Becoming Visible: Quaker Outreach at Colleges

Last week I traveled up to Boone, North Carolina to assist the SPICE (Acronym for core Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, & Equality) Quaker student group at Appalachian State University with their table at the Student Involvement Fair. These fairs are quite common at college campuses at the beginning of the school year and each club and/or student group can have a table to introduce fellow students to who they are.

IMG_20160815_145740677As a religious club, the SPICE club was in the same room with all the other religious clubs
on campuses. We were next to the Presbyterian/Episcopal club, and near other denominational campus ministries, like the United Methodist Wesley Foundation and Catholic Campus Ministry They were also at least half a dozen parachurch groups, like Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. There were a lot of variety for students to choose from. I am glad Quakers appear as one of the options.

During the fair the SPICE group had a cardboard display about their group and they had printed stickers with their name on it and wrote on the back their meeting time for the semester. (Their meeting time changes each semester dependinIMG_20160815_150928812 (1)g on the class schedules of the members.) I brought with me a life-size Quaker Man from my meeting, First Friends Meeting of Greensboro, and some chocolates to give out.

Throughout the event, we gave out chocolates and stickers to App students. We asked people if they had heard of Quakers or if they were interested in being involved with a faith community based on simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. By the end of the event, we had a list of 12 student names and contact information and had given out all of the SPICE stickers.

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Joe & Harriet wtih Quaker Man

Now, the SPICE group leadership, made up of Ellen, Harriet, and Joe, are reaching out to these students and planning some great events for this upcoming semester. I am working with them this year to help their efforts to reach out to the larger campus community at Appalachian State and to help plan events

Just imagine if Quakers were on more college campuses, what if we were able to reach a dozen students each year on, say, 25 campuses. What impact would that cause on students’ lives? What impact would that have on the future of the Religious Society of Friends? We have a powerful message to share about a faith centered on peace and community. This message to share that needs to be shared alongside other ministry groups on college campuses. Students are indeed eager to hear it! We need to become visible on these campuses!

As I wrote earlier in the summer, I am currently working on setting up a network of Quaker campus ministries at non-Quaker higher education institutions to support students like Ellen, Harriet, and Joe, in developing Quaker groups on their campuses. These groups help to sustain Quaker students in their faith journey during college. I welcome any support in helping to identify:

  • Quaker students you know at non Quaker institutions
  • Quaker student group at non Quaker institutions
  • Quakers who have a leading to work with college students

If you can help or want to get involved in any way, please fill out this form or contact me at gregwoodsquaker@gmail.com

 

A Response to Trump: Tribune of Poor White People

Several liberal friends have recently posted the article Trump: Tribune of Poor White People, which is an interview by Rod Dreher had with JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy.51G93vyEl5L

When I read it, I wanted to like the article and wanted to gleam some great insights. But at the end of the article, I was not at all impressed by the commentary that lacked nuance and made broad generalizations that were entirely based on anecdotal evidence and not supported by actual hard facts.

Here are my thoughts on the interview:

1. Yes some liberals at Yale can be elitists, like the ones that Vance talked about in the interview. Yet, if Vance want to speak against broad assumptions of a group of people, the he should not make broad assumptions of another group of people. Yes, there is classism at Ivy League schools, but a majority of the liberals in the US do not go to Ivy League schools. Anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal.

2. Another anecdotal evidence that the interviewer Dreher and JD Vance seemed to affirm is a friend of Dreher’s seeing Trump signs all over West Virginia. If you look at results from the primary election in WV, Trump was indeed the top vote getter overall, but more people voted in the Democrat primary (roughly 30,000 more) with Sanders and Clinton getting 60,000 more votes combined than Trump. In some of the southern countries where I have traveled through and is pretty rural, Sanders captured more votes than Trump, so it wasn’t just big cities, like Charleston, voting overwhelming for Democrats to skew the voter turnout.

3. This leads to a point my friend Vonn New made on Facebook. This whole interview is based on the theory that poor working whites are the majority of Trump base. This theory is debunked by Nate Silver of 538. In his article, Silver shows that Trump supporters have a median household income $16,000 higher than the national average. Also Silvers has a breakdown of voters and their median household income. Silver doesn’t show data for West Virgina, but he does have data from Ohio where Vance is from. In Ohio, Trump primary voters had an median household income of $64K, $13K higher than average for Ohio and 5K and 2K higher shutterstock_3218677341-554x380than Clinton and Sanders’ voters respectively.

