Reflections on the Witness of Tom Fox

It seems easier somehow to confront anger within my heart than it is to confront fear. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am not to give in to either. I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier. . . . If Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm, but I’m willing to keep working at it. —Tom Fox, 2/22/04

I do not remember a time when my heart was quite so heavy in writing this column—nor when I felt so humbled by the quiet and clear decisions taken by a Quaker contemporary. Friend Tom Fox has left behind a legacy of words and actions for the world, and certainly for us, his fellow Quakers. Motivated as he was to render service to the suffering people of Iraq, it seems very clear that Tom Fox sought to stand in solidarity, first with Jesus and his understanding of Jesus’ teachings, and then with the victims of violence perpetrated by our own government. He sought to overcome his own anger, fear, and emotional numbing to see what Love might do. He was willing to live in a state of "queasiness" in "the middle of nowhere" as part of a spiritual discipline that called him to let go of self and align his actions with the wisdom of his spiritual teachers. The Sufis say that we are God’s hands and eyes in this world. Tom Fox was living that reality on a daily basis in one of the most challenging circumstances possible. His life was a quiet witness, touching many here and abroad. His kidnapping and death have drawn attention from around the world to his beliefs and his personal sacrifice and their meaning.

Shortly after his murder in early March was reported in the news, I began looking for more information on the Internet. There were many, many expressions of grief and sorrow at his loss, and many statements of admiration for his courage and bravery in putting his trust in God while seeking to build bridges of peace. But I was stunned to find angry bloggers coldly commenting that Tom Fox was naïve, out of touch with political reality, and that he "got what he deserved." Even on Tom’s own weblog, there are rude comments that, to my mind, totally miss the point of what his life and witness were about. I find myself wondering what these same individuals would say about the life and sacrifice of Jesus—was he naïve, too?

In the end, the image of Tom Fox that strikes me most clearly is the one on our cover this month. His quiet courage and faith in God comes through very plainly for me in that photograph. Tom Fox had questions and doubts about right action, as many of us do. He showed great humility in posting those doubts and questions on his weblog. His circumstances, and his character by all accounts, were not conducive to hubris. His struggle to live his faith in very difficult circumstances while experiencing very human emotions is deeply inspiring. Some of his reflections can be found on pages 6-9 of this issue. Tom Fox had a vision—one of candles burning in the dark, and of new lights replacing those that had burned to their end or been snuffed out. His remarks were prescient of his own future and the light his words and his work have shed for us to see. In doing that work, he has opened the very real possibility that his words will live on to inspire others to follow their Guide with utter integrity.