Martin Luther King and Capitalism

Whenever I try to talk about the necessity of rejecting capitalism, people don’t seem to even comprehend what that means. Why it must happen. When I asked Ronnie, my Mutual Aid mentor about this, he said he’s been having that experience for the twenty years he’s been an activist. He said that was because people hadn’t experienced the collapse of capitalism in their lives, yet. I believe he’s right. Unfortunately, that is changing as the capitalist economy is collapsing. Yet another reason to form more Mutual Aid communities.

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

I too have become fully convinced of the evils of capitalism. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that my faith dictates that I work to replace it.

Fran Quigley, Director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work was as much about economics and poverty, as it was about racial equality.


“I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic,” Martin Luther King admitted to Coretta Scott, concluding that “capitalism has outlived its usefulness.”

Speaking at a staff retreat of the SCLC in 1966, King said that “something is wrong … with capitalism” and “there must be a better distribution of wealth” in the country. “Maybe,” he suggested, “America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

For King, the only solution to America’s crisis of poverty was the redistribution of wealth. In a 1961 speech to the Negro American Labor Council, King declared, “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”

The Forgotten Socialist History of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Matthew Miles Goodrich, In These Times, January 16, 2023


Again, we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice, the fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor both black and white, both here and abroad. If Negroes and poor whites do not participate in the free flow of wealth within our economy, they will forever be poor, giving their energies, their talents and their limited funds to the consumer market but reaping few benefits and services in return.”

I wish that I could say that this is just a passing phase in the cycles of our nation’s life; certainly, times of war, times of reaction throughout the society but I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism

The Three Evils of Society – Delivered at the National Conference on New Politics August 31, 1967, Chicago, Ill

“And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.’ When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…”

Excerpts from King’s speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” delivered at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967

The title for this blog, Quakers and Religious Socialism, came from exchanges of messages with my friend Fran Quigley. The following was in response to my blog post, The Evil of Capitalism.  

This post of yours struck me close to home. I too have become fully convinced of the evils of capitalism. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that my faith dictates that I work to replace it. Turns out I am far from alone, so I’ve been devoting much of my time this past year to the Religion and Socialism Committee of the DSA, www.religioussocialism.org .

And, as part of a book project on religious socialism, I have published several articles profiling activists from different faith and spiritual traditions who feel called to advocate for a socialist society.  (Examples, if you are interested: a Catholic socialist, a Jewish rabbi socialist, a Black Presbyterian minister socialist, a Liberation Theologian Lutheran minister/professor,  Muslim socialists , a Buddhist socialist and a Black Baptist minister socialist.  I also co-wrote with longtime Religion and Socialism activist Maxine Phillips a short, one-stop primer on the argument for Christian socialism: https://mphbooks.com/democratic-socialists/ )

I do not know of a definitive guide to Quaker socialism, but I know Bayard Rustin, Staughton Lynd, and AJ Muste (late-in-life switch to being a Friend) at various times identified as socialists, and there is a robust UK Quaker Socialist Society: https://quakersocialists.org.uk/  Willard Uphaus was a Christian socialist and pacifist Earlham alum, but it’s not clear to me if he was a Quaker: https://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/willard-uphaus

Fran Quigley, director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and a religioussocialism.org editorial team member


Des Moines Black Lives Matter/ Black Liberation
https://www.facebook.com/desmoinesblm

Early in our lifetimes, industry provided nearly full employment. Nearly every household had someone who was working, and bringing home a paycheck. All commerce was based on capitalism. Money was required for every transaction. Money was the only way to obtain goods and services.

Then with increasing automation, and moving jobs overseas for cheap labor, the unemployment rate began to increase. Soon millions of people no longer had the income needed to pay for goods and services. The numbers of those without jobs has increased dramatically from the economic impact of the COVID pandemic. Those without jobs have to rely on social safety nets, which often means people are living in poverty, at subsistent levels.

As a society we failed to address the loss of wages for millions of people who no longer had money, in a system that required money for everything–food, shelter, healthcare, etc.

It is clear to me that capitalism is an unjust, untenable system, when there is plenty of food in the grocery stores, but men, women and children are going hungry, living on the streets outside the store. There is no justification for this.

Conscientiously Object to Capitalism, Jeff Kisling, 12/4/2020


Transformative Mutual Aid Practices

This was a morning when I didn’t seem to be led to write anything. Then, as I was searching using the keywords prefigurative and mutual aid I found references to Transformative Mutual Aid Practices.

I’ve just recently become aware of traumas I hadn’t known I was suffering from. My Des Moines Mutual Aid community practices many of the things listed below. This awareness of healing comes from experiencing our care for each other, including those who come for the food.

I’ve heard Indigenous friends speak of the intergeneration traumas in their communities.

My Quaker meeting has recently discussed healing.

So, I was interested to see this zine, A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations. Creative Commons licensing allows sharing material from this zine.

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This zine has a lengthy list of things related to mental health and communal care. Here are a few.

  • Many of us experienced childhood and adolescent traumas and continue to experience traumas based on our individual intersectionalities
  • We understand the mechanics of the harms and traumas inflicted by the prevailing social order’s oppressive and exploitative systems
  • We must recondition ourselves towards caring for each other; communal care is ongoing radical action
  • Alone we are vulnerable, but together we are strong; therefore, genuine community is paramount
  • We acknowledge that the architecture of capitalist society is colonizing white supremacy culture; it is an architecture of domination, abuse and exclusion
  • We focus intensely on the concept and practice of mutual aid
  • We endeavor to decolonize our thinking, group interactions, and architecture of group processes
  • We center acting in solidarity across groups in ways that build unity through diversity
  • We emphasize prefiguration within our organizations as necessary to counteract the abuses of prevailing society and manifest community and liberatory ways of being and living
  • When we do not prefigure communal care into our group structures and routines, we unconsciously recreate the alienation, racism, homophobia and transphobia, hierarchical ableisms, and neuro-homogeneities of capitalist society, along with their negative effects
  • If we don’t practice solidarity with our own comrades, we cannot expect to practice solidarity with others
  • Knowing what we know about how prevailing society operates to oppress, exploit, and traumatize vulnerable people, a group or org that does not actively engage and support the mental and emotional wellbeing of its members is not revolutionary
  • Many folx who show up to our groups do not stay because they sense the group is non-supportive or unsafe for their being

A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations


What can prefigurative community care that supports the mental health and wellbeing of all members look like?

