JANE’S FALLS: Outwardly, my lifestyle would appear to many people as simple – even austere or severe – and my modesty of apparel would tend toward the drab or even seedy. There is a big difference between self-negation, which would deny the goodness of God’s creation, and partaking of the Bread of Life.
This insight was emphasized when, after returning from a trip that included a visit in an Old Order Mennonite home, I realized that even with my computer and stereo, my household was plainer than theirs, comparatively lacking in colorful and comforting touches such as living plants, afghans, and samplers on the walls.
Since then, I’ve been becoming aware of the dimensions of a tension within me; one side desires the community symbolized by Old Order plainness, and another is nurtured in expressive flair. I’m recognizing that this second side has been deeply repressed in recent years, as much by a feeling of poverty as by any religious concern. (As a profession, journalists are being paid even less than teachers these days; as a result, it becomes very easy for me to embrace a “simplicity” that rejects any form of monetary expenditure.)
Coming to grips with some very basic practices, such as ordering well-made and styled clothing that is both simple and expressive, has been an unexpectedly liberating exercise, one that helps me overcome feelings of victimization and deprivation in America’s highly materialistic society. When these things become personal idols, then we need to worry.
REHOBOTH MILLS: Until we can be grateful for whatever we have been given – and be freed from that deep craving for the endless desires of the numberless things of this world – there can be no true peace. No true peace in the world or in our hearts. This is not a support of injustice, for we are required to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our Lord. Simplicity can be such a complex issue! The old Quaker Disciplines called for “plainness” instead, and we have seen how that could degenerate into a series of outward signs without an accompanying inward transformation – that great danger of Phariseeism; and yet I treasure the close friendship of a young Plain Friend and his wife, both of whom find in the practice a hedge against the temptations of this world and discover through their clothing and speech many opportunities to witness for the Lord, through the inquiries of others. And they find that because of their practice, they cannot even consider doing things and going places that I could “incognito.” Simplicity includes the use of our time and commitments as well as our material possessions. It involves keeping Christ first in our lives, the focus of our activity. And it involves clinging to His righteousness. The demands of making a living have too often hindered my spiritual practice; I continually accept demanding jobs that require long hours and much commitment. John Woolman’s pulling back from his trade is becoming an inspiration to me, and I feel a similar transformation coming up in my own life. And yet I will not make any change until I am convinced that the Lord is opening the way and leading me. Last week I attended a sales training session in Chicago; one of the central points I came away with was this: that the most important part of selling is in earning the client’s trust in you. Without that trust, the other steps in selling are in vain: convincing him that you can help him, that your product or service will fill his specific need, that this is the time to buy, that the two of you are ready to close the sale. So truthfulness and carefulness in fulfilling promises are worth more than gold. And being fair and just in these dealings is essential in keeping that trust.
SYCAMORE GROVE: The buildup of armaments and troops along the Iraqi border reminds us of the hidden costs of an “American way of life” addicted to relatively cheap imported petroleum. The chemical weapons and nuclear potential within Iraq also remind us how readily some individuals and corporations allow their own greed to endanger the world’s welfare.
The military pervades our national society so thoroughly that our participation is often unwitting: a telephone excise tax, for instance, may be more invisible than the bulk of our federal income taxes, but no less invidious. Our national balance-of-trade deficit may be blamed on Japanese imports, while ignoring the cost of maintaining U.S. troops overseas. And no one dares criticize the governmental folly or self-indulgence.
I watch the children outside my window as they reflect the violent values they learn from commercial television – to say nothing of the continual message of materialism as the basis of our happiness and human fulfillment, or the expectation of being entertained endlessly because of their underlying boredom.
SYCAMORE GROVE: I strive to live in that peace which is given by Christ Jesus (John 14:27), and am reminded that often this will not be understood by the world nor welcomed by it (Matthew 10:13 and Luke 12:51). I am also reminded that we are called to be a community exemplifying this unity in love (Mark 9:50 and Ephesians 4:3-4), and am often grieved at how scattered we are in the body.
As a journalist, there are little things I do to cultivate mutual understanding and good will. Sometimes it’s in the selection of one story over another. Other times, it may involve paring a news report in a way that will allow another voice to be presented, or in toning down the belligerence of a columnist. But it is so little within a very militaristic and violent society at large.
It is important that we be both loving and firm when we encounter those of pro-military persuasions. I am finding that as “the Quaker in the midst,” I have a special witness to bear: sometimes the expectation arises in the form of a taunt (“Oh, you couldn’t apply for a passport, you’re a Quaker”) (that because of the oath that was once required), and other times to remind other people that Christ calls His people to something other than carnal arms (I recall the expression on a Southern Baptist missionary’s face after he exploded with “I believe in Christ but I also believe in freedom!” – as he realized that he was placing another god before our Lord). In many instances, people are hearing for the first time Scriptural commands and precepts: “Put your sword away!” (John 18:11).
WILLOW BROOK: I stand accused of harboring resentments, perceived slights, a sense of getting less than my share in a given situation.
This does nothing to advance a peaceable kingdom.
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REHOBOTH MILLS: As long as there is any darkness in our hearts – anger, greed, lust, hatred, or whatever – the causes of war and other violence fester. We need to continually invite His light to fill us, that we might be pure and loving. We must become wholly enlisted in the Lamb’s War – the war against the Adversary – to bring true peace to the world and help establish God’s Kingdom here on earth. We are reminded (Ephesians 6:10-18) to put on the full armor of God in this struggle “not against flesh and blood, but against … the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We must remember to maintain a Christian love for those serving in military positions, for they, too, are made in God’s image, and many of them serve in the belief that they are working for good.
I am troubled by the extent to which our tax money – to say nothing of our entire economy – is subverted to the ever growing voracious appetite of the military-industrial complex, which only increases the insecurity of the world and does nothing to build up the things that can greatly relieve the difficulties of this planet – the much-needed education, agricultural relief and reform, redistribution of wealth, improved health, birth control, and so on.
SYCAMORE GROVE: My initial response to the three parts of this query: no, no, and no. As this causes deeper examination, though, I observe a personal uneasiness arising from a sensitivity to those “less fortunate,” a reaction that would prefer to look the away from distress. My first reading of the query – and my response at that moment – is financial. Although not lacking for daily bread, at times in the past several years I’ve been reminded how I am the “less fortunate” one; at other times I’ve been shown just how precarious my own situation is, financially and other ways. Thus, I feel a great inadequateness in responding to the material needs of others, even within the Meeting.
In reading the query again, another facet appears – one involving emotional and spiritual dimensions. A concern for offering material comfort is my attempt to compensate for an inability in extending a more essential kind of assistance. Too often I’ve known “duty” and “obligation” instead of genuine love or even acceptance.
Such feelings of fear and inadequacy are difficult to face, much less confess.
For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good; but me ye have not always. – Mark 14: 7
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.