The Value of Monuments and Markers
Joshua 3:14 - 4:7,19-24
 
The big stir around Winchester Friends this week (11-16 October 2010) was the delivery and installation of the new Indiana Historical Bureau marker plaque calling attention to the influence of Friends on the settlement and development of Randolph County.  Early in the week, INDOT and city Street Department workers showed up in their security green vests and hardhats to measure concrete and paint dots on the sidewalk along Washington Street.  They initially marked the wrong spot -- Pam had to haul out her emails from the INDOT bigwigs to convince them the correct spot was beneath the rose window of the sanctuary.  So, they remeasured and redotted, then a few days later returned with a jackhammer to open a hole in the sidewalk and set the signpost deep in new cement.  On Friday, they brought the heavy bronze marker and bolted it to the post, then immediately covered it with cardboard to await Sunday's unveiling.  It was the culmination of nearly three years of effort on Pam's part to research Friends' history in Indiana, write it all up, find the proper people to whom to submit it, raise the $2000 fee to pay for it, and get the Historical Bureau and highway authorities to agree on where and how it could be placed.  My question all along the way has been "is this really worth all this time and effort?"  Won't it be just one more sign people drive by and never read?
 
Despite my skepticism, I must admit that if kept in proper perspective and utilized appropriately, monuments and markers can be valuable tools for education and vision.  One reason I recognize that fact comes from one of the great stories of the Old Testament, the crossing of the Israelites into Canaan at the end of their long journey out of enslavement in Egypt.  Joshua was told by God to send the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan River at spring flood stage.  The moment their feet touched the water, the river stood up like a stationary wall to open a dry riverbed downstream.  The priests stopped in the middle of the river and stayed there with the Ark while the Israelites, an estimated 2-4 million of them, crossed on dry ground over into the Promised Land.  God then told Joshua to have one representative from each of the twelve tribes go back into the riverbed and carry a large stone over to the west bank.  After they had done so, the priests carried the Ark up out of the riverbed, the wall of water collapsed, and the Jordan resumed rushing down towards the Dead Sea. 
 
Joshua instructed the twelve stone-bearers to haul their stones to that night's campsite at Gilgal, where he set them up in some sort of altar or monument to the miraculous events of that day.  He then told the people  that "in the future, when your descendants ask their fathers 'What do these stones mean?', they will tell them 'the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you, and Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.... so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful, and so that you might always fear the LORD your God" (Joshua 4:21-24).
 
Joshua's explanation of that monument's meaning is pretty clear.  In thinking about that pile of stones, and about the new hunk of bronze standing outside the north wall of the sanctuary, I'd like to suggest that we also need to be clear about what those markers didn't/don't mean.  I'll offer four observations:
 
The Monuments Do Not Imply Israel's or Quakers' Perfection
The Israelites' crossing into Canaan occurred 40 years later than God had planned, all because the escapees led out of Egypt by Moses had reached the boundary of the Promised Land only to buckle in fear and refuse to go in.  Never mind that God had miraculously delivered them at the Red Sea, fed them manna and quail when no food could be found, provided clean water in a desert where there was none, and let them witness numerous other miracles during their trek north.  At the crucial moment, the Israelites feared the large, well-armed Canaanites more than they trusted God.  And that wasn't their first display of fickleness.  The whole journey from Egypt had been marked by lapses and failures.  When Moses was absent longer than they expected, they crafted and worshiped a golden calf.  They constantly criticized Moses' and Aaron's leadership, griped about the food and water, and mounted coup-like challenges to their authority.  They ignored God's instruction and entered into disobedient national and personal relationships with people along the way that entangled them and inhibited future obedience to God.  And despite all that, God remained faithful to them and brought them to the edge of Canaan, where they caved in fear and turned back to the wilderness.  Only two adults from that entire crowd remained to receive the Promised Land when Joshua brought the Israelites to the banks of the Jordan 40 years later -- Joshua and his fellow scout Caleb. 
 
