The 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who served as a combat medic in the US Army during World War II. Doss refused to carry or use any weapon, but he saved the lives of at least 75 soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa and was the first person ever to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
With our Peace Testimony, Hacksaw Ridge should be a “Quaker film,” right? Certainly, the scene between Doss and an Army psychiatrist presents a simple but compelling account of a conscientious objector’s thought process. However, the violence of the war scenes in the film undercuts the conscientious objector philosophy.
The film is incredibly violent, showing body parts strewn over the battlefield and showcasing soldiers set on fire by flame throwers. It’s as if director Mel Gibson were saying, “My film supports the conscientious objection to war, but let me show you the thrilling blood and gore of war.” In fact, Hacksaw Ridge is the most violent film I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some doozies.
Friends who are interested in Desmond Doss may want to see Hacksaw Ridge, but not all the film’s biographical details are accurate. Moreover, I would have liked to learn more about Doss’s Seventh Adventist faith and the role it played in forming his conscientious objection. Considering the sickening nature of the movie’s war scenes, I honestly can’t recommend Hacksaw Ridge. Most Friends would be well advised to stay away from the film, particularly young, impressionable Friends.
~ Richard Russell
I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.
I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.
—Emily Dickinson (edited version)
More than fifty years ago I decided I wanted to see an English moor. I saw a road sign that said something like “Aylesbury Moor 40 km.” I took a bus from London to what I imagined would be a wilderness spot covered with heather. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Aylesbury Moor and discovered that it was a town!
Will we likewise be surprised when we make the journey to Heaven? Heaven is often imagined as a place where we share the mind of God and intuitively, passively understand everything there is to know about the Universe; but what if Heaven is a more dynamic place or—more accurately—a dynamic, changing state of Being? What if we continue striving and learning even after entering the Celestial Realm?
Perhaps we would have to learn Calculus to better comprehend a Heaven in constant change. Maybe some celestial computer uses heavenly software to monitor and direct that change. I do want to learn how to program computers. I believe an Old Chatham Friend would be available—at some point—to tutor me in coding although I have no idea what system Heaven uses. It must be more complicated than Python or the various AI languages. And I could use someone with a doctorate in Physics to explain dark matter and energy. That person could also confirm or disconfirm the reality of String Theory and help me navigate Quantum Mechanics.
Even though I’d now be a free spirit “floating” around in Heaven, I’d like to acquire a thorough knowledge of the world’s religions, especially Buddhism. There are several Old Chatham Friends, future residents of Heaven, who could teach me Buddhist fundamentals. Who knows? Eventually, I might qualify for a master class under Siddhartha Gautama himself. And I’d like to explore Christianity in depth. I can imagine studying Christian Ethics under Jesus of Nazareth. The very thought gives me chills. I’d also like a tete-a-tete with Moses about the Burning Bush and the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, not to mention the plagues of Egypt.
Of course, it’s possible that Emily Dickinson is wrong. Maybe Heaven’s not on any map. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Maybe our consciousness doesn’t survive death. Belief in Heaven requires belief in God and God’s power. I remember what the father of an epileptic son said in the Gospel of Mark. When Jesus remarked that anything was possible for someone with faith, the man replied, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (NKJV) I pray for that kind of trust in God’s power. With such a faith, I can look forward to one day arriving in Heaven in spite of the crude earthly maps at our disposal!
~ Richard Russell
Based on Crossno and Brent’s Pendle Hill Pamphlet #460, I’ve constructed an example of over-politicized vocal ministry. I’ve used real names and real issues, but I recognize that some Friends would agree with the message and others would disagree. I don’t mean to take sides in the matter. I do mean to illustrate a way of speaking that is inappropriate in Meeting. Suppose someone delivered the following remarks during Worship:
I’ve been watching Fox News and I’m horrified by the way President Biden is enabling his son to peddle influence. Biden is selling us all out, which is typical of the Democrat Party and the economic system they are ramming down our throats. The energy economy is being destroyed, and workers are losing their jobs. As Friends, I know we’re all on the same page about this issue. Everyone here should get on the phone and call your congressperson about the maddening rush to alternative energy.
According to Crossno and Brent, the above message is not grounded in spirituality and is ideologically divisive. Why? Well, political action is advocated before education and dialogue about the issue. An individual politician and specific political party are named. The speaker assumes that everyone has the same opinion about the matter, and an economic system is named without unpacking exactly what that system is.
Crossno and Brent argue that
…the most powerful vocal ministry will generally reference principles rather than particular public figures; will include personal life experiences; will illustrate the universality of the issue; will invite prayer, contemplation, dialogue, and possible unified action rather than presupposing unity; and will call the gathered community to working with Divine assistance to bring about a better world.
