Nurturing the Witness of God-Between

by | Aug 23, 2023 | Seeds eNewsletter

Full Red Leaf
INCREASINGLY I AM SEEING ARTICLES AND DISCUSSIONS about the urgent need to rebuild the structures of community that have been shredded in our American life. Recently The Atlantic published an insightful essay by David Brooks called, Why are Americans so Mean? This was helpful as I personally have been “Spirit-listening” to why I am seeing increased rudeness all around me. Even within the culture of Friends.

Wise and good people are working on the many and complex factors that have converged to create a spectrum of violence around us—and in us. While I have my share of speculations and observations to add to the discussion, I was caught by a more basic idea. David Brooks in his essay says, “The most important story about why Americans have become sad and alienated and rude, I believe, is also the simplest: We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat one another with kindness and consideration.” Training takes intentionality, practical social skills and consistency over time. I loved the phrase Brooks uses—“a thick and coherent moral ecology.”

I think Quakers have some special challenges with creating and maintaining cultures that are spacious and safe enough to learn and grow. Where normal, subtle interactions are facilitated by the rhythms of grace and kindness. Where we greet one another through kind eyes of appreciation rather than a bucket of judgments. Where we know how to deal healthily with the inevitable frictions that will arise in relationships. Where we know how to handle the powerful fire of the prophetic voice embedded in love and care for both oppressed and oppressor.

The most complex of our challenges is our prophetic voice. The prophetic, by its nature, is fueled by powerful convictions and urgent emotions. It is my hypothesis that one of Friends’ gifts to the larger world is the vision that cuts through the “way things are” to be a clarion call to more closely align with God’s heart. We have been at the forefront of social justice because God’s love doesn’t leave anyone out. We are committed to care of the earth—even if humanity’s lives weren’t on the line—because this is the creation that is dear to God’s heart. We make space for folks to live into healing coherence and purpose because God’s love bends over backwards to meet each of us exactly where we are.

In light of all this, it is easy to become careless in community as we are tempted to push folks toward the Light of our understandings. Just as Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian church that all the “rightness” of our giftedness in the world is worthless if it is not embedded and baptized in love, we have dual responsibilities. We are responsible for faithful proclamation of the message and the faithful tending of the webbing of the Spirit of God-between folks that makes love perceptible and change possible.

As our culture has coarsened and the permission structure for meanness has become normal, I am wondering if part of our Quaker witness to the world is giving special attention to how we treat one another in community. How we are faithful to work toward change while not doing violence to others in the process. How we speak truth to power while totally caring about the power we are confronting. How we move in positive vision rather than the diminishment of judging. To this end, here are some queries that are nudging my own self-reflection:

  • Am I as careful in email, texts and social media as I would be in person?
  • Have I given enough words to express my care and trust as well as my concern?
  • Inasmuch as these modes of communication require brevity, are these the best vehicle for my message?
  • As an introvert am I willing to step outside my comfort zone to practice courtesies that don’t come naturally for me?
  • Do I enter into the prophetic conversation by finding out how Spirit has already been working? What actions are already being lived into?
  • Do I default to trust and respect of others or mistrust and judgment?
  • Do people know that I love them?