The never-ending journey to Christ’s peace

Published 9:57 am Monday, April 17, 2017

by John Railey

My maternal grandfather had this crazy notion: If everybody just said no to war, there would be no more war. He believed in the power of peace.

On this war-torn Easter, and on Easter in general, the time we celebrate the resurrection of The Prince of Peace, I keep going back to that notion of my good and gentle grandfather, John Bradshaw of Franklin. He died in his sleep on a winter night two weeks before I was born. I often wonder about the bittersweet time my mother underwent parting with her father and preparing for a new child. She named me, the baby of the family, for her father.

His grandchildren called John Bradshaw “Dandy” even though he was a plain dresser. He went to Guilford College, but he was so in love with my grandmother that, after about one year there, he returned to Southampton County to chase off any other beaus who might have been pursuing her.

Dandy believed in the power of love in all its forms. And he believed in peace. He was a Quaker who came from long generations of Quakers in our county.

He was a master craftsman who built fine houses, ones both modest and large, many of which still stand. His faith stood strong as well. Every Sunday for years, he drove three elderly Pretlow sisters from Franklin to the Bethel Friends Meeting. But Quakerism for him was a lot more than just a Sunday thing. It was a way of life.

Dandy and my grandmother raised my mother and her much-older brother on love and peace. Both went to Guilford, the brother going on to do conscientious-objector service overseas during World War II. Right after the war, my mother met my father. He, too, was from Quaker roots, just across the North Carolina line from our county.

Dandy built my parents’ house in Courtland, the one in which they raised my three siblings and me. It is a big frame house painted yellow, built on love strengthened by challenges.

My father served in the Navy during the war, in the South Pacific. With a U.S. invasion of the Japanese mainland looming, my father may well have been saved by the atom bombs President Harry Truman ordered dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the bombs that killed and maimed so many civilians but ended the war. My father knew the terrible price. But he often said, “We had to win the war to win the peace.”

I never saw what he saw, but he told me about it: ships blown up beside his and Marines his ship ferried to battles killed in those battles. He loathed war and often talked about how crucial peace is, as does my mother. My parents held onto their Quaker beliefs but raised us in the United Methodist faith because there wasn’t a Quaker meeting (“meeting” is the Quaker word for church) in our town.

I don’t know if Dandy and my father ever talked about war and peace. Dandy believed in his Quaker faith to the point that he voted for Nixon over JFK because Nixon had been raised as a Quaker. That, plus Dandy was an old-school Lincoln Republican. My father was a Democrat who believed FDR had saved the country. My father loved JFK, who, of course, beat Nixon for the presidency.

That is all now, supposedly, the distant past. Dandy died in 1961. Dad died in 2004.

But as the great William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I have the blood of Dandy and Dad in my veins and think of both often. They were both quietly courageous in their own ways.

The Persian Gulf War in 1991 sent me back to my grandparents’ Quaker faith. Back then, with my head full of the nonviolent teachings of Christ and Gandhi and MLK, I thought of myself as a pacifist. Now I know I fall far short of that. I think military actions to try to save the most vulnerable when all else fails are justified. I’m a wannabe Quaker and, for that matter, a wannabe Christian.

But I keep going to my Quaker meeting, hoping that the wisdom of peace will come to me by, as the Greek poet Aeschylus put it, “the awful grace of God.”

I keep thinking about my grandfather’s notion: If everybody just said no to war, there would be no more war. My brain tells me that’s naïve and will never work. But my heart and soul tells me Dandy’s notion is exactly right in its beautiful simplicity and the courageous commitment underlying it. If our broken world would just buy into it.

I’ll bet you readers have departed ones in your families who will be with you in spirit as you gather today, whether in church or on holy rivers like our Nottoway or the seas to which those rivers flow. I know the departed will be with me this weekend as I visit the Nottoway and my mother, still living in that fine house her father built. As wars still rage, we’ll pray for peace, knowing that Dandy and my father sorely wanted it, despite their different paths to get there.

JOHN RAILEY,  is the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, which first published this column.