Thursday, 19 June 2014

Seeds of peace and war.

When we moved to our big old house, two households joined into one. Five of us live together.

This brings immense benefits and a few challenges.

One of the benefits is that we like each other. It’s a cheering and companionable thing to have the encouragement and delight of each other’s friendship, doing the journey together.

Another benefit is sharing. Two houses half the size, each with a garden half the size, would cost a lot more than half the money. Here, each person benefits from the big, lofty rooms and spacious garden with its trees and wildlife, that none of us could have if we lived separately. If each of the five of us had a dwelling for one, all of us would need mortgages and probably none of us would have a garden or a freehold.

Though five of us live here, we don’t need belongings x 5. We have one juicer, one 3-tier veg steamer, one cooker, one fridge-freezer, one electric kettle, one toaster, one water distiller. Our big house absorbs these things comfortably without feeling cluttered. So the space-to-stuff ratio is higher than if we lived separately.

There are not many challenges. Two that come to mind (essentially two manifestations of the same challenge) are the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower. Neither really affects me because I loathe power tools, almost never vacuum the floors and have never mowed an entire lawn in my life. Though there is an ancient ciné film of me, aged three, wearing sunglasses, valiantly attempting to mow the lawn at dusk (why?)

Household 1 (in order of moving in to this house) brought a Vorwerk vacuum cleaner with a large train of accoutrements, and owns two power mowers – one electric, one petrol. At the time of moving in, the Vorwerk accoutrements had lain almost untouched since purchase, transported from home to home in various moves, ‘in case’. They included cardboard items chewed and peed on by mice, but one of us found these and threw them away.

Household 2 brought a Henry Hoover and a hand-mower.

Each household swears by their tools and neither wishes to part with them, though the owner of the Vorwerk did (after time and persuasion) ruefully agree to the unused accoutrements being despatched to the dump, and Henry's similar accoutrements went the same way.

Which tools are best and should be used, and why, gives rise to a certain amount of friction. Best I not go into this: I mention it merely to explain the background of the reflection that follows.

It occurred to me today that, in our household at any rate, the seeds of peace are found in the areas where we have less, and the seeds of war where we have more. Back to the wisdom of Toinette Lippe: “Problems arise where things accumulate”.

The peace and delight of our multi-home lies in the space and the sharing – we all get more by owning less. Having just the one kettle, toaster, fridge etc, means we all have more money and we all have more room. Everything goes further and makes life nicer. Less is more quite literally in our house.

The friction and stress occurs in those areas where we clutch tightly to our own things, insisting our version is best and adamantly hanging on to it. It’s understandable, of course; “To each his own”, as the saying goes. We all have our own way of doing things.

As my thoughts wandered through this territory, I remembered another source of friction from early in my marriage. I owned a few (three, I think) buddhas. Attending a conservative evangelical church whose members would be coming round for housegroup meetings, my (then new) husband thought it prudent I keep them out of sight. I know why: “Idols!” a Methodist neighbor had referred to them, in tones of contempt, at a previous location. [FYI, statues of the Buddha are not idols: they are not worshipped – they represent the awakened self and are merely the alarm clocks of the soul saying “Wake up!” in a most pleasing and beautiful way.]

At the time, this annoyed me intensely. I clung to my buddhas and it put me off the church big-time. There you go – seeds of war!

In every scenario where material objects are treasured and clutched tight, lies the potential for division. Things are divisive. They are seeds of war. The seeds of peace lie in sharing them and getting rid of them. Problems arise where things accumulate.

I now think the right place for the awakened self is not in a work of art but the interior of my soul.

It have come to think that every time I take to myself a material object, I increase the likelihood of dissent and division. Things not given material expression do not develop into seeds of war. War is about territory and power. Territory and power are about acquisition and possession - ownership. 

Likewise in the church. The wars and quarrels often arise around the music ministry or the flower ministry, or whether women can or can’t be leaders, or who can preach or be ordained, or who can sit in this pew.

Take away the hierarchy, the liturgy, the flower arrangements and the pews, stick with silence, no leadership, a bunch of wildflowers in a jam jar and chairs in a circle, and suddenly you have the seeds of peace. Which is one reason I like Quakers – they’ve noticed this.

Material possessions, and thoughts formalized into rules and organisations, become love objects and get between us and our fellow human beings. Problems arise where things accumulate, where anything ossifies into rules that define and exclude, where acquisition is in ascendancy, possessions multiply, and territory and power are factors at all, let alone the focus.

Simplicity testimony is peace testimony. They go hand in hand.

