Friday, August 22, 2014

On Keeping Silence in the Church

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches.” (I Corinthians 14:33-34)

I know a woman named Silence
She said her parents did not know her very well
when they named her.
They thought Silence was a beautiful name
for a girl.
She stands up in her pew and speaks her mind:
When a couple in church announces the birth of a girl
Silence says, “I think we should all clap for that.”
When a foreign student speaks about war in Ethiopia
Silence says, “Keep telling us about that, we need to hear.”
When someone complains about the church
needing air conditioning
Silence says, “That’s why I bring my fan.”
I love this woman named Silence
And I think we should definitely
Keep Silence in the church.

"On Keeping Silence in the Church" by Margalea Warner
Source: Daughters of Sarah magazine

Add your thoughts at inward/outward

Saturday, August 09, 2014

When True Simplicity Is Gained, final: Humble Stumble

A Concluding Word … or Few Hundred

Another form of simplicity is less about possession than it is about scheduling. Sometimes we get so busy, even doing God’s work, that the center of our lives are cluttered. What difference does it make if we live in plain house with few possessions and drive plain black Priuses if we do not have simplicity in our soul? The possessions there, more and more committee chairmanships, community activities and so on, that appear altruistic to others, but which in fact we wear as sort of a badge of pride. We must be important – look how busy we are.

So, if we are to begin to live the testimony of simplicity, we must first simplify our own inner and outer lives. We must take time to live in that holy center. We must calm our lives and learn to breathe.

I am not saying it is easy. It is not. I have a terribly difficult time doing it. It is much easier to run, run, run than it is to sit. But when I run, run, run I find my whole life coming unbalanced – family time, work productivity, emotions, physical health. It is when I take time to pray and wait that I find my rhythms, inner and outer, begin to slow and becoming more soothing than rock and roll ragged.

So that’s where we must begin – inside. Take time to be holy – and a holy simplicity will follow. And with that simplicity will come a joy that is most remarkable. We know, in our innermost lives, that things do not bring happiness. But we are a bit slower to learn the lesson that activity, even religious activity, does not bring happiness either. What brings joy into our life is when we give up, abandon ourselves to God and allow the Spirit to simplify our lives and direct our actions.

That means we must surrender self. That’s not easy. I would much rather be in control, or fool myself into thinking that I am, of my life than to turn it over to anyone else – even God. That’s one reason I hate flying. I have to sit there and let someone else control my destiny. I don’t trust the pilot. The larger question is do I trust God? Do I trust enough to let go – even when I feel that if I do then life will go careening out of control and I may crash upon its rocks? If I am honest, often times the question is no. And that there is fulfillment, however spiritually unhealthy, in all the activity I work so hard to keep up. The question Van Morrison asks “when will I ever learn to live in God” remains mine and is at the heart of living the testimony of simplicity.

Jesus tells us in that we are not to worry – about what we drink, eat, look like or wear. In listing those things he cuts directly to the chase and points out the things that consume us. We worry to much about the inconsequential. He’s not talking here to the starving children or displaced homeless ones. He’s talking to us good religious people. Jesus says if we seek first his kingdom, that is, surrender our ideas of what we are to be about to the larger ideas that God has in store for us, then all the important things will be ours as a matter of course. When we learn to simplify our lives by surrendering to God, then we find we have all we need even when it is not all we want. Simplicity of direction, that of following as closely as possible, to our savior and leader, brings with it a beauty to life we will find hard to imagine.

“It is easy to let ourselves slip into action for action’s sake,” says Henry van Etten. “Without noticing it, we unconsciously seek to enlarge our sphere of activity ... unconsciously neglecting day after day to restore our spiritual strength, we find ourselves eventually at the bottom of a dry well, with nothing but our wretched little human powers. Yet we had begun our work ... with the highest motives, we even had the intimate sense of response to the divine call; yes, it was with a following wind that we launched out, God filling the sails, and Christ at the helm.”

