Carl Magruder, Friday, March 24
I work with the dying. I’m a healthcare chaplain who works in hospice, in what we call palliative care. Some people who do this work call themselves death midwives. The process of attending a person in their dying is very similar to the process of attending to a mother as she brings a child into the world. And it is hard work. The night before I left home, I went to the hospice house to see a patient that I’ve had for two years and she is now really dying and the nurse there said, “I have another patient, he’s not your patient, but he’s having a hard time dying. He gets confused and he says ‘I know it’s time for me to go. I’m going to be late. But I don’t have a ticket.’ And he’s trying to figure out how to cross over, how to drop his body.” So I went to him and I sang him this song.
I am wading deep waters, trying to get home.
I am wading deep waters, trying to get home.
I am wading deep waters, wading deep waters, I am wading deep waters trying to get home.
I am climbing high mountains, trying to get home.
I am climbing high mountains, trying to get home.
I am climbing high mountains, climbing high mountains, I am climbing high mountains trying to get home.
And I am walking dark valleys trying to get home.
I am walking dark valleys trying to get home.
I am walking dark valleys, walking these dark valleys, I am walking dark valleys trying to get home.
As home place, that’s how African American folk talk about dying. Going home. Going to a memorial or a funeral, it’s a “Coming Home” celebration, going home. They’re going home to Jesus. This longing to be home is part of the universal human condition.
My home place as a minister is never to read. I have never read when asked to bring a message and I have tried to write a message for you all, so that the interpreters could have it in advance. It is thirteen pages. You can read it. (Holding up the papers.) Some of it’s quite good. Some if it is just notions. But this is part of what my branch of the Quaker tree preserved, that early Friends tried to speak in the Spirit. Not to offer a set prayer or prepared sermon. We say: The minister IS prepared,” rather than, the minister prepares. Not that I believe God cannot show up at any point that we come forward to worship. So, I’m going to read my introduction so you know who I am.
Buenos dias amigos. Me llamo Carlos Magruder and I’m honored to have been invited by FWCC to talk to you today. I am from California, where I live on the ancestral lands of the Wiyot people. This is part of what didn’t quite work for me. I introduce myself as being from a branch of the Quaker tree called Earth Quakers, but it’s a joke. And it probably doesn’t translate. There are Earth Quakers throughout Quakerism, but we don’t have a Faith & Practice. But what it is, is its people who have come to understand that as we say there is that of God in everyone we can also recognize that there is that of God, that of the Creator, in all of Creation and that it is all holy. The book of Genesis is credited with a lot of bad principles for the human relationship to Earth: have dominion, etc. But the part I come back to is that every time that God creates something, God pronounces it good.
Now the theme of Ecojustice is probably also a concept that doesn’t translate and part of the reason for that is that it’s a concept that Western people need, in the developed world, more so than in the developing world. North Americans have a particularly perverse concept of humanity as separate from the creation. Europeans came here, thought the land was empty, and carried their dualism into their understanding of the relationship to the land. The land was sinful, frightening, wild, and had to be tamed and civilized. So, we’re in a war with the Earth. We inherit that. But this separation is not so pervasive in Latin America. As you study Latin American environmentalism, where it’s a deeper understanding that we as humans are embedded in earth. The name of the first man, Adam, is from the Hebrew adamah which means earth. He is named “earthling.” At some point, science and religion were put into opposite corners of a boxing ring and told to fight. I really don’t know how that happened. Now one beautiful thing about writing things in advance is if I had done so I would have this quote verbatim. William Penn says, “It would go a long way to caution and direct people in their use of the world that they would better studied and known in the creation of it. For how could man find the confidence to abuse it, while they should see the Great Creator stare them in the face, in all and every part thereof?” For me, the best understanding science can offer about earth’s processes simply increase my sense of awe and gratitude—the sacredness of Earth. That’s the concept I’m talking about. There is that of God in each of us and in the whole of creation.
