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Quakers

The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America
by Alan Nelson and John Malkin. (Excerpt)

The Quakers

The movement to create the Quakers – more formally known as the Religious Society of Friends began in England in the mid-1600s. A leather worker and shepherd named George Fox (1624-1691) led in developing this new Christian way of gathering, studying, praying and taking action. The first Quakers emphasized the importance of personal guidance and direct experience of the teachings of Jesus. From their early days, the Quakers challenged the authority and dogma of church and state and they questioned the notion that a minister or intermediary was necessary to know God. Quakers have often suffered imprisonment, confiscation of property and death in their struggles for freedom and justice. Fox wrote in his journal that he was frequently beaten or forced out of a town after verbally challenging clergy about matters regarding faith and politics.

Fox encouraged William Penn (1644-1718) to establish a colony in North America where a “holy experiment” could take shape. In 1681, King Charles II of England had settled a debt owed to Penn’s father by grating to William Penn ownership of a vast area of land in America. Penn left for America on August 13, 1682, to set up the colony with thousands of other Quakers who shared a vision of creating a community where they could worship as they chose without persecution by the British government or the Catholic Church. The “Holy Experiment” became known as Pennsylvania. There are currently about 300,000 Quakers worldwide.

Relations between Quakers and American Indians were peaceful, especially compared to the bloody history between American Indians and most other early Christian and non-Christian immigrant groups. Also, the Religious Society of Friends has always worked for equal rights for women, regarding women and men as equal children of God and equally capable of public ministry and of filling leadership roles in the Quaker community and church.

Quakers were among the first to oppose slavery in the United States and to prohibit it among their members. Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania, protested slavery as early as 1688. John Woolman (1720-1772), a colonial Quaker, opposed and helped to eradicate slavery among Quakers in the United States.

Another Quaker, Levi Coffin (1789-1877), was called “the president of the Underground Railroad” because, using their home as a safe house, he and his wife and family helped about three thousand slaves escape to freedom. Coffin gave escaped slaves food, shelter, medical care and safe transportation. Such revolutionary social action was not popular with landowners, slaveholders, or some Quakers, who deemed Coffin’s actions “too radical.” In spite of death threats and attacks on their home, Levi Coffin and his family continued their liberating work rooted in Christian nonviolence to help ex-slaves begin new lives, free from their former “owners.”

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Easter’s Origins

Christians celebrate Easter Sunday as the day that the Jewish teacher, Jesus of Nazareth (later called The Christ), was resurrected (or disappeared) from the tomb within which his body was encased. This celebration is actually one of the more recent spring celebrations, which has morphed from and into many traditions. Pagans have celebrated the ideas and realities of death and rebirth for thousands of years.

One of these festivals celebrated Eostre (The Goddess of Dawn). She was linked to the egg and rabbit or hare and fertility. Others say the modern rabbit connection is a German tradition from the 1500s, when German’s changed the pagan rabbit image into a large bow-tie wearing rabbit named Oschter Haws, who was said to lay nests of colored eggs for good children.

The equinox, at the end of March, is also marked by Christians, Neopagans and Wiccans, many of whom hold celebrations on the eve of day of the equinox. The Eastern Orthodox churches also have Easter services, but they are a month or two later in the year.

The Religious Tolerance site has the following information about Easter’s origins.

The name “Easter” originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.”

Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.” Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:

Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus
Ashtoreth from ancient Israel
Astarte from ancient Greece
Demeter from Mycenae
Hathor from ancient Egypt
Ishtar from Assyria
Kali, from India
Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.

An alternative explanation has been suggested. The name given by the Frankish church to Jesus’ resurrection festival included the Latin word “alba” which means “white.” (This was a reference to the white robes that were worn during the festival.) “Alba” also has a second meaning: “sunrise.” When the name of the festival was translated into German, the “sunrise” meaning was selected in error. This became “ostern” in German. Ostern has been proposed as the origin of the word “Easter”.

There are two popular beliefs about the origin of the English word “Sunday.” It is derived from the name of the Scandinavian sun Goddess Sunna (a.k.a. Sunne, Frau Sonne). It is derived from “Sol,” the Roman God of the Sun.” Their phrase “Dies Solis” means “day of the Sun.” The Christian saint Jerome (d. 420) commented “If it is called the day of the sun by the pagans, we willingly accept this name, for on this day the Light of the world arose, on this day the Sun of Justice shone forth.”

Someone to Blame

Someone to Blame by C. S. Lakin (Zondervan Publishing, 2010) Review by Gabriel Constans.

How do you survive and find meaning, when the worst that can happen has happened? What do you do with the memories, visions, pain and suffering that follow you wherever you go, regardless of how many miles you’ve put between the tragedies and your self?