“Even so, bit by bit, we have transformed what was a divinely appointed task into work on a merely human level, with all its shortcomings. And why did things end up like that? Because we neglected our inner life, because we were taken up with action, because we were too tired to pray, too tired to take part in meetings for worship, too tired to refresh our spiritual strength by reading ... We must be able to stop in the midst of our urgent task for something even more urgent; prayer, self-composure, meditation in silence, worship.”

The practice of simplicity must begin with an ordered inner life. Live is not to be poor and bare, destitute of joy and beauty. There is much to celebrate and welcome into our lives. But when we learn to live ordered lives from the Divine Center, the superfluous details vanish and we will experience a simplicity that makes for beauty.

The Shakers sang “Tis a gift to be simple, Tis a gift to be free.” May we ask God today for the gift of inner simplicity that makes for freedom and beauty.

Friday, August 08, 2014

When True Simplicity Is Gained, part 5: Humble Stumble

The Seeds of War

“May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions, or not.”

That’s another thing that John Woolman said. I mean, gimme a break, John. Between him and Jesus I get a lot of challenges to my bad behavior. Woolman wrote this in his “A Plea for the Poor.” Didn’t Jesus already make a plea or two for the poor? (Of course, he also said we’d always have poor with us, in a way that seems a little dismissive.) But, Woolman, really, how could the seeds of war find food in the things I own – my clothes, my furniture, my cell phone? My cell phone?! You’re kiddin’ me!

Nope. Turns out the seeds of war are in there, indeed. Yeah, I knew my iPhone was made in China – probably under conditions that Woolman (or even my ownbadself) would not approve. But there’s something in my phone (and your phone and every other electronic device you use). It’s called coltan.

Never heard of it, eh? Neither had I, until recently. Coltan is short for columbite–tantalite and is used in tantalum capacitor which allow our phones and other gadgets to get smaller and smaller. Coltan is mined in primitive, often slave-like, conditions, which is bad enough for those mining it. What’s worse is that in some of the places it’s mined are beset by by murder, rape, violence and abuse on an unimaginable scale in civil wars conducted in no small part by warlords who want to corner the market and make tons of money. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, aid groups estimate that over 5 million people have died since 1998, mostly from disease and malnutrition.

It is estimated that the DRC has 64% or more of the world’s supply of coltan – so the rapes, killings, enslavement are not going to get any better. All because I want a lighter, faster, smaller telephone/camera/gaming device/status checker gadget to carry around. One I didn’t even know I needed a few years ago.

Hmmm, I wonder what other seeds I’m unknowingly nourishing?

Now I didn’t tell you about coltan to guilt you into getting rid of your cellphone. Any more than I will get rid of mine. But I’m not going to try to justify having it because of all the work I do on it. Instead, it’s just to point out the wisdom of Woolman’s advice to look at what we own and see if it comes by ill-gotten means – even if we paid full retail.

How can we sow seeds of peace, instead of war, through what we buy. Some ways are obvious – purchasing fair trade goods is one way. Fair trade is a movement toward urging consumers to purchase goods produced by organizations and companies who help workers achieve a more balanced and fair lifestyle based on wages paid for goods made. It is also about sustainability. Fair trade sellers pay higher prices to exporters and produces (primarily in developing countries) for all sorts of things – foods, clothing, crafts, and so on.

Another way is to buy local. Chances are the stuff you buy at the local farmers’ market downtown (or the farmstand out in the country) is relatively war-seed free. Investing in socially responsible funds, for those of us who are doing 401’s etc is another way to avoids those seeds ... and the resulting sprouts.

Now I’ve got to go … my iPhone’s ringing.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

When True Simplicity is Gained, part 4: Humble Stumble

Tools of Universal Love

So here I am and I find myself with all this land and stuff. Besides use it and enjoy it (well, some of it. Books and music never grow old. A high speed mower quits being fun after the third mowing of the season!)? Well, 18th century Quaker John Woolman says the business of our lives is to “Turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love.”

