From Empire to Beloved Community - Unabridged

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From Empire to Beloved Community

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

by Steve Chase

Welcome all, and thank you for welcoming me. I always get choked up when I hear that letter from my meeting, because I am sent to you from them. And by your gracious invitation. There’s a part that I always get a little embarrassed at: “show him every hospitality, and nurture his spiritual life....” I cannot tell you how profoundly that has happened here, since Katie and I came on Sunday. This is also my first time in New Mexico, and what an amazing first time this is. I wrote a friend yesterday, when we had some sketchy email access at the Welcome Center. And I said: “This place is so awesome that the most cynical person would have to fall upon their knees in reverence.” But I think we also know, upon reflection, that the land only speaks to those who listen. And there are people who have been on this land, who have not treated it with reverence. And there are people who, with no conscious maliciousness, have gone along, to get along, and not listened to the land, with unintended consequences that are very harsh for people, for this region, and for this planet.

I was so moved last night when Sherry read the Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice, and I’m very moved that this is the theme you are working with, and holding this week, and exploring what that might mean in our lives.

Two members of Putney Friends Meeting went to Kenya for the Sixth World Conference of Friends, and it was the largest gathering of Friends in the entire history of the world. There were Friends from Asia, many, many Friends from Africa, Friends from Latin America, and from throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.... It was awe inspiring that it even happened. Rosemary Zimmerman and Noah Baker-Merrill, who are young adult friends in our meeting and very important leaders in our meeting, and in Yearly Meeting, they both went. And when they came back, they invited all Putney, Vermont Friends to hear a report about what it was like. Rosemary reported that it was awe-inspiring but difficult. It was really trying for her. She said the diversity of friends, on so many levels, was amazing. It was heart-breakingly amazing. And it was also frustrating. She, I think, had been charged with writing the Young Adult Friends’ epistle. And they struggled, and they struggled. She reported they really couldn’t come up with anything; they couldn’t come to agreement. And there were many times they were so close, but they couldn’t come to agreement on speaking as one voice to the worldwide Society of Friends, and to all of the kindred spirits that we have in the world. She talked about it with some heartbreak, in the midst of appreciating it so much.

And then Noah said, “Rosemary, I think everything you’re saying is true, but I don’t think it’s the only truth.” He said, “There was a Call that everyone agreed to. It was the sense of the meeting. It was a Call for Peace and Ecojustice.” He said, “This is something special. This is something calling us to radical faithfulness.” And then he said, “Steve, would you read it out loud.” I encourage all of you to read it out loud. By yourself if you have to, with a few people or more, and I don’t want to read the whole thing again, but my suggestion, as an outsider, you might want to read this, and have a different person read it at every meeting for business that you have this week. I’m reading, and its talking about “we are called to work for the peaceable kingdom of God.” This is not trivial. This is not ordinary. This is a prophetic call from the heart of our faith tradition. And it goes way, way back.

In this call, I hear the prophet Hosea. When you read this call, think about Hosea, who said, “The Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in this land.” This guy was tough! “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying, and murder, stealing, and adultery. You break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this, the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away. The beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.” And when I read this call, I hear the prophet Micah: “What does God require of you? To do justice. To love kindness, and walk humbly with thy God.” And I think of Jesus, who embodied the wisdom of Micah, and 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. And I remember the first time somebody gave me a copy of George Fox’s Journal. I was thirteen at the time. He said, “Don’t worry, I don’t want you to have to read the whole thing. Just read page two.” And I read page two, which made me read page one through the very end. But page two is what’s fundamental to the faith of Quakers, is what is the core of the Biblical story, which is to love God with all one’s heart and soul and strength, love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. And love God’s good earth. And he uses the phrase, in the mid 1600s, “acting in unity with creation.”

And I think of Martin Luther King, of whom my mom always says, “Well, you know, basically, when you were a kid, you imprinted on Martin Luther King like a young duckling imprints on the first adult duck that walks by.” And that’s very sweet of her to say.

I know some people here might even have problems with the phrase, “the peaceable kingdom of God.” I encourage you to think of it as the poetry that comes from our tradition, and that there are other ways to express this. A story I tell my students...I teach at Antioch University New England, it’s a secular school, so I have read the Kabarak call as an example of people of faith, and how they’re engaging with these issues, of justice and issues of ecological well being and sustainability. But the story I tell them, and it’s a story I want to tell for all of you, because I think it gets to the very same point of the Kabarak Call. And it’s kind of a simple story.

In the 1980s, mid 1980s, in the predominantly black neighborhood of Seattle Washington, some local activists, some local church leaders, some local businessmen, people from social service agencies, came together and they said, “We want to inspire this community to be its best. We want to inspire this community to build on the legacy of Martin Luther King. We want to inspire our young people to think about King,” in the language of the Call, “as a pattern and an example to follow.” So they said, let’s start with this simple first step. They 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.

