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Tampa Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

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Prophetic Witness: Spiritual Relevance

So shall my word be which goes forth from my mouth... -- Isaiah 58:11

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Photo: Issa Bailey - Unsplash
I think Friends must step up and step into their charge of prophetic witness by first asking how Quakers are relevant today. Why did we choose to be Friends? What brought us here, kept us here, gave us pause, made us question our leading? Were we actually led to become Members of the Religious Society of Friends, and why is that still important? Early Friends had struggles as all human beings who seek a deeper connection with God. But these Friends also stood on principles of those who came before—the cloud of witnesses that held fast in their time to stand up for the right thing, even if costly. How are we standing up today? Our secular society is fracturing under a steady practice of self-absorption and disregard for truth. We became isolated in the pandemic and polarized with disinformation and propaganda. For Friends, it may be a struggle to answer that of God in someone who purposefully puts others at risk with their choices, or those who actively seek to put children in harm’s way by denying their access to a safe learning environment. This is not the same thing as accepting or affirming cruel actions or mean-spirited discourse; the spiritual lift in this is our making clear what is unacceptable in a way that does not degrade or harm further. Perhaps we have been given some real-world opportunity in leaning into our faith and finding if we have something solid in response because I am completely clear that we are being called to live our witness in an outward manner as a counterbalance to the violence, hatred, and injustice that is raging everywhere. It’s ok if we feel like a work in progress because that speaks to our understanding of growth and even humility. It’s also appropriate to discern which is our work at a particular moment. But as Friends, we need to acknowledge that living our testimonies in a visible manner is a spiritual responsibility not a choice. Historically, we have followed a still, small voice to find a purpose and to stand up with integrity. We have let our lives speak. We have lifted up concerns. We have spoken Truth to power. We have stood in witness against inequity and oppression in strength and nonviolence. We gave voice to the afflicted and are called by faith to love our neighbor as ourselves. And all of that takes work—prayer, awareness, movement. As Diane Randall says, we have a keen sense of “God’s desire for us to pay attention to injustice…to listen and act.” We are at a critical point in our country today as our rights are being dismantled systematically to make way for an authoritarian regime based in white supremacy and theocracy. The violence in rhetoric and action on a local and national level is no longer born out of secret societies—there is no reason to hide as long as good people say nothing. So, what are Quakers doing? Our historic place in prophetic witness was not simply a quaint custom, or holy bragging rights—it is a foundational piece of our practice today. We might need to be less comfortable to consider what is being asked of us in these difficult times. Friends need to find their ground in hope and courage if we intend to be relevant, and servants in Love. It’s past time we rest in God and rise in purpose.

Jan Dahm