Woolman, unlike me, was a good Quaker. He worked valiantly and humbly against slave holding. He began wearing undyed plain clothes – the dye being produced by slave labor. He was a ray of white in a sea of Quaker black and grey – and was thought odd of it. He worked only half-time so that he could travel in ministry and witness. He lived his faith and his actions matched his words. Even if he was considered a bit of an odd duck in the Friendly pond at the time.

His words, when I first encountered them as young man, didn’t have much impact I admit. I thought they would make a good – if long -- bumper sticker. But how can that be practical? To turn all that we own into a channel of universal love? I can turn some things that I own into specific love – I give books to my friends not expecting their return. I loan my pick-up truck to people who need to haul things. We open our house to visiting travelers. I…

Oh wait. That’s one way it’s done! By holding on loosely to the things we have. Realizing that they are things – not possessions.

This is a hard lesson for me. I mean, I’ll loan the truck. It’s just a truck – albeit pretty new and low mileage. But it’s insured. It gets crashed, it gets fixed. The 1955 MG – hmmm, I have to think more about that. I often think of it as more than just a car – it’s family history. The fellow I was named for, Brent Stephens, bought it new in 1955. I rode in it as a little kid. After he parked it and didn’t drive it for years, my dad, John, whom I’m also named for convinced Brent to sell it to him in the late 60s. So I drove as a teenager and young college student. We have family pictures of all of us kids in it. And our kids in it. And friends in it. Then my dad gave it to me. Now I have pictures of my grandkids in it. And friends in it. And it being driven in all kinds of cool places. So this antique car with under 30,000 miles on it to this day, has a lot of meaning. Can I loan it as freely?

I’m getting there. And it’s not always easy for me. It’s easier if, as I said, I focus on a particular love. Would I give a book to Laura? Music to Eric? A place to stay to Rick and Jo? Sure thing. Would I give money to a panhandler in Philly? Hmmmm. Would I give my wallet – willingly – to someone robbing me? Universal Love – God’s Love – is harder, especially toward one whom I don’t love, don’t know, consider my enemy, or considers me the enemy.

And yet, Woolman makes no distinctions like that. Indeed, when we read the entire section from which the quote above was taken, we see that it echoes Jesus’ radical commandments to love without reservation and hesitation.

Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all His creatures; His tender mercies are over all His works, and so far as true love influences our minds, so far we become interested in His workmanship, and feel a desire to make use of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted, and to increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, so that to turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.

“So far as true love influences our minds” we will, at every opportunity, “feel a desire to lessen the distresses of the afflicted.” Well, I’m working on that.

And yes, you may borrow my pick-em-up truck. I still have to think about the MG.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

When True Simplicity Is Gained: part 3: Humble Stumble


I am shocked to be living on a fifty-acre farm in Indiana. I planned in living in a condominium downtown in some big city. Specifically in Indianapolis. Specifically about fourteen years ago. But for the past eleven years I’ve been living in a house nestled back against the woods overlooking the West Branch of White Lick Creek.

This is not a piece of land I’d scraped and saved for. Nope. My wife Nancy’s a farm girl and this land was part of her family’s farm one day. It came to us a part of her inheritance, albeit a bit before her father’s passing. And it has taught me more than a few lessons in simplicity.

The first was in what kind of house to build. What could we do in building that expressed our Quaker faith? Like I said earlier, the Quaker understandings of peace, simplicity, care for the earth, and all the others are all part of the Gospel as we understand it and are interrelated. We lived into that in new ways as we were faced with how and what to build.

A few years before we’d fallen in love with our friends’ post and beam house. Phil and Esther had built one of the first Yankee Barn Homes in Indiana. When we found out that the home used timbers reclaimed from old factories and the like, was super-insulated and energy efficient, we were sold. We designed a place that was open for hosting groups, with guest rooms for travelers, that used geo-thermal heating and cooling, and which could accommodate us as we aged – wide doorways through which a wheelchair would fit and a one level floor plan for us (other levels for grandkids, guests, care-givers, etc.)