They did all the community organizing things you would do, and it wasn’t a tough sell. The Seattle City Council wasn’t that opposed, so in a couple of months they got it done. There was a community celebration a few nights later in a Baptist church in the neighborhood. They invited Vincent Harding to be the speaker, to celebrate with them. And I imagine many of you know who Vincent Harding is, but those of you who don’t, Vincent Harding is an African-American Mennonite theologian. He is one of the most soulful and insightful historians of the civil rights movement. He was a close associate and confidant of Martin Luther King, and he helped King write the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which King gave on April 4, 1967, in Riverside Church in New York, where, after two years of being against the war and not speaking out publicly, got over his fear and publicly spoke against the Vietnam War and called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He called America to come back from the abyss of being on the wrong side of history. He called on America to deal with its original sins of racism, militarism, and materialism, and economic injustice.

So Vincent Harding gets up to the podium, starts talking, and Vincent is an amazing guy. He is filled with such life, such humor, he can look at the heart of darkness in the world and still go on. And so he starts talking, and a couple of young people in the back get a little restive. And they go, “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 Vincent said, “You know, you’re right. Thank you for bringing that up. If this is no more than a first step, if this is just the end of it, it is worthless. But symbolism matters.” And he called out to the young people in the back: “What was the name of this street before we changed the named?” And they answered, “The Empire Way.” And he said, “Think about it. We just changed the road we travel every day from the Empire Way to Martin’s Way.” And then he talked about the beloved community, and how any campaign that King worked on, his big vision, he encapsulated in the words, “beloved community.”

I think Quakers and other people of faith, and other people of goodwill, when they are at our best, when we are at our best, we are changing the road we travel. We are on a journey from the empire way to beloved community. When we’re at our best.

And I think, to take this journey, we have to learn to sit in the fire. About what empire really means, and what the consequences are. And to realize we are still living in an imperial world. It’s not the only thing that’s true about the world, but it is a very true thing about the world. I want to personally thank the Boulder Friends Meeting Indigenous Peoples Concerns Committee, for a workshop that they ran yesterday, that tore open my heart and deepened my resolve. And luckily for all of you who weren’t there, they’re doing that workshop again this afternoon. And they, in a forty-minute exercise that was so poignant, talked about 500 years, 500 years of the course of empire and people trying to resist in a lot of ways. People trying to reconcile and move in a different direction. But it got me thinking. And I’d like you, if you’re willing, to close your eyes.

Just hear some of this language, from the heart of empire – from centuries ago, to not so long ago. 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. This is a quote, from the Papal statement: “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.” That is the Empire Way. And cutting a little closer to home, we know that the Holy Experiment in Pennsylvania had many great qualities. But the next voice is from Charles II, and it’s the charter where he grants the land—that I don’t know how a king in England could’ve owned—to William Penn and his heirs and assignees.

The title is “Charter of Penn, from Charles the II, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, Ireland, and Defender of the Faith.” “Whereas our trusted and well beloved William Penn, Esquire, out of a commendable desire to enlarge our English empire, and promote such useful commodities as may be a benefit to us in our dominion, as also to reduce the savage natives, by gentle and just manners, to the love of civil society and Christian religion, hath humbly besought leave of us, to transport an ample colony unto a certain country herein described in part of America not yet cultivated and planted, know ye therefore that we favor the petition and the good purpose of said William Penn.” And then it goes on, after it describes the boundaries of this new colony, it says, “In consideration thereof, of our special grace, we do give and grant unto this said William Penn, his heirs, and assignees, all that tract or part of land in America and the free and undisturbed use and passage, into, and out of, all its ports, harbors, bays, waters, rivers, isles, and inlets belonging unto and leading to, from the colony. As well as all the soil, lands, fields, wood, under-woods, mountains, hills, fens, isles, lakes, rivers...” It wasn’t enough just to mention it once! “Within or belonging within the limit or the bounds of the colony. Together with the fishing of all sorts of fish, whales, and sturgeons, within the premises, and all veins, mines, and quarries discovered and not yet discovered, of gold, silver, gems, and precious stones, and all other stones, metals, or any other thing or matter whatsoever, found or to be found within the colony.” And then it goes on: “And because in so remote a colony, the incursions of the barbarous savages, as well as other enemies, pirates and robbers, may be feared, we have given William Penn, his heirs and assignees, the power to levy muster and train all sorts of men of whatever condition born in said province of Pennsylvania to make war and pursue the enemies aforesaid mentioned. As well as by sea and by land, yea, even beyond the limits of the said province, and by God’s assistance, to vanquish and take them, and being taken, to put them to death.”

