My choice, from an early age, has been to engage in social change from the ground up, using the power of organized nonviolence. A distrust of the political process was firmly in place by the time I was 15. As a daughter of Quakers I pledged my allegiance not to a flag or a nation state but to humankind, the two often having little to do with each other.
Over on Mobtownblues, Kevin Griffin Moreno cops to being George Zimmerman. Thankfully, he’s not: when feeling threatened in a recent situation with racial overtones, he chose to walk away, but it is worth asking how different we are from the characters of this tragedy.
I never had much expectation that the trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer would find him guilty. A good team of lawyers can conjure up reasonable doubt over most anything. As as Alafair Burke writes on Huffington, much of what Zimmerman did was protected by Florida’s insanely-crazy “stand your ground” laws.
But even without that, high-profile court cases get so politicized so quickly that they rarely provide any kind of catharsis, let alone justice, when stacked against hundreds of years of racial injustices. And just as Zimmerman’s judgement was colored by his racial history and biases, so too are ours: our opinions about what happened that evening in Sanford, Florida, are much more a reaction to where we fall in the continuums of privileges than we might care to admit.
Privilege is unearned opportunities conferred by how closely we fit a particular stereotype. When I was in my early 20s, I was once pulled over by a policeman when I was driving aimlessly through a sleepy town at 3 am (no good story I’m afraid: I was simply bored, with insomnia). He visibly eased up when he saw I was white, and he got almost avuncular a minute later when he saw the Irish name on my drivers license. I know that almost-forgettable instant could have played out quite differently if I had been black, with a Muslim name, perhaps, and a chip on my shoulder because this was the fifth time that month I had gotten detained for no good reason.
No matter what I do to educate myself, I will always be George Zimmerman to (many) strangers on the street, just as Trayvon Martin will always be a suspicious house burgler for being a black stranger in a hoodie.
The work that needs to be done – or continued, for we need to remember the many times people have done the right thing – couldn’t be answered by a criminal trial anyway. What’s needed is the education of society at large.
One step is all of the conversations taking place on Facebook and around water coolers this week. Let’s talk about the fears that subconsciously drive us. For Zimmerman’s gun was only one of the triggers that killed Martin. It was fear that gave us Sanford’s gated community and its town watch, along with our nation’s permissive gun laws and draconian legal concepts like “standing one’s ground.” It was that potent mix of suspicion that set in motion a situation that left a seventeen year old kid with a pocketful of Skittles lying dead face down in the grass.
Can we learn to understand the ways we live in fear? Can we get to know one another more deeply in that place that breaks down the gates in our hearts?
Not something I’ll do every day, but over on QuakerQuaker I cross-referenced today’s One Year Bible readings with Esther Greenleaf Murer’s Quaker Bible Index. Here’s the link to my post about today: First Month 20: Joseph rises to power in Egypt; Jesus’ parable of wheat & tares and pearls. It’s a particularly rich reading today. Jesus talks about the wheat and the weeds aka the corn and the tares, an interesting parable about letting the faithful and the unfaithful grow together.
As if knowing today is Inauguration Day, Isaac Penington turned it into a political reference: “But oh, how the laws and governments of this world are to be lamented over! And oh, what need there is of their reformation, whose common work it is to pluck up the ears of corn, and leave the tares standing!”
Margaret Fell sees the wheat and tares as an example of jealousy and false ministry: “Oh how hath this envious man gotten in among you. Surely he hath come in the night, when men was asleep: & hath sown tares among the wheat, which when the reapers come must be bound in bundles and cast into the fire, for I know that there was good seed sown among you at the first, which when it found good ground, would have brought forth good fruit; but since there are mixed seedsmen come among you & some hath preached Christ of envy & some of good will, … & so it was easy to stir up jealousy in you, you having the ground of jealousy in yourselves which is as strong as death.”
We get poetry from the seventeen century Elizabeth Bathurst (ahem) when she writes that “the Seed (or grace) of God, is small in its first appearance (even as the morning –light), but as it is given heed to, and obeyed, it will increase in brightness, till it shine in the soul, like the sun in the firmament at noon-day height.”