A review of the earliest minutes of Winchester Quarterly Meeting and Winchester Preparative/Monthly Meeting similarly dispels any notion of perfection regarding this county's earliest Friends.  People were dismissed from membership for sinful, inappropriate relationships, for indulgence in addictive substances, for lackadaisical commitment to Meeting ministries, for failure to resolve conflicts over what were insubstantial, petty issues, and for many other "behaviors unbecoming" to the witness of Friends.  There were constant struggles to find enough willing workers and financial resources for the church's ministries.  As with the Israelites' stone monument, the marker on the sidewalk outside does not imply human perfection, but rather stands as a witness of God's faithfulness, mercy, and forgiveness of clearly flawed people.
 
The Monuments Are Not Trophies for Contests Won
The Israelites' monument at Gilgal did not imply that they were somehow better than the other groups in the region.  They did not walk over into Canaan, take the measure of the Canaanite nations, see what they did to be successful, and then set out to do those same things, only a little better than the Amorites, Gibeonites, Philistines, Amalekites, or Anakites did them.  When they were at their best, the Israelites looked to God, not their neighbors, for guidance about how life should be lived and what they should do, and they obeyed that guidance in ways that made them distinct and very different from the norm.  At their best, the Israelites refused to worship or be controlled by idols and manmade things.  Even though it is sometimes hard to imagine when reading the Old Testament, at their best they lived with a much greater appreciation for the sacredness of life and a much stronger discipline over human appetites than did the people around them.
 
In the same way, Friends of the 19th century in Randolph County are not remembered for doing the same things others were doing, only a little better.  Rather, they are remembered for doing many things that their neighbors and other Christians were not doing because of the sacrificial cost and unpopularity of that kind of service for the Lord.  In his message to Quarterly Meeting tonight, Greg Hinshaw will tell about Friends in Winchester whose deep concern for lives being destroyed by addiction led them to strong, sometimes unpopular leadership in temperance ministry here.  Their concern for the equality of human persons drew them into participation and support for the Underground Railroad to help escaped slaves reach freedom, and to help establish black settlements in the county and education facilities like the Union Literacy Institute near Spartanburg.  That same concern meant Friends recognized women's equality and importance in ministry and leadership long before others did.  Friends' conviction that Jesus calls His disciples to nonviolence meant that most could not join the military during the Civil War, but neither could they support the South because of their abhorrence of slavery and their desire to see the Union preserved.  (That ambiguity led to the war memorial on Winchester's city square, initiated and partly funded by Friend James Moorman in recognition of the sacrifice made by Randolph County citizens who did join the army to save the Union.)  The Quakers' recognition of that of God in all people, especially those who suffer, drew them to begin and sustain sacrificial endeavors like the Moorman Orphans Home west of town, and the relief effort to save freed slaves in Louisiana that eventually led to the founding of Southland College in Arkansas with the strong participation of Randolph County Friends, including our first pastors Elkanah and Irena Beard.  Their concern for Bible education, holy living, and Christian service led them to be pioneers in the Christian Endeavor movement in this county, evidenced by the CE panels in the stained glass windows on the east side of the sanctuary.  We do not memorialize those early Friends because they did what everyone else was doing, only a little better.  We recognize them because they had the courage, out of love for God, to do what others were unwilling to do.
 
The Monuments and Markers are Not to Recall Human Success, but God's Presence and Power
Joshua made it clear to the Israelites that the stones at Gilgal should be explained to future generations as a reminder of God's faithfulness to His promise to be with them wherever they went (Joshua 1:9), and a reminder of God's miraculous power in order to sustain their reverence for Him (4:24).  They were always to remember that it was God who was great; the Israelites were merely a wandering band of participant-witnesses, privileged to be led and empowered by the Lord. 
 
That is the same message conveyed by the historical marker out on the sidewalk.  We sang this morning "to God be the glory, great things He has done."  The marker does not imply greatness on the part of Friends or their projects, but rather proclaims the greatness and faithfulness of their Lord.  It acknowledges that when Friends have been faithful to acknowledge and welcome God's abiding presence in listening worship, and as they have acted upon what they heard there, they too have been privileged participant-witnesses in great things God has done in Randolph County for more than a century and a half.
 
