by Jocelyn Dowling
The last weekend in March I had the honor to act as a Friendly Adult Presence (FAP) at the PYM Youth Friends Gathering at Greene Street Meeting in Germantown, Philadelphia. When I was in high school I was active in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friends community and it truly changed my life. Now, as I returned to a YF community as an adult, I was reminded of the power and beauty of the Young Friends community.
I was not raised Quaker, but started to attend Quaker sleep away camp when I was 10 years old. Once I was too old to be a camper I started to attend Young Friend Gathering during the year as a way to see my camp friends more often. But YF gathering became an important part of my life: it was a loving community that felt comfortable and welcoming, unlike the everyday social scene of the public school environment. It was the only place I felt like I could be myself and that people truly loved me for who I was.
On Saturday night I accompanied the YF group through the rain to the historic Arch Street meeting to attend the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s annual William Penn Lecture. The speaker was QVS’s very own Christina Repoley and her speech was entitled “Prophetic Service as Formation and Transformation.” Christina spoke of the calling she had to establish Quaker Voluntary Service and of Quakers’ legacy of service work with American Friends Service Committee’s workcamps.
I sat in the audience listening to Christina share stories that resonated with my own experience as a young Quaker. But it was Christina’s mention of prophetic service that struck a chord with me – when she said that “prophetic service is not just about serving others, or operating out of a set of values, but it is about offering yourself fully, it is about building relationships, and it is about recognizing your own brokenness as you meet the brokenness in the world and in others. It comes from a place of worship, integrating the inward and the outward, prayer and action.”
I have struggled with the idea of service for a long time. Service work has been a form of experiential learning and direct action for me but it always seems to get tangled in ideas of privilege, guilt, patriarchy, and temporary relief to systematic oppression. But Christina’s reference to “brokenness” as part of prophetic service brought clarity and affirmation to this service tornado that was whirling around in my brain. I recognize that my role in service can be a Band-Aid of privilege and guilt that is patching up another person’s suffering that is a result of a legacy of inequality. But can that band-aid be my brokenness? This adhesive bandage that is used to cover-up and injuries, with the theory that it will help heal, when in actuality it just keeps people from seeing or reminding us of a discolored and damaged imperfection. I think hiding our imperfection, hiding our brokenness, does not allow for any action to prevent damage or to watch a transformation take place, and even avert us from taking pride in our ability to both heal and change.
Collective brokenness within Quakerism seems to be a historic theme. I experienced this brokenness in my senior year of high school, when the collective soul of BYM Young Friends experienced a great tragedy. Our former Youth Programs Coordinator, Tom Fox, made the decision to resign his position and join the Christian Peacemakers team in Iraq. Tom would write letters to the YF community, filled with powerful stories of his experience in a war zone. On November 26, 2005 Tom and 3 other CPT members were taken hostage by a terrorist group known as Swords of Righteousness Brigade. Four months later on March 10, 2006 Tom’s body was found dead on a garbage heap in Baghdad, shot through the head and chest.
The night I got word of Tom’s Death I was on the phone all night crying with other young Quaker from different parts of Maryland, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Over the course of 2 months I attended 5 different memorial services for Tom. This time, there were no Band-Aids. Our collective brokenness was exposed and painful. Tom’s death was how I directly experienced the War in Iraq as a liberal middle-class teen. I always complained about the cracks in the US’s social system but this was my personal witness to how our nation’s broken system to solve conflicts could affect me and my community. To quote the poet Rumi, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Out of our collective brokenness came stories, stories that brought so much light and love to the Young Friends community. Stories of Tom’s legacy and stories that proved the strength and resiliency of the Young Friends community.
My most clear and significant memory of Tom was on the Sunday morning of my first YF gathering. I was sweeping up the meeting room of my home meeting, Adelphi MM, and Tom approached me; he said “Jossie, you have been very helpful this weekend and I want you to know that I think you will go very far in life.” The sentiment that Tom shared with me is exactly how I now feel about the members of the current Young Friend community. I see so many wonderful and promising attributes in all of them. Their love for one another as well as their compassion for the world reassures me about the future of Quakerism. I love talking to them about their ideas and what they foresee in their future. The best part of it is that I know that when that inevitable experience of brokenness comes along, it will make them stronger and they will continue to grow as beautiful, wise and resilient FRIENDS.
To watch Christina’s Lecture, follow this link:
The title of the “leave-behind” – the sheet of paper that stayed with the staffer after our lobby visit – was simply titled “A Straightforward Way to End the Endless Wars.” It repeated the call we had just made for our congressperson to co-sponsor and vote for HR 2324, a bill to repeal the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and in short bullet-points summarized what workshops and panels throughout Spring Lobby Weekend had taught us about how the AUMF is being used as a blank check for war.
This year, Quaker Voluntary Service and Friends Committee on National Legislation partnered to send 8 of this year’s volunteers to DC to participate in Spring Lobby Weekend, joining nearly 200 other individuals – primarily young adults – in an extended weekend to learn about and then lobby on one issue.
A student at Bryn Mawr College, a fellow QVS Philly Volunteer, and I are constituents of Pennsylvania’s 2nd district who traveled to DC for the weekend. On Tuesday, we met with Jared Bass, one of our representative Chaka Fattah’s staffers. The day before, we had spent a working lunch preparing for the visit with guidance from FCNL’s Lobby Visit road map. We shared the responsibilities of thanking the representative for work he has done in the past we appreciate – including votes to repeal indefinite military detention and to close Guantanamo Bay – making the ask that he co-sponsor the bill, and sharing relevant personal stories. We practiced with a few run-throughs and tested ideas on each other – and already began wondering what kind of outcome we could expect.
In the workshops and panels on Sunday and Monday, we and other F/friends learned about how important it is to repeal the AUMF – and how effective we can be at making this work happen. Hearing from many folks, including a Lieutenant Colonel, a human rights lawyer, FCNL staff and policy fellows, and current and former congressional staff, we were exposed to the history of the policy and how it is used to excuse a wide variety of unpopular actions currently being taken by the US government in the war on terror.
Congressional staffers spoke to us about how to craft a winning argument – and common blunders to avoid. What may have surprised me most was to hear that our representatives enjoy getting visits from their constituents – they’re tired of constantly hearing from lobbyists who are invested in issues because of money. Diane Randall, General Secretary of FCNL, assured us that our representatives want to hear from us, and especially “us” as faith communities.
“A Straightforward Way to End The Endless Wars” by repealing the AUMF nearly seems too good to be true. It may not be taking away the occasion for wars, but ending this endless war on “terror” is quite a goal. I was amazed to learn just how much power the president still has from 60 words passed in response to the evens of September 11th, 2001 – and how much the vague wording of the bill is being used to expand this power. Most surprising to me was the variety of military actions that I was aware of and considered isolated problems that had been justified in whole or in part by the AUMF – such as indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, indiscriminate and unacknowledged drone strikes, and even NSA spying activity.
I came to DC with no experience of connecting with my national legislators, and only a public-school civics curriculum awareness of how I could be involved in national politics. I’ve been aware enough to be angry at how much big money gets funneled into lobbying efforts against the public interest, and thus to wonder how a small voice like my own could possibly be effective. It was pretty scary to realize how much has been done under the AUMF – but it was also pretty powerful to know that so many concerns I had with our foreign policy could be addressed by the repeal of one bill. This is an issue I would not have fully understood and certainly not felt empowered to act on without the guidance of Spring Lobby Weekend. I’m very grateful for the exposure to this work through QVS and FCNL, because now I feel prepared to continue acting in national politics as a testimony of my Quaker faith.