Sunday, June 01, 2008

An Embrace of Peace

One of my fellow worshippers at this morning’s Quaker meeting shared with us that she had spent her Memorial Day with her father, a World War II veteran. He loves war , she said, and part of her visit to Indiana entailed enduring a VFW event where all things militaristic were venerated.

My Friend/friend had suffered through the ceremony in silence and in respect for the dead.

When it came my turn to speak this morning, her ordeal moved me to share that my father also had been a World War II veteran.

He had come home from the Asian theater with a deep, abiding hatred for war. A flight surgeon, he often had the duty of rushing to the wreckage of B-29s that had crash-landed at the air base.

He would search through the burned out hulks, searching for the broken and charred bodies of his friends.

He found no glory in war.

Before the war, my father had been a religious man, my mother confided in me. After it, he was cynical about the spirit and a benevolent God. Life had become a kind of fool’s game. He seemed to hold much of it at bay.

I told my colleagues sitting in our circle at the meeting this morning that my father’s hatred of war was a major reason for my being among them, for my being a Quaker. He had instilled his aversion to war in his son.

When, in my teens, I had occasion to visit the vast and somber World War I military cemeteries in northern France, I again witnessed the evil of war. When I became acquainted with Quaker beliefs in college, I found a spiritual refuge.

I remember when I was faced with a middling draft lottery number during the Vietnam War, my father had advised enlisting in the Coast Guard. A safe alternative, it seemed a “patriotic” accommodation with what he saw as, at best, a dubious conflict.

I had served three years in the Peace Corps in Africa. My work among the Kenyan people had nurtured “peace” in my heart. I told my father that I would either flee to Canada or go to jail.

As events played out, I never had to make the choice.

To this day, I cleave to the Quaker Peace Testimony of 1660: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons for any end or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world . . , ,”

If only the whole world would accept our testimony. In our quiet, persistent way, Quakers extend the invitation, urging the embrace of peace.

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