I’ll confess that I went to seminary. Just so that’s out there. One of the things you learn is that, you know, for ages and ages in the West there is only the Catholic church, and then Luther, and then the Reformation. (Gesturing with hands to show a linear prgression.) Quakers are part of the radical reformation. Do you know this? We’re way the heck over here. We’re as far as you can go and not be so anarchist that your movement just fell apart, like the Diggers and Ranters. They were so cuckoo they couldn’t keep it together.
And what made us radical is that we’re mystics. That’s what made us crazy, and dangerous, and radical. Brother Stendl-Rast, who is a Catholic monk, says that there is an upflowing of religious feeling or knowing, mysticism, like lava out of the earth. And then the lava cools and becomes encrusted and hard and rigid and then periodically you have to have an upwelling of lava, of hot lava, to break loose, like Hawaii. So, Quakerism was a volcano that happened in the 1600s.
George Fox walks up Pendle Hill, as you know, he’s given up on everything, and he has this revelation. And Liberal Friends say, “There is that of God in everyone.” And Pastoral Friends say, “Jesus Christ has come to teach his people himself.” Okay, it’s the same idea: that God is manifest in creation, available to us, if we can come present to that Godness. And then, what do we need a priest for? And how do we understand scripture? And we don’t need a steeplehouse because God is everywhere. Quakers didn’t wear their hats in the meetinghouse because they were cold, they wore their hats in the meetinghouse because the meetinghouse was no more holy a place than every place.
So, the sacredness of creation, in the Biblical tradition—and if that’s not a comfortable place for you, I want to encourage you to grab yourself with both hands and just come along for the journey. The Biblical tradition of Ecojustice and earth justice is Shalom. Shalom is peace, it’s God’s peace. But it’s not simply an absence of war—that’s just the absence of war. When there is Shalom the domestic animals are fat, the wild animals are abundant, the rivers flow (this is a desert people, the rivers flowing is a big deal – people at Standing Rock would agree), and we are prosperous, and our children live, and we have enough to eat, and maybe we have time to write poetry. That’s Shalom, God’s peace.
So, Fox has a mystical experience of that peace. It’s not really available in this world, that’s why we have the tradition of this world as fallen. But he has that experience on Pendle Hill – and I did write this quote down and I kept it. I call it the Apocalypse of Pendle Hill. Do you know this word, apocalypse? Apokalypsis? It doesn’t mean disaster. In Greek it actually has no connotation of disaster. It simply means a revelation of truth. It could be a beautiful, healing, inspiring truth; it doesn’t have to be a disaster. The apocalypse of Pendle Hill. He went up the hill, he had this experience. Now this is an experience we can have in the covered meeting. I hope that you have had this mystical experience. Michael Sheeran wrote about Quakers and our decision-making process, and he said the Quakers imagine that the division between them is between Christ-centered Friends and non-Christ-centered Friends. He was a Jesuit. He said that’s not the division. The division is between those who have had this experience of oneness with God and those for whom it is an idea or aspiration, or, perhaps, not even something they expect.
Fox wrote, “Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell.” There are several thick and important concepts, but I want to bring up “beyond what words can utter.” You will find that precept in the mystics of Islam, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism: when we try to language it, we will always miss.
And then this crazy notion that I was in the state that Adam was in before he fell. That literally, legally, was blasphemy in England at that time. And you know what they did to James Naylor. Now this would have been fine, for Fox to have this beautiful experience and sit under his Bodhi Tree on Pendle Hill and meditate on the beauty. But, in his old leather britches and his shaggy, shaggy locks, he came down off the hill and tried to find or make the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The Calvinists were really preaching this idea that the whole earth was fallen and God was not having anything to do with it. We would figure that all out post-revelation or post our death and here Fox is saying, “no, no, I am able to be in that condition right now, a corporeal man, and you can too.” So, a very wild idea. Now there are other Anabaptists that have this idea and they very sensibly withdrew from the world, the fallen world, and they went off someplace by themselves. But that’s not what the Quakers did. It’s not what we were called to then and it’s not what we’re called to now. We’re called to Shalom, God’s will done on earth as in heaven. So, that’s Shalom, that’s justice, and the bringing it forth. And just as it did for Jesus and more recently Ghandi, Diane Fossey, Cesar Chavez, Alice Paul, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Lucretia Mott, etc, etc this caused all kinds of problems.