The Monuments and Markers are Not "Mission Accomplished" Banners
When Joshua stacked up those twelve rocks at Gilgal, Israel had indeed trekked quite a distance from where they started, but the journey to which God had called them was nowhere near completion.  They had only just begun the daunting challenge of resettling Canaan, finding land and constructing homes for all the Israelite families, and establishing means of governance and economic exchange in what was still hostile territory.  Those twelve stones were set up to remind the settlers and future generations of Israelites of God's past deliverance, leading and help, and to challenge them to embrace God's call into an unknown future by faithful, trusting obedience in carrying out God's purposes.  The stones were there to remind present and future Israelites to humbly acknowledge their imperfection and regularly to seek God's forgiveness and renewal; they were there to challenge the Israelites not to fear being led by God to be different from those around them, and to remain constantly aware of God's promised presence and empowerment.
 
The historical marker on Washington Street likewise should remind present and future Friends of the passionate, sacrificial service for Christ, His Kingdom, and His truth shown by the Quakers who settled this county, built this gathering place, and established this fellowship so long ago -- and it should challenge us to remember the Lord's clear call for each of us to continue that unique, powerful witness and way of living into our own unknown futures.  One of the questions most important for us to consider as we unveil the historical marker dedicated to Randolph County's earliest Friends is, "What are we, collectively and individually, doing for God that will be worth putting on a marker in 2110?  What will people 100 years from now be glad to remember about us?" 
 
It is almost certain that what they'll find memorable won't be the fancy meetinghouses we build.  The men who repaired the brickwork on our building last summer told us that no one builds them like this anymore, and that the ones going up these days likely won't even last 100 years.  It's doubtful that we'll be remembered by our computers, digital projectors, and hi-tech sound systems in worship -- everyone else is doing that too, and 100 years from now they'll be using completely different tools anyway.  And as Gulley and Mulholland point out in If God Is Love, we won't be memorialized for installing Starbucks kiosks and gift shops in our church foyers to entice folks in, either. 
 
What will be remembered gladly will be Friends who lived with increasing spiritual depth, consistency, and integrity, not by fickle convenience or for self-gain.  What will be worth remembering in 2110 will be enduring faith communities of Friends deeply committed to shared ministry with one another, not the church shopping and hopping to find the best deal that sometimes seems the norm these days.  A hundred years from now, they will want to remember Friends who lived truth into action, who obediently implemented what they discerned in worship in ways that opposed sin, diminished its damage, and replaced it with real justice.  They will celebrate 21st century Friends whose lifestyles exhibit the sacrificial love, costly sharing, and disciplined service that convinces the world that the resurrected Christ is indeed still alive and living in His contemporary disciples -- the ones who regularly demonstrate the truth of Paul's assertion that "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him." (I Corinthians 2:9)  My prayer is that we will be those memorable Friends.
 
--Ron Ferguson
   17 October 2010
 

 

Beatitudes of Motherhood
Sermon on Mother's Day May 9, 2010
 
Nowhere in scripture is there an instruction annually to ply the mothers and other nurturing women in our lives with flowers, jewelry, chocolates, lingerie, kitchen utensils, and Hallmark cards in order to express our appreciation for their lives and help.  The fifth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12) instructs the Hebrews to honor their mothers and fathers and links that to their well-being and success in the Promised Land to which they were trekking.  Paul echoes that commandment in his instructions to Christian families at Ephesus, partially defining "honoring" parents as "obeying them in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:1,2).  In general, a biblical case also can be made for the responsibility of children to care for, respect, and express gratitude to their parents. 
 
Another way to honor mothers on Mother's Day might be to bless them, not just in the sense of giving them a reason to be proud of you, but in the way Jesus pronounced blessing upon His disciples as He called them to lives of ministry and outlined what that would mean (Matthew 5:3-12).  It was both a recognition of their commitment to seek to live His life, and a challenge to them to consider how His life would transform them.  If Jesus was to pronounce such a blessing upon the ministry of motherhood, it might go something like this.
 
