When I was twenty-seven, I went through a life-changing transition catalyzed by Archbishop Oscar Romero, John Woolman, Thomas Kelly, Dorothy Day, and the people of El Salvador. I was lead to many parts of the world, working with children and families suffering from war, from poverty, from U.S. imperialism. Then over the years, I began to find that the message that was continually coming to me during worship as ministry was one that I felt would make Friends too uncomfortable, perhaps even angry. So I began to withdraw from the Quaker community.
What I have to say this morning is an offering. Although it will sound like a call to action – and it is – paradoxically, I am not here to try to make you be or do something different. I am here simply to try to be faithful to this message.
I have felt a permeability to suffering since childhood. This has lead me to work in many parts of the world, in urban centers and prisons in the U.S., Central and South America, Palestine, Greece, and the U.S.-Mexico border. I have worked among people who daily risk U.S.-backed military and paramilitary violence in the attempt to support their families, earning pennies a day for their labor.
So each time I came home to the Quaker community, I told you these stories. And I was lovingly supported in my work by many of you in many ways. And yet, what began to steer my heart and guide my steps felt too difficult to share with you, and I began to step away.
So here are the words – and they are not new. We here in Pacific Yearly Meeting are in a relationship with the people who grow our bananas and make our clothes. We are in relationship not only because we are all part of the human family, but because each day we participate in and perpetuate the systems of production they are caught within. They not only grow our bananas and make our clothing, they mine our metals, make our computers, our cars, and our cell phones. They melt down our plastics, harvest our chocolate, and build our appliances. We are in relationship because, by our use of those things, we are connected to those lives, whether we choose to see it or not. We are connected to those lives, and we are connected to that suffering. We know this. We know this with minds that are somehow also able to rationalize it.
Within the liberal, West Coast Quaker community, almost all of us live within the paradigm that tells us it really is okay if each of us has our own car, our own computer, our own cell phone. I am not a Luddite. I am not suggesting that we withdraw from all computer-based technology and go live in the woods. But I am suggesting that we have made acceptable the reliance on the suffering of others to support our comfort and our convenience.
So years ago, my question to myself became, “What would my life look like if I lived on close to my fair share of the world’s resources?” My experiments have been few and imperfect. But they have given me glimpses into a different kind of life. One such experiment was building, along with friends and family, an off-grid ten-by-twelve house made of clay, sand, straw, and wood, right in the middle of Chico. My daughter and I shed much of our stuff and learned to live without many of the modern conveniences of the society around us. And with this shedding, I felt in some small way, I had joined the world majority, I could a little more easily look my human family in the eye. And I felt the dissonance diminish just a little – between the calls I feel and my outward life. In the quiet that emerged, I was more able to hear God’s voice and more able to follow it.
As a middle-class, privileged person, my commitment to seeking to use my fair share, to right relationship, and to a life that would nurture life on this planet means nothing less than a paradigm shift. It means knowing that as we are more able to look our human family in the eye, we are more able to see the face of God.
The text above has been excerpted from a complete transcript of this talks, posted at: https://westernfriend.org/media/call-radical-vulnerability-and-love-unabridged
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