Saturday, 21 February 2015

Piece by piece and Peace by peace

We went to watch the film Selma last night. In one scene, Martin Luther King is in jail and at a low point. He is encouraged by one of his friends (Ralph Abernathy, I think) in prison with him. He reminds King that, whilst the goals of the civil rights movement as a whole are vast and overwhelming, the work is done piece by piece.
Demonstration in Philadelphia for
control of gun sales, 2009

NFPB once produced a little sticker that read 'One peace at a time'. I was challenged about this on one occasion by someone who seemed to feel that one piece at a time was not enough. The vision, of course, is for a much wider change, but giving ourselves specific areas to focus on can be a way to avoid feeling overwhelmed. And of course crucial if that one piece is to be done well.  Another key message from Selma is recognising the place that our own particular focus at a particular juncture can and perhaps should play in a longer-term strategy for change. It's sometimes important to take time to step back and look at what significant blocks overcome or opportunities created could radically change the situation of injustice or un-peacefulness. And then, with that strategic understanding, find a meaningful activity or approach that will contribute to it, recognising the role that others' actions also have in building that change and that we don't and can't do it all on our own.

Quakers are not alone in sometimes doing something because it feels right rather than because of a particular strategic goal, but can we couple the two? Peace by peaceful means certainly makes a lot of sense. If we want to see a change in human relationships, embodying something of that change in our own behaviour is powerful and is surely important in laying the foundations for true peace.  How can our learning through worship, discussion and community help us to do this?  It would be nice to think that we could engage in peace work from an entirely peaceful place in ourselves,  but we all struggle and get things wrong. If we wait for that state of internal peacefulness to come about before taking action... well, it could be a long wait. Rather, we can do the best we can, when and where we can. Spiritual discipline, Quaker or otherwise, can help us in our attempts to be peaceful in our peace work. We can, in worship, find an inner stillness that roots our action and informs it with love. And we can bring our experiences from action into the stillness of worship, allowing the spirit and the gathered meeting to help us learn and grow from it, warts and all.