Blessed are the mothers who recognize the immensity and complexity of their task, who realize it cannot be done without God's wisdom and help, and who cry out for the empowering and guidance of the God who gave them the children in the first place.  It is what the parents of the Old Testament judge Samson did after they unexpectedly learned they would have a child (Judges 13:8).  Mothers who humbly admit their need for God can expect all of the Lord's resources and help to be made accessible to them.
 
Blessed are the mothers whose hearts are broken by the damage done by sin and selfishness to their child, their family, and to their own parental abilities.  Such mothers will be grieved to the point of impassioned intercession, asking God to intervene in children's lives to restore them to the truth, and asking God to show her how to cooperate helpfully in that process.  Such mothers will stand in sharp contrast to Jacob's mother Rebekah (Genesis 27), who aided and abetted her son's greedy dishonesty, and such mothers will be comforted by the realization that God desires to forgive and restore even more than we desire to seek those gifts.  They will be comforted as well by being taught by the Lord how to express unconditional love to children or others without condoning their selfish sinfulness.
 
Blessed are the mothers who, like the mother of Moses (Exodus 2), acknowledge God's ownership of their children, who trust God's care and longterm best intentions for them, and thus are willing to "let go" of them for a time while those best intentions take shape in seemingly precarious, uncertain circumstances.  Had Moses' mother demanded the right to defend her helpless little boy after Pharaoh's extermination order, it most likely would have hastened Moses' death.  By doing what they can, but ultimately "floating" their children into God's care, they can in God's time  expect a better outcome than they could have imagined, with the added blessing and joy of getting to participate in God's work in their child and in God's bigger "project" as well.
 
Blessed are the mothers whose strongest, most passionate desire is not for an easy life, acclaim, or wealth for themselves or their children, but for God's intentions to be fulfilled in the lives of those under their care.  Like Hannah, the eventual mother of Samuel (I Samuel 1:12-16), such passion may be misunderstood or belittled by people, but it is understood by God.  Jesus praised the faith of a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15) whose passion for obtaining healing for her daughter caused her to violate cultural mores and risk mistreatment in order to bring the child to Jesus' attention.  He met the girl's need, clearly demonstrating that God loves to satisfy such hunger for the rightness of His Kingdom.
 
Blessed are the mothers who figure out how to grow in their parenting skills beyond mere rules and punishments and second chances, to instead engage and accompany their kids in a living relationship of love for God and truth that helps them want to please and obey Him and makes them genuinely desire never to disappoint the Lord.  Like the parents of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the merciful involvement they invested in their son will find a way to return to them.
 
Blessed are the mothers who, despite the many attractions and distractions of the world -- the "lesser pearls" of wealth, notoriety, pleasure, ease -- never lose their focus on the one Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45,46) which is "the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:8).   In their living and in their parenting, they will never compromise away the eternal values of Christ's way of life for even an abundance of worldly, temporal ones, and because of that, they will get to see God at work, alive and active and producing evidence of the Spirit's presence in their homes and in their children.
 
Blessed are the mothers who navigate the competing and conflicting interests of raising children in this secular world, not by taking sides with one child against another, nor by taking sides with one theory or philosophy of child-rearing against another, but by consistently choosing obedience to God as the path they will follow.  Their faithful pursuit of truth as their guide will be attractive to their children and others who are tired of the world's conflicts and competition, and their deep, inner personal peace will calm their home and welcome others into God's way.
 
Blessed are the mothers who are called old-fashioned or out of touch when they treat parenthood as a divine calling and sacred responsibility, and when they are criticized or ridiculed for resisting and rejecting the worldly pressures that would diminish her and her family's commitment to Christ.  They will find comfort in knowing that the faithfulness of others who were great in God's Kingdom was similarly belittled, and they will find that the love of God that fills their souls makes any such criticism pale in comparison.  As they persist in serving the Lord, they discover that the spiritual Kingdom they're inhabiting and inheriting is the one in which Jesus is "making all things new" (Revelation 21:5), the way of life that is most relevant and lifegiving, and that the way of the secular world is the one that is steadily passing away.
 
