Thursday, January 15, 2009

peace and harmony

Chuck Fager, a Quaker of renown, has recently posted about going to a "peace" conference and discovering that there was not much, by his light, going on there about "war"--about "large organized violent conflict."

It made me think about discussion going on in North Pacific Yearly Meeting, right now, in the process of our re-examination and revision of our book of Faith and Practice. This post is about that process, not about Chuck Fager's post. That post was the occasion for, but not the oject of, this one.

One idea brought up in the process has been re-claiming the label of "Harmony" for the testimony commonly called "Peace," these days. Without going into all this stuff about testimonies, suffice it to say that some Friends want to talk about the fact that when we think and talk about "peace" we have in mind these large organized violent conflicts and the external, political ways to stop and prevent them. We start to think about where we need to go (to give a piece of our minds--to "speak truth"--to some Congressman--"power"--or to a vigil or some other kind of demonstration), rather than the place from which we come (that place from which there is no occasion for war).

This political peace among nations, traditionally, was seen by Friends as a part of the overall harmony--the right relationship with God, with ourselves, with others and our environment--that the testimony speaks to. The political aspect, in some Friends' minds, has grown to define the testimony and, in doing so emphasizing political action as the way to achieve it. Some "peace minutes," for example, are difficult to distinguish from planks of the Democtratic Party platform. And that, some Friends of a more traditional "bent," is a real problem. Without a solid grounding in overall harmony the contentious political world can lead us into the roles and conduct that perpetuate, rather than threaten, the mores of our cultures of redemptive violence.

There was a time that the peace testimony had nothing to do with organizing to stop wars--it had to do with not participating in them. It did not have to do with external changes, changes to the world, that would make war obsolete, except insofar as that is the outcome resulting from internal changes in people--by attaining that perfection, that maturity, that transformation--that was one of the fundamental distinctions between Quakers and Protestants and that was foreseen by Friends in the context of the end times in which Friends believed they lived.

I think it's fine that the peace testimony has morphed to include stopping wars, rather than merely a refusal to lend our energies to fighting them, and that Friends no longer remain behind the hedge, eschewing political alliances with those outside the Society who share our concerns and scruples about large organized violent conflicts.

I've spent a lot of time (before and after being gathered to the Society) sitting in, holding candles and carrying signs. I still talk to people, and write to them, about my faith based opposition to war.

I support Friend Fager's work. I am a veteran (they once called me Sergeant Travis, USMC) and Christ working through people like Chuck when I was on active duty started me on the road to where I am now. (Far more Friends should support his work in North Carolina and should send him a check every year.)

The "lusts"--the compulsions of our hearts: our fears and our greeds, rooted in and supported by the "common sense" of our cultures of redemptive violence--are the origin of our wars. The military spending, for example, is a manifestation of these fears and greeds, but they are only a manifestation of them. Without the fears and greeds there are no such manifestations. Removing the fears and greeds is what will bring remove the manifestations, but working to remove the manifestations will not remove the fears and greeds.

That's what Friends traditionally believed. Whether we were talking about the struggles with those around us in the ongoing, quiet but desperate struggles for control of the emotional and other resources of our relationships, or with American government leaders who have had us engaged in a struggles with the likes of Adolf Hitler, the Vietcong or Al Qaeda for control of the world's resources, the faith and practice of Friends was what has been turned into a bromide, these days--"peace, let it begin with me."

Some Friends wonder, given the political context in which we pursue the testimony today, peace that begins with us (in so far as it does) can, in that context, stay with us. The query is: given the imperatives of the political process (that by definition and purpose mediates fears and greeds) how can those who participate remain in that place that takes away the occasion for all war?

Some Friends think Howard Brinton, in Friends for 300 Years, wrote about the harmony testimony, rather than the peace testimony for this reason. The political peace, the absence of war between nations, will come about when people become (or are transformed to be) capable of living in harmony with one another--not when our social, political and economic infrastructure removes this or that means of manifesting our greeds and fears. It is moving (or being moved) beyond the control of the spirits that use our greeds and fears to drive us to use this or that means of trying to eliminate our greeds and fears--not creating a world in which we are rendered "greed proof" and "fear proof" by this or that statute or compromise--that will end the large organized violent conflicts that rage around us.

Coming from, and staying in, that place will transform the world. It will not happen, Friends traditionally believed, the other way around.

My personal view, as a good Beanite Friend, is that there is a balance involved, here. Yes, individual spiritual transformation will influence the political structures in which we live. But the political structures in which we live can have an influence on our spiritual transformation, as well.

With an ear to the direct teachings of each of us from Christ, and our hands on the accumulated wisdom of our spiritual tradtions, the world will be remade. In the end, though, Penn was right when he said that a good system set up to govern people who are inclined to do evil will be perverted by them and that a bad system, governing people inclined to be good, will be made good by them.

Wear it as long as you can, Fox is reputed to have told Penn. The operative word is "can." When we have to lay it down because it's not who we are, any more, when we enter into that kind of harmony, that kind of right relationship, then we are a part of the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke. No matter what's going on around us, no matter where we go to confront and struggle with evil, we must remain, ourselves, in that Kingdom--the place that takes away the occasion for all war.

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