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.
I am finding that others perceive my Christian faith as a part of my daily work, and this is coming as a surprise, for I have usually been far too low-key in my temporal witness, reserving that for other occasions. Somehow, others know I am a Friend even when I don’t proclaim it; somehow, opportunities arise in which others ask me if I am a Quaker and/or Christian. There are some points of difficulty in the job: by its nature, it involves bargaining rather than the old Quaker fixed price; if anything, I probably come in too often on the low side in the negotiating, in the name of being fair and just. In moving this summer, I came to recognize once again the clutter of possessions; I believe that my goods should be tools rather than expressions of my “lifestyle,” social class, or whatever. I must confess a weakness for beauty, clean yet attractive design, quality. While these can be the outward expression of an orderly life, they can also become a barrier in their own way, failing into an idolatry of things made from metal, wood, and stone. I must be vigilant to keep things in their true perspective.
SYCAMORE GROVE: Maybe returning to Plain dress and speech would simply make it easier. But they know us anyway. It doesn’t take long, before the people around us either sense that we are somehow set apart or before they learn, “Oh, he’s a Quaker.” Or: “I don’t suppose you’d want to be part of the World Series pool, would you.” (Statement, not a question or invitation, but rather a polite, “I don’t want you to feel excluded but somehow I sense …”) “No, thanks.”
A practice of simplicity, sincerity, modesty, honesty, and justice through all parts of our life is essential if we are to dwell in the Life and Power of Christ. I find there is less and less in “the world” that attracts me. I wonder if this is just another phase one goes through in spiritual growth, before being turned outward again in renewed service, or if something else is happening in my life. I do know, though, that I watch some of the actions of my co-workers and see how far removed I’ve become from that. An incident last night really struck me:
One of our reporters came back from a meeting he had covered. It had been an anti-pornography rally, an issue that becomes very difficult for some of us because we see in it the dangerous seeds of a new censorship of all thought, the perils of an onslaught of anti-intellectualism and establishmentarianism of the sort that persecuted the early Quaker movement – in short, a cure that could be much worse than the disease. At any rate, as I was walking by the reporter’s desk, another reporter asked, “Well, who was the main speaker? Anybody we’ve ever heard of?” Came the reply: “No, nobody of note, it seems. A Da – Dobson.” Turned out it was James Dobson. “Who’s he?” And I started rattling off the millions of books he’s sold, the popularity of his radio program, his University of Southern California professorship, and so on. “Where’s he from?” “Arcadia, California.” Came the reply: “That you even know about him worries me.” Yes, our faith does become a part of our daily work – an ever growing part, even when we’re doing things that apparently have no connection to religion.
In considering our response to this query, 2 Peter 1:5-8 may be helpful in reminding us that one act strengthens the next, and that throughout our life, we need to keep growing in our faith and practice. There is nothing that remains finished in this earthly labor.
WILLOW BROOK: I am not a generous person. My frugality is inconsistent, with flashes of self-indulgence.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.