Every living thing needs a certain amount of shelter to survive. Some humans cling aggressively to mighty castles; which is to say, they cling to piles of stones. Others remain ever ready to respond to The Call to pick up their tents and walk. The responsive ones are called humble; which is to say, they are blessed.
To inherit a thing gives one freedom to use it – and responsibility for it. The king of the castle that pollutes the surrounding countryside is unlikely to respond to the cries of his neighbors, but he could; he is able to respond; he is response-able. If he chooses to respond with humility (unlikely, but possible), he will act to end the harm that the castle creates. If he did that (unlikely, but possible), he would be called blessed.
More common for kings is to throw their stones at their neighbors. Blessed are the neighbors who duck and keep forging ahead. Blessed are the ones who are struck down. Blessed are the ones who can befriend the mad dog at the castle gate and gain entry. Blessed are the ones who can talk the stone-thrower down from his high perch and win him over as a partner, who can help him understand that only in humility, only in responsiveness, can we rightly inherit our life on Earth.
Those of us who have chosen to carry the burden of loving our enemies – of trying as best we can – must pitch our tents in the open and enjoy our feasts in their presence. But we are not required to invite our enemies into our tents; nor are we even required to invite friendly strangers in. We are obliged to welcome the stranger, but we are left free to decide how far to take that.
In the early days of the Quaker movement – in those decades of revolution, democratic turmoil, and wild innovation – numerous new religious sects sprang into existence and then quickly faded away. The Children of the Light managed to organize themselves into a Society, which has managed to endure as a spiritual home until today. Not everyone who comes into this society feels at home here. Sometimes that’s a sign that we need to improve our manners. Sometimes it’s a sign that we need to tell a stranger, “Welcome,” and then, “Fare-thee-well.”
Joel Bean, the great-great-grandfather of independent Quakers in the West, explained that “the true Church . . . is confined to no nation or denomination, and none are excluded from it. In it there is no schism. All is harmonized and unified in one life.” (1894) The Beloved Community includes many campgrounds. We Friends can help the stranger find a place to call home, perhaps with us or perhaps with others.
In the early days of the Quaker movement – in those days of almost-anything-goes – the Elders at Balby met to determine how to determine what is good order among Friends. In their Epistle of 1656, those Elders advised a set of practices that can help each local Friends’ community unite as a spiritual family and help it navigate discord. In times of discord within a community, these practices include first talking privately with the person who does “walk disorderly . . . to exhort and admonish such with a tender, meek spirit . . .” and if “. . . they do not reform, then let their names and the causes, be sent in writing to some whom the Lord hath raised up in the power of his Spirit to be fathers . . . that the thing may be known to the body [the community]; and with the consent of the whole body, the thing may be determined in the light.”
Each Friends’ community must decide for itself what range of behaviors it can tolerate within its spiritual home. Some will feel called to walk closely beside those who “walk disorderly;” some will feel called to try talking some sense into that guy in the castle; still others will feel called to stay home and bake bread. None should feel called to throw stones at each other. We already live in a broader culture that is spewing hostility in all directions. We need to resolve our differences with patience, humility, and love.
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