Yesterday I had the honor and gift of accompanying in prayer a group of faithful individuals, being sentenced by the state for their faithful actions. You may read more about the details here.
One particular moment stayed with me after that day. The judge, in his efforts to explain his decisions, told us that Friend Jay (one of the four participants on trial) was obviously the “mover and the shaker” of the group – i.e. an instigator and responsible for more of the actions, and therefore the fines. I have some factual insights that would disprove that – but the phrase and its implications – and what I heard in that moment, has remained with me.
Friend Jay’s not a “mover and a shaker” – he’s a mover and a Quaker. And some of this is a silly play on words – but for me it reminds me of the greater motivation in all of this.
The actual Shakers (this is not what the judge meant of course, but this is what I heard) were a religious sect that had an astounding successful presence right down the road from Concord (where we were at the time) in Canterbury, NH. They were innovative – the first group to bring wired electricity to the area. They were community builders – they took in orphans and unhoused folks, gave them food and purpose and a family if they chose to stay. They were spiritual – they made everything they did about being attentive to God.
The Quakers were not the Shakers. I’m often confused with that group, by folks who just think old-timey bonneted religious extinct folks are all the same. So where did the Shakers go? As part of their long term plan to increase their numbers, they required all members to live a segregated life, away from the world, in their communities. They would interact in small ways with the locals – but membership and belonging was defined by being not a part of “the world”. They also were celibate – so they did not produce their own community members and future generations. This didn’t work out long term. There are a few Shakers left, but not many. Quakers did this too in some ways in our history. We called it not being “of the world” and spoke of a “hedge” dividing us from all the other folks of other religions who didn’t act like us. We built our own schools and communities to provide for our own membership. Our plain dress, and plain speech showed a physical separation from those around us. Being peculiar was a religious call, not just being a little weird.
But back to Friend Jay, the Quaker-not-Shaker. What did the judge get wrong? Here’s what I saw yesterday, and throughout these actions. Jay experienced a clear call from the Divine. It wasn’t neat and pretty – sometimes it fit the wider movement, sometimes not. Jay tested this leading with his community. Both West Falmouth, and then Portland Meeting accompanied Jay in this process. He may not have always been led to follow the laws of the land – but he was required to follow the discernment of his oversight committee and they multiple Friends he prayed with and sat with and listened to God with. Jay didn’t act alone. Sometimes it was with others on a bridge, and a lot of folks praying for him after they heard about it on social media, in NEYM committees and lots of places. Jay wasn’t in this for personal free publicity. I had to bring that up – the judge and the prosecution kept asserting that “free publicity” was a motivating factor. I’m sure in some secular ways it could be. It was not here. His support teams (and the actual publicity teams of various organizations and news outlets) made sure of that. Jay’s actions were not determined by possible outcomes. Thomas Merton (not a Quaker) says “we are not called to be effective – but be faithful”. That does not exclude wonderful, successful positive outcomes. But the call is to do the work, and let God change hearts, or do the other things we can’t see. Jay was called to do his piece. He cares deeply about results – this is an emergency. But he trusts in the One who can do more than any of us humans can. We Quakers partner with that One. Jay’s actions were always led by Love. This is what is so hard about all of this. That Divine love requires love of our neighbor – and that includes the law enforcement folks, the coal train drivers, the judges, they system that is failing us. We do not have to love the system and human failures. But we are required to embrace and encourage the love and that-of-the-divine in everyone in each moment. I find that harder sometimes than the big actions – the work of our hearts.
We Quakers also believe that this access to the Divine – peace, love, goodness, benefit to all – is not limited by being named a “Quaker” or being “religious”. You know who else did all that stuff I observed Jay doing? The others in this movement. AND yes, the three other folks on trial – AND all the folks who donated time and money and prayers and food and the little things that made it possible for these folks to do their powerful part.
The judge at one point referred to their actions as seeming to be of “the privilege of having the time and wealth to be a nuisance”. A hobby of political action and attention-getting, if you will. He missed the point. He dismissed the actions of so many, the upswell of love and all the little ways known only to God and to those who speak them. The people who are called to save us all. (photo of trial support, by No Coal No Gas campaign)
An ironic note: the judge graduated from Haverford. He noted that perhaps his Quaker education there, and Jay’s at Earlham (both small Quaker colleges) was different. I agree. 😉
I also noted, in our debrief afterwards, a sharing from the whole community. We wondered in sadness about the systems of law that fail so many. This experience exposed us to how others in our world are treated – not just by destroying their clean air and water and living environment via climate change – but by removing their very humanity and dignity. The judge reminded us that the defendants were “good people” – not like the “drug addicts and thieves” he saw so often in court. I am exactly like those drug addicts and thieves. Beloved by God all the same. So is the judge. To have that conversation, and hear the defendants worry about the judge’s well being and humanity in this system, was also very “Quakerly” to me! Walking humbly, in love and mercy, is required at all times. What a gift it is to be with a community that demonstrates that experientially.
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