Promoting peace, virtually, urgently

Some reflections from the NFPB Coordinator, Philip Austin

‘From the ashes of Hiroshima may understanding love
arise and blossom forth …
NFPB postcard produced in the 1990s (see full poem below)

As the year began, we had not made definite plans for marking the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, but I had assumed we would have some sort of coming together in remembrance and commitment to peace at the British Quakers’ residential gathering that was to have taken place this week.

Whilst we’ve not gathered physically together, Quakers around the world have been building and sustaining our community, challenging and supporting ourselves and one another through virtual means. This has happened from the very local level to the international. It hasn’t been comfortable or possible for some to engage through video conferencing, however, and we have to face up to the reality that the Covid crisis has both brought people together whilst also separating and isolating others.

In terms of the work involved in promoting peace – the remit for Northern Friends Peace Board – there have similarly been new opportunities but also limits to what we have been able to do in comparison to pre-Covid times. A good number of our members have participatied in both informal and formal online NFPB meetings – others are planned. What none of these have been able to provide, however, are those spaces over lunch or coffee breaks to build those friendships and share concerns, stories, hopes etc. Peace is about relationships, and relationships need space to take root and to grow.

Some of the various groupings and networks of which we are part – Quaker and non-Quaker – have, in a number of cases, met more frequently throughout these recent months. This has provided more regular times for connection, opening doors to richer collaboration and bringing a different energy and momentum to the joint work.

At this point of anxiety and uncertainty, as we transition between loosening and worsening restrictions and infection rates, society as a whole is weary. It is a society that has probably become more aware of the very real consequences of inequalities, with historic and current racial injustice layered on top of that creating sharp differences in how vulnerable or secure we feel.

The movement to Build Back Better, whilst not defining what ‘better’ means, reflects a wider desire to address these many causes of insecurity and fear. The Covid crisis has forced us to find new ways of collaborating, of supporting one another and of engaging in action for change. As the situation evolves, we will need to be critically aware of what else is needed – we’ve had to make big changes, what other changes might still be needed both to adapt to the changing situation, but also to help transform and to create a different way of being in the future?

Going back to my opening comments; on Hiroshima day, 6th August, NFPB members and others will have an online Meeting for Worship (get in touch if you would like to join this). Others around the country will have acts of public witness, as much as that is possible to do safely in different settings. The work to promote international nuclear disarmament must continue; if Covid has taught us anything, it is that our societies do struggle in emergency situations. Nuclear war would be an emergency that would dwarf the current pandemic. We are challenged to envision new ways of making these concerns visible and of persuading those responsible for developing security policy that a radically different way is needed. May peace prevail on earth.

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FOR HIROSHIMA IN HOPE

(Written for an international service of remembrance at the Peace Mbnument in Hiroshima, an August 6th, 1984)

What can I say to Hiroshima?
I, who was born half a world away,
Who was two years old the day thcy dropped the bomb.

They dropped the bomb, not I.
They suffered and died, not I.
I had no knowledge, I had no say.
Their decision, their guilt ,
Their heart-splitting agony, their blighted lives.

No, not theirs but ours,
For we are one human family , share one world.
For too long we have imagined divisions
That rend our common humanity.
For too many centuries, fought the enemy
That was our other self.

Let the horror of Hiroshima teach us at last
That we are one people.
We all share the suffering,
For we have all known unreasonable pain and loss.
We all share the guilt,
For we have all wished to hurt or destroy.
We share the courage,
For we have all conquered grief and bitterness.
We share the responsibility
That it shall never happen again,

And if we have the courage
To accept the suffering, to acknowledge the guilt,
To take up the responsibility, to embrace one
another —
We may share in the hope for a world free from fear.
From the ashes of Hiroshima, may understanding love arise
And blossom forth,
That our anguish may not have been in vain.

Joy Croft

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