Thursday, June 28, 2007

Prayer, Forgiveness, and Judgement

It's common practice among unprogrammed Friends in my part of the world to set aside time at the end of weekly services during which people can ask the meeting to 'hold them (or a loved one) in the light,' which is Quaker-jargon for 'pray for them.' Most of these requests are exactly the sort you would expect. They're for people who are seriously ill or going through difficult times. Occasionally they're for strangers a Friend encountered only in passing.

But recently, I've noticed a trend that rather disturbs me. Some people are using that time to simply vent about people they're upset with. They usually start by asking Friends to hold them and another person in the light, because they're engaged in a conflict. But then they go on to describe the conflict in a way that makes it painfully clear that they are not holding the other party in the light at all. The unspoken meaning behind their words is "I'm angry at this person, and I want you to join me in passing judgement on them."

I used to dismiss this sort of thing as a mild annoyance and try my best to hold the requester in the light. But the more I think about it, the more my feelings shift from annoyance to concern.

I think of the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman: "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone," he said. It's a story--one that was apparantly added to the bible sometime during the middle ages, actually-- that gives the same message that Jesus spelled out quite clearly in the Lord's Prayer when he said "Forgive us our transgressions as we forgive those who sin against us." It's a quid-ro-quo: to be forgiven, we must ourselves forgive.

Perhaps these Friends are struggling to do that, and it's merely not coming out in their words. Or perhaps they believe that by going through the motions of asking for prayers, they're fulfilling their religious obligations on the issue. But when they make these back-handed requests for prayers, it feels like they're asking the Meeting, through silence, to condone behavior that's directly contrary to Quaker teachings. Like they're seeking our silent approval; a group of people who will say 'well, of course you're in the right in this conflict.' And Quakerism is not a faith about 'going through the motions.' It's a faith about being accountable to the divine guidance of God.

As I labor with this issue in my own heart, I find myself struggling to discern God's will for me in this issue. I know in my heart that if I were repeatedly doing something inconsistant with my witness, I would want my faith community to bring that to my attention-- if they could do so in a spirit of love and concern and not in judgement. But is it my place to raise this concern with them? Can I do so in a spirit of love and concern, or am I myself passing unfair judgements?

These are issues I'm seeking clarity on. If this message I have for them is indeed ministry from God, then I pray for the courage to give it, and the grace to do so in a manner that is consistant with Christ's teachings of forgiveness and love. If this is nothing more than an unfounded concern of mine, I pray for the wisdom to recognize that, and the grace to let it go.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Incident of the Orangemen in the District

Northern Ireland has made an incredible amount of progress over the last few years, but they still have a handful of ongoing issues to resolve. One of those issues is parades.

There are long-running social organizations in Northern Ireland, such as the Orange Order and the Ancient order of the Hibernians, whose membership is rooted entirely in either the Protestant or the Catholic community. During Marching Season, which is set to begin fairly soon, some of these organizations participate in parades through their local communities and into large urban centres. The Orangemen are especially known for this.

The marchers insist that these parades are just a celebration and an expression of their cultural heritage. But when the march route takes them through neighborhoods where many or all of the residents belong to the other cultural tradition, it can cause tension. Certain unkind words can get exchanged. Also certain unkind bricks, bottles, and paintballs.

To prevent this sort of secterian trouble, all parades--routes, numbers, decorations, etc-- have to be cleared by the Northern Ireland Parades Commission. One of their cheif tasks is arbitrating disputes between marching organizations and neighborhood associations.

Now, as Northern Ireland gears up for another marching season, marchers and neighborhoods are at the negotiating tables again. A longstanding conflict in Drumcree is about to go to mediation, where there's a chance the various parties can come to an agreement without the Parades Commission having to arbitrate.

Would that we could be so concilatory on this side of the pond. Washington DC's annual FolkLife festival begins today, and Northern Ireland is one of the three focuses of this year's festivities. Dancers, cooks, artisans and historians from all over Ulster have been invited across the pond to share their culture and traditions with the residents and visitors of our nation's capital.

