Dr. Mandy Cohen, the former N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services, was the honorary degree recipient this year at Guilford College’s graduation. This is one piece of her remarks that has stuck with me.
“Trust is the foundation of all relationships, both personal and professional. I truly believe change happens at the pace of trust. If you want to make change in this world through your professional endeavors – making the world safer, more just, more equitable, more beautiful, more resilient, or healthier – you will need to think intentionally about trust.”
Between 1990 and 2021, there was a decrease of 25 percentage points in the number of Americans who say they have five or more close friends. 25 percentage points. And that can just collapse into common wisdom. But…that’s a big drop. Young adults feel lonelier than the elderly. You should not look at data like that and not just say, well, that’s too bad. It should make us say, where did we go wrong?…
There is an interesting turn in the episode when they suggest that at least some of loneliness is structural, it is the result of a series of choices we’ve made, and the way we’ve built society.
[Lonlieness is] also an outcome. It is the result of a structure. It is imposed, in some ways, by culture. We make choices as a society about what we value. We chase our jobs. We live far from our families. We move away from our friends. We spread out into suburbs and into single-family homes set back behind fences and lawns. We sprawl out with automobiles. We design for atomization and isolation. And so, no wonder we get lonely.
Klein asks a powerful query saying: [all of this] raises [a] deeper question of, why did we choose that? And what would it then look like to choose otherwise? Not just as individuals but as a society, what would it mean to structure for community?
I want to share the sermon I preached on April 15, 2023, for the American Friends Service Committee’s annual gathering in Philadelphia. Each year AFSC gathers for business, workshops, and community building. During this time, they have a programmed worship service as a part of their time together. This was the second time I was invited to come and preach at the meeting; the first was in 2014 when we still lived in Camas. It was a lovely experience being with Friends this year, and even better because I was able to take two students to travel in the ministry with me, making the whole trip a valuable and enjoyable experience.
“I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.””
The Two “Projects”
As far back as the biblical tradition goes, there has always been a religion of empire and a religion of liberation and resistance:
Dorothee Soelle, a Feminist Biblical Scholar, put it like this:
“We are participants in one of these two projects: exploitation or fullness of life.” Soelle – The Window of Vulnerability, p14
And in another place, she spoke of what it means to be a participant in the project of the fullness of life, saying:
What I can do in the context of the rich world is minute and without risk in comparison with the great traditions of resistance. The issues is not to venerate heroes but together to offer resistance, actively and deliberately and in very diverse situations, against becoming habituated to death, something that is one of the spiritual foundations of the culture of the First World. – Soelle
It is this point I want to explore: what does it mean for us to see ourselves as a part of the great traditions of resistance, this project both spiritual and social, with an active and deliberate refusal to becoming habituated to death?
We will do this through the lens of three important letters penned by spiritual leaders rooted in this project of life.
I have a little trick, it’s kind of silly, but it helps me when I’m in trouble. I do it whenever my attitude isn’t great or I feel resistant about something I have to do.
I call it the “hat trick.”
While I consider myself to be an open person, excited to learn new things, and willing to try new things and experiment, I also notice in myself plenty of times when I start to move in the other direction.
There are times when there are upcoming committee meetings, looming conflicts, or difficult conversations I need to have that I really just don’t want to do. When I think about these things my stomach starts to turn and it starts to feel like drudgery. Or I just have a bad attitude about the whole thing.
A convergent Model of Renewal lays out a model for working with congregations and communities alike, interested in maintaining their tradition while also becoming more connected to their context and needs of their community.
The Quaker World is a book with over 50 authors around the world covering sections such as global Quaker history, to spirituality, and embodiment and emphasizes global Quaker diversity and biographies of Quakers.