When I was a kid, I told my little sister that we were forming a club. The two of us held a meeting to discuss possible club names and what kinds of things we would do as members of this club. We decided we would call it “The Do-Gooders Club,” and we would do good things. Creative, right? I’m not sure where things went after that.
Fast forward a few decades to this November when I spent the weekend in Washington, D.C. as a first-time attender of the annual meeting of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). All weekend long, I found myself thinking, “Yes! This is the club I’ve always wanted to belong to!” I met scores of curious, intelligent people, fully engaged in making their world a better place. It was extremely encouraging. And I don’t need to tell you what a rare thing that has become lately.
Additionally, the book I brought to read on the plane paired like fine wine with this nourishing experience. This was The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr (2019). He writes about seeing Christ everywhere, in everything, and in everyone. “[The] kind of seeing I’m describing is a relational and reciprocal experience, in which we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves.” This described my experience of the FCNL Annual Meeting, surrounded by Friends who focus on seeing that of God / the Light in others, which helped me experience myself as seeing that Light, too, so very clearly. “Presence is never self-generated, but always a gift from another, and faith is always relational at the core. Divine seeing cannot be done alone, but only as one consciousness interfaces with another, and the two parties volley back and forth, meeting subject to subject. Presence must be offered and given, evoked and received.”
I grew up as part of an evangelical programmed Friends meeting in Idaho. I now attend North Seattle Friends, which is a part of the newly formed Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYMF). At our second annual session this spring, we began discerning together which Friends organizations we would like to partner with. Representatives from various organizations came to the session and shared with us regarding their missions. We quickly and happily discerned that we would like to partner with FCNL.
A lot of what I know of FCNL, I learned from Esther Little Dove John, who also attends North Seattle Friends. She frequently shares news in our monthly meeting about work FCNL is doing and her involvement with it. I happened to join Dove for lunch during SCYMF’s annual session when she was having lunch with Jim Cason, who was there to represent FCNL. This left me with a strong desire to get involved, and I decided to volunteer to attend FCNL’s Annual Meeting and the Quaker Public Policy Institute 2019 in Washington, D.C. The yearly meeting later approved me to be a representative. I am so glad I went. I was warmly welcomed as an individual and also as a member of SCYMF. Most people knew of SCYMF and showed supportive concern for our process of establishing ourselves as a new yearly meeting.
I arrived in D.C. on Thursday for the long weekend and met up with four hundred Quakers from all over the country – in a hotel within walking distance of the Capitol building. We would be lobbying our senators and representatives that Friday with this request: Please urge Armed Services Committee leadership to include the House provision to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force) in the final NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act). FCNL had identified this as one practical step that our members of Congress could to take to reduce our nation’s future military involvement worldwide. The 2002 AUMF allows the president alone – without debate by Congress – to authorize the use of military force against threats posed by Iraq. Those threats can be broadly interpreted, which they are, and the 2002 AUMF has been used to justify scores of military actions for almost two decades.
FCNL staff prepared us for our day of lobbying by organizing panels of experts and individual speakers, who gave us the background information we needed. One of the speakers was House Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13), the only member of Congress to vote “no” to the 2001 AUMF. Later, FCNL organized us by states and then by congressional districts to plan our individual lobby visits. This planning was helped along by the well-organized lobby packets that staff had prepared beforehand.
While many of us were lobbying on Friday, about 180 members of FCNL’s General Committee met to revise and update FCNL’s foundational policy document, “The World We Seek.” I only sat in on the end of this discernment process, but I admired how thoughtfully it was done, and I was impressed by the measured skill of the presiding clerk, Bridget Moix. When one takes into consideration that FCNL is a nonpartisan organization (contains both Republicans and Democrats), that it contains Friends from several branches of Quakerism, and that it represents 26 Yearly Meetings and 7 national Friends’ organizations, it is impressive that the General Committee was able to unite around a document in one weekend, a document that represents the vision that informs the actions of such a broad organization.
There was a statement from the floor during one of the plenaries expressing a desire to make sure FCNL was truly welcoming to Friends who are more conservative and/or Republican. Personally, I would love to see that. I would love to see FCNL functioning as a laboratory to find methods we can use to solve some of the division in our country.
I talked about joining a club earlier, but that’s still not exactly what I’m looking for. Clubs typically promote an “us versus them” mentality, and I’m getting tired of that. Rohr writes about salvation being based in relationship, and that in relationship, “Everything finally belongs and you are a part of it.” I want that. ~~~
Wendy Davenport works as a dental hygienist. She and her husband, Dennis, share their Seattle apartment with their two cats. She enjoys gardening, art, music, and cooking.
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