The beatitudes of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount form a template that fits perfectly, not just on the ministry of motherhood, but on every unique life of discipleship to which His individual followers are called.  As we celebrate the ministry of mothers, we all should be challenged to reengage the disciplined life of Christ's Kingdom described by these simple principles -- poverty of spirit, mourning of sin's impact, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking,  and joyful absorption of persecution.  If we'd do so, we would find that it will bring blessing and transformation to our souls, our homes, and our communities.
 

Ron Ferguson
Winchester Friends Church
9 May 2010
 


 

 

Forgotten Weapon (Fasting)
(2003)

Since the "official start" of the war in Iraq on March 19, Americans have been given a steady diet of detailed reports about the vast array of high-tech weapons and innovative techniques being used by the military to dislodge Saddam Hussein's regime from power. News reports have also made much of the internet-based methods being employed by antiwar protest organizers to quickly gather large crowds for demonstrations.

Although both groups claim to be fighting evil with their state-of-the-art electronic methods, they seem to have overlooked an ancient technique that for centuries has produced dramatic results against entrenched evil -- a call to combine prayer with fasting. When the disciples of Jesus were unable to exorcise a particularly aggressive evil spirit from a young boy (Mark 9:17ff), Jesus cast it out of the boy and restored his health. The disciples asked Jesus why they had not been able to accomplish the healing, and some early biblical translations report that Jesus replied, "this kind can come out only by prayer and fasting."

Whether or not Jesus actually included fasting in that statement, he knew from personal experience that combining the two spiritual disciplines was exceptionally powerful in confronting the forces of evil. Immediately after his baptism and prior to the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus spent forty days in fasting and prayer in the wilderness. He confronted the most powerful basic temptations humans ever face and emerged victoriously enabled to announce and reveal the Kingdom of God.

Jesus' employment of fasting and prayer to confront evil was in keeping with the Jews' long history of similar discipline in times of personal and national crisis. King Jehoshaphat called for a nationwide fast when a vast army of enemies laid siege to Judah. The prophet Joel called Israel to fasting in repentance for their unfaithfulness that had brought calamity upon the nation. When the Hebrews in exile were threatened with extermination by jealous Persian officials, Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai called for a citywide fast by the Jews while she sought an opportunity to ask the king to intervene. Daniel, another famous exiled Jew in Babylon, refrained from consuming "choice foods" for three weeks while he mourned and sought to understand a vision he received from God regarding wars in Mesopotamia and the future of his people. Ezra the priest called for prayer and fasting in preparation for the difficult, dangerous journey by a group of Jewish returnees from Babylon to Jerusalem through hostile territory. The first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas for planting churches in Asia and Europe arose out of a group of Jewish Christian leaders in Antioch who gathered to fast and pray.

Fasting combined with prayer is a particularly effective tool because it integrates body and spirit in the quest for faithfulness to God. One important aspect of fasting is its expression of sorrow over the effects of sin upon people. Those who have lost loved ones know that deep grief often steals appetite. In the current situation of war in Iraq, fasting can be a powerful expression of mourning over the suffering and deaths occurring each day on all sides of the conflict. Fasting communicates sorrow over the long oppression of the Iraqi people by cruel leaders, and over the heart-rending sacrifices made by soldiers separated from loved ones and civilian careers. Hunger-numbing sorrow is an appropriate response to the destruction of the beautiful, historic biblical land of Mesopotamia. The damage done to international friendships and the division of nations and societies into pro-war and antiwar factions by this conflict should be lamented. Equally grievous is the long-term economic harm of this war to the global economy through destruction, instability, and the diversion of funds from constructive uses. According to news reports, the US and British militaries launched cruise missiles worth over $1 billion on March 21 alone.

Most sorrowful of all, the US military has subtly chosen to assign quasi-religious names to its weapons and techniques, ascribing awe to bombs guided by global positioning satellites when Christians believe that response should be reserved for God alone, who guides them by the Holy Spirit. Fasting expresses grief that people are being seduced into trusting "horses and chariots" and the "size of the king's army" rather than hoping in the love and care of God (Psalm 20:7; 33:16).

