Addressing climate change
Thank you, Friends Journal, for your strong focus on climate concerns in recent issues. The role that Quakers will play, both as individuals and in our organizational forms, is evolving and may well be our defining mission at this time in the earth’s history. Please keep this focus strong!
Currys Corner, Nova Scotia
Humans face a multilayered set of threats that are almost all a result of our own actions. “Business as usual” is definitely unacceptable if we are to mount an effective set of strategies to address our “unintended consequences” upon the earth. We will have to reimagine all human activities, how and what we eat, how we work and play, what expectations we have for a “good life” or even a good “survival life.” This is a massive task, which, I suspect, leaves individuals—including politicians and decision-makers—feeling overwhelmed. Denial of the problems is a common response.
One of the more hopeful areas for solving climate change, with its challenges of food, water, and soil degradation, is the rapidly emerging regenerative farming approach. This results in healthier soils, healthier food, more food, and carbon sequestration. Perhaps there are alternatives to current approaches to other areas of this cluster of challenges that can also deliver great benefits? We’ll only know if we really commit ourselves—corporately, nationally, as a species—to the tasks at hand.
Quaker practice in the working world
John Andrew Gallery’s article “Meeting for Business as Spiritual Rehearsal” (FJ Feb.) is very thoughtful about how best to approach business meeting. It shows that assumptions we bring from our lives outside of meeting may not serve us well. Does ego and competition, encouraged at work places, show up as we seek discernment? The short answer is it does, and maybe, too often. He notes the need to bring more experience of worship into our business meetings.
I would like to suggest one additional practice, which is bringing our sense of discernment to our outside work and employment. What I have learned from actively participating in our business meetings has affected my way of leading organizations and participating in work meetings. I have frequently felt while working on substantive, complex issues in groups that the answer was already in the room: we just needed to let it emerge. Good decisions do not come down from leadership; they are best made when those involved work together on finding an answer. Perhaps this is a statement of the obvious, but Quaker practice has much to offer the work world.
Looking back at our lives
I enjoyed the article on spiritual autobiography by Donald McCormick (“The Arc of Your Soul,” FJ Apr.). This subject has fascinated me for a long time, and I have read The Journal of John Woolman.
However, I first became interested in this when I learned about the Jewish tradition of the ethical will, which is a close parallel with even more ancient roots. There are several good discussions available, including Wikipedia.
The focus is on expressing one’s ethical values and making them available to the next generation. I would have greatly enjoyed reading about my various ancestors if that had been done, as I know that many of them had a spiritual nature. Over time that could be the most important inheritance.
By a happy coincidence, Donald W. McCormick’s article arrived as I was finishing up my own 32-page spiritual memoir. Though I have read only one of the works he cites (Woolman’s Journal), the process he describes has much in common with my own experience. My main reason for writing, I think, was to see what I would say. Three elements surprised me: First, how little attention I paid to the direction of my life and contents of my faith until my late 40s when, not coincidentally, I became a Quaker. Second, how many secular events, such as serving as a private in the army of occupation in Germany in the 1950s, seeing my children only for visitations after a divorce, and switching from civil to criminal law practice in 1973, affected my spiritual course. Third, how little I care whether God is a trinity or Mary was a virgin or Jesus walked on water. My fulfillment instead derived from trying to live the Scripture-based testimonies and to help strangers in need. I know myself better now and have a clearer sense of my inner peace. Thank you, Friends Journal and Friend McCormick, for speaking to my life’s adventure.
Randolph Center, Vt.
War at its cruelest
I appreciated both the article by Bryan Garman on “The Peace Testimony and Ukraine” (FJ Apr.) and the subsequent letters, but I find an important point of view is missing. Let me share with you as someone who has experienced war firsthand. As a member of a bomber crew flying out of England in 1943–45, I participated in bombing raids that helped to destroy cities including Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Munich. We not only hit military targets but also fire bombed houses occupied with women and children.
In 1945 our bomber was shot down over Munich and as prisoners of war we were marched through Frankfurt, Regensberg, and Nuremberg. I witnessed the plight of women, old men, and children waiting in line each day for a pail of water. They carried small suitcases and moved as migrants from city to city to avoid the next bombing raid. This is war at its cruelest.
As a member of the Religious Society of Friends for more than 70 years, I have listened to many political and religious discourses on why we fight. Supposedly these wars are to end tyrannical dictatorships, holocausts, genocide, and for the desire to add land to existing kingdoms. I would ask you to read On the Natural History of Destruction by W. G. Sebald. This is a book on the bombing of the German cities in World War II. I would also recommend Elizabeth D. Samet’s Looking for the Good War. How we have romanticized war! Is there ever such a thing as a “good” war? George Fox and the early Quakers understood what fighting does to the human spirit. Our unique peace testimony speaks as loudly today as it did over 300 years ago. For me and others who have fought in our wars, there are no winners: we are all victims left with physical and mental scars that can never be erased.
When will we as human beings learn to be mature enough to say that war is never the solution? As the poet W. H. Auden wrote, “We must love one another or die.”
Bryan Garman’s “The Peace Testimony and Ukraine” (FJ Apr.) inaccurately attributed a quotation to George Fox (“cannot engage in war as a method for settling international disputes . . .”). We have corrected it in the online edition.