Quaker Theology #13 Winter 2007


The Sermon on the Mount in the Life and Death of Tom Fox

Pearl Hoover

[Editorís Note: This essay is adapted from a presentation at a memorial session for Tom Fox at Baltimore yearly meeting, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, August 4, 2006.]

This paper encompasses the life of Tom Fox, from his earliest decision to give his life towards peacemaking to the fruit of his decision as expressed by those who were with him on the journey. As a full time service worker with Christian Peacemaker Teams and a long time member of the Langley Hill Meeting of the Society of Friends, he shared a rich circle friends who are faithful servants of Jesus and who have been touched by his witness as has many others around the world.

Tom Fox was born the only child of older parents in Chattanooga Tennessee. He received a Masters in Music and Education at the George Peabody School of Music. When he graduated from there the draft for the Viet Nam War was still in effect. Peggy Senger Parsons, a Quaker preacher, describes Tomís response to this reality.

"My favorite thing about Tom was what he did during the Viet Nam War. Unable, by conscience, to fight, he did not head for CanadaĖhe did not go to jail. Instead he joined the Marine Band, and played his clarinet for them for 20 years. If I have my time and place right, he would have been playing "Hail to the Chiefí for a president he mightily disagreed with. Some would see this as a contradiction or a compromise. I see it as witness to a thing we Quakers hold to be true. You can be present to the people you most disagree with. This is what it means to live out the Sermon on the Mount.; to walk the extra mile; to stay engaged with someone even it if means getting your other cheek slapped."

But this was only the early hint of Tomís commitment to keep Jesusí teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. He married, became the loving and excited father of a daughter and a son, retired from the Marine Band and became an assistant store team leader at a Whole Foods store. He had begun attending Quaker meetings in 1981 and joined Langley Hill Meeting in McLean, Virginia in 1992. It was the events of September 11, 2001 that began to give shape to this call from God. He describes this vision in his document "Christian Peacemaker Teams Discernment Process" this way:

As I was watching the events in New York City and in Washington, I had a strong sense of one of the, for lack of a better word, visions that the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, experienced. He wrote, "I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but also an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in the [ocean of light] I saw the infinite love of God." It was my clear experience that day that we were being drawn deeper into the ocean of darkness and were creating more distance between ourselves and the Ďinfinite love of God."í

It was a very strong experience for Tom, but it did not lead to any immediate action. A number of months later he was doing a guided meditation and had a strong image of the scales of justice.

On the left scale were many, many people; some in military uniforms with weapons, some who seemed to be making the weapons and others who seemed to be encouraging or supporting this process. On the right scale were some people, but very few, in comparison to the other scale. It was my impression that they were committed to working for peace and justice without use of external weapons.

On the base of the scale were many more people than both scales combined. I had a sense that these were people who had not, or did not want to make a choice about which scale to take a stand on. I was in that group. There was a circular ladder going up to the top of the scale and a walk way leading towards each scale with people climbing up and going towards one scale or the other (most heading towards the scale with the weapons.) I had a sense of my climbing up to the top of the scale and starting to walk towards the scale of those working for peace and justice. That was where the meditation stopped."(CPT Discernment Process document)

This was the point at which he began to look into various groups "who were out in the world working to bring the Peaceable Realm to come to fruition." He found CPT on the internet. It was important to him to, "in all things, seek Jesus," in the words of a Quaker mentor of his. Thus he looked for organizations that seemed as strongly grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus. Even though he checked into CPT he did not go any further until April of 2003.

About this same time he had just received the best evaluation ever at Whole Foods, which led to a meeting with one of the regional vice presidents. The vice president said it was time to promote him. However, he added that for this to happen, Tom would need to function more aggressively and be more directive in his leadership style.

Tom said he simply was not that type of person and would be uncomfortable being something that he wasnít. He was given 6 weeks to step down to a non-leadership position or leave the company.

Tom responded in this way. "This was a real shock . . . . I was angry at first but as I prayed and reflected on this it came to me that maybe God was giving me a kick in the pants to get me moving in that I seemed not to be able to make this move by myself."

He left the company, spent the summer as the kitchen manager at a Quaker camp and let all this settle in. When Tom got back that fall he started the application process for CPT and sent it in on September 11, 2003. The writings of Joe Dominguez, a successful New York stockbroker, influenced Tomís thinking. He read Dominguez book, Your Money or Your Life; Transforming Your Relationship with Money, where he was challenged to do a critical evaluation of his lifeís energy. He calculated how many hours he had left to live, based on actuarial statistics; made a list of five values important to him; calculated how much time he needed to spend on them and chose three actions he could take to simplify his life now. This opened up his life to the possibilities of not worrying what he would eat, drink, wear etc. That part he was learning to leave in Godís hands.

He took a course at Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding on strategic non-violence in the spring of 2004. Early that summer summer he worked at Opequon Quaker youth camp and in July and August he did CPTís training in Chicago. Somewhere in this time he attended Northern Virginia Mennonite Church (NVMC) occasionally to learn something of the Mennonites. He was aware they were one of the founding groups of CPT. He formed his support group from Langley Hill and NVMC, two groups whose traditions have deeply espoused the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Tom offered to go to Iraq. CPT was considering leaving Iraq but Tom felt called to go there. He believed from his experience with the Marine Band he could interact in positive ways with US soldiers stationed there as well as with the Iraqi people. So he left for Iraq, on September 11, 2004. He wrote of the struggle to chose fight or flight, to face the human experience of fear and anger:

If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression, be it the overt aggression of the army or the subversive aggression of the terrorist, then what am I to do? [Follow the] guidance of Jesus and Gandhi in order to stay connected with God. But here in Iraq I struggle with that second form of aggression. I have visual references and written models of CPTers standing firm against the overt aggression of an army, be it regular or paramilitary. But how do you stand firm against a car bomber or a kidnapper? Clearly the soldier being disconnected from God needs to have me fight just as clearly as the terrorist being disconnected from God needs to have me flee. Both are willing to kill me using different means towards the same end. It seems easier somehow to confront anger within me than it is to confront fear. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right then I am not to give in to either. I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the solder. Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the solders? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying "American for the Taking"? No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm but Iím willing to keep working at it.

In December of 2004 at a team worship time he had another image, one that speaks to Jesus words, "You are the light of the world.":

It was of a land of shadows and of darkness. But within that land candles were burning; not many but enough to shed some light on the landscape. Some candles disappeared and it was my sense that the light was taken away for protection. Other candles burned until nothing was left and a small number of candles seemed to have their light snufied out by the shadows and darkness. What was most striking to me was that as the candles which burned until the end and the candles whose light was snuffed out ceased to burn, more candles came into being seemingly to build on their light. Jesusí words speak again "Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

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