Thank God for Diversity!

VIELFALT im Augenblick” (“Diversity in a blink of an eye”) is the title of a photography exhibition which my wife, Alexandra Bosbeer, is putting on here in Siegburg, near Bonn, where we live. The exhibition opens on 19 November, so our flat has been a hive of industry with photographs being printed in various sizes and stuck on the wall in the hallway to create a mosaic of pictures of people, trees and other natural “objects”, and views of infrastructure in the modern world in which we live. My wife describes the (carefully selected) assortment of images as a “mosaic of hopes, dreams, experiences, opportunities and disappointments”. It is life as seen through the lens of her camera.

As I left the church after worship this morning, leaves were floating down from the sky, blown over from a large tree in the churchyard. I love the variety of colours in the autumn: yellow, brown, red, green and all shades in between. As a song-writer, I find that autumn (or “fall” as my American friends would say) is as much a source of inspiration as spring. Here are a couple of verses from one of my songs:

In this dark world we rarely see
The beauty of the Earth,
The richly coloured tapestry
Surrounding us from birth.

In these dark times of fear and strife
We need the light to see
The beauty of each human life,
Of all humanity.

Both the natural world and the human race make up a richly coloured tapestry. The rich diversity of living creatures and of human beings is beautiful to behold in every Augenblick, in every present moment. Let us treasure this diversity, not only because it is beautiful, but also because it is essential to our survival on this planet.

Anyone who has any understanding of ecology knows that the more diverse an ecosystem is in terms of the variety of species (biodiversity), the more stable it is. The web of life contains threads of many colours. The greater the diversity, the more resilient the web is. A thread of one colour can be removed without weakening the web significantly. One species may be wiped out by disease, for example, but this does not cause the ecosystem to collapse. On the other hand, an ecological community which has only relatively few species is much more susceptible to collapse, e.g. if one of the species dies out for some reason. A web with threads of only a few different colours is seriously weakened when all the threads of one colour are removed.

Much the same applies to human communities. Multicultural communities in which people respond to change in a variety of ways are more resilient than monocultural communities. When change hits a community, when a harvest fails or a factory closes down, the more diverse the community is in terms of agriculture or industry, the better the community will be able to cope. The resilience of communities and societies in our modern world depends on cultural diversity. We need the wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise of lots of different groups in order to tackle the complex problems which communities and nations now face in a globalised world.

At the global level, we need the unfettered wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise of every community and group throughout the world in order to manage climate change. So we need to put our energy into building intercultural and international cooperation in all fields of life: scientific, technological, economic, social, and political.

Nine months have passed since I last posted on this blog. One of the reasons for this – apart from being busy with other things – is that I have been left speechless by the result of the referendum in the UK. The decision to leave the European Union has left me more sad than I can say and more angry than I like to admit. Outside the European Union, especially if there is a “hard Brexit”, the UK will become impoverished both economically and culturally.

What makes me angry is not only the result of the referendum, but also the degree of hostility towards “foreigners” which has become increasingly evident in recent months. I read in the Guardian yesterday about Germans living in the UK who now feel that they are unwelcome. Neighbours are asking when they are going to leave. If a significant number of these German people leave the UK, this will have a negative impact on the NHS, on universities, and on the companies in which they work. The UK will be poorer both economically and socially. And then what about the Poles, the Portuguese, the Romanians, the Latvians, the Greeks, the Italians, and the Spanish…? Are they all going to feel unwelcome and be encouraged to leave? Is our supposedly Christian nation then going to tell all Muslims and Jews to leave? Heaven forbid!

Thank God for the diversity of the natural world and the diversity of the human race.

Who are we?

Does the picture which we paint of ourselves as Quakers actually reflect reality? I suspect that we often think more highly of ourselves than we have reason to. In reality we fall short both as individuals and as a faith community – just like everyone else. Reality is somewhat different from the rhetoric.

But let’s not beat ourselves up about that. We need to recognise our failings – as individuals and as meetings or worship groups, take care of those who have been hurt so that their wounds can heal, forgive ourselves and each other, learn whatever lessons need to be learned (i.e. repent), and do better (i.e. behave more lovingly) in the future.

