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Sunday, March 25, 2007


This weekend I attended a gathering of Philadelphia Quakers which has me feeling more optimistic about our ability to make a difference in the world. Since there were a few great speakers, I’d like to summarize the points that have stuck with me.

Mary Lord of the American Friends Service Committee spoke about the fact that when she first started worshipping with Quakers, one of her biggest reservations was about the Quaker Peace Testimony. It just seemed unrealistic. After ten years of struggling with this issue, she was struck by a humbling thought: by doubting the possibility of the Peace Testimony, which is based on the Sermon on the Mount, was she saying she understood human nature better than Jesus did? She concluded she needed to give Jesus’ vision a chance. She has worked for peace for the thirty years since.

One of the things Mary has learned during these years is that peace is more practical than war. She laid out all the ways that war is in fact impractical, from the expense and loss of life to the fact that war usually fails to achieve its original aims, even if one “wins.” Peaceful strategies, she argued, often are effective, especially when they are used before the crisis of actual war. She gave examples of wars that never happened—South Africa after the end of white rule and the small states that broke off from the former Soviet Union—places where negotiation and peace building worked and, therefore, didn’t get the kind of attention that war receives. She also pointed out that the period after fighting stops is a time when reconciliation and rebuilding work, like that done by the African Great Lakes Initiative, can be crucial in preventing future conflicts. What struck me about all this, aside from its hopefulness, was the fact that most of my own “peace” work has actually been protest against wars that have already started, meaning I’m putting my limited energy in the place it’s least likely to be effective.

Saturday’s speaker, Joe Volk of Friends Committee on National Legislation, also left me feeling hopeful that Quakers need not be irrelevant. Joe noted that this spring is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and said that the people who started the abolitionist movement had no reason to believe they would ever be successful in changing the widespread belief that slavery was necessary and normal. When Quakers first started opposing slavery, they seemed just as “unrealistic” and “idealistic” as peace activists seem today. Joe talked about a sense of history as one of the things that can help us in this work, along with a sense of humor and a sense of God’s presence among us. Over lunch, he gave a second talk, this one about his recent trip to Iran. I missed most of this presentation because I was chasing Megan and Luke in the yard, but the bit I heard made me even more hopeful that we can make a difference.

I came home to find Naturalmom’s comment about my last post, which confirmed where I was already heading with the “Light and Dark” issue. Translating Mary Lord’s comments to the issue of racism, it seems there are two places we can be most effective: First, preventing children from ingesting the racist messages in our culture. Since I haven't found a way to completely shelter my children from these messages, I will continue to point them out and use them as teaching opportunities. Whenever we see a film where the good guys all have blue eyes and the bad guys have dark skin (like in The Lord of the Rings), we'll discuss it and try to balance it out with cultural experiences than give a different picture, like the recent performance we attended of the Morhouse College Glee Club. The Second place we can be most effective is in working to heal the effects of racism. As Naturalmom suggests, debating the merits of terms like “holding in the Light” probably does a disservice to people suffering from the real effects of direct racism, especially if we're not also working to combat those effects.

I like the idea of focusing on what's effective. It's based on the hope that what we do matters.


Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Just to make one more comment on the light and dark theme--I have usually made the same distinction as Naturalmom did: the opposite of light is the absence of illumination, not "dark" as coloration.

A while back I began referring to the absence of light as "shadow" rather than dark, simply because in the shadows I cannot appreciate the beauty of either light skin OR dark skin.

I'm clear that the Light (of Christ) is a good thing, not just something to be balanced with an equally good Opposite Principle of some kind. That which lurks in the shadows (see Ephesians 5:11-12, verses that remind me of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib) threatens people of all colors.

However, the word "shadow" with its Jungian overtones can helpfully remind us that we humans are by no means pure light. Part of the task of discipleship and growth in maturity is to understand and lovingly confront our shadows without shame, taking in the full love of the Light.

I was shocked to hear "black" and "white" equated with "sin" and "good" in religious education materials used by some Friends in Kenya surprisingly recently. One of the people using this material said that Kenyan Friends approved of it. I couldn't help remembering the psychological studies cited in Brown v Board of Education. I do not believe that those using such materials were in the Light.

6:56 PM  

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