09 April 2009

Love's laboratories

A few weeks ago I wrote "I would love to see some of our churches and meetings and yearly meetings, and some of the peace and justice boards within those bodies, begin to transform themselves into laboratories of love where we can apply our creativity and resources to a more powerful vision of evangelism." (Here, toward the end.) It was great to be able to provide a couple of examples from churches in our yearly meeting.

I wish I'd thought of that metaphor when I was on Friends United Meeting's staff. Wouldn't it be interesting, maybe even liberating, if we saw our worst controversies as opportunities to experiment with love? All those years of division and agony around homosexuality, for example, or our memberships in the councils of churches--what if we had said, "How lucky we are as a small denomination all laced together with bonds of love--we're in the perfect position to confront this divisive issue! Maybe we can do something that would be harder for a larger denomination to accomplish."

Truthfully, I can't imagine any denominational executive greeting a controversy with joy and glee. Why would they? Aside from the cost in human relationships, I remember those angry letters, cancelled subscriptions to Quaker Life, financial contributions cut or eliminated, speaking invitations withdrawn, and yearly meetings departing or threatening to depart. I witnessed battle lines (yes, Quaker battle lines!!) being drawn, with the aid of the tired old rhetoric of factional mobilization--the predictable cliches of both "evangelicals" and "liberals" sizzling through the grapevines, while too many of the centrists wrung their hands, bemoaning the end of the good old days of affable conflict avoidance.

In my fantasy world, controversies would still occur, but the reaction of all sides would be, "With enough love and patience, we can see this through!" Our first priority would be to ensure that any decisionmaking process is transparent and trustworthy, meaning that we would do our best to let those making decisions know that we were going to uphold them in prayer, provide them with our most passionate advocacy for our insights, and then let go and let them do their job. No threats, no manipulative campaigning. Presiding clerks would hear every voice, and discount only those one-issue people who showed no love, no larger commitment to the community.

At the end of such a love experiment, not everyone would be satisfied. In fact, some might well say, "I really do love this community, but the gap between its values or priorities and mine is too large. I need to find another community where there's more affinity." Better the pain of honest differences honestly faced than the pain of betrayal.

Scientists in laboratories work "objectively" with objective phenomena--things and events that can be verified by anyone, given the right conditions. Such objectivity is impossible in the love laboratory, since there is no objective observer, no "scientist"--we are heart and soul participants in the experiment. We can't control the variables, we are the variables! But it's important to remember that the controversy--any given controversy--is objectively real, and affects real people. We cannot just wish it away or honestly pretend not to know that people whom God dearly loves have a different point of view. We can't take cheap, ruthless shortcuts that simply consign those people to oblivion, somewhere outside our private little world. Once we're in the lab, we are bound to put on our aprons and get messy.

A few righteous links before we head to Eugene to spend celebrate Christmas 2008 on Easter weekend: Prayer bulletin from Christian Peacemakers: Pray for the people of Tiquisio in northern Colombia. ~~ Skybalon continues to hold Christians' feet to the fire; read in this order I will be brief; death is a prophylactic. ~~ The Russian news agency RIA Novosti offers a communication link to Barack Obama. ~~ The Worcester Cathedral Choir offered an Evensong service and gave a Holy Week concert earlier this week at George Fox University. Their last song was "Lord of the Dance," one of my favorite Easter songs. They didn't comment publicly on the interesting coincidence that the author of this song, Sydney Carter, also wrote the song "George Fox." ~~ bitterlemons.org offers a selection of articles on Avigdor Lieberman and the situation of Israel's Arab citizens. ~~ Although not all Israeli Arabs are Muslim, there's food for thought in Joshua Stanton's case study of Jewish-Muslim mutual tolerance in a different time and place. ~~ A dictionary of American empire-speak. I was particularly intrigued by the American military's charge that the "collateral damage" of civilian deaths in American attacks on El-Qaeda and Taliban suspects is actually the fault of those suspects, since they're hiding among civilians. Unfortunately for our enemies, they're not allowed to use the same argument, that their enemies are also located among civilians. It's in the very nature of an empire to make plenary and peremptory decisions about when violence is legitimate and illegitimate. Good thing Christians have a different point of view, right? ~~ Newly revised (PDF format) edition of Emmanuel Charles McCarthy's Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love. (Linked from this page.) ~~ Another Easter favorite of mine: Julia Ewen on war taxes.

I promise to stop picking blues clips based on the economic crisis theme, but this week it was just too tempting. Here's a delicious performance of "Pawnshop Bound" by the late William Clarke and his hot band. The clip is loud, blurry, shaky, but wonderful for all that.

(One other note: One after another, previous clips are getting yanked for violations of copyright rules. If you notice one gone, let me know and I'll search for a substitute to plug into that spot.)


PrincessMom4 said...


You have spoken my mind. I dream of just such a day as you have described. I pray that some day we might be able to see this happen within Quakerism.

Thank you for your words.


Johan Maurer said...

Thank you for doing your part!