The next voice you hear is George Kennan, who is a pretty famous American liberal. During WWII, when the United States was getting pretty clear it was going to win, they asked the state department to do what was called Grand Area planning, to think about what would be the guiding principles of US foreign policy once the old colonies had broken apart, which they predicted, and old world power centers were diminished because of the war. The US might be able to fill that vacuum. It has now been declassified, but when it was created in February 24, 1948, it was a secret memo from the US State Department policy planning staff. And Kennan wrote this: “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task, in the coming period, is to devise a pattern of relationships that will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming, and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization.” And here he’s not talking about...he wasn’t saying we shouldn’t use that for propaganda purposes. But he’s saying within the inner circles of power, let’s not kid ourselves anymore, this is what we’re about. “The day is not far off when we’re going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

So Sarah mentioned my book, there’s a story in the first chapter about how I first came to Quakers as a thirteen year old. But there’s a fuller story to that. And it’s a story of how, in one aspect of my life, I made the journey from the Empire Way to Martin’s Way, to the beloved community and ultimately, what I realized, was the way of the Religious Society of Friends.

So when I was 12, I was all down for civil rights. That was great. I loved King. And, because of George Kennan’s plan that we would talk about democracy and human rights only for propaganda purposes, but not to guide our foreign policy, 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 had asked the help of our world-benefacting and justice- and democracy- oriented government. 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. And how he had been going to several anti war demonstrations, and how he had been tear -gassed. I think he was hoping for me to be impressed and concerned about him.

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.” I turned to my mom, and I said, “You don’t believe this crap, do you?” And my mom, and I will say more about my mom before time’s up, she 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 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, and we were going to have dinner, I was going to sit at the dinner table and I was going to crush him in the debate!  But my system of denial, and my going along to get along, and just assuming that I had been told the truth, fell apart. And I could go into the long reasons of what were we doing paying 80 percent of the French colonial war against the Vietnamese for the last five years before the French were kicked out? What were we doing making treaties that we violated, not allowing a national election to happen, because the CIA told Eisenhower if a free and fair national election had happened, in all of Vietnam, when it was called for by the treaty, 80 percent of people would’ve voted for Ho Chi Minh? And so they permanently divided the country and started war.

I changed. There was an inner shift in me. And some people get upset about the word sin, but I really think Quakers need to listen and think deeply about sin, and I think one of the best ways to do it, is the literal translation of the Hebrew word for sin in our scriptures is “to miss the mark.” And one way of missing the mark, way over here, is being an agent, a knowing agent of brutality. Another way of missing the mark, where I was standing as a 12 year old, was as somebody who was just sort of duped. And went along. And cooperated, and acquiesced, and supported, because I believed all these good reasons when they weren’t true. That, too, is missing the mark. And so I was shifting closer to the mark.

In the book, I talk about how I wasn’t churched as a kid. My spiritual community was the Boy Scouts of America. We met every week, we had rituals, we had values that mattered to me. Doing our duty to God and country, that actually meant something to me, and it still does, but because of my being imprinted on King, if my mom is right, that meant creating a nonviolent revolution in this country that would overthrow racism and materialism and the violence of militarism. I took this seriously. 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. I’m finished with all my duties, and I’m just standing around, and I see a small group of people having a silent peace vigil against the war. And I had never seen that in my town! I thought I was alone! Me and my mom! And my brother, when he came home.

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 2 years of being scared to speak against the war, can do it, I damn well can do it. Patterns and examples.

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, and it was really interesting, the echo of what I heard. “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 she laughed as she was telling me more and more of what she knew. I love this to this day. She said, “You know, when your dad lived with us, and how much he hated religion, and was always saying we could never go to any worship service. Well, he used to give money annually to the American Friends Service Committee.” So even my dad cut you all some slack!

And so she said, “You were invited, why don’t you go? Why don’t you call them up?” I called up and this is part of my journey, for moving the empire way to the beloved community. I called up and I try to imagine the scene now: woman on the other line gets a call from a 13 year old kid. Think of the temptation. Think of the temptation to treat me as silly, to treat me in a condescending way. And she took me completely seriously. Completely seriously as a fellow seeker. I asked questions: where do you meet? They met in the living room of one of the member’s houses. How many people are there? Well, you know, on a good day, maybe 18. And then I asked what worship was like, and she talked about silent worship, and I was a little confused, and a little intrigued, and then I asked the question many Quakers, particularly FGC Quakers, and their ilk, fear: So! What do Quakers believe? Most deeply?