 

Even the woman pictured with a Trump hat (shown right) at the top of the article is a multi-millionaire herself, according to someone who wrote Dreher after he initially posted the interview. Also notice that in the same post-script Dreher writes about using the photo because it is one he could find quickly “of a normal-looking person at a Trump rally, up close.” So… let’s talk about elitism…

4. Vance’s overall point, besides liberals are elitists, seems to be that liberals are too concerned about structural barriers, that the conversation to help the people in Appalachia needs to be about personal responsibility. Besides this being a common trope that liberals want to take care of people so it lets people be lazy, Vance does agree himself that barriers are very much real.

As a liberal, I see these programs as leveling the playing field so that people from Appalachia can have more of a chance to go to college as their peers in suburban Washington DC have, not as a way for people to be lazy. Liberals tend to have platforms that support a strong public education. Public education helped Vance to go to Ohio State University, which led to him then going to Yale Law and having to deal with the liberal elitists there. Vance himself benefited from liberals wanting to and working to break down structural barriers, but he does not seem to acknowledge this at all. Meanwhile, conservatives across the country are currently actively working to defund public education at all levels that would prevent poor students like Vance from ever being able to attend a great state college like OSU.

5. Obama came from a middle class background and was raised at one point by a single mother and her parents. Insinuating that he is an out-of-touch elitist is an empty attack that shows there is no substance to the underlying argument.

6. Coal is a dying industry, not only because of liberals’ evil regulations, but because it is a finite natural resource. Also, strip mining is literally destroying the state and causing floods like never seen before. Instead of propping up an industry whose top executives have shown little to no regard for their workers’ lives (eg Don Blankenship), let’s actually start figuring out new industries and jobs for people in Appalachia.

Overall, this interview does show a much-needed conversation about class among white people. One that I was looking for when I opened the article. Yet instead, this conversation is obscured by useless political attacks, substitution of hard facts in favor of anecdotal evidence, and overgeneralization of complex issues facing poor white people in Appalachia and beyond.

Some Thoughts on Brock Turner

TW: Rape, White Privilege, Rape Culture

By Greg

I am beyond outrage about the lenient sentence that Brock Turner received

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Brock Turner

for the rape of an unconscious woman. (Also outraged that he wasn’t actually found guilty of rape. No, those charges were dropped before trial.)

I want the victim to receive justice. It is egregious that Brock Turner has yet to admit that he violated the victim even after being found guilty “of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

In her statement at sentencing, the victim said: “You do not get to pretend that there were no red flags. You have been convicted of violating me, intentionally, forcibly, sexually, with malicious intent, and all you can admit to is consuming alcohol. Do not talk about the sad way your life was upturned because alcohol made you do bad things. Figure out how to take responsibility for your own conduct.” (Please read her whole statement if you haven’t)

As a father-to-be with no idea of the sex of the baby, I am terrified of the current rape culture that I would be bringing up my daughter or son. Despite my best efforts to educate her/him otherwise, this culture will teach her she is to be blamed if she is ever assaulted or will teach my son that consent doesn’t really matter and will excuse him if he does ever rape someone.

I want revenge for the victim. Part of me wants to lock him up forever, especially as Shaun King pointed out yesterday in the NY Daily News, there are people of color in jail for ten years for nonviolent crimes, like selling weed. White privilege as rape culture has influenced this case in many ways.  This revenge side of me wants Brock to be locked up for a very long time to make a point that our justice system will finally start holding young privileged white males accountable for their crimes.

At the same time, this revenge side of me disturbs me. Because I know better. The current prison system is corrupt for many reasons and is focused on retribution, rather than restorative justice that will rehabilitate the offender and help with the healing process of the victim. Also if one young white privileged rapist gets a very long sentence, this does not change a very corrupt and unjust system that overwhelmingly discriminate against people of color.

I don’t know how to reconcile these positions of wanting justice and revenge to be served on one hand, while knowing that prison will probably not rehabilitate Brock Turner or probably facilitate further healing for the victim. Either way I know he needs more than six months in jail. But what is the “more”?

