04 October 2012

Talk is cheap

I'm grateful to Micah Bales for his blog post, "Can You Hear Me Now?", on the way we as Friends communicate, and the contrast with the world's patterns of communication.

Often in the wider world, where political actors strive to gain advantage with the wedges and levers of one-upping, artificial outrage, and pre-emptive rhetorical strikes, forsaking the relationship-building that might bear the weight of their real messages, our quiet quakerly attempts to witness to that of God in each person may seem hopelessly naive. In our passion for justice, or in sheer frustration, we may be tempted to adopt those very techniques ourselves. But Micah correctly warns, "When our speech becomes simply one more method of waging cultural warfare against those we disagree with, we are left without means to find the common ground that could resolve our conflicts. A society that has stopped listening is not far from civil war."

The war we really should be fighting must never degenerate into a civil war among people. The true and worthwhile war is, as the title of Micah's blog indicates, the "Lamb's War" against all powers and principalities that put people in bondage--a shared bondage that traps the very people who are then deceived into fighting each other.

Our most precious resource in that struggle is love. I was very moved to read Craig Bubeck's essay "Once Upon a Christian Nation" in which he eloquently, passionately defends his blunt use of that word "love" in the political arena. (Read it--it's more important than reading the rest of my own post!)

Love is not inconsistent with anger. Representing Friends United Meeting at an organizing conference of the Call to Renewal, I remember hearing Tony Campolo say something like this: "Of course, when I see people I love being mistreated, I'm gonna get angry." But love puts God at the center of genuine activism and exposes the marching masquerades of self-gratification. If we stop drawing upon this limitless resource of love, we lose any license to speak on behalf of God's people, we lose our flavor and our claim upon our nations' attention. We can and should be ignored.

OK, how do we implement the primacy of love in our communication and advocacy? Do we cultivate it within our Christian community, cultivating this ability to see each other through love and building up our capacity to flavor the world around us accordingly? Or do we respond to the world's agony and bondages--people are, after all, suffering right now, including many within our community--and engage the powers and the wider audiences whose loyalties are ever torn between idealism and cynicism?


(originally posted here)
As a community we nurture and confront. But this does not apply to each of us as individuals!! A few years ago I tried to graph this idea in a crude and admittedly weird diagram, which was originally intended to illustrate ethical evangelism and which I'm bringing back now to try to express this division of labor. Some of us are more gifted to nurture, others to confront, and still others to help us discern which we are.

To me this means that our Friends meetings and churches need to do at least two things. First, we need to keep alive the vision of Gospel order--that our meetings, our wider communities, and the whole world can and should reflect the beauty of God's promises for all creatures, and that together we can attentively build up a discernment of what that beauty looks like, including its ethical dimensions.

Secondly, our meetings of ministry and counsel, elders, pastors, parents, and our weighty Friends generally should continually be attentive to this question: what gifts are evident in each member, each attender, each newcomer, each child? Are they gifted to nurture, to proclaim, to discern, to speak, to keep silent, to make peace, to confront? How will we deal with our own mistakes as we experiment with truth and love? How will we direct righteous anger so that love is its master?

A couple of years ago, Jasmine Perinpanayagam wrote a remarkable article on an extended meeting between a group of British Friends and six British soldiers of widely varying ranks. The meeting was arranged with care to encourage a full, friendly, enjoyable exchange of viewpoints and commonalities without "challenging, questioning, persuading, accusing, blaming or shaming"--and the article describes the atmosphere and positive outcome. The Friends group did not need to have all their theological ducks in a row ahead of time--I can't be the judge of that, despite my evangelical suspicions!!--but as a result of this event they apparently began thinking more deeply about the peace testimony than they had even to that point. For me, the wonderful lesson of this gathering was  that the ethic and discipline of love, given priority over an isolating spirit of righteousness, allowed these unusual conversation partners to enjoy an important mutual blessing.

"We confess that too often we are moved to act in the world out of compulsion, guilt or anger, and that we frequently rest on our personal or institutional strength, resources and capacities." --from Beyond Thun 2012 (Micah Network).

"Obama at the U.N.: A new religion doctrine."

An intriguing review of David Swartz's history of the evangelical left, Moral Minority. Some of the author's dissertation research for this book can be found online--it should be a fascinating book.

"One year later, tents are gone, but Occupy D.C. litigation continues."

More evidence of the relevance of love in politics? "For Libyans, Amb. Stevens was simply 'Chris'."

"Facebook's Zuckerberg does Russian late-night TV." If you don't speak Russian, you can still hear Zuckerberg's own replies in English underneath the interpreter.

Marcia Ball helps me say goodnight...


Jnana Hodson said...

We need ten times the number of Quakers we now have just to continue the projects we've undertaken.
Are we ready to welcome and guide them?

Johan Maurer said...

Ah, you're anticipating one of my very next blog posts.