The Example of John Woolman

In my last blog, I wrote about my wanting to think differently and thus act differently in the political world. My spirituality book club’s new selection is by Quaker Parker Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. It happens to be my turn to host our next meeting so I was the one who selected the book. It is my hope that it will help me in my quest.

I was a Quaker for a period of time. I am part of another spiritual community right now, but I still claim a Quaker heart. What drew me to the Quakers was their testimony for peace and the belief that there is “that of God in everyone”. When I was with the Quakers, maintaining these principles was a constant struggle. One would think that they are do-nothings when it comes to the evils in the world, but this far from true.

Parker tells the story of John Woolman, a Quaker who in 18th century was convicted or convinced that slavery was evil. When a Quaker feels strongly that God is leading them, they talk about being convicted. Typically for a Quaker, Woolman first began to live according to his new conviction and freed his own slaves. Then he began to travel up and down the east coast, preaching in Quaker meeting houses and homes about the evils of slavery. When he stayed in homes he refrained from eating any foods prepared by slaves, so deep were his convictions. Woolman worked in response to his conviction for twenty years until Quakers became the first religious community in America to free their slaves before the Civil War. In addition to freeing their own slaves, they were instrumental in developing and maintaining the Underground Railroad. In Parker’s mind, freedom for black Americans came about with one man’s conviction and the willingness to live fully that conviction even at economic cost and danger to him and his family.

As I suggested in my earlier blog, I am looking for ways to express my citizenship besides just casting a vote every two years. I think this book by Palmer will help me. This first suggestion is that if I hope for change in my country, I need to begin with myself. Do I live the convictions that I desire in my government?

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