To Publish “Truth?”

I was asked to speak at Quakers United in Publications earlier this month at the beautiful Penn Center on St. Helena’s Island in South Carolina. It was a lovely road-trip south and a nice time seeing friendly faces. I was glad for the opportunity to spend some time thinking and writing on the question they posed:

Are Quakers Still Publishers of Truth?

I took the challenge because I have been thinking about this subject since Peggy Morrison, Kathy Hyzy and I put on a weekend retreat we called “The Nursery of Truth” a few years back.


Initially, the question brought up more questions:

  • What is an obligation to publish truth when others are disinterested or don’t care?
  • What does it mean to publish truth when we do not lay claim to another’s theological tradition or practice?
  • And of course, what does it mean to speak of truth? How is it anchored in a community of practice? How is truth experienced? What does it look like? Who gets to decide what truth is?
  • How does truth get understood in today’s political and cultural climate where we easily turn a blind-eye to “alternative facts,” and outright lies from leaders in every arena?
  • Are there ways in which we might apprentice people within our faith tradition(s) to the truth? Are there ways in which we can learn from the past in rebuilding some kind of “nursery of truth?”
  • Finally – What role does our understanding of truth play in the ongoing disagreements and fracturing of our faith communities?

The process of wrestling with these questions has been good for me. I believe that if our understanding of truth and our ability to communicate it doesn’t change in ways that can account for the needs and tensions within our meetings, the needs and make-up of our communities, and the changing cultural and political context of our time, then the short answer will be no, Quakers are no longer publishers of truth. On the other hand, if our conceptions change too much, or become too individualized that no one can speak with any authority how will we have any real sense that this is truth we are communicating at all?

I will it here for today, but stay tuned. There is more to come on this topic.

In the meantime: What do you think? Are Quakers still publishers of truth?


10 responses to “To Publish “Truth?””

  1. Some Quakers seek and publish truth, and some have a narrow tolerance for new truth, whether it comes from the Light or from other Quakers.

  2. After studying Conflict Analysis and Community Mediation in South Africa in the 90s, I attempt to contextualized learnings from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and the rebalancing of government. I also spent some time in Ireland before the agreements and 6 months with the directors of the Belfast Peace House while they were Friends in Residence at Pendle Hill. I studied anthropology and linguistics in Singapore and spent 6 months imbedded in the far east of Indonesia during the gulf wars.

    Through these and other cross cultural experiences here in the states, I have adopted traditions from various cultures and built a tool kit, as it were, so that I have many choices and lots of hope for transformation when others have given up.

    I say all this before responding to your list of questions, because in order to create a safe space for each person to share their view point, I try to launder my language, remove all judgment, and stand in that place between truth and reconciliation, where understanding lives.

    In doing so I find that people are not apathetic, nor disinterested, but rather hopeless, overwhelmed, and misunderstood. I choose listen deeply until I understand each one’s struggle and encourage others to commit to understanding.

    Creating safe space and convincing people we want to understand each other more than anything else, allows people the privilege of self-determination. Intentionally designed questions posed in safe places, lead to open dialogue and encourage courage for more sharing.

    Maybe Quakers are deep listeners of truth.
    And maybe honoring and understanding each one’s truth,
    is what brings “authority” to make change together.

    When we truly understand another’s world view,
    only then can we trust ourselves to ask those questions
    that might move our world views
    closer to center.

    Lastly, Keeping it Local
    where our faith and practice promotes peace locally,
    might be what we need to withhold judgment
    as we all connect our local dots,
    toward a broadening Peace.

    How about asking an American Indian living in William Penn’s dream city?
    How might our questions change?
    How might our understanding grow?

    • Hey ruthann, long time no see! (I’m a treegestalt at gmail if you’d want to discuss this matter & talk abt how it’all has been since!)

      To some extent, yes, it’s much easier to share divergences when people treat each other more tenderly — but I’ve seen Friends treating each other so tenderly sometimes that we don’t dare touch! Maybe we’re also needing to be able to give & tolerate more pain in the interests of not being content to wrap ourselves into individual inpenetrable cocoons.

      • Hey Forest, it has been awhile since I’ve seen your name pop up as well. I have had similar reflections, that we often avoid speaking up because we’re afraid to hurt feeling or for people to misunderstand what we’re saying. I don’t like pain or conflict anymore than anyone else, and yet, I think there are plenty of places where we have become to avoidant. This really does make it harder to “publish truth.”

        • If I offend everyone Offendable, I’ve done my job.

          If I hurt somebody by the fact that I can’t control the way they’ll read or interpret words that seemed clear to me (This just happened on a Meeting listserv, by the way) that’s a whole different matter.

          But tiptoeing around everyone’s vulnerabilities, leaving everyone afraid to say what they think, having to wonder “What did she mean by that?” — doesn’t seem like any sort of answer.

          We aren’t the Valiant 60; we’re a trauma ward and refugee camp — And somebody does need to serve that function; if that’s what we’re called to now we should just get on with it.

