What does it mean to identify as a Quaker today? I’m not sure. I’d probably be more excited about owning that attribution were this 19th century America with characters like Alice Paul, Elizabeth Fry, and Susan B. Anthony pursuing justice. (Quaker tradition appeals to my inner feminist.) But where are those quietly raging heroines and heroes of the faith now? Early Friends forged their reputation via holy troublemaking; how are we distinguished today?
Are we quietly raging against the tides of oppression and injustice, or simply quiet?
Granted, I attend a small meeting in the rural Midwest, so quiet is a fitting adjective for most aspects of culture in these parts. I’m not suggesting Friends seek fame or fanfare. I’m not calling for a billboard campaign or #I<3GeorgeFox Twitter takeover. But if the Quaker way means living in silence, what kind of witness can we offer? How will we encourage the outcast? How will we face down injustice? Even in a small town, evil has it easy. Yet God is not silent. Why should his people be?
If we call ourselves Friends – understanding that a friend is a helper, supporter, one who voluntarily shares the burden of another – we have to determine whether we are living up to that definition. I can’t honestly say that I am, at least not consistently, but I want to. And I know that this dissatisfaction I feel is fertile soil in which to re-cultivate those revolutionary Quaker roots. What I want to see happen outside meetinghouse walls is the untapped potential within my own heart.
If being Quaker today means nothing more than filling a hushed sanctuary each week and holding business meetings focused on self-preservation, then count me out. But if it means standing for the downtrodden and serving the neglected in an overflow of the Spirit’s power, then “Quaker” is a name I’ll passionately adopt. This world needs Friends, in every sense of the word. I think it’s high time for some holy troublemaking, don’t you?