1. Create space for an in-depth group discussion focused on the concept of your collective as an organism with a life of its own. Talk about your group as an organism that can flourish with everyone’s nurturance or get sick and die from everyone’s lack of care. The objective is to create group consciousness and ownership, and to arrive at and agree to incorporating new features that will consistently support the mental and emotional health of members.

    2. In addition to your regular monthly meeting, commit to a regular monthly restorative gathering for wellbeing. This is for members only. It could potentially serve as a welcoming way for prospective members to dip their toe in, as opposed to their first engagement being a meeting or an action. In organizing circles, more often than not the more powerful, demonstrative, or vocal members guide their groups, narrowing opportunities for other modes of expression, communication, and consciousness to emerge. Monthly nurturance counterbalances that tendency. The focus here is on creating a predictable format for restorative connection, communal care, and wellbeing among comrades.

    Based on years of creating group cohesion and deep trust among vulnerable students from disparate backgrounds, the author recommends a specific format: a regular relaxed gathering where individuals enjoy solo projects alongside each other (when two or more people work on one project, it tends to disrupt the group dynamic). Each member brings a relatively quiet activity that they will work on, such as creative writing, drawing, crafting, reading, planning or visioning, designing, etc. At the start, folx will want to greet each other and it’s interesting to get to know each other through hearing what everyone else is going to work on. Once y’all get started, talking will become secondary to the texture or feel of the group-as-relaxed, meaning that talk should not be allowed to take over the ability of everyone to generally stay focused on their activity. This container fosters individual and collective nervous system soothing, group nurturance, authentic group communication, divergent group thinking, and organic group relations. Relaxing, restoring, and recreating together is very powerful medicine.

    Many of us only experience each other in supercharged situations like intense meetings, protests, street outreach, and community work. Our groups attempt to balance those experiences out by having social gatherings such as potlucks, bar karaoke, and game nights, which have their own place. However, social containers do not foster egalitarian ommunity-building or the types of experiences required to build the trust comrades need in order to open up and be vulnerable with each other. In addition, social gatherings often reenact the ableisms and other -isms present in dominant society. This monthly gathering allows members to relax and encourages other parts of their beings to emerge within the safety of the calm group in ways that round out both the individual and the group experience. It fosters care of the self via meaningful recreation; it cultivates group consciousness and group heart via the commitment to be more patient, open, and authentic with each other; it provides an antidote to alienation and isolation, restoring the communal bonds that dominant capitalist society strips away.

    A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations

    See beyond our own time

    My Quaker meeting plans to discuss questions to not only stimulate discussion, but to begin to form a plan to meet our survival needs. We need to establish a baseline to know what Friends think about our present condition and what to do about it.

    Survival needs are ranked as:

    • Oxygen/air
    • Water
    • Food
    • Shelter
    • Physical, mental, and spiritual health

    So, the questions are:

    • What will we do to prepare for when clean water is no longer available? (Coming through water lines or even available to buy).
    • What will we do when food is no longer available from grocery stores?
    • What will we do for shelter? Survival will require us to live near water and food supplies. And each other.
    • How do we govern our communities? Who is included in our communities?
    • What to do about energy?
    • What to do about safety?
    • What medications and diagnostic equipment (blood pressure, thermometer, etc) should we stockpile?
    • What are our children thinking? Can we find ways to engage those who aren’t now involved?
    • How can we gather and store things like books for when digital technologies are no longer available?
    • Who already has such plans that might help us?

    Faith Now

    Faith Now can refer to what the state of our faith is at this moment. And/or it can be an admonition to focus our faith on what is happening now.

    My witness has been so many people, including people of faith, are driven by the past. This is obviously true with religious practices demanding adherence to some set of rules. Rules created in the past. Rules designated by systems of dominance.

    One of the reasons I have remained a Quaker is the minimum of such rules. We say we believe the Spirit can speak to us now, that ours is a living faith. We use a set of queries (questions) to help us continue to examine our faith. This can make our faith less passive.

    It is not my place to judge other’s faith and practice. But there are things that have troubled my spirit for a long time.

    One is that Quakers do have unwritten rules. As a recent example, prior to the forced separation because of the COVID pandemic, I was told, many times, that Quaker business decisions could only be made when Friends were together physically. When I lived in Indianapolis, I had suggested using programs for remote connections to my meeting in Iowa, but that was universally held to be unacceptable. We see how that has changed. What are other unwritten rules? Identifying them might account for why we are attracting few new attenders in this time of spiritual poverty.

    And there is the universal challenge of living our daily lives consistently with our faith.

    White Quakers were and continue to be settler colonists. Our ancestors claimed Indigenous land for their homes and farms. Ever since, we have continued to live on and profit from these lands. And have engaged with capitalism and systems of dominance and control that come from this colonization.

    There is the devastating history of churches’, including white Quaker’s involvement in the institutions of forced assimilation of native children and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

    I’m also devastated by the use of fossil fuels. Speaking from my own experience, when I saw the smog when I moved to Indianapolis (1970), I was led to know I could not be part of owning cars. My faith showed me how to go about this, helped me get through the significant challenges involved. I’m of course not the only person to have made the same choices. And I’m challenged today having moved to a small town in Iowa. The sprawling way our cities and towns are designed coupled with the absence of mass transit is a challenge. But we would not have built cities this way if we had chosen to build mass transit systems instead of the massive infrastructure for cars. Building all the streets and highways. Parking areas, traffic control systems, so many gas stations, extractive systems for coal and oil, and pipelines.

    Had the decision not been made to follow the path of cars, we would not be in accelerating environmental collapse now. Think about that.

