The Big Question

          Quaker singer/songwriter Jon Watts is also a videographer.  One of his provocative YouTube videos, “Dance Party Erupts During Quaker Meeting for Worship,” has been viewed more than 84,000 times over the Internet.  In a May 2013 Friends Journal  interview and video, he urges Quakers to use the Internet to communicate in a passionate way.  He describes the ambivalence of most Friends today toward Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but suggests that one should approach these media not as a passive receiver but as an “engaged content creator.”

He urges Friends to use the Internet as a medium for prophetic expression, the way that early Quakers used the newly accessible printing presses to get their radical message to the public.  Take this attitude, he advises:

“I have a message.  I have something to say.  I have a vision for the society, and I have some analysis of the ways the society is broken, and I’m going to get it out there.  …  I’m going to really get in people’s faces about this, because this society is broken.  It’s fallen.  It needs to transform.  And who is going to do it, if it’s not us?  I see the Internet as an opportunity….”

Jon is  creating a YouTube channel called “QuakerSpeak” that will soon start releasing one video per week.   In preparation, he interviewed me last May, after reading my blog and pamphlets, plus an online interview.  He came up with some thoughtful questions related to spirituality and early Quakers.  During a pause, Jon commented on my speaking style.

“You start out your responses with a burst of energy,” he said.  “And then you sort of fade out.”

Public speaking has usually been a cause for anxiety for me, even terror, but I try to be faithful when called to speak.  My intention is to let the Light shine through my words and my being, no matter how much the fearful part of me wants to hold back.  So I made an effort to work with Jon’s feedback.

Recently, we met again.  Two days in advance, he sent some sets of questions to think about, with a reminder that he was looking for a “YouTube-sized answer,” i.e. about four minutes.  Number three was a BIG QUESTION, one I’ve slowly been working toward answering in the writing I’ve been doing.

“When discussing the boldness and courage of the Early Friends in our last conversation, you said that you feel God is trying to call forth something even more powerful in our time,” he wrote.  “What do you feel God trying to call forth in our time?  What is our world in need of?  How can our Quakerism help inform this calling?”

On the morning of the second interview, I took a walk with my friend Terry, who often serves as an elder for me.  Through listening, asking questions, hearing deeper than my words, listening some more, and sometimes making suggestions, Terry helps to draw out a message or ministry that’s forming.  On the 2nd of January, we walked across an open field a few hours before an expected snow fall.  I practiced saying what I thought God was calling forth in our time.  For thirty years now I’ve had a strong sense of God leading me as part of a larger plan, but I have not often tried to look directly at the bigger picture, at what God is leading us toward.  I’ve been dancing around that question.  It has been easier to study the radical, passionate activity of early Friends than to fully face what God is collectively calling us to do now, in the times in which we live.

After lunch, Jon set up his cameras in Terry’s apartment.  After he turned on the equipment, the three of us settled into a period of silent worship.  Jon asked his questions, listened to my answers, then listened inwardly for the prompting of the Spirit before asking follow-up questions, some of them unexpected.  A couple of times, during the silence, I felt moved to speak spontaneously.  Terry sat to the side, holding it all in the Light.  Toward the end he offered a question, too.

Some of my answers were lively, some not.  After fifty-two minutes of filming, snow was falling outside.  Jon turned off the cameras.

In the next two days, while traveling by train and waiting at snow-covered stations, I reflected on what I had said.  I knew I had not given a satisfactory answer to the BIG QUESTION.  At least, I wasn’t satisfied.

In our time, what is God asking of us?

For weeks I’ve been turning my attention to see more clearly.  This morning I woke up early, picked up the journal beside my bed, and wrote four pages.  The whole picture is not going to come through one person or one group, and the picture will remain fuzzy as long as it’s a prospect for the future.  It will become clearer the more we live it out with our lives and not just our words.  More is coming.

The Big Question: What do you know about what God is calling us to now, in our time?  How is the Spirit calling you, your meeting, your community, the Religious Society of Friends, the human race?  What are we asked to do, say, create, dismantle?  How are we called to live?  What must we sacrifice? To what are we called to give our energy, our attention, our resources, our love?


