by Keith Runyan, Incoming General Secretary at Quaker Earthcare Witness
In the fall of 2019, just after founding my podcast, A Future on Waxen Wings, I was invited to be a keynote panelist for the College Park Quarterly Meeting with Mica Estrada, Stephen Myers, and Shelley Tanenbaum. On the ride there, I had much moving in me. I felt the weight of what I needed to say, but I didn’t know how to say it.
Before our panel, I took a walk out in the pasture and woodland hills above Woolman Campus – a place that had often felt like my childhood home. As dappled sunlight lit the canopy above, I felt a peace wash over and through me. What had been a cacophony of ideas and ministry dropped away; I felt centered and held by the stillness around me.
There is a deep wisdom present in those hills. A deep wisdom, I sense, reflected through the ground of all living things. Homo Sapiens has not been here long on Earth, just a blip in the large stretches of geologic time. Every biomolecule, organism, and relationship has a history all to itself, tempered by eons of evolution. Through vast periods of time, life on Earth has woven itself into an intricate tapestry sustained by the intimate day-to-day interactions of all living things. There is implicit wisdom in the synchronized fruiting of pecans, the unfolding from oocyte to Swallow’s wing, and the delicate ecologies maintained by the wolves of Yellowstone. If any corporeal thing is worthy of our reverence and deemed to possess wisdom, it is these interactions, as old as the hills.
We live in a strange moment in human history; wherein the integrity of the web of Life on Earth has come to depend on a single species. Through the momentum of historical forces our species has happened upon creative and destructive capacities that vastly exceed our wisdom. As we come face to face with these capacities and the immaturities and traumas we bear forth into the 21st century, how can we become students to the web of Life before it is too late? How do we begin the process toward wholeness, regeneration, and redemption?
For me, the yearning to re-enliven and coalesce the vibrant forces within Quakerism to meet the challenges of our times has become a central theme of my life’s work. I was raised Quaker, but I didn’t become a convinced Friend until my late twenties when I began to feel a stronger and stronger calling to return to my roots and re-engage the Quaker tradition. As Friends, we listen to the voice of our conscience within ourselves and connect to that which always was and always will be. I sense in Quakerism, a latent energy that is waiting to wake. Over the past few decades, Friends have grown dramatically in ecological consciousness and are beginning to develop the courage to redress our relationship to colonial legacies with people, labor, and land. What we lack, as older generations age and many grow weary with the perceived failures of past efforts, is the vigor and vision to meet this growing consciousness with an active hope as powerful as the forces that would lead us toward despair.
My aspiration for QEW is to become a force that re-enlivens the dormant and radical seed amongst Friends. It is time for us to move through Love – to prune that which no longer serves us, sink our roots into the furthest depths of our tradition, and take wing in alliance with Life. Perhaps it is our highest vision to be the lowliest in the Garden of Faiths and to, in the wake of climate change and colonization, take the century before us as an invitation to communion, reparation, and regeneration. To, as it were: “kneel and kiss the ground.” We live in an era of great environmental injustice, the poorest and least culpable among us most vulnerable to the changing tides of ecological and societal disruption. Can we walk humbly, in service and solidarity to the world’s most vulnerable, as the storms of the next decades begin to remake the world?
Over the next few years, I hope to relinquish a permanent dwelling and begin to travel the country to spread hope, vision, and fierce determination in my role as General Secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness. In this position, I anticipate taking leadership as an activist by building ties between generations, faith communities, and activist coalitions to empower Quakers and aligned individuals to build and assist powerful and strategic campaigns and social movements. We must merge spirituality and strategy – rebuild practical hope in our future and together write a story that meets people in their spiritual core.
Many years ago, as I gave my first speech to College Park Quarterly Meeting on my concern for Earthcare, it was the wisdom and peace of Earth herself that helped me find the light. As I step into this work at QEW, I find serenity in the recollection of that moment in the trees at Woolman. And that each of us can experience this in every moment.
Keith Runyan is QEW’s incoming General Secretary. He is a Quaker changemaker, visionary, and activist born and raised in Pacific Yearly Meeting in Northern California.
We are hoping to launch a QEW podcast in the next year. In the meantime, check out Keith’s podcast at afutureonwaxenwings.podbean.com!