So, the call to Shalom, the call to be radically transformed, provides us with a kind of freedom and this freedom is amplified by the apocalypse, which is actually the horrific kind of apocalypse. This present time is the time of what the eco-spiritual activist Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning. It’s funny to me that Jonathan and I both came to this conclusion in coming here this weekend. And what precedes the Great Turning from the Industrial Growth Society of rampant mechanization and fossil fuel consumption and perpetual growth of the free market economy—the turning from that to the Life-Sustaining Culture—Shalom, well, what precedes it is the Great Unraveling.
The system fails before it changes, that’s how evolution works. It’s very easy to see at this point. The veil has been lifted. The systems that we have relied on since, say massive exploitation of fossil fuels, are failing. And the last hurrah of a doomed mindset of dominion, and some people having privilege and others not, is in its death throes – and they’re pretty spectacular. But we’re not going to go into all that. We know it already.
So, the freedom that we have is the realization that we are playing for all the marbles, that the status quo is not going to work, and that minute changes, like recycling and driving a Prius, are not going to get us there. So, we are free, like the Valiant Sixty, the first generation of Quakers—to be wild, peculiar, unpredictable, radical, which means coming from the root, that mystical root, that Christ showed us.
The most important consolation of facing the kind of truth that is terrifying, and finding the spiritual strength to live into it, to respond from a place of creativity and love, is that we draw closer to God.
Have you ever had this experience in your life, where things get very, very dark and difficult and you finally stop trying out of your own will and cleverness to solve it and you say, “Help me!” and God comes in. Not because God wasn’t there all along, but because you were trying to do it yourself. I can testify. Instead of climbing out of that hole, you fall out the bottom of it and discover that you’re caught and carried. So, that’s one consolation. We draw closer to God.
But the consolation I want to focus on this morning is that God’s Shalom in the Bible is protected by a covenant. It’s made possible by covenant. And this covenant encompasses all of creation, humanity, the wild animals, the rivers, okay? And it is a supernatural vision, alright? So, I have in here the proper quote from Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Some of those animals are wild, some are domestic, and the human being, the little dinky one, the kind that Jesus told us to become like – will lead them. It’s a supernatural vision, right? The trees of the fields clap their hands. So, in order to live into that inspiring vision, we have to have a covenant. And the covenant community is an outpost of the republic of heaven. It’s traditionally kingdom of heaven, but I made it a little more democratic. Jesus can still run it, I’m happy with that.
So, these outposts of the kingdom of heaven, these are the mustard seeds, this insidious little seed that can be carried by a sparrow in its poop, or carried on the back of a rat or a coyote. And they can grow up where there’s hardly any soil, in a little crack in the pavement. This is what we are invited to be, Friends World Committee for Consultation, the latter part of March, 2017. The last days of this model of a society that we find ourselves in. And these may be some of our last chances to turn the ship and to prevent our little interstellar island from becoming a galactic Easter Island, with these interesting artifacts – but where are the people? So, we are a covenant community, we have come together across a diversity of geography and theology and beard length, Christ-centeredess and non-Christ-centeredness.
Now, if you are willing; if you would stand, find one other person, preferably someone you don’t know well. Try to turn your core, your heart chakra, towards them.
[If this is awkward for you or if you don’t feel like you want to participate, you can just hold the group in prayer…]
So, centering down in the silence. Take your partner’s hands in yours.
These are hands of a human person. They are only to be found here on earth as far as we know.
This little hand opened like a flower in its mother’s womb. It learned to hold a pencil, to tie shoes, maybe to soothe a fussing child. Maybe this hand you’re holding held the hand of someone in their last moments on the earth. Feel the magic of those many bones and tendons. Take this friend in, breathe them in.
