Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Ocean of Darkness, Ocean of Light": a Reflection on the Peace Movement

I'm looking forward to rejoining my friends at Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace this Friday. Here's a reflection I intend to share:

I just spent a wonderful week camping and hanging out with nearly 300 Quakers at our annual gathering, which took place at Walker Creek Ranch in Marin county not far from Petaluma. We were surrounded with rolling golden hills and lots of critters—cattle, deer, foxes, owls, turkey vultures, hawks, and quail.  Not to mention, a few feral Quakers. I gave three presentations about my new book, and around 100 Friends attended each session and my book sold out! I co-led a workshop on ending war with David Hartsough, one of the leading Quaker peace activists of our era, co-founder of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. David began his career working with Martin Luther King and he’s been on the forefront of the peace movement ever since. I was also asked to serve as clerk of the Peace Committee for our Yearly Meeting. There were a few bumps in the road, but all things considered, it was very good week.

I am happy to be here among friends who care about peace and justice as much as I do, but my heart is heavy when I think of the moral decline of our nation. I am saddened and appalled that many Americans, including our elected officials, are responding so cold-bloodedly to the plight of children who are fleeing deadly violence in Latin America and are seeking a safe haven here. How can Americans be so heartless, so out of touch with God and reality?

I am also grieving and outraged at the plight of the Gazans who are being massacred once again by the Israelis,  with the full support of our elected officials and the tacit support of our corporate media. How can we call these periodic bloodbaths “self-defense”? When will the siege of Gaza be lifted, and Palestinians have the same rights and privileges as Israeli Jews?

I wish that Americans and Israelis would take to heart what God commanded in Levitticus: “Foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt”  (Levitticus 19:34).

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, lived in a time of brutal wars when millions had been killed because of religious differences. In his journal he wrote that he saw “there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.” That’s how I see today’s world.  The forces of darkness—militarism, racism, and predatory capitalism—surround us. But they are in turn surrounded by a much larger and more powerful force—there are over a thousand grassroots peace organizations in the world, and millions who are working for peace and justice. Peace makers don’t get much media coverage, but they are the leaven in the loaf, the faithful few who have changed the course of history. The Cold War ended without bloodshed not simply because of Gorbachev and Reagan, but because of the millions involved in the Nuclear Freeze movement and citizen diplomacy who said to these leaders: COLD WAR, NO MORE!!

As I study the history of the abolitionist movement, I am struck by how difficult and hopeless it must have seemed at time. But the abolitionists didn’t give up, they kept agitating until slavery was made illegal, and African Americans were emancipated. Sadly, prejudice persisted, and so did institutional racism, with Jim Crowe and now the new Jim Crowe, mass incarceration. But I’m convinced that this, too, shall pass. During our Quaker gathering, I had the chance to hear a presentation by Laura Magnani, an amazing woman who has been working for prison reform for forty years, and I am in awe of her unwavering commitment.

I know that my Quaker community will uphold our 350-year-old  Peace Testimony until war, like slavery, is made illegal. I know that every one in this room has made a life-long commitment to this beautiful struggle, and that fills me with joy and hope. We are not Don Quixotes tilting at windmills, we are the Beloved Community doing the will of the one who made us a little lower than the angels. And we will overcome!


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