From Empire to Beloved Community - Abridged

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From Empire to Beloved Community

Excerpts from a talk given to Intermountain Yearly Meeting, June 13, 2013, at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiú, New Mexico

by Steve Chase

I was so moved last night when Sherry read the Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice, … This is a prophetic call from the heart of our faith tradition. …

In this call, I hear the prophet Hosea … who said, “The Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in this land.” … And I think of Jesus, who … called us to a way and a truth and a life that was profoundly different from Mammon and Caesar.  And I think of George Fox … [who] uses the phrase, in the mid 1600s, “acting in unity with creation.”

And I think of … Seattle, [where] some local activists … did what a lot of communities have done. They said, the main road that runs through our neighborhood, we’re going to ask the city council to change the name of the road to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. … [And once they had succeeded, they held] a community celebration … A couple of young people in the back got a little restive, [saying,] “I don’t know what you people are so excited about. All you’ve done is change the name of a street. Our community has so many bigger problems than that.” [And an elder replied] “You know, you’re right. … But symbolism matters.” … Think about it. We just changed the road we travel every day from the Empire Way to Martin’s Way.” …

And I think, to take this journey, we have to learn to sit in the fire. [We have to think] about what empire really means, …

Just hear some of this language from the heart of empire … The first voice is Pope Nicholas V, in 1452, announcing what’s called “The Doctrine of Discovery” in which the Pope authorized Europeans to invade non-Christian lands. … “And to capture, vanquish, and subdue all pagans and other enemies of Christ, to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.” …

And cutting a little closer to home, … the next voice is from Charles II, “… we do give and grant unto this said William Penn, his heirs, and assignees, all that tract or part of land in America … all its ports, harbors, bays, waters, rivers, … fields, wood, under-woods, mountains, hills, … to be found within the colony.” And then it goes on: “And because in so remote a colony, the incursions of the barbarous savages … may be feared, we have given William Penn, his heirs and assignees, the power to levy muster and train all sorts of men … to make war and pursue the enemies aforesaid mentioned.” …

So when I was 12, I was all down for civil rights. … [And] I was an ardent supporter of the Vietnam War. I thought we were defending an innocent people who were being enslaved by communist tyranny … And so my brother comes home from college, and we’re sitting at the dinner table, and he starts telling me about this weird thing called Students for a Democratic Society. … I was enraged. I stood up and I said, “You’re a communist and a traitor to your country. I don’t even want to eat with you.” … And my mom … said, “Steve, I’m not sure you know all there is to know about this.”

Now a lot of times I think Quakers make the mistake of: before you can do activism, you have to be completely calm and pure of heart. I think one way to get deep inner peace and be pure of heart is to engage in activism. But at the time, I had very base motivations. So I started studying everything I could about the Vietnam war. Why? Because when my brother Chris came home at the next Thanksgiving, … I was going to sit at the dinner table and I was going to crush him in the debate! 

But [as I studied the war in Vietnam], my system of denial … fell apart. …

[At that time,] my spiritual community was the Boy Scouts of America. … And on a hot summer day in 1968, I’m 13, I’m in the town square of Galesburg, Illinois, there’s a Boy Scout Jamboree. … and I see a small group of people having a silent peace vigil against the way…

And I really wanted to join! And I was really scared. I’d never done anything like that before. That’s pretty public, right in the town square, and you’re kind of a target when you’ve got a Boy Scout uniform, standing in a peace vigil. And I thought about King’s Riverside speech, which my brother had sent me, once I had written him a letter of apology. And I thought, well, if King, after two years of being scared to speak against the war, can do it, I damn well can do it…

I walked over. Within about a minute of my joining the vigil line, my Scout Master came, grabbed me, pulled me out. He was shaking me, and he was yelling at me, … “Steve, you’re a communist and a traitor, and you’re a disgrace to the uniform. You are kicked out of my troop, and I will make sure no scout troop in this county will allow you to be a member.” And he pushed me away, and he stormed off.

An older woman from that silent vigil line came up, put her hand on my arm, and she said, “Young man, I am so sorry that happened. I want you to know, you’ll always be welcome at a Quaker meeting.” I’d never heard of Quakers. There was this funny guy on an oatmeal box. And I go home and I ask my mom. It turns out my mom was fairly knowledgeable about the Friends. … And so she said, … “Why don’t you call them up?”

I called up … the woman on the other line … took me completely seriously – completely seriously as a fellow seeker. …[One] of the things that really excited me learning about Quakers was they had an intense critique of imperial Christianity. … They said: We want to create … a Christianity that will challenge all of the worldly empires and kingdoms… And I’m going: Yeah! This is a faith that can matter to me. …

You hear it in the Kabarak Call. … That’s what being faithful means. It doesn’t mean going along to get along. It means choosing a place where you are in integrity with loving God and loving what God loves. …

[Now], I’m not going to stand here before you and say yes, we can [challenge worldly empires]. I don’t know. But neither do any of us know that we can’t... And to be faithful, Joanna Macy, an American Buddhist, says we don’t know if we’re going to be hospice workers to a dying civilization or we’re going to be midwives to the birth of a new culture. But we have to show up pretty much the same way. We have to love. We have love, and we have to take care of people. We have to do our part. We have to pay attention. And we don’t know which it is. I personally think it’s going to be a lot of both. ~~~

Steve Chase is a member of Putney Friends Meeting in Putney, Vermont, is active in the Transition movement, and teaches environmental studies at Antioch University New England.

Click here to read an unabridged transcript of this talk by Steve Chase.

Click here to read The Kabarak Call to Peace and Ecojustice

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