Now I noticed in your Faith and practice, there’s this great phrase about how when we tie ourselves up in nots, n-o-t-s, we’re not this, we don’t believe that...I don’t find that particularly inspiring. And this woman didn’t do that. She said, “Well, Quakers believe that every man, woman and child on this planet earth have the capacity to experience divine love, presence, and guidance.” She could’ve stopped there and I would’ve been intrigued. Then she went on. “And if we pay attention to this still small voice of God in our own lives, and as communities, and we really listen,” like we should really listen to this land, “we will receive the wisdom and the power to heal and transform our personal lives, to heal and transform our workplaces and our families, our communities, and the world.” What she was saying, is we would get the power to act on behalf of the creation of the beloved community, a peaceable kingdom of God, where people did not suffer injustice and the planet was revered and respected, not just as resources, but as kindred beings and part, in fact, the biggest part, of the widest community of life.

That’s where somebody gave me the George Fox journal, and I learned about the three great loves. But the other thing that appealed to me, and I think this is especially important, given some of the voices of empire that we’ve heard today, for the Pope to say what he said, for King Charles to say what he said, as “the defender of God and faith,” one of the things that really excited me learning about Quakers was they had an intense critique of imperial Christianity. And I’m reminded, a US journalist once asked Gandhi: ok, so you’re a Hindu, you’re not a Christian, but what makes you different from most Christians? And Gandhi replied to this reporter, “Well, when I read Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount, I assume he meant them.”

And so the early Friends explicitly talked about the imperial church and the way that most people look at church history is around 3rd or 4th century of the common era, Christians pulled off something amazing. They converted the Roman empire and they converted the emperor. Quakers looked at that same history and said, no, Christianity was converted to empire.

They said: we want to create a primitive Christianity, a Christianity that will challenge all of the worldly empires and kingdoms and try to move towards beloved community. And they called this the Lamb’s War. These were tough monkeys! And they were non-violent spiritual revolutionaries in the cause of the beloved community. And there I am, learning about this stuff, in 1968, where the world around me is up in revolution, or close to it.

And I’m going: Yeah! This is a faith that can matter to me. This is a faith that even though the people that I’m reading about are Bible reading, Jesus loving, spirit led people of faith, they had a profound critique of imperial Christianity and wanting to create an alternative that would move beyond just matters of faith and shape civil society, shape how we organize and conduct our economy and our political lives. And today, this shift, you hear it, the call for this. You hear it in the Kabarak Call. You hear it in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which has an ecojustice work group, and their statement, if you go online, and I love this, and think about shifting from empire to beloved community: “We yearn for Quakers everywhere to be part of a great turning towards peace, justice, ecological balance, and more durable local economies.” I was thrilled when I was reading the IMYM packet and the young adult friends talked about we need a great turning, and we need to be participants in that. And 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. And letting Mammon and Caesar not determine how we are in the world. Now there’s yearning, and I love yearning, but yearning is a first step.

I want to tell you a story about a woman that I met when I led 12 students in my program at Antioch University, New England, way far away from the northeast, to Louisiana, in a course that was called Environmental Justice in the Mississippi Delta. We did some reading ahead of time, about what the state chamber of commerce in Louisiana calls the “chemical corridor,” which is the 87 miles of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. At the time that we were reading, there were 156 petrochemical plants along the banks of the Mississippi. And the thing that we read about is 25 percent of the domestically produced petrochemicals in the United States come from that region of Louisiana. So imagine the immense amount of wealth. Immense wealth production. And Louisiana is the second poorest state in the United States. That’s smells fishy to me, and it sure did to my students. That seemed like injustice.

The people in this area don’t call it the “chemical corridor;” they call it “cancer alley.” Louisiana has the worst public health record of any state in the United States. Then we read that overall, the population of African American citizens in Louisiana is about 33 or 34%. Along the chemical corridor, in most of these towns, 90 to 95%. Because in the 50s and 60s when these plants were being built, they bought old plantations along the river and they built up there. And the descendants, the freed descendants of the slaves who used to work, had settled around the plantations.

So one woman that we met while we were down there is a woman named Margie Richard, who has gotten the Goldman environmental prize, which is the premier prize for grassroots environmentalists nationally. And what she got it for, is in her community in Diamond, Louisiana, the Shell Oil Company, which had moved in in 1950 or so, realized that there were enough health problems going on, and they offered the people in the White neighborhood of Diamond, Louisiana, full market value for their houses so they could move away, and they did not make that offer to the majority of citizens in Diamond.

And Margie Richard fought and organized and built coalitions and she finally got Shell, through an amazing story, to give everybody in Diamond enough money for their house that they could move out of harm’s way. And so we wanted to talk to Margie. That was impressive!