    We are in perilous times. I believe spirituality and spiritual connections are key for survival. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/11/17/spiritual-connections-for-survival/

    My reference to faith now comes from being led to call on Quakers to apply our spiritual practices to critically evaluate the systems we live in and take for granted. That are unjust and must be replaced. We must reject capitalist systems and systems of dominance. Build Beloved communities where everyone is cared for. Mutual Aid communities are a template for doing so. Are radical in the sense of freeing us from the power systems we find ourselves living in.

    By faith now I mean today. Every day we live in this settler, colonial, capitalist society, we continue to be oppressors.

    The following quote expresses this eloquently. People are desperately hungry to have a purpose, to do something concrete to help others.

    You and your relations, my friend, are (still) busy building a different world at the end of this one. This is something I’ve emphasized over and over again in my own work. I cherish the belief and practice that it is never enough to just critique the system and name our oppression. We also have to create the alternative, on the ground and in real time. In part, for me, because Nishnaabeg ethics and theory demand no less. In part because in Nishnaabeg thinking, knowledge is mobilized, generated, and shared by collectively doing. It’s more than that, though. There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.

    Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 39). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

    Following is a diagram I’ve been developing for several years. I’ve written a lot about these things on this blog (Religious Socialism, Mutual Aid, and Abolition of Police and Prisons).



    Faith Now

    • 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 continue to be inflicted.
    • The Spirit can guide us through the coming chaos.
    • It is by the Spirit we create connections among diverse peoples.

    We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.

    Joseph Campbell

    Queries

    • How are we working to deal with existing chaos and preparing for further collapse?
    • Do we provide for everyone’?
    • What is our relationship with Mother Earth? Do we honor and conserve the resources we use?
    • What systems of dominance, of vertical hierarchies are we involved in?
    • Do we work to ensure there aren’t vertical hierarchies in our communities, in our relationships with all our relatives?
    • Do we have the courage to follow what the Spirit is saying to us? To not force those messages to conform to our existing beliefs and practices.
    • How do we connect with communities beyond our Quaker meetings? What are we learning about spiritual connections beyond our meetinghouses? Are we sharing these spiritual lessons with others?


    Running throughout (Lopez’s book) Horizon is the question of human survival. The multiple threats we now face, especially the very real possibility of climate disaster, expose the tensions between human aspiration and ecological reality. Perhaps what is most needed, Lopez suggests, is for us to lament what we’ve destroyed, but also to praise and love the world we still have. “Mystery,” he writes, “is the real condition in which we live, not certainty.

    Bahnson: You’ve confronted the darkness you see on the horizon with anthropogenic climate change. How do you talk about this with audiences? People need to know what’s coming, yet if you overwhelm them with depressing news, they might freeze. How do you strike the balance between educator and artist?

    Lopez: Whenever I speak in public, I write out a new talk. I begin by stipulating, with a modulated voice, that things are way worse than we imagine. And I offer some examples: the collapse of pollinating insect populations; the rise of nationalism; belligerent and ignorant narcissists like Donald Trump; methane gas spewing out of the Siberian tundra. You’re saying to everybody, “Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses now and see what our dilemma really is.” And then the second part of the talk is an evocation of the healing that is necessary and possible, a gradual elevation of the human spirit. It’s about the mobilization that is needed and which is within our reach. Then people know you’ve spoken truthfully, and you have evoked in each person a desire to help, to take care of their families, to have self-regard. I see this pattern in every talk I give. To remember, geographically, exactly where you are speaking that night, and to know whether there might be a full moon outside the building; to offer that sense of immediacy and groundedness; to underscore the specificity of the moment; and to be sure that you implicate yourself in the trouble. It all helps in these situations. If you attempt any version of “I know, and you don’t” or “This is not my fault” or “I am the holy messenger, and you’re the fools,” the evening ends in darkness. You have to be in it with them.

    The World We Still Have. Barry Lopez On Restoring Our Lost Intimacy With Nature BY FRED BAHNSON, The Sun, DECEMBER 2019


    Foundational stories now: Quaker faith

    [My foundational stories are related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography.]

    I’ve been praying and struggling for many days to discern how to express the state of my Quaker faith today. Quakerism is the faith community I was born into and have remained in. I was raised in a White Quaker family and community. I had a Spiritual experience at the Bear Creek Meetinghouse when I was about ten years old, an experience that I have drawn upon for the rest of my life. I attended Scattergood Friends School, a Quaker high school, and Earlham College, a Quaker institution.

    One of the reasons I accepted the challenge of reflecting on my foundational stories is because of my crisis of faith now.

    I think it is common for people to be disappointed by their faith community at various times, for a variety of reasons. That has been true for me. Coming of age during the Vietnam War I wished more young men had resisted the draft. I wish we all had done more to reign in the use of fossil fuels. And that White people like myself had worked, harder to acknowledge our complicity in the oppression of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), of various gender identities, and certain social and economic classes. I wish we were working harder now on acknowledging and trying to heal these injustices.

    This country was built on the historical injustices of the institution of slavery, and the genocide and removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands. And the forced assimilation of native children in institutions where they were often physically and sexually abused, where thousands of children were killed or died.

    Many people, including Quakers today question how complicit our ancestors were in these injustices. There were White Quakers who were involved in the slave trade, and who enslaved Black men, women, and children. Our ancestors were settler colonists. As are we who are now living on these lands. Quakers were involved in the Indian residential schools.

    being involved with others in wrongdoing

    complicity

    These issues often generate significant emotional responses. I don’t have all the answers. But I have had spiritual and community experiences that I am led to speak and work from today. Many of these experiences have led me to understand we are living in a country, a society of structural racism and white superiority. As much as many of us White Quakers wish it weren’t so, our skin color automatically gives us many significant advantages in this country.

    Our mainstream social, economic, and political systems are predicated on White superiority and dominance. I say mainstream because many people, including myself, are building alternative systems today. I’ve been deeply involved in Mutual Aid for a couple of years and believe this to be part of the answer. Mutual Aid is included in the following graphics.

    NOTE: White supremacy is different from white superiority. “White supremacy or white supremacism is the belief that white people are superior to those of other races and thus should dominate them.”

    Wikipedia

    I’ve also seen in the lives of my friends what I once thought of as isolated historical traumas have been passed from generation to generation. They profoundly affect the lives of people today. What does that mean for White Quakers now?


