JONESTOWN SURVIVOR, ATHEIST, AND QUAKER

JONESTOWN SURVIVOR, ATHEIST, AND QUAKER
Fifteen years after I returned from Jonestown, Guyana as one of the few survivors, I started attending the Visalia Friends Meeting. That was in 1994. Over the past several years, I have become a public speaker about my life and my survival after the horror of the deaths of my friends in Jonestown, Guyana. I speak several times a month around the city, state and country. One of the most frequent questions is “How can I be a Quaker when I am an atheist?”
The question really begs the answer to a dual question. Why do I want to be affiliated with Quakers, and why would the Quakers embrace me as they have, in spite of all the baggage I bring, and being an atheist?
I spend time and energy with the members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) because Quakers are pacifists and against all war, are activists in promoting peace and support so many of the causes dear to my heart. Quakers enjoy simplicity and silence, and calm, unhurried reflection. I need the reminder to slow down and smell the roses. The Quakers do community service, as members of the Friends of the Library around town, as volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, in caring for the homeless, by reminding elected officials of their promises, and through teaching and modeling mutual respect. And, there is no “leader” of the Quakers. A Clerk has some responsibilities within the local Meetings, and is a well-respected member. However, all decisions are made through consensus and seasoning (reflection over some extended time). When I sit with Quakers in a weekly Meeting for Worship, in silence, my heart just feels full and overflowing. I feel surrounded by wonderful, authentic, and principled people. My husband and I joined when Raul was a youngster, and because of his prodding. I wanted to raise Raul around wise people of substance. The Quaker group in Visalia certainly has that as does the wonderful La Jolla Monthly Meeting where we attend now.
In our Meeting House, we have little introductory pamphlets to give guests. In the pamphlet What is Quakerism? Friendly Answers to Questions About Quakers, I have found the answers to why the Quakers reach out and embrace me.

What do Friends Believe?
The pamphlet answers:”Quakers, as such, do not have a creed. No single statement of religious doctrine is accepted by all the overlapping regional bodies of Friends… Others conceive of the inward guide as a universal spirit which was in Jesus in abundant measure and is in everyone to some degree.”

What are the principal “concerns” and activities of Friends?
The pamphlet states: “The belief that there is a potential for good in all persons, as indeed also the capacity for evil, makes Friends sensitive to human degradation, ignorance, superstition, suffering, injustice, and exploitation…Friends are drawn to humanitarian callings…”

What are the historic and continuing Quaker ‘testimonies’? (Quaker testimonies are our most fundamental beliefs – simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and unity.
The pamphlet states: “This has found expression in simplicity of lifestyle, integrity in personal relations, and, at times, controversial stands on public issues…The Peace Testimony is perhaps the most widely known of these. Taken as a whole, the Society of Friends is strongly opposed to war…It seeks to remove the causes of war, it tries to reconcile factions and nations: it ministers to suffering on both sides of conflicts…”

So, our paths have become intertwined as we work for a world where all people are treated with dignity and where human life protected.

What is Quakerism? Friendly Answers to Questions About Quakers, pamphlet produced by Friends World Committee for Consultation.

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