The Spiritual Basis
FAITH IN ACTION:
THROUGH THE IMPOSSIBLE
"From the mists of my childhood reading comes the phrase 'the way to a perfect job lay right straight through the impossible.' It comes to me now as we and many other Quakers engage, with a great sense of urgency, in an effort to prevent our country from attacking Iraq. If we succeed, we will have done good work. Many lives will be saved, and much suffering avoided. Yet our real goal will have eluded us. Our real goal is a world that is not only not at war but at peace. It is a world in which no one has to worry about suicide bombers--on foot, in cars, or on airplanes. It is a world in which children do not die of malnutrition, diarrhea, or preventable diseases. It is a world in which conflicts are resolved through negotiation, not ended by violence toward one of the parties.
"I remembered that phrase about 'right straight through the impossible' because someone has come along to propose, in all seriousness, that we look straight at the impossible and move ourselves to get there. A new Friend, Radh Achuthan, was given a travel minute by New York Yearly Meeting to travel under the weight of a leading that, at first sight, looks impossible. He proposes to examine how the minimum needs of every person on earth might be met--and then to take nonviolent action to achieve that goal. If we really understand what the minimum needs of a human being are and are able to meet them for everyone, I believe we will find that we have reached our goal of creating a world at peace.
"Our goal is not physically
impossible. With proper management, the earth can provide enough food, clothing,
and shelter for everyone. Important as these are, however, they are not enough.
There are other needs--such as functional families and communities, education
and meaningful work--that must also be considered. What is needed now are ideas
about how all these needs can be met. As Friends Meetings, as the Religious
Society of Friends, as part of the global community, we should begin to
brainstorm and then to thresh through our ideas. We need to talk about them,
with each other and with the whole world, through the medium of the Internet and
other publications. I hope that we will commemorate September 11 by considering
how to go right straight through the impossible."
--Mary Eagleson, Clerk, RSWR Committee of NYYM, August 2002.
The following emerging from British Yearly Meetings, (BYM), is based on and taken from Faith in Action- Quaker social testimony by Jonathan Dale and others, Published by Quaker Home Service, Friends House, Euston Road, London NW 1 2BJ, April 2000.
the way in which we express our conviction about the relationship of humankind
to God and to each other" (Jonathan Dale p66).
Living out a witness to peace has to do with every day choices about the work we do, the relationships we build, what part we take in politics, what we buy, how we raise our children. It is a matter of fostering relationships and structures--from personal to international-- which are strong and healthy enough to contain conflict when it arises and allow its creative resolution. (Mary Lou Leavitt, The Quaker peace testimony: a workbook for individuals and groups, p3)
There is no part of our lives which does not depend on the chain of cause and effect linking us to the whole and its resources. Consider how your smallest every day choice as a consumer can touch the lives of faraway people and the earth itself. Inform yourself as fully as possible about these effects in order to make conscious decisions responsibly. (Redland Meeting, Environment Worship Sharing Group 1987, taken from "And the creation was opened to me", 11.25).
Many of us live in the more prosperous areas of large cities, or within commuting distance of them. The accumulated decisions of all our neighbors help to determine what life is for the people who live in the inner areas of those cities, and in the large housing estates on their edges. Decisions about where we live, what forms of transport to use, where to spend money, where to send children to school, where to work, whom to employ, where to obtain health services, what to condone, what to protest about, business decisions, personal decisions, political decisions, -- all these have an effect. Our first and greatest responsibility is to make these decisions in the knowledge of their effect on others. (Martin Wyatt, 1986, QFP 23.49)
We speak of the power of the Spirit, and our need to be open to it. But when it comes to other forms of power, to our response to secular 'authority', we are more uncertain. And as for the exercise of power ourselves, I hear expressed the feeling that 'power' and our testimonies and methods are mutually exclusive. We work towards equality and unity rather than the imposition of our wills.
But we all exercise power in our daily lives. We have power as consumers, we have power in relationships, (and) we can use the power of protest. Some have more power than others, and many people feel dis-empowered, cynical, frustrated. But whether we are 'in power' or at the receiving end, we need to be aware of the power balances (and imbalances) in our lives and in society in general. We also need to be aware of our responsibilities, whether they involve the ethical use of power or working for change. (Harry Albright, The Friend, 6 August 1999).
As we persist in trying, by whatever means we can, to raise the level of sharing and caring in our meetings there will, if we are faithful, come a point when members no longer feel alone and impotent, but know that they are together, and can do something that will make a difference in the world. There will come a point when our trust and confidence in each other and in the Spirit has made us into a real community, living more often in the life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars, (living) able to witness the truth not only in ministry, at demos, and (in) petitions, but also in our daily lives. (Audrey Urry, 'The meeting community").
In recognizing the importance of taking political action corporately as
Friends towards the Kingdom of God, we need to be aware that the rhetoric of
political change can be cheap. It is extremely easy to criticize others, but we
would find it hard to act creatively and rightly if we were given political
power. Prophecy is needed;
dissent is needed, but also humility. And we knew that humility should be natural to us as we know that we ourselves often
do not do what we should do ever when
it is something which is in our own power to do. (Jonathan Dale, p8)
Social Testimonies Today:
We Friends take the whole of life to be sacramental because we believe in the light of God in every person. The social order is part of that life; and love must inform all our notions of justice--in Britain and through out the world. We therefore affirm:
that all people are to be valued for themselves, not merely for what they contribute
that all people are entitled to quality of life, and to opportunities for growth, not hampered by unjust economic conditions, or by inequities caused by prejudice
that our responsibilities as stewards requires that all resources are to be used for the good of everyone throughout the world, for the generations to come , and in harmony with the environment.
