Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Principle of Harmony: Grace in Action?

At a meeting recently, as we were going around the table giving personal updates, one of the people related that she recently got hooked on sports radio.  For years, she had ignored sports on principle.  Billions are spent in sports, and countless hours of human capital are spent on sports instead of things such as war, poverty and climate change.  Many sports are also violent (hockey, football and boxing), and at the college level, teenagers are exploited while academics often suffer.  In addition, there are the countless TV and radio hours of blather that has questionable social merit.  But her curiosity led to enjoying the chatter, and she was hooked.  What she reflected on was that it is this new-found knowledge of sports that is now the catalyst of her relationship with her father, who has alzheimers.  It gives them something they can talk about, despite a breakdown of communication capability.

It was her comment "I had to sacrifice my principles (of not giving any fiscal/human capital to sports) so that I could have a relationship with my dad" that really resonated with me.

For the past few months, as I have been clerking the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Peace and Social Concerns Committee and grappling with a minute connected to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I read a quote that Peace is made up of Justice and Harmony.  Many of us are good at standing on the principle of Justice.  Many of us on the left are enamored with the idea that, as Quakers say, we "speak truth to power."  We often do so without any consideration for what others think.  We at times do this with arrogance, as if we know what The Truth is, and perhaps by pointing the finger at those who we claim to be in power we ignore our own power.  We become righteous victims, which can alienate us further from people who might align with us but don't like the action we are demanding.  We apply this to so many aspects of our life - from where we shop, to the car we drive, to the TV/radio programs we listen to - to almost every aspect of our lives.  All of this is standing on the principle of justice.

But what if we were to stand on the principle of harmony?  What if we really did not only consider what our neighbors think about social justice issues, but let their opinions influence what we do.  When I have mentioned the notion that Peace is made up of Justice and Harmony, the retort is often that it is important to take principled stands, and somehow justice would be sacrificed at the expense of harmony.  But the more I think about it, harmony is not just a principled stand but the more difficult of the two (justice being the other).  I am reminded of the opening lines of the 2011 movie The Tree of Life comparing nature and grace: "Grace doesn't try to please itself; it accepts being slighted; it accepts insults and injuries.  Nature only wants to please itself, get others to please it, and likes to lord it over them.  No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end."  Grace is that moment when we are at with one another, calling on us to put ego aside, and is the bedrock of unity.  Grace, essentially, is like unconditional love,  As is written in 1 Corinthians 13:13, "three things will last forever - faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love."

This, to me, does not mean that other principles get sacrificed.  I do believe that we can stand firmly on the principle of harmony but also stand firm for what we believe.  It is a challenge for people whose faith - religious or secular - is embedded deeply in social action.  Conversely, to be completely and solely standing on the principle of harmony is hard for me to even fathom.  I have way too many opinions about what can and should be done.  I do think, however, that it is worthwhile to consider not brushing harmony off as an impediment to principled action, but to instead start to see that harmony is a very principled position grounded in grace and love, and that it perhaps has more power than many of our other well-intended efforts to bring a true, sustainable peace to the world.  

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