Thursday, 7 March 2013

What do Quakers believe? -- by Steve Chase

Excerpt from Steve Chase, Letters to a Fellow Seeker: a Short Introduction to the Quaker Way (2012). Reprinted by permission of the author and Quaker Press.

As a scout I was to be helpful, friendly, curious, kind, thrifty, brave, moral, and reverent. It also meant doing my duty to God and country. Those were things I took very seriously and still do.

By 1968 I was 13 and through my mother's encouragement I had already found a model in Martin Luther King Jr. with his call for a nonviolent revolution to end racism, materialism, and militarism in our nation. As I saw it, my duty to God and country was to help our nation become what King called a “Beloved Community” of peace, justice, and equality. It turned out that my scoutmaster did not see it that way.

Our difference in opinion came to a head one hot summer day when our troop was in the town square of Galesburg, Illinois, for our annual Boy Scout Jamboree. As I finished my scheduled tasks that morning, I noticed a small, silent peace vigil at the edge of the square with folks holding up signs opposing the ongoing U.S. invasion and occupation of Vietnam. I had never before seen anyone stand up against the war in my town and I was torn. I wanted to join them, yet I also felt some fear and hesitation about walking over and taking a public stand smack dab in the middle of my town.

In that moment of indecision, I thought of King's stirring speech at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. In that fateful speech, which I heard about from my college-age brother, King first voiced in public his opposition to this unjust war. He called on all hesitant people to follow him now and in their own silence about the war. Given that King was my hero, I decided to follow his example on that hot summer day in Galesburg. So, I screwed up my courage to walk across the town square and join the silent peace vigil. It was my 1st overt act of social activism and I was glad to have taken this step. I was no longer just admiring King. I was following him. This felt good and right to me.

My sense of inner peace was short-lived, though almost instantly, my scoutmaster spotted me standing in my uniform as part of this silent peace vigil, and he was curious. He ran over, grabbed me, and physically dragged me out of the vigil line. He started shaking me by the shoulders and yelling at me that I was a “communist,” a “traitor,” and a “disgrace to the Boy Scout uniform.” He shouted that I was no longer welcome in his troop and that he would make sure no other troop in town would ever let me join.... I stood there stunned and abandoned. Blessedly an elderly woman from the vigil came up to me, put her hand on my arm, and said, “Young man I'm sorry that happened to you. Just know that you will always be welcome at a Quaker meeting”....

Later that night, I worked up my courage for the second time that day and called the number [for] "Galesburg Friends Meeting (Quakers)”.... I asked this woman what do Quakers believe. She answered that the core Quaker belief was that every man, woman, and child on this planet is the spiritual capacity to directly experience God's love, presence, and guidance in their lives and that if we open our hearts to this sacred Light Within it can transform our personal lives, our families, our communities and our world.

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