Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Sentiments and actions derived from the ego characterize political action, whereas sentiments and actions derived from divine love characterize spiritual action. As Quakers we are called to the latter and not the former. Our well-known testimonies do not call us to political action; they call us to spiritual action.
The ego will always want us to devolve into a campaign of smearing individuals, re-acting out of fear, losing all sense of respect as anger descends upon us and impatience begins to control us. The ego blinds us to think our ‘cause’ or political view is right and another’s ‘cause’ or view is wrong, because the ego does not want to join with those egos in opposition to our view; it would rather have these ‘others’ feel as though they have “lost” as we “win”.
God, as explained by Jesus and other enlightened spiritual leaders, does not see people as ‘losers’ or ‘winners’. Divine love recognizes that together we are all just people who are trying to chart our way. This divine love is what ‘seeing that of God in everyone’ is all about.
Divine love will always ask us to see divine love in others as we seek the way forward together. It asks us to listen to opposing voices so we may hear their concerns, their fears, their hardships, their hopes – so we may become humbled as even Jesus was when on Earth, all the while holding fast to our place of Love, Light, and Truth. Divine love asks us to be patient as God is patient with each of us – even if Truth does not emerge within or without in our earthly lifetime.
The above description of Divine love may not be dramatic as the ego would prefer our ‘action’ to be. But it fulfills the spiritual truth to “love thy enemy” by our actions whenever we engage them by our spiritual entreaty to their heart rather than their ego.
Among the efforts I've observed and taken part in to mitigate the plight and persecution of human beings deprived of housing here in San Diego -- The leadership of such movements has been overwhelmingly crippled by 'ego' as in self-glorification, self-dramatization, inability to cooperate with other people striving for the same ends.
I have seen much the same at work in the various charitable organizations that help a few lucky individuals escape that condition -- while perpetuating popular illusions about the scale and nature of the situation, and in the process raking in significant donations and government contracts.
Unfortunately there seems to be a remarkable shortage of sane people among those willing to recognize the problem and undertake the impossible burden of trying to rectify it.
Good observation Forrest. I've noticed much of the same, and it has left me wanting a more spiritually grounded experience such as I usually experience among Friends. I like to practice my faith and relationship with the divine whenever involved in activism - however, little opportunity to do so. So, I am no longer inclined to join in efforts with the world at large.
The disagreement with what you've said: I wouldn't write off all activism, including even adversarial activism, as necessarily 'ego' based nor destructive.
If you follow Jesus' recommendations, you cannot be anyone's enemy. But he had enemies, and never claimed that his followers wouldn't have them as well. To love your enemies, you logically must have some!
So the question might be, what does 'love' entail, when some of the people you love are doing harm with their ideas and/or practices? If you're John Woolman, that might come [almost!] naturally. If you're me, that's a problem I've yet to settle. But "opponent" is a better concept than "enemy".
I'm not sure either brings "inner peace". We are so fixated on accomplishments that whether it's spiritual or political it will not bring true inner peace and if you are blessed with true inner peace you might be able to engage in either activity without losing it, depending on God's call on your life. I would think that is the principle behind acting on a "leading". If it is a divinely inspired leading it should not disrupt your inner peace and if it's a leading on your spiritual journey to inner peace that should work also so long as you understand it for what it is.
Another question: Isn't there a 'secondary gain' in ascribing discreditable motives to people who take on distasteful tasks of advocacy that anyone 'normal' would just as soon ignore and turn away from, like being a Samaritan who finds some pesky Judean traveller lying beaten up by the side of the road, so to speak.
Perfectly nice people are content to remain ignorantly under the spell of the conventional wisdom that would rather find flaws in homeless people (and they do have them, much as homed people do) than contest the entrenched prejudices (proudly held, by many neighborhood do-good organizations) and the popular government policies striving "to raise property values" that somehow make it politically impossible to do the simple, obvious thing (as many European nations do, at least with their own citizens) and house everyone. Does this make people "evil"? Not at all. But the system they belong to is consistently doing evil while they turn a blind eye.
Me? Oh well. I consider this just another affliction sent by God, intended [eventually] to wake this people up. Until that purpose is served, it's just a futile effort. But now and then I need to make some token gesture, hand someone a tamale or show up at a City Council meeting. I felt better when I was whole-heartedly fighting the damned system that brings us these horrors.
Consider this: If Jesus heard of an anti-Roman or anti Sanhedrin rally, protest, or march (which I'm sure there were many spontaneous ones), would he have been likely to join in as one of them?
I would think not because these efforts were political action efforts that easily could devolve into violent speech and actions. They were political actions based on the offended egos of the participants. If he allowed himself to become one of the crowd (joined in on the march and protest), Jesus would be abandoning his spiritual mission. He would be joining with the world's political forces, rather than joining with the Spirit in order to reach the hearts of his listeners.
