I have a freedom that younger people don't have ... I get arrested about once a year.
In my life as a protestor, since 1983 I've been arrested seven times, protesting the nuclear power plant and local companies filling orders for defense contracts down here. One time, my mother-in-law, my husband and I all were arrested.
My mother-in-law, 94 at the time, was very quiet and shy, not at all the picture people have of someone who does civil disobedience. One of her two sons died at the Battle of the Bulge, and she knew what the war and the war machine did to people, and that's where she drew her passion from.
We thought of ourselves as church people doing God's work. Others who joined us were coming to protest from a spiritual place, with a spiritual obligation. I have always been very serious about the church. God has always been very real to me, even when I was a little kid.
I started out as a real New Hampshire Republican: conservative and careful, obedient to authority. Then the Vietnam War came along. When that happened, I found myself teaching, and naturally the Vietnam War was the talk of the times. A boy told me that soon he was going to be called for the draft. If his number came up, he was going to be sent oversees to learn how to kill people. What about all this love stuff we were learning in church, he wondered. How does that fit into our real life? I knew the question he was asking needed an answer.
Now we're threatened with the possibility of another war, this time with Iraq. It horrifies me—it's heartbreaking, the possibility of going to war with Iraq. I have signed the Pledge of Resistance, so I'm willing to do civil disobedience. But the most exciting part of this for me is that a few of us are about to form a New Hampshire UCC justice and peace affinity group. God gave me the idea.
I'm 83 years old, so I have a freedom that younger people don't have. For example, I get arrested about once a year protesting. I feel that those of us who are further along should use our considerable age to work to make the world better. We have children and grandchildren who depend on us. I just hate to think of what we are passing on to them.
I believe in crucifixion and resurrection just happening all over the place all the time. In this sense, our peace work, our resistance, is a gift to those who would make war. It's an invitation to a world of peace, as though we could put our arms around them and show them a better way.
For my part, my life in protest has helped me become much more loving, much more patient, a much better listener and much better at forgiving. I am in the peace movement as a woman of faith, and my faith remains strong. I feel a real clear bind to all people, no matter how different we all think we may be. When I hear people say, "God bless America," I think, that's not right. I feel that God should bless all of us. That makes a lot more sense.
Ruth Baily McKay is a member of East Congregational UCC in Concord, N.H. Focus on Faith is a reader-written column to help others grow in their faith. We welcome contributions from laity and clergy.