A second role of fasting with prayer is the expression of supplication, seeking and hoping for God's intended outcomes. The pangs of hunger which accompany fasting remind us that Jesus proclaimed the blessedness of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. By choosing to accept the discomfort of hunger, we express our willingness to suffer and sacrifice in order that God's purposes can be realized. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster states that "more than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us." Our fasting does not change God's intentions; it changes our perspective on the things we serve, clutch, and hope for.

Prayerful fasting is also a means of expressing solidarity with those who suffer. The pangs of voluntary physical hunger teach us compassion, literally "feeling with" those who suffer by coercion or necessity. Temporary hunger reminds us to intercede for those whose pain cannot be ended by a simple choice to break a fast.

Finally, fasting with prayer welcomes new sharpness of focus in listening to God. Physiologically, digestion diverts blood supply away from the brain to the stomach. Those who regularly practice prayerful fasting agree that temporary physical hunger sharpens the mind's concentration on issues of importance and heightens the spirit's sensitivity to God's leading. It enables the spiritual humility that might help Christians find their way through the current wilderness of ambivalence over war in Iraq, similar to Joshua's preparation for the battle of Jericho (Joshua 5:13ff). In a pre-conquest vision, he encountered an angel of Lord and inquired whether God was on the side of Israel or the residents of Jericho. "Neither," the angel replied. "I command the army of the Lord. Take off your sandals, for you stand on holy ground."

The American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 showed that 159 million Americans identify themselves as Christians. Let's reduce that by 59 million, assuming that many are only nominally Christian. Reduce it again by 25 million to eliminate young children and those in ill health. Suppose that the 75 million American Christians who remain would heed a call to fast and pray for just one meal, spending the thirty minutes they would normally use eating to instead pray with sorrow, supplication, solidarity, and sharpness over the current crisis in Iraq. That would result in 37.5 million person-hours of intercession for God's help to humankind.

Imagine further that those 75 million American Christians would each set aside $2 representing the food they would have eaten in the meal they skipped while praying (a conservative number, especially if it was a restaurant meal). If they all sent their $2 to one relief agency, that agency would suddenly have an additional $150 million with which to make God's Kingdom visible by alleviating the suffering caused by war, poverty, disease, and natural disaster.

If only half of the self-proclaimed Christians in the USA fasted with prayer for thirty minutes once each month, then in a year's time they would account for 450 million person-hours of prayer for God's help to those who suffer. And if they donated $2 to that one relief agency for their skipped meal each month for a year, the Christians of America would be able to spend an additional $1.8 billion annually above current benevolent expenditures to feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and make God's love known to the world.

The key is the combination of fasting and prayer. Fasting without prayer becomes a mere social statement, or just a diet. Prayer without fasting is certainly commendable and essential, but it lacks the element of voluntary suffering and physical empathy brought by foregoing food for a time. The money that could be gathered in such a campaign is substantial, but the greatest value of the effort would be in the transformation of the souls of those who fasted and prayed.

Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline that "fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way. It is a means of God's grace that should not be neglected." One can only wonder how much deeper the world's pain must get before the Church finally rolls out this seemingly forgotten but potent weapon for the battle against the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms.



Ron Ferguson
Winchester, IN
March 2003

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Rebuilding the Underground Railroad
a suggestion for unified action, advocacy, and identity among Friends in the USA, arising from the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) Conference on Friends' Peace Testimony held at Guilford College January 17-20, 2003
 

    In the years around the Civil War, Friends in the United States became somewhat famous for their seminal participation in the Underground Railroad, the clandestine network of safe houses and other facilities that assisted escaping slaves to find freedom in the anti-slave North. Friends opened their homes to slaves on the run, hid and fed them until they could safely continue their journey, and at times provided them transportation and other assistance. Those Friends did not seek to end slavery by participating in the war's fighting, but neither did they stand helplessly by doing nothing. They risked themselves in order to invite and welcome people away from the enslaving causes and effects of injustice and violent conflict.