To see the trailer for Jon Watt’s QuakerSpeak YouTube channel, go to

A four-day opportunity to explore the Quaker spiritual journey will take place at Pendle Hill Retreat Center, Wallingford, PA, May 11-15th, 2014.  In the Life and Power of God: on the Spiritual Journey with Early Friends

A Whole Heart has a page on Bibliography.

© 2014 Marcelle Martin

About friendmarcelle

A Quaker writer, teacher, workshop leader, and spiritual director, I've traveled widely to facilitate workshops and retreats about the spiritual journey. I'm the author of Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey, and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups.
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9 Responses to The Big Question

  1. Mary Noland says:

    Thank you. My heart is warmed when I read the whole heart blog. Thank you.

  2. Rhonda Pfaltzgraff-Carlson says:

    Marcelle, I agree that we each have a piece of the answer to The Big Question. Thank you for calling people to bring those pieces together.

    I believe God is calling us to “name the spiritual condition of the world.”

    That task requires us first to know and name our own spiritual condition. That is an immense task in and of itself, but with reliance on God, our religious tradition, our meetings and each other, I believe we will be enabled to do that and more.

    I have begun to post about this leading on The first post in the series is titled, “Becoming a Wilderness People.”

  3. Karie Firoozmand says:

    Marcelle, Dear Marcelle, I have been wrestling with the same sort of question. I have been reading a book called The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein. It is part of a series called Sacred Activism curated by Andrew Harvey.

    I should say I am making myself read this book, because it is hard for me. It makes me confront those big questions. And the author posits that transformation is necessary, dismantling is by definition part of that, and a long slog through despair is necessary to leave behind an old, crumbling narrative and get to a new one, collectively.

    How willing am I to be transformed, knowing it may require helping to dismantle the way of living that is all I’ve ever known? It is not easy. It isn’t even simple.

    I’m pasting below a column I contributed to my Meeting’s newsletter last fall. It’s a short easy read.

    I have also, because of being vocal, been invited to address our Quarterly Meeting. It was impossible to say no. When the phone call came, I had within the past sixty seconds been holding the caller’s name and number on a piece of paper and glancing at the phone in my kitchen. I had no idea she was going to call me. But due to fear, I popped her number into my “To Do” bin. And sure enough, the phone rang.
    I am trying not to be frustrated with myself because of my fear. This is where faith comes in, for me.

    I send you blessings on your work, and on the fear that is present, and on your faith to be there, right where thee is. You are a special voice in my life!


    Published in the Stony Run newsletter in Nov. 2013:

    Have you heard the popular metaphor that praying to God for something you want is treating the almighty creative life force of the universe like a vending machine? The way certain segments of humanity treat the earth strikes me as being the same.

    I am not a scientist or an expert in any field such as climate science, global warming or environmental studies. I am a person with love and reverence for life, and by that I mean Creation as well as individuals within it. We all have to choose whom and what to believe, and I believe the people – scientists and others – who are now saying that climate change will affect life on earth sooner than initially thought.

    Like the military draft in the 1960’s, it affects us all. It’s different, though, from some of the other causes we feel passionate about. For instance, many of us feel passionate about gun control and we don’t own guns, so we are in a good position. I feel passionate about energy – where it comes from and how it is produced and brought to me, as well as who profits, and who pays the ultimate long-term price. But I have a car. I have a heated house. I have all kinds of things that run on electricity or natural gas. Does that make me culpable? Do I have a choice?

    There is another way of looking at it. I accept all those things as true and needing to be changed. That is why I have looked for ways to put my own force behind organizations that are already working on these issues. I can’t change them by myself, and I still have to heat my house, but I prefer and need to do what I can.