Lastly as a Quaker in ministry, I want to see the Light of God within Brock and find ways to grieve that he doesn’t understand the evil he did to his victim. I will hold him in the Light that he may one day realize the evil he has done. I do find it much easier to find the Light of God within the victim, but my theology asks that I sees the Light of God within everyone, no matter what evil they done, because they are still God’s creation. But I am having trouble with this as well.

What Am I Doing Next? AKA Announcing a New Ministry

By Greg

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My clean former office after I de-cluttered it!

Tuesday was my last day of working for Friends Center at Guilford College. A lot of people are asking what I will do next.

Here is my answer: I am taking a leap of faith and embarking on creating a new Quaker ministry! I am working to start a network of Quaker campus ministries on non-Quaker campuses in the United States.

This idea has been floating around in my mind since I interned with Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life during the last year of seminary three years ago. During my internship, I started a Quaker student group to worship with weekly.

I was surprised at who came to the group. There were several students who grew up identifying as Quakers, while others came who did not identify as Quakers, but they went to Quaker schools growing up and they cherished and missed the weekly meetings for worship. Then there were occasional visitors who were intrigued about Quakers.

Over the years, I have been involved in a lot of conversations about Quaker renewal and how to grow the Religious Society of Friends. None of these conversations have involved

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Talking about this idea at Emerging Practices in Quaker Outreach in late April (Photo by Chris Mohr)

talking about working with college students on college campuses. While I was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, many of my classmates talked fondly of their denominational campus ministry and that helped them to discern their call to ministry. At the same time, I know of several Quaker leaders who came to Quakerism during college at non-Quaker institutions, but we do not have any network or coordinated effort to assist Quaker students or students who may be interested in Quakerism at these institutions.

I envision creating a network of campus ministries to help reach young adults at non Quaker higher education institutions as well as creating resources to help Quaker students and Quakers in general support campus ministries in their area. My hope with creating this network is to support Quaker students at non-Quaker institutions, develop future Quaker leaders, and to reach college students who would be interested in Quakerism if they have the chance to hear our messages.

For the next year, with the help of my family, I have been released from full-time work to pursue setting up this network. Also I have a support committee from my meeting, First Friends Meeting of Greensboro, to support me in this work.

You can help me with this effort by helping to identify:

  • Quaker students you know at non Quaker institutions
  • Quaker student group at non Quaker institutions
  • Quakers who have a leading to work with college students

Here is a Google Form you can fill out or you can email me.

I welcome any help, input, and prayers as I take this next step! I am scared and excited at the same time!

Are Young Adult Friends Ready to Lead?

In March, I gave a talk via Skype to the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends Gathering on the future of Quakers and the need for Young Adult Friends to take leadership.  – Greg

In 1652, a 28 year old uneducated young man climbed Pendle Hill and at the top of that hill he had a vision of a great people gathered. This vision is what brings us together today. George Fox saw that the time was ripe for a major shift in his society and I will argue that we are in a time today where a major shift is needed in our society.

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George Fox preaching (Source)

George Fox and early Friends were a radical band of seekers. They caused a lot of ruckus
and they were unafraid of voicing their convictions and telling others that their beliefs were completely wrong. They had a powerful message for the masses that Christ Jesus came to teach himself. They certainly were not afraid to share that message with anyone. They even had the gall to try to convert the Pope and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Early Quakers had fervor in part because of the political climate that England was in due to an ongoing civil war. Many felt that they were near the end of days and that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. In part, I would argue that we are in a similar time period. Even though I do not think that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent, we are reaching a critical point in history, a time that we need to be on fire again.

More than 350 years after early Quakers began preaching their message, I sense a burning desire among people today to find a community that is uncorrupted by the current corporate church culture. Because of the recent culture wars and the obscene wealth that some churches flaunt around, many people have left the church in disgust and some of them have become refugees within Quakerism, especially liberal Quakerism. But a lot have just left the Church altogether, which is why we have a lot of people, identifying as a “none” and/or Spiritual But Not Religious.

We are seeing an upheaval in society with the Occupy movement a couple years ago and now with Climate activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. These are callings, yearnings for a major shift in society. Most of these movements have offered/are offering temporary community, which only lasts as long as the next victory looks possible. The Indian social activist Arundhati Roy said about 15 years ago, “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Quakerism has a lot to offer these movements, much like what early Quakers were offering in 1650s to the English society. In some ways, what we have to offer will not look much different than what early Friends were offering, yet in other ways they are completely different.

