Most every day I drive over to the observatory to walk my dogs. And for two or three weeks I drove past the protesters on the City Hall lawn. I would honk and try to figure out if I should raise a fist or a peace sign or just wave. One day, when they were on the march and traffic was slow enough, I rolled down my window and just said thank you to as many people as I could. I knew I wouldn’t join them; I was too worried about COVID. But I thought about writing something on my car. “Thanks, essential protesters!” or “Love is Stronger Than Hate.” But I couldn’t make up my mind. That’s not true. I was scared. Scared of the crew of Blue Lives Matter boys who moved in next to the Meeting house, with their big, beefy pickup trucks and Trump stickers, and big black and blue flags and American flags all lined up on their trucks. They mean business, and it’s not the business of Peace. I live right around the corner from them. And even with my little Peace Please and Love thy Neighbor – No Exceptions bumper stickers, I was afraid they’d feel obliged to pay me a visit. A Friend reminded me of the history of truly courageous acts by Quakers. Speak Truth to Power! Not with my voice, apparently. Every day I’d see those folks lined up waving their signs and would be moved to tears despite every cynical thought I could muster. And then one day they were gone. Poof. And I haven’t done anything.
I’ve brought up my concerns with some folks at Meeting. As an act of confession. Motivated mostly by guilt and the hope that, if we did do something, at least I might be able to hide behind some Quakers who were braver than me. Shouldn’t we at least form a committee?! Volunteering for a committee is the Quaker equivalent of saying ten Hail Marys. I was met with patient smiles. Drives me crazy. I feel like there’s this endless parade of causes we’re supposed to be backing – Immigrants, Indians, Prisoners, Climate Change, BLM. And it all moves so slowly. But what will our spiritual neighbors think if we’re not out there right now?! And there it is. How much of what I’m experiencing is about actually wanting to help, and how much is about wanting to look like a good Quaker? Do I even have the courage to look at that?
Someday I’ll learn how to balance the paradox of acting for social justice and going slow enough to make sure those actions are right. And someday I’ll read all those articles and pamphlets and follow the 472 links to even more articles and websites of sister organizations doing Important Work. This article was supposed to be about Environmental Justice and I never did get around to researching what that’s about. Next week I will start an online class AFSC is doing called Radical Acting in Faith for White People, because that was the Way that Opened. And tonight, I will walk my dogs because for the past three nights I have attended Quaker functions and my dogs are plotting their own protests. Their radical acts usually involve peeing on something. Dog lives matter too.
So that’s my confession. I trust that you all will hold me in the Light as I try to get the hang of this Quaker thing. And I’ll try to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Thank you all for your quiet, peaceful, patient guidance.
Yours in fidgety peace and flickering light,
from David Bonnell, Flagstaff meeting (7/16/2020)