However, Crossno and Brent conclude their discussion with an important caveat:
…while we have perspectives on what we believe makes for more effective and powerful vocal ministry, the real test of whether something is vocal ministry is whether you feel compelled by Spirit to speak. Faithfulness to Christ, to our Inward Teacher, to the Divine, to the Light is always the final arbiter when it comes to vocal ministry.
With the qualification expressed in the above quote, it seems very possible that genuine vocal ministry could violate Crossno and Brent’s guidelines. If spirit-led, it’s possible that specific names could be mentioned and specific political action could be recommended even though the issue had not been previously discussed by members of a Meeting.
However, I’d argue that—before violating these guidelines—speakers should very carefully test their leadings. If there is the slightest inward doubt about delivering a political statement in Meeting, vocal ministers should refrain from giving such a message.
Well, in an effort to clear up confusion about politicized vocal ministry, I may only have muddied the waters. Such is life, such is Quakerism.
~ Richard Russell
First off, I never know with absolute certainty that I’m being called to speak in Meeting. In discerning when to speak—for me—flow charts with the criteria for vocal ministry are not particularly helpful. Instead, I attend to emotions and physical responses.
Some Friends feel a fast heartbeat when Spirit moves them. My heart doesn’t beat faster, but I have a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach and a premonition that I’ll feel depressed after Meeting if I don’t speak. Also, I often ask myself one question: “Is this message likely to resonate with at least some Friends who are present?” After delivering my vocal ministry, I usually feel a sensation of relief that the “ordeal” is over.
Certainly, vocal ministry is never to be taken lightly, but I hope that Friends who rarely or never speak will be moved to do so in Meeting. After all, speaking in the Spirit is a service to the community and a fulfillment of duty. May God grant that vocal ministry be a cherished part of Meetings at Old Chatham!
~ Richard Russell
The following passage is an excerpt from a sermon given by journalist Chris Hedges on August 20, 2023 in Norway. It speaks my mind on the subject of its title: "The Crucifixion of Julian Assange." Chris Hedges is a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times for 15 years. I would like to hear more vocal ministry, in the spirit of this sermon, in OCMM meetings for worship. And I would like to have the sense that vocal ministry in this spirit would be welcome in the Old Chatham Quaker Meeting's meetings for worship. I don't have that sense now.
Sacrifice, self-sacrifice, is the cost of discipleship. But few are willing to pay that price. We prefer to look away from suffering... And it is our indifference, and with our indifference, our complicity, that condemns all prophets.
“But what of the price of peace?” the radical priest Father Daniel Berrigan, who spent two years in a federal prison for burning draft records during the Vietnam War, asks in his book “No Bars to Manhood”:
I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for the peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm … in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans—that five-year plan of studies, that ten-year plan of professional status, that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise. “Of course, let us have the peace,” we cry, “but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties.” And because we must encompass this and protect that, and because at all costs—at all costs—our hopes must march on schedule, and because it is unheard of that in the name of peace a sword should fall, disjoining that fine and cunning web that our lives have woven, because it is unheard of that good men should suffer injustice or families be sundered or good repute be lost—because of this we cry peace and cry peace, and there is no peace. There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war—at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.
Bearing the cross, living in truth, is not about the pursuit of happiness. It does not embrace the illusion of inevitable human progress. It is not about achieving wealth, celebrity or power. It entails sacrifice. It is about our neighbor. The organs of state security monitor and harass you. They amass huge files on your activities. They disrupt your life. They throw you in prison, even when, like Julian, you did not commit a crime. It is not a new story. Nor is our indifference to evil; palpable evil we can see in front of us, new.
In the reading from the Hebrew Bible we hear the story of the prophet Jeremiah. He, like Julian, exposed the corruption and lust for war by the powerful. He warned of the catastrophe that inevitably comes when the covenant with God is broken. He condemned idolatry, the corruption of kings, priests and false prophets. Jeremiah was arrested, beaten and put in stocks. He was forbidden from preaching. An attempt was made on his life. After Egypt was conquered by Babylon, and Judea began to prepare for war, Jeremiah delivered an oracle warning the king to maintain peace. King Zedekiah ignored him. Babylon besieged Jerusalem. Jeremiah was arrested and imprisoned. He was freed by the Babylonians after Jerusalem’s conquest, but was exiled to Egypt, where, according to the Biblical tradition, he was stoned to death.
Jeremiah, like Julian, understood that a society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice.
Here's a link to the full text of Chris Hedges's August 20 sermon:
~ John Breasted
On a flight from Brazil back to the Vatican, Pope Francis remarked, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis stopped short of condoning homosexual acts, which the Catholic Church considers sinful, but he was clearly embracing LGBQT people as part of God’s people.
