Caution: mini-rant ahead…

What’s been going on at Oats since my company left on 7/4? Well, first, lots of sleeping and napping. Second, lots of kitty and bird petting and reassurances of love despite my vacationary defection with the dogs.* Third, daily thoughts that I should mow the lawn that are followed closely by “nah” and the naps mentioned above. Fourth, sanding and refinishing of the teak** chairs I bought for $5 each at local thrift shop. Fifth, a few around-town bike rides. Sixth, reading a friend’s EXCELLENT novel manuscript. Seventh, pretending that the fall semester is not starting in 6 short weeks.

I’ve also been doing some nonfiction reading: Mary Rose O’Reilly’s The Peaceable Classroom, which is focused on English lit and composition teaching and is inspiring, and Thomas Hamm’s The Quakers in America, a history of, yeah, the title says it all. Let me tell you, American Quakers have been a schism-happy bunch of folks, especially compared with British Quakers. Anyway, it’s the second book that leads to my little rant:

The book cites a Quaker historian as saying that Quakers should give up peace activism other than praying for peace because the government [war policies] always win anyway and “enormous expenditures of Quaker energy in peace activism . . . have had little impact and have never stopped a war” (165).

Okay. First, while we hope to be effective in our testimonies, when has Christianity ever been about immediate success? Christ’s crucifixion looks an awful lot like failure taken out of context of the resulting sea change in the hearts and minds of believers — and, given the selfishness and violence so often performed in the name of that crucifixion, an awful lot like failure at many points throughout history up to and including today. But we still see and hope and work for the good news.

Second, peace activism is as much about reaching individual people who witness the activism and planting a seed in their minds as it is about success with the current issue, and who’s to say we won’t reach a tipping point in the future, as we did with women’s suffrage and civil rights, both long, long campaigns that started and were maintained by (apparently) useless acts that could have no real effect on the government?

Third, what about the inherent nobility of doing what’s right, even when we know it’s doomed to failure? That leads us back to Christ’s crucifixion, of course. But even more so, Western Culture has long glorified doing what has been perceived as brave or right in the face of certain failure when fighting wars — look at the Children’s Crusade or Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” or “glorious Gallipoli” (and there are many more examples, both real and fictional). When will we glorify doing what’s right when it’s to prevent deaths, rather than throwing lives into battle?

I’d appreciate others’ comments/ideas on either side of this issue. Perhaps I feel especially strongly about this because embracing the Peace Testimony has been one of the most radical changes I’ve undergone in my Quaker path, having grown up in a WWII family,*** having been pro-death penalty in some cases in my younger years, and just having grown up in the individualistic, gun-worshiping West.

*Of course, the cats would have forgiven my departure if I’d left the dogs somewhere in Wyoming….

**in tung oiling this wood and seeing its natural color, I’m wondering if it’s not kapurwood rather than teak. Kapurwood is another Indonesian hardwood and sort of the “poor man’s teak” in the same way that Reno is the poor man’s Las Vegas — you’re still gonna spend a lot of money.

***And I still honor my father’s service and my mother’s sacrifices to that service. They were doing what they thought was right and good at the time, and I’m not sure it wasn’t right and good; the Holocaust makes WWII an especially complex peace debate, I feel.

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2 responses »

  1. Right on all counts, as far as I’m concerned:

    –Peace activism is not about immediate success. We’re in it for the long haul.

    –It is indeed about the individual, about grassroots work and reaching those nearest us when possible — My favorite quote about this, and the one that keeps me going, is from Deepak Chopra:

    “Let us not demand of ourselves that we alone must be the agent of change. In a fire brigade everyone passes along a bucket, but only the last person puts out the fire. None of us know where we stand in line. We may be here simply to pass a bucket; we may be called on to play a major role. In either case, all we can do is think, act, and say. Let us direct our thoughts, words, and actions to peace. That is all we can do. Let the results be what they will be.”
    His entire essay, “Where is Peace in a Time of War” can be read at:
    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/07/where_is_peace.html

    I also find inspirational his “Seven Practices for Peace,” totally focused on what the individual can do.
    http://www.beliefnet.com/story/160/story_16073_1.htm

    That said, I firmly believe that the activist’s work must emanate, as a fragrance naturally emanates from a flower, from a core of inner spiritual practice. Otherwise, we end up like the Quaker historian you cite: frustrated, embittered, ready to take our marbles and go back home.

    I do understand those who criticize shouting, gesticulating demonstrators. I personally do not believing in shouting or writing insults, whether aimed at the President or anyone. What in heaven’s name has become of the early Quaker belief of “answering that of God in everyone?” Why do so many Quakers adopt the firebrand persona? That is not the only way to “publish the Truth.” I’m convinced that our behavior and language must be firm and tenacious, yet as dispassionate and even-tempered as possible. Not easy when egged on by the Anne Coulters of the world, I admit. Yet I strive not to fall into their mode of behavior but to take a higher ground.

    –And yes, peace activism is most certainly about doing what’s right. I recently read a lengthy article (though not recently written) about John Woolman, the 18th century Quaker minister who spoke to slave owners, urging them to free their slaves. He refused to wear dyed cloth or clothes made from cotton, as the dyes and cotton were both fruits of slave labor. Did he hasten the liberty of the slaves considerably by doing so? That’s highly debatable. But the author of the essay points out the importance for Woolman in living a life that was, as closely as possible, in harmony with his convictions — which is, I believe, another testimony, namely Integrity. (If you’d like a copy of the essay, just let me know and give me your email address.)

    BTW, welcome to the fractious, contentious world of the “peaceable” Quakers! I got my baptism by fire on a couple of Quaker listservs that turned out to be anything but F/friendly…I realized that I had to nurture my inward and outward spiritual practice by seeking both the writings and the company of Friends who did the same.

    In the Light.

  2. As I’m sure you could have guessed, Inez, I’m with you on this one. If our work seems silly and useless, well then, we’re being “fools for Christ,” right?

    Whenever anyone accuses me of being naive or hopelessly idealistic or deluded, I come back to Puddleglum’s famous speech in THE SILVER CHAIR — the one that ends, “I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

    Sometimes we can make seemingly impossible things come true by believing them and living into them — and sometimes seemingly impossible stories, in the hands of a few people who believe them, can become real enough to convince the cynics. See GalaxyQuest. Also Dickson’s WAY OF THE PILGRIM. (Although those stories are more about armed resistance than about peace; this is where the WWII qualms come in.)

    Which is to say, if enough other people believe in peace, the embittered may even find themselves reconverted.

    And I’m rambling, so I’ll stop now.

    Comfort the disturbed. Disturb the comfortable. And so forth.

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