The parable of the tares became a call for tolerance in George Fox’s understanding: “For Christ commands christian men to “love one another [John 13:34, etc], and love their enemies [Mat 5:44];” and so not to persecute them. And those enemies may be changed by repentance and conversion, from tares to wheat. But if men imprison them, and spoil and destroy them, they do not give them time to repent. So it is clear it is the angels’ work to burn the tares, and not men’s.”
A century later, Sarah Tuke Grubb read and worried about religious education and Quaker drift: “But for want of keeping an eye open to this preserving Power, a spirit of indifference hath crept in, and, whilst many have slept, tares have been sown [Mat 13:25]; which as they spring up, have a tendency to choke the good seed; those tender impressions and reproofs of instruction, which would have prepared our spirits, and have bound them to the holy law and testimonies of truth.”
I hope all this helps us remember that the Bible is our book too and an essential resource for Friends. It’s easy to forget this and kind of slip one way or another. One extreme is getting our Bible fix from mainstream Evangelical Christian sources whose viewpoints might be in pretty direct opposition from Quaker understandings of Jesus and the Gospel (see Jeanne B’s post on The New Calvinism or Tom Smith’s very reasonable concerns about the literalism at the One Year Bible Blog I read and recommend). On the other hand, it’s not uncommon in my neck of the Quaker woods to describe our religion as “Quaker,” downgrade Christianity by making it optional, unmentionable or non-contextual and turning to the Bible only for the obligatory epistle reference.
This was first made clear to me a few years ago by the margins in the modern edition of Samuel Bownas’ “A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Ministry,” which were peppered with the Biblical references Bownas was casually citing throughout. On my second reading (yes it’s that good!) I started looking up the references and realized that: 1) Bownas wasn’t just making this stuff up or quoting willy-nilly; and 2) reading them helped me understand Bownas and by extension the whole concept of Quaker ministry. You’re not reading my blog enough if you’re not getting the idea that this is one of the kind of practices that Robin, Wess and I are going to be talking about at the Convergent workshop next month. If you can figure out the transport then get yourself to Cali pronto and join us.
For any bleeding edge Web 2.0 Quakers out there, there’s now a QuakerQuaker FriendFeed account to go along with its Twitter account. Both accounts simply spit out the QuakerQuaker RSS feed but there might be some practical uses. I actually follow QQ primary by Twitter these days and those who don’t mind annoying IM pop-ups could get instant alerts.
Web 2.0 everywhere man Robert Scoble recently posted that many of his conversations and comments have moved away from his blog and over to FriendFeed. I don’t see that occurring anytime soon with QQ but I’ll set the accounts up and see what happens. I’ve hooked my own Twitter and FriendFeed accounts up with QuakerQuaker, so that’s one way I’m cross-linking with this possible overlay of QQ.
For what it’s worth I’ve always assumed that QQ is relatively temporary, an initial meeting ground for a network of online Friends that will continue to expand into different forms. I’m hoping we can pick the best media to use and not just jump on the latest trends. As far as the Religious Society of Friends is concerned, I’d say the two most important tests of a new media is it’s ability to outreach to new people and its utility in helping to construct a shared vision of spiritual renewal.
On these test, Facebook has been a complete failure. So many promising bloggers have disappeared and seem to spend their online time swapping suggestive messages on Facebook (find a hotel room folks) or share animated gifs with 257 of their closed “friends.” Quaker Friends tend to be a clannish bunch and Facebook has really fed into that (unfortunate) part of our persona. Blogging seemed to be resuscitating the idea of the “Public Friend,” someone who was willing to share their Quaker identity with the general public. That’s still happening but it seems to have slowed down quite a bit. I’m not ready to close my own Facebook account but I would like to see Friends really think about which social media we spend our time on. Friends have always been adapting – railroads, newspapers, frequently flier miles have all affected how we communicate with each other and the outside world. Computer networking is just the latest wrinkle.
As a personal aside, the worst thing to happen to my Quaker blogging has been the lack of a commute (except for a short hop to do some Haddonfield web design a few times a week). I’m no longer stranded on a train for hours a week with nothing to do but read the journal of Samuel Bownas or throw open my laptop to write about the latest idea that flits through my head. Ah the travails of telecommuting!