Bombs and tears
I am watching the horror unfold, again, in Belgium: the twisted, smoking wreckage, glass and tile crunching under the feet of the fleeing survivors. The morning I write this, the terrorists are announcing their responsibility and claiming victory. As a reporter speaks from near the bombed subway line, I notice rain has begun to rinse the chalked messages of peace and solidarity from the pavement. I wonder to myself if these raindrops are the Creator’s tears.
How do we come to peace or understanding about such cruelty, such evil? I know that the names and faces of these three young murderers walking through an airport will fade from my mind. I cannot recall the two faces of the young men who bombed a courthouse in Oklahoma in 1995. Yet I know with almost 200 dead, every casualty is missed, mourned, and remembered every day. The victims of Belgium, Paris, and 9/11 will never be forgotten by families, by loved ones, or by people they touched.
What victory is ISIS claiming? They harden our collective hearts to any claims or goals (legitimate or not) they pursue, so they cannot win anything. We dare not reward violence of any sort because the world has become too crowded, too small, and too connected to give elbow room to violence as a strategy. Like it or not, we have become the family of humanity. The media and our web of personal communications has made the horror and the mourning for Belgium intimately ours almost instantly.
So how do we build a peaceful strategy from the ashes of a fanatic’s bomb? How can we, the non-combatant majority, claim victory in a war on terror?
We go on.
By washing away our chalked messages of solidarity with life-giving rain, the Creator reminds us to rewrite that message every day. We should remember the fallen. We should become peaceful in our hearts, even while contemplating the evil of others. Lastly, we must continue our lives, our jobs, and our pursuit of wisdom that will lead to understanding.
Knowledge of what motivates the behaviors, actions, and emotions of others will lead toward that understanding. Only then will we know what is wrong with those who commit acts of violence.
I’ve been reflecting on why it bothers me so much when I am asked about my ethnicity when I first meet someone (“Where Were You Born?” by Sonali Kumar, FJ June/July) and how I can avoid making others feel the same way. I have found it useful to think in terms of people’s immutable identities versus their chosen identities.
Immutable identities are things like race, age, gender, and disability—characteristics that we can’t change about ourselves but are often readily visible. It’s easy to start a conversation based on what’s readily visible, but doing so inherently means making assumptions about a person’s identity based on things they didn’t choose. At worst, it’s offensive; at best, it’s just boring. The conversation starts by flattening a person into a demographic category instead of opening up the space to learn about their vibrant inner life—what I’m calling chosen identity. Chosen identities are the characteristics we grow into: our interests, goals, career, hobbies, and joys. It may be an interesting exercise to reflect on the questions we ask when meeting someone in order to see if they focus on an immutable or a chosen identity.
Excellent article! It made me aware that I may have done this myself. I hope that the article has made me more aware so that I don’t do it in the future. It was interesting that she may have thought that older people might be more conservative, as I’ve known many older radical Friends and others in my community. Raising our consciousness is always welcomed.
Redwood Valley, Calif.
Quasi-Quakers who have left
I attended Friends meetings for four years and am now a Methodist in a very accepting and low-key church. I miss the Friends meeting for its close touch to life and the teachings of Jesus, and for the people who were like family. I too am a quasi-Quaker (June/July issue titled “Almost Quaker”).
Here are a couple of thoughts on Quaker membership and proselytizing. There was no regular provision at the meeting for a children’s First-day school, which was held only when the college professor from the education department was there. To sit and meditate for an hour can be required of children, but at what age and at what sacrifice? Would it not be better to have something age-appropriate just for them? Not providing for children discourages attendance by new members with children who are unaccustomed to centering. In our group, it caused such strong feelings among regular members that I was asked to mediate!
Why not proselytize? I liked Andrew Glazier’s idea in “The Billboard” in the same issue. Why not have an ad in the newspaper? Why not have membership campaigns based on quietly structured outreach programs of information? Most people have no idea of the wonderful things Friends do and have done, or of the simple, meaningful meeting. However, as it is, when we wait for people to notice our good works and do their own inquiring, it almost seems that new members are not really wanted. This is not what we really want!
Barbara Findley Stuart
Congratulations on being honored by the Associated Church Press, and congratulations on your June/July issue, “Almost Quaker.” Several of the articles really “spoke to my condition” but in an unexpected way. Kimberly Fuller’s “I Wish I Were a Quaker” suggested an “unwillingness of Friends to reach out and warmly welcome newcomers is the prime reason many newly convinced or even merely curious do not commit” to membership.
My experience was just the opposite but led to the same result. I have considered myself to be a convinced, but non-member, Quaker for over 30 years. At two different times in my life, I regularly attended meetings. These phases of regular attendance lasted several years. I found the Friends to be very welcoming. The rub was that I felt a strong expectation from them for me to take the next step and go from attending to membership. I am a very private person and have not felt led to commit to more than the silent meeting for worship. I truly felt the Lord’s presence during the meetings for worship.
In the same issue, Peter Moretzsohn’s article “Are You a Friend?” asked if he could still be a Quaker if he didn’t attend a meeting. I wondered if I could still be a Quaker if I didn’t stay for the after-meeting potluck lunch socializing. I concluded that I can. My commitment is to living the Quaker life as best I can, and my “community” is achieved with Friends Journal and Inner Light books and similar publications. The Friends I met at the meetings were very warm, welcoming, and loving people. I still continue to hold them in the Light. They did open the door; I just am not ready to enter.