But the question remains: Who are we?

Last Sunday evening, as three of us were travelling back from a regional meeting north of Duisburg, I asked myself, “Wer sind wir?” (Who are we?). It occurred to me that we might be tempted to exclaim, “Wir sind wer!” (We are Somebody!). Apart from the danger of over-estimating our own importance, we need to know who we are before we can start telling people about ourselves.

At this point I think it is significant to note that George Fox did not go about telling people how wonderful the Religious Society of Friends was. He encouraged/admonished people to turn to their Inward Teacher, the Inward Light of Christ within, to be patterns and examples, and that they would then “come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one”. And he encouraged people to meet together to open themselves to the Light within.

At the end of a blogpost entitled “Joy” posted on 21 June 2014 I reproduced a letter from another early Quaker, Isaac Pennington, to Friends in Amersham. We (Quakers) are fond of quoting the first couple of lines of this letter: “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand”. I’ve heard Friends quote this because it has been their experience of the life of their meeting, for which they are thankful. On other occasions, when there has been conflict in a meeting, it has been quoted to remind Friends of the need to be tender with each other. Sadly, it is sometimes quoted to point out the lack of tenderness and a forgiving spirit in a meeting.

In his letter Isaac Pennington encouraged Friends in Amersham: “Oh! wait to feel this spirit, and to be guided to walk in this spirit, that ye may enjoy the Lord in sweetness, and walk sweetly, meekly, tenderly, peaceably, and lovingly one with another.” When I feel this spirit, I know that I myself am forgiven. And, knowing this, I’m able to forgive anyone who hurts me. Even when I don’t feel this spirit, I try to avoid laying accusations against anyone, however hurt I may be, because of the likelihood that I’m failing to see the beam in my own eye (Matthew 7.1-5). This needn’t stop me from letting it be known that I’ve been hurt – I find Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as taught by Marshall Rosenberg helpful in this respect. But I do try to avoid making hurtful accusations and to bear in mind that any accusation is likely to be hurtful.

When we are able to walk in the spirit of love and tenderness, the Religious Society of Friends becomes what it is meant to be: a faith community. The New Testament word is “koinonia”, often translated as “fellowship”. The Religious Society of Friends is (or should be, I believe) a very particular kind of faith community, i.e. a peace church, “ekklesia” in Greek. A true Christian church or ekklesia is necessarily a peace church, i.e. a faith community or koinonia which engages in peacemaking both internally and in the wider world. There are other criteria (debatable and debated amongst theologians) which need to be met for a faith community to be a true church or “ekklesia”, but active engagement in peacemaking seems to me to be crucial.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, describes what a peace church should be like:

“If then our common life in Christ (“koinonia”) yields anything to stir the heart, any loving consolation, any sharing of the Spirit, any warmth of affection or compassion, fill up my cup of happiness by thinking and feeling alike, with the same love for one another, the same turn of mind, and a common care for unity. There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others better than yourselves. Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.

Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your Life in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 2.1-5)

This is what I think we should aspire to.

We need, however, to beware of expecting too much from others in our faith community. Whilst we most certainly need to practise loving kindness towards each other in the spirit of love and tenderness, it is a mistake to attempt to do or expect others to do what only the Spirit can do for us. Isaac Pennington writes: “… watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender, and knows it can neither preserve itself, nor help another out of the snare; but the Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.”

There are times when I fail to watch over my “brothers” and “sisters” as I should (for I am my brothers’ and my sisters’ keeper). I have to wait upon the Lord to preserve me and others from harm. And we all need to wait upon the Lord to help us out of the snare. When we wait upon the Lord and live in the spirit of love and tenderness, the Spirit will guide and strengthen us as we keep going on our spiritual journeys.

Living from the Centre

In the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9:55) there is an account of how James and John offered to call down fire from heaven to destroy a village which had refused to welcome Jesus when he was on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus rebuked his two disciples, telling them that they did not know what spirit they were of. Jesus did not come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.

James Naylor, one of the early Quakers, knew a spirit which “delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong” (Quaker Faith & Practice 19.12).