Among the visitors are representetives from the Orange Order, who are going to be running a display. Congressman Eliot Engel of New York objects. He wrote a letter to the Smithsonian (the event's sponsor) asking them to ban the Orangemen because they're 'well known for violently anti-Catholic rhetoric and actions.'

Now, I hold no illusions about the Orangemen. I'm not one of those people who holds them entirely blameless for the problems that have happened during their marches. I know they're not merely victims of big, mean, Brit-hating Nationalists who are trying to oppress their cultural expression. But neither do I believe that they're all loyalist paramilitaries in disguise who are trying to chase the Catholic population out of Ulster.

Banning them from the folklife festival would only help to enforce Irish America's preconceptions about Northern Ireland-- that the nationalists are Always Right and the unionists are Always Wrong, and that the Republic of Ireland has a manifest destiny to control the entire island.

The Smithsonian seems to be ignoring Engel's objection. Good for them. I believe they should give the Orangemen a chance to show DC what they do and why they do it. Let them engage in--gasp!--dialogue. The ocean between America and Northern Ireland has allowed a great many uninformed opinions about the Irish Question to flourish here. The militant/pro-IRA rhetoric faded somewhat in the wake of 9/11, but people so distant from the violence and strife the conflict has bred have no business romanticizing it.

If the point of the Folklife festival is education, then it's absolutely imperetive that the Orangemen, Ulster-Scots, and unionism as a whole be represented. Irish/Nationalist and Gaelic traditions are deeply rooted into Irish American culture. We stand to learn a lot more from those in Northern Ireland whose stories we don't hear than we do from those whose stories we've allowed to inform our biases.

I'm going to go to the celtic music concerts. I'm going to go watch the Gaelic Football display, stop by the Irish Language table, and watch the textiles artist embroider an Irish dance costume. But I also intend to make a point of visiting the Orange Order's display and check out the Rugby demonstration. The Smithsonian Institution is bringing this even to us for free, and I mean to take full advantage of all it has to offer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hey, Someone Left the Mic On...

I've been neglecting this space since the end of my Northern Ireland adventure; mostly because I know the vast majority of my miniscule readership picked up this feed because they wanted to hear about NI, and, well, I'm back.

But I feel like I can still make use of this space. It feels flat-out wierd to post religious thoughts of any substantce on my livejournal, and the vast majority of my lj readers aren't interested in international politics. I could see this space becoming a replacement for my 'outlook' filter on LJ-- a place to discuss my faith journey, my ongoing studies in intercommunity conflict, and how the two relate. I could use it to reflect on international news concerning Northern Ireland and other areas of interest to peace research.

I don't know how many people would actually be interested in reading that sort of thing, but I'm also not sure it matters. It seems to me that if I want to write it, there's nothing wrong with just writing it for myself. Since I vastly prefer typing to writing by hand, a blog is a very convenient way to keep things organized. And since there's nothing about what I'm planning to write that I would mind other people seeing, I see no reason not to keep it public, so that on the off chance that someone is interested, they can see it.

Perhaps that is, as one friend described blogs with little to no readership, shouting pompously into the void. But this isn't livejournal, where mutual readership is expected and people are reluctant to unsubscribe from journals they're not reading for fear of hurting someone's feelings or causing drama. If people don't want to read A Speaking Life now that I'm home from Northern Ireland, I' not going to take it personally. It's a blog with a fairly narrow focus that's not likely to draw a large number of readers.

So, to anyone who's still picking up this feed: I'm going to start using this space again. If you're interested in international conflict, peace research, and the faith journey of a Christian Quaker, you can look forward to post about exactly those subjects in the future. If you're not interested in these things, you may want to unsubscribe from the feed so it doesn't clutter up your feed reader.


ETA: Chose a new template that's less with the ugly.