Saturday, June 15, 2013

A new Quaker Reflections selection from Suzanne

A new Quaker Reflections selection from Suzanne: Locomotion and the First Motion John Woolman, an 18th-century Quaker, is well-known for his travels in the American colonies to witness against slavery. He refused to use horse-drawn coaches because he felt he could not participate in a system that was abusive to animals and people. “So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world that in aiming to do business quickly, and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan,” he wrote. So how would Woolman travel if he were around today? Participants in a recent workshop on “Friends and the Environment” concluded that he would go by inter-city bus! Reflecting on the long-range consequences of his actions was central to his spiritual life, so he would, no doubt, be alarmed at the social and ecological harm being done today by the widespread use of automobiles. He would be critical of laws and pricing mechanisms that are masking the true social and environmental costs of manufacturing and operating cars. He would decry the way nearly every facet of modern life has been adapted to their use. Woolman also wore undyed clothing in protest against the slave-supported dye industry. So it is likely that he would see a connection between the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and this country’s growing dependence on imported oil. He would call on Friends to look deeper and see whether the seeds of this tragedy might be finding nourishment in our personal modes of travel. There are those today who argue that “the economy” and people’s “personal freedom” would be harmed by curtailment of automobile use. But Woolman probably would respond as he did to Quakers in his time who saw no alternative to their ownership of slaves. “We are called to live in right relationship and to cease from all customs that are contrary to divine teachings. God has provided resources sufficient to meet our true needs without our having to exploit others and steal from future generations.” Accordingly, today’s glamorous individual “escape machines” would be condemned by Woolman as “superfluities” that hinder our spiritual growth. At any rate, the golden age of the automobile is drawing to its inevitable conclusion. As a result of the expected peak in world oil production early in this century, fossil fuels will become prohibitively expensive for more and more people. More and more of us will be compelled to walk, bicycle, and use public transit. One way to soften the impact is to anticipate and phase in the needed changes in the way we live and travel. Technological advances are important, but more depends on what happens in our thinking and attitudes. Being mindful of our Quaker testimonies of simplicity, equality, and peace can lead to a positive vision that makes us delight in the prospect of redesigning our communities and transit systems to be more sustainable and life-affirming. We can also recover the lost joys of a slower pace of life and closer connection with God’s creation. Traveling gently on the earth really comes down to love, what Woolman called “the First Motion”: How much do we love the earth and its community of life? As much as we love ourselves? More than we love our cars? ~ Louis Cox Quaker Earthcare Witness website:

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