It was not inexpensive. Which was hard for me – for as bad as I am, I do think about such things. And yet, given my income at the time, our levels of giving, and so forth, it was the right thing to do. Our footprint on the ecology was going to be lower than a traditional, though less expensive to build, stick-built home.

Besides, I told myself, a house like this sitting on fifty acres would be a gold mine when we decided to sell it. It’s on one of the last undeveloped sections of our county. Richness, here we come.

Then something weird happened to me. I was asked to serve on the storm water commission for our county. At the same time I began to see erosion along the banks of our little creek which was becoming a big creek. And then beginning to flood. I started seeing the occasional deer and raccoon and beaver.

My dreams of big money from some land developer began to fade.


Instead, I found myself pondering big questions. I don’t like big questions. I like small, simple ones – what do you want for dinner, does this tie go with this shirt, Mary Ann or Ginger?

Now, I found myself in a house based on my badly lived out Quaker values. We’d called it Ploughshares Farm because we wanted it to be a place of peace. And, with the idea of simplicity and care for the earth, I began pondering what it meant for me to “own” this land. As if land could ever be owned by a human being.

I’ve always hated Stewardship Sunday at church. It always meant someone was going to try to guilt me into giving more than I wanted to. Though the usual disclaimer was always given about how stewardship was about more than money (“it’s about your time and talents, too”) it was really about money. And then I heard someone say that stewardship meant “activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.”

Protecting. Being Responsible. We had been given this land. And the house (yes, we had paid for the house, but it felt like a gift). A shopping center or grocery store or even a gravel pit didn’t seem like either protecting or being responsible. It certainly didn’t feel like living up to a notion of a simple lifestyle. The more I pondered, the more I watched the hundred dollar bills take wing like redwing blackbirds in the field I was contemplating.

So we contacted various agencies and drew up some plans. We began planting fruit and nut bushes and trees for wildlife. We put in 10 acres of tall grass prairie. We planted thousands of Indiana hardwoods. I learned to drive a tractor, operate chain saws, split wood, make trails, and a whole buncha stuff that still surprises me. And the biggest surprise is that I’ve become – if not one with – part of the land and it’s part of me. This is home. And, other than the houses I grew up in, is the place where I’ve lived the longest.

Tending this land feels like a spiritual calling. Albeit I could really do without the mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks and poison ivy.

We’ve paid down our debt. I’ve moved to a less demanding (and less paying!) job. I have more time to work the land when it needs worked. I have more time to write when the land is resting. We’re living more frugally, in spite of all the equipment it takes to run the place. We bought much of it used. And loan it to neighbors and family. We welcome lots of travelers (especially those traveling in ministry) to the farm. And a worship group has been meeting here on Sunday evenings for almost ten years now.

It’s been complex learning to live simply. And the above is what it means for us. It may mean something completely different to you – and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t, there’s 30 acres for sale right next door!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

When True Simplicity Is Gained: part 2: Humble Stumble

Quaker?  Like the Amish, right?

Some people find out that I’m a Quaker and begin looking around for my horse and buggy.  Why people think we’re Amish is beyond me.  Well, not really, if all they know about us is the guy on the oats box.  And if you look at him at all he’s not dressed anything like the Amish – way too stylin’ for them.

Now two hundred years ago, the Quakers did sorta dress like the Amish.  And they did use horses and buggies.  But then so did everyone else, as Henry Ford still hadn’t come up with the Model T (which only came in the Quakers’ favorite color – black!).  We also didn’t use electricity – like the Amish.  But that’s only because Thomas Edison hadn’t figured out how to get into people’s houses so we could stop watching television by candlelight.  Quakers, unlike the Amish, have kept up with the times.  Unlike them and their living totally off the grid as a testimony to God and as a spiritual discipline of simplicity, we have moved into the 20th century.  Some of us have even moved into the 21st.  And we’ve brought our testimony of simplicity with us.