    After attending the FWCC gathering at Guilford College in mid-January 2003, I traveled back to Indiana saddened that the weighty group who met there had been unable to arrive at a galvanizing message and call to action for Friends in the USA. It was clear that the evangelical, liberal, conservative, and other Friends who met in Greensboro agree that in faithfulness to the Gospel and our history, we should boldly advocate for nonviolence and oppose our government's intentions to use force in Iraq. That agreement did not, however, translate into an epistle or a definitive plan for collective action.

    When the Greensboro FWCC group met for dinner at New Garden Friends Meeting on January 18, we were told that Levi Coffin's parents were buried just outside in the Meeting's cemetery. The dinner tables that evening were decorated with folded paper cranes, a Japanese symbol most people in the world now recognize as a witness against the use of nuclear weapons. I found myself wishing that Friends in our time could similarly come up with a simple symbol or idea that would instantly remind ourselves and onlookers of our identity and common call to peacemaking and progress towards shalom.

    Perhaps the Coffins' Underground Railroad work could help us out. I suggest that we consider ways to challenge 21st century Friends to, in a sense, rebuild the Underground Railroad by becoming a faith community which, despite its diversity, works together to invite people away from the enslaving causes and effects of violence and war.

    Much of the discussion at Greensboro focused on the enslaving fear, revenge, material excess, addiction to petroleum fuels, culture of accumulation and hoarding, and dependence on massive military expenditure which lie at the root of the USA's current policies and actions. Other speakers pointed out that American military action in Iraq will cause huge debts for future generations of Americans to repay, restricting their ability to do good in the world, and triggering new cycles of hatred and vengeance. Some also highlighted the enslavement of the Iraqi victims of both the UN's sanctions and Saddam Hussein's repressive regime over the past twelve years.

    In John 8:31-36, in the context of an argument with Jewish teachers about the true meaning of enslavement and freedom, Jesus taught his disciples that those who obeyed his teaching and example would know truth, and that truth would make them free. Early Friends invited people to that truth and called it Gospel Order, a way of peace found only through submission to God's intentions for all people and things, not through managing to be more assertive than the next person or country.

    I wonder if FWCC could call Friends to a 21st century rebuilding of the underground railroad, only this time above ground in full view of the watching world. Friends could be challenged to engage in shalom-building activity at the local Meeting, regional, national, and global levels, with a view towards making all our words and works an invitation to all people into Gospel Order, the truth that exposes enslavement and sets people free.

    For Friends to seriously participate in such a common effort, they would need to examine their own consistency. Just as it would have done little good for Civil War Friends to welcome escaping slaves into homes where slaves were still owned and exploited, we will have a hard time inviting others to freedom if we ourselves are not in a healthy process of becoming free from the "seed causes" of injustice and violence.

    Friends would also need to examine their effort's focus. Civil War Friends chose not to attempt to end slavery by going to the battlefield to kill the slaveholders. They instead welcomed slavery's victims, trusted God to stop tyrants in God's own way, and utilized whatever political avenues they had to work against the systems that tolerated tyranny. In the Good Samaritan parable that so intrigued people at the Greensboro gathering, Jesus has the loving neighbor treating the injured victim in the ditch. Nowhere does he suggest that his disciples should stabilize the patient, then go hunt down and physically punish the robbers.

    Lastly, Friends will need to be challenged to take some risks for the Kingdom. Just as Civil War Friends lovingly and selflessly risked themselves and their fortunes in order to welcome strangers into their homes, Friends in our time will undoubtedly need to be called out of our areas of comfort to minister to strangers. We should be prepared to sacrifice individualism and privacy, to operate on a basis other than personal convenience, to share financial resources for the sake of love, and to show kindness and compassion to people who may never become part of our Meetings.

    In the Underground Railroad, the Society of Friends in the mid-19th century had both a message and a method for tangibly expressing it that led to freedom for many people to become more of what God intended them to be. Friends' message is no less relevant to 21st century people enslaved by more subtle, sophisticated forms of bondage. What is needed are creative, courageous Friends ready to work together sacrificially to find 21st century expressions of the principles and testimonies that have enabled Quakers to work so effectively for the Kingdom of God for more than 350 years.

 

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