This person could have been somewhere else this weekend. They are very busy. They have a lot of things to do. But they chose to be here, to come here to be part of this covenant community.
This is a person who has suffered, and who has caused suffering, as is inevitable. And this is someone who knows that our world is suffering with injustice, with famine, war.
And you are also a person who chose to be here and who knows these things.
Allow yourself to feel compassion rising for this human soul before you, this courageous being, so awesomely and wonderfully made with that of God shining within them. Feel your wish, your prayer, for this person to thrive and to be well, to draw nearer to Spirit, to be emboldened and strengthened to discern and faithfully follow the leadings of Spirit in their life. Also, allow yourself to receive this compassionate wish from them. Breathe it in. Feel your feet on the body of earth. You are here now, in this good place, among Friends. Open your eyes to the glory of this shalom. Take this blessing into you, to carry with you as we spend this time together. And now, thank your partner in whatever way seems right to you, and is permissible to them.
Friends, let us close in prayer. One of the great adventures of my becoming a healthcare chaplain from the west-coast-bleeding-heart-liberal-waiting-worship branch of Quakerism is that I had never in my life prayed out loud; but that will not fly in the hospital. So, I would center myself for a moment before I would pray and often the patient would say, “Are you okay?” And occasionally they would just start to pray without me.
Spirit of Love and Light, come illumine this gathering of Friends World Committee for Consultation. Bring us together in a radical way, a way that might challenge us but also opens us and deepens us to the love that is possible and the world that is possible when we come together. We are mindful of the mighty works that you have inspired in faithful people of all traditions throughout time and we want to be open and willing to receive that inspiration. We give thanks for the opportunity to be in this beautiful place and for the Earth’s abundance that sustains us at mealtimes with heat and with light. We dedicate this worship and our time together and our efforts to the healing of the world. So may it be.
We are wading deep waters, trying to get home.
We are wading deep waters, trying to get home.
We are wading deep waters, wading deep waters, we are wading deep waters trying to get home.
—A Period of Worship—
Coming back to the beginning, to the man I sang to about going home—there is a powerful grace that is possible as death—that is, transformation—approaches. Great courage may be found, and things that seemed impossible may be readily accomplished. This is where our society and our planet are now—terminally ill, passing tipping points that we cannot recover from; approaching a kind of transformation which feels like death. In this liminal time, new possibilities arise, tremendous courage is needed, and within the looming chaos a mustard seed whirls. The kingdom of heaven is among us. Shalom is at hand.
Kirenia Criado, Saturday, March 25
Faith, works and other alternatives for peace
(For Susan Furry, who has shown me that there are not one or two interpretations but many, only these must make the Spirit move)
When I received the invitation to share a message in this beloved Assembly of the World Committee, I was told about the theme of “Living Peace: Living Peace” (John 16:33) and the different threads that are woven into our Quaker tradition world. On the one hand, the testimony of peace is seen as internal peace, and others as a call to work to end the war, and a latent concern appears: Have we lost the spiritual basis of faith, on the one hand, or Activism in the other’s world?
John Woolman in his diary could understand these strands with tremendous wealth, some as consequences of the others. Neither the spiritual peace that works in us allowed us to be alien, nor tranquil with the reality of injustice, war, hunger and death in the world. Nor does this social action of ethical indignation reflect only our works, but we move by the force of the Spirit that is building peace within us.
This is expressed in his diary …
“And we, through the grace of the Lord our God, have experience of the work that is accomplished” not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. By this work establishes the spiritual kingdom that will subdue and break into pieces all the kingdoms that oppose it and will endure forever. Feeling deeply this work and the security, stability and peace that there is in it, we wish to be known inwardly by all who profess the Truth and therefore be able to lead us in all aspects of our life according to our profession of peace.