In a declaration to Charles II the early Quakers expressed their conviction that the “Spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it.” They claimed: “we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.” (Quaker Faith & Practice 24.04)

When I was here in Quaker House, Brussels, 28 years ago, I read Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion. It made a deep and lasting impression on me. Here are some passages which I come back to (or they come back to me) from time to time:

“Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Centre, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.”

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”

“How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning of all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward Him who calls in the deeps of our souls. Mental habits of inward orientation must be established. An inner, secret turning to God can be made fairly steady, after weeks and months and years of practice and lapses and failures and returns. It is as simple an art as Brother Lawrence found it, but it may be long before we achieve any steadiness in the process. Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet, glad surrender to Him who is within. In secret ejaculations of praise, turn in humble wonder to the Light, faint though it may be. Keep contact with the outer world of sense and meanings. Here is no discipline in absent-mindedness. Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes, keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake.”

I’m still a long way from consciously keeping up an inward life of prayer and worship throughout the day. But from time to time a song will come to mind which I seem to have been singing to myself unconsciously. I often go for an hour’s cycle ride before breakfast, sometimes together with my wife and sometimes on my own. When I’ve been cycling on my own recently a particular song has tended to come to mind:

Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
Wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.
Frei sind wir, da zu wohnen und zu gehen.
Frei sind wir, ja zu sagen oder nein.

Refrain: Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
Wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.

Wir wollen Freiheit, um uns selbst zu finden,
Freiheit, aus der man etwas machen kann.
Freiheit, die auch noch offen ist für Träume,
Wo Baum und Blume Wurzeln schlagen kann.

Und dennoch sind da Mauern zwischen Menschen,
Und nur durch Gitter sehen wir uns an.
Unser versklavtes Ich ist ein Gefängnis
Und ist gebaut aus Steinen unsrer Angst.

Herr, du bist Richter. Du nur kannst befreien.
Wenn du uns freisprichst, dann ist Freiheit da.

Freiheit, sie gilt für Menschen, Völker, Rassen,
Soweit wie deine Liebe uns ergreift.
Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
Wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.

Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and our eternal home.
You leave us free to seek you or reject you,
you give us room to answer „yes“ or „no“.

Chorus: Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and our eternal home.

We long for freedom where our truest being
is given hope and courage to unfold.
We seek in freedom space and scope for dreaming,
and look for ground where trees and plants can grow.

But there are walls that keep us all divided;
we fence each other in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks and mortar of our prison,
our pride of self, the prison coat we wear.

O judge us, Lord, and in your judgement free us,
and set our feet in freedom’s open space;
take us as far as your compassion wanders
among the children of the human race.

Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and our eternal home.

(Translation by Fred Kaan.)

The prayer which is most often on my heart is: “Help me to love … better.”

Richard Foster elaborates several forms of spiritual discipline in his book “Celebration of Discipline”. I guess I should remind myself of his suggestions. If I remember rightly, I think fasting may be one of them. I did fast from chocolate during lent this year!

One spiritual discipline which I’ve kept up for about forty years is to set aside time before or during breakfast for spiritual reading. Until a couple of years ago, I always used to read the Losungen, daily Bible verses and short quotations published by the Moravian church. Now I usually read a poem by the 14th century Sufi mystic Hafiz, and some reflections from “Bread for the Journey”, a book of daily readings by Henri Nouwen.

When we manage to follow spiritual disciplines which enable us to live from the Centre, our internal lives become simplified. Thomas Kelly writes: “there is a deeper, an internal simplification of the whole of one’s personality, stilled, tranquil, in childlike trust listening ever to Eternity’s whisper, walking with a smile into the dark. This amazing simplification comes when we ‘centre down’, when life is lived with singleness of eye, from a holy Centre.”

And: “Life from the Centre is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. … It is radiant.”

I should stress that this is an ideal, to which I aspire. I’m still, quite frequently, beset by anxiety and frustration and annoyance. And yet I hear a “voice” from the Centre telling me, in the words of a Taizé chant (after Teresa of Avila): “Nada te turbe, nada te espante; quien a dios tiene nada le falta. Nada te turbe, nada te espante: solo Dios basta.” (Let nothing trouble you, let nothing distress you. Nothing troubles the one who depends on God. God alone suffices.)

