April 17, 2005

Activism and being faithful

Over at Ruthie-Annie, I made a comment to her post about what it means to live an integrated life. In the comment, I wrote, "As a Quaker, activism and being faithful are one and the same."

Another reader and fellow Quaker blogger asked me to explain what I meant, which I found has been hard for me to do directly. What I'll do instead, then, is to give you the story and situation of when I made this remark, and perhaps by way of context, the meaning will become clearer.

A group of LGBTQ Friends and allies were finishing up another tender Meeting for Worship recently. This particular group has been convening a monthly MfW for a number of months now, in light of Minnesota's push for an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions. A few Friends in this group are very eager to jump into the political and legislative arena, and some have already contacted legislators, written a personal letter to their families and friends, made plans to attend the annual political rally that happens at the capitol, &c.

At the close of worship, we began to check-in about how we each were doing, given the political climate at the time. The more we shared our feelings about the turn of events in the state, the more agitated a number of us became: "There's so much to do!" "If I don't do it, I don't know who will!" "We're really the canaries in the mine shaft: many other groups are going to be affected down the road, and everyone's keeping their eyes on us and on this proposed amendment to see how toxic the political environment is..."

Since I'm not called to be politically active, I've learned to let others have that time after worship to vent, seek support, and build coalitions. If I add anything to this part of the discussion and sharing, it's usually around how to work within the life of the meeting, to lift up our concerns to the body, in the hopes that the meeting will get under the weight of them, and that straight Friends may come to understand more of what, as straight allies, is helpful to us.

For some reason, though, tonight was different. After listening for awhile, I interjected myself into the conversation. I think I started off by saying, "Y'know, there is something different about us in this group tonight than in other GLBTQ communities in Minnesota. We are Quaker, and that means something. It occurs to me that one of things it means is that our faithfulness to the call of the Spirit is what guides where we put our energies and how and where and when we are 'active.' I feel like I am being faithful to the leading I've been given around how to respond to this issue. If I let myself stray from my leading, I cannot be successful in my activism, and I have to trust that other Friends are also being equally faithful in following their leadings around this issue. For Friends, activism and being faithful are one and the same."

Most people (including myself, not too long ago!) would look at what I'm pursuing and wonder how that is being an activist, because it doesn't involve legislative work, protests, or letter writing. But when I understand and recognize that I am being faithful to the Spirit, well, that in and of itself is a form of activism.

Indeed: I feel the good raised up in me when I am faithful.


Unknown said...

I am gald you and your group are being a faithful light, salt and seed in the Minnesota situation.

-- David
(writing from Canada -- with its own political issues on this one)

Amanda said...

Ah, Liz, hooray for you and this post. I see it's partially a beautiful grammar quirk...I had been reading that statment more as "As a Quaker, being faithful means being an activist." which I was pretty sure you didn't mean. I see that the sentence works both ways - being faithful is its own activism.

Growing up Catholic, there was a constant heirarchy of "vocations" and it roughly broke down to (in ascending order)


It was always stressed that each was necessary, and that a person called to a "lower" vocation served God better by being faithful in that vocation, rather that trying to artificially shoulder their way into a vocation they were not called to.

Sometimes, in Quakerism, leadings seem to follow the reverse hierachy, with active being the highest leading. I do not mind this reversal, in my heart I think I am even grateful for it. And the same logic applies - I am serving God better if I am not trying to shoulder my way into an activist leading I have not been called to.

As someone who has felt a strong, strong call ('vocare'....vocation...) to a contemplative practice her whole life, I am currently trying to discover what this could mean outside of a Catholic contemplative-monastic context. I am wholly convinced of the truth of Quakerism...I could never be a Catholic again, let alone a nun, and yet here I am, called to contemplation (and we won't even get into the "of what?!" question) in arguably one of the most "active" religions ever conceived.

As I hold this foggy leading in my heart, I am more amused than troubled by the apparent dissonance. It is beautiful, exciting, and deeply moving to follow the Voice that calls us, however trembly our knees and steps, and however vauge the path.

Anonymous said...

Amanda, I think it can be argued that Quakers, while activist in many ways, have one of the purest contemplative forms of worship.

During potentially controversial discussions in our meetings for business, we have been experimenting with having two or three members of our Ministry and Oversight Committee holding the discussion and community in the Light - praying for faithfulness above all - with the understanding that these individuals would not be very involved in the active discussion. I can't report on the actual effectiveness of this, anymore than one can measure the effectiveness of any contemplative prayer. What I did learn is that I am not very good at it. Yet.

Amanda said...

Robin, that is an exceptional point. :)

Liz Opp said...

Robin, thanks for sharing your experience about having the meeting be held in the Light during possibly contentious business discussions. I will say that when I have known that someone I trust is holding me in prayer while I am speaking or presenting, I find I am "listening" in a slightly different manner than if that person is not present. What a lovely model for MfW for Business-- thanks for lifting it up.

And thanks, too, to Amanda, for asking the question that got this post started, a question which helped me collect and share my thoughts about the relationship between faithfulness and activism.

In your comment, you write:

Sometimes, in Quakerism, leadings seem to follow the reverse hierachy, with active being the highest leading.


It seems to me that the more secular Quakerism becomes, the greater the weight given to activism, regardless of the clearness of leading.

Maybe it's because I'm an INFP in the Myers-Briggs personality inventory that I value being faithful over being engaged in the world, politically, economically, or otherwise.

I also have to think about John Woolman. I wonder if he got a lot of accolades for being faithful (read: being a thorn in people's conscience). But clearly his faithfulness--to the point of not wearing dyed clothing, knowing the dye would likely be the result of slave labor, and giving up sugar because sugar plantations were worked by slaves--his faithfulness was his activism.

As far as I understand Quakerism--my understanding of which is always changing--the central message is to seek God, to listen for God's guidance, and to be obedient to the call as we discern and understand it.

Contemplative first, then active: it is a sequential progression rather than a hierarchical one.

Then again, being active is one way of testing the leading we were given in our contemplation. We return to our contemplative practice in order to discern if our "active-ity" was rightly ordered: Active first, then contemplative.

Oh my: the relationship between active and contemplative, then, may be considered as cyclical rather than wholly sequential. Just more to think about, I guess. smile


Anonymous said...

I started considering the cycle of contemplative/active life when I was expecting my second child, and felt that I couldn't actively "do" anything, even though the world, or at least the U.S., was clearly going to hell in a handbasket (i.e the period from sept 2001 through the invasion of Iraq II) but that maybe I, in my little bedresting and later nursing cocoon, could pray for the world, and that if carmelite nuns were useful to God, well, maybe I could be too.

I'd like to think that the cycle is more of a coil, moving around from active to contemplative and back again, but always moving along, taking the insights from each loop with us into the next loop.

Now I really wish I was going to FGC, just so I could join your workshop.