Clerk’s Post 8/2/22: “Responding to the Urgent Call”

Clerk’s Post: “Responding to the Urgent Call”

As the QIF Summer Research Seminar approaches next week, I am mindful that the 20th anniversary of the start of QIF is approaching next year and wondering: What now are we called to do? And in the face of the urgent challenges we face, how might we best respond in ways that are, in Dianne Randall’s phrase, “bold, strategic and relentless”? In the case of the Quaker Institute for the Future, I think some recent experiments in supporting the work of Young Friends offer one important kind of initiative to consider: a program of stipends, workshops and fellowships to support their leadership in response to leadings for research and action.

In doing this we can build on the experiments we have tried in this last year. They include stipends that have allowed several Young Friends to have release time so that they could engage in research and share in clearness meetings to prepare for presenting in workshops as part of Summer Research Seminars. Expanding on this model, we also co-sponsored something similar with the Half-yearly Meeting of the Atlantic Friends Gathering in Camp Geddes, Nova Scotia, in May. Friends from AFG recruited two Young Friends to do research on leadings they had and pursue clearness on them and share them through the kinds of methods of Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Research which QIF has been experimenting with for two decades. It led to two very rich and powerful workshop sessions at the AFG retreat.

In mulling how best to further such activities and scale them up, I find myself reflecting on the Urgent Call to Friends which was issued in May of this year. It has led to a series of zoom sessions seeking to discern how Friends might be led to respond to  threats associated with the January 6 coup attempt last year.  It has focused the urgent need to address ongoing challenges to Truth, Justice, Democracy and Peace.

The two sessions I attended included hundreds of Friends who are all deeply concerned by the ways in which falsity has become a weapon in politics, injustice and inequality are being used to disempower whole classes of people in systematic ways, policies and people are being put in place to subvert election processes, and plans for more successful versions of last year’s coup are being laid at local, state and national levels. There are a variety of ideas and initiatives that folks are exploring for possible responses. Some involve joining efforts of other groups like, for example: https://www.fcnl.org/events/faiths-united-save-democracy-elections-2022; www.braverangels.org; www.naacp.org; www.porrpeoplescampaign.org; and https://bjconline.org/.

But participants were also strongly moved by the sense that the issues at stake – Truth, Equality and Justice, Democracy, and Nonviolence – are central to the core testimonies and practices of Friends. There was a strong sense that we may, as Quakers, have distinctive and important roles to play in this work.

With regard to the role QIF might be called to play in this, I was struck by two things. First, there were a number of Friends who were ready and eager to act but were looking for leadership. They were calling for people to do the kind of action research that would provide the vision, knowledge, and practical know how to respond effectively to these concerns in ways that would bear witness to key Quaker testimonies. Second, the youngest person taking part was 40 years old.

I believe that QIF should work on this with Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings and other organizations of Quakers to co-sponsor action research projects on how best to respond to the Urgent Call. They will recruit young people who have some leading to work on these issues, help provide stipends to support their work, and share with them in the Clearness process and in pursuing whatever witness their research and discernment lead them towards. QIF will provide some matching funds for stipends, collaborative leadership for organizing and pursuing the various forms of Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Research that may prove useful and appropriate for these projects, and a venue for sharing progress and products through the QIF website and publications program.

I am confident we can easily raise an initial $5,000 to start this process with a series of stipends and action/research workshops and clearness meetings this early this fall to provide opportunities for perhaps 10 Young Friends with $500 stipends to do initial exploratory work. I believe that we could raise substantially more funds and scale up the activity both in the number of researchers and cosponsors involved and in the size of the stipends. I would envision initial exploratory work leading, in many cases, to proposals for programs that Quaker Meetings and organizations would be led to support in very substantial ways.

I am hoping that we might discuss this basic idea and ways to improve upon it during some of the dialogue sessions next week at the Summer Research Seminar and that some version of it might be approved at the QIF Board meeting later this August. I am also hoping that Friends will begin discussions with their Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly Meetings as well as organizations like FCNL and AFSC to explore how co-sponsoring of this kind of action research might enable them to address concerns they are laboring with, support important testimonies, and recruit and nurture leadership from young people who share core values and spiritual leadings of Friends.

I have a vision that draws on insights and images from a wonderful book by a forestry researcher, Suzanne Simard, called Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. The book describes how the mycorrhizal networks connecting different trees underground provide networks for sharing resources like water and sugars as well as messages like “get ready for an attack from beetles”. The elders in the forest provide key roles in establishing and maintaining such networks as well as in providing seeds for the new trees that are the forest of the future.

As Quakers, many of us are like these “Mother Trees”, gray with age and stocked with resources that provide income, insurance, and free time. We are called, like Mother Trees, to send resources down through our roots into the mycorrhizal network and feed the seedlings and saplings and listen to their messages and follow their leadership in finding the visions and the practices that will allow Way to Open for a forest of the future in which a rich and diverse community of all can thrive, shimmering in the Light.

I also have a second vision, one that helps counter the elder-centric image the first. It is inspired by all the incredible work young people have been doing to provide leadership, practical skills, and innovative ideas for work on climate change, anti-racism work, LGBTQ concerns, food systems, and a variety of other issues. It is the vision of the Young Friends of the 1650s who went out throughout Britain and further abroad to call people to turn to that of God within and transform their world so that there might be a kind of Primitive Christianity Restored – a world in which we might truly see what love might do. I believe the time has come to call forth and support Young Friends like the “Valiant 60” from that era. We should provide home bases for them in the way that Margaret Fell’s home in Swarthmore did. We should join with them following the urgent leadings that our faith is working through us amidst the fear and trembling that we may feel every time we check on the news of the day.  And we should do so with the confidence that Change Is Coming. As a favorite song of mine says:  “It’s coming like a hurricane, coming like a drought, coming like a glacier melting . . . “

 

 

 

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  1. Members of QIF are hoping that Blog posts like this may spark interest and lead to threads of comment and discussion.

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