Balancing Power and Love


On Monday Ruben and I went to an interesting lecture by Senor Kahane, who writes about the balance in complex systems of power and love. It stretched my understanding of doing peacemaking in complex political settings. He told stories of working in South Africa in 1991 after Mandela's release from prison. How do you get former bitter enemies to talk? Whereas the Quakers in Burundi/Rwanda (ie. AGLI or HROC) are doing reconciliation work by joining 12 Tutsis and 12 Hutus in the same room, Kahane was doing the same thing with stakeholders in the country's policies. He proposed strategies for when to self-actualize (power) and when to seek unity (love).

Twice a week I go with a University student or an ex-becario to church. Sometimes I talk about my experience of God’s love, sometimes I mention how Friends value the soul and the whole of life. Quaker missionaries set up schools (and in Kenya, hospitals) along with churches. So part of my mission is to heIp Friends’ education.

I don't argue the Bible or theology with my new Friends. Bolivians are so polite I don't know if they'd even debate me. I listen to their exhortations and then talk about my work. At the end I might say, in my church we welcome everyone, many newcomers don't know if they are saved. My job is to love them as they are. Or I'll say: we have Friends who give personal testimonies but the climax of our services is the peace of God within us. We work with Spirit, as co-creators work to change our lives in worship. Is this the way you, Friends in a faraway country, describe your worship and work?

I have many elders here, but I miss daily worship and guidance. As a stranger in prayer I remind myself that there are many ways to hear guidance. Happily 2 days ago I received such a message in re-reading the story of Mary Fisher, who we were studying in English class. Fisher in her late 20s went to Cambridge University, a new convert and exhorted the seminary students there. Her words were similar to other Quakers, torching the elite for taking parishioners tithes, for preaching in a rote way, and not knowing the Spirit in truth. She was jailed for a year and endured persecution. I wonder sometimes if the early Friends spoke to the elites with sufficient love.

Several years later, after a harrowing journey to Turkey, Fisher, now a seasoned Friend and preacher, was invited to deliver her message to the Sultan. What we can surmise of her sermon suggests a totally different approach. We know she waited in a long silence before speaking before the Sultan and his regalia (including an executioner should the sultan decide to eliminate her). She spoke from her heart of her experience of the One God. She paused. The sultan asked her if that was all. She replied, Have you understood my message? ”Yes," he said, "and every word is truth. And what do you make of our Prophet Mohammed?” She said according to Sewall, that she had no experience of Mohammed but that if the Sultan wished to judge whether the Prophet was true than by the fruits of his words and acts one can discern the truth. The Sultan concurred. There were further exchanges.

I take from Fisher’s example to speak truth without judging others. To ask questions, Do you understand me? To give others the benefit of the doubt, without shirking on your message. Although I’m not working with Muslims, I still take my visits as if I was visiting an exotic church, and give my message carefully. However, I’ve chosen one path different than Mary Fisher. She refused the Sultan’s offer of his men to escort her out of the country. But I? I accept every invitation of accompaniment by Bolivian Friends as I travel.