    “…capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous.”

    Dean Spade, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 111-121). Verso

    Following is another way of looking at the relationships between White settler colonists and Indigenous peoples. White Quakers need to acknowledge that when our ancestors came to these Indigenous lands, they were settler colonists. And since we are still occupying these lands, we are settler colonists, too. Some White Quakers were involved in the forced assimilation of Indigenous children. We are implicated in most of the “negative” things listed below.

    Acknowledgement of wrongs is the necessary first step in the healing process.


    On the positive side are Mutual Aid, the Buffalo Rebellion, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). I’ve written a lot about my experiences with Mutual Aid https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

    I’m fortunate to be part of the Buffalo Rebellion, a newly formed Green New Deal coalition in Iowa formed to protect the planet by demanding change from politicians and convincing the public that climate should be a priority. Buffalo Rebellion, is a coalition of grassroots, labor, and climate justice organizations growing a movement to pass local, state, and national policies that create millions of family-sustaining union jobs—ensuring racial and gender equity and taking action on climate at the scale and scope the crisis demands. It was formed in November 2021 and consists of: 

    The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) has years of experience advocating for legislation related to Native American affairs. Recently FCNL has been supporting legislation to form a Truth and Healing Commission related to the Indian Boarding Schools. I’ve been blessed to have many years of experience with FCNL and have been working with my native friends in creating connections with FCNL, including several visits to our US Senators.


    Foundational stories now: Protecting Mother Earth

    [My foundational stories are related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography.]

    Yesterday I described where my story related to photography is at this time. Today I write about where I am regarding protecting Mother Earth. The beginning of my stories about protecting Mother Earth and the water can be found here: Foundational stories about care for Mother Earth.

    Concern for Mother Earth has been a constant in my life. I was 20 years old when I moved to Indianapolis and was horrified by the thick, noxious exhaust from cars. I couldn’t be part of that and have lived without a car since then (1970).


    My foundational stories now

    Protecting Mother Earth

    It took a while for me to become comfortable with the term Mother Earth. But vocabulary can affect how you feel about something. Having Earth as your Mother describes a living relationship. This is one of the many things I’ve learned from my Indigenous friends.

    It is a dichotomy that today, despite knowing the many ways our environment and so many other things are collapsing, I have more hope than I’ve had for years. That’s because of the coalitions of people coming together to heal each other and Mother Earth. We can’t be so paralyzed with fear about what may be coming that we don’t enjoy the beauty all around us.

    Following are some ways I’m involved in protecting Mother Earth now.

    • Buffalo Rebellion
    • Mutual Aid
    • Wet’suwet’en
    • Bear Creek Friends Meeting

    Buffalo Rebellion

    Last night I participated in a meeting of the Buffalo Rebellion, which I’m proud to be a part of. This coalition of environmental activists is one of the things that gives me hope. Realizing we are all working on similar things, this coalition is being built to empower our work and support one another. Last night someone remarked that we’ve all suffered trauma and are all in need of healing.

    Following is a description of the Buffalo Rebellion, including a link to a recording of my friend Sikowis Nobiss describing it.

    The topic this month is on a newly formed Green New Deal coalition in Iowa called Buffalo Rebellion formed to protect the planet by demanding change from politicians and convincing the public that climate should be a priority. Buffalo Rebellion, is a coalition of grassroots, labor, and climate justice organizations growing a movement to pass local, state, and national policies that create millions of family-sustaining union jobs—ensuring racial and gender equity and taking action on climate at the scale and scope the crisis demands. It was formed in November 2021 and consists of: 



    The root causes of what we are fighting against are capitalism and colonialism


    The subject of last night’s gathering (at Iowa CCI and via Zoom) was CO2 (carbon) pipelines, the latest man-made environmental threat. Iowa is at the center of this problem because most of the ethanol plants are located here, because ethanol is produced from corn, and releases carbon emissions in the process. The carbon dioxide in the carbon pipelines is a hazardous material and could cause deaths if there is a rupture. A CO2 pipeline in Satartia, Mississippi ruptured last year, sickening dozens of people. First responders’ vehicles could not run because of the absence of oxygen. READ: The Gassing Of Satartia” (Huffington Post, August 2021)

    Sikowis talked about what is below the crust of the earth also being a sacred space, and we don’t know what disturbing that with pipelines and fracking will cause.

    The only way to address fossil fuel emissions is to stop burning fossil fuels.


    Mutual Aid

    Des Moines Mutual Aid has been the focus of my work for the past couple of years. How is this related to the protection of Mother Earth?

    • Being in a Mutual Aid community, we support each other and help each other heal.
    • Mutual Aid members are encouraged to use critical thinking to anticipate and solve problems. And immediately implement solutions, not waiting for permission from anyone.
    • Mutual Aid is about eliminating vertical hierarchies and the damage those hierarches do to a community. And how they harm Mother Earth.
    • Mutual Aid communities are explicitly local. There is no need for fossil fuel transportation and energy production. Our Mutual Aid communities are or will be “walkable”.
    • Our Mutual Aid communities are an example to others of how we can escape capitalism and colonialism that are the root causes of injustice
    • Our Mutual Aid practices are about sustainability and protection of Mother Earth
    • “These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression”. Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake.
    • “…capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous.” Dean Spade
    Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

    …in Nishnaabeg thinking, knowledge is mobilized, generated, and shared by collectively doing. It’s more than that, though. There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.

    Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 39). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

    In another example of how our work is interrelated, my Mutual Aid friends support the Wet’suwet’en.

    Wet’suwet’en

    The Wet’suwet’en peoples have been struggling for years to prevent the construction of the Coastal GasLink liquified natural gas pipeline from being built through their pristine, unceded lands.

    https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/?s=wetsuweten+wet%27suwet%27en
    https://jeffkisling.com/?s=wetsuweten+wet%27suwet%27en

    There was one particularly significant Spirit-led event in my life related to the Wet’suwet’en. When I first became involved with the Wet’suwet’en peoples was when they were asking allies to spread the news about their struggles, since there was no mainstream media coverage.