So I go to her house, with our van, and the students are outside, and I knock on the door, and then she invites me in. On her kitchen table is a Bible, and she said, “Will you pray with me?” I said, sure. And we sat down, and she prayed. And then we got in the van, and she took us to Diamond, which is a ghost town of empty lots and occasional abandoned buildings, and she’s walking my students through, and telling this story. She starts telling the story about: you know, I’m a pretty good person. I go to church. I do pastoral care. I take care of my neighbors. So personally, she was already very close to the mark. And then, her profession, professionally, that’s where we have a lot of choices, about how close to the mark are we going to get, and she worked as a school teacher for years. When we met her, she was a little over 75 years, and she was retired.

But in terms of public action, the next dimension of how we can be close to the mark, and be radically faithful, she hesitated. And she told me this story that started eroding her sense that she could ignore that part of life.

We’re standing with her and she said, “You’re standing where my porch was, and that lot over there, next to the playground ... I’m standing on my porch and there’s an explosion at the plant.” Because right behind that house, is the fence line. “There’s an explosion at the plant, and there’s a gas ball that engulfs a 17 year old boy who is mowing the lawn for an elderly woman in the town.” And she said, “So I watched him ran. And he fell down by that tree. And he died. And Shell offered his mother 500 dollars if she would sign this statement that there would be no legal action. And that mother was so poor it was in her interest, she felt, and I don’t blame her, to sign that letter and get that needed 500 dollars.”

And then she tells us about learning that the White folks had been given money to move out of harm’s way. And they were left sleeping in their clothes, because if there was a siren at the plant, they wanted not to have to take time to get dressed, but they wanted to run. Get on their bikes. Get in their trucks if they had them. And get out of harm’s way.

And it finally bubbled up, and she said, “No more! I will start organizing.” And she met with church women. She met with the PTA. She was revered by them because of all her years in the elementary schools. She started bringing a coalition together. She invited statewide groups like the Louisiana Environmental Action network. She invited the Sierra Club and Greenpeace to help them. She goes to Europe at a stockholder’s meeting, and the directors of the corporation, the Shell Corporation, are sitting on a panel, and she walks up, and she puts glasses of water in front of them. And said, “These are from the wells of Diamond, Louisiana. Please, drink.”    

Nobody drank. And it wasn’t too long later that she won this victory against the 2nd largest oil producer in the world. My students were stunned. And I guess one thing I want to say before the question that they asked her...at this point, we’re talking with her, as we’re sitting on bleachers, in the old abandoned playground, and the back fence of the playground is the fence to the plant. And we’ve been there maybe 20 minutes, and all of our eyes are watering. Some people are starting to cough. About half of us have headaches. One of the students is so hit with this, she has to go back to the van and lie down. We have been there less than an hour. These people lived with this 24/7.

And so one of my students, very upright, unchurched, secular student from the northeast, like you might expect, she says, “So Margie. Where did you get the will to believe that there was any chance that you could make a difference? How did you go up against one of the largest corporations in the entire planet?” And I love her answer. “Oh honey, if Jesus can die on the cross for me, I can damn well take care of the babies in my community.” I suspect Margie and I have some different theologies, but I think our commonality is that we both want to be friends and followers of Jesus. We feel that Jesus exemplifies the way, the truth, and the life, that matters.

That is abundant love, that’s living in things in turn. [hard to hear]

So inspired by Margie, I want us to think a bit about her situation. There are some of us in this room who are targets of empire, who are targets of oppression, who are belittled, discriminated against, and for those of us in those roles, were kind of like Margie. It’s hard to ignore these things. But relative privilege exists! And I think one of the things, why we have to learn to sit in the fire, is to the degree we have relative privilege—and as a straight, White, middle-aged Christian man, I got lots!—we can still have the luxury of choosing not to know.

The Kabarak Call is to say “Give up that luxury. Choose to know. Get involved. Care, people. Expand your heart.” And I think Margie would like this, even though the theology of the way I tell this Bible story might make her a little nervous, but in Matthew there’s this story called “Jesus and the Canaanite Woman.” And it’s a really interesting story. If you haven’t read it , or haven’t read it in a while, go back and look at it. What it shows is Jesus needing to move from missing the mark to getting to the mark. I don’t think he’s just an example of where we want to arrive. He’s an example of how we might get there.

Jesus and his peeps have been out healing people, doing community organizing, encouraging people, talking trash about the empire, and when you read in the Bible about he’s casting out evil spirits, they’re called legion, well, what was the legion there? Like, the Roman Legion! And so anyway, they’re coming back, and they’re tired! And they’re walking, and they want to go home, where they’re staying the night, and rest.

