Friends often talk about how we seek unity on issues. When there is not unity, what do we tend to do? We talk about "seasoning", laying the issue aside for a while, continue to discern. In many cases this is totally the thing to do, but what if the issues have broader implications - such as a minute or statement about how we think the world should be or some kind of action regarding issues beyond our congregation? It's one thing to consider a minute of whether or not to perform a same-gender marriage or to take something under the care of the Meeting; while it may be unpleasant for many, it is about a group action in an enclosed group. But when the issue at hand has to do the broader world around us, often people have strong feelings about either the issue or the action and want the whole body to follow-suit, the whole body might not do so for a number of reasons. The desire for unity can be painful, as often a lack of unity is perceived as a lack of action, and people may feel compelled to support the called-for action because they feel intimidated, at times sensing that because they are not in unity they are somehow deficient in understanding the problem or they are simply tired and want to move on to something else. For others, myself included, there is a discomfort that unity among ourselves can come across as exclusive - that somehow, because we have reached unity, this is how the world should be, and it doesn't matter what others - neighbors, friends, family, other congregations - think.
This past year I saw in the Quaker cyber-world the observation that Peace - perhaps the thing Quakers are most known for these days - is a dynamic relationship between justice and harmony. Peace is what we strive for, and we all recognize that justice is necessary to achieving that peace. It is often a drive for justice that is behind our calls to action or public statements.
What if, during those frequent times when we do not have unity, we try practicing harmony? Consider the analogy of an orchestra conductor. His/her role is to bring together the leading and talents of very different people, each with a leaning to very different kinds of instruments, and have them learn to listen to each other and play off each other while practicing their own particular piece. They bring a peaceful experience to what could be an incredibly unpleasant experience.
Now, we Friends are not in a position to be actual conductors in most cases. Humility should help keep the ego in check. With the Prayer of St. Francis as a guide, we should recognize that we are simply instruments of Peace, but the whole Peace ensemble is much greater than us. It is not ours to make everyone an instrument like us. But we can be better practitioners of listening for harmony and learning to harmonize with others, appreciating the other instruments. In those times when we don't have unity, perhaps we can learn to harmonize with each other. It takes potential chaos and brings it to a more synchronized flow, but it doesn't try to make the violin a tuba. As we learn to do this with each other, then perhaps we can be better practitioners of it in the even larger world where there are even less chances of unity. It is a way to take our voices out and rather than feeling we need to shout down our neighbors, family and friends who do not agree with us, or feel we can't talk about things, we can learn to harmonize with them. It's really about seeing the common humanity. Isn't that really what we mean by "there is that of God in all" anyway?