Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Peace Month Daily Reader, day 31

January 31 – Equality
Wess Daniels                       

Who is My Neighbor?

Read: Luke 12

American society and, for that matter, Christians, has for a long time wrestled with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” This is in large part a question regarding to whom hospitality and equal rights should extend. Debates about equality in America often revolve around the subject of “fundamental rights” of humanity. Unfortunately, for both society and the church, it is often those in power, those with money and typically men (like me) who get to decide the answers to these questions. It’s hard to get a balanced perspective when there’s an imbalance of voices represented.
Jesus responded to the still-poignant question, “Who is my neighbor?” with the story of the Good Samaritan, weaving together a tale with a surprising ending. We are surprised (maybe even outraged?) to discover to whom the category of neighbor (equal) extends. At the very heart of Jesus’ ministry is an embodiment of this parable of radical equality. He ministered to and befriended the unexpected, the misfits and outcasts of his society. Jesus ate (and drank) with all the wrong people. To put it another way, his Facebook “friends” list wouldn’t lend him a great reputation among the “spiritual.”
But today we are often at odds with debates about equality and fundamental rights. I think this is because in modern society, everything is about “self-evident truths” and “individual rationality.” The individual self as authority on matters of morality poses a problem. The self, freed from the pursuit of the common good of humanity, freed from the responsibility to the Other, is now given access to achieve “whatever it is I so desire.” And  this “at whatever or whomever’s cost I see fit.”
For instance, when African Americans’ “right” to vote infringed upon White Americans’ control over the political system, we had a major conflict in our society. Or consider the hotly-debated topic of nationalized health care. Some believe that health care is a right, while others believe that it infringes upon their rights to be forced to have health care. Who is right about rights? And who gets to decide?
It is here that our Quaker tradition comes to bear on these contemporary questions. When we talk about the testimonies we are talking about a “bigger story” that binds us together, one that moves beyond my own individual rationality or self-evident truths. Testimonies are embodied truths; they are attached to a tradition and a historical community. The “big story” of Quakerism helps us make sense of what is right: what is good to be pursued and what is wrong. But these testimonies are too often understood in the same way the world understands equality – as disconnected values so that I get to decide whether I agree with each or not, as if our values were like the cereal aisle at Fred Meyer’s. I go down the aisle and pick out the cereal that suits my tastes best.
But for early Friends, testimonies were not detached “values” that I select at my own whimsy. In fact, the early Friends didn’t even label these testimonies—they just lived them. The Friends testimonies we now have are consequences of individual and communal encounters with the Living Christ across the 350+ years of our denominational history. Our testimony to equality is not simply a “right” Quakers think is a good idea, but an outgrowth of a conviction rooted in the teachings and life of Jesus in the biblical witness, through the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit and generations of Quakers putting this conviction into practice, working out what it means to be a faithful people who believe that the “Samaritans” of the world are our neighbors. This grounds equality in something larger than ourselves. It is something I am subject to, not something I get to decide whether or not it suits me. This is how testimonies, I believe, are to be understood.

Christ, help me to live these testimonies as an expression of my faith. Convict me where I need conviction, challenge me to live in the ways you call and give me courage and community to be able to do so.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Peace Month Daily Reader, day 30

January 30 – Equality
Nathanael Ankeny

Read: Ephesians 4:22-25

One night in grad school, I was walking down the hall on my way out of the music building and came upon one of my professors. “Goodnight, Dr. Graves,” I said. Further down the hall, I saw Tom, the building's custodian. "Goodnight, Tom," I said in greeting. "Goodnight," he replied. The juxtaposition of the two greetings struck me; Tom performs an important role by keeping the building clean, yet no one addresses him with any special title. My teachers, on the other hand, were usually called Doctor or Professor.
That evening I started thinking about several questions: can we treat people equally while referring to them in different ways? If titles are meant to show respect, was there something about my professors that made them more deserving of respect than others? Was I being called to address my professors without titles as I do everyone else? As I thought and prayed about it, I began to see that when we choose to address people differently, we put them in different categories, usually according to their socio-economic level.
God made it clear to me that I needed to act on this new conviction, and though it was difficult for me to tell my professors how I was going to address them, most of them understood. One professor, however, told me that I was being narrow-minded and should reconsider. This difficult encounter made me sense the power in what I was being called to do, and how it stripped away a façade constructed in academia meant to make some people feel more important than others.
As I obeyed Christ's call, I felt a new sense of accountability to treat everyone with respect. After all, if my witness of referring to each person the same way was to have integrity, I had to treat people equally, too. I learned that treating people with respect has little to do with how we address them, and much do with whether or not we are viewing them as fellow children of God.

