In my previous two posts on hope, I wrote about hope that comes from seeing the spiritual community built by followers of God's Spirit and then Jesus across time--the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, those in all times and places who have seen a vision of shalom and attempted to live in it, including many Friends, and including prophets who were willing to look quite strange in order to follow the Spirit in radically peaceable ways.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a way for the whole world to actually become more like the Kingdom of God—I’m not a proponent of the Social Gospel and its ideology of progressivism, which would have us believe that we’re on a historical trajectory toward a world with less injustice. In some ways this leads me to feel like all my desires for justice are futile. It makes me want to give up hope, to just be grateful that I’m comfortable and my needs are taken care of and not worry about anything else. It’s so tempting to just leave it at that. The Marxist aphorism that “religion is the opium of the people” is correct to some degree, but I would say the true opium of the people is comfort. Perhaps it’s religion that makes us comfortable, with the promise of a hereafter, or perhaps it’s achieving the American dream of a decent house, car, family, disposable income. I find myself falling more easily into this trap the older I get. I see the Baby Boomers, who believed so passionately in fighting against war and for civil rights that it defined their generation, and now where are they? Mainly, they’re living the American dream, or striving toward it. It’s easy to think, “Idealism is for the young,” and to become practical and realistic as I age, acquiring a mortgage, kids, schedules to keep and retirement to think about.
I’m not THAT old yet (although people who haven’t seen me for a while keep commenting on my gray streaks of late), and I’m not yet willing to give up on idealism. Hopefully that means I will never be too old for idealism.
Right now, I’m convicted that I don’t look “strange” enough. This is not to say that we should go out of our way to look different, but if someone looked at my life, comparing it to the life of other Americans, without being able to hear or read my words, would they see much that was different? They might see that I bike more than most Americans, that I spend more time at my meetinghouse than the average American, that I eat fairly healthily and grow some of my own food, and that I generally wear used clothes, but these (besides the meetinghouse part) would not be considered particularly strange for an Oregonian. Am I willing to make the real sacrifices that would be involved in following any of my senses of prophetic calling fully: eating and wearing only fairly traded and/or local food and clothing, fully refusing to support the oil industry for which we go to war and keep whole nations in subjugation, working actively against immigration injustices, building relationships across racial and/or socioeconomic boundaries, standing up against the policies of war and gun sales, refusing to pay war taxes, hosting soup kitchens….
I’m taking baby steps, but I fail all the time. I want a community to do this stuff with—a community in this time. I see people across time who have followed their passions and their convictions, who’ve listened to their Inward Light, who’ve taken baby steps, failed, and built or joined a movement. I pray for the grace to be one of those people, and for the grace of fellow travelers.
What keeps me filled with hope? The prophetic voice of my spiritual community across time, a heavy dose of tenacity and a refusal to let my fears define me. I choose to keep my Center as God, my true reality the Kingdom of God within. While I can’t create the Kingdom of God on Earth or a perfect spiritual community in my time, I can cultivate that Kingdom in myself, and allow it to break out into human history.
How about you? Would someone see from your actions that you have any particular prophetic calling?
How about us as a denomination? How are we living out any particular communal calling right now? Are we listening to the voices of the prophets in our midst? Are we speaking truth to power with our lives first, and then our voices? Are we oozing hope into our communities by sheer force of meditative will? What is your part in this? Are you willing to look strange in order to follow a prophetic calling? What do you sense that that would look like for you?