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.
How do we counter a general society that’s as far askew as our own? When I mention to individuals that I don’t have a television, they ask how I can possibly live without one. (No wonder we have a drug problem in this country!) Sackcloth and ashes, or rending our clothes, won’t work in our age.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes… . And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. – Ephesians 6: 11 and 18
On an individual level, “removing the occasion of all wars” has involved unearthing some very deeply buried resentments and hurts. Many of them have basis in actions that have denied my unfolding as an individual or have prevented me from discovering and exercising fundamental gifts. Some of them have led to very deep feelings of impoverishment or unworthiness. Merely living with hidden weights such as these has produced a life as a constant battle, both for survival and for keeping that hurting rage contained. I have been learning to name the various types of anger and the ways they function. Observing the synonyms used in newer translations of the Bible in place of the King James’ “anger” is illuminating: outrage against injustice, for instance, is quite different from blind rage. Being frustrated can be quite distinct from harboring a grudge. To bury an anger fosters depression and resentment. Some angers need to be expressed, but in a loving way: “You hurt me when you …” Others need to be channeled in non-destructive ways. After all, God wasn’t afraid of being angry – nor of forgiving.
Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Corinthians 5: 8
AGAMENTICUS LANDING: Before addressing this set of Queries, three Friends reviewed the corresponding Advices on Peace and Reconciliation from Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.
We face paradoxes. Best known for our pacifist witness, we Quakers could do much more, individually and congregationally. Nevertheless, Agamenticus Meeting is engaged in this witness. The night we reviewed this set of Queries, other Agamenticus Friends prepared to testify the next day at the State House in Concord, presenting our Monthly Meeting’s minute of concern addressing a proposal to link driver’s license registration with military draft enlistment. Other Friends make evening presentations at the Agamenticus Public Library. Still others have hold a weekly candlelight prayer vigil.
Many other remarkable things about the Society of Friends go unnoticed by the public at large. Our faith is larger than peace work, yet this concern imbues much of the larger Quaker thought and action. The Advices themselves remind us that Peace and Reconciliation addresses both international affairs and our private lives – at home, on the job, and in the neighborhood. The peace witness is one point where we can and should reach out more to other like-minded people, including religious assemblies.
September 11 weighs heavily on our hearts and minds, drawing our attention to events on a global scale. We ask if the reasons for war have changed in our era. We look at ongoing “civil wars” and the many faces of oppression. We perceive government actions that give only lip service against violent actions while committing expensive resources to military actions. Widespread conflicts continue over wealth, resources, and identities – often cast as religion. Disparity between the rich and the poor will always generate resentment and strife. There are even distinctions between hard-earned wealth and wealth that is seized from others.
We dare not neglect the necessity of waging peace, and of deploying appropriate resources to our cause.. “For our struggle is not against the enemies of blood and flesh, but against … the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” as Ephesians 6:12 expresses the larger struggle. Here we can apply the power of prayer; listen deeply; speak truth; admit inequalities, injustice, or resentments. We see the struggle within Islam between fundamentalists and moderates over its future. We also see that Christ’s profound message of peace and justice is seldom presented fully, much less heard or understood. People need to be respected and loved first as they are, as children of God.
Waging peace invokes reconciliation – literally, “restoration of harmony.” In it, we reach out to those who see themselves as different from societal norms. We seek common values where only conflicts are seen. We step outside dominant viewpoints – teaching our children, for instance, alternatives to consumerism, which is self-centered at its core, and engendering instead the practice of doing good work. We see into the unfavorable message that “God bless America” extends to the rest of the world.
Waging peace, then, also reaches out to people who are alienated from society. It looks for a more holistic economic vision than the pervasive consumerism. It embraces education and meaningful work. It reexamines the drive for globalization for ways to profit people in general rather multinational corporations and other powerful elites – for ways of fostering democracy and equality, rather than spreading poverty and powerlessness.
Waging peace demands self-honesty. It reaches far into our personal lives. Do we give charitably – with a generous heart – or do we hoard? Is it true, “you have to have some before you can give any,” or can we give with a “widow’s mite” as well? When anger, resentments, jealousies, or other negative emotions erupt within our daily lives, do we remember there are harmonious alternatives, which return us to the path of peace?
WILLOW BROOK: Too often, I react out of a sense of duty – and its cumbers – than out of love. The result leads to meanness.
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