A few weeks ago I received an e mail from a Quaker at our meeting thanking me for raising awareness about the situation in Libya. This kindness came with an offer of a "collection slot" so I could speak about my concern more widely and raise money from other Quakers.
The following week another Quaker offered to help me set up a Facebook Group so that anyone wishing to send a message of support for people living in Libya would be able to do so. Although the technical side was relatively easy, I felt very inhibited when the site required me to divulge my identity. Perhaps this was lack of courage on my part. It did not seem appropriate for me personally to be leading a campaign. By far the biggest challenge was that of impressing my priorities onto other people. Without a supportive cast of people wishing to join in, it was so easy to give quite the opposite impression from what I originally intended.
Very early on in this process I encountered competition. It seemed there was some kind of league for world problems where those without the benefit of professional marketing skills might so easily fall off the bottom of the list. A single Facebook page jostled uncomfortably with so many other worthy causes. Somewhat illogically I hoped for magical solutions, there would be less to worry about generally in the world and we then could all focus our attention in a much more efficient manner.
Promoting my own concern made me very aware of how often Quakers seem to do this. These activities result from an interpretation of our testimonies. These also have a tendency to jostle for attention.Some become comfortable and compelling with a certain feel-good factor. Others of a more challenging nature mysteriously become "something we might aspire to" as they slip steadily down the list. My very short campaign to raise awareness about a particular issue, challenged me with a realisation that it not our way of life that just happens to make us Quaker.
To me, whether from a soap box, a pulpit, in a leaflet or even through social media sites, all of this telling people what to do is preaching. However well intentioned, in my concern about Libya I could imagine myself being vigorously heckled by George Fox. In his very loud persuasive voice he would be telling everyone not to worry about people like me intervening since God spoke to individuals direct. In a country devastated by suffering, religious extremism and the recent civil war, this uneducated, itinerant shoe-maker reminded everyone he met of their own power to communicate with God direct. When asked for specific advice on the subject of wearing swords (something we all occasionally do in Meeting!) he very decisively threw the issue back for the individual concerned to work it out for themselves. (The next instalment of this story about William Penn would suggest he did this rather well!)
When Early Quakers talked about being directly accountable to God, there must have been some connection in other people's minds. These views had been expressed before. It would have seemed quite shocking that the Divine Right of Kings should be held by ordinary people. Surely this was a recipe for chaos! This understanding of kingship had already proved so devastating and destructive. Just four years earlier it had been the main cause of a very public trial, sentencing and then the execution of a King. Happily these days, although Charles I sometimes raises a Royal standard in Meeting, however strong the views, Quakers do not have the resources for an army.
This link to Divine Right demonstrates why we were seen as being so subversive. In the aftermath of civil war, survivors were desperate to restore law and order. They could already see how all their original ideals had been transformed by conflict, there was now relentless greed, an insatiable desire for revenge and such insecurity at every level of society from all that power had achieved. When people are frightened there is often an incentive to seek out a greater force to assert its authority. Their world would not seem very different from that of many communities today. Although English people considered Cromwell's military rule as a very definite option, for Early Quakers this process led to a search for truth.
Whereas early Stuart Kings had gained Divine Right through a process of hereditary, to Quakers this remarkable privilege and opportunity was an inclusive characteristic of being human. We have all been born with a capacity to seek truth, and in this journey of discovery, can have a direct relationship with God. That process, mysteriously referred to as "convincement" made their behaviour entirely logical. If you are able to trust a power so much greater and better than yourself, it does not seem that necessary or very sensible to settle for anything less. Why should they settle for the power of weapons, the influence of wealth, the external padding of popular opinion, or so many lesser truths when given what God has to offer as a resource?
At times, being caught up in our freedom and enthusiasm, we might forget that crucial connecting link, be distracted by the temptation to impose our individual leanings upon others. Like every other human being, I have my priorities and concerns.
The people and peacemakers of Libya are often in my thoughts. I remember a country so obviously blessed by God in its natural beauty and know that those people living in it right now are part of that creation. Sometimes all of us need to be reminded quite how beautiful we are. That awareness of being valued may come through the love and support of other human beings. From a distance I have very little idea of the internal politics, only remember a few words of Arabic and genetically cannot possibly describe myself as belonging to a tribe! The God of Islam when communicated honestly and sincerely is however the God I also know.
When there is an opportunity to send my love to Libya, I have chosen to make that commitment, despite the inevitable problems with translation. There are so many needs out there, so many different people and communities about, all requiring the right medicine. To a world pre-occupied with power, status and success, there would seem a need for us not to worry about getting things right all the time, or how we might seem to others. Instead there is the opportunity to trust in the power of our Creator, do what God tells us to do, respond to the promptings of the Spirit and just share love about.