One of the things I’ve been struggling with as a Quaker is my need to do, that often outweighs my need to just be. Thinking about our early Friends as being among the English dissenters makes me think “Are we dissenters no more? Do we have anything left to dissent?”

Sometimes I feel like Friends have become somewhat sleepy, like we’re nearing our age of retirement so we just want to give up and relax. I suppose that this comes partly from me being a “young” Friend, my energy sometimes oversteps my ability. Most of us (and I include myself in this) live in a world that’s not directly affected by violence, war, poverty, persecution, or any of the great struggles that our Quaker ancestors had to deal with. As a gay man living in the South I must admit that I’ve come across my fair share of intolerance, but nothing like what those with differences in, say, Uganda must face. In the grand scheme of things most of my problems, although weighty, are bearable.

So, does this mean I give up the struggle? Should I just join hands with the lazy and apathetic? I’m not sure why I even ask that question, because I know the answer to be a resounding “No”. I’ve never been much for lazing around, if anything I do too much (or perhaps I should say I think too much, which wears me out just the same) and most of the time I should take the advice of my grandfather and not “let my eyes be bigger than my belly.”

In my world there are still a lot of things to dissent, perhaps not with the same life-threatening urgency as those that George Fox and the other nonconformists faced, but with all the same spirit. This morning I found a quote in the Faith and Practice that speaks to my condition:

“The first Friends had an apocalyptic vision of the world transformed by Christ and they set about to make it come true. The present generation of Quakers shares this conviction of the power of the spirit, but it is doubtful whether it will transform the world in our lifetime, or in that of our children or children’s children. For us it is not so important when the perfect world will be achieved or what it will be like. What matters is living our lives in the power of love and not worrying too much about the results. In doing this, the means become part of the end. Hence we lose the sense of helplessness and futility in the face of the world’s crushing problems. We also lose the craving for success, always focusing on the goal to the exclusion of the way of getting there. We must literally not take too much thought for the morrow but throw ourselves whole-heartedly into the present. That is the beauty of the way of love; it cannot be planned and its end cannot be foretold.” ~Wolf Mendl, 1974

Through all my frustration I can only hope to hear spirit saying that sometimes standing in silence and in love is the only real answer we have.

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Comment by Tom Smith on 7th mo. 30, 2011 at 7:46pm
In some ways I see dissenting today to be just as demanding as in years past. Now it is much more that the anti-militarism, anti-materialism, counter-culture, etc. testimony that I believe is necessary is "fighting" a very pervasive and persuasive "system" which seems so ingrained that it is difficult to find any real "point of attack." However, I believe we are called to dissent in word and deed.

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