Early Quakers did believe in the sacraments, but not in the outward forms of the sacraments because first they did not believe that Jesus required them in the Bible and second they felt that the practice of outward sacraments over the centuries had made the practices to become empty, devoid of meaning. They wanted to recapture early Christian fervor to revive Christianity from its dull, hierarchical form that it looked like by the 1640s and 50s because the church had become institutional and corrupted. Early Friends wanted to find an uncorrupted faith that was rooted in community.

One of the most radical things that early Friends offer was the idea that an individual could have a direct relationship with God. They were raising up the idea of individualism in a time when people were grouped in the masses. As Quakers, we still believe in direct revelation, but our most radical offering to the wider world is a heartfelt commitment to community in the face of growing individualism. Other churches invite people to the table for outward communion on a weekly or monthly basis. But our inward communion happens whenever two or more are gathered for worship. We are participating in this sacred communion tonight. This communion has the power to sustain people hungry for change longer than any short-term victory could ever provide.

The time right now is ripe for a major shift. Quakers can provide a place to spiritually support this important work and the people involved. Are we willing?

Are we as Young Adult Friends willing to take on leadership for this shift? The shift in the Religious Society of Friends should come from Young Adult Friends. We have been at the forefront of change since the 1650s. As a denomination, we were founded by a young adult, someone younger than I am. Then in the 1860s, not too far from First Friends Meeting, it was young adults within Indiana Yearly Meeting who insisted on gathering outside of the yearly meeting program to sing and offer vocal ministry. This helped to lead Quakerism outside of the Quietism period. It was young adult Friends in Philadelphia who started meeting together in the 1910s- 1920s. This effort helped to lead to the founding of the Friends World Committee on Consultation and the unification efforts to rejoin the Hicksite-Orthodox yearly meetings in the Philadelphia area and other surrounding yearly meetings.

Sometimes I see more young adult Quakers at rallies and at retreats than I do at meeting for worship on Sunday morning. Are we living up to or down to what is expected of us? What are we offering to our meetings? Are we opting in? I don’t think it is easy to be a Young Adult Friend in a lot of Quaker meetings. Some are great, but many are indifferent or even hostile. Older Quakers tend to ask people in their late 20s or early 30s if they still in college. Or else regard us as not willing to stick around, so Friends do not even try to learn the names of young adults who attend their meetings/churches. I have been to some meetings where no one will greet you even if they know you are a newcomer. Sometimes it is not easy, but are we making an effort? What alternatives are there? We could also be starting our own worship groups and inviting people into a deeper communion together. For example, in Greensboro along with others I have started a monthly young adult group where we meet for potluck and worship. Young Adults come from different meetings and even no meeting to meet together for this time of fellowship. Are we willing to step up and lead?

We already have young adult Friends changing the landscape of the Religious Society of Friends and inviting non Quakers in at the same time. I want to highlight the work of a Young Adult Friend Christina Repoley and the founding of Quaker Voluntary Service. (A disclaimer: I am on the board of the organization.) Christina graduated from Guilford and wanted to find a way to serve Quakers. Like other young adult Quakers, she quickly found herself living in Philadelphia and a while she started working for a Quaker organization. But she did not feel supported by Quakers in general.

During her time in Philadelphia, Christina became friends with several young adult Mennonites and they had fond memories of service opportunities from Mennonite Voluntary Service. Christina wondered why is there was nothing like that in Quakerism. This question led to an almost a decade long journey that led Christina to finding people to help her build what is now Quaker Voluntary Service.  Along the way, Christina invited others, including other young adults to join her in her vision. Her vision became a collaborative effort that bought Quakers together from different branches to dream big. Ten years after graduating and feeling unsupported by Quakers, the first cohort of young adults moved into a QVS house in Atlanta, GA.

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2015-2016 QVS Fellows

Now four and half years later, there are about 25 young adults living in houses in four cities. About half are Quakers and the momentum is still growing. QVS is re-engaging young adult Friends into Quakerism and introducing others to Quakerism for the first
time. Local meetings in these four cities are feeling re-energized by these QVS Fellows. All this has happened from a young adult Friend who was frustrated by a lack of support by Quakerism.

What ideas do you have to re-energize the Religious Society of Friends? What ideas can meet the needs of the people who are hungry for something more?