Those are the questions and circumstances facing the Moore family. Mother Irene, her husband Matt and their daughter Casey, make their way to a seemingly sleepy small town on the coast of Northern California called Breakers. The wonderful opening line sums up their feelings. “Irene once heard that if you fell off a cliff in your dream, you would always wake before smacking the ground. If only real life were that merciful.”

What has driven them so far from home and built walls of false protection between them is the loss of their 2 sons (Casey’s brothers Jesse and Daniel). What happened, how and perhaps why, are revealed as the story progresses. Each member of the family carries the burden differently and rarely allows them self to share their fears, grief and sadness with one another, out of self-protection and thinking they are protecting one another. Into the mix comes Billy Thurber, a damaged young man who comes to town and is immediately judged and quartered most everyone in the community for various incidents that occur.

Sheriff Joe Huff, pastor Luis Munez, Irene Moore and her daughter Casey, are the only people who give Billy a shadow of a doubt and perceive the possibility of his innocence. Whether he is innocent or guilty and of which crimes, is cleverly written by Ms. Lakin and leaves one in a constant state of anticipation to see what awaits the reader around the next corner. At one point Irene thinks, “Suddenly, it became clear – that every little action had immeasurable potency, creating a hundred repercussions that could set off any number of events.” Out of fear and helplessness, many members of the community begin to act out and become the very people they are afraid of.

Brief quotes from the Bible are interspersed throughout the novel in thoughts and conversations, as various characters (most notably Irene and Pastor Munez) try to come to terms with events that are spinning out of control, as well as losses which have already occurred. Though Someone to Blame clearly has a Christian bent, it is always within the stories context and never insists that readers’ have the same beliefs. The only questions that may arise in this regard are lines such as, “And sometimes you had to use violence to protect yourself and those you loved. Only society determined which violence was acceptable and which wasn’t.” This reasoning flies completely in the face of Jesus of Nazareth’s words and life of love and non-violent resistance, which some Christians seem to turn a blind eye to when they are justifying the use of violence. It also takes away any responsibility for individual choice and behavior, when it says, “Only society determined which violence…”

Other than the time that Billy says to Irene (while speaking about a broken sand dollar) that, “I’m broken – like this. Stop trying to fix me,” the people and dialogue that inhabit Someone to Blame are well rounded, complex and keenly written. The author’s understanding of the human condition and how we often react to suffering, are insightful and realistic. One of the many moving sentences in the story was, “She (Irene) drew Casey into her arms and released that love, swelling and overflowing, a torrent of need. Her daughter fell into those arms, like falling from a burning building into a safety net.”

Whether you believe in God or not, this inspirational novel is a good temporary salve for one’s daily experience and a beneficial exploration of what can cause our emotional pain to heal and/or fester.

The Only Alternative

Excerpt from The Only Alternative: Chiristian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America by Alan Nelson and John Malkin. Originally edited by Gabriel Constans.

Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the force of hate with the power of love.”

Throughout human history, violence has failed to create peaceful communities in which the world’s people can live, thrive, and interact. Though some interpersonal (behavioral) or international (systemic) acts of violence and war may temporarily interrupt violence in the short term, violence always perpetuates violence. There is no way to create pace and safety with strategies based on violence. Only through means that are themselves peaceful and non-violent can anger and fear be relaxed, compassion cultivated, and peace realized.

We have been taught to believe that a beneficial way to influence the behavior of people whose actions disturb us is to judge them and threaten them with various degrees of violence, or by actually inflicting violence upon them. Though these actions may stem from a compassionate desire to contribute to the well-being of another person, all of these use punitive strategies based on the idea that the best way to influence the behavior of another person is by inflicting physical or psychological suffering upon them, rather than by discovering a strategy that would compassionately meet the needs of all involved. This education that emphasizes moralistic judgment of others as right or wrong and good or bad is based in a system of reward and punishment that is applied to self and others. Jesus challenged this method when he urged people to give up revenge and war and to utilize the power of revolutionary love. He urged his followers to turn from retribution and the notion of “an eye for an eye” to a compassionate way of “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies” (Matt 5:39, 44).

The main strategies available for dealing with violence are to ignore it, to use violence, or to call on the soul force of nonviolence. Jesus and the peacemakers featured in this book are aware that ignoring violence does not facilitate peace. In fact, the more that people ignore the violence within and among us, the more that violence is free to grow. Virtually every spiritual tradition has offered the view that violence creates more violence, and that rather than trying to find a way to peace, peace itself is the way.

All violence – personal, interpersonal, military, and institutional – is the result of an alienation from self, others, and God. It is a manifestation of the anxiety and anger that is alive when we think that we are separate beings, and that our thoughts and actions do not affect others. We have been taught to think that peace and love are things to be found outside of ourselves, in the future.