Instead, Jesus no doubt chose to use his own spiritual action to address those same concerns that the mobs had, but at a higher spiritual level. He did not seek to use the world's violent methods to bring about forcible change to the social order that was permitting Roman subjugation and cruelty towards the Jewish population. This did not mean that he didn't empathize with the crowds/mobs. He did. But he was all about spiritual action based on divine love that reaches the heart; not political action that is pitting ego against ego. Jesus, instead of mob protests, chose to find hearers to his message of divine love spoken in practical terms in order to reach the hearts of his listeners - much as our Quaker testimonies are designed to do.
I suspect Jesus was wise enough not to carry placards that scream slogans against the Roman puppet King or the Roman rulers. Instead, he spoke to those who engaged him (whether the powerful or abused) about the spiritual outlook that would bring inner peace derived from a relationship with a loving God. His message was not based on the politics of this world. It was based on his own divine experiences.
I have been led in my own heart to believe Quakers would make more progress in our social justice activity if we did the same as Jesus did in this twenty-first century - just as Quakers from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries came from a place of spiritual action instead of political action. Look at Woolman, Hicks, Naylor, Rogers, Story, Fox, Fell, and many others who approached social change from a vantage point of spiritual action - not political action. During the twentieth century, Quakers started going off the rails - participating in the world's protests and mobs as just another angry person engaged in political action. We need to go back to our roots, which is the example Jesus provided on how Spirit-led persons bring about change.
Jesus was hung up to die because he sharply and publicly denounced the Roman-style commercial practices by which many Judeans were enriching themselves at the expense of poorer neighbors, those religious authorities who blamed the sufferings of the poor on their sinfulness, the inhuman demands of that faction of the Pharisees who had violently taken over the Pharisee movement of his day (later discredited by the repeated failure of their efforts to drive out the Romans by holy violence), and the High Priestly families who operated the Temple as a fund-raising racket that was impoverishing the pious peasantry, collecting tribute for the Roman occupiers, and living in remarkable luxury.
It's interesting that tonight, before we meditated, Anne read me the following, which she'd found on a bookmark inside a library book we checked out the other day:
The bookmark was titled 'A Franciscan Blessing':
"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
"May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
"May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
"May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
"And the blessing of God, Who creates, redeems and sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more."
I have no idea whether that was truly Franciscan, but I do see more truth in it than in anyone's efforts to inherit "Inner Peace."
I don't have the right sort of foolishness anymore, and would rather leave it to God (acting through foolish humans, much of the time) to "make a difference in this world." But I count too much contentment with the ways of this world as a worse affliction than the occasional fit of passionate indignation.
Spiritual action, as Jesus practiced, does not eliminate our denouncing atrocities and making known the fallacy of elitism, subjugation, greed, manipulation, corruption, and cruelty. What's different from political action is that the divine spirit of love is in charge of our action rather than the ego (as often happens in political action). It's a fine line that makes all the difference within. There's peace within when God is in charge. There's frustration and conflict within when we are directed by our ego.
Another aspect of political action flowing from the divine spirit of love is that once the cause itself takes on its own political life and becomes popular you should be able to walk away from it and leave it in the hands of others. In other words you should be able to step out of the limelight when appropriate and not seek personal notoriety for its own sake.
Spiritually there's a need to clothe the naked but deciding how decent the clothing should be is a political matter.
The Romans and their clients would and did kill people for prophetic action, that is, spiritual-political actions that threatened their rule. Jesus was neither the first nor the last to die that way. They did not kill people for preaching that they should love everyone.
"Sex is dirty if you do it right" [Asimov], but politics is only dirty when people do it without love and truth. Doing politics with love and truth can get you killed, as Martin Luther King's fate also shows.
Somewhat ironically, skilled politicians who need to work together in a Congress or Parliament for the long term, may have less ego than we give them credit for. They develop the skills to work with adversaries, and to switch sides on issues when necessary.
Not that we have many such politicians (many are just ideological hacks), but I think they exist. They don't operate along strictly ideological lines. Intuition, openness to divine grace, is there. They'll listen to unfamiliar points of view and alter behavior accordingly, over time.
I've taken to using the terms "politician" and "social engineer" quite interchangeably. That doesn't mean any given politician is good at engineering, social or otherwise. However, intrinsic to engineering are notions of testing, feedback, planning for the long haul, not just tomorrow or the day after.
I consider it a more spiritually based practice, to think ahead 50-100 years on some projects, as it is to continue projects with that kind of history. Simply reacting to what others are doing or saying in the more immediate time frame, is more a recipe for feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, as they're always more of them than there are of you and "right now" is close to "too late" where planning ahead is concerned.