One idea I have is the formation of a nationwide Quaker campus ministry program. Other denominations and faiths have programs to nurture their college students who do not go to their denominational schools, but not the Quakers. There are some local efforts here and there across the country, but they greatly vary in quality and effectiveness. These ministries attract non Quaker students as well. Despite knowing that some of our leaders have come to Quakerism while attending non Quaker institutions, Quakers have made no effort to make a big push to offer a nationwide campus ministry program or much less materials to help Friends thinking about reaching out to college students. I have witnessed that college students are searching for something more meaningful, something more fulfilling than what the regular college experience can offer. Many students realize they have a need for a time for quiet reflection, which Quakerism can offer.

Whatever we do, we need to be mindful that it takes time. I know that I find this frustrating because I am a very impatient person. It is very hard for me to practice patience, but I am trying my best.

Last weekend, my IMG_20160309_165304972.jpgpregnant wife Jenn and I planted seeds for our garden and put them in a window sill, to be planted outside in a couple weeks. The next day during meeting for worship, I realized that when she gives birth in late June, we will hopefully be harvesting some of the produce that came from these seeds we just planted. In both instances, I do not know what the fruits of our/her labor will be exactly, but I do know that we can only hope that with love, patience, and maintenance, we can give both the plants and our baby the best chance to thrive in the outside world.

Whatever we try will not necessary thrive. Within a garden, not everything bears
fruit. One year might be a bumper crop but another year we could have a drought and everything could be lost. Along with all of this is the knowledge that we are not in total control, so faith and hope are important components of gardening and parenting. Faith and hope are also important in ministry and working on finding a way forward. How are we preparing the ground to grow these vital ministries to meet the world’s need? How are we working to support each other?

More importantly, are we Young Adult Friends willing to step up and lead the Religious Society of Friends in a new direction?

 

On why I’m not finding out ‘What it is?’

by Jennifer

Disclaimer: This is a personal reflection on why I am not finding out the sex of my baby. Parenting is not a one-size fits all and we’re all out here trying to do best by our child. There’s too much bashing and judgment of parenting and is not my intent to pass judgment on others parenting or to incur judgment on my own parenting.

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“Are you going to find out the gender?” Aliens-Movie-Chestburster

Or my person favorite: “do you know what you’re going to have?” (um, a human infant or you know, a thing like in the movie Alien based on the present kicking/movement)

I’ve been asked these questions and variations of these questions a lot. My answer is an emphatic ‘No’. And the simple explanations I give go along the lines of ‘We’d like it to be a surprise’ or ‘I don’t love pink or blue and don’t want people getting us a lot of either’. But the truth is my reasons are a lot more complex and are rooted in my feminist understanding of the world.

First, we gender children enough once they are out of the womb, so why start before the baby has even finished gestating in the womb.

As a feminist, I am concerned with all the ways that children get socialized into gender roles through clothing, toys, media, and activities. Just look at what gets labeled as a ‘girl’ toy and you’ll see, often in a plethora of pink or purple, princesses galore, dolls, cooking stations, tea party sets, and Barbies with endless outfits, shoes, and accessories. These toys emphasize the importance of looks, nurturing, cooking, and cleaning. And in a ‘boy’ toy aisle, in hues of blues and greens, are super hero figurines, guns, cars, dump trucks, train sets, tool sets emphasizing physical labor, action, and violence.

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From bithmedia.org blogpost

For people that are comfortable with traditional gender roles and think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, this might not be a problem. But for a 21st century feminist, I think it’s important to think critically about the messages children are receiving that suggest how their gender informs their identity and role in society. And as a parent, I would like to foster an environment that first shields from these messages and than encourages my child to critique them.

To address my second reason for not wanting to find out, let’s start with a basic, simplified lesson on sex and gender. (disclaimer: I’m a cisgender person trying to simplify a very complicated topic that I’m still learning more and more about.) Sex is not the same as gender. Sex refers to the biological – i.e. organs/chromosomes – including male, female, and intersex. Gender refers to how an individual A_TransGender-Symbol_black-and-white.svgidentities and expresses their gender identity. Someone’s biological sex might not always match up with their gender identity and expression and they might identify transgender. Further, someone may not identify with the binary gender system (male or female) and identify on an expansive continuum of non-binary or genderqueer identities.

