My father was born the seventh of eight children. This meant that when he was eight and still a little boy, some of his elder brothers and sisters were twenty-one and more. He said he remembered believing that at that age, they knew it all, and thinking that when he got to twenty-one, he too would know it all. When he reached twenty-one, clearly he found that he didn’t know it all, not by any means.
So he had to revise his thinking. His first revision was, ‘They didn’t know it all at all. I have been deceived. They pretended to know it all, and I fell for it.’ (I note that he did not make the mistake of thinking, ‘They did know it all, and the reason I don’t is because I am Inferior.’) Then he revised his thinking again. His second revision, the one that lasted, was, ‘They didn’t know it all, and they didn’t pretend to know it all. I believed they knew it all, because I was only eight. Maybe I needed to believe they knew it all.’
When you have just joined a group for the first time, when you are the new kid on the block, it is very easy to think three things: ‘They are all the same,’ ‘They all know all about it,’ and ‘I know nothing.’ As you get further into the group and get to know its members better, you start to see that they are not all the same (you start to see them as individuals) and you realise that each individual struggles in his own unique way, too.
Some people can make a lot of money by persuading us that we can have it all sorted, if only we will buy their latest, improved product. ‘You will have no more bad-hair days if you use [Insert product name here]. You will have no more embarrassing moments if you use [X] deodorant, no more skin problems if you use [Y] cream. You will no longer be what you are afraid you are, a squirming, self-conscious, pathetic adolescent, if you buy our product and no other. You want it, we got it, you can get it only through us, up to and including Salvation. Roll up, roll up.’
Now, we are human beings. Humans don’t do perfect. Maybe God does perfect, but we human beings certainly don’t. We are fallible. No one has it made. No one has it all sorted. This is axiomatic. You can have all the 0 – 60 acceleration, all the RAM, all the gadgets and all the apps in the world, and still you will struggle – as indeed you must, if you take life as it actually is. There is no easy way to be a human being.
We humans are not perfect and (I would say) not perfectible on this earth, no matter what the advertisers and cosmetic surgeons will tell you. On the other hand, nor are we irredeemable sinners beyond hope, as the fundamentalists will try to persuade you. The truth is, we are somewhere in the middle. Things and people can be made better, through love and diligence in proper balance. Praise be.
The latest post on Transition Quaker is a reflection on the theme of 'The Good Economy', that was discussed at Britain Yearly Meeting in May.
Many Friends who ministered at the Yearly Meeting sessions on 'economic justice and sustainability' seemed to be anticipating the flourishing of a 'new economy' based on co-operation, fairness, and equality. By contrast, I think we should be preparing for a future of very long-term economic contraction with its inevitable hardships and inequalities, rather than looking to a utopian transformation of society.
Could Quaker communities play an important role in supporting each other through difficult economic times? The current discussions in Sheffield Meeting about our financial future offer an opportunity to deal practically with economic issues in ways that embody our commitments to local resilience and sustainability. I am very much looking forward to seeing what emerges from the process.