As we learn to live from the Centre, we become transformed. Our lives become “moving images of the Eternal Life” (Thomas Kelly).

In Testament of Devotion Thomas Kelly writes about transformation: “Guidance of life by the Light within is not exhausted as is too frequently supposed, in special leadings toward specific tasks. It begins first of all in a mass revision of our total reaction to the world. Worshipping in the light we become new creatures, making wholly new and astonishing responses to the entire outer setting of life. These responses are not reasoned out. They are, in large measure, spontaneous reactions of felt incompatibility between “the world’s” judgments of value and the Supreme Value we adore deep in the Centre. There is a total Instruction as well as specific instructions from the Light within.”

As we practice spiritual disciplines and live more and more from the divine Centre within, we become transformed, no longer ego-driven, but Spirit-led, as were the early Christians at Pentecost, as were the early Quakers, as women, men and children of various faiths have been throughout the ages. If, through spiritual discipline, we nurture our spiritual roots, we will inevitably be transformed.

This isn’t a path which I feel able to follow on my own. I need to be part of a worshipping community, ideally a local Quaker Meeting which is able to centre down during meetings for worship and become a truly gathered Meeting. Then the Meeting – as well as the individual members – is able to live from the Centre.

When conflict arises, as it inevitably does, instead of one or more members imposing their own “solution”, the Meeting – listening to the inner voice of love – is able to come up with creative responses to situations in which it is difficult to reconcile everyone’s needs. This requires humility and an ability to listen to each other. Maybe this is the most important spiritual discipline: listening with love.

Wilfried Warneck is my brother!

Early in 1990 I took over from Wilfried Warneck as executive secretary of Church and Peace, the European network of peace churches, communities and groups. For the previous 15 years Wilfried had built up what was the Historic Peace Churches Continuation Committee into a network of more than thirty peace churches, communities, and peace and service agencies such as Eirene (International Christian Service for Peace), and Quaker Peace & Service.

When I took over Wilfried’s post as executive secretary, he took on the role of chairman. This could have been a recipe for disaster. I remember that it took Wilfried several weeks to clear out of his office. But, rather than breathing down my neck, he was able to be helpful and supportive without succumbing to the temptation to engage in micromanagement.

Admittedly there were times when I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the ideas which he had, which were going to mean more work for me when I already had enough work to do. But we enjoyed a good working relationship which was characterised by mutual respect. It surely helped that we prayed and ate together in the Laurentiuskonvent on a daily basis during the working week.

Wilfried and his wife Ruth had established the Laufdorf group of the Laurentiuskonvent about ten years earlier together with Ernst von der Recke. When I arrived in Laufdorf I was keen to join in daily worship and shared meals, although it wasn’t until Wilfried and Ruth left Laufdorf three or four years later that I became a member of the group and eventually joined the Laurentiuskonvent.

Daily worship in the chapel under the roof of the communal house of the Laurentiuskonvent provided the spiritual basis for my work for Church and Peace. Wilfried (and Marie-Noëlle von der Recke) provided the theological basis. I learnt about exegesis and hermeneutics. (I still need to remind myself what the latter means, though!) Wilfried’s sermons at Church and Peace conferences and on other occasions were informative and inspiring. Translating them for the Church and Peace newsletter wasn’t always easy, because of the complex German sentence construction, but it was always rewarding. Wilfried gave me a grounding in the theological basis of the peace church message (i.e. the Gospel of nonviolence), which we, especially Quakers, neglect at our peril.

As I write (on a train to Cologne), it occurs to me that my first visit to Bonn (or perhaps it was the second) was together with Wilfried and Ruth to protest against the first Iraq war. This was before, or soon after, the reunification of Germany, so Bonn was still the capital. It may have been on that occasion that Wilfried took me to the Malteserhof in Königswinter, just across the river (Rhine) from Bonn, where there was a community of the Laurentiuskonvent during the 1960s and 70s. Wilfried and Ruth, who were both founding members of the Laurentiuskonvent, lived there until they moved to Laufdorf in 1977.

