On Weapons

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Dear Friends: Almost anything can serve as a weapon, even life-giving water. All living creatures on earth have evolved (are evolving) fortifications against attack. Cellular life is fortified by membranes, and human societies are fortified by lines in the sand. Nutrients and attractive ideas gain access through those fortifications. Poisons and slander are rebuffed. Inside our fortifications, ideally, scarcity and excess are minimized as we “give us this day our daily bread;” but in actuality, scarcity and excess are the pumping pistons of empire, trampling our planet today.

Scarcity and excess are enforced, in large part, by weapons. However, we can never rid the world of weapons entirely. So we confront instead the problem of good and evil, choices between right order and malignant excess, choices between visions of perfection for all life on earth and self-deceptive, self-indulgent quests for personal power.

Climate science journalist and epistemologist David Roberts explained recently:

People do not think like scientists. Scientists keep an open mind and draw no conclusions until they gather evidence, and then they let the evidence speak to them. . . [This is] difficult even for scientists. . . Most people, most of the time, think like lawyers – they have a case, they have their conclusion in hand, and they’re going out, gathering information, trying to build a case. . .Normal people, in normal day-to-day life, . . . [are] very emotionally bound up with what they believe. . . And all the evidence flying this way and that, and all the arguments and framing . . . all that stuff just turns out to be more or less useless . . . [People] change their minds . . . when their trusted leaders tell them to. . . (nbcnews.com/think/opinion/ December 4, 2018)

To become a trusted leader is to accept a sort of anointing. George Fox instructed Friends to submit to God’s leadership and also to submit to God’s imperative that they provide what leadership they could to all humanity. “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone . . .” (1656)

The “carriage and life” here are ones that demonstrate humility and kindness as the weapons that best overcome malice. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23: 4-5)

Both Fox and the psalmist direct us to go forth into unknown territory. The world is full of barriers and deceptions. The world is full of blind corners and surprise attacks. Even so, with the knowledge that we carry, always, a blessing and an overflowing cup of goodness and kindness, we need only to remind ourselves of that blessing, that cup, to travel calmly through adversity.

As Friends, we know that deception is a flimsy weapon. We know that truth will out in the end. We know from experience that evidence, carefully and impartially observed and assembled, is always more trustworthy than pretty packaging. And we also know from experience that evidence is slow in coming, that we must have patience, that the table will be laid before us in its own good time.

So, a-walking we must go. Although the weapons of empire are trampling the earth, we must go out among them. We must go out with nothing specific to prove. We must go out to see and be seen. Our fortifications are our cheerfulness and our spirit of discovery. We can discover poison and slander in the shadows and call them out. We can discover patterns and examples of good order in life as well, and call those out, too. As Kenneth Boulding said, “What exists, is possible.” Truth exists. The common good exists. The dignity of every life exists. A banquet is laid before us and anything can serve as a weapon. May we discover how to deliver the forces of goodness and kindness to all humanity, and deliver all life on earth from human malice and deceit. ~~~