Today’s prompt EXPECT hit a raw nerve with me. Minutes before reading my emails, my teenage son cut me off rather aggressively insisting that I could not voice my objection to his rudeness. I certainly expect to be treated better and not constantly criticised. What particularly hurt was that he criticised me for doing something he had criticised me for not doing (and caring for him) a few months back. I thought no wonder I get upset (and am constantly angry) in light of such behaviour. I felt the real need to be held, but also felt bottling my anger would only lead to more righteous criticism from him about being constantly “angry” about the fact that I expect to be treated like a human.
Having received with the daily prompt, I thought that I might respond by writing about what I expect in this situation. Being heard and having voice would be a start. However sitting down to write, the Quaker dictum of ‘What does God expect of us’ shot into my head. Love … which brings me to ask what does he EXPECT? Sad that that conversation is unlikely to happen, but I might pray for it.
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I have thought a lot in the last few days – no, ever since referendum day: what is my identity? I have lived in the UK for more than thirty years, but am of course constantly asked where are you from? What is your nationality? While once these questions were innocent, they no longer are in a world where government ministers are thinking aloud about asking for a person’s passport when accessing the National Health Service; or introducing income thresholds for those EU citizens living in this country exercising their treaty rights. I also no longer know the answer to the question, because truth be told I am British, but I am also German, a Quaker, a cat lover, a historian, a retired person, an adoptive dad, hopefully a devoted husband, a supporter of many causes and political parties, a recycler, an aspiring blogger, a human, … . When I am no sure that I have only one identity, why does that one identity that of the stranger/immigrant matter so much. Why is that part of my identity so threatening.
Prompted by reading Helen Steven’s No extraordinary power I am led to experiment with keeping a journal using Quaker writings as prompt for my own reflections.
Among the books, I picked a copy of the 1960 Christian faith and practice in the experience of the Society of Friends out of the large pile of books brought in by a Friend to Meeting yesterday. I noticed that in contrast to the current Quaker Faith and Practice which contains a separate chapter on our Peace testimony (chapter 24), the Peace testimony was subsumed into a chapter on International Responsibilities (chapter 14) in the previous book of discipline.
The chapter starts with a quote from minute 7 of the All Friends Conference in 1920: “In considering the character and basis of our testimony for peace we have felt strongly that its deepest foundation lies in the nature of God, and that its character must be inclusive of the whole of life. There is an urgent need for a fuller recognition that God’s essential nature is love, that the Cross of Jesus represents the highest point in the revelation of the character of God, and that there is the seed of God in every man, that spiritual forces are the mightiest, and that we must be prepared to rely upon them and to give expression to them in daily work and character as well as in what we call the great crises of life. We must set before us the highest ideal, that which ought to be, rather than that which is, believing that God is not alone the God of things as they are but the God of things as they are meant to be.” (Christian faith and practice 1960 [1972 reprint])
The passage calls on Quakers to integrate the peace testimony into their daily lives and strife for making the world into a more peaceful place. The notion of believing ‘that God is the God of things as they are meant to be’ may seem a rather utopian aspiration at first sight, but for the Quakers of the interwar period this belief provided the basis for their corporate endeavours to help those affected by war and campaign for peace. In that sense, God enables us to go out and mend the worId to borrow from Kenneth Boulding.
However and despite this authority, I am finding it personally challenging to make this testimony part of my life and even harder to live it out when there is so much injustice in the world and so many threats to world peace, as well as the little and quite big injustices in my personal life which leave me angry and depressed. But I take comfort in that being an idealist and an utopist is part of my faith allowing me to reject the realist notion that the world is evil and we have to accept it the way it is.
This morning a Friend brought a selection of books he was discarding to Meeting for Worship. I could not resist and picked out a few gems related to my current research project. I spend the afternoon curled up with the cats reading “The growth of the peace testimony of the Society of Friends” by Horace G. Alexander. Besides being remarkable Friend, Alexander was a well-known ornithologist and confidante of Ghandi.
His leaflet has ENLIGHTENed me about the emergence of the Quaker Peace Testimony. I found particularly interesting that Alexander attributed the increased social activism of Friends to the French Revolution and the emergence of human rights.
Another passage peeked my interest and found rather interesting because it speaks to my concerns about our email petition culture and its impact. “We must beware of becoming busybodies. Pouring postcards and resolutions at the heads of Governments may possibly be a sign of taking our citizenship seriously: but … ” (p.36) While Alexander dwells on whether Quakers as a corporate body should send such resolutions, I wonder whether we really can speak with authority when we sign e-petitions as much as they fulfill our needs to address our views and outrage at government policy, social injustice or the latest moral outrage. Are we not in danger to drown out those issues that are really close to our heart and on which we might be able to speak with some authority.