After fleeing from East Prussia towards the end of the Second World War, Wilfried passed his Abitur in 1949. He studied Protestant theology in Bethel and Heidelberg and subsequently spent three years with the Brothers of Taizé – in Taizé and in Marseille. One thing that I very much appreciated about Wilfried was his ecumenical orientation, which meant that he was welcomed and respected not only within the Protestant church in Germany, but also in Mennonite congregations, Catholic religious communities, and in radical protestant communities, such as the Basisgemeinde Wulfshagenerhütten. He even embraced an English Quaker as his successor at the helm of Church and Peace!

I had served for about three years as executive secretary of Church and Peace when Wilfried stepped down as chairman. At his last General Assembly as chairman – I forget where it was – we held a small farewell party for him. I remember making a speech in which I asked – and explored various possible answers to – the question, “Who is Wilfried Warneck?” I finally came to the conclusion: “Wilfried Warneck is my brother.”

I didn’t attempt to count, but I should think there were more than a hundred of us who gathered in Wethen in north Hesse for Wilfried’s funeral. Besides all the members and friends of the Laurentiuskonvent in Wethen there was a good number of people from further afield, from Wulfshagenerhütten (near Kiel) in the north of Germany to Bammental (east of Heidelberg) in the south.

From Laufdorf there was Ernst and Marie-Noëlle von der Recke, Theodor von Verschuer, Davorka Lovrekovic, the current general secretary of Church and Peace, and, much to my delight, Ernst and Marie-Noëlle’s oldest daughter, Josepha, with her dark-haired and blue-eyed six-month-old baby, Johanna. From the Hamburg group of the Laurentiuskonvent there was Antje and Martin Heider-Rottwilm. Antje is the current chairperson of Church and Peace.

It was good to see a number of old friends from my time as executive secretary: two members of the Basisgemeinde Wulfshagenerhütten, who served at different times on the administrative committee; and several Mennonites, including Wolfgang Krauß, who was secretary of the German Mennonite Peace Committee, and Brigitte Albrecht, who served for a while as a volunteer in the Church and Peace office during Wilfried’s tenure.

Then there was Ulrich Frey, who was executive secretary of Aktionsgemeinschaft Dienst für den Frieden (AGDF, Action Committee Service for Peace), another of the organisations which Wilfried founded, along with Weltfriedensdienst, Eirene, the Laurentiuskonvent, and Oekumenischer Dienst/Schalomdiakonat – now “gewaltfrei handeln” (“acting without violence”).

Wilfried was a practical visionary. He not only had a vision of what a new organisation could do. He was able to win support for his vision and turn it into reality. This was all in the days of communication by post and telephone – no e-mail, no mobile phones, no Skype… Wilfried worked long hours by all accounts and was often away travelling, sometimes together with his wife, Ruth.

After the funeral, tea and cake were provided by the Laurentiuskonvent and the Oekumenische Gemeinschaft (Ecumenical Community) in Wethen. Quite a number of us took a turn to speak about Wilfried. Ruth reminded us that he was human. I remembered the observation that I made about twenty years ago: Wilfried Warneck is my brother.

Kindness

This morning I read a short poem by the 14th century poet Hafiz:

Once a young woman said to me, “Hafiz, what

is the sign of someone who knows God?”

I became very quiet, and looked deep into her

eyes, then replied,

“My dear, they have dropped the knife. Someone

who knows God has dropped the cruel knife

that most so often use on their tender self

and others.”

We need to be kind to ourselves as well as to others. How else can we love our neighbours as ourselves?

Jesus tells his disciples to “love one another, as I have loved you”. And he tells us to love our enemies as well. Somewhere in the Old Testament we are told “If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink.” We are to be kind to our enemies as well as to our friends.

We need to be sensitive to each other’s needs. If we see that someone is thirsty, we can give them something to drink. If we see that they are hungry, we can give them something to eat. If we see that someone is struggling under a heavy burden, we can try to carry a share of the burden or provide support in some way. We should, at the very least, avoid adding to their burden.

As well as giving to our neighbours, we need to receive what they have to give us. Healthy relationships depend on give and take on both sides. I’m reminded of the chorus, or it might just be the first verse, of a song which I have often joined in singing at ecumenical events or on the odd occasions when I’ve attended an Anglican church service:

Brother, sister, let me serve you

Let me be as Christ to you.

