Authentic speech and witness
I am back from New England Yearly Meeting. I have not been blogging recently because I was preparing for the workshop that I helped to lead. We had a catchy title that I forget but the general theme was applying the Friends Peace Testimony to the relationship of NEYM and FUM. And then I was at Yearly Meeting.
I am not going to try to give a full report on what happened at Yearly Meeting. I am not a journalist. Instead I will make a series of posts about little tidbits that I heard or read that caused a reaction in me, or little bits of insight that I got during the five days.
Lloyd Lee Wilson gave the keynote address. It was a very dense talk. It wasn't hard to understand but it was so filled with good stuff that if you stopped to think about something he said, two or three other good things went whizzing by. I hope that it will be released in pamphlet form so that I can read it and let the words sink in and study them. My reaction at the end was very much, “This Friend speaks my mind.” As important as the words was the deep place that he took us to. He got us off to a good start and we were able to stay in a deep and centered place for much of the week. This was not just his doing but the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people since last year when our Sunday meeting for worship was so uncentered and frothy that our Young Friends (the High School group) sent the adults a minute from their business meeting eldering us for how poorly we conducted worship.
At the very beginning of his talk, Lloyd Lee said something like this, “It is not authentic to speak of something when it is clear that I do not posses it in my own life.” What follows are my reaction to that
This really is the crux of our spiritual condition. This is what the testimonies are supposed to be. A way of living our lives that give testimony to our beliefs. At our best our testimonies are not our words but our actions. Our testimony on honesty is not just in our refusal to swear oaths, it is in Thomas Ellwood walking with a group of other Friends across Bristol from the overcrowded prison in which they were being held to another prison without guard or escort because that was what they said they would do.
Our peace testimony is embodied in people like Tom Fox. For most of us, at least for myself, my life is not much of a testimony. The extent of it is that I have not applied for jobs with defense contractors. The last time my company was acquired, I refused to sign a paper saying I would apply for a security clearance if it was needed. But mostly my life looks a lot like the lives of the non-Friends around me.
What does it mean to live an authentic Quaker and Christian life in a society that is founded and defended by violence and in an economy whose underlying principle is greed? Do we have an alternative to offer to an American Dream defined only in terms of material wealth? These are difficult questions because the answers may require changes in the way we live. This is hard work and it may be dangerous work. It is certainly not comfortable work. But it is work we need to be doing.