A Conversation on the Emerging Testimony

I'm not quite sure what "a testimony" is or isn't. It seems to me that our witness in the world is seamless, and hard to divide up into a numbered list. "Testimony" is what happens when we let our lives speak the messages we hear in worship.

Peace and love,

Rachel Findley <rafindley@earthlink.net> 21 Sep 2000


In order to show an emerging testimony, it is necessary to show that Friends are living in a manner that reflects the presence of a testimony. I contacted people on the Faith and Practice Committee to ask what constitutes a testimony. They gave me this list as to why the environment is not considered a testimony:

we do not live as if the environment were of major importance,

we have not labored together to understand its importance,

we do not talk honestly together about our beliefs and about the hard issues, and

we do not challenge each other on our beliefs and on our manner of living.

To show the environment as an emerging testimony, it is necessary to give examples of Friends living, laboring together, and challenging one another as if the environment were important.

Most everything else shows Friends avoiding the important issues, and confirms that the environment is not an emerging concern.

I would particularly be interested in examples from the last 3 categories.

Best wishes,

-Karen Street, Berkeley Meeting 03 Oct 2000 <kmstreet1@home.com>


Dear Friends,

If that is the list of questions, do we have any testimonies? This is a searching set of queries indeed. Consider the peace testimony.

Do we live as if peace were of major importance?

Do we labor together to understand the importance of peace?

Do we talk honestly together about our beliefs about peace and about the hard issues?

Do we challenge each other on our beliefs about peace and on our mannerof living?

I am afraid we fall short on all our testimonies by that measure. In what ways is our peace testimony today more living, more real, than our testimony on unity with nature?

It seems to me the list itself should be somewhere in Faith and Practice, to remind us of how far we have to go before our lives become living witness to our faith.

A wise friend once said to me, "It's better to fail to live up to what we believe than to water down our principles to fit our practices."

I wish we could choose a third way, to strengthen and deepen our faithso that our outward lives rise up in strong witness to the deeper lifewithin.

Toward peace and truth,

-Rachel Findley 03 Oct 2000 <rafindley@earthlink.net>


Dear Friends,

Thanks, Karen, for bringing to our attention the four criteria you were told determine when a concern/leading becomes a testimony. I agree with you, Rachel, that by these criteria few, if any, of the existing testimonies qualify. My question is, what group decides that PYM has reached unity that a concern has become a testimony and how does the group determine if the criteria have been met?

When I read the postings on the web site that Eric has created, I'm struck by the long history of concern among Quakers about the right relationship of humans with the rest of creation. Over the years Friends have written with passion and discernment about these matters--Rachel, your compilation of some of these writings posted on the web site contains wonderful examples. In the last 15 years, Friends have been articulating their concern for the earth with ever greater urgency. An excerpt from a 1999 letter by the Environmental Working Group of the Philadelphia Meeting to FCNL [the entire letter is on the web site] is an example: "Seeking "an earth restored" will soon become the overriding task of the rest of our and our children's lives. The human activity that damages Earth's communities of life is still increasing. This cannot continue. The question is not whether it will be reversed, but how. Will humans do it by choice or will it happen to us? The longer it takes us, as Friends and as a society, to understand the need to change direction and begin work to make this happen, the more difficult it will be for us to succeed. As one Friend put it, this is not just another concern for Friends that may break the camel's back; it is the holy ground on which the camel stands."

I've also been reading, "The Creation Was Open to Me: An Anthology of Friends' Writings on that of God in all Creation," compiled by Anne Adams and published by the Quaker Green Concern in England in 1996. Beginning with George Fox and continuing up to the present, this 100-page volume contains a wealth of Quaker wisdom and guidance about our concern for the earth. It is clear to me that Friends have been "laboring together' everywhere for some time about these matters.

Concern for the earth is not just an "emerging concern" but a living reality in the hearts, minds and lives of many Quakers. I don't think that waiting another 10? years [when the next revision of F&P occurs] to acknowledge the fundamental importance of this concern serves any purpose. Given the ecological crises we face, we don't have 10 years to wait. I'd like to see the F&P Committee and other concerned Friends reflect on how the new F&P can articulate existing Quaker concern for the earth in a much more focused and specific way. I don't think an appendix and a few queries are at all commensurate with the weight of the concern. There are many powerful materials to draw from.