          How do we simply let our silly defenses down, be who we’re being Created-as — without trying to excuse, justify or condemn ourself or anybody else? Arggh! I am so sick of impersonating somebody Good! — or having to win my arguments! — or trying to hide the tears in my eyes and the snot on my face when I say what I’ve got to say and somebody comes back saying what he/she needs to say, but we haven’t yet understood each other or ourselves. Humans Anonymous, anyone?

    • Ruthann, thank you for your reflection here. I appreciate what you are saying and really like the point about “keeping it local.” Thank you.

  3. We are supposed to have available a perfectly reliable source of truth; unfortunately we ourselves are not perfectly reliable receivers of truth. Sociological processes intended to sift truth from error aren’t — as purely sociological processes — capable of eliminating that weakness. Ten people can potentially achieve more reliable perceptions than one alone; but as the story of Micaiah illustrates, the ten are sometimes merely tuned to the same wrong signal.

    Friends urgently need to seek the best truth we’re capable of hearing — and, above all, to reconcile our truths and our myriad misconceptions with each other as members of one body.

    We need to stop being so shy about our differing pigheaded notions and our differing superior knowledges, be willing to be offended and risk offending — from a realization that our spiritual bond as children of God and our spiritual need to see things as rightly as we can —

    are not the opposites we’ve (in recent practice) come to assume, but mutually-dependent goods.

    Clearly we can’t do this; but God can. Can we accept the collective and personal risks of relying on God to make it possible; and acting on our knowledge that we need to and can do so, make whatever effort this impossible task will require?

  4. “Clearly we can’t do this; but God can. Can we accept the collective and personal risks of relying on God to make it possible; and acting on our knowledge that we need to and can do so, make whatever effort this impossible task will require?”

    I agree and wonder this myself! Thanks for your comments!

  5. My truth has been just plain minority at times. I’ve been nudging NEYM in the direction of acknowledging climate change for several years now. Whenever I go to NEYM I leaflet the campus with a wide array of signs about the issue. NEYM took a notably strong stand last summer. Yay!

    That’s part one. Part two is still largely just me and it’s a few years yet down the road. Climate change isn’t simply something to just agree with and walk away. Quakers change things. So, climate is first and foremost something to innovate. Innovation is what Quakers do well.

    I call first for a foundation to do backyard solar product development. It’s a fairy tale (the fairies may object) to claim that inventors usually get rich by inventing. Actually, solar is called the “bleeding edge”.

    If certain products are developed, climate will almost certainly be inhibited, the engineering isn’t that hard, but if there’s no money at all then nothing will get done. Too bad. The difference is that stark, and we’re that close to successes or failure!

    Second, I call for a B-corporation to try and popularize these solar products. It’s entirely possible that once the products get going, the Chinese or others will step in and drive the B-corp out of business. I say, if that’s the ultimate price to pay for humanity and for the planet, pay that price! Invest in your descendants.

    Previous successful R&D efforts would include Denmark’s foray into offshore wind (which made Denmark rather wealthy!) and the U.S.’s dedication to making photovoltaic power better. Years ago, PV power cost 100 times as much as oil-fired electric turbine power. We altruistically did the research.

    Our next targets are simple enough.

    –Heat for buildings in the winter. It should work. I have a Warwick, RI prototype. Do you think that I don’t take actions?

    –Self-heating tomato greenhouses. I had an Attleboro, MA prototype.

    –Solar-based storable electricity for night generation.

    –Robust reflecting trackers so that people living under lots of trees can have daylighting and heat on demand.

    –Long range, transit systems that can hang from cables or rails above existing streets. They should be a lifetime factor of ten more electricity-efficient and they’ll solve all sorts of other problems too. Short range, battery swapping stations for buses running fixed hourly routes, also smarter red lights.

    We also need remediation of the Arctic, which is falling apart fast.

    –Thermal loops that pull Arctic Ocean heat out of the top 100 feet of the ocean and put it into the Arctic winter. A $1B / year effort, less than a war footing, would contain the world’s Arctic methane bomb.

    –Localized wind-powered snow making machines on the Arctic tundra, which will help restore the Arctic’s natural albedo in late spring and in early fall.

    In any case, I have a soapbox and I’m preaching to Friends. Do what will make your God and our future generations feel better about you. Resisting evil may be the obvious path, but if you try and switch to overcoming evil with good you’ll be more at peace with your inner self.

    • Man, it’s good to see you again, speaking up here!

      We won’t get to solve just one problem, then say we’re done — but if we humans don’t fix this climate mess on time, we truly are done — or at least left struggling uphill, after many casualties, from one really deep hole! We need to know the danger but not end up paralysed by fear; & that’s a sharp line to walk, one that still keeps me wobbly.

      I’d say we need to reconcile ourselves to God and each other; until we can do that people will keep looking for security in all the wrong choices, solving old problems with new, all those metaproblems David Bohm kept pointing out and trying to fix.

      I don’t know how and when we’ll manage to use the better choices that you and people like you present, given our history. Until then, it’s a mercy to know you’re working on it!