    In February 2020, some of us were already planning to be at Friends House in Des Moines. We decided to hold a vigil for the Wet’suwet’en on the street in front of Friends House prior to that meeting. I created an event announcement on Facebook, that was shared by my friend Ed Fallon or Bold Iowa, an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

    As anticipated just those few of us who were planning to attend the meeting at Friends House anyway showed up. But the Spirit-led part of this is that Ronnie James, who I didn’t know at the time, joined us. Ronnie is an Indigenous organizer with twenty years of experience. He was surprised anyone in Iowa knew about the Wet’suwet’en peoples, so he came to see who was attending, a good organizing technique.

    Ronnie and I began to exchange messages over the next couple of months. I was intrigued with the stories he was telling me about Des Moines Mutual Aid community he was involved with. When I felt we had begun to know each other well enough, I tentatively asked if I could attend the food giveaway that Ronnie/Des Moines Mutual Aid held every Saturday morning. This was a continuation of a variation of the Black Panther Party’s free school breakfast program in Des Moines from the 1970’s.

    I thought I would just attend a time or two to see how that worked. Instead, I’ve been there almost every Saturday morning for over two years now, and Ronnie is one of my best friends. One of the many good things about Mutual Aid is how it attracts and keeps people engaged.


    I continue to do what I can to support the Wet’suwet’en. We are presently organizing another gathering at Chase bank to call attention to their funding fossil fuel projects. Some others from the Buffalo Rebellion will be involved.

    Bear Creek Friends Meeting

    The small, rural Quaker meeting I’m a member of continues today to try to find ways we can help protect Mother Earth. This is one way to bring a Spiritual approach to these problems which I believe is very important.

    Members of the meeting have supported the annual Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke ceremony that takes place at the Kuehn Conservation Area, just a few miles from the meetinghouse.

    Bear Creek Friends Meeting

    It is difficult to reduce fossil fuel use in rural areas.

    One thing we realized we could do was encourage more use of bicycles, since many members lived close to the meetinghouse just north of Earlham, Iowa. And encourage Friends in urban meetings to use bicycles when possible.

    The Minute we wrote, and that was approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative) was referred to as a Minute on “Ethical Transportation”.

     Radically reducing fossil fuel use has long been a concern of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).  A previously approved Minute urged us to reduce our use of personal automobiles.  We have continued to be challenged by the design of our communities that makes this difficult.  This is even more challenging in rural areas.  But our environmental crisis means we must find ways to address this issue quickly.
     
     Friends are encouraged to challenge themselves and to simplify their lives in ways that can enhance their spiritual environmental integrity. One of our meetings uses the term “ethical transportation,” which is a helpful way to be mindful of this.
     
     Long term, we need to encourage ways to make our communities “walkable”, and to expand public
    transportation systems.  These will require major changes in infrastructure and urban planning.
     
     Carpooling and community shared vehicles would help.  We can develop ways to coordinate neighbors needing to travel to shop for food, attend meetings, visit doctors, etc.  We could explore using existing school buses or shared vehicles to provide intercity transportation.  
     
     One immediately available step would be to promote the use of bicycles as a visible witness for non-fossil fuel transportation.  Friends may forget how easy and fun it can be to travel miles on bicycles.  Neighbors seeing families riding their bicycles to Quaker meetings would have an impact on community awareness.  This is a way for our children to be involved in this shared witness.  We should encourage the expansion of bicycle lanes and paths.  We can repair and recycle unused bicycles, and make them available to those who have the need.

    Minute approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017

    Foundational stories now: Photography

    At this summer’s annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), held at Scattergood School and Farm, we were challenged to examine our foundational stories. How they began, how they evolved, and what they are now. I was led to accept that challenge, especially because I had been sensing spiritual leadings that suggested I might change not the stories themselves, but a change in focus.

    My foundational stories are related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography.

    I described the beginnings of my foundational stories in the first blog post in the series, Our Foundational Stories: Beginning.

    The path of my foundational stories was not a straight line. Which is the reason for the many stories I wrote about the path of my stories. My grandmother, Lorene Standing, told me the will of God is often revealed in a series of steps. That has been the case for me.

    Many things I’ve read and my own experiences have shown me that stories are perhaps the most effective way to engage in discussions, especially when there are disagreements. And stories, of the past and present, are going to be important as we all try to find our way through the coming challenges.


    If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

    Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

    My foundational stories now

    Photography


    We’re all aware of the revolution of digital photography. Besides being glad I no longer have to use a darkroom, digital photography has made me a much better photographer. Having the freedom to capture many images, not limited to 12 or 36 exposures, and such control with digital editing, I learn so much.

    In the past I used photography in a lot of justice types of activities, but that has changed recently. I no longer take many photos at demonstrations and rallies because law enforcement uses such photos posted online to identify people to arrest.

    There are demonstrations where there is no concern about the police. My new friends since I’ve moved back to Iowa have found out about my love of photography and I’m glad to be invited to take photos for them.

    I still carry my camera everywhere. Now that I’m retired, I have a new daily routine. First thing in the morning I spend about two hours writing, while my mind is still “fresh”. Then I walk about three miles with my camera. For the exercise of my body and photographic eye. For some reason I usually end up with about seventy photos each day. Some days I have to force myself to stop.

    After lunch I look forward to spending about two hours editing the photos I took that day. I really enjoy that. So all this fills about six hours a day.

    One of the reasons I was led to accept the challenge of reflecting on my foundational stories was because I had noticed some changes. It is difficult to know, even with statistics provided, how many people read my blog posts. Or look at my photos.

    The numbers aren’t important, other than making me wonder how I can most effectively tell my stories. Whether I should do more work related to writing, or photography. Facebook especially makes it possible to get an idea of how many people look at photos. And makes it easy for people to comment on them.

    I’m comfortable with the current mix of this.

    But there is something sad about one aspect of this. I love the photographs of Ansel Adams and others from his day that helped people appreciate nature and sometimes affected government policies. I just learned he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

    I had hoped in some small way the photos I was sharing would make people pay attention to the beauty all around us and sensitize them to advocate for protection of Mother Earth.

    It makes me sad to think the photographs we’ve taken over the past several decades might be what people in the (near) future look at to see the beauty that once was and is no more. That is one reason I take so many photos today.

