21 December 2011

New testimony or new commitments



Last Saturday, we left the Spar grocery store and crossed Yalagin Street and approached our microraion. We assumed that we would go to the left of the huge building #5 that fronts Yalagin Street and enter the quadrangle to reach our building. (Our quadrangle is in the lower right--around the bulls-eye of the children's playground--on the architects' model in the photo.)
credit: elproekt.su

This whole development, spreading over more and more of the old Yalagin Field, is called "Seven Winds," and as we approached the building, all seven of them hit us at once. We tried walking backwards against the wind, but gave up and walked along the front of the building instead, and entered the quadrangle from the building's other end.

We experience this wind-tunnel effect near our buildings often, though not usually this strongly. I have no idea whether it's caused by odd weather, the arrangement of the buildings, or the supposed instabilities of global warming. It may be none of the above, but it does remind me forcefully that we humans are not always in control.



I have no doubt that we're living in unstable times, politically and socially as well as climatically. Do we Friends have either the responsibility or the capacity to consider this global picture, and to think together about its implications for our discipleship? Friends World Committee for Consultation serves as communication hub for Friends trying to answer this question. FWCC's Global Change Consultation is collecting Quaker voices on the subject of global change and distilling spiritual imperatives from these voices by asking Friends to consider six queries:
  1. How has global change affected our communities and ourselves?
  2. What actions have we taken in response to global change as experienced in our area, to express our responsibilities towards all creation? In what ways have my own activities or those of my community contributed to positive or adverse local and global change?
  3. How do changes around us affect our relationship with God? How does my relationship with God affect my responses to the changes around us? What role does faith have in my life and in the life of my community? In what ways do I and my Friends church or meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?
  4. What stories and experiences from past times of catastrophic happenings such as major droughts – perhaps from Scripture, perhaps the record of regional or local events – might inspire us to respond to the changes the world is facing today?
  5. How can we bear witness to the abundance God offers us and testify to the world about ways in which justice, compassion, and peace may address significant disruption, stress, and tension?
  6. How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God's Creation in such a way that we are messengers of the transforming power of love and hope?
Many Friends have already responded in local and regional clusters to respond to these queries, and some of the responses are available, geographically arranged, at this "Cluster voices" page. I'm part of a small group that will strive to summarize our global Quaker responses to the sixth query, "How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God's Creation in such a way that we are messengers of the transforming power of love and hope?"

I was fascinated by another page on this FWCC Global Consultation site: the long and impressive list of formal statements, dating back several decades, that express Friends concern for creation and sustainable living. I believe that probably all of these statements grew from prayerful processes and represent a weighty charge to us to deepen our commitment to environmental stewardship.

With this charge as a starting point, we could go in several overlapping directions, perhaps guided by our individual spiritual gifts and our congregations' corporate leadings:

One direction is to strengthen the alliance between science and discipleship. This is what I've seen Karen Street doing over many years, asking us to pay attention to the genuine alarms of consensus science, apply them to our individual and community behaviors, and distinguish those alarms from the shifting fashions of ideology. Stan Becker of Baltimore Yearly Meeting has carried on a somewhat similar ministry in connection with population growth. Among the very earliest voices challenging Friends to look at all the evidence--history, science, and our spiritual heritage--was Marshall Massey, who continues to urge us to greater faithfulness.

Another direction would be to model the sustainable Christian communities of the future, whether by teaching and demonstrating individually (but publicly) within our meetings and churches, or by creating whole new communities to do this together. I've met some Quaker families, both urban and rural, who are living out this vision--but I'd love to hear about many more. I really think these efforts are a part of spiritual warfare--taking territory from evil and declaring it God's; or to put it another way, reclaiming the Garden of Eden in our own homes and communities.

A third direction is frankly political. Some Friends are called to be very visible in pushing prophetically for sustainable policies and against short-sighted and destructive ones. In the USA, some Christians seem to have been tricked into promoting sheer ignorance by anti-global-warming demagogues; we need to work engagingly with our own brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as with legislatures and politicians.

Some Friends are decidedly not gifted at being political advocates to advance sustainable public policies. That's fine. We can pray for and pay for those who are.

A fourth direction is one I'm of two minds about: creating more documents and minutes. Northern-hemisphere Friends, particularly, are often intensely verbal, great at generating text. (Look who's talking!) Of course you can't encourage a more mature or more demanding discipleship without communicating about it. But one thing that I saw in that list of formal Quaker statements is that we've pretty well said enough. I hope that the Global Change Consultation that we've undertaking through FWCC is more of an exercise in accountability and mutual encouragement, and a consultation among cultures and hemispheres, than yet another text-generator. Rather than restating everything even more cleverly, let's see if we can learn from our hearts and our experiences. What can we learn from Friends in such places as the Altiplano or Samburu, where local Quakers have no choice but to respect the realities and limits imposed by nature? How can we in fact support one another?

Rather than formulating a whole new "testimony" and lengthening yet again the list of behaviors expected of genuine Quakers, let's return to the heart of the testimonies, the "Gospel order" of George Fox, who felt that the order of our lives together ought to reflect the cosmic order of the living Christ. Or as Norval Hadley put it, let the body reflect the beauty of the Head. If we can restore that macro-micro connection that sees "joyful" and "sustainable" as near-synonyms (not to mention "biblical" and "sustainable"), we'll be well  on the way.



I frankly love end-of-year book lists, and here's my favorite.

Further to my post of some years back, "Can evangelicals reproduce?", read this: "Millennials to the Church: Wake Up or We're Outta Here."

"The Four Occupations of Planet Earth."

More than a PS to obituaries for Christopher Hitchens.

From the insufferable-Linux-enthusiast department: "The five fastest-booting Linux distributions."

"This planet of ours is indescribably beautiful when seen from above." A holiday greeting from aboard the International Space Station. Thanks to yesterday's launch from Kazakhstan (notice the Orthodox blessing), the ISS staff is about to be restored to full strength in time for Christmas.



No blues tonight. Christmas is coming....

5 comments:

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Thank you for your kind words, Johan. I hope I may always deserve them.

Johan said...

You're very welcome!

Robin M. said...

Johan, are you familiar with the Transition communities? I think the movement started in Britain, but Steve Chase in New England YM is very involved and working with Friends in North America to start to live in more sustainable ways.

I'm very interested in how the Global Change Consultation will play out among Friends - will it just be more text or will it make a difference for Friends from around the world, global north & south, to encounter each other in real time, face to face, and talk about these issues. There is a tension between allowing the encounter to take place undirected and wanting to provide the support and advance work necessary for the World Conference to make a real difference.

In the last few months, I've been inspired thinking about how Latin American Friends and African Friends could support one another in surviving and responding to and preventing political violence. But reading this reminds me to wonder more about how we can all support one another to be part of the environmental changes that have to happen in every country, even if those changes will be somewhat different in each case. And I am pressed to think about what my personal responsibility is, in my new position, to help this happen.
Will you be coming to Kenya in April?

Johan said...

Hi, Robin. My specific piece is wondering whether there can be a deliberate link between revival (the specifically Christian phenomenon, which historically has almost always had a social and ethical component) and global conversations about the meaning of "enough" and the redefinition of abundance.

Just as the Christian Peacemaker Teams have a creative double meaning for "getting in the Way," I think "enough" has a political and prophetic dimension as well as an inward dimension. If there's anything "verbal" we desperately need, it's more conversations between the technocrats and the spiritualizers.

Mackenzie said...

I'm now confused where the Linux link fits in with the beginning of this post...except maybe about it letting you keep using old hardware long after Windows users would send it to the landfill. Goodness, there are a lot of Free Software Quakers.