I would go further in affirming LGBQT rights; but I have to admit that when I see two men or two women kissing, I wince. Is this a trace of homophobia in my personality or a natural expression of my heterosexuality? I don’t know—but who am I to judge?
And sometimes I feel a prejudice against the poor—especially those who steal from Walmart, my employer. I could give multiple examples, but there comes to mind the two women who walked away from an open register while I was distracted helping someone else. They stole groceries worth about two hundred dollars. I can’t help thinking that God should punish them, but who am I to judge?
Then, there is my own checkered past. In many respects, my life is a failure. Mental illness prevented me from pursuing graduate studies at Princeton University and earning a doctorate degree. Instead, I spent many years in menial jobs as a cab driver, janitor, or warehouse worker. I did eventually get an M.A. in Foreign Language Education but perhaps squandered my degree by teaching in the public schools, where I wonder how many students I actually taught even the rudiments of the Spanish language. And in retirement, I gave up on writing a book about the counterculture at U.T. Austin. It was a really interesting and worthwhile project, but I didn’t have the stamina or energy to finish it. Another failure? Who am I to judge?
If God were to grant Eternal Life on the basis of achievement or service to humanity, I would possibly not enter into the Divine Presence. Of course, God is a God, not only of justice, but also of infinite mercy. That said, who am I to judge?
~ Richard Russell
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (1 Cor 2:13 NIV)
You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God? (George Fox)
And what of the listener and his role in the vocal ministry? Since authentic vocal ministry arises directly from the group’s immediate spiritual encounter with the Light, the listener is tasked to listen tenderly and search for that spiritual meaning in the vocal ministry, whether or not the message immediately seems to speak to him or her. The speaker may be trying to articulate something that is hard to find words for. The role of the listener is to try to discern the underlying spiritual message that the speaker may be struggling to express. If, after such a search for underlying meaning, the message is still not resonating, it may be that the message is for others, not for the listener. (Humboldt Friends Meeting)
~ submitted by Richard Russell
Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 film based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in the war and paralyzed from the chest down. It covers Kovic’s childhood on Long Island, his tours of duty in Vietnam, his injury and recovery in a Veterans Affairs hospital, his disillusionment with the war, and his eventual participation in antiwar protests and activism. Kovic’s transition from super patriot to anti-war activist is very believable.
Nevertheless, Born on the Fourth is not for some Friends as it contains violence, profanity, and nudity. It did receive critical acclaim and two academy awards. Personally, I find parts of the film melodramatic. The veterans’ hospital scenes are over-done, not to mention an orgy of sex and booze in Mexico. Moreover, the romance between Ron and Donna is sugary sweet. So, I hesitate to place the film on my list of ten-best movies. However, it’s clearly the best post-war film about Viet Nam that we have.
I confess that the movie brings back memories. Just as Ron Kovic became a marine in an act of bravado, likewise two of my college friends joined the marines on macho impulses. One of them came back with a foot missing. He took off his prosthesis while he applied for a handicapped parking permit on the U.T. campus. With his artificial foot on, he’d never have gotten a permit to park in the inner campus.
Some of my memories are painful. Although opposed to the War in Vietnam, I never protested or otherwise took time to work against it. I was preoccupied with my education as a future Classics scholar at Princeton University. Of course, mental illness destroyed that prospect. It did guarantee a medical exemption from military service; but I feel guilty about never resisting the draft or the war.
One day I want to go to Washington and visit the Vietnam Memorial. I will touch the memorial wall with the inscribed names of almost 60,000 dead and missing Vietnam veterans. And I will pray that those absent soldiers give me absolution for what I didn’t do to help. Though dead, I trust they live in God’s Unapproachable Light.
~ Richard Russell
I believe Isaac Penington is still relevant to modern Friends even though he lived in the 17th century. After all, Penington is still read along with Fox and Penn as one of the founding fathers of Quakerism.
Penington counsels silence in Meeting but only as a preparation for vocal ministry. As I read him, Penington sees vocal ministry as the goal of Meeting. Here is what he says on the subject:
God is to be worshipped in spirit, in his own power and life, and this is at his own disposal. His church is a gathering in the Spirit. If any speak there, they must speak as the oracle of God, as the vessel out of which God speaks; as the trumpet out of which he gives the sound. Therefore there is to be a waiting in silence till the Spirit of the Lord move to speak, and also give words to speak. For we are not to speak our own words, or in our own wisdom or time; but the Spirit’s words, in the Spirit’s wisdom and time, which is when he moves and gives to speak.
~ Richard Russell
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
~ John O’Donohue
Submitted by Regina Haag
You can read the full poem here.
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