Complacent lives and radical thoughts

Svartbäcksgården (photo credit:

Around 30 Friends from various parts of Sweden, from Norway, Denmark, Great Britain and Switzerland, as well as representatives from QCEA and FWCC gathered at the Svartbäcksgården retreat from May 29th until June 1st 2014 for the Sweden Yearly Meeting. Besides the necessary business, the Swedish Friends chose “the Gospel according to Quakers: How can Christian keystones give light and guidance to our inner lives, our fellowship and our witness in the world?“ as their theme.
The gathering was well paced; there was ample time for reflection and personal encounters in between the various sessions and presentations. At times, the fast changing weather even allowed a stroll through the lush greens of this rural Scandinavian setting. We also crossed paths with the young Friends, who had their own program during the gathering, and the snails they collected.
Instead of writing a detailed report on the gathering, I will share some of my personal thoughts that came to me during Meeting for Worship shortly before leaving for the airport:
“Early Friends distinguished themselves from the world through clothing and speech (among other things). As I participated in this yearly meeting, including the meeting for business, I asked myself again how do we distinguish ourselves from the dominant society? We discern about investments and building projects, about earned interests and sending aid money abroad. We casually talk about fashion and leisure trips, about busy lives and conflicting schedules. We sit expectantly in silence, and practice deep listening. We reflect on Christian foundations and how they influence us and how we wish to carry them into the world. We experience hospitality and friendship. It feels good to be at Svartbäcken.
I hesitate to bask in this feel-good atmosphere. Looking out into the world, I know that the kingdom has not yet come for all. I ask myself about the extreme privileges that make it possible for me to represent SYM in Sweden. I ask myself how the role models we frequently refer to, like Jesus of Nazareth or John Woolman, would have fared in such a situation and what their ministry would be.

John Woolman explains to a host why he does not want to benefit from slave labour and exploitation even in an indirect way. (photo credit:

Would they have kicked our tables or bedded down under a tarp in the yard?

(photo credit: Getty)
(photo credit: Getty)

Wherever I go, I am left with the notion of how easy it is to live a complacent life and to speak radical thoughts.”

It was wonderful to experience the hospitality of Swedish Friends and the various exchanges across national boundaries and cultural backgrounds. I had to leave the gathering before lunch, but I left well nourished.

More thoughts on John Woolman: On Business in Superfluities

SYM: Switzerland Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

QCEA: Quaker Council for European Affairs

FWCC: Friends World Committee for Consultation

4 thoughts on “Complacent lives and radical thoughts

  1. I would be interested to learn about how vigorous the Peace Testimony is. It was a delightful discoveries two years ago to find that a famous British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, spoke as clearly as George Foix on Christiians and war.
    [If you would be interested in perusing my book on pacifism and maybe consider a review, I would be glad to send the pdf. Originally published by Friends United Press.]

    1. Dear Michael,
      the Quaker peace testimony has changed considerably over time. It started 1660 with a declaration to abstain from armed warfare. And throughout the centuries, it was mainly a testimony against war, not per se a peace testimony. John Woolman is one of the prominent exceptions. He had a clear vision of a life towards peace, reducing many subtle forms of structural and direct violence as part of his peace testimony.

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