The Religious Society of Friends -- the Quakers -- doesn't ask a lot of its members, except that they believe in the peace testimony central to Quaker teachings.
That dedication to peace has for six years prevented me from asking to change my status from an attender to a committed member. Maybe my daughter expressed it best when in a fit of teenage pique she admonished me: "Go tell your Quaker friends you scream at the cat."
In the last couple of weeks, my battle to bring peace to myself and then perhaps the world has taken a turn backward. Remember when Jimmy Carter confessed to lust in his heart; well, I confess to a violent streak in my imagination. Instead of visualizing world peace, I visualize myself fighting airline hijackers to the ground. I devise mental plots to rain terror onto the terrorists.
I work at transforming those thoughts into rational thinking. I take counsel from the likes of 86-year-old pacifist George Watson, who reminds me of the Quaker belief that there is a spark of the divine in every human being. Since that divine light is there in every man, woman and child, you don't enslave them. You don't oppress them. You don't injure them. Instead you respect them. You seek to work cooperatively and on a basis of equality with all people.
The Quakers for all of their 350 years have held to that belief, and because of it were in the forefront of ending slavery in America and reforming the prisons. They are respected around the world for the peace work they do today.
Although in me they have an imperfect attender, I believe my struggle is being played out throughout America. We want to balance our rage with the wisdom of the peacemakers.
We must think of ways to bring the evildoers to justice without destroying the rest of the world. We must do it just as we brought Timothy McVeigh to justice. As we are bringing Slobodan Milosevic to justice.
We also need to look for ways to make the world more peaceful. The Sept. 11 attacks spawned a new Cabinet post. We need another: The Department of Global Understanding. It will be our olive branch of peace offered to the world.
It will be an honest effort to ask millions of people around the world: What have we done to make you hate us so much and what can we do to heal the wounds? How can we make you see that there is a spark of the divine in all Americans that can be appealed to and that can grow into something good for the world?
With all my imperfections, I will continue to attend the Quaker meeting each week because I believe we are here for a purpose -- and it is to not to blow each other off the face of the Earth. It is to actively seek peace on Earth to ensure that the human race reaches its full potential for love, reason and spiritual enlightenment. We have a long way to go; we are imperfect, but humankind will prevail.
Leonard Witt, of Minneapolis, is executive director of the Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative.
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