For many of us, the living into the testimony of peace and nonviolence is the most difficult part of Quakerism. In our country, some generations were raised to think a certain way about the issue of war and participating in it. It’s unresolved for many of us in our minds, and we strive to listen for things in the advice and queries that we can support and live out in our lives.
How are we to figure out the things that cause war and then go stop them? That seems to require much meddling of us; perhaps we must do more meddling than we are doing. When the Occupy movement was going strong as a form of peaceful protest, it seemed intimidating, and that caused some of us to begin to wonder just what is peace: When does even a passive show of force become a violent statement used to intimidate others?
Do we have adequate models of nonviolence, such as in the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.? How are we to respond to the horrors of Newtown, Connecticut? Do we spend enough time seeking ways to look at intimidation in the eye and respond peacefully while also holding one another accountable for our actions…? When George Fox wrote his epistle in which he counsels us “seek to live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars,” he was responding to the civil war in England at the time. Are our times so different? We are violently divided as a nation, and as Friends we are disturbed by the polarization of the country. Actions such as going to the School of the Americas and getting arrested; joining peace marches; and signing petitions seem to miss the point somehow, and we are unsure what’s missing in our collective effort to be nonviolent.
With regard to family, some of us reflected on what it has meant to parent or to be parented with intimidation. Is the only nonviolent alternative one of manipulation and behavioral management? How do we grow beyond the ways of responding to the violence that we had been exposed to in our own childhood by our parents? How do we find ways to respond and react to children peacefully, especially when our impulse is to express to our children anger and impatience?
Separation from God may readily lead us to separation from one another, and when we lose the connection to that of God in one another, we may fall into great despair, pain, and hurt—a spiritual condition that may in turn lead to war and violence.
In our current situation as a worship community, we struggle with how Friends among us have been treated. At times our actions and words have felt like an attack on one another, which in turn may be viewed as a form of preparation for war. As a result, some Friends have stopped attending and we miss their presence. Do we hurt so much because we have loved one another so much? We need one another to help us consider how we have acted correctly or incorrectly, to help us be faithful and understand the way forward.
We feel great tenderness and love toward one another, even as we recognize that as individuals, we respond to pain, fear, and conflict in different ways—some by staying away from worship; others by stepping more fully forward into participating in the life of the meeting. Where is the place and how do we carve out the time to ask one another tenderly, “How were you faithful? What have been the fruits of the Spirit as we walk this walk as best we can?”
How might our country, our world be different if instead of rushing to war and defending ourselves, we rushed to be the first to say “I seek forgiveness and offer reconciliation…”?