    I’ve been so blessed to have made a number of Indigenous friends since returning to Iowa in 2017. One of the things I’ve learned from them is to recognize the spirit in all things, human and non-human. This has changed the relationship between myself and what I am photographing.


    I post photos daily on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/jeff.kisling.3/


    (Barry) Lopez could not have known the effect he was having on one impressionable member of the audience. Yet I believe he established a connection with me that evening—a thin strand in the elaborate web that is community—by describing a path that was utterly new to me, and by suggesting that, as others had walked that path, it was safe for me to do so as well. This all happened in the space of a few seconds, as he mulled over the central question plaguing the men and women at the conference, namely: How could we convince lawmakers to pass laws to protect wilderness? Lopez argued that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can go before a panel of legislators and testify that a certain river or butterfly or mountain or tree must be saved, not because of its economic importance, not because it has recreational or historical or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful.

    His words struck a chord in me. I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. I had known that love is a powerful weapon, but until that moment I had not understood how to use it. What I learned on that long-ago evening, and what I have counted on ever since, is that to save a wilderness, or to be a writer or a cab driver or a homemaker—to live one’s life—one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame.

    Reid, Robert Leonard. Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West . Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.

    Collective emotional lift

    As often happens, when I sat down to write this morning, I wasn’t sure what the subject would be. I’m aware of looking forward to being with my Mutual Aid friends this morning. I know they feel the same from comments I’ve heard over the past couple of years. I’ve heard my friends say this is the best part of their week.

    In contrast, I sense so many people don’t have much joy in their lives. So many things are going wrong, things we could once rely on, we no longer can. We are entering a time of collapse. There is a general malaise, a fear for our future, the feeling we have no control, a spiritual poverty.

    David Pollard has identified skills needed to deal with this developing collapse (listed below). I wrote about that and included my own vision of dealing with collapse here: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/10/18/critical-skills-to-face-collapse/

    Pollard asks four questions related to how we deal with collapse.

    Dave Pollard, in How Do We Teach the Critical Skills Needed to Face Collapse? raises these questions.

    1. What’s the most effective way to voluntarily get billions of people to the point they are capable of exercising the skills below?
    2. How do we get the timing right: Not so early that there’s not yet a sense of urgency, but not so late that we’re trying to do it in an environment of chaos?
    3. How might we begin to identify, improve the competencies of, and empower the right people to do the mentoring, teaching, training, demonstrating, connecting, modelling, and other hands-on imparting of knowledge and skills needed to make it happen?
    4. How can we make this new, crucial learning easier, and fun?

    What caught my attention is how can we make this new learning fun? I think of endless committee meetings related to justice work, for example, and how they were not fun. And usually not effective. My friend Alvin at the Kheprw Institute always asks, “what actually changed as a result of what was done?”

    Those of us who have organized rallies and marches know how difficult it is to get people to participate. If participating in something isn’t fun in the sense of being enjoyable, exciting, fulfilling, and meaningful, there will be little enthusiasm for people to participate and they won’t.

    Our Mutual Aid work is fun and effective. We enjoy working together to put boxes of food together and enjoy our interactions with those who come for food. We are meeting an immediate survival need. But it does require a commitment to be present as often as possible. And it is very physical work. I remember when Ronnie was explaining this to me, he said at the end of the food distribution you were tired, sweaty, and feeling good. And so it was.

    That is captured in this quote. “There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be.

    You and your relations, my friend, are (still) busy building a different world at the end of this one. This is something I’ve emphasized over and over again in my own work. I cherish the belief and practice that it is never enough to just critique the system and name our oppression. We also have to create the alternative, on the ground and in real time. In part, for me, because Nishnaabeg ethics and theory demand no less. In part because in Nishnaabeg thinking, knowledge is mobilized, generated, and shared by collectively doing. It’s more than that, though. There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.

    Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 39). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

    I imagine you have experienced this. As I think of this in my life, I remember how significant it was at Scattergood Friends School when we did our assigned, rotating crews together. Such as preparing meals, baking bread, pruning trees in the orchard, even laundry crew that did the laundry for the entire student body. We had to have name tags sewn into every piece of our clothing so the laundry crew could separate everything out when the clothes were dry.

    We experience this when we respond to community needs, such as weather disasters.

    This is why I urge us to create our own, local Mutual Aid communities. Perhaps as important as providing essential resources to people is the experience of doing something meaningful. People have a desperate yearning to feel they are doing something worthwhile, something that fulfills their need to feel appreciated.

    Collapse is coming at us far more quickly than we had anticipated.

    In response to Pollard’s questions (above), the right timing is now. The way to get billions of volunteers to engage is to build Mutual Aid communities everywhere now, in part because Mutual Aid work is fun, meaningful, satisfying.


    Soft skills

    • Critical thinking
    • Group facilitation
    • Helping people cope
    • Preparing healthy food
    • Caring for the young, old, and sick
    • Imaginative, reflective and creative skills
    • Mentoring
    • Listening, noticing and attention skills
    • Conversation
    • Community-building

    Hard skills (that require some specific technical knowledge/experience

    • Growing and harvesting food
    • Making and repairing clothing and shelter from the elements
    • Accessing clean, safe water
    • Weaving, fabric-making, pottery and other crafting skills tha that make life much more pleasant and comfortable
    • Medical, medicinal, and injury-healing knowledge and skills
    • Food preservation
    • Bicycle construction and repair
    • Basic engineering skills
    • Ecological skills
    • Decommissioning-nuclear reactors and petrochemical sites

    How Do We Teach the Critical Skills Needed to Face Collapse? by Dave Pollard, How To save the world, September 10, 2022


      I’m reading a book about the lives of people in the most polluted, least educated, most disadvantaged, and most dangerously toxic (and most conservative) part of Louisiana (more about that in an upcoming article). What emerges from the author’s study is that (1) these people are living in a ‘world’ that is already in a very advanced state of economic and ecological collapse, one that may foretell what the rest of us in ‘affluent’ nations will soon face; (2) they are far more of a ‘community’ than most people living in cities could claim; and (3) they are not particularly interested in paternalistic ‘grief professionals’ ‘coaching’ them on how to manage the massive grief and other emotions they and their families have been dealing with for generations.