Thomas J. Nardi
One of my favorite stories about leadings to speak occurred maybe 40 years ago (“The Faithfulness Lecture,” QuakerSpeak.com Mar. 2014). I was sitting in worship, meditating away, and suddenly I thought of this really funny joke that I was moved to share in worship. I was somewhat scandalized and quietly chastised myself: “Oh, you just want to hear the sound of your own voice! Try to be clear with yourself, Mariellen, whether you are moved by the Spirit or by the spirit of performance art! Now get your mind on higher things!” With great difficulty, I turned my attention to God. Then someone stood up and asked a question to which that joke was the appropriate answer, along with a little reflection on how I saw it applying to the question. Yes, there was a good laugh together, but I knew deep down in my gut that I was not moved by the performer in me—not primarily anyway. I also learned that God has a sense of humor!
Finding Quakerism from other faiths
I’ve been through a journey quite similar to Patty Quinn’s (“Finding Quakerism on My Own,” Viewpoint FJ June/July). I was raised Mormon, and I too understand the damage that fanatical, conformist religion does to the psyche. I’ve had to overcome some of my own hang-ups. I’ve had to allow Quaker teaching to redefine words that used to be used as chains to bind people to practice rather than free them to connect with God. I have recently started attending Salt Lake City (Utah) Meeting.
I am sorry to hear that Quinn has not felt the presence of a Divine. It can be difficult to determine whether the feelings come from the Light within or a light without because it feels so comfortable and familiar, like a part of us. And that’s because it is! So it can be hard to realize when it comes from without and when it comes from within. I find it comes from without in my darkest times, because in those times, I am not in the right frame of mind to listen to Light from within, so it must be strengthened from without.
I’ve been able to overcome my hang-ups with the Bible because Quakers have helped me realize that it is an imperfect book. My former faith felt it was imperfect, too, but blamed imperfections on “bad translations.” I was taught that it was all good, except where translated badly (I couldn’t tell when!). Quakers, however, teach that books are written by humans—just like you and me—who felt inspired by the same Spirit we can seek. Quakers gave me room to realize that the repressive and anachronistic parts of the Bible are not of God but are the ideas of people who wrote the book. They ask that we read books with the Spirit to find the truths that resonate with us while discarding the rest.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Finding metaphors that don’t reinforce male images
The word “Kingdom” doesn’t sit well with me (“Why I Still Say ‘Kingdom’ of God Despite the Baggage,” QuakerSpeak.com June). Neither would “Queendom” or “Empire.” I accept the value, however, of not letting others’ words get in the way. I’m comfy with using others’ words if it helps to hear where the words are coming from. So I accept it in biblical settings.
I live in the “Reality” of God, perhaps in the “Realm” of God? I can use “Power” and “Presence” of God, too.
I can get with the hierarchical meaning inherent in the word “kingdom.” I do believe we are about an alternative order of things; we have different allegiances from those held by worldly powers. I’m with those, however, who object to the maleness of the term
“kingdom.” We already equate power and God with maleness, and that term reinforces those equations and the ways they make female power feel “unnatural” to people. (Witness the visceral reactions to Hillary Clinton that underlie some of the criticisms. She isn’t above criticism, but not all of it is about what people claim it is about. This is one of the reasons metaphors that we use for God matter: they reveal what we will and will not acknowledge as power or greatness.) I’ve heard “Reign of God” suggested as a gender-neutral alternative, and I think that works. Although “ministry” has great potential, too, as it suggests not just a state but activity. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.
Lately, when I hear masculine language for God, it feels like a kick in the gut. It really is almost physically painful in its suggestion that God does not include me, or my 50 percent of the species, in Godself. If God does not embrace me (except as an afterthought), then why should I seek God’s leading when I do try to create change in the world? If I am not inherently part of God, then why should I seek God when trying to bring about, say, wise background checks on guns? I think the language matters.
I wonder if there are alternatives that invoke God’s power without suggesting that God is exclusively male: “Realm of God,” “Governance,” “Sovereignty.” We could also speak of “Rulership,” “Leadership,” “Guidance,” words that are just off the top of my head. Even the “World” of God would still leave God’s rule in place. (“Of” implies that it all belongs to God.) We can change language. It exists to serve us, not the other way around.
I wonder if the “Ministry” of God would work well? “Ministry” connotes both the governance of prime minister and service of: “to minister to,” which seems more godly altogether.
If we had an adequate word to denote the power of God, we human beings would be the ones in power: namers are in control of what they name. Seeing we are not and that the power of God must be beyond words, we’ll have to accept that we’ll never find the right word for what we know empowers this world; whatever we end up using will fall short. It goes with the territory. The important thing is to retain the awareness that the word we use doesn’t cover the bases and to keep an inexpressible sense in our hearts and minds of what we really mean. “Kingdom” will fit the bill as well as any, and considering the undertones and overtones it brings from Scripture, it is probably best, in my view.
I agree that some of the substitute language used fails to convey some of the important meaning of Kingdom of God. The one substitute I think which does not seriously degrade the meaning would be “Reign of God.” It seems to me that takes out the maleness without degrading the concept.