On May 13, 2022, I had the honor and gift of accompanying in prayer a group of faithful individuals, being sentenced by the state for their faithful actions. You may read more about the details here.
One particular moment in that day has stayed with me. The judge, in his efforts to explain his decisions, told us that Friend Jay (one of the four participants on trial) was obviously the “mover and the shaker” of the group; i.e. an instigator, responsible for more of the actions and therefore the fines.
Friend Jay is not a “mover and a shaker,” he’s a mover and a Quaker. Some of this is a silly play on words but also hints at the greater motivation in all of this.
The actual Shakers (this is not what the judge meant of course, but this is what I heard) were a religious sect that had an astounding successful presence right down the road from Concord (where we were at the time) in Canterbury, NH. They were innovative—the first group to bring wired electricity to the area. They were community builders—they took in orphans and unhoused folks, gave them food and purpose and a family if they chose to stay. They were spiritual—they made everything they did about being attentive to God.
The Quakers were not the Shakers. We are often confused with that group, by folks who just think old-timey bonneted religious extinct folks are all the same. So where did the Shakers go? They required all members to live a segregated life, away from the world, in their communities. They would interact in small ways with the locals, but membership and belonging was defined by being not a part of “the world.” They also were celibate, so they did not produce their own community members and future generations. This didn’t work out long term. There are few Shakers left. Quakers also sought not to “of the world” and spoke of a “hedge” dividing us from all the other folks of other religions who didn’t act like us. We built our own schools and communities to provide for our own membership. Our plain dress and plain speech demonstrated our separation from those around us. Being peculiar was a religious call, not just being a little weird.
Back to Friend Jay, the Quaker-not-Shaker: Jay experienced a clear call from the Divine. It isn’t neat and pretty—sometimes it fits the wider movement, sometimes not. Jay tests this leading with his community. Both West Falmouth and Portland meetings accompany Jay in this leading. He may not always be led to follow the laws of the land, but he is required to follow the discernment of his oversight committee and the multiple Friends he sits with, prays with, listens to God with. Jay doesn’t act alone. Sometimes others are physically with him; always with a lot of folks praying for him. Jay isn’t in this for personal free publicity—his support teams (and the actual publicity teams of various organizations and news outlets) have made sure of that. Jay’s actions are not determined by possible outcomes.
Mother Teresa (not a Quaker) said, “We are not called to be successful, but faithful.” That does not exclude wonderful, successful positive outcomes, but the call is to do the work and let God change hearts, or do the other things we can’t see. Jay has been called to do his part. He does care deeply about results: This is an emergency. But he trusts in the One who can do more than any of us humans can. We Quakers partner with that One. Jay’s actions have always been led by Love. That Divine love requires love of our neighbor—including law enforcement folks, coal train drivers, judges, the leaders who fail us. We do not have to love the system and our human failures. We are charged to embrace and encourage the Love and that-of-the-Divine in everyone in each moment—the work of our hearts.
Quakers believe that access to the Divine is not limited to Quakers or being religious. You know who else does all that stuff that I have seen Jay doing? The others in this movement, the three other folks on trial, and all the people who donate time and money and prayers and food and little things that make it possible for these folks to do their powerful part.
Yesterday, the judge referred to “the privilege of having the time and wealth to be a nuisance.” A hobby of political action and attention-getting, if you will. He dismissed the actions of so many, the upswell of love and all the little ways known only to God and to those who speak them.
The judge reminded us that the defendants were “good people”—not like the “drug addicts and thieves” he so often sees in court. I am exactly like those drug addicts and thieves: beloved by God all the same. Walking humbly, in love and mercy, is required at all times. What a gift it is to be with a community that demonstrates that experientially.