Sunday, July 10, 2016

"So what I said was..." On Racism and Quakers

I just returned from FGC's summer Gathering. It's an experience I always find challenging (and I mean that in a good way). This year's was especially so. It was my first experience helping run the QuakerBooks store there. The wonky internet, not having enough copies of popular books, and other stuff was not fun. Chatting with Friends, serving their needs, and finding just that right book was.

But overlying it all was a great cloud of concern regarding race, white privilege, and all that goes with that in America and among Friends. Some Friends of Color at Gathering experienced things from micro-aggressions to harassment.  Then there was the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on Tuesday. Then the next day Philando Castile was shot and killed by police. Then the next day, Micah Johnson gunned down a number of Dallas police officers, killing four of them.

All of the above rocked the about 1,000 Friends attending Gathering -- which had the theme "be humble, Be Faithful, BE BOLD." As it should have. I won't report here on what happened at Gathering -- I'm certain lots of other bloggers who were more involved than I (tucked away in the bookstore as I was from early morning until late at night most days) will do so. Nor will I comment on what I think and hope FGC's response and actions might be, though I do have opinions on that as well. But it is an association of Friends and as such, needs the collective discernment of those Friends as it moves humbly, faithfully, and boldly forward in an area where it continues to do much good work -- from publishing titles such as Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans and the Myth of Racial Justice (which is keeping on sale at the reduced $5 price because we feel it's an important book that all Friends should read) to working on the White Privilege Conference to much more. And FGC, along with other Friends organizations has much work yet to do.

Instead, I want to talk about this 65 year-old, white male's troubled heart and soul and what I shared with Friends at West Newton Friends Meeting this morning. West Newton is my spiritual home. My spiritual family. Today it was my turn to, with Divine assistance, to lead worship.

I arrived with my heart deeply troubled by the things I've mentioned above. So what I said was... that I was grieved. Deeply grieved. And I realized it's not enough to be grieved. What am I called to do? What is our little meeting called to do?

I reminded myself and the other Friends of John Woolman's words that:

Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all his creatures. His tender mercies are over all his works; and so far as his love influences our minds, so far we become interested in his workmanship and feel a desire to take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, that to turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives…

Oppression in the extreme appears terrible: but oppression in more refined appearances remains to be oppression; and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive. To labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world.

Am I turning all I possess (not just things, but time, passions, energy) into the channel of universal love toward all people in this land? I admit to deep pain in my heart as I read those words. And a choke in my voice. Because my answer, sadly is "No."

Likewise, I may not extremely oppress or cooperate in oppression of African Americans, but I do have a "more refined appearance" which "remains ... oppression."

God help me. God help us.

"To labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world." As I read those words, I am challenged to consider what I am doing to work toward a redemption of this spirit of oppression. To proclaim and act out my beliefs in this regard. With real, helpful, and earnest action. Not just a "Peanuts" sort of wishing good things for or on the oppressed.

What am I called to do? What am I compelled to do? What is my yearly meeting, which convenes this week going to do?

That's what I said. And asked. And ponder in my heart.