And then they hear this woman, this Canaanite woman, across the square, yelling and screaming at them. Wildly. Cause this woman’s daughter is sick. Really sick. And she’s heard there’s this guy walking around that has the capacity to heal people. And she wants to appeal to him to heal her daughter. And she’s yelling and screaming. And then you read along in the story, and the disciples are going, “Wow, what a hysterical woman! Why is she bothering us? Wish she’d shut up. Wish she’d go away.” And Jesus doesn’t correct them. Finally, Jesus says, “I am only here to serve the children of Israel, not a Canaanite.” His view of who was morally considerable was kind of narrow! And she runs up closer, and she says, “Lord, Lord, save my daughter!” And if you read in the scripture, it said he ignored her. He didn’t acknowledge her existence. And she pleads again, she’s kneeling in front of him, she’s pulling on his cloak. And is talking about her daughter. And then he says to her, he calls her a dog. And I love dogs, but he wasn’t using it as a term of endearment. He was saying, “Why should the banquet for the children of Israel be given to dogs?” He meant her. He was trying to shame her, to shut her up, and have her go away.

And this woman was so persistent, and I think it’s so important to realize that God speaks to us in meeting for worship and God speaks to us in very weird ways from other people. And she was persistent, and she had a sense of humor that was fierce, and she said, “Oh, but Lord, shouldn’t even dogs be able to eat crumbs from the Master’s table?” And he stops. And he looks at her. And he sees her. And he lets her into his heart. And his heart melts. And his definition of what neighbor means just got bigger.

And I love what he says to her. He doesn’t say, “Well alright, I will heal your daughter.” He says, “Woman,” and he’s lifting her up. “Your faith, your faith, is so strong. Go home. Your daughter is healed.” In Judaism there’s this wonderful obligation that I think we share, as Quakers, which is “tikkun olam,” to heal the world.

I want to come back to King again because there’s something else that I think is important if we’re going to be truly faithful. If we’re not going to go along to get along, if we’re not going to go, “At least I’m not this nefarious evil person, but I’m not doing anything to challenge them, I’m not doing anything to create an alternative, I’m not doing anything to reach out to people who are targeted.” That’s a form of missing the mark, and King hits this on the head.

I was once asked to do a talk to this ecopsychology conference of 160 psychologists doing important work, and I’m going, what am I going to talk about psychology to, it’s not my field, I haven’t studied it that much. And then somebody said, “Well, did you know that in 1967, Martin Luther King gave the keynote address at the American Psychological National Convention?” So I needed a resource, so I went back to King and I read it, and I want to read some of it to you. Because think of it: in 1967, not all, but a lot of psychologists, most psychologists thought the goal of psychology was to make people well adjusted to the world around them. King had a different way of looking at it. And so these are his words.

You are all psychologists. It’s 1967. 90% of you believe that making people well adjusted is the whole point of why you exist. And probably the other 10 of you are just not sure.

            So King said, “You who are in the field of psychology have given us a great word. It is the word maladjusted. It is good, certainly, that declaring that destructive maladjustment should be eradicated. But on the other hand, I am sure the we all recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things that we must always be maladjusted to if we are to be people of goodwill. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of violence.”

And I imagine that if King had had the good fortune to live to a ripe old age, and was here, he would be saying: “...and we should never adjust ourselves to environmental racism, to wasting and ravaging the planet, and exploiting, as if it’s not a greater, more than human world, isn’t part of our neighbor and our neighborhood.” And I remember as a teenager, a late teenager, I pull out of a book in the friends library in DeKalb, Illinois, and they had a much bigger library than Galesburg, which was just two book shelves in the living room. And I got this copy of The Limits to Growth, by some MIT scientists.

And in ‘72, they had run this big computer model that said, first, one assumption was, the economy doesn’t exist outside of the natural world. It is embedded within it. And if you look at most graphs of how the economy works, from neoliberal economists, you’ll have all these arrows between plants and households and money going this way, and money going this way, and products going this way, and you won’t see the wider world. It doesn’t show up. In fact, when impacts hit the wider world, those are called “externalities” to the economic system. So one of the first thing that she did, and the Kabarak call calls for, and we should think about, is that the way we organize our conduct of life is a human economy within a larger natural economy. And there are inputs.

They just got kind of scientific on this. They weren’t talking about the values of preciousness and care and concern, they were just saying, let’s get a few things straight. If you are running a society on nonrenewable resources, you are in for a bumpy ride. And if you are running a society that sends out so much waste and pollution that it overwhelms the waste absorption capacity of ecosystems, you are in for a bumpy ride. And they did they computer model and were saying, well, probably around 2100, shit’s going to hit the fan. Now there’s some variables in there, we’re just doing the best data we have, doing projections and scenarios, but recently an Australian physicist put in actual data from that time up to about 2010, into the same system. Strangely enough it came up with about the same scenario.