Simplicity is the seedpouch of the peaceable kingdom.


Buzzfloyd said...

I'm not sure about this. I think it's more that the objects are a realisation of a principle, and that principle would still be a cause of strife. The principle of dictation over your life by an authoritarian church with whom you disagreed would still be there without the Buddha statues. The principle of spending less and working more versus spending more and working less would still be one to argue over, even if not represented by tools. The objects merely serve to highlight the argument.

gail said...

This is quite amazing. I've never thought of our possessions that way. We (the big fellow and I) were planting out some roses today. He feels the garden is his and the help I was allowed to give was hold the hose. Now this is silly because I do the summer pruning because that's an easy job and he does the main pruning because he thinks I couldn't do that well. Of course I could but I won't argue about because it's just not worth the disharmony. My 92 year old Dad insisted on bringing his big washing machine with him when he moved in with laundry is now boasting 2 washing machines. Again silly really. After reading your thoughts today I can understand how these things can cause disharmony if we let them. Like you I like the Quaker way of simple silence and now through your links on the sidebar I am understand there way so much more. I remember my grandmother saying often " A still tongue makes a wise head " Isn't that a wise saying.
blessings Gail

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Buzz - Fi and I were talking about this during the morning, and she made exactly that point. There's a thing in the Tao that says "Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?" (answer in context: followers of the Tao).
I believe the mud is there all right, but the things stir it up. Then mud that was not apparent and didn't really bother anyone becomes evident and a source of contention.
Human society will always have its mud; the lone swimmer will leave it undisturbed where the paddle boat will churn it. If you see what I mean. Not sure I've expressed it too well. xx

Hi Gail - Thoreau has a lot to say about all this.

Anne said...

Amazing how five of you can all have the same goals. Would never work here. I would love to get rid of the coffee table, I feel like it is something you sit behind and then don't want to get up. Or the coat that's always getting slung over the dining room chair.

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, that's an interesting thought, Anne. I'm not sure we all do have the same goals - but things bring difference into sharp relief, tending towards contention; the fewer things we have, the less intrusive are the differences.

Rebecca said...

Simplicity is so profound sometimes that its largeness overwhelms me. The more I seek it, the higher it rises. The more I try to embrace it, the bulkier it seems.

Simplicity shouldn't be so complex. I must be confusing it with something else......

Anonymous said...

We become so attached to possessions that they begin to define a deep part of us.

When my husband was transferred to another state, we had to live with my parents, temporarily.

Trying to merge two households together with just people was quite hard, but when you bring possessions with you, it just became impossible to coexist.

My solution was to simply put all of our possessions in storage and only used what my family was used to. I took care of everything as we were visiting for a long period...which was the case.

This way, my mother did not feel as if her home was been overtaken by us and our possessions.

A blessing that came out of this experience...simplicity. The less we own, the more freer we all felt.

As always Pen, you are a marvel. :)

God bless!


Pen Wilcock said...

Rebecca - maybe it has to be sipped and savoured? Not all at once, perhaps. xx

Maria - hello my friend xx :0)

Bill Rushby said...

Pen Wilcock wrote: "Take away the hierarchy, the liturgy, the flower arrangements and the pews, stick with silence, no leadership, a bunch of wildflowers in a jam jar and chairs in a circle, and suddenly you have the seeds of peace. Which is one reason I like Quakers – they’ve noticed this."

Pen, I think you must live in a different Quaker world than I do. I have never seen a Quaker group without leadership, or power struggles. And I have seen old meetinghouses abandoned and new ones built, largely to get rid of a traditional seating arrangement and the Quaker culture it represented! Wherever people are involved (and that's everywhere), the old problems of selfishness and sin arise; they are a basic part of human nature. Take all the furniture away, and official readership, and we still have to deal with our sinful nature. That's where Christ becomes relevant and necessary for our redemption!! Anyway, best wishes to you! And I like your multiperson household model.

Pen Wilcock said...

Darn. Better scrap the Society of Friends as well, then.

Bill Rushby said...

Pen: No scraping needed! We just have to acknowledge that we are human beings, and need redemption. George Fox was told by the Holy Spirit that "there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition."

I have been a Friend for most of my adult life, and find great value in the Quaker tradition (or traditions!). But we need to admit that Quakerism is not a panacea. We still have to work, and work hard, to get right with God! My best to you!

ebgindc said...

Am reminded of the book "The Territorial Imperative" from many years ago... May require a reread!

Pen Wilcock said...