We trust that as the entire dependence on the Almighty arm faithfully continues from generation to generation, the kingdom of peace will extend little by little “from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth; His end the fulfillment that has already begun of the prophecies that “he shall not lift up nation against nation, neither shall they train themselves for war”
The truth is that these approaches made me think about how I personally work to live my testimonies of peace and if these are the only ones to work and witness today as a world Quaker community. I would like to bring another variant to include these strands and that can help us to think of alternatives so that our testimony of peace may be a contextualized reality in a world that increasingly requires creative ways to think about peace.
I would like to start by defining how the Bible understands peace and taking as a basis the Hebrew roots in the Old Testament.
The word Shalom is a very broad concept and really responds to concrete situations of absence of disease, war, famine and could be translated or understood in the concept of Good Living that today reaffirm the original peoples.
I want to define it this way …
– That people be as they should be: well, in their dignity as human beings. Shalom is to be safe and sound and that is why more than translating Shalom for peace, it translates to “is it okay? That is, people are as they should be. When life factors are working as it should be.
Taking this concept as a basis, let us go to the biblical text I want to share and it is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25, 14-30. Let’s read it.
(14) For he is like a man who, when he went on a journey, called his own servants and gave them his goods, and to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his own ability, and went away on a journey.
Then he that had received five talents, dealt with them, and gained five more; and the one who received two gained other two. But he that received one went and dug the earth, and hid the money of his lord.
After a long time the lord of the servants returned and settled accounts with them.
And when he had received the five talents, he brought in five other talents, saying, Lord, you gave me five talents; Look, five other talents won.
And the lord said unto him, Well, thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things; Enter into the joy of your master.
And he who received two talents came and said, “Lord, you gave me two talents; Look, two other talents won.
And the Lord said unto him, Well, thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things; Enter into the joy of your master.
And he that was gifted also came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, that thou reapest where thou sowest not, and gatherest whence thou hast not scattered;
And, being afraid, I hid thy talent in the earth: look, here is what is yours.
And his lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and lazy servant, knewest thou that I reap Where I did not sow, and what do I pick up from where I did not sow? It was due that you, then, should take my money to the bankers, and when I came I would have received mine with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to him that hath the ten talents;
For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; But to him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him.
And to the useless servant, cast him out into outer darkness; There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth “(Mt 25: 14-30)
You will wonder what this text has to say about the subject of peace if what the text speaks about at first sight is about trade and relations of production. The reality is that the more traditional and allegorical reading of the interpretation of this parable has always told us that the third servant is the negative figure, because the Lord (which we generally confuse with God) offers talents (which is also confused with gifts, aptitudes, Abilities) and what we do his servants is to multiply and put them to produce spiritually for the work of God. But we go deeper to look at the text, having another reading and not forgetting that … “the point of view is the view from a point” and our point of view is where peace is built.
At first glance one can see a man who delivers his goods (talents is a very high price value or a large sum of money) to three of his servants and embarks on a journey. The narrator does not tell us further details of the man as to the fate of his journey and the time it took him to return. What is clear, although the text does not say anything, is that it was a very rich man who leaves his money for his servants to put it to produce and then give him the profit. Interesting that in the text the gain is given complete to the owner of the talents and the servants receive the recognition and joy of the Lord. This brings us a second element to take into account and is about the social and political relations in this period of the Roman Empire.
What is known as Pax Romana allowed the Romans to extract the goods of the people submitted in the form of tributes. Many peasants had to sell their own land and then offer themselves as laborers and in many cases sell themselves and thus remained slaves in the hands of their new owners. It was a time of great prosperity unprecedented for the economy, but a social regression since all wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few who were now owners of a land that was not theirs and did not work.
What the text tells us is that the first two servants, when the Lord returns, deliver the goods and the profit doubled. Then the Lord recognizes them and invites them to remain with him. When account settlement arrives at the third, the unexpected happens. The third servant refuses to follow a logic of exploitation, creates a peaceful resistance of not doing and he throws the injustice in his exploiters face.