Am I grateful for the people around me and the work they do?
Do I treat people in all walks of life in a way that values them as children of God?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peace Month Daily Reader, day 29

January 29 – Equality
Megan Anna Neff                          

Read: Psalm 139

It was July of 2005, and I was traveling down a dusty, bumpy road with three Malawians: Gibson, Steve and Nixon. I clocked many hours in the car with these guys while interning at World Relief Malawi. Our conversations often drifted into interesting dialogue about politics and religion.
I remember that particular day in July because the bombings of London during their morning rush hour had just happened, and we were listening to the BBC. With the announcer’s prompting, we honored a moment of silence for the victims. After the moment of silence had passed, Gibson pointedly asked me, “In the U.S did you ever observe a moment of silence for Rwanda?” He was referring to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Almost 800,000 people died, and we in the U.S. heard little about it.
I had to respond with a meek “No.” Gibson laughed and proclaimed, “The life of one white person is worth the lives of a thousand Africans.” I sat stunned and silent. I wanted to deny it, but I couldn’t deny that I lived in a world that treated U.S. citizens with far more value than Africans. If we were to hit one of the many potholes that littered the road and spin out of control, I could anticipate how the news back home might read: “U.S. citizen dies in car accident.” The three other lives might be mentioned as naught but a footnote.
As I pondered the reality of Gibson’s comment, I kept asking myself: “How can I see beyond the bias of my culture in order to value the equality of all lives?” Since that conversation with Gibson, I have read reports of far-off tragedy with new eyes, imaging the people and faces as if that tragedy had happened to my friends, neighbors and community. It’s a heavy, sobering way to read the news, but it reminds me of the humanity of all and the value of every life.

Lord and giver of all life, help us to value each person, created in love by you.
In your mercy, guide and assist our efforts to promote the dignity and value of all human life.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Peace Month Daily Reader, day 28

January 28 – Equality                
Stan Thornburg                            

Read: Colossians 3:11

“Do not think you have made any (spiritual) progress, unless you esteem yourself less than all.”
—Thomas á Kempis

The practice of seeing all people as equals is a difficult discipline, but one that brings great joy and delight to those who are willing to submit to Christ to be thus formed. This practice, though, is at the heart of the Quaker testimony of equality of persons. Quakers historically lived out this testimony by living and working as equals with people such as prisoners, the mentally ill, the poor, Native Americans, and virtually every class of people including royalty, Cavaliers and other socially successful classes of people. Quaker women moved easily into leadership and were trusted as faithful prophets.
Some friends make the mistake of believing equality simply means a “level playing field.” Men, women and acceptable minorities supposedly have equal access to all the “goodies” of our society. Nothing could be further from the truth. The testimony of equality calls us to honor every person and value his or her unique characteristics, treating others’ uniqueness as precious gifts from which to learn. On a broader scope, the testimony of equality of persons means valuing different cultures in much the same way. We NEED women in leadership, for example, because we want to learn from their experience and benefit from the direction and style their leadership provides. The same could be said for every minority in our diverse culture—even the minorities whose behavior and/or beliefs we find questionable.
There is “that of God in every person,” so when we honor all others we honor God and God’s purposes for humanity. 

Do I and/or my meeting seek the transforming power of God’s Spirit
so that we are able to fully love and honor all others equally?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Peace Month Daily Reader, day 27

January 27 – Equality
Melanie Mock                    

Seeking Equality, Seeking Peace

Read: Luke 4:18-19

            Although I identify myself as a feminist now, this was not always the case. As a young adult, I resisted the feminist label and its man-hating, bra-burning connotations. But several strong women nurtured my voice—my written voice, my literal voice, my metaphysical voice—and in the process, helped me to see how, in reality, feminists help people who are silenced, in our own culture and abroad.
            Cheryl WuDunn and Nicolas Kristof’s transformative book, Half the Sky, describes the many ways women are oppressed around the world: silenced through abuse, rape, genital mutilation, prostitution. As a peace-seeking person, I am compelled to seek justice for these women who cannot speak for themselves, and I know my role as a vocal Christian feminist is one to which God called me.
            Closer to home, I see young women who have been told that, according to biblical principle, they should remain silent. The messages from evangelical culture remind women to be submissive and meek, and that those females who would deign to speak—especially from the pulpit—are transgressing their godly-woman roles. In listening to these messages, too many young women fail to fully discover the gifts God has given them. As a peace-seeking person, and a professor at an evangelical Friends university, I am compelled to seek justice for these women, too, and hope my role as a vocal Christian feminist models for them a faithful response to God’s calling.
            In the past, when I’ve thought about pacifism, I’ve most often considered my response to war and bloodshed and retributive violence. But surely, in prompting us to seek peace, God also longs for us to seek equity. For me, the crux of the Gospel is this: that the Prince of Peace came to recover sight for the blind, to free the oppressed and to give voice to the silenced. May I seek, each day, to live the peace testimony to its fullest extent.

Do I promote social justice and make my life a testimony to equity?
Do I support fair treatment of all regardless of race, gender, age and other differences?
Am I concerned for those in our society who are disadvantaged?
Am I concerned for those who are silenced?