Dear Friends: Stand up straight. Those words can sound scolding – or they can sound encouraging. Deciding whether or not to obey directions, we consider the source. We consider whether we think that source cares about our best interests.
Obedience doesn’t mean the same thing to people who have status and power as it does to those who don’t. In some settings, we’ll find we have status and power, and in others, we won’t. From a position of weakness, the question is: Which directions to follow? From a position of power, the question is: Which directions to give?
I hear you telling me what to think and say and do, according to your judgments of what’s right and beautiful and good. I hear myself telling you what I think would be in your best interest, which happens to fit into my own plans and beliefs about life.
As Friends, our faith is not a collection of beliefs. Our faith is the ground we walk on. Early Quaker scholar Robert Barclay explained that Friends “distinguish betwixt . . . the saving heart-knowledge, and the soaring, airy head-knowledge” (1678). Our faith is the solid rock that lies beneath the changing, chattering gravel of arguments, theologies, and notions that naturally result when faith is blasted by reality. We have to listen hard to hear the note of constancy ringing through the chatter.
At the same time, we live and move in the chatter. It’s hard to get our footing on shifting gravel, but even so, we’re called to take the next step forward. We have to watch for gravel as much as for solid ground, and watch how our path lies on both. Amid the chatter, the note of constancy is the note that calls us to our highest selves.
We should not dismiss the quest for our highest humanity as a delusion of grandeur. Love, justice, and truth – mere words to describe airy notions. Love, justice, and truth – our bedrock for building The Beloved Community with all life on Earth. Amid the chatter, when we hear the words, “love, justice, and truth,” we need to follow those words to their source. Right down the road from the Western Friend office, mere mortals are marketing a “Fifty-State Plan for Renewable Energy in the U.S. by 2050” and a “Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere.” (See thesolutionsproject.org and mahb.stanford.edu.) Audacious plans! Prideful plans! The plans of fools for love.
Let’s not shy away. Let’s stand up straight. Let’s follow the calling expressed for us by Maya Angelou during the 1993 Presidential Inauguration of Bill Clinton:
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.