Three elements to take into account for a reading of the text in a peace proposal mindset:
- The critical and head on complaint against the lord (I know that you are a hard man, that you reap where you did not sow and collect where you did not spread)
The serf assumes a radical and head-on criticism against the system, where the lords reap without sowing and gathering without spreading. Thus, he returns to the lord the talent, with a different ethical judgment: it is yours, without gain. The gain does not belong to the lord, because he did not work. This allusion, insignificant to the naked eye for anyone who interprets the parable from this perspective, can represent a key explosive point for peacebuilding. The Kingdom of God is not the religious legitimization of the existing, but, on the contrary, its denunciation and the affirmation that God opens other possibilities in reality.
Naming things creates awareness and collective consciousness. The denunciation of the exploitation of this Lord and his way of life is from the Shalom, the answer to the question is it alright? It is the dismantling of a reality that creates exploiters and exploited. It is the denunciation of inequalities and the opportunity to restore dignity as human beings.
- Fear can paralyze us and forget the power of the spirit working through us.
This phrase of the third servant confuses us. How does a man who dares to face his owner and a system of domination now raise fear? It is clear that he knew the consequences, it is clear that against systems of exploitation and domination there are always forces of repression and these are not hidden. But in addition to the fear of resistance and denunciation, this third servant feared the true kyrios, the true Lord within him.
Woolman says: “Fear of man brings a trap: by hesitating in our duty and retreating in time of trial our hands are weakened, our spirit is intermingled with that of the people, our ears are troubled and do not hear well the language of the True Shepherd ”
- Dependent, submissive and clientelist relations. (Expel it into the outer darkness)
The text of the parable of the talents reaffirms these relationships. Initially, the three servants are in a relationship of dependence of the lord, within the codes of submission, patronage and clientelism, received in the Roman society. The first two servants maintain this type of relationship that guarantees their social status. The third servant breaks such relationships, opening a gap in the rigid Roman system, at the cost of his own life and that of his family, for the consequence is expulsion. But its action and the evidence of that transgressive and subversive gap is the one that opens the door to hope and a change for a new situation. To assume a life that responds to a testimony of peace does not deny the conflict, it does not hide the consequences, it brings with it pain and rejection, and even death; But it opens the door to the alternative and takes us from the outer darkness to the inner light that affirms us in our faith.
The parable of the talents offers us an alternative for a culture of peace.
Are we resisting power structures that generate inequalities?
Do we feel the fear of external darkness, or do we fear the light that evil points to us?
Are we able to name evil to create collective consciousness?
Are we living in the Shalom that God offers us, in all our dignity as human beings?
Does the work that the Spirit performs in us and makes us fit to conduct ourselves according to our profession of peace?
In conclusion, I would like to leave three challenges that the world Quaker community must have in order to think about their testimony of peace in these new contexts:
The need for the church to live a constant reform of its faith and practice. This is the only way you can remain faithful to the mission for which you have been called, it is the only way you can keep the testimony of peace as a constant fruit of the Spirit’s breath within us and is the only way The only way it can remain a movement and not so much an institution concerned only with its own survival. When we look at past history we do not only seek to remember the glory of other times, but rather we seek to learn from the past to illuminate our present.
The Quaker movement of the first century had scarcely passed and it was necessary to reform and rethink the Quakerism to which the first love had sometimes cooled and the initial liberty had given way to a new captivity. So it is also with us today; We repeat the models against which one day we fight. After the change we are stuck in a new situation of power, we become equally conservative and we resist new changes. The Quaker testimonies remind us that there was not only a context to transform, but there are and will necessarily be new and constant transformations that will lead us to think our testimonies creatively so they can be anchored in our contexts. It is now up to our churches to identify those creative ways and to ask the spirit of God to help us and impel us again towards change and transformation.
The testimony of peace of the church is not realized in a historical vacuum, but facing the reality and the moment in which we live. We have learned that transformations in the life of the church have gone hand in hand with historical transformations, that history is one, and in that history God is still manifesting for the church “to reason for his hope.”
Church becomes part of Gods Shalom not only as well being or from the search for an inner peace but also as an answer to the needs of society and the world.
