Tax Fund.)

Where is the fire in our Quakerism? Where is the joy of life that is so evident in the early Quakers' lives, the complete abandon to the will and love of God, and love of neighbor? Who are we as Friends now?

I include myself in this, because although I try to live up to the standards of the early Friends I utterly fail. I need a community--and so do you--if we're to pull this thing off. And to do so we may have to jump out of these comfortable boxes we've created for ourselves of orthodoxy, of fitting in, of being loved by society and remembered well. Yes, we are thought of well now because of our history. But at the time Quakers were hated because their policies worked against the ways of the world, and for justice and equality. Right now the world loves us because they can hail the good things we did in the past as we sit basking in their flattery, not wanting to lose the esteem we have in worldly eyes by doing anything that might ruffle feathers.

Who are we now as Quakers? And who are we called to be? Are you willing to step out and live into our heritage? Are you willing to let your fear be broken down, let yourself be hated by the world, even do things which your Quaker community might see as amiss, in order to follow God? How can we create communities who will take these steps of faith together?

Honesty is the best policy, so there's my piece of honesty. Shall we listen together?


Claire said...



I have this same concern. (I blogged about it a couple weeks back;

Thank you so much for posting this, as it's incredibly important.

Love and Light,

(I found your post through Martin Kelly's blogwatch,

cherice said...

Thanks Claire! I loved your blog, too. It's good to know there are many of us out there thinking about and working on similar issues.