So when someone asks me if I am going to find out the gender of my baby, I can’t help but think that there is no medical test or professional that can tell me the gender of my baby. Only my child will be able to discover and reveal, over the course of years, their gender identity and expression.

A Kind of Love That Never Ends

This is the sermon I preached on February 14th at Spring Friends Meeting.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a romantic holiday, which celebrates love. A lot of couples will celebrate today by sharing gifts, eating out at a romantic restaurant, or getting away for the whole weekend. I have a hunch that 1 Corinthians 13 will be read or recited a lot today between couples and in churches around the country in honor of today. You may even see it quoted on church signs or posted on social media today. I am fairly certain that I am not the only person preaching on this chapter today.

I am glad that this chapter will be read a lot today. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful piece of writing. My favorite part of this chapter is verses 4-8: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

These verses are often recited at weddings. It is really beautiful to reflect on what romantic love could be like. If a couple followed these guidelines for love, it would certainly build a great foundation for an long-lasting, romantic relationship.

Yet, people often take this chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth completely out of context. Paul is not talking about romantic love at all in 1 Corinthians 13, not even close. Paul does not care at all about the romantic lives of the Christians in Corinth. He is talking about a greater kind of love.

In Chapter 12 of his letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul is talking about the variety of spiritual gifts that Christians may possess. His overall point for Chapter 13 is about how we can only use our spiritual gifts in the most effective way if it is done with love. The Greek word that Paul uses in this chapter is agape. Paul does not use the Greek word eros, which is translated more as romantic love. Instead, agape translates to mean benevolence and good will. Christians have translated agape to mean God’s unconditional love. For example in the King James Version, agape is translated to English as charity, instead of love, unlike the New Revised Standard Version translation that I just read from.

Even though Paul does not talk about romantic love in this chapter, I still want to talk about this type of love on Valentine’s Day. For me, to only define love in one way, only in the romantic sense, robs us of a deeper love that Paul is talking about. A love that Jesus came to teach us about himself: An unconditional love from God that is given to us just because we exist. No matter who we are or what we have done, God still loves us, each of us.

On Facebook in recent days, I have seen friends my age reminiscing about what Valentine’s Day was like in elementary school. Valentine’s Day back then meant that everyone received a card and some candy. Ideally, back then, no one was singled out to get more cards or candy, nor left out of the exchange at all. For me this example illustrates what I believe God’s love is like. God loves each one of us the same way.

With the knowledge of this love comes responsibilities that we must bear. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is reminding us about these responsibilities that this love entails. We need to treat each other like the children of God we are, reminding ourselves of Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is not an easy task by far. I often fail to love others, especially the people who I disagree with on matters I hold dear.

This is perhaps a great reminder to have right now. Currently, we are struggling among each other in the yearly meeting and also we are in the midst of yet another bitter Presidential election season. In this time of intense disagreement, let’s keep asking ourselves: How do we seek that of God within everyone we encounter?

At the same time, more is required of us than just passively loving each other despite our differences. It is a good start, but it is not nearly enough. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly implores His followers to show solidarity with the oppressed. We need to take heed of this call to action, especially with the numerous injustices currently happening within our wider community, like mass incarceration, police brutality, eroding of voting rights, mass deportations of undocumented people of color. I could go on listing the social ills affecting our society. Most of these injustices do not directly affect us, as a congregation largely made up of privileged white people. This is precisely why we need to be working in solidarity with those affected by oppression at the same time challenging the status quo.

The scholar and activist Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” We need to be showing up in solidarity with the oppressed to fight for justice, whether that means attending Moral Monday protests, educating others about injustices in our community, or helping people learn their own rights. To take action will look different for each person, but we all need to be doing something.

Whatever we do, we must continue to be mindful that we are affirming the dignity of the oppressed, not using them just to pat ourselves on the back. In the same vein, we need to lovingly challenge people in power, not demonize them. We should not be doing this work if at the end of the day we still feel superior towards the oppressed or smug towards people in power. This work should be done in partnership to achieve liberation for all. The Aboriginal activists group once said: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” God is calling us towards a collective liberation. Are we heeding this call?

On this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember to love each other unconditionally just as God love us and further challenge ourselves by asking: How are we seeking that of God within each person we encounter? How are we showing up for justice in our communities? Where is God calling us to challenge the systems of oppression affecting our neighbors?

Because this kind of love never ends!