John Stratton passed away at home on Sunday. I knew John to be a deeply generous soul with an enormous heart mostly in his work as a local leader in the cause of nonviolence. I’m honored to have succeeded him in leading an organization he founded, the Ashland Center for Nonviolence. While there will no doubt be a lot of tributes to John in the coming days, I wanted to reflect on what I learned from him about peace.
John didn’t just wish for peace. He was committed to making it happen locally and was flat-out mad at the fact that American society seems to resort to violence so quickly. At the same time, John didn’t think of himself as a pacifist, but as a skeptic. He was especially skeptical of either/or thinking that ruled out creative approaches to resolving conflict without violence. He could also be skeptical of religious people if he sensed rigidity. It occurs to me that my own brand of Christian pacifism might have struck him as somewhat rigid too. John was adept at looking for different, untried ways, which I observed in him on many occasions, but presumably on none so critical and sustained as his recent illness. (I hesitate to “use” John’s illness as an “illustration” for what are probably obvious reasons. Yet if dying well is really about living well, we should take notice of how others and ourselves do both.)