Tuesday, May 31, 2016


And What Does QEW Call Us To Do?

The steering committee of Quaker Earthcare Witness met again at a convent in the lovely Lincoln Park area of Chicago April 28-May 1. Geeta and I drove over 700 miles to visit with old Friends, with a strong hope to effectively share the Pisac Minute (see last post) and enlist QEW's support in extending that message through the wider Quaker world in North America. We were scheduled to host a panel Friday night on the making and propagation of the minute.

QEW is an organization primarily made up of liberal Friends, affiliated with Friends General Conference. If you check the link above you will encounter a rich website exploring resources of a group which “seek[s] emerging insights into right relationship with Earth and unity with nature.” It goes on to emphasize the importance of Quaker processes and testimonies in its work, noting that its primary calling is to facilitate personal transformation rather than structural and educational reforms. I have been attending its conferences off and on since the early days (1990's). Geeta has joined me in recent years.

A highlight for me of these gatherings is everyone's sharing the leading edge of their lives the first night (Thursday). The group includes many seasoned Friends, both in terms of ecological activism and contemplative depth. As with all Quaker groups, it tends to be a heady bunch, with a lot of education and a number of published authors. The sharing was both powerful and humbling, showing me examples of colleagues who walked their talk far more than I do. The concern for ecojustice was matched by a tenderness for each other. As I noted during a group sharing on Saturday night, revisiting our statement of purpose, this initial session demonstrated the best of what we human beings have to offer, what this fragile planet would lose should we go extinct.

Though almost all of us are liberal FGC Friends, the group is nevertheless diverse. In its early years, it was named Friends in Unity with Nature, and though the name changed many years ago to make it sound less pagan, there is a continuing tension between those who are passionately connected to the earth and her worship and those of us who are more panentheist than pantheist. Another related fault line is between those who favor immersion in the “nature” that is left to us and those who are willing to set aside that experience in order to participate in direct action and civil disobedience. Of course some of us do both, including this blogger.

Two young people in their twenties joined us, one an evangelical. Their voices were crucial for me. The young man spoke glumly of how the politicians didn't care, and the difficulty of finding hope for his generation, though he had started a service at the restaurant where he worked to compost hundreds of pounds of food scraps at the communal building where he and his companion lived. His companion identified herself as an evangelical with a passion for climate justice, and seemed genuinely thankful to be among us. I knew of only one other person present, another first -timer with deep Quaker roots, who identified himself as a follower of Christ Jesus. Other than a lively woman who had been with Geeta in Pisac, perhaps in her mid-fifties, participants were in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. More young people might help the dialogue and give the organization perspective. Everyone knows this.

Some of the leadership have had a serious split with FCNL (the respected liberal Friends lobbying organization) over their signing a letter from faith organizations in support of the Green Climate Fund. Experienced financial and policy analysts in our group continued to educate us about the false promises and dirty capitalist tricks (carbon markets, for instance, are rigged) that are embedded within this initiative. They argue that REDD, the global effort to protect forests in Third World countries through carbon offsets is deeply flawed, sometimes fraudulent. An old QEW Friend I talked to in Pisac expressed her disillusionment with the UN after a dozen years of being a Quaker observer. She was particularly disheartened when a charismatic Eastern European diplomat in a leadership position with a clear vision of healing the earth and forestalling catastrophic climate change was replaced by an apparatchnik who appeared to be a pawn of the corporate interests present at the table. She said the UN had been hopelessly compromised by bringing global corporate entities into the UNFCCC

The counter-argument from the FCNL climate lobbyist, Jose Aguto, is that one has to remain part of the conversation in a process where nation states have engaged with corporate entities in the efforts to forestall rapid climate change under the aegis of the UN. The compelling presentations in Chicago appeared to seal the better arguments on the side of the anti-global finance people, but the willingness to work with everyone at the table on the part of the coalition of religious groups, including the “enemy,” remains persuasive for me. This is the central struggle in the UNFCCC and other international bodies (like the World Bank and IMF) in the climate wars. Sometimes it is hard to find the God within those who present themselves as other, seemingly diametrically opposed to one's own values. But that is our commitment as Friends. Of course, the question is, where is God in the structures themselves, the committees, organizations, and corporations? Unless there are honest, open personal relations among all sides in these groups, God is unnamed and unrecognized.

The following post goes into detail about our sharing of the Pisac Minute and what then transpired at Business Meeting, “Geeta Answers the Call.”

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This summary is fair and balanced. While I would have perhaps some other insights, those you express here accord with my perceptions.
Brad Stocker
I left a comment on the second post, which I have taken down for revision. Thanks for alerting me to that need. I have asked Geeta to clarify what she put before business meeting, and I will then revise and repost.
A minor historical correction, Friend: The old name for the organization was not Friends in Unity with Nature, but Friends Committee on Unity with Nature, FCUN. I am particularly clear on that because I was the one who suggested that name! I offered as a parallel to Friends Committee on National Legislation (FNCL), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and Friends World Committee on Consultation (FWCC); the idea was to make this one more committee bridging yearly meetings around the world, working on the very difficult task of bringing humanity into unity with nature, which it is clearly not in unity with at present.

There were many Friends who preferred to refer to it as Friends in Unity with Nature, FUN, and in New England they were the majority and named their yearly meeting committee NEFUN. I rather felt that this was presumptuous. No Friend already in unity with nature would be flying to committee meetings far away, adding hugely to the greenhouse gas problem by doing so. Bless them, the committee members did wrestle long and hard with that issue, and found various ways of addressing it, but the problem is still not fully resolved.
Thank you for your deep discernment about QEW's challenges and your interesting report on some of the high points the QEW steering committee gathering in Chicago in April 2016. "Sometimes it is hard to find the God within those who present themselves as other, seemingly diametrically opposed to one's own values." In QEW, it looks like the hard part right now is getting above water and into the light what our actual thoughts and values are so we can discuss them and reason things out. It is hard to say what is QEW and who makes the decisions for QEW.

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