“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deut 30:19)
The recent U.S. election offered a choice between very different approaches to government. The majority of American people want good public services, peace, and a hopeful future for their children and grandchildren. The new admin-istration’s policies toward the environment, however, lead toward death. The good news is that the election ignited a mass movement. We can still choose life, if we allow ourselves to be guided by divine love, and filled with the power of the Spirit.
On election night, my husband went to bed early; tired from weeks of knocking on doors to get out the vote. I sat up alone, waiting in uncertainty with the television newscasters. After Clinton sent her tearful supporters home, I checked social media for company. It seemed most of my friends were asleep. When a friend in Scotland, waking up for her day, sent an email, I felt accompanied. I waited until the new president-elect made his victory speech, his sleepy little son standing by his side. Then I went to bed and woke my husband, to tell him the heartbreaking news.
Shock. Sadness. Anger. Fear.
At my Quaker Meeting, we’ve been struggling to understand the millions of people who, we believe, voted against their best interests—including some members of our own families. Trump’s slogan was, “Make America Great Again,” but the Republican victory was largely financed by wealthy individuals and corporations whose true agenda is to increase their corporate profits by dismantling government regulations and public services. Republicans in Congress intend to repeal the Affordable Care Act; if approved, their alternative will cause an estimated 24 million people to lose health insurance. Without health care, many of them will die sooner. Racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant rhetoric has led to an increase of hate crimes.
We Quakers have been wondering, where is God in this situation?
Puzzlement. Sadness. Anger. Fear.
The election was a powerful wake-up call for those who had passively counted on a Democratic president to protect democracy, civil rights, public education, health care, workers rights, religious freedom, world peace, and the environment. Millions of people have realized we can not afford to remain passive. So much is at stake.
A Friend who lives in my neighborhood hosted a gathering of concerned neighbors, members of several different churches. It was one of the most racially mixed gatherings I have attended. We shared our anger, fear, and concerns about the many people and rights now threatened more than ever. We agreed to gather information, get to know each other, and meet again. The group continues to meet, and more have joined.
All over the country, people who have not been very active politically are gathering to meet with others, to discover what we can do collectively to face the troubling reality in which we find ourselves. Members of my Quaker Meeting organized a group of twenty Friends to participate in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. the day after the inauguration, including whole families: mothers, fathers, children. I feared the possibility of standing in the cold for hours and did not sign up. But January 21, 2017 turned out to be a sunny day, so my husband and I joined the Women’s March in Philadelphia. Like half a million people in Washington, and the millions who came out in other cities, we found ourselves participating in one of the most amazing, creative, and joyful events of our lives.
Some members of my family and my husband’s are conservative Christians who voted for Trump; they believe that the most important issue in the world today is protecting unborn babies, and they imagined that his presidency would do that. From slanted news reports, some assumed that the Women’s March was all about abortion rights and that the “pussy hats” worn by many women were a symbol of this.
Actually, what I experienced in the streets of Philadelphia was different. The humorous pink hats, with their little “cat” ears, were a way of protesting the rhetoric of a man who bragged on television about grabbing women by the “pussy.” With their hats and their signs, women at the march were saying: “Keep your hands off my private parts and off all of my rights.” Numerous signs asserted that women deserve respect and that we refuse to cooperate with degrading rhetoric and repressive policy—against ourselves or anybody else.
The signs were hand-made, colorful, and creative. I would sum up the gist of many of them this way:
All People Deserve Respect.
Love is More Powerful Than Hate.
Love Your Neighbor.
Care for the Stranger and the Poor.
Curb Corporate Greed.
Stop Climate Change.
The policies of the new administration–including revoking environmental controls and permitting the construction of dangerous pipelines carrying dirty fossil fuels–threaten all life on this planet. Care for the environment is the biggest Pro-Life issue of our time. Continuing to pollute the waters and to release carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gases into the air threatens the lives of all generations of unborn children. To keep the planet habitable, we need to be investing in alternative forms of energy, instead.
In spite of the anger and fear felt by so many, those who turned out for the Philadelphia Women’s March were kind. Friends who went to Washington and were packed onto the streets like sardines say that kindness characterized the march there, too.
After months of paralyzing dread, it was a day of hope. It is estimated that 3.3 million marched in 500 U.S. cities, women and men. People around the world marched in solidarity, too, as reported by The Wall Street Journal in “Women’s March: Massive Protests Across U.S., World.” I was moved by a video clip of the speech Bernie Sanders delivered in Monpelier; he said a movement had been created that would not be stopped.
A big public demonstration can actually dissipate the energy needed to make real change, however. Deep, active, long-term engagement is required to protect democracy, the earth, public education, health care, women’s rights, civil rights, justice, civility, and peace. There are so many issues. Real change happens when groups of people coalesce and make a commitment to act on behalf of particular issues.
In choosing how to focus and what to commit to, more is required than information, analysis, rhetoric, passion, or strategy. Although these things are significant, discernment is even more important—seeking divine guidance and the leading of the Spirit.
God has a plan for healing. The Creator cares for the planet. We are all loved, whatever our political persuasion, race, gender, religion, or ethnicity.
A country’s greatness does not come from excluding, scapegoating, hating, or repressing certain groups or taking resources away from the poor and giving more to the rich. Spoiling our air and water does not lead to greatness, either. If we want to be great, we must be good. We must heed God’s promptings— the inward prompting to care for the earth and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The significant threats we all face can be adequately addressed only if we truly and humbly listen to the promptings of truth and love in our hearts, and let God take the lead.
Discernment requires taking time for silence and prayer. It requires looking within and waiting to hear the still, small voice of the True Shepherd. We must wait for divinely-inspired leadings and distinguish these from our own ideas of what God wants. Only the leadings of the Spirit are filled with the spiritual power that can heal and unite us, and lead us toward a hopeful future for generations yet unborn.
Once we discern the true leadings of the Spirit, a faithful response is required.
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A Movement of Love, For Life: In your heart, have you experienced any promptings to act on behalf of God’s love, truth, justice, mercy, or peace? Have you spoken with others about your sense of being led, or listened to others’ sense of God’s leadings? Are you part of a community that prays, discerns, and acts together?
© 2017 Marcelle Martin
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Quaker author and activist Eileen Flanagan will again be offering her five-week online course We Were Made For This Moment. Each lesson blends social change theory, spiritual discernment, and personal empowerment, to integrate “hearts, minds, and spirits for the work of creating a more just and sustainable world.” For those in groups that are discerning their focus or what action to undertake, a second course is now available: Building a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign, starting Monday, April 17.
New England Yearly Meeting and Woolman Hill Retreat Center are co-sponsoring a nine-month spiritual leadership development program entitled “Nurturing Worship, Faith, and Faithfulness,” beginning with a residency at Woolman Hill over Labor Day weekend 2017.
For information about other upcoming courses and workshops with Marcelle, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.
Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It’s also available from QuakerBooks, which provides free shipping on orders of six or more books.
Videos about leadings:
How To Listen For A Leading
Why I Blockaded 30,000 Tons of Coal With a Lobster Boat,
Videos about discernment:
The Quaker Practice of Discernment,
How Quakers Make Decisions (It’s Not Just Consensus!)
More videos about the Women’s Marches:
New York Times, Women March around the World
Ashley Judd’s angry “Nasty Woman speech”
How Pink Pussyhats Took Over the Women’s March