Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Renewing the Peace Testimony - FUM Triennial Part 2

On Thursday night at the Landrum Bolling, former president of Earlham College, gave the Betty Carter Peace Lecture on the subject of Renewing the Peace Testimony. One can only hope to be as fit and sharp at age 94 as Landrum Bolling is. He told a number of stories from his experience in peacemaking in the Middle East. He told stories of faith and redemption. He told stories of non-Friends whose actions made an impact. He told stories of change and transformation. The transcript of his talk can be found here.
He also called on Friends to examine what the peace testimony really means to us today, where we are going in our lives and what we want to accomplish. What does it mean and do we really believe it? Do we really try to live it out?

He said:
I come back to reformation, not asking us to change the testimony. Just look at the major principles of the testimony. You know what they are: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Love your neighbors as you love yourself. … Pray for those who spitefully use you. Recompense no man evil for evil. As much as lies within you live peaceably with all men. If your enemy hungers, feed him. If he thirsts, give him drink. Blessed are peacemaker for they shall be called children of God.

He called for Friends to recognize that there are consequences to our ideas and beliefs. You cannot make a clear division between religious faith and practice and political action. They are not the same exactly but there are political consequences to our beliefs. He spoke of the trend that started before the election of George Bush that the president as commander-in-chief as unlimited power to decide what should be done about peace. The president has usurped the power from the Secretary of State and the diplomatic corps. As we witness for peace, do we have anything to say about this? The United States spends more on arms than all the other countries in the world combined. What are we doing about this?

He ended by quoting his favorite bumper sticker: “God bless everybody, no exceptions.”

At the end of his talk I couldn't help thinking that if we believe that Israelis and Palestinians should reconcile their differences, what about the differences between Indiana Yearly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting? What about the differences between Elgon-North Yearly Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting? What about Iowa Yearly Meeting(FUM) and Iowa Yearly Meeting( Conservative) or North Carolina Yearly Meeting(FUM) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting(Conservative)? If we are serious about making peace in the world shouldn't we start with our own house?

Since I come from a liberal background, nothing that I said sounded very controversial. But I spoke with another Friend afterwards who said that there was an implied challenge in the message, especially in the words about what has been done by the Republicans to usurp power from the diplomats. There are some Friends who believe that the wars between Israel and the Arabs and Palestinians should be understood in light of Biblical prophecy. These are precursors of the end times and the second coming of Christ. I don't know how Landrum's message was received by those Friends. It was another conversation that didn't happen. At least not where I was.

So are we willing to live the peace testimony in our lives or is it just a hook for political action? Are we willing to remove the logs and beams from our own eyes, both personally and as Quakers, as part of our witness to the world of the need for reconciliation? Are we willing to undertake the work to resolve the conflicts among us? Are we willing to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously? Are we willing to trust God even when we don't know the way or when we are afraid of what might happen?

More to come.

Blessings to all,

Will T


Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

"I couldn't help thinking that if we believe that Israelis and Palestinians should reconcile their differences, what about the differences between Indiana Yearly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting?"

This friend speaks my mind... *smile*

I'm sure I fail, often, to be very good at living out the peace testimony. I fear my words have sometimes acted to widen the breach between different "flavors" of Friends. Perhaps just my presence does some of that...

But I'm trying. I commit myself to trying, and if a Friend challenges me, I will try to hear them. If a Friend's words or actions distress me, I'll try to remember to speak slowly and listen deeply, in hopes of finding our way to what unites us, rather than divides us. I'll _try_.

July 19, 2008 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi, Will!

You ask, "if we believe that Israelis and Palestinians should reconcile their differences, what about the differences between" one yearly meeting, or body of yearly meetings, and the next?

You also ask, "...Are we willing to live the peace testimony in our lives or is it just a hook for political action?"

No doubt you are already aware that our "peace testimony" was originally, and among traditional Friends still is, a testimony specifically against wars and fighting, not against differences of viewpoint or understanding. Speaking as a member of one of the yearly meetings you single out, I can assure you that there is no war or fighting between Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) and my own Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). We are indeed "living the peace testimony" vis-à-vis one another.

As for the differences of viewpoint and understanding between our two Iowa yearly meetings, I know for a fact that there are ongoing conversations between some people in the one and some in the other, whereby an enlarged understanding may emerge on both sides in time. However, the members of Iowa (FUM) are very fond of the pastoral system, programmatic worship, a very evangelical Protestant understanding of Christianity, and a very evangelical Protestant approach to secular society. We at Iowa (Conservative) are equally fond of the traditional system, unprogrammed worship, a traditional Quaker understanding of Christianity, and a traditional Quaker approach to secular society. These differences are not going to go away any time soon, and I don't think they are necessarily unhealthy. I think they are differences that can be tolerated with respect for both sides.

I do believe it's worth bearing in mind that the apostle James specifically attributed wars and fightings to "the desires for pleasure that war in your members". This is perhaps particularly relevant to disagreements over sexual issues such as same-sex marriage, and also to disagreements over environmental issues. And it is a teaching that, I believe, indicts both sides: for the desire to be found right, and to see one's own idea of a righteous society realized, can be a desire for pleasure, just as much as the desire for sexual gratification and material comfort.

I hope that all of us will consider the degree to which our alienation from other sorts of Friends is driven by some desire of our own for some pleasure or gratification. This sort of self-evaluation may not be an express part of "living the peace testimony", but I suspect it is a necessary part of our salvation.

All the best,

July 25, 2008 10:35 AM  

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