On Difference

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A six-year-old girl in South Carolina wrote a letter this summer. “Dear Daddy: I know you were shot at the Church and you went to Heaven. I love you so much! I know you love me and I know that you know that I love you too . . . Your baby girl and grasshopper.” Take more time to feel the sadness of that. Take more time to feel the wrongness of that.

The difference between tragedy and evil is the element of human will. Tragedy (natural evil) requires us to stop and weep and recover and find a new way forward. Evil (moral evil) requires us to oppose it. Moral evil directs conscious and willful harm toward the greater good. While no individual is ever capable of fully comprehending the greater good, we do learn more about it along the way. Silent waiting worship is the Quaker way of learning more about the greater good, learning better to follow what we variously call the Will of God, the Holy Spirit, the Inward Teacher, the Seed, the Source, the Light.

It is not enough to wait for Grace to heal us. Rarely does a mystical revelation transform a person into being “good enough” to do the right thing. In a nation built from the sweat and blood of slavery and genocide and from the flesh of our mother the earth, it is not enough to know better. It is only enough to do better. We are broken; but every moment, we are good enough to try to do better.

From the beginning, Friends have taught that humans are perfectible here on earth. George Fox railed against the false doctrine of mainstream ministers who claimed that
“ . . . men and women . . . must carry about them a body of death, and sins of the flesh, and imperfection . . .” Instead, Fox taught, “ . . . Adam and Eve in paradise . . . were blessed, perfect, and happy . . . and they had outward bodies, yet they had no body of death nor body of sin . . .” It was only when humans “forsook God and disobeyed his command, and forsook his teaching, and obeyed the serpent’s (the liar and murderer’s) teaching,” that they came into “the body of sin, and body of death.” Fox insists that “the Devil and all his messengers” are the source of the lie that “there is no perfection here, no overcoming here, while on this side of the grave. (The Works of George Fox, published 1706.)

“The Lamb’s War” in Fox’s time was fought “on this side of the grave” against religious oppression. In our own time, while we live on earth, we are called todefend the greater good against other oppressions of liars and murderers. Of course we must fight within our own selves against our own self-deceptions and malicious impulses. But we cannot wait to fully accomplish our projects of internal perfection before we risk making mistakes in the larger world. To know experimentally, we must experiment.

Life expectancies for African Americans and Native Americans in the U.S. are five to seven years shorter than they are for European Americans – a finding that correlates more strongly with social factors than genetic ones. The median household income for Whites in the U.S. in 2013 was $55,000; for Native Americans, $39,000; and for Blacks, $35,000. These numbers do not measure tragedies dealt by the hand of fate. Nor do current rates of species extinction, with literally dozens of species disappearing forever every day due to human-caused habitat destruction and global warming, compared with the normal “background rate” of one to five extinctions per year.

It takes an act of human will to turn away from these realities, essentially deciding, “Not my problem.” It takes an act of devotion to the greater good to look at reality directly and ask, “How do my own life and ‘these my possessions’ contribute to these wrongs, and what am I to do about it?”