Taking into account the need to permanently review our faith and practice as church, and knowing that we must do so responsibly in a specific historic context we need to discover if the church we are today answers these needs, if it is the church that both our society and world needs. It is not enough to feel and recognize that our church is a space where we feel well, accompanied and respected, that the cult and the rest of the activities answer our spiritual needs. It is necessary to know if this church that we love is also salt of the earth and light of the world, if it is yeast that makes the values in the world grow, if it is a change agent in this great space that is our present history, the life of our people, the struggle for the salvation of creation and defense of life. In this our his the history of God is also at play, who wants to guide us to our lifes total renovation in such a way that Gods life be the life of the world, without war, famine inequalities with out death.
Lets close this moment with Isaac Peningtons phrase and let us ask God that this fruit that grows and lives in each of us moves us and guide us to the construction of a life and community of peace
Give your own will, your precipitation, give your own will to be and know and sink to the seed that d plants in your heart, and let it be within you, and let it grow and breathe and act in you and you will find by sweert experience that the Lord knows His fruit and sees it as His, and He will guide until the inheritance of life.
Jonathan Vogel-Borne, Sunday, March 26th
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).
In the spring of 1652 Margaret Fell invited George Fox to attend her parish church in Ulverston, England. At the appointed time during the church service, when people from the congregation were invited to speak, George took the opportunity to denounce the puritan minister, William Lampitt, for leading the people away from God. He then held forth with a powerful, even disturbing message, “God was come to teach His people by His Spirit, and to bring them off from all their old ways, religions, churches, and worships…” The first part of the message, often worded, “Jesus Christ is come to teach his people himself,” describes the experiential basis of our religious society, and sets us at the feet of our living teacher. The second part of the message, at other times worded, “to bring them off from the world’s ways, and the world’s religions” speaks directly to the challenges of our modern day.
In Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the one “who will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). He goes on to say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
During our ten-month, around-the-world sojourn last year, my spouse, Minga Claggett-Borne, and I spent two months living and working at the Ramallah Friends School. Part of our ministry on the West Bank was to support the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). When I designed a flyer to advertise AVP to the wider community, I used one of AVP’s peace dove logos. Looking at the flyer, a Palestinian AVP facilitator told me that we could not put the peace dove on the flyer. In the Israel/Palestine context, the peace dove has come to symbolize what is called “normalization.” For many Palestinians and Israelis “normalization” is the acceptance of the current reality—meaning continued occupation, unrelenting fear, checkpoint harassment, expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank. “Normalization” is the end of any hope for justice for anyone. Sadly peace, as the world gives it, is now a casualty of the conflict.
So, what is this peace that Jesus left us—the peace not as the world gives? Has not the Religious society of Friends/Friends Church become just one more of the world’s religions? Have we not succumbed to the world’s ways of believing that good politics, better technology, and expanding economic opportunity will save us? Are we not facing what some call “the great turning” or, in even more apocalyptic terms, the end times? Just recently I heard a friend observe that prior to “the great turning” there is “the great unraveling.” In these days, we are witnessing the rise of authoritarian rule, endless wars, sectarian violence, environmental collapse. Are we not now seeing the death throes of the world’s ways and the world’s religions?
Over the last few months, I have been given a framework of hope that I would like to share with you this morning. The four components of this framework are: blessed assurance, divine disquiet, righteous rage, and holy obedience. These components could be thought of as a cycle, or perhaps as simultaneous truths pointing to eternal Truth. Struggling to find a personal response to these desperate times, this framework, these truths, infused with God’s grace, have helped ground me and have given me hope.
It is my faith and my experience that at the heart of everything, at the core of all creation, is a still point, a unity, an abiding love without condition. This is the divine center. It is a place where I know that I am loved for all of who I am—my present self, my potential being, and even my shadow side. I experience a deep peace, not as the world gives it. Throughout my life, in worship, in personal prayer, in the awe of a glorious sunset, in many, many ways, I am reminded of this still center, this divine grace. I am given blessed assurance, like the old hymn says, “a foretaste of glory divine,” and, with Julian of Norwich I can proclaim “all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”
At times, when I come into prayer or to meeting for worship with a jangled, disquieted spirit, the experience of being held in God’s unconditional love becomes a plum line for my soul. As I sink into the stillness of deep worship, I can let go of the disquiet and open to the direct experience of the Holy Spirit. As the light of God shines upon me, I can see the gaps in my soul. I see my own hypocrisy. I am shown the places where I am being asked to grow.
