For many years I’ve been praying, thinking, writing, and discussing how we can prepare for an increasingly dystopian future. In an article in Friends Journal, Donald McCormick asks “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?” I wrote about my vision in the article What is your vision for the future?
The increasing threats from environmental devastation and chaos lead me to share more of my vision, which has been evolving over the past several years. It’s taken me a long time to write this article, I think because I haven’t found resources available to check on what I’m saying here.
I’ve always believed the greatest problem to solve is how communities of the future organize and govern themselves. We’ll have to do things differently because our present systems are collapsing. Which is often not a bad thing since those systems are based on colonialism and capitalism.
Spirituality is especially important now as we experience increasing environmental chaos, which will contribute to further social, economic, and political collapse. We will have no choice but to band together for the survival of us all. The alternative is tribalism with its violence, destruction and death.
We will need the help of those who know survival skills that we don’t. It takes time to build the trust necessary for these connections. It is urgent to do this now. It is by the Spirit that we can engage with everyone around us, of all cultures, identities, ethnicities.
- Spirituality can show us how to live with integrity now. How to be examples to others. This is how change happens.
- The Creator can help us heal the wounds of the past. And the wounds that will be inflicted in the future.
- The Spirit can guide us through the coming chaos.
- It is by the Spirit we create connections among diverse peoples.
Kheprw Institute (KI)
One set of my spiritual experiences relates to my introduction to a community of people of color, the Kheprw Institute (KI). I wrote about this in detail at: https://jeffkisling.com/2021/03/14/white-quakers-and-spiritual-connections-with-the-kheprw-institute/
At my first meeting with the KI community, I was asked a number of questions. When I said I was a Quaker, one of the adults (the group was mainly teenagers) spoke about the history of Quakers related to the underground railroad. When she finished, all eyes turned to me. I said I was glad my ancestors did that, it was the right thing to do, but we try not to take credit for things we have not done ourselves. When I was asked to speak more about that, I wasn’t sure what to say. I remember clearly that an answer came from the Spirit, which told me to not only say that Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, but to also look into the eyes of each one there and say, “and that includes you”. Each person smiled at me when I did that. That ended the questioning, and I was welcomed into the community. We had this spiritual basis for our work together.
But that was just the first step. Trust was built, but slowly. With permission, I invited members of my Quaker community to engage with KI’s monthly book discussions. This was one way we began to get to know each other. But it was two years after this introduction before I was invited to teach a class on photography for KI.
First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March
Because of my lifelong commitment to care for our environment, I’d always wanted to learn about Indigenous peoples and their sustainable lives. I jumped at the opportunity to do so when I heard about the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March in 2018. The intention was to build a community of native and nonnative people by walking and camping together along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa (94 miles). Many long hours walking together, for eight days, along empty Iowa gravel roads was very effective in creating the beginnings of trust. There were about fifteen native and fifteen nonnative people, which allowed each of us the opportunity to share stories with every other person.
I’d hoped there would be ways to learn more about their spirituality, and to share some about my own. But I knew there was a huge barrier between us related to Friends’ involvement in the institutions of forced assimilation of native children. It is uncomfortable to admit this, but at the time I wondered how much awareness there was about the Indian Boarding Schools. I was soon to learn how profound that trauma was, and how it was passed from generation to generation. Is a deep wound today in every Indigenous person I know. I discuss this in detail in White Quakers and Native Peoples and other writings.
I didn’t know if, or how, the occasion might occur to talk about this during the March. Or whether I should.
But I vividly remember when the Spirit told me to say, “I know Quakers were involved in the Indian boarding schools and I’m sorry that happened” to the native person I was getting to know the best early in the March. I was worried saying that would upset him, open wounds. But he just nodded his head, and we kept walking together. But later in the day he said, “I want to tell you a story”, and proceeded to tell me a story related to him and his mother and the boarding schools.
At various times the Spirit led me to bring this up with each of my native friends. Every one of them and their families have had traumatic experiences related to forced assimilation. And the removal of native children from their homes continues in the guise of child welfare.
This is something that should not be taken lightly. A certain level of connection and trust is important. This is not about us (White people) and what we would like to see or do. There should be clear spiritual guidance.
I’ve found my Indigenous friends to be deeply spiritual. I like the sign, Earth is my church, carried by my friends Foxy and Alton Onefeather during the March. That says a lot about why I feel my friends are spiritual, their reverence of all things human and nonhuman. And their practices such as smudging, putting down tobacco, expressing thanks to the Creator each time they speak in public. Their humbleness. One friend often says “we are just pitiful people” during her prayers.
In the four years since that March, various combinations of us have had numerous opportunities to work together.
And yet again, that trust has been built, is being built slowly.
Quakers believe our lives must be guided by the Spirit. But far too often people haven’t found, or don’t try to discern that spiritual guidance. They try to figure out how to do justice work on their own or in conjunction with like-minded people. with the best of intentions. That phrase usually indicates not listening to those affected by injustice. And indicates not having discerned what their faith is trying to tell them.
And that often results in unintended, harmful consequences. A common phrase to keep in mind is nothing about us without us. This is especially challenging for White people who are accustomed to their privileges. Often not even aware of those privileges. We would not need to qualify what our intentions were if we were following the leadership of the communities facing injustice.
One horrific example of best intentions gone wrong were the Indian boarding schools. A policy of forced assimilation of native children into White culture was thought by many to be a way to help Indian children adjust to the enveloping White society. But tens of thousands of children suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Thousands died. Genocide. And that trauma has been passed to each following generation, including todays. Every one of my native friends has been affected.
This is an example of difficulties in making connections between different communities and/or cultures. With this horrific history, and ongoing trauma, how can a bridge ever be built between these two cultures, White and Indigenous? Or between White and BIPOC people and communities? (Black, Indigenous and other people of color)
But for others, especially in the government and military, this policy and horror was exactly what they intended.
The Spirit also led me to become involved in a Mutual Aid community. And led me to be involved in efforts to abolish police and prisons. I’ve written extensively about these things on my website Quakers and Religious Socialism, Intersection of Mutual Aid, Abolition and Socialism.
How to create connections between different communities or cultures
Returning to Donald McCormick’s question, “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?” I’ve tried to express my answer here. In these increasingly trying times, spiritual guidance is crucial. Sharing this with others is a gift Quakers have to offer. But we need to understand the history and concepts of oppression. Of Quakers’ role in oppression. And discern how the Spirit is leading us.
Frontline communities are figuring out how to live when the systems that are supposed to serve them no longer do, if they ever did. White communities will look to these communities and their solutions for our own survival.
I was recently surprised when a Quaker friend said I had a way of finding and connecting with oppressed communities. Which made me realize something I hadn’t expressed before, which is we must seek out these communities ourselves. Be guided to these communities by the Spirit. Search for these opportunities. Searching social media is usually very useful. And we can learn what our Friends and friends are doing and join those efforts.
Following is a list of things I have been learning from my experiences related to making connections between different communities and/or cultures.