    Energy production is a hard set of complex and interrelated issues. But I see the environmental justice movement as gaining strength and speed now – it is probably in its infancy. As it grows, more of us will respond to the message because it will become mainstream to do so. We did not create the problems we have – we inherited them. They got started when the Industrial Revolution began and fossil fuels began to substitute for human and animal labor. Nobody could have imagined the collateral damage. In fact, nobody measured any change in the earth’s temperature until the early 1950’s. So it has been a short, shocking and traumatic trip from first realizing that our activity has begun to change the climate to where we are today. And where are we? One important marker is that the earth’s atmosphere today contains more parts per billion of carbon than it can absorb in a given period of time. We can restore the level to what the earth can absorb by making huge reductions in the amount of carbon we release. And at the same time, we’ll be limiting the increase in the earth’s temperature. Change on that scale will require a lot of work. Ways that I can and do contribute are:

    · Helping bring a minute against fracking to Monthly Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business

    · Donating to environmental justice non-profits

    · Doing movies and forums at Stony Run and a workshop at BYM annual sessions

    · Volunteering in ways that fit into my life since I have limited time

    o Gathering signatures for Maryland-specific legislation on fracking

    o Info table of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) at festivals

    o Working on the Clean Energy, Not Cove Point town hall series by CCAN – coming November 12 to MICA.

    It is extremely difficult to face my own involvement in these issues. But it would be so much worse to know that they are going on and not do something about them. It’s weird. I am contributing to a movement that wants to limit, reverse or otherwise change some of the most comfortable things about my life. But the alterative promises to be worse for me or for those – human and other – who come after me, or who live in the third world. I feel comfortable helping with the undoing of current structures because it makes me feel I am aligning myself in the here and now with eternal realities. Thomas Kelly called this “our share in the joyous burdens of love.” I trust that Way opens to let me see what to do.

    With a more practical tone, this is attributed to Gandhi, and it really stuck in my mind: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

    • Dear Karie, thank you so much for sharing your own struggle with facing the big question and the specific ways you are feeling called, along with others, to contribute to the change that’s needed in our world now. Your witness is heartening.

  4. ewler says:

    This came at a particular time for me. I have just had the sense that I am being called in a small way to take my place ‘fighting the Lamb’s War’. These are terms I would not have found meaningful before. There is a conflict, and we have to play our part. Confronting evil is not the same as using violence. Naming, and standing in the way of, cruelty and destruction may not lead to ‘quiet’ but it is the path to peace. This is a corporate calling, not a solitary struggle.

  5. Megan says:

    Dear friendmarcelle,or perhaps more accurately, dear child of g!d that takes the form of Marcelle,

    I want to know: What did you write in those four pages??

    The more I have learned about you and your journey with faithfulness, the more I am inspired and filled with hope. I give my thanks and appreciation for this article, and I am So glad that you have identified that we all hold a piece of this picture for what g!d is calling from us now- it is a beautiful trait that I have seen before in people, to hear a Question, and ask the asker or ask the entire group for the answer- but if we all do that then we are left with nothing. With no answer, with no picture. I want to hear what you’ve got- I feel certain that it is worth it.

    So I ask again: what did you write on those four pages?!

  6. Marcelle, I always love reading your blog, and I think I have wrestled with this question—the BIG question—somewhat. But I don’t think it is for us to understand the bigger picture. It seems as though our egos would get in the way if we assumed we could know. I think that it is more important for us to do what you are doing—be in touch with the depths of ourselves, the God within us, that guides us in a particular direction. And then we have to let go and surrender to the higher power, recognizing that we may receive strong leadings or flashes of inspiration or insight.

    As far as using the internet as a space for prophetic expression, I’m torn. I agree that the internet can be a place of positive prophetic expression, but so much of what I see on the internet when it comes to Quakers feels like more noise, quite discordant from that personal, quiet reflection of tapping into the inward light. And I think all people, including Quakers, run the risk of not hearing our inner voice when we spend too much time filling our heads with words and comment feeds on a screen. The internet seems to be most often (with some exceptions) a place for ignoring that inner voice and distracting ourselves from ourselves. So I’m interested in projects that seem aware of that and willing to offer something revitalizing. I suspect they are few and far between.

    Thanks again for your ministry. Yours is a blog I always read and get something from. The depth of your faith comes through each post. Maybe that’s the answer—that we need to be careful of whose spirit and words we’re willing to fill ourselves with for a time.

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