Monday, September 19, 2016

Ambassador for Quakerism

Ever since becoming a Quaker 30 years ago, I have played the role of a Public Friend--that is, I have felt called to travel in the ministry and represent Quakers to those outside the Quaker community. I don't know why I have been called to this role. I know I have a deep love for Quakerism, and it has transformed my life in ways for which I am deeply grateful. The calling to share my Quaker faith with others has been both a great joy, and also a challenge. That's why I need divine guidance (and grace), and the support of Friends, to be faithful and effective in this ministry.

During the final years of the Cold War(1984-89, when President Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire," I was led to reach out to the Russians and create "spiritual linkages" through what came to be known as "citizen diplomacy." I was part of the Quaker US/USSR Committee whose mission was to help start a Quaker meeting in Moscow and also to edit a join Soviet-American book project that would dispel stereotypes that were poisoning the relationships between Russians and Americans. When I went to the Soviet Union, I was seen as a representative of Quakers and was well received. Russians were eager to work with us and learn about us because they remembered that Quakers had always been friendly to them when others were hostile. After WWI Quakers engaged in relief work in the Soviet Union at a time when European nations were doing their utmost to crush the struggling Communist government. During the McCarthy era, Quakers defied America's anti-Communist mania by going to the Soviet Union to form friendships with the Soviets. Some saw this outreach as treasonous or hopelessly naive. But for most Quakers this kind of outreach was simply a way of putting into practice Jesus' difficult, but not impossible command to "love your enemy." 

After 9/11, when Muslims were being demonized, I felt led to reach out to my Muslim neighbors. I showed respect for Islam by fasting during Ramadan and reading the Quran. My Muslim neighbors were so impressed they invited me to their homes and friendships developed. Soon I found myself deeply immersed in the interfaith peace movement. I still regard myself as an "interfaith Quaker" (as my email address testifies).

Very early on, I realized that if I was called to represent Friends in the interfaith community, I needed to be sure that I was accountable to my Quaker community. When I traveled to Melbourne, Australia, for the Parliament of the World's Religions, I asked for, and received, a "traveling minute," a letter of support from my monthly and yearly meeting.

As my calling continued, I asked for a support committee from Santa Monica Meeting to make sure that I was accountable to my meeting as I tried my best to be faithful in my calling. I met with my support committee every couple of months and it was very helpful.

I have been meeting with what some Friends call an "anchor" committee at Orange Grove Meeting for the past few months, and it's also been very helpful. I have been able to process my feelings and gain insight into how Spirit is leading me in this challenging work. Best of all, I don't feel like a "lone ranger"; I feel connected to and supported by a circle of Friends who care.

During today's meeting of my anchor committee, I realized that I was playing a role similar to that of an ambassador. That is, I have been called, and authorize, to represent my Meeting in an official capacity. I am the rep to FWCC and to ICUJP.

Because of this role I represent my meeting not only at numerous interfaith gatherings, but also in the Evangelical world, in part because of my connection with FWCC and in part because I am married to an Evangelical Christian. This community is in many ways more foreign to most liberal Friends than the Muslim community. That's why my role as an ambassador is important. 

As we talked about my role as ambassador to the wider world outside the Meetinghouse, many questions arose and we had a very lively dialogue about the challenges of reaching out to those who have a very different theology and perspective.  It also became clear that every Friend is in some sense an ambassador of Quakerism. Just as what we do when we travel abroad reflects on America, what we do when we go about the world as Quakers affects how people think of Quakers.

George Fox called upon ALL Quakers to be ambassadors, or as he put it, "patterns and examples."
"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you."
Many Friends aren't comfortable with being examples. They prefer not to reveal their Quaker identity. That would be "hiding one's light under a bushel." Quakers have been given a very special legacy and a spiritual practice that could help transform the word. I am convinced Quakerism is "good medicine" and needs to be shared. 

A New England Friend named Bea Collea posted this exercise on the New England Yearly Meeting website:

Becoming A Quaker Ambassador 

Preparing Ourselves to Share our Quaker Faith 

We need to find and practice using a particular part of our Quaker voice—the one that we use with the world beyond our Meetinghouse. How can we succinctly express why we are a Friend? Sound bites and deep inner experience don’t seem to mix! Be gentle with yourself. This is a first expression that you can polish and clarify. It’s important to have a beginning point and commit it to writing so you can look at it and reflect on it. Try this exercise with a group of Quakers and share your elevator speeches. 
How do you explain the Quaker way to the world beyond your meetinghouse?

This is an excellent question, and an exercise that I hope Friends at Orange Grove Meeting (and elsewhere) will practice, perhaps in an adult study session.

If we are going to continue and thrive as a Religious Society, we need to be able to articulate our faith to those outside our community. We need to share our "good news" in ways that people can hear and relate to. We can't rely on a few Public Friends to be our spokespersons. I am hoping that I can persuade my Meeting to provide Friends with opportunities to practice sharing our faith with others. Hopefully, World Quaker Day will provide us such an opportunity to think about how to be Quaker ambassadors. 

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