And that’s when, in Kabarak, not in terms of a computer model, but they’re telling stories to each other, about the world, at the Sixth World Conference of Friends. “We have heard of the disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro. And the glaciers of Bolivia,”—this is not abstract, this is not computer projections, these are stories people are telling about their lives—“from which come life-giving waters. We have heard appeals from peoples of the Arctic, Asia and Pacific. We have heard of forests cut down, seasons disrupted, wildlife dying, of land hunger in Africa, of new diseases, droughts, floods, fires, famine and desperate migrations – this climatic chaos is now worsening. There are wars and rumors of war...” And a lot of these wars are about resources. And there are oil wars, and there are going to be water wars. And they talk about job loss, inequality, violence. But it’s already, now, climate chaos is happening now. I think it’s worth trying to connect the dots.

Now, how are we supposed to respond faithfully to this? We have a lot in our testimonies, and a really big one in this is simplicity. Are we actually made happy enough by all the things that some of us have? And I include myself in this, as having more things than I need. Given the unintended consequences and shocks all around the world caused by the extraction, the production, the distribution, the consumption, and the disposal of all that throughput, given that it’s a prophetic call, that means there’s some pressure on us. It’s not just: Well, let’s just all feel groovy. It’s: How do you become faithful? How do you love God and love what God loves in an authentic way in this moment? I remember when I was a very young teenager, I was probably 13 or 14, this mentor of mine in the Galesburg Quaker meeting, he said to me, he was signing Quakers’ praises, he said, “You know, Quakers were the first denomination in the United States, even before it was the United States, before the revolutionary war, to say slavery was a sin and we’ll have none of it.” And I’m sure that he wanted me to go, “That is so amazing, Frank! I’m so glad to be part of such a group!” But my response was, “Quakers owned slaves?!!!”

And I think we have to be honest. We have to be honest about the ways we miss the mark. And I think slavery is a good test. And in the bookstore, this week, is an amazing book called Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, and if you have read it, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t read it, it is so important when we think how we become a faithful community and respond to the prophetic call. In that book, I just want to quickly quote: “Friends in the early 1700s were likely to view enslavement from one of four perspectives: a majority of Quakers accepted slavery without much qualm or question.” They had turned their backs against much of imperial Christianity, against much of the fallen powers and principalities of empires and kingdoms of this world, but they were kind of consistent with the milieu around them. They were pretty well adjusted around this question.

“Others were perplexed and did nothing.” How many of you have ever been perplexed and done nothing? “Still others agreed with George Fox, that slaves should be treated kindly, and offered a Christian education, a line of thought that does not embrace emancipation.” It would be sort of like saying, “let’s create a slavery protection agency.” We can say, “oh, four knots in the whip’s a bit much, we should regulate that. There should be only two. That’s much kinder.” And finally, a sensitive few doubted if Christians could enslave their fellow human beings. And when I think of this, I think what about the world we live in now. Are we well adjusted to what we should be creatively maladjusted to? To what’s even hard to see, for the majority of people?

Slavery? A sin? It’s just the way things are. Sure! Let’s be nice. But let’s not have freedom. Let’s not fully respect people. Let’s not fully respect the planet. And so, our sensitive few, which I see particularly after Kabarak, becoming the sensitive more, and maybe the sensitive many, and I think we need to think through that. The young adult friends of New England Yearly Meeting, two years ago, wrote an epistle from a meeting that they had of their climate justice work group. And it shook New England Yearly Meeting, and it shaped the themes at the New England Yearly Meetings. It had young adult friends rising up to new roles of leadership. These were the sensitive few. These were the prophets that were talking to a well meaning, good hearted, environmental friendly, well adjusted majority of us.

And this is what they have to say: “We have felt the incongruities between our spiritual lives and our physical lives and our sorrow at this dichotomy propels us to seek a life in which all parts of our being are in harmony with the Spirit. Our lives are caught in this system, culture, society, that exploits people and the planet and leaves us spiritually wanting.” And then they said, and I hope we think deeply about this, ‘cause it’s probably not just swapping out light bulbs, it’s probably not just using reusable bags at the supermarket. I’m not saying any of this is bad. It’s probably not even doing a lot more gardening or riding bikes. All of that’s important, but it’s to create a new beloved community on very different foundations than this one. They said, “We yearn for a community that is intimately dependent on the earth, on our neighbors, and on our own self reliance to provide our basic needs and allows us to see the consequences of our use of creation.”

I was talking with the senior young friends yesterday, or the day before. It’s beginning to be a bit of a blur. And we were talking about engaging in the world. And what are the obstacles and what are the excitements about being real change agents, about being patterns and examples, about being pattern disrupters of the way things are.

And they moved me so much. They were so honest about their fears, what kind of holds them back, what excites them, and they also started saying about things that they were already doing. And I think we need to treasure and give acknowledgement to everything we are already doing. Van Jones, a favorite spiritually-minded activist that I know, he once did this talk, he’s an African American environmental justice activist, worked in the White House before he was hounded out. He was talking to a group of White people about how to be good allies to people of color, and he said, and I quote, “Grow your damn comfort zones!”

