SYCAMORE GROVE: No oaths or double standard of truth.
Several months ago, when “John from Tri-State Megabucks” phoned the office to report that week’s winning number, he asked, in an attempt to be friendly, if I had my ticket in hand. “No,” I replied, “it’s against my religion.” I felt strengthened through that testimony and sensed his surprise on the other end of the line that there might be another position on the practice. At the same time, though, I was prompted to extend to him a tenderness that could reach across our differences; a “holier than thou” attitude will accomplish nothing.
My deeper concern here is in the growing “something for nothing” attitude that infects our legal system, our marketplaces, and our public lotteries.
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. – James 1: 2
WILLOW BROOK: The more difficult and elusive side of this comes in being fully honest, regardless of any fear of reaction. Half-truths or unvoiced realities are just as corrosive as lies, as I’m discovering. To be fully honest requires courage and a willingness to encounter conflict, neither of them my strong points.
JANE’S FALLS: I carefully maintain the use of affirmation rather than oath, when the occasion arises, especially on legal forms. I avoid participation in games of chance, including those presented by charitable causes, and joyfully throw out all “sweepstakes” and other junk mail unopened.
My employment does require me to prepare the New England lottery numbers for newspaper publication each Saturday night, an act that I perform with a sense of uneasiness. Yet that has been eye-opening, in seeing the response of so many of the composing room personnel to the lottery numbers, in discovering how widely the news services disseminate the information, and in receiving a number of phone calls each week from people wanting to discover if they’ve won. (Several times, I’ve received phone calls from a women in Florida who “need” to know that night’s number – imagine the extra expense in that long-distance call!) This job duty has convinced me of the cancerous nature of this get-rich-quick mentality, regardless of the revenue it supposedly raises for the support of New Hampshire schools.
I am more bothered by the giveaways on many of the so-called “Christian” radio stations in this country. I need to be faithful to protest, when opportunity presents.
REHOBOTH MILLS: I have used the occasions to uphold our testimony of using the affirmation rather than an oath, when such have come up on legal documents this past year. It always strengthens my spirit when I do so. And yet we must also recognize that the affirmation is becoming in practice another way of saying, in effect, that we just might have a double standard of truth. As such, it becomes an easy escape when we ought perhaps to be refusing to answer at all. I do want to share with Friends the one occasion when I was tendered the oath in a courtroom; this was in the divorce, something that was completely against everything I believed in and yet something that could not be turned back, something that had support in Matthew (and I have been so grateful that Dean opened my eyes to that passage, though he probably does not remember doing so); when I said, “I cannot swear but I will take the affirmation,” the judge gave me an annoyed look, Patt realized that great growth had been occurring in my religious life, and I tasted once again that victory the Lord holds out to His people. Sometimes this happens in the most unlikely places!
With gambling, it is a great strength to be able to smile and simply say, “It’s against my religion.”
SYCAMORE GROVE: Simplicity can be rather complicated. It’s not an aesthetic, nor a drab or dreary lifestyle, nor even living without a refrigerator (which I once attempted). Rather, I’m finding more and more it’s a matter of keeping Christ in the center of my life. When I see this simplicity as a matter of keeping balance on the straight and narrow way – of walking with Jesus toward a destination he directs – rather than as a static state that outwardly resembles either a Zen temple or an Old Order suit, I more gladly suffer the disorder that life provides. Simplicity should allow time and space for surprises and for service. If in my manner of living, my speech, and my apparel I somehow lose our expression of gladness and thankfulness, I would guess that I’ve also lost my simplicity.
Curiously, moving to a new and slightly smaller apartment has caused me to reorganize, reevaluate, and simplify my manner of living. In doing so, I’m finding a renewed vitality and strength. Keeping priorities in focus is another form of simplicity – and an empowering one.
Sincerity in speech means being willing to say “no” distinctly and to take unpopular stands. It involves a readiness to voice irritations and hurts, rather than masking them.
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.