Quakers have been practicing simplicity almost since we began.  Sometimes we’ve done it very well.  Sometimes, not so.  Early Quakers spoke and dressed plain.  For them, plain language meant calling the days of the week by numbers instead of their common names – First day for Sunday, for example – as a way to avoid pagan influences (Thor for Thursday!).  They did that with months, too, since they had incorrect names (December was no longer the 10th month).  And they wore simple clothes in basic colors as a witness against the fancy dress and classism of their day.

The not so well came in when they allowed these things to become a badge of distinction – setting themselves apart in a way that drew attention to themselves not as classless people of God but as a non-humble people.  Which is just another example of why there is not just one way of being simple.
One of gifts that even a bad Quaker like me appreciates about the Friendly way is that is always evolving and asking current questions about what it means to be a person of faith.  And the issue of simplicity in a modern, consumerist society is one of the things that keeps us growing.  And one thing we’ve discovered is that that we have to continually wrestle with what does it mean to live simply?

And what it means for me is not what it’ll necessarily mean for you.  Our faith is not a one size fits all faith.  At least in how we live it out.  We are all unique – and created by God to be so.  Which means, when Paul says we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, I think he should have added something such as “and likewise about living it out!”  We need to work out what it means to live simply.

And, despite all the land and stuff I have, even at my worst I’m doing better than I used to.

One reason I say that is that it’s in no small part a matter of attitude.  Why do we have stuff?  I admit that have often acquired because I could and I wanted to.  I didn’t grow up the richest kid on the block – or even the third richest.  So when I had my first allowances and then summer jobs I bought stuff I wanted (much to the dismay of my dad who wanted me to buy stuff I needed, like shoes, jeans, etc).  I acquired because I could.

While that still occasionally occurs, usually I’m buying now because it’s something I need or makes a statement about my values.  The first is the easiest to understand, I suppose.  It takes a lot of stuff to live simply on fifty acres.  That expanse of land does not take care of itself.

The second is harder to understand perhaps.  After all, rarely do we think about how what we own says something about what we believe.

The fact of my changing in this regard came on a trip to Texas a few years ago.  My sister Kathleen and her husband Paul lived there then. I stayed with them when I was an a speaking tour related to one of my books.   A book in which I talked some about Quaker simplicity.  I flew in and needed to borrow one of their cars to get to the speaking gig at the Catholic Campus Ministry center at Southern Methodist University.  My choice was between their Mercedes and their BMW.  This presented me with a bit of dilemma.  Here’s why --

I love cars.  I admit it.  Especially foreign cars.  Especially British or European cars.  I’ve owned a couple (the MG I still have, an Austin-Healey Sprite in my early 20s, various Volkswagens, and … well, too many cars to mention).  I dreamt of owning a Jaguar saloon (sounds better than a 4-door sedan, doesn’t it?) with wood dash, leather seats, and pop-up picnic tables affixed to the back of the front seats.  I would have made do with a Mercedes or BMW, but a big Jag was my dream car as young man.  Once I had it made financially, one was going to be in my garage.

Now I’m gonna say right here, that I still love Jags, even if they’ve lost a bit of their mystique for me.  But I couldn’t own one anymore – even though I could afford at least a used one.  The reason is the way the Quaker way of urging us to live simply in the name of Jesus just won’t let me.  I would be concerned, if I owned one, what people would think of me.  And in a good way.

I mean, I’ve already admitted to being a bad Friend.  I wouldn’t want to confirm that in the eyes of others.  A Jaguar, to me, says wealth, class, and elegance.  There is nothing wrong with any of those, per se.  I was delighted that Kathleen and Paul could enjoy such fine automobiles.  But for me to own one would play into my own weaknesses regarding those things – especially wealth and class (and the classism and privilege that they can engender and/or maintain).  The weird thing is I don’t really feel deprived by not driving a Jag.  The Buick I have now is better built, better engineered, has more bells and whistles than the first Jaguar 420 I contemplated buying in 1971.  It doesn’t have those picnic tables, though!

And so I felt really awkward about driving either of those cars – what would it say about Quakers and our values (including simplicity) to have their guest speaker arrive driving a Beemer or a Benz?
I chose the Benz.

