The Next Level

I’m realizing I don’t even know the words to express how excited and grateful I am about an upcoming event. That in itself is relevant, because this event will involve things we really don’t have a good vocabulary for, things like faith, injustice, privilege, community, and how we care for one another. But it will be crucial for us to find the words or ways to share about these things, and the more we work at it, the better we will get. It will be more actions than words that help us along this path.
The occasion is the first intentional meeting of North Meadow Circle of Friends and the Kheprw Institute (KI) community. Intentional, because a number of people in each community already have a history, some a long history, of knowing each other. Imhotep and JT attended IUPUI together many (many, many) years ago 🙂
I can only speak from my own experience, i.e. other Quakers may not agree with some of the broad statements that follow. For one thing, North Meadow Friends has more diversity of all kinds, and exists in a more diverse community than the one I grew up in in Iowa, where the population is 97% white. But in practical terms we still live in a society that remains in most ways racially and economically segregated. It is also my perception that we have moved further away from community in many respects, and it’s like people are even segregated as individuals. People are so involved with their cell phones they don’t even acknowledge anyone around them.
Quakers have a long history of work to try to address injustice and work for peace. But we know we cannot invoke that past work as our own. One characteristic of Quakers is an emphasis on examining one’s own life, constantly evaluating how well we are, or are not doing in living up to our beliefs. We believe every moment and aspect of our lives should be as consistent as possible with our beliefs, and, of course, we have varying degrees of success and failure.
One of the main areas I felt I was failing in was how to deal with the many privileges I had been given by default by being one of the “people who think they are white” as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it in “Between the World and Me” (one of the books we discussed at the youth-led community discussions at KI).
Actually one of my first experiences with privilege was not related to race, but what I’ve come to call environmental privilege. When I arrived in Indianapolis, a farm boy, I was horrified at the dirty air, and the sight of hundreds of cars spewing out exhaust (this was before catalytic converters hid the damage being done). It was obvious that situation could not continue, so I decided to refuse to own a car. I’ve tried since then to convince others, especially Quakers, to give up their cars, with no success at all. I mention this as an example of three things–of privilege, as an example of how a Quaker tries to live according to ones beliefs, and of how none of us is completely successful in doing so.
Returning to race, I think many Friends (the vast majority of whom, in the United States, are people who think they are white) are dismayed and bewildered as we discover more and more of the privileges we have been accorded, without having been aware of them. To realize we are on the wrong side of justice is against all we believe in.
Once we start to become aware of these things, that naturally leads one to wonder what else is going on that we are not aware of. Once you discover your ignorance of a subject, the question becomes how can you know what it is that you don’t know? Wow.
During another community book discussion (of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire) a good bit of time was spent discussing whether it is the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressor. What I got from that was an ambivalent answer–on the one hand, simply no, but on the other, it is only from the oppressed that the oppressor can learn. It is uncomfortable for Quakers to realize they are oppressors, but that is important to acknowledge.
One of the great things KI has done is offer a welcoming space for people to come together to learn together about these things. As Imhotep often says, “conversation is undervalued”. KI exemplifies what a community is. They are an example of what Martin Luther King and others have spoken of as the Beloved Community.
North Meadow Friends is also an example of a Beloved Community. But our community needs help addressing racial, social and economic injustice.
So this is the event I’m looking forward to, KI and North Meadow Friends together. As William Penn said, “Let us see what love can do.”

KI community discussion

KI community discussion

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