One of the things that means the most to me as a Quaker is the practice of considering advices and queries. The queries are sets of questions meant to ask ourselves what we are doing in our own lives, and in the work of our Quaker meetings in the present moment.
This is an example of how Quaker faith is grounded in what is happening in our lives today. And our belief that God, or the Spirit, is present in every being today, human and nonhuman. Can guide us now. The practice in our meeting is for the advice and queries to be read aloud. Then we sit in silent reflection. When we feel we have been given a message to share, we speak.
This helps keep our faith active, rather than passive.
There are twelve sets of queries, each about some part of our lives. The usual practice is for Quaker meetings to reflect on one set, each month. Topics include education, environmental responsibility, outreach, peace and nonviolence. Today at my meeting we will be reflecting on social and economic justice.
Often, I reflect on these queries outside the Quaker meeting gathering. That is why I write so much. Writing is a Spiritual exercise for me. Writing helps me listen for what the Spirit is saying. And helps me organize my thoughts. This is similar to keeping a journal as I did in the 1970’s. It looks like handwriting was a challenge.
Social and economic justice is something I’ve been thinking and praying about a lot lately. Over the past two years I’ve been deeply involved in Des Moines Mutual Aid. I mean Mutual Aid is something I’ve been studying and thinking a lot about outside the actual time spent at our weekly food giveaway.
A recent summary is this blog post, Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world.
As the advice says below, “we are part of an economic system characterized by inequality and exploitation. Such a society is defended and perpetuated by entrenched power.”
That is exactly what Mutual Aid is about. The capitalist economic system we are living in is designed to be unequal. Those who are skillful, or ruthless enough, accumulate wealth. Fundamentally, everything and everyone is seen as a resource that can be harnessed to create wealth. The result is millions of people trying to survive on subsistent wages. The result is the rape of the resources of Mother Earth. Which has put us on the road to extinction.
The capitalist economic system is enforced by political and criminal justice systems. Systems built on vertical hierarchies of power.
Mutual Aid is just the opposite. We work to maintain a flat or horizontal hierarchy, where everyone is equal.
One query for today is “how are we beneficiaries of inequity and exploitation? How are we victims of inequity and exploitation? In what ways can we address these problems?” I believe the answer involves building Mutual Aid communities.
I’ve met a great deal of resistance to the idea of replacing capitalism with Mutual Aid. When I asked a (Mutual Aid) friend why people had so much trouble recognizing the evils of capitalism, he said it was because they hadn’t experienced the failures of capitalism in their own lives, yet.
I wrote my own queries about Mutual Aid
|Queries related to Mutual Aid|
|Do we recognize that vertical hierarchies are about power, supremacy and privilege? What are Quaker hierarchies?|
|Do we work to prevent vertical hierarchies in our peace and justice work?|
|What are we doing to meet the survival needs of our wider community?|
|How are we preparing for disaster relief, both for our community, and for the influx of climate refugees?|
|Are we examples of a Beloved community? How can we invite our friends and neighbors to join our community?|
mutual aid is the new economy. mutual aid is community. it is making sure your elderly neighbor down the street has a ride to their doctor’s appointment. mutual aid is making sure the children in your neighborhood have dinner, or a warm coat for the upcoming winter. mutual aid is planting community gardens.
capitalism has violated the communities of marginalized folks. capitalism is about the value of people, property and the people who own property. those who have wealth and property control the decisions that are made. the government comes second to capitalism when it comes to power.
in the name of liberation, capitalism must be reversed and dismantled. meaning that capitalistic practices must be reprogrammed with mutual aid practices.Des Moines Black Liberation
Des Moines Mutual Aid is a collective that does outreach for homeless folks in our community, houseless folks in our community. We also assist BLM with their rent relief fund, and most of the work we’ve done is running the bail fund for the protests over the summer. In the course of that work, we have witnessed firsthand the violence that is done upon people of color, Black people specifically, by the white supremacist forces of the state – in this state, in this city, in this county. There is absolutely a state of emergency for people of color and Black people in Iowa. The state of emergency has been a long time coming. We will support – DMMA will absolutely support any and all efforts of this community – BLM, and the people of color community more generally- to keep themselves safe. Power to the people.Patrick Stahl, Des Moines Mutual Aid
Advice and Queries
“For when I was hungry you gave me food, when thirsty you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me, when in prison you visited me.” Matthew 25:35‑36
We are part of an economic system characterized by inequality and exploitation. Such a society is defended and perpetuated by entrenched power.
