An Interfaith Peace Walk and Shoe Drive took place in Pasadena in which 200-300 people of diverse faiths showed up--Muslims, Jews, Bahais, Buddhists, pagans---but I was the only Quaker. I was also one of the organizers and had talked up this event a lot among Friends in my meeting, so it was especially painful to me to be alone and unsupported by my own faith community. (I asked for support but it was not granted. "We are already doing too much," was the reason.)
This is not usual. Quakers seldom show up at peace and interfaith events in Pasadena or in the LA area. Many Quakers feel that they have done enough for peace and justice if they write a letter to their elected officials from time to time.
As a result, Quakers have become an invisible church, a relic from the past that many associate with the Amish. My wife, who is a community organizer here in Pasadena, and knows or has worked with virtually all the area's religious congregations, barely knew that Quakers existed.
The spiritual fire and prophetic witness of Friends is in decline, and that saddens me deeply. I love Quakerism, and so does my new wife, who is an Evangelical Christian. She sees us as a prophetic faith, and that's what we are at our best.
However, I have experienced a lack of prophetic fire among Friends for many years, and that's one of the reason I turned to the interfaith movement. The interfaith peace movement is what Martin Luther King called "the beloved community," and it's in this powerful spiritual movement that I encountered kindred spirits--people who care so passionately for peace and justice, and for God, they are willing to make personal sacrifices to witness to their faith and vision.
Where are the Quakers? is a question I keep asking myself. It is also a question that came up repeatedly during the World Conference of Friends in Kenya whose theme was "Being Salt and Light in a Broken World."
Addressing this theme, Esther Mombo, a Kenyan Friend, spoke of the terrible injustices and problems in the world and asked:
Where are the Christians? It was John Salt who said, “if the world is rotten don't ask why the light is broken. Ask, where are the Christians?”So if our contexts are rotten, we need to ask ourselves, where are the Quakers? Where are the Quaker Christians? People need to see the work of the salt and people need to see the work of light in us. The Christians amongst you are known to be Christians by the way they love one another, not by the way they talk about one another. As salt and light, Christians are called to be involved in the society.Being "Salt and Light" means making the Quaker presence known in the world.
For me, sharing the good news of Quakerism is a joyful experience but also often a very lonely one.
When I go to the annual meeting of Progressive Christians Uniting, I am the only Friend. I feel a little sad about this because this organization is one of the most inspiring Christian groups I know. They need and deserve all the support they can get!
When I go to the annual "Giants of Justice" breakfast sponsored by Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice, I am the only Friend. This is also sad because this interfaith group fights for the rights of low-income workers in our community and does great work.
When I go to demonstrations opposing torture, drones, etc. I am usually the only Frend.
When I went this year to the annual meeting of ECPAC, the ecumenical service organization here in Pasadena that helps the homeless, I was the only Quaker present. (My meeting supports ECPAC but no representatives came to the annual meeting.)
When I went to the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in Pasadena last year, I was the only Quaker.
You get the picture. Quakers don't make their presence known at these public events where people of other faiths gather to show unity. Most Quakers see no reason to do so.
When Philip Clayton, Provost of Lincoln Claremont University, came to speak at our Meeting about the interfaith movement, he made it clear why it is important for Quakers to take part in these interfaith efforts. When people of diverse faiths get together to support a cause, there is a great moral and holistic power. The whole is greater than the sum of individual parts.
I would add that when Quakers are absent, they are making a statement. They are saying: this cause is not important to us.
I was asked by a Friend what gives me joy in my work. What gives me joy is using my gifts and talents for a cause that's meaningful and worthwhile. I can think of no cause more worthwhile than working for peace and justice.
The great Catholic theologian Hans Kung said:
"There can be no peace in the world without peace among the religions.
There can be no peace among the religions without dialogue.
There can be no dialogue without a common ethic."
I would add that there can be no justice in the world unless religions work together for justice and for peace. The Quaker voice and presence is urgently needed.
That's why I go to these events. They inspire me to do the work that God is calling me, and I think all of us, to do: "to love mercy, to do justice, and to walk humbly with God."
And I love the people I work with. They are on fire with a passion for justice, peace, and God. And they are truly alive!