“I want to be part of a group that not only exists but is thriving in thirty years,” says Johanna Jackson. “I want to be part of a group that’s creative and rooted in their bodies and thriving, and becoming more relevant in the world.” In this episode of QuakerSpeak, Johanna and JT Dorr-Bremme share what they’ve learned over the last 18 months as they spoke with nearly 30 Friends as part of the Listening Project, a series of “interviews that focus on healthy spiritual communities.”
Johanna discusses how The Listening Project revealed the problems caused when Friends go out of their way to avoid conflict or gatekeep each other, particularly across generational lines, in “Visions of a Strong Quaker Future,” which appears in the October issue of Friends Journal.
Learn more about The Listening Project by checking out the website
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Johanna Jackson: So I envision a network of really vibrant, interesting people who have the time to be with one another and who have the courage to name gifts in themselves and with each other and live into that. I’ve met some people in different generations — when there’s a strong support network for faithfulness, for doing something unusual, then the possibility to live faithfully and beautifully just kind of expands. I want to be part of that.
Envisioning a Strong Future for Quakerism
My name is JT Dorr-Bremme. I use he/him pronouns. I live on Susquehannock land in a town known as Huntingdon, PA. I am associated with a number of different Quaker bodies because I’ve been a nomad and currently I’m most involved with State College Meeting, Huntingdon Meeting, Upper Susquehanna Quarterly Meeting, and Three Rivers in Massachusetts.
My name is Johanna Jackson. I use she/her pronouns, and I live in State College, PA. I worship with several groups including Three Rivers Worship, Upper Susquehanna, and the State College Meeting.
The Listening Project
The Listening Project is a series of conversations we’ve had with Friends that are rooted in love. It’s a kind of ethnography, so we’re listening, we’re interviewing, and we hold worship sharing sessions with people we know. It began during the pandemic, and we started listening without any specific questions. We wanted to just hear what people wanted to share about and once we noticed certain trends, those started to deepen once we held more interviews with people.
JT: Some of the things that we’ve learned from The Listening Project so far includes the fact that there are problems out there that people are not aware of. We started talking with people who are closer to us in age and in social association and we heard from them things that we more or less expected but then when we started to go a little further out to circles that were a bit more distant from us in age, experience, and geography, we discovered that the problems that we had experienced ourselves were a little more widespread and that folks who weren’t directly experiencing them were surprised to hear that they existed.
Johanna: I think the most difficult learning that I found was that I and people around me are doing things that specifically contribute to our decline. That makes it hard to sleep at night! Like, I want those things to stop! I want to transform or change, but they only transform or change in certain ways as individuals choose to change behavior, and so now that I know what actions are pushing people away I want to be informed about how to live differently in my life.
Envisioning a Vibrant Future
Johanna: Do you have thoughts on the future of Quakerism?
JT: Good lord do I.
Johanna: [Laughing] I do, too. I have some strong opinions.
JT: [Laughing] Yeah.
Johanna: I want to be part of a group that not only exists but is thriving in thirty years, and I think a lot of our conversations right now are caught up on whether we exist in thirty years, whether we go extinct. I want to be part of a group that’s creative and rooted in their bodies and thriving, and becoming more relevant in the world. We have so many gifts to offer and we kind of keep them quiet.
JT: Listening to what you said, what came to mind for me about the future of Quakerism is one that feels to me as if it includes some more things from the past. The really strong connection to the living Spirit and the presence, and the ability to receive that and transmit it to other people– that we can support each other with that in ways that are quite radical and given what I believe about Quakerism and spirituality in general, we’re called to be very countercultural. This culture of domination and colonialism; and infinite growth of capitalism; the extraction of resources, including human energy and individuality is going to kill us if we don’t stop it. And the only way we can stop it is by dismantling these systems which are ancient in comparison to the span of our human lives. That’s where, to me, the power of Spirit needs to come in: that if we connect ourselves to the eternal source and living in that with each other we will enable ourselves to do things that we did not think we could do. We will have more power than we believe we can have in the face of these systems that seem so intractable.
- 1) When you envision the future of Quakerism, what do you see? Realistically, how do we get from here to there?
- 2) Johanna states that from this project she realized, “that I and people around me are doing things that specifically contribute to our decline.” Can you think of actions you or folks in your community have taken that actively contribute to a decline? What sorts of things were they? Were they addressed? If so, how? If not, what was the consequence of it?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.