And so we talked about comfort zones, and one thing that came up is that some people were talking about fears of radical nonviolent protest getting physical violence and repression back, and then one of the young women said, “But maybe we have a stereotype of what activism is.” And she sort of articulated that there’s, and other people did too, there is this personal dimension, there is this professional dimension, there is this public dimension, and all are valuable, and sometimes it’s easier to start here. But I know for myself, I’m a little easier here, and to get really down to personal integrity, that’s much tougher for me. But all that spectrum is important to work.

And then we talked about, and I raised the idea, cause I agreed, I said Gandhi talked about three major pathways for change. The first one we might call Normal Channels, and that’s elections, lobbying, letters to the editor, litigation, the things that Friends Committee on National Legislation does well. But we shouldn’t just leave it up to them! It’s our stuff! And Gandhi said, ok, I’m under British imperialism, I don’t have any of these levers, but if you live in a country that does, don’t be foolish—use them as much as you can. Then another pathway for change, which Gandhi is very known for, is the resistance program, what he called the resistance program, which is mass nonviolent resistance to change the personnel, policy, or structures of big institutions. And Quakers have some history with that, and with luck, we will have more history with that.

And then there’s something that’s not as widely known that Gandhi called the constructive program. Which is, you don’t wait for permission, you’re not always pushing against an institution to change, you work with your neighbors. and you create alternative institutions. And I work a lot, and I can talk more with people. We had a workshop on the transition town movement, but that’s basically organizing at the local scale, with your neighbors, to move from a fierce dependence on fossil fuels, and a whole way of life and culture, to a resilient local economy, with alternative, locally owned businesses that are thriving and are producing not everything, but a lot of the key things that can make us secure when the inevitable shocks to the system come, and the ecological word for that is “resilience.” And to me, the transition town movement, along with similar movements, local living economies, and things like that, is just the constructive program writ large.

So different personality types might gravitate to these various paths. Some of us are going to do some combination of all of them, but there is a way forward. And I think the biggest thing I want to say to us, that I’ve had so many inspiring things in just the few days that I’ve been here, but I’ve also heard some language that I want us to question, where people will go, “Oh, that’s not possible, oh that’s unrealistic, oh, there’s no point, we couldn’t do THAT.” And I’m not going to stand here before you and say yes we can, we can do all of those things. I don’t know. But neither do any of us know that we can’t do them. 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.

I have sometimes heard, luckily I haven’t heard it here, but I have sometimes heard in Quaker circles, and different people say it, and you can tell which kind of camp they’re in, because of which of these things they sneer at: “Oh there are spiritual Quakers, and then there are activist Quakers.” I call on us not to be either one. I call on us to be faithful Quakers. And I was sitting in meeting for worship, in Putney friends meeting, about two years ago, and I was an early one, which was not all that usual. And I’m sitting there in silence and people are coming in, and I have this vision in worship as we were all gathering together, that God was breathing in. And we were all gathering together, and you are gathering together, and God is breathing in. And then at meeting for worship, that graceful, treasured, hour of silence, and some song, and some testimony, is that blessed moment when God is neither breathing in nor breathing out.

And then I had a vision of God breathes out when meeting is over, and we go out in the world, and we embody God’s love and we love what God loves...actively. And I just had this breathing...revelation...revolution...revelation...revolution. And if you might identify as being, oh I’m a spiritual Quaker, I ask you to just breathe in over and over and over and over again without ever breathing out. If you tend to define yourself as, oh, I’m not a spiritual Quaker, I’m an activist Quaker! Spice ! Testimonies! Try breathing out all the time. We need to be faithful, to breathe in...and breathe out.

And I want to close with four questions that Katie came up with for the end of our workshop on the introduction to the transition town movement for Quakers. And she so beautifully said in that workshop, “Becoming ourselves is a team sport.” We don’t just meditate individually; we come together as a spiritual community. And we can help each other. And help ourselves. And so she got us in small groups, and then she asked each person in the group, going around the circle, these four rounds of questions. and I convey these questions for you. They may be something for worship sharing, they may be something for conversations over lunch and dinner, but here are the four questions:

In light, (and I’ve adapted them a little, but...) in light of the Kabarak call, what are you feeling called to do?

The next round of question: what skills and attitudes will you need to develop as you keep faith with your call?

The third round of question is: what are the inner and outer stumbling blocks that you need to overcome to be faithful and to be skillful?

And I think a lot of people had a little trouble with this last one. And it may be one of the more important ones. And it’s how we can help each other be faithful. The last question was: what kind of help could you ask for, from this community, to help you become ever more faithful to your call?

Thank you all so much. ~~~

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.

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