      How Do We Teach the Critical Skills Needed to Face Collapse? by Dave Pollard, How To save the world, September 10, 2022



        But capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous. Today, many of us live in the most atomized societies in human history, which makes our lives less secure and undermines our ability to organize together to change unjust conditions on a large scale. We are put in competition with each other for survival, and we are forced to rely on hostile systems— like health care systems designed around profit, not keeping people healthy, or food and transportation systems that pollute the earth and poison people— for the things we need. More and more people report that they have no one they can confide in when they are in trouble. This means many of us do not get help with mental health, drug use, family violence, or abuse until the police or courts are involved, which tends to escalate rather than resolve harm. In this context of social isolation and forced dependency on hostile systems, mutual aid— where we choose to help each other out, share things, and put time and resources into caring for the most vulnerable— is a radical act.

        Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 111-121). Verso.


        Sikowis Nobiss speaking at the beginning of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March https://firstnationfarmer.com/

        Life without a car

        Aside from the spiritual leadings that guided me to my career, being led to live without a car and struggling to convince others to not use fossil fuels were the most important spirit-led actions of my life. This also created a great deal of tension with my Quaker meeting. I made a lot of mistakes related to this over the years. When I say “I made mistakes” that’s a clue that I didn’t always hear, or follow what the Spirit was guiding me to do.

        Growing up on farms, I had the connections to the land and creatures and the cycles of the seasons common to farmers. Scattergood Friends School is on a farm, the name changed to Scattergood Friends School and Farm since I attended. Working on the farm was an important part of our education. Over the years this has expanded significantly. In the Sophomore year we raised pigs as part of our biology class.

        Being led to live without a car was at the intersection of my foundational stories, my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography.


        I am very grateful my parents chose to take us on camping trips across the United States for our summer family vacations, specifically selecting National Parks to camp in.  Actually camping in the Parks was key to the whole experience.  Our first camper was a King camper, which was an aluminum trailer with a canvas covered framework that unfolded to form the top half when we stopped at the campsite.  Being in the woods, hearing the sounds of the wind and wildlife and the glacier streams rush over the boulders, feeling the cold at night, and smelling the pine trees made the experience so much better than traveling into the park during the day and returning to a motel at night.

        Hiking through the meadows and forests and upon mountainsides with countless, stunning vistas, were life changing experiences for me.  I was overwhelmed by the intense beauty.  Rocky Mountain National Park was our favorite, and we returned there time and again as we were growing up. We quickly found that not many people traveled too far from the parking areas, and with even a short hike we were practically alone in the woods.  Hikes of just a mile or two brought us to lakes, canyons, waterfalls, cliffs, meadows, snowfields, boulder fields, and rock walls to climb. Places we were able to appreciate alone.

        Quaker worship was a natural extension of the quiet of the mountains.

        I hadn’t reflected much on why we sought opportunities to be by ourselves in the mountains. It just seemed a much better experience that way. Now I think it was related to feeling closer to God when we were deep in the quiet of the forests. Having grown up in Quaker communities, I was used to worshiping in silence, as we do so we can hear the whisper of the Spirit. Being enveloped in the silence of the mountains was a natural extension of Quaker worship. Or rather, Quaker worship was a natural extension of the quiet of the mountains. Quiet rather than silence.

        This was also a reciprocal relationship. I was always challenged to find ways to share my spiritual experiences with others. These experiences are ineffable, that is they can’t be adequately expressed with words. But art can often better express spirituality. So I hoped some of my photographs might show glimpses of the Spirit.

        The writer’s lonely, harrowing struggle to give shape to his or her elusive vision of the world—to complete a book, to discover among the fragments of a thought or a dream the precise image needed to breathe life into a poem—is a familiar chapter in the annals of pain and grief.

        How can we save the wilderness? I was a mountain climber whose affection for the high peaks had evolved gradually into political commitment to the cause of preservation. I was, too, a fledgling writer searching for direction. I knew the importance of craft, experience, doggedness, and the other familiar requisites for literary success, but I lacked vision—an understanding of my relationship to the world.

        How could we convince lawmakers to pass laws to protect wilderness? (Barry) Lopez argued that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can go before a panel of legislators and testify that a certain river or butterfly or mountain or tree must be saved, not because of its economic importance, not because it has recreational or historical or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful.

        I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. I had known that love is a powerful weapon, but until that moment I had not understood how to use it. What I learned on that long-ago evening, and what I have counted on ever since, is that to save a wilderness, or to be a writer or a cab driver or a homemaker—to live one’s life—one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame.

        Reid, Robert Leonard. Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West . Counterpoint. Kindle Edition

        One reason I began to write was to explore why I took a given photograph.  I hadn’t appreciated this until I was repeatedly told the same thing, which is that a photograph can help the viewer see the subject in a way they hadn’t before.  So as I prepare to shoot a picture, I think about what I am trying to show with it, how to compose it, and set the exposure and focus in such a way as to create the photograph as closely to the image I am envisioning, as possible. 

        Note that I said “envision”. I don’t take photos to be as realistic as possible, which would be like make a Xerox copy of a scene.

        My hope is that some of my photographs might help others to see and understand the subject as I understand it, and may see/understand it differently than before viewing the photo.

        One of the many things I’m learning from Indigenous ways is the Spirit is in all things, including animals, plants, water, sky and mountains. I felt this deeply when I was in the forests and mountains. I’ve heard others express this in various ways as feeling closer to God, and that was how I felt.

        This spiritual connection I developed with the mountains, lakes and forests had profound consequences in my life.

        When I moved to Indianapolis in 1971, the city was enveloped in smog. This was before catalytic converters, which began to appear in 1975. When I saw the polluted air, I had a profound spiritual vision of the Rocky Mountains being hidden by clouds of smog. The possibility that I would no longer be able to see the mountains shook me to my core.