This is a serious thing, though. If it is true, as you say, that the Society of Friends is no improvement on the regular institutions of the church, then it is not for me.
I was a minister of religion for a decade or so, and found my primary task, as seen by my faith communities, was to find solutions to their fights and do what they wanted. I met many dear and pleasant people among them, but in general did not discover communities intent upon setting aside self-interest in favour of peace.
It was a great relief to me, to come into the circle of Friends, where anyone could speak, anyone be welcome, where the furniture was simple and humble, the people candid, and the arrangements informal. I was told that here there were no leaders, that it was a circle where everyone sought wisdom and the Light together. In the church, women were excluded from some forms of ministry, and LGTB people were reviled and excluded. My spirit cannot witness to that. I was looking for a community that believes in peace, in simplicity, in equality, and in honesty - integrity, truth. The Society of Friends say they bear testimony to those things.
I do not expect perfection from anybody - of course I don't. I'm 56, I've raised 5 kids, been divorced and widowed - how could I not have grasped that human nature is frail? I know Christ for myself, and I understand about redemption and the need for it.
But I have reached the point where I am looking for something real now. I don't want to play religious games any more.
What canst thou say? If the Society of Friends is really, truthfully, just the same knot of power struggles and exclusions as the church, then truly Friend, it is not for me.
It's not perfection I'm looking for but authenticity. It's not clever to wag your head sagely and admonish me, make me look stupid for thinking the Friends are what they claim to be.
If you in all honesty can tell me they are not, the Testimonies are a pious fraud and the Society a fake, well then I won't waste my time there any more.
What canst thou say? Truthfully.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Ellen - we cross-posted! I don't know that book. xx

Pen Wilcock said...

Just been to look at it on Amazon. Gosh, it looks depressing! There must be a way to live together in peace.

Bill Rushby said...

Pen wrote; "This is a serious thing, though. If it is true, as you say, that the Society of Friends is no improvement on the regular institutions of the church, then it is not for me."
Hey, Pen, I never said that the Society of Friends is "no improvement" over regular church institutions! In spite of much evidence of its problems, I am still a Friend, and believe that Quaker faith and usages offer something hard to find anywhere else. BUT, Quakerism is no panacea. If we think it is, we are setting ourselves up for great disillusionment. Some have spoken of "the Lamb's War" as a central motif of Quaker faith. Let's admit that there is a war to be fought, many of the battle scenes being within our own natures. But there is also hope of victory over all that God has a controversy with, and that is what drives me on! Real authenticity in faith requires admitting to the complexity of the problems it involves. By the way, I have never thought you were anything less than a sincere and truly concerned seeker. And certainly, you are not stupid!! Again, my best wishes to you.

Pen Wilcock said...

A panacea is not what I am looking for, nor have I ever suggested that the Society of Friends is or offers one.
But I did want to find a way to keep company with the people of God that doesn't involve ruining the lives of LGTB people or relegating women to second class or spending thousands and thousands of pounds on decorative artefacts.
Now over on Facebook I have two more Quakers rushing to tell me that I've got it all wrong and am a naive dreamer to suppose the Society of Friends is any more inclusive or less riven by fighting than the church.
Is there no Quaker anywhere who can testify to anything different?

Katrina Green said...

Very helpful observations. Thank you Pen. x

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Anonymous said...

When I lived in a house with 4 capable women sharing the same kitchen and taking turns to prepare communal meals we only had 1 rule:- "Different is not wrong". It spared us endless arguments and offence over things like which order one should add the ingredients to make a sponge cake or wether and how mince should be pre-cooked before making a lasagne. So long as the meal was prepared with love and received with a grateful heart the rights and wrongs of how it is done did not matter.
I guess you could apply that rule to things as diverse as hoovering, lawn mowing and worshipping.

kfsaylor said...

Pen, your testimony to peace in the Rest kindles. It is not about Quakerism or any outward thing, concept, or emotion. Christ's presence is Peace. To argue the sufficiency of Quakerism is to wallow in the dank and murky mud. To experience the sufficiency of imnediate Presence ... free from outward ideological, emotional, and elemental dis-traction is Peace.

Thank you for this piece (peace) and for the edifcation it offers.

Pen Wilcock said...

I feel disturbed at the extent to which words are being put into my mouth. In my blog post, I said:
"Take away the hierarchy, the liturgy, the flower arrangements and the pews, stick with silence, no leadership, a bunch of wildflowers in a jam jar and chairs in a circle, and suddenly you have the seeds of peace. Which is one reason I like Quakers – they’ve noticed this."
It seems to me that this is true. It is not an argument for the sufficiency of Quakerism. It advances the proposition that the Peace Testimony and the Simplicity Testimony are connected. Where are Friends getting the idea that I think Quakers are perfect or that Quakerism is a panacea, or that I am arguing the sufficiency of Quakerism?

kfsaylor said...