Awareness of divine disquiet, works outwardly as well. From my inward encounter with the peace of God, as I look outward, I see that much of the world is not at peace. That gap between blessed assurance and divine disquiet is where I hear the call to minister, the call to bring healing to our broken, unraveling world.
The cry for justice and for peace as Jesus would give it is reflected in our testimony on equality. The world’s ways and the world’s religions are controlled by systems, principalities and powers of domination and oppression. The structures of global empire make the gap between rich and poor, north and south, white people and people of color, grow larger and larger. Just as God heard the cries and groans of the Hebrew people under the Pharaoh’s oppressive regime, those cries and groans are reaching God’s ears today. When you see people—even ourselves and in our own families—suffering from war, famine, poverty, and disease, with no clear way to end the pain, one very human response is anger, even rage.
Growing up in a Quaker family, I heard the clear message that war is wrong. War is violence. Violence is anger. Anger is wrong. As a result, I still struggle with what I call “terminal niceness.” To act on God’s prophetic word is to break through that niceness, and not to be dismissed as just one of those people who have anger issues.
A popular quote that I’ve traced back to mid twentieth-century social movements in the United States, says that “if you’re not outraged, you are not paying attention.” When I speak of righteous rage, I am not talking about destructive anger, nor some holier-than-thou attitude that I have the most direct pipeline to what makes God angry. I am talking about the power of strong emotions. Emotions that focus anger and rage and make us pay attention. Emotions that shock us out of our numbness, disrupt our complacency, and upset a status quo that only serves the privileged. As we emerge from our protective shells, we begin to feel again, but very often that feeling is one of depression, one of being so overwhelmed by what’s going on, that we just want to hide; we want the pain to stop; we just want to live our lives in peace.
But what would that numb, complacent peace look like? In the final days before the fall of Jerusalem, leading to the 70 years of captivity in Babylon, God speaks to the Hebrew people through the prophet Jeremiah, challenging the world’s religion of his day, saying, “from the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13–14). Are not these same prophetic words ringing out now, in our time? Caught up in our own hypocrisy, greedy for gain and practicing deceit, how have each of us, in our own ways, surrendered to the numbness and the complacency of the world’s religions, the religion of empire?
So, what is our response? What does it mean to face our own hypocrisy? What does it mean to give over our whole lives, to be a living sacrifice, to be transformed by the power of God’s love? To fully live into holy obedience, we need each other. We need to belong. We need to be supported. We need to be held accountable for our actions. Jim Corbett, a Quaker goat-herder and one of the founders of the Sanctuary movement for Central American refugees in the 1980s observed “individuals can resist injustice, but only in community can we do justice.”
As we hear and obey God’s call to holy obedience and faithful witness, our Friends Meetings and Churches are transformed into communities of resistance to the world’s ways and the world’s religions. We are given the tools to dismantle systems of domination and oppression. Based in compassion, healing and the radical inclusion of all peoples, we welcome those whom we have made the “other,” we engage with those with whom we disagree, we forgive those who have trespassed against us, we pray for those who persecute us, and we even love our enemies. Our ministry is to bring God’s grace and blessed assurance to all those who suffer from injustice and inequality.
Overcome the world
The text for the Section Meeting’s theme, “Living Peace,” also comes John’s gospel, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:33). By obeying God’s holy claim on our lives and on our communities, by attending to the disquiet in our souls, and by responding in righteous rage to the world’s injustices, we can live into the peace that Jesus gives us, encountering the blessed assurance that indeed, together, with God’s grace, we have overcome the world.