Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Fightin' Quaker, part 3: Humble Stumble

Besides living lives of peace, Quakers are also urged to live simply. I'm bad at that, too. Back in the 1970s I was an inveterate hoarder of 45s and LPs, aka "records." I'm happy to report that has changed. In the 80s I began collecting CDs. As with "records", I've given up acquiring as many CDs as I used to. Now its MP3s. And I still have most of the records, CDs, cassettes, 8tracks, and reel to reel tapes that I ever bought or made.


But all that acquisition hasn't been in vain. I've learned a lot from various pieces of music. Like an album I found in the early 70s. On one of my frequent long afternoons in the record department of F. R. Lazarus in downtown Columbus, Ohio, I came across a cut-out in the bargain rack. It was a flop in era of successful spiritual rock songs, most notably Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." The record I found had a cover featuring Edward Hick's painting "The Peaceable Kingdom" along with two long-haired fellows inserted. Long hair wasn't unusual in those days -- even I had long hair. Heck, I had hair back then! What was unusual was that all of the songs had spiritual themes based on Quaker writings. So, I plunked down my $1.49 and took it home.

It really wasn't very good. In fact, I think it was one of the LPs I let my ex-wife have when we divvied up our music collection. But it was the first time I heard the expression "Let us then try what love will do" sung or spoken. It was memorable enough that I was curious where it came from. I found, of course, that it was by William Penn, who said:

Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel. (William Penn, 1693 24:03)

This was the beginning of my learn to live a more peaceful life.

Like all Quaker principles, it was more than just a good idea or philosophy. It was something rooted in the teaching of Jesus. And it was a call to life and attitude changing positive action. Which was something that appealed to me.

Unlike many Christians I am not attracted to a life of denial and giving up. Oh, I see that those are good things. And even necessary things. But I much prefer a call to something positive, not denying something negative. As kids we were often urged to give up sin in the form of things like going to the movies or rock and roll music or ... horrors ... roller skating. Well, that last one I could give up easily. We were asked to give up our middle class existence and trek off to Timbuktu. It was always give up. And try as I might, I wasn't good at giving up. It's a character flaw, I admit. But as I've said, I'm bad at being good.

And I could be called again and again and again to give up hate or violence. But if someone did me wrong (or what I considered wrong) I could get a good mad on and punish the person for days. Just ask my poor first wife. I wasn't pleasant about slights real or perceived. I was trying to put into practice the way of peace as against war. I could do that. Probably because it was more theoretical and removed. But in my daily life, not so much. Hate flared at drivers who cut me off, fellow workers who seemed more favored than me, etc.

Until I heard that record. And began to think, have I ever tried to see what Love would do? Not my "love" but "Love." God's Love. What would it be like to treat those around me with Love? All the time. Not in the abstract, but in the real day to day stuff of life.

For one thing I knew I'd have to start treating those closest to me a bit nicer. I'd have to remember what it was like to be in love with my spouse. I'd have to treat my children with more of the wonder I had on the day I saw them born.

For another thing, I'd have to start remembering that it's not all about me. It just might be that the driver who cut me off was racing to the hospital to tend to someone in dire need. Okay, so that probably wasn't the reason. But it could happen.

I knew I'd have to start small. I'm not that good at starting big. If I started big, I'd fail big. So I didn't start by trying to peaceful and loving toward ... um, I've forgotten who I found most annoying at the time. Instead I tried to be more loving to my family -- the people I was living with. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed. Drastically. That's shown by the fact that I have a former spouse. If I was that good at it, surely that relationship could have been saved.

I've taken small steps and learned small things that help me live in love more fully and live more fully into a life of peace. You might find some of these practices helpful.

  • Be helpful -- I can choose to be helpful (positive action) or choose to be obstructive (negative action). How am I modeling the way of Jesus if I stand in the way of that which benefits another?
  • Be caring -- practicing compassion doesn't cost me anything. Another person's suffering doesn't enhance my standing in this universe. Rather it diminishes me. 
  • Be friendly -- this can be pretty hard for me. I'm an introvert and am just fine most of the time keeping to myself. But smiling at someone or welcoming a stranger into a place that I'm familiar with doesn't take anything away from me and indeed makes them more comfortable -- and at peace.
  • Be listening -- even though I'm pretty sure it (whatever it is) is all about me, there's a chance that it isn't. So what I have to say may not be the most important thing. Especially when there's a chance for disagreement or discord. So I'm learning to listen to what others have to say. Even the idiots.
  • Be childlike -- Jesus says that the kingdom of Heaven (which I imagine to be a true place of peace) is made up of those who are like childlike. Be honest, trusting, wide-eyed, and non-cynical. Not easy!
  • Be non-anxious -- yeah, hard to believe that Mr. Anxious (just ask anybody who sits next to me on an airplane!) would say this, but it's a good practice. It's amazing how it brings peace into a situation.
  • Give up control -- actually,you're not giving up anything but the illusion of control. Rarely can we control anybody for more than a short time. And the reality is that nobody likes to be controlled. We know we don't! So give them and the situation over to God and trust God to do what is best. "Oh wait, you mean God's in control." "Yep!"
  • Look for Commonalities -- everyone human is a part of the family of God. If we truly believe that, we can look for the links, not the differences. I mean, who wants to smack his brother or sister? Okay, bad example.
  • Focus on What's God in Them -- Quakers have this saying, "That of God in everyone." Look for it! You may have to look really hard, but do it.
Am I perfectly at peace? Nope. Especially toward fellow drivers, who I can be annoyed at anonymously. But the Quaker idea to try first what Love can do has been an important lesson in living in peace. As Friend Sidney Bailey said --

The follower of Jesus is to discover and then promote the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom has two tenses: it is already here, in each one of us; and it is still to come, when God’s goodness becomes a universal norm. We are to live now ‘as if’ the Kingdom of God were already fulfilled.

Peace begins within ourselves. It is to be implemented within the family, in our meetings, in our work and leisure, in our own localities, and internationally. The task will never be done. Peace is a process to engage in, not a goal to be reached. (24:57)

"The task will never be done." Indeed...

No comments: