Excerpts from the keynote presentation to North Pacific Yearly Meeting; July 14, 2016; Whitworth University, Spokane, Washington
by Diane Randall
Good morning Friends. Thank you for welcoming me here this week as a Friend in Residence.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” This is from John 14:27.
Violence, cruelty injustice, unrest – these are issues that can make us despair. This morning, I want to tell you a little bit about how about my work at FCNL brings me hope. I want to tell you that the trajectory from despair to strength and joy is not a straight line or even a beautiful arc. But it is possible to see how, from despair, we can move to strength and joy. And these emotions can live together within us.
Despair . . . Well, last week alone was probably enough to sink many of us. The video images of Alton Sterling being killed by police in Baton Rouge. Philando Castile killed by police in a suburb of Minneapolis. Five Dallas police officers killed while protecting peaceful protestors. And that’s only naming some of the violence in the streets in the United States.
Many of us turn off the news because we cannot bear it. And we cannot bear to hear the repetitive speeches or sometimes the downright lies of candidates running for public office. At the same time, we may find it hard to look away from the historical shifts that we know our country and our world are going through.
I will tell you that from my view, lobbying the front lines of Congress, I can see that Friends are having an impact. Right now, there’s a bill moving through Congress called, “The Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.” It’s a piece of legislation that creates an architecture for peace-building within the U.S. government. And this piece of legislation actually didn’t have its genesis recently. It’s really the legacy of work that FCNL has done for well over a decade. Moreover, it was the FCNL advocacy network’s role – last year when we convened in our annual sessions and Friends came to lobby – that resulted in now having twelve Democrats and three Republican senators co-sponsoring this legislation. And the three Republicans who signed on made a point to call the Quakers and others who had lobbied them to say, “I signed on as a co-sponsor to this legislation.”
We are not alone. When we move out of the political framework, when we consider what is happening in the world today from a humanitarian, communitarian viewpoint, the view changes. We can see that we are not alone. When we take into our hearts the troubles of this world, we may still feel discouragement. But we may also begin to hear the still, small voice. Hearing that voice can give us clarity and can drive us to use our own voices in the public sphere. Not to add to the cacophony, but to speak from the truth we know.
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Let’s talk about fear for just a little bit. Fear is absolutely a true emotion, which we all feel at one time or another, and sometimes that fear can tie us up into despair. Our fears cause us to do all kinds of things to protect ourselves and our property. These include buying expensive security systems and fortifying ourselves with weapons. This response of fear is played out on both the personal level and the national level. As a country, we have built our national security’s confidence on militarization. The American public buys this militarization argument because those selling it play on our fears. That argument, about the fear of others, has spread militarization into our communities. Local police don riot gear to counter peaceful protesters or use armored personnel carriers to show force.
A show of force may make people feel protected, but when we examine a show of force through the crucible of our inner lives, through our lives in the Spirit, we realize that this outward show of strength has its limits. Because it is strength based on fear, not on love. Our lives in the Spirit teach us to love. I maintain there is a direct link between our spiritual lives and our political lives – perhaps more so for Quakers than for many others, because of the practice of our faith.
I have three advices that I want to impress on you today about our spiritual lives and our political lives.
First, as the Religious Society of Friends, we have a powerful voice for peace and justice. We can and we should speak boldly when we have something to say that has not been said or has not been heard.
Second, we – as individuals, as citizens, and as people who care about the public welfare and life in this country and around the globe – we must be engaged in the political system. Good citizenship is more than voting. And I want to be clear about political activism – it is more than talking to the people who agree with you. That is not political activism. Political activism is finding people with whom you are in conflict and figuring out how to have a respectful conversation that finds some common ground. But we can take our political engagement to another level, which is what we do when we lobby. This engagement of carrying our spiritual selves into the public sphere is what makes lobbying a spiritual exercise.
Third, it is possible through our actions to have an impact on bending the arc of history toward justice.
I want to share a quote that many of you will know, or you may know parts of it, but I want to read a little bit longer version of this quote from Reinhold Neibuhr, who wrote a book called The Irony of American History and who is a well-known Christian realist theologian in in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime. Therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in the immediate context of history. Therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.
We are not alone. We know the Spirit is in us and is with us. We know that the undivided life, when we let our inward experience inform our outward action to live in the world, can help us let go of despair. We can move with strength and hope and with joy. Our participation in community brings us hope; our life in the Spirit brings us joy and brings us peace. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ~~~
Diane Randall is the Executive Director of Friends Committee on National Legislation. She is a member of Hartford Friends Meeting in Connecticut. This text has been excerpted from a full transcript of the talk, posted at: westernfriend.org/media/despair-strength-and-joy.