Friends can help relieve social and economic oppression and injustice by first seeking spiritual guidance in our own lives. We envision a system of social and economic justice that ensures the right of every individual to be loved and cared for; to receive a sound education; to find useful employment; to receive appropriate health care; to secure adequate housing; to obtain redress through the legal system; and to live and die in dignity. Friends maintain historic concern for the fair and humane treatment of persons in penal and mental institutions.
Wide disparities in economic and social conditions exist among groups in our society and among nations of the world. While most of us are able to be responsible for our own economic circumstances, we must not overlook the effects of unequal opportunities among people. Friends’ belief in the Divine within everyone leads us to support institutions which meet human needs and to seek to change institutions which fail to meet human needs. We strengthen community when we work with others to help promote justice for all.
- How are we beneficiaries of inequity and exploitation? How are we victims of inequity and exploitation? In what ways can we address these problems?
- What can we do to improve the conditions in our correctional institutions and to address the mental and social problems of those confined there?
- How can we improve our understanding of those who are driven to violence by subjection to racial, economic, or political injustice? In what ways do we oppose prejudice and injustice based on gender, sexual orientation, class, race, age, and physical, mental, and emotional conditions? How would individuals benefit from a society that values everyone? How would society benefit?
Dearly Beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the spirit, not the letter, for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. Letter from the meeting of Elders at Balby, 1656
We are seekers but we are also the holders of a precious heritage of discoveries. We, like every generation, must find the Light and Life again for ourselves. Only what we have valued and truly made our own, not by assertion but by lives of faithful commitment, can we hand on to the future. Even then we must humbly acknowledge that our vision of truth will again and again be amended. Quaker Faith and Practice of Britain Yearly Meeting, 1994 page 17
Faith and Practice, The Book of Discipline of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative) is a statement of principles and beliefs by which our society endeavors to learn and express lessons in Christian living. It provides guidance for the conduct of daily life and for carrying on the business of the meeting. Faith and Practice suggests rather than commands, and raises questions or queries rather than giving specific answers. It places upon the individual and corporate conscience, rather than upon external authority, the responsibility for the discipline of the Spirit.
Faith and Practice is based on an earlier document called the Discipline of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It is intended as a handbook and guide for those of the Religious Society of Friends who belong to Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative), also known as Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) or IYM(C). The first written disciplines among Friends appeared in Britain Yearly Meeting in manuscript form in 1718. At about the same period or a little later, in America, minutes of the yearly meetings were gathered in manuscript book form under captions alphabetically listed. The first printed Book of Discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting appeared in 1797. The first Friends settling in Iowa lived under disciplines of Indiana Yearly Meeting and of Ohio Yearly Meeting.
May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions. John Woolman, A Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich published posthumously, 1793
I will never adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many and give luxuries to the few. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, [St Paul’s Episcopal Church] 1963
Friends’ historical testimony has included the message that all people are equal, and deserve to share equally in the blessings of creation. The world is far from this ideal, and most in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) have benefited from global and local inequalities, however inadvertently. But we also suffer spiritually and otherwise because of the injustice in which we participate.
Friends believe that we should live in ways that do not “sow seeds of war.” Many are called to act in quiet or public ways to promote lifestyle choices, policies, laws, and treaties that will ensure the basic human rights of all people, including the rights to safe and healthy places to live and work. Historically, Friends have been able to help correct major injustices such as slavery, inhumane conditions for prisoners, and inequality in the treatment of women. The magnitude of current problems caused by economic injustice does not excuse Friends from the struggle against it, but makes obedience to God’s call all the more necessary.
Friends are reminded that there can be no peace without justice, and to live simply, so others may simply live. Many Friends find seeds of war and injustice in their lifestyles. Friends are challenged to participate constructively in the economy by supporting fair trade, choosing investments with attention to their social impact, and purchasing products produced under safe and healthy conditions. What each can do individually may not seem like much, but, guided by the Spirit and added to the efforts of others, it can make a difference.
The Book of Discipline of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative)
Religious Society of Friends