Unapproved Minutes from the Peaceable Kingdom

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11: 6-9)

The Peaceable Kingdom is not Quaker heaven. Most Christians have an image of heaven that is exclusive—only the people we would like to spend eternity with are there. But in the Peaceable Kingdom, we have to rub elbows with everyone: those we are fond of, and those we wish would go away. The late conflict resolution educator Bill Kreidler made this observation in a 1991 lecture to New York Yearly Meeting about the paintings of Quaker folk artist Edward Hicks. Hicks produced 70 or more depictions of the Peaceable Kingdom during his life, even as he grieved over the discord and separations that were taking place in the Friends community. Those paintings may be the closest thing we have to a "Quaker emblem." Once, walking through the offices of Friends Center in Philadelphia, I counted 27 variations of them hanging on walls and decorating calendars, magnets, tote bags, and note cards.

As I look at those images, I often wonder what the various creatures are really thinking and saying to each other. Perhaps they have evolved through the stages of community development that M. Scott Peck describes in The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. This book was widely discussed among Friends when it was first published in 1987, and I often see dusty copies on the library shelves of meetings I visit. According to Peck, we pass through four stages on our way to becoming a "true community."

Stage I: Pseudo-community (the honeymoon period—in which conflict never occurs):

Calf, Lion, Ox: "I am so lucky to be here. This is the most blessed place on Earth."

Lamb, Asp, Suckling Child: "How lovely it is that we all get along together so well and accept each other so completely."

Bear: "We have returned to the Garden of Eden."

Stage II: Chaos (in which members anxiously try to fix emerging problems and restore the sense of perfection):

Lion: "How was such an unseasoned person as the Little Child appointed to lead us? I mean no criticism of her, but what was the process? Was it consistent with our testimonies?"

Leopard: "That little goat is going to give me fleas. Who is responsible for supervising it?"

Asp: "I have noticed that there is playing going on over my hole. We need some guidelines for the use of property."

Cow (to Ox): "The Wolf simply does not fit in. It is not his fault, but if he would just transfer to one of the unpeaceable kingdoms where his views would be more appreciated, then it would be idyllic here."

Ox (to Cow): "Our ancestors on the Ark followed the practice of keeping the clean and unclean creatures apart. We should return to that tradition. I am not being prejudiced—but I value the wisdom of the early creatures."

Stage III: Emptiness (in which members let go of illusions, pretense, and the hope of control):

Cow, Cockatrice, Leopard: "Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This place is nothing like what we thought it would be."

Little Child: "These creatures have no respect for leadership—I don’t know what to do with them."

Fatling: "Who are these other animals?"

Stage IV: True Community (in which members accept one another as they really are; it can be distinguished from pseudocommunity because at times conflict is openly expressed):

Wolf: "I have to give these creatures credit for putting up with me most of the time."

Weaned Child: "The Cockatrice is annoying, but I’ve grown accustomed to his face."

Asp: "I’m pretty comfortable here, I just wish they would respect my hole."

Leopard: "Yo! Kid! I have something to say to you about fleas!"

Chel Avery

Chel Avery, director of Quaker Information Center in Philadelphia, Pa., is a member of Goshen (Pa.) Meeting.