Pray that I may have the grace to

Let you be my servant too.

There is an ancient story told in various parts of Asia – you may well know it – about heaven and hell. In hell a large number of people are sitting around a table laden with food, but they are all starving, because the spoons that they each have are too long for them to be able to feed themselves. In heaven, the situation is virtually identical: people sitting around a table laden with plentiful food. They even have the same long-handled spoons. The only difference is that the people are feeding each other. No-one is going hungry. And everyone is having a great party!

So let us be kind to one another. Let us persist in being kind even to those who hurt us. Perhaps they will, given time, be kind to us in return. If not, no harm is done by our being kind to them. And it may be that those who hurt us are themselves most in need of kindness. We also hurt each other unintentionally, due to a lack of sensitivity or a failure in communication. We need then to forgive one another and accept forgiveness from one another. We need to be able to forgive and to recognise our own need for forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of kindness not only towards the person who has hurt us, but also an act of kindness towards ourselves. Harbouring bitterness or a grudge seriously damages our spiritual health. On the other hand, few things do more for our spiritual health than being kind to one another. So let’s drop the knife!

Quakers: ego-driven or Spirit-led?

A couple of weeks ago I went along to the Sunday morning “parish eucharist” at the Anglican church where my brother is the church warden. The eucharist nourished me spiritually, as I hoped it might. The homily did not.

The main point that the visiting priest made, without any real theological justification, so far as I could tell, was that a church has to have a hierarchical structure to ensure unity and prevent corruption. Quite how a hierarchical structure would prevent corruption within the church was not clear to me. Indeed, I’m inclined to think that hierarchical structures are more prone to corruption than non-hierarchical ones.

Anyway, I’m thankful that I belong to a church which does not have a hierarchy of clergy. We (Quakers) find unity not in our beliefs, which are multifarious, but in our practice – of listening to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts and being led by the Spirit as individuals and as worshipping communities. At least, this is the ideal to which we aspire.

We don’t always get it right, of course. Too often we are ego-driven rather than Spirit-led. Quaker Meetings and Quaker organisations then become battlegrounds, instead of peaceable and peace-making communities. We each push our own priorities and insist on things being done as we think fit. We can end up tearing each other and the meeting or organisation apart.

This is a long way away from discerning ways forward which are in harmony with the loving purposes of God. We each need to recognise that we may be mistaken in our perceptions or in our analysis. And we each need to submit ourselves to the discernment process of the Meeting as a whole.

This applies especially to the clerk of a Meeting or a committee. The clerk serves as a facilitator, not as a leader or a decision-maker. Decisions need to be arrived at by the Meeting or committee as a whole, through a discernment process involving all those concerned. Our egos need to be set aside. If a clerk cannot set his or her ego aside when a particular issue is under discussion, he/she needs to step aside from the role of clerk during that particular discussion. Serving as the clerk of a Meeting or a committee requires a considerable degree of spiritual maturity.

Local, area, regional, and yearly Quaker Meetings are, ideally, non-hierarchical churches. Quaker organisations, on the other hand, and this may include the administration of a yearly meeting, are necessarily hierarchical, when it comes to day-to-day operations. It just doesn’t work to have day-to-day decisions about the operation of an organisation made either by individuals according to their own whims or by a committee meeting for worship. Whilst overall strategy needs to be discerned by governing bodies according to Quaker practice, the day-to-day management and administrative decision-making needs to be left to an individual who has both an overview and detailed knowledge of the workings of the organisation.

The role of a governing body is not only to discern a broad strategy for the organisation but also to ensure that the head of the organisation has the support that he or she needs to perform the complex task of leading (giving administrative direction to) the organisation. The role of members of a governing body is one of facilitation rather than leadership.

I have found it especially helpful to read Roger C. Wilson’s 1949 Swarthmore Lecture, Authority, Leadership and Concern, in which he draws on his experience in the Friends Relief Service. One paragraph is particularly instructive:

A distinction must be made between moral and administrative responsibility. To determine what shall be done and the quality of spirit in which ends shall be pursued, is a moral responsibility; to determine how that shall be done and to see that it is done, is an administrative responsibility within the moral framework. Moral responsibility is found by Friends through “the sense of the Meeting”. Administrative responsibility in complex matters is taken by individuals given the task of translating the “sense of the Meeting” into action, being guided all along by the moral obligation to remain true to the “sense of the Meeting”.