Ultimately, whenever we participate in or enable violence against other people, we also hurt ourselves because we are all children of God, interconnected in one life. Like Cain, we are perpetuating violence against our own siblings. We are “one body in Christ,” inextricably linked, even with those who may want to harm or kills us.

The self-destructive dimensions of violence are especially apparent when we remember that all human beings have God-given potentials for spiritual growth and happiness, and that acts of violence done in revenge and hatred hinder any spiritual and emotional growth. Violence prevents our realizing who we are and who we might become on Jesus’ way to peace. Any violence against God’s creatures is violence against life itself that exacerbates the alienation that so many feel from themselves, from others, and from the love of God.

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Saint Catherine’s Baby

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

The moist air, surrounding the 16th century creation planted its wet kisses upon the cold stone walls, which slid luxuriously down its weathered face. The creeping ivy, chlorophyll pulsing through its dark green leaves, caressed the soft hearty moss. New generations of recently born shoots sprouted from the elder ivy’s fingertips, seeking their lone paths in the cracks of St. Catherine’s monastery.

The religious encampment had been built on the storm infested Western coast of Ireland; its founders seemingly intent on locating the most masochistic environment possible to beat their souls into sublime submission.

The last residing nun, Sister Rose Marie, had died a blessedly sudden and peaceful death at two in the afternoon, on an unusually balmy Easter Sunday, in the year of Our Lord 1968. She and a faithful supporter, Mrs. Bernadette O’Brien, mother of Walter O’Brien, had been on their knees praying in the chapel when it appeared that the good sister had a heart attack and keeled over quietly onto the floor.

“Her hands was frozen in prayer, they was,” Mrs. O’Brien had religiously repeated for years thereafter. “She had the smile of an angel.”

***

Shawn and Marcy didn’t give a witch’s ass about the history of St. Catherine’s. They’d been driving randomly from county to county, looking frequently in their rear view mirror; expecting nothing but trouble.

They’d discovered St. Catherine’s while returning from an off-the-road farm, where a farmer had given them a couple gallons of petrol from his broken down tractor. While carrying the fuel back in a couple of plastic milk containers, they accidentally turned right, instead of left to their energy starved car.

“’Tis this way,” Shawn said with assurance.

“’Tis not,” Marcy insisted. “Was that way.”

Shawn frowned, shaking his head impatiently.

“Remember that rock, why don’t ya?!” Marcy pointed at a large chipped boulder to her left.

“I’m a going this way. You coming or not?” He started walking without waiting for her answer.

She trudged after him, complaining to the gravel below her feet, “An idiot, he is.”

When they rounded the bend that brought St. Catherine’s into sight, Marcy gasped.

“Jesus!” Shawn exclaimed,

“It must be ancient.” Marcy stumbled forward.

“Think they be any dragons?” Shawn teased.

They pushed hard upon a rusty-hinged, thick wooden door. It cracked open. The wind played with itself in the center of the courtyard, rising, turning, diving and suddenly taking flight. Calls of “Anyone home?” were absorbed into the stones like water in a dry sponge.

“Why’d they build such hideous things?” Marcy whispered, as they walked into a shadowy, stale room, her dirty black hair stranded on her shoulders.

“They must’ve been tilted.”

“A bunch of bloody lunatics!” Marcy scowled.

“Absolutely,” Shawn agreed, his bushy red hair, freckles and twice broken nose, nodding obediently.

Marcy had on a long coat to cover her thin, full-length skirt. She hated skirts, but couldn’t tolerate much else these days. “I can’t wait to get back into some jeans,” she said, looking down at her swollen belly. “Without this coat I’d have frozen my tits off by now.”

“Look at these windows!” Shawn said, “They’re small enough for dwarfs.”

Marcy pulled open a door to some side rooms that contained a single wooden platform for a bed in each small musty enclosure.

Shawn looked in over her shoulder. “What a dreary thing.”

“They was some awful poor brothers this lot.”

“Didn’t know there was anyone with less than we.”

“Och, but they chose it, didn’t they?”

After further investigation they returned to the trail and found their car. They parked close to the rocky path leading down to the sea’s edge and hauled their belongings back to the monastery, into the warmest, best protected room they’d found; the chapel.

They had enough food for a couple of weeks, groceries they’d picked up in County Clare, using a stolen credit card they’d lifted upon leaving Dublin. They could drive back when they needed, go to another store or town and use a different card. They thought about switching the car, but figured they had a little more time before it was reported missing.

As darkness fell, they zipped their sleeping bags together, put them on the torn carpet by the altar and tried to get some rest. It didn’t help that Marcy had to pee again and again. There was no indoor plumbing. It seemed as if she’d just snuggled in and gotten all warm and toasty like, when nature urgently called. The freezing wind coming off the Atlantic screamed over her head as she rushed to and from the outhouse. CONTINUED

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Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

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