(TIM Newell, in
Quakers and the General Election, 1977)
a particularly penetrating comment on the passage of Scripture (Matthew 6: 25-31),
Soren Kierkegaard considers what sort of effort could be made to pursue the
kingdom of God. Should a person get a suitable job in order to exert a virtuous
influence? His answer: no, we must first seek God's kingdom. Then should we give
away all our money to feed the poor? Again the answer: no, we must first seek
God's kingdom. Well, then perhaps we are to go and preach this truth to the
world that people are to first seek God's kingdom? Once again the answer is a
resounding: no, we are first to seek the kingdom of God. Kierkegaard concludes,
'Then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain
sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this
silence is the beginning, which is, first to seek God's kingdom.'
Focus upon the
kingdom produces the inward reality, and without the inward reality we will
degenerate to legalistic trivia. Nothing else can be central. The desire to get
out of the rat race cannot be central, the redistribution of the world's wealth
cannot be central, the concern for ecology cannot be central. Seeking first
God's kingdom and the righteousness, both personal and social, of that kingdom
is the only thing that can be central in the spiritual discipline of simplicity.
The person who
does not seek the kingdom first does not seek it at all. Worthy as all other
concerns may be, the moment they become the focus of our efforts they become
idolatry….(Richard Foster 1978, Celebration of discipline, pp106-107).
3. Restorative Justice:
The principles with which Quakers approach community justice are best seen at work in the growing practical implementation of an alternative approach to justice now referred to as Restorative Justice.
'Restorative justice seeks to balance the concerns of the victim and the community with the need to reintegrate the offender into society. It seeks to assist the recovery of the victim and enable all parties with a stake in the justice process to participate fully in it'. (Manifesto of the Restorative Justice Consortium).
Restorative Justice aims to offer:
compensation, healing and a voice to victims
a voice in setting priorities for the criminal justice, resources and skills for preventing crime, and an understanding of why crime happens to communities
a realization of the consequences of their actions, a chance to make reparations and an avenue back into the community to offenders
community support and confidence, partnerships with other agencies, and a new hope of being effective in resolving the harm of crime and reducing its likelihood in the future.
These are hard
aims to achieve, and they require all of us to participate actively in the
process in whichever way is appropriate. ('Toward a Quaker View of Crime &
Community Justice', From QSRE Crime and community justice resource pack,
In the context of
GTRC911, the victims are the global have-nots, the ongoing crime is not
meeting the minimum needs of the global have-nots, the offenders are the
creators and supporters of the current economic system.
It seems to me
there are three powerful forces that are at work on us, making it more difficult
to respond with wholehearted spiritual integrity:
* We do not live lives that are truly adventurous because we do still cling, in our different ways and to different extents, to our comforts and our material securities. Some of it is linked to our middle class position.
we are imbued to some extent -- to some extent at least--with the individualist, secular and materialist ethos of the contemporary world.
We have not found ways of being a vibrant spiritual community in which we can be mutually loved into greater faithfulness.
So our practice of
our testimonies takes on the character of our charitable giving. It is measured
out so as to avoid any personal discomfort. And because of that it lacks too
often the authentic hallmark of transformational witness, seeming
rather to be a partial conformity to something that has been handed down.(
Jonathan Dale, p112).
5. Using Conflict
and will continue to happen, even in the most peaceful of worlds. And that's
good-- a world where we all agree with one another would be incredibly boring.
Our differences help us to learn. Through conflict handled creatively we can
change and grow; and I am not sure real change -- either political or personal--
can happen without it. We'll each handle conflict differently and find healing
and reconciliation by different paths. I want nonetheless to offer three
different keys, three skills or qualities, which I've found helpful from my own
The first skill is
naming: being clear and honest about the problem as I see it, stating
what I see and how I feel about it. What is important about these statement is
that I own them: 'I see', 'I feel', (not 'surely it is obvious that…' , or
'any right thinking person should').This ability to name what seems to be going
on, is crucial to get the conflict out into the open, where we can understand
and try to deal with it.
Such a skill is
dangerous. It can feel--indeed it can be--confrontational. It feels like
stirring up trouble where there wasn't any problem. It needs to be done
carefully, caringly, with love in language we hope others can hear. We need to
seek tactfully the best time to do it. But it needs to be done.
The second skill
is the skill of listening: listening is not just to the words, but to the
feelings and the words behind the words. It takes a great deal of time and
energy to listen well. It's a kind of weaving: reflecting back, asking for
clarification, asking for time in turn to be listened to, being truly open to
what we are hearing (even if it hurts), being open to the possibility that we
might ourselves be changed by what we hear.
The third is the
skill of letting go: I don't mean that in the sense of giving up, lying
down and inviting people to walk all over us, but acknowledging the possibility
that there might be other solutions to the conflict than the ones we have
thought of yet; letting the imagination in-- making room for the Spirit. We need
to let go of our own will-- not as to surrender to another's, but so as to look
together for God's solution. It's a question of finding ways to let go of our
commitments to opposition and separation, of letting ourselves to our
connectedness as human beings.
If we are to do any of these things well--naming, listening, letting go--we need to have learned to trust that of God in ourselves, and that of God in those trapped on all sides of the conflict with us. And to do that well, I find that I need to be centered, rooted, practiced in waiting on God. That rootedness is both a gift and a discipline, something we can cultivate and build on by acknowledging it every day. (Mary Lou Leavitt, 1986, QFP 20.17)
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