And enjoyed it immensely.

It was black.  Simply Quakerly.

Monday, August 04, 2014

When True Simplicity is Gained: The Humble Stumble

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free 
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained, 
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right

I'm not completely certain that I'm gaining on simplicity. Sometimes it seems closer. Sometimes it seems further away.  After all, I've already admitted that I'm a music hoarder.  I also have books -- floor to ceiling in my office, filled shelves in the loft, random books laying around all over the house on end tables and nightstands and on kitchen shelves, boxes of books in the basement and garage attic.  And I don't just mean copies of books I've written in attempts to make me a best seller.  I mean books by other people.
And then there are all the vehicles.  My car.  Nancy's car.  The farm pickup.  My antique MG.  All this for two people.  Then there's equipment.  A utility tractor with a loader, rotary mower, log splitter, box scraper, grading blade and more.  A lawn tractor.  A high speed zero-turn mower.  A push mower.  A utility golf cart with a dump bed.  Various trimmers, rakes, shovels, hoes, pitchforks, saws, chain saws, and and so on.  
People hear I live on a farm and say, "Man, I'd love to live the simple life."  Lemme tell you, it ain't so simple -- otherwise I would need all the equipment above.  And I do need it!
Which is something I've been learning about simplicity over the years.  There's no one way.  Yes, I could go all Walden and live in a tiny cabin in the woods.  But I doubt that our big family would appreciate that and besides Henry David Thoreau could only stand it for a couple of years.  True simplicity, as we Quakers understand it, is not about how little you have (though some Friends do live very, very modestly) or how much you have -- it's about why you have what you have.
Now this flies in the face of much of our thinking about simplicity.  After all, didn't Jesus tell the rich young ruler that, to inherit eternal life, he needed to sell all that he had?  Yep, he sure did. 
And our faith often puts pressure on us about how much we have by guilting us.  Our little Quaker meeting is filled (well, as filled as a group of 30 can be) with people who travel all around the world doing good things.  Kenya.  Belize.  Palestine.  Cuba.  And they often host Quakers from those countries who need a place to stay when they come here.  Invariably we first world Friends start talking about how rich we are compared to those from developing nations.  And we are.  There's no denying that.  
Okay, if Jesus said to get rid of everything and I'm so much richer than the Kenyan Quakers, maybe I should sell all I possess and give to the poor.  But like the rich young ruler, I'd probably go away distressed and grieving, for, like him, I own much property.
So if living simply for me consists of a Walden like existence, subsisting on the bare minimum, I've got a long way to go and much to learn.  And I probably am not going to make it.  
What's a fella (or woman or family or faith community) to do if we want to "come round right"?

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...

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Fightin' Quaker, part 2: Humble Stumble

"Get off my land!"  I yelled those words, hands cupped around my mouth, at a bunch of ATVers (all terrain vehicle riders) tearing up and down the creek bed below me.  Then, heart racing along with my mouth, I scrabbled down the hillside to where they were churning up muddy water, driving up and down the creek bank, zipping up into the field where I'd freshly planted tree saplings.

I was pissed.  I was beyond pissed.  I was so mad that I wished I could have just punched one of 'em.  Especially the one who smiled as he ran over my foot while speeding off.  By the time I got back up the hill and called the sheriff to report them, I had a really good mad on.  My sister and her husband were there when it happened -- and love to tell the story of the fire-breathing Quaker pacifist chasing wild riders off his property.

They don't know that it wasn't the first time it happened.

But this isn't about the yahoos who trespass on our property (on horseback, in Jeeps, on foot, with hunting dogs, destroying prairie flowers and grass, trampling trees -- "Oh, this is private property?  We didn't know").  Nope, it's about me and how, despite my aversion and abhorrence of war, and how I'm just not a very peaceful person.

Which is one reason I'm a Quaker today.

It challenges me.  The early Quakers said they lived in that spirit that takes away the desire for all war.  Which I take to mean all violence.  And I don't live in that spirit sometimes.  I mean I'm better than I used to be -- but the heart of the killer that was in me as a young kid still resides (at least partially).  I have the feeling, despite my public testimony against violence, that sometimes there are some people who just need to be slapped.