        Long’s Peak from Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

        I was thinking specifically about the photo above, and how terrible it would be to no longer be able to see Long’s Peak. Although I now have many photos of the same view, I was thinking of this black an white photo specifically when I had that vision even though the quality isn’t near what I get now with a digital camera. I developed the film and the print of this in a darkroom. This is the image connected to my vision.

        From that moment on I saw cars as evil because of the damage they were doing. I decided I could not be part of that, and have lived without a car since then. I began my lifelong study of environmental science and work to try to bring awareness about the catastrophic damage being done to Mother Earth. Although I give thanks that catalytic converters took care of the visible smog, I knew of the continued damage and consequences of the tons of carbon dioxide and other gases coming from the exhaust of ever increasing numbers of cars.

        I saw automobiles as the ‘seeds of war’.  Many wars are literally fought over fossil fuel supplies. But these seeds of war are found in the way we live our lives.

        “I told [the Commonwealth Commissioners] I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars… I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strife were.” 

        George Fox

        “Oh! that we who declare against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the light, and therein examine our foundation and motives in holding great estates! May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions, or not. Holding treasures in the self-pleasing spirit is a strong plant, the fruit whereof ripens fast.” 

        John Woolman

        It was camping in the national parks, and spiritual connections to the lakes, forests, wildlife, sky and mountains, that made me become a lifelong environmental activist. And photography was how I tried to express that for myself, and others. I knew environmental damage from burning fossil fuels would damage the mountains, forests and rivers, so I tried to preserve those scenes with photographs. Significant damage will happen with higher air temperatures, forest fires, infestation with migrating insects, torrential downpours, and drought.

        It is sad to think such photographs might be historic records of the way things used to be, and no longer are. This is actually one of the reasons I am led to write my foundational stories, wondering if I shouldn’t do more to use photography to try to create change.

        Recently at the annual meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) I was grateful to be asked to show my photographs during one of the evening programs. The program was titled “Finding Truth and Beauty.” For about an hour the meetinghouse full Quakers watched the slideshow of photos in silence. Then, as the slideshow continued, Friends (Quakers) were invited to share their thoughts, which many did. I was grateful for this experience of sharing photos that had a spiritual significance for me, with my Quaker community in the context of silent worship.


        My story of Cars as weapons of mass destruction was included in this book by my friends at Sustainable Indiana.
        https://jeffkisling.com/2015/09/13/cars-as-weapons-of-mass-destruction/

        Foundational Stories 9/28/2022

        This summer I began writing about my foundational stories. This was in response to a Quaker friend urging us to think back on the beginnings of our stories. Then about how our stories evolved, and what they look like now. That led me to write many stories about this evolution.
        [See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/?s=foundational ]

        I’ve been looking forward to describing the current state of my foundational story. The article below about Cai Quirk is remarkably similar to parts of my story now.

        My foundational story is related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. This combination has remained a powerful, yet evolving, influence throughout my life. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography. These three things came into play in many ways throughout my life.

        I continue to rely on my Quaker faith to guide these decisions. Sometimes the guidance is clear. Other times either I’m not discerning what the Spirit is telling me, or there isn’t anything new to hear. It’s all too easy to stay on a path we are comfortable with, to the extent we might not hear, or might ignore leadings that say we need to change direction, to do something we are uncomfortable with. One thing I was blessed to realize early in my life was the times I took risks resulted in significant growth. Which led me to search for ways to take risks.

        The reason I invested in the idea of the evolution of my foundational stories is because I’m feeling I might need to change how I think about and put into practice faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. I don’t have a way to know how many people read my blog posts but have a better indication of how people see my photography. My impression is that more people see my photographs. I’m sensing I should “focus” more on photography to express my spirituality and encourage more people to work to protect Mother Earth. Although the main reason I write so much is to try to organize and clarify what I discern about my spiritual life, and what that means, how to put these leadings into practice, how to practice hope.

        People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

        Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.

        IT IS BITTER TEA THAT INVOLVES YOU SO: A SERMON ON HOPE by Quinn Norton, April 30, 2018

        I recently found the article “Cai Quirk Invites Friends to Expand Our Faith” by Emma Hulbert, FCNL, July 12, 2022. Cai Quirk speaks about faith, risks, and art.

        “One of the pieces of Quaker witness I have been carrying in the world for many years now is around gender diversity and using art and storytelling as a way to explore that. This is some of the ministry that I carry.”

        Cai Quirk 

        Cai Quirk (they/them or ey/em pronouns) shared this reflection with FCNL staff in a late-June Zoom lunch, along with the ways Spirit has been leading them to explore gender, faith, and nature through art.

        Cai is a life-long Quaker. After years of spiritual deepening through writing poetry and creating self-portraits, Cai will soon release their first book. “Transcendence: Queer Restoryation” includes words and images that offer an expansive understanding of faith.

        In speaking to FCNL staff, Cai showed many of their self-portraits, focusing especially on those exploring gender in the natural world. “I was finding new ways to create new stories that are empowering,” they told us. “Through these self-portraits, I found how far I can go in following Spirit. A lot of these photos were very freeing and empowering and have given me more connection to Spirit.” Cai explained that nature itself holds some inherent queerness; “Even when society tries to erase queer stories, they are still there in the landscape.”

        Growing up Quaker, Cai learned the history of the social disruption inherent in Quaker faith. Yet today, Cai has noticed that only certain kinds of social disruption and ministry are accepted within some circles of Friends. “My art is an invitation to see how Spirit invites us all in different ways,” they said. While not all Quaker communities can feel welcome to those who rock the boat, social disruption and rage can be sacred as well. Changemaking occurs in many ways for many different people, and Cai is working to create more spaces where this kind of expansion and ministry are accepted, where more people can exist as their true selves.

        “If I change myself to match society’s conventions, then I am not being authentic, I am not being faithful to Spirit,” Cai told us. Can we as the Religious Society of Friends expand our ideas of faith and community to invite everyone in? What would it take to seek and live into that welcoming Quakerism moving forward?

        “Cai Quirk Invites Friends to Expand Our Faith” by Emma Hulbert, FCNL, July 12, 2022

        Minute
        There is that of God in every being. We support those of all gender identities and sexual orientation. And respect and will endeavor to use the pronouns each person identifies themselves by.

        Approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2022