Within a Quaker organisation we all share moral responsibility. A few individual Friends take on administrative responsibility. They deserve our respect and need our support.

Peace

“I told (the Commonwealth Commissioners) I lived

in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.”

George Fox

 

Peace is about people living in right relationship with each other and with the planet. Peace is about justice and wellbeing for everyone. No individual can live in peace, unless the whole community is at peace.

“Shalom”, the Hebrew word for peace in the Bible, encompasses the wellbeing of the whole community. Shalom is characterised by just and peaceful relationships.

“Pax”, peace imposed by force, is not peace at all. It may be better than open warfare, but it serves to perpetuate systems of injustice.

During the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire Jesus challenged unjust laws which allowed a soldier to compel a peasant to carry his pack, a landowner to take the cloak of someone who was unable to pay a debt, or the master of a house to humiliate a servant by hitting him across the face with the back of his hand. Walter Wink has described how Jesus advocated imaginative forms of nonviolent action as a way of overcoming the violence of unjust laws and customs: carrying a soldier’s pack beyond the one-mile limit, giving the landowner one’s shirt as well as one’s cloak, turning the other cheek to the master of the house.

Jesus wasn’t advocating meek submission. He was encouraging poor folk to harness the power of active nonviolence, to stand up for themselves whilst at the same time demonstrating goodwill towards their oppressors. He told his followers: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you and spitefully use you.”

Martin Arnold, a retired German protestant pastor, has coined the term Guetekraft for the power of active nonviolence, the power of goodness. In four volumes Martin explains how Guetekraft, “goodness-power”, works – even against a ruthless dictator. Martin’s books are the fruit of research into the life and works of three practitioners of nonviolence who have successfully employed Guetekraft: Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Bart de Ligt.

It is because Guetekraft is powerful, that we do not need to resort to armed violence, which is invariably counterproductive, as Holly Near points out in the chorus of her song, “Foolish Notion”: “Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong? What a foolish notion that war is called devotion, when the greatest warriors are the ones who stand for peace.”

If we live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars, as George Fox did, we will not be persuaded to join an army, however just their cause may seem to be.

Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence breeds hatred and further violence.

On the other hand, peace grows from the seeds of peace. Small gestures of goodwill begin the creation of a climate of trust in which antagonists can eventually cooperate to dismantle systems of injustice. It may be a long and painful process, but it is far more likely than military action to bear the fruits of peace.

Key to the way in which Guetekraft works is the willingness to accept the costs of engaging in nonviolent action rather than do violence to one’s opponent. Peace warriors may sometimes be called upon to make the greatest sacrifice as Jesus did. Franz Jaegerstaetter, the Austrian farmer who was executed because he refused to serve in Hitler’s army, comes to my mind.

Millions of soldiers died in the First World War. What a fruitless undertaking!

When he was dying, Jesus prayed for those who tortured him. He is the Christ within us, the life and power in whom we live and move and have our being.

Jesus told his disciples: “My peace I leave you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives peace do I give you my peace.”

This war-torn world of ours is very much in need of peace – in Syria, in Palestine and Israel, in Ukraine, and in northern Iraq.

Britain is in need of peace too. A society in which significant numbers of people have to go to food banks to get enough to eat is not a peaceful one. And Britain’s possession of weapons of mass destruction makes the world more dangerous and less peaceful.

The world is in need of the peace that Jesus gives. We are called as individuals to be peacemakers. And we are called as communities of faith to be a force for peace in the world.

It is hardly surprising that we have got into the habit of thinking that life is a right to be defended. But we need to think of life, like peace, as a gift to be shared.

There are Quakers serving with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). I know of a Friend serving with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine. And there are Quakers serving in Afghanistan and in northern Iraq.

By no means all of us are called to this kind of service. There is much that we can do to foster peaceful community relations wherever we happen to live. And we can play our part in the peace campaigning and advocacy work of our faith community. When we join together with other faith communities and harness the power of goodness, we will become a force to be reckoned with.