In fact, in the early days of the Association of Bad Friends (for Quakers who admit that we don't quite measure up to our Friendly ideals), Jacob Stone and I came up with a plan to relieve the tension I -- and I suspect others felt -- while raising money for good Quaker causes.  We proposed instituting a series of Quaker indulgence.

Here's how it could work (with apologies, somewhat to Jacob for stealing his idea and going completely wild with it). Let's say you're like me -- a bad Quaker. I don't mean evil, I just mean, not very good at it. And as a bad Quaker someone has really ticked you off and you'd just love to smack some sense into them. Under the Quaker Indulgences Plan, you could donate $500 (in addition to your regular giving) to your favorite Friendly organization and in return they would issue you an one day indulgence from the Peace Testimony. Then you could skip calling your Lutheran brother-in-law, and just go slap the offender silly yourownself.

Well, of course, while it's funny, it's not helpful. What I want, what I need to is to learn to live in in that spirit that takes away any desire to inflict injury -- whether physical, emotional, intellectual, whatever -- on another person.  I want to know that spirit of which early Friend James Nayler said, "... delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned;"

That speaks to my untamed, unruly, often hateful heart.  

But how do I start?  And  does the Quaker way help?

An Open Letter to Fellow Quakers and Our Organizations

 Friends in Fellowship
A Quaker Worship Group
6960 E. Hendricks County Rd
Mooresville, IN 46158

August 1, 2014

To Friends Everywhere –

At our most recent meeting for worship, we of Friends in Fellowship (an unaffiliated Quaker worship group based in theological hospitality and comprised of friends of the Friends’ way and Quakers from a wide variety of yearly meetings in Indiana) had an especially rich, but challenging time of vocal ministry and sharing.  Hence this open letter to all Friends and Friends’ institutions.

As we sat in an early evening holy stillness listening to our Inner Teacher, we were struck by the contrast of the quiet beauty and comfort we enjoyed while around the world turmoil and violence raged.  This contrast was made more stark as the golden sunset light lit the woods around us following a violent storm that had just passed through, leaving our meeting place undisturbed but downing trees and power lines just a mile or two away from us.  Concerns were shared about the violence raging in Gaza and Israel and the masses of Central American children trying to immigrate to the United States.

Further, some of us who had attended yearly meetings and other Friends assemblies recently were concerned that these bodies did not appear to find time to reflect on issues around which we might find common ground in God – the violence in the Mideast, the undocumented child immigrants, homelessness, and the increasing number of deaths by shooting in our own cities.  Could we have made, after prayerful consideration and listening to the voice of the Divine, corporate statements regarding our stance as Friends on such topics as:
  • 1)      the increasing violence in our cities (seven people shot and a police officer killed in one incident in Indianapolis)?
  • 2)     the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight number 17 while some of us were sitting in yearly meeting sessions?
  • 3)     the treatment of the children being picked up and detained while crossing our borders?

We acknowledge our own failure to bring these matters on our own hearts to the attention of Friends who were gathered.  We were remiss in not asking for consideration of them.  We ask for the strength and wisdom to be more faithful in future times together.

We prayerfully considered how we celebrate Friends in days past for their courageous and outspoken stances on any number of Gospel issues.  These ranged from slavery to women’s rights to peace and more.  Does this generation of Friends have anything collectively to say to a violent, war-wracked world?  Have we Good News for them?  What prophetic word might we Friends offer?

We went into a time of deep worship with a query – “What is God calling us (our group and as individuals) to say and do?”

Out of worship came the leading to send this query to Friends everywhere and invite them to consider it with us.  We especially desire that other meetings, yearly meetings, and Quaker institutions will discern if they are led to speak a Good Word, as we are feeling led, about such issues to a hurting world.  And then to follow what we say with some concrete action of Love.

J. Brent Bill, Acting Clerk