I apologize for my choice of words. My meaning and intent did not come through.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Keith, thank you so much for coming along and commenting - and for the reminder that peace is found in the presence of Christ; which is truth like a rock offering firm footing.

Anonymous said...

Quakers are not perfect - of course not! But I can truly say that in all my twenty something years of being one, I have never come away from meeting for Worship or being in the presence of other Friends feeling churned up, angry, despairing or a whole host of other negative things that were my regular experience when I used to worship elsewhere.
I'm not saying that there are no 'leadership or power struggles' - but I have never been aware of any.

Rapunzel said...

As a person who parted with 75% of her stuff to squeeze into her partner's house, and who knows jolly well he'd never consider doing any such thing himself, I think you're spot on about STUFF.

I adore things. But I adore them within limits, and I adore them on a short term basis. I never bring home anything with the thought "I will have this forever", I'm more of a "I'll enjoy this for awhile" kind of person.
The Manimal is a "Save that we may need it some day" kind of fellow. He works in a libraries and museums, where they All think like that.
If I were interested in going to war over it I'm sure I could turn our difference of viewpoint into a clash of titans. Instead I keep my mouth shut and mumble a lot to myself about things like "what could I have possibly been thinking?"
Which is not a solution.
Your post has given me much to mull over. Thanks!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Rapunzel - Yes, indeed: 'on a short-term basis'. I have over a period of years changed to thinking less in terms of ownership, more in terms of indefinite lease.

Ros said...

Hi Pen :-)

An interesting reflection.

'The friction and stress occurs in those areas where we clutch tightly to our own things, insisting our version is best and adamantly hanging on to it.'

This rings very true to me. It can be seen very clearly in the anger of the rich towards the poor and may also be present in the anger of the poor towards the rich. If we did not place so much value on the right/need to possess, we would neither hoard nor covet.

Of course, this is seen most profoundly when it comes to ownership of the land, Israel and Palestine perhaps being the most tragic example. Tragic, because, of all people, they should know that:

'The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it...' (Psalm 24:1)


'... the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.'(Leviticus 25:23)

Interestingly, this confronts us with something of a paradox. If the earth (and everything in it) belongs to God, then we need to be able to sit lightly on it (and everything in it). On the other hand, if the earth (and everything in it) belongs to God, what happens to it is profoundly important. And therein lie further seeds of conflict.

Take fracking, for example. The anti-fracking lobby tell us that 'David Cameron wants to frack under *your* house...' knowing full well that this will hit a nerve. If we are able to see through this, we may still feel that God's earth should not be treated this way. But what do we do with the land? Do we graze cattle on it? Do we plant carrots on it? Do we plant trees on it? Do we cover it with solar panels or a wind farm? Do we mine for the metals we need for the wind turbines? Do we build homes for the homeless on it?

The answers are far from simple, which makes conflict hard to avoid. Which of us, truly, can speak up on God's behalf for any given piece of land? Yet if we do not speak...?

Pen Wilcock said...

Makes me think of 'Chief Seattle's Testimony', and its evocation of what it is to love the land, to see ourselves as belonging to the land, not vice versa. x

Rapunzel said...

Perhaps the Society of Friends needs more naive dreamers?

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Anekha said...

I am struck by how much the evolution of discussion in the comments thread echoed your very point. The tensions indeed arising from possession. In this case, by "claiming" ideas or spiritual practices under a name like "quaker" they suddenly took on a whole new dimension, which I doubt they would have had you simply praised silence and simplicity of worship without naming a denomination that practices that. I find it very interesting…

Anekha said...

In particular I am struck by how titles and names of things tend to have preconceived notions attached to them. They possess them if you will. In this case its what it means to be Quaker I guess? Or how much perfection or righteousness Quakerism can claim to possess? I don't know…. musing out loud here.
I learned a similar concept of semantic possession in university while I studied linguistics. That certain words or terms can be classed as possessing others. for example the word penguin is + bird + snow -flight, and perhaps the word mother is + woman and how words can change possession as the word nurse used to be +woman only. It now possesses male and female or perhaps has lost possession of specific gender reference? You can see possession as the seeds of war in language itself.

Pen Wilcock said...

That's really interesting, Anekha - thank you. So there are seeds of peace in taking the labels off. x