I've posted a personal response to the testimony on Stewardship and Oneness with Nature in the new F&P on the QuakerNature web site. I'd appreciate any feedback you and others may have to my response and to this e-mail.

In the Light,

-Sandra Lewis, Strawberry Creek Meeting 4 Oct 2000 <sel27@earthlink.net>


Friends,

I continue to find myself in the uncomfortable position of being somewhat of a naysayer on this issue.

I believe that the issue is a very strongly held concern. I believe that the fundamental nature of the problem is spiritual. I believe that change is necessary. I believe that we want to have a testimony. But I am not convinced that we live a testimony.

Much of the advices and queries that I hear from those who are most vocal about environmental concerns do not speak to me. Rather than coming from a humble place, a place of long standing practice and discerment out of experience, the queries and advices sound to me prescriptive, judgemental, even fearful. The queries and advices often seem to be judgemental and us/them -- we (who are enlightened about the coming crisis) know what to do and you (who have are not yet awake to the true reality) are holding us back. There is an anxiousness, an ideological edge, and in a paradoxical way a human centeredness in our struggle to see ourselves only as part of the creation.

For example, there is an on-going conversation about health, diet and the environment on the FLGC list-serve at the moment. One person is writing to support veganism as the most healthy and environementally-friendly way to eat. Another person writes that the argument does not accurately describe the experience of her family who farms in Nebraska.

What follows is not an accurate description of the conversation on the list serve, but the morality play that has played out in my mind this past week as I have read the postings. The "pro vegan" science is interpreted towards the clear conclusion of veganism and away from a more ambiguous and less clear, more muddled reality in which some paths may be better than others, but all have imperfections. Human beings, many of whom are just trying to make the best way forward that they know how, are thrust into the center of the issue as the bad guys, the wrong ones, the sinners. The prescription does not speak to my condition, to what my body tells me is true (I am increasingly aware of the desire to decrease if not eliminate cows milk and cows milk derrivatives in my diet, but I feel healthier and more available to the spirit if I include animal protein -- mostly fish and poultry -- in my diet). Rather than the creed of an ideology, I tend to follow the truth of my experience. I know that I need to use Tich Nhat Hahn's prayer of seeing the entire journey that my food makes from nature to my body as I reflect on how to deeply nurture myself and be in balance. So the questions of how animals and fields are treated, how my food is produced, and how the workers are paid all fit into the picture. But for me the issue is murky and the "way forward" is unclear.

And so it is on equality, and peace, and integrity, and simplicity, and truth. The difference to me is that there is a degree of wisdom in our tradition on these other matters. we modern individuals are still often led down the wrong path, but I have a sense of the foundations of the testimony and I can identify the corporate practices that we have taken on as a result of the corporate discernment in these areas. If someone asked me what Friends advise on these testimonies, I can point to something.

In contrast, I think that what Friends have to say about Unity with Nature is still unsettled, tentative, and as I implied earlier in some cases fear-based and wrong-headed.

So, while I join with Friends in the prayer to find a way forward, I think we have not yet done our work, prayed and searched together in a focussed enough and disciplined way. We have overwhelmed and turned off many in our community because the fundamental motivation is often out of guilt and not out of faith.

I think we are still in a seeking phase. Some of the voices that we hear leading the way are the wrong voices. We need more silence around the topic, more prayer. We need to invite God and our deepest hopes to lead us, not our limited minds and our greatest fears.

That is why I think that it is just about right to say that Unity with Nature is a strongly held concern in Pacific Yearly Meeting -- one that we struggle mightily with, but one that has not yet produced a clear light on which we can build a testimony.

For me, it is more important that we struggle together in truth than that we publish a statement that we wish were true. The salvation of the creation is probably not in human hands, but if it is, the more important thing is that we spend the next 10 years being faithful than that we spend the next 10 years with a statement printed in our Faith and Practice.

The conversation is an important one. I wish all concerned well.

-Walter Sullivan, Ben Lomond Quaker Center & Santa Cruz Meeting 04 Oct 2000 mail@quakercenter.org http://www.quakercenter.org


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