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Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times

Published: Oct. 30, 2021


Join Brent Bill for a Pendle Hill Monday Lecture online:

Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times

November 1, 2021
90 minutes starting at
4:30 PM Pacific = 5:30 PM Mountain
Free to the public!
Click here to register

Here is a review of the book Brent is speaking on at Pendle Hill, written by Stuart, a tutor at Woodbrooke, and published in The Friend:

The Quaker Quicks offer accessible texts on key aspects of the Quaker way. These little books are suitable for both Friends and interested observers.

In this case, US Friend, Brent Bill, who has written widely on Quaker spirituality, disciplines, and humor, considers how the Quaker understanding of witness can help people to live Spirit-led lives within the world. Bill notes how important it is for social engagement to be grounded in our inward lives. There is an essential link between contemplation and action, so spiritual and political issues are inevitably bound together. Our witness needs to be built on the rock of divine guidance, rather than the sands of fallible human ideas and emotions.

He suggests that being part of a community of diverse gifts ‘decenters’ us and, with the help of spiritual guidance, prompts a diversity of actions and responses in the world. This can protect us from taking narrowly partisan positions, and encourages an attitude of humility.

By attending to our inward guide, we can become channels for divine love and justice in the world. This produces a liberational spirituality, because it prompts us to challenge the structures and systems that hold people in bondage and prevent them from being fully human. Hence, movements of the Spirit have a valuable contribution to make to campaigns for social change.

Bill believes that hope and positivity are key characteristics of Spirit-led action in the world. This is about what we are ‘for’, not just what we are ‘against’. Our hope is that God’s truth will ultimately triumph. It is precisely when we set aside our own limited human perceptions that true hope can emerge.

Bill notes a key dilemma in Spirit-led action: how do we offer a prophetic voice without dehumanizing others? How can we ensure that the desire to avoid conflict does not smother our commitment to justice? Being both prophets and reconcilers is challenging work.

Helpfully, Bill is prepared to pay attention to the times when Quakers have got it wrong, such as the involvement in slavery and colonialism. He notes that, while Friends have often been pioneers of social reform, they have sometimes been blinded by social norms. This highlights the importance of rigorous discernment. What are we being called to do? What are we doing that needs to stop?

Bill suggests that the recognizable shape of Quaker witness across history provides a reliable test when discerning whether concerns and actions are rightly led. Using the North American acronym for the Quaker testimonies, he argues that the S.P.I.C.E.S. (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship) are ingredients that add flavour to our witness.

This is an eminently readable and well-balanced exploration of Quaker witness, rooted in personal experience, and not afraid to address the more negative aspects of Quaker history. Being short and affordable, it is an ideal resource for both individual and group study. 

from Donna Smith, Redwood Forest Friends Meeting