Pioneering the Possibilities

A year has passed since the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This month there will be memorial services throughout our nation and much will be said about what the United States represents. There will be talk of democracy and freedom and continued outrage over the death of innocents on U.S. soil; far less will be said about the civilian casualties that are still mounting in Afghanistan, more innocent bystanders than died in New York City when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

During this year of reflection on the course of recent history, we’ve heard many well-intentioned people give speeches about "the American way of life." As civil liberties have been eroding, I’ve grown increasingly uneasy that the "American way of life" we in the U.S. are so intensely ready to defend, with or without allies, anywhere in the world is more about our self-proclaimed right to SUVs, designer clothes, and an excess of other material things than about the fundamental concepts of freedom, equality, or justice for all. Our attachment to our automobiles in particular seems to be driving a great deal of what has transpired this year, as the international tensions over access to oil have been noticeable in the ongoing battle to secure Afghanistan, in the polarization in the Middle East, and in our administration’s open intention of unseating Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

In July, Walter Wink made an evening presentation at the Friends General Conference Gathering in Normal, Ill. While his entire talk was of interest, I particularly noted his suggestion that people of faith ought to be living the kingdom right now "inside the shell" of the old regime. That statement is echoed in this issue in a quote from Howard Zinn (p.8): "The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

Change is usually incremental, and that opens for us the opportunity to pioneer tomorrow’s solutions today. In this issue we offer some suggestions on how to go about this. Cameron McWhirter, in "Essay on War" (p.6), urges Friends to engage with the hard questions of our time and to seek guidance in worship. Chip Poston, in "Peaceable Communities in a Time of Conflict" (p.8), makes a number of suggestions that Friends schools—and meetings, and families—can pursue, from open forum discussions to understanding the politics of energy and oil, and finding ways to consume less. In "Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive" (p.19), Anne Felker makes a cogent argument for finding ways to give up using our cars; Caroline Balderston Parry chronicles doing just that in "My Car Died in Toronto" (p.22).

These past few months have given us a dismal display of corporate greed preying upon hardworking ordinary U.S. citizens who’ve lost much of their retirement investments and life savings in the scandalous unraveling of Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Adelphia, Xerox and other companies. Perhaps the stunning avarice of our American corporate CEOs and those who have colluded with them will have the unexpected positive effect of getting us moving in the direction of downsizing our personal expectations—and focusing our energies and aspirations on restructuring the American dream. We have before us the potential of creating a new social contract, one that is more focused on social good than personal profit. If we are prepared to seize this moment and "to live now as we think human beings should live," imagine the possibilities.