Thursday, November 1, 2012

MURIEL LESTER'S ENDURING WITNESS


She may be one of the most important voices you've not yet heard. 

I occasionally feature a few people who have become teachers and at-a-distance mentors to me.  Muriel Lester's witness is one I happened onto via my readings about Gandhi.  She is particularly interesting to me because her faith tradition is Baptist--not such a stretch for finding common language, heritage, and theological underpinnings as with Gandhi, a Hindu, or Dorothy Day, of Roman Catholic heritage.

AMBASSADOR OF RECONCILIATION. Muriel Lester’s (1883-1968) witness of Christian compassion in one of the poorest sections of London (Bow) during the first half of the 20th century is outstanding in and of itself.  But Lester’s witness for nonviolence and international peace in the midst of World War I & II, along with her ambassadorial work for the Fellowship for Reconciliation, sets her apart.  Known as the "mother of world peace," "ambassador of reconciliation," nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize and known as “the Jane Addams of England,” Lester is hardly known today.  But her witness is worth revisiting.

WITNESS FOR PEACE.  Lester doesn’t quite conform to the labeling stereotype of a “peace activist” or “bleeding-heart liberal” (are their opposites “war activists” and “stone-hearted conservatives?”).  Like Dorothy Day, Lester worked out of a deeply-lived and radically-incarnated Christian faith.  Day was Catholic, Lester was Baptist.  Both women’s experience of Jesus and the Word of God led them to similar callings--a life-long commitment to lift up the poor and labor for justice and peace in the face of prevailing community and religious cultures that disparaged both.  Lester advocated for the independence of India and worked closely with Gandhi in this effort.

I found the following thought-provoking quotes on the Fellowship Of Reconciliation website (www.forusa.org).

HERE AND NOW.  “Once you have found your relationship to God, you need never look around for work.  From that moment every person is your friend and your brother.  Your job is to build up the Kingdom of God, here, now, on earth.  You find every circumstance and every moment rich in creative opportunity.   Even sin--your own and other people's--is found to be a steppingstone to a deeper knowledge, a clearer understanding.  Your task is to set up, here and now, wherever you happen to be, the reign of God, the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.”

HOW TO BEGIN EACH DAY.  “The day should begin by focusing on God as shining beauty, radiant Joy, creative power, all-pervading love, perfect understanding, purity and peace.”

WHAT PRAYER LEADS TO.  “Prayer always thrusts one out into action sooner or later.  One of its main functions is to induce one to think creatively; it stretches the imagination; it enables one to see things and people not as they are but as they might be; it strips the pomp, the sense of power and the static security from the person prayed for and permits one to see him as he is in God’s sight--a mere child, needing help, needing courage, needing enlightenment from God as definitely as an infant needs the care of its mother.”

IS GOD FRIGHTENED BY WHAT FRIGHTENS YOU?  “If you will be a realist, ask yourself as you walk down the street how many horrible things in one hour do you meet?  Let these things later come back into your prayer time.  You realize that there is always something you can do about them when you get near God, and begin to think His thoughts after him.  These things which frighten you do not frighten God.”

BORN BROTHERS, NOT ENEMIES.  “God has made of one blood all nations under heaven.  No man can suddenly become my enemy just because he happened to have been born on the other side of a river or a boundary line, and his government has issued an ultimatum against mine.  Is it not time that we refused to fight?”

AT THE EXPENSE OF THE MANY.  “Today the few have achieved their economic freedom at the expense of the many.  That is why our world order is tottering.  Nothing can save it but a united attempt to put the will of God into operation.”

MORATORIUM ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT?  “We refused at Kingsley Hall to pronounce a moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount for the duration of the war (World War I).  We could not conceive of God as a nationalist.  We could not suddenly look upon our brother man as an enemy just because he chanced to have been born on the other side of a river or a strip of sea.”

WAR IS OUTMODED.  “War is as outmoded as cannibalism, chattel slavery, blood-feuds and dueling - an insult to God and man - a daily crucifixion of Christ.”

THINKING INDEPENDENTLY.  “Excess in drink, vice or gambling won't draw attention to you, but thinking independently will.  If it leads you to act generously, to identify yourself with the poor or the prisoner or the foreigner or the Negro, the vested interests will be displeased.”

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