Monday, November 24, 2014

"The right of the petition the Government"

Lobby Day in Washington
Several hundred Friends getting briefed before going up on the Hill

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is a Quaker organization that lobbies Congress on issues reflecting Friends' concerns about peace, social justice, and stewardship of the Earth. We were humbled to participate in their annual day of legislative lobbying this year in Washington, D.C. It was exhilarating to be among the 430 Quakers from 41 states as we listened to learned and well-informed speakers on the importance of promoting peace and diplomacy with Iran and the Middle East. 
Although our lobbying efforts with the members of the Senate were not what we hoped, we came away with the realization that we need to let our representatives know how we feel. Many people, ourselves included, are frustrated with the political process in our country. But, as Benjamin Franklin remarked after work on our Constitution was finished, "you have a republic, if you can keep it." This means that our interests will be safeguarded or advanced only if we stay involved. We have always participated in voting, but now we are realizing that it takes more – lobbying for the issues that are important to us, writing letters to newspapers and legislators, and helping promote and support candidates that have the courage to stand up in support of those causes, even when they risk political fallout. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leadings and Being Led

Quakers often speak of "being led" or of "having a leading" or of "divine leading." Here's an excellent description of some of the historical background on the terminology:

"Five Tests for Discerning a True Leading" by Hugh Barbour

This morning I'm reflecting on some past leadings I've felt and acted on:

1. To undertake a more disciplined study of Scripture, which led to my attending the Earlham School of Religion (ESR) and eventually to teaching online Bible courses.

2. To speak up, or to remain silent, in many many conversations, among Friends and otherwise.  The result was not necessarily obvious at the time, but surely worked better than either suffering in silence or just blurting out whatever thought was bothering me.

3. To do what I could to support a couple of different Friends educational institutions, namely Friends School in Detroit, Friends Theological College in Kenya, and ESR.

Most of the time my daily life is subject more to what we call "promptings" or "promptings of the Spirit" which I understand to be more immediate and short-term, in contrast to "leadings" (activities that take more planning and sustained effort) -- in my short list above, I should probably have called number 2 instances of "prompting."  In the moment, it really feels like God is literally prompting me to speak, or prompting me not to speak.  It feels a lot like a tap on the shoulder, or a whisper in my ear.

One risk in this sort of "listen and obey" process is that it is not always obvious whether it's God leading me, or me just bowing to my own personal preference.

Another risk is that having a sense of divine leading can lead to self-righteousness, or make me ignore input or observation by other people, as to the effects of my actions.  Even if God really did lead me to do this or say that, perhaps I'm also meant to listen to what others say about what I've done or said.  Or to evaluate just how well my words and actions have served the greater good.

Well.  This post has gotten long enough.  I feel that I'm outrunning my Guide - in other words, I'm feeling prompted to stop.

But before I go, here are two articles from Friends Journal that speak to the issue of Friends' sense of leading around charitable giving:
"The Ministry of Giving Money" by Merry Stanford, of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting, Lake Erie Yearly Meeting

"Doing Good Well" by Charles Schade, of Charleston (WV) Friends Meeting, the group that sponsors this blog.

I hope to write more on these matters in future... 

Susan J.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The West Virginia Gathering of Friends

Last weekend we were blessed to attend a gathering of West Virginia Quakers. It had a lasting impact on me in a variety of ways.
` First, it was energizing to be surrounded by people who are seekers that share a common set of values. Unprogrammed Quakers are a diverse group of people from a variety of religious backgrounds, but we all recognize the importance of the Inner Light. The lack of a dogma or strict creed was what attracted many of us to the Friends. When you see God as a Light within each person, you are able to respect their spiritual journey without judgment. And, you can draw inspiration and strength from their shared stories. We shared and were moved as each person reflected on their life experiences. We reflected on how we can move forward as individuals, and as a group, to enhance our spiritual journeys.
I am always impressed when I am with Friends on the level of concern and action shown for sustainability, and living a life that reflects those values. Quaker events always feature recycling, using resources that allow us to reduce waste, and conversations with individuals about how to be a better steward of the earth's resources. You see the people driving gas efficient cars, circulating petitions to help our politicians realize the importance of sustainability, and involvement in groups that promote these values. How can I not be inspired and motivated to do my part when surrounded by such examples?
It seems we all treasure the natural world, and draw a sense of connection with the Divine when we are surrounded by it. The Gathering was held at a beautiful state park, and that place, combined with the peace in our method of worship was rejuvenating. The silence and spoken messages in the shared Meeting for Worship were food for my soul.
The desire for social justice is another important witness for Quakers. As we listened to speakers talk about their work to help create a more just and humane world, I was moved and inspired by the amount of work that Quakers do on a personal, local, national, and international level to help bring the kingdom of God to the world. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to those who do this work. One attender commented to me that she felt inadequate in her own efforts when surrounded by such people. I reminded her that her many email messages to her friends about these very issues and other spiritual topics are just as important as the big efforts of activists. The world can be changed in many small ways and even big ways when we use the inspiration that God provides to each of us.
I would like to thank the Mid-Ohio Valley Friends Meeting for organizing such a wonderful experience.