I've often said that I am not a pacifist at heart, nor am I intuitively pacifist, nor am I a very good pacifist. But I do try, because that is the example of Jesus, and I believe that non-violence is God's desire for humanity. If you'll allow me to say as much, pacifism is God's will. But I believe that it is nearly impossible for an individual to successfully respond to evil (or even just really mean people) in a non-violent manner, simply because it is God's will. I am convinced that it takes a community of folks that support and carry on the non-violent tradition, in order for anyone of us to fully commit to the non-violent vision of Jesus.
I worked for three years at an inner-city mission, and I first believed that I was going to instill non-violence as a value at this mission. I quickly found, that without a community of peers to reinforce non-violence as a commitment, or to lend support to non-violence as a means of conflict response, I soon forgot what it meant to value non-violence as a means to achieving justice.
I would talk to folks at meeting, but many of them were unfamiliar with the ongoing level of violence that I was dealing with, and I felt, perhaps totally incorrectly, that Friends had no experience of the level of violence that I was experiencing. I was totally conflicted in my relationship with many of the men I served, because I was failing to maintain standards of communication that were reflective of the manner of Jesus. I really felt like a failure.
Then, when a time came when I had to physically coerce a man to prevent him from doing great physical harm to another, I was even less prepared to deal with the propriety of my response. i had lost the ability to respond to violence with integrity, because I had lost sight of the story which informs my ability to act in any other way than that which is generally deemed acceptable to the world.
It was not the fact that I needed to physically restrain another person. That was a necessary act. But the anger, and lack of respect that I had for that person at the moment of conflict, could have easily ended in a less favorable manner than it did, because I was prepared to escalate. My inner-city alter-ego had won the day.
I believe that I lost sight of that vision that Friends claim as their heritage, which identifies us as a peculiar people who do not use violence as a means to an end, because we a part of different story than the one that so many others have accepted violence as the appropriate response to fear. I am convinced that the most necessary aspect of non-violence is that of maintaining a community of people who act regularly to inform one another that we are a people who only know one response to fear. A people who have forgotten what it means to commit violence, and have raised children who have never known that violence was once acceptable.
Now, I am surrounded by pacifists, many who have never been confronted with the violence that so many struggle with every day. It will be easy for me to forget that responding to fear with love is laborious, and can never be truly accomplished without the experience that sometimes, the bad guys win, and we are called to sacrifice as a reflection of God's love, and not God's strength.
Regardless of who I am, or who I'd like to be however, reality is always lurking around the corner at my family farm. We have roosters, and it seems that roosters have been created for no other purpose than to test my commitment to peace. Roosters are always on the attack, and while they don't much mess with me because I wear steel-toed boots, they are always messing with the kids. As a family, we had the kids carry rooster sticks to ward off any attacks, but more often than not, it was one of my boots that drove the rooster off. It seems that god is always reminding me that, while I claim to be a pacifist, I am more of a sinner, and I need to constantly remember both.