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Politics for Peace

Nonviolence

Politics for Peace
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the most hopeful signs of growth and evolution in Christianity today is the effort to reclaim nonviolence as fundamental to Jesus’ life and teaching. Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace in 2017 focused on this:

I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. . . .

May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms. . . .

Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.

An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence . . . cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue. Hence, I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics. [1] I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children. . . .

Jesus taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7:21). . . . Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross . . . (Ephesians 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts.” [2] . . .

As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed . . . : “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that [they are] not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.” [3] The Gospel command to love your enemies (Luke 6:27) “is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence.” [4] . . .

Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount [see Matthew 5:3-10]. . . . Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

References:
[1] Message for the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (December 7, 2014).

[2] “The Legend of the Three Companions,” chapter 14. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 102.

[3] Benedict XVI, Angelus (February 18, 2007). Full text at http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20070218.html.

[4] Ibid.

Pope Francis, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace,” Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Celebration of the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (January 1, 2017), http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20161208_messaggio-l-giornata-mondiale-pace-2017.html.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative

The Third Way

Nonviolence

The Third Way
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Walter Wink (1935–2012), with whom I taught at several conferences some years ago, wrote a brilliant book, Jesus and Nonviolence, on a third way between fight and flight. I can see why Jesus calls it “a narrow path,” as it’s not the ego’s default or preferred method. Read on. . . .

There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and (3) the third way of . . . nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses. . . .

Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. . . .

Jesus’ Third Way bears at its very heart the love of enemies. This is the hardest word to utter in a context of conflict because it can so easily be misunderstood as spinelessness. But it is precisely the message [Martin Luther King, Jr.] made central to his efforts in the polarized circumstances of the American South.

To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. [1]

Walter Wink continues:

Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. The enemy too believes [they are] in the right, and fears us because we represent a threat against [their] values, lifestyle, or affluence. When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God. . . .

It is our very inability to love our enemies that throws us into the arms of grace.

Or as I, Richard, like to say, it’s when we come to the end of our own resources that we must draw upon the Infinite Life and Love within us to do what we alone cannot do.

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (Christmas, 1957), written in the Montgomery jail during the bus boycott. Reprinted in the A. J. Muste Essay Series, number 1 (A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012).

Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Augsburg Fortress: 2003), 12, 13-14, 58-59, 60-61.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative

Remembering Who We Already Are

Nonviolence

Remembering Who We Already Are
Monday, August 19, 2019

My longtime friend, Catholic priest and peace activist John Dear, teaches that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to others, including creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence. John and the Franciscan organization Pace e Bene lead an annual Campaign Nonviolence (September 14-22, 2019), working toward a culture “free from war, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction.” [1] In John’s words:

What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as “causing no harm, no injury, no violence to any living creature.” But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. . . .

Another way to understand nonviolence is to set it within the context of our identity. Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved [children] of the God of peace. . . . This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called the sons and daughters of God [Matthew 5:9]. . . . Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes [the] sun rise on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” [Matthew 5:44-45]. In the context of his visionary nonviolence—radical peacemaking and love for enemies—Jesus speaks of being who we already are. He talks about our true identities as if they propel us to be people of loving nonviolence. . . .

Living nonviolence requires daily meditation, contemplation, study, concentration, and mindfulness. Just as mindlessness leads to violence, steady mindfulness and conscious awareness of our true identities lead to nonviolence and peace. . . . The social, economic, and political implications of this practice are astounding: if we are [children] of a loving Creator, then every human being is our [sibling], and we can never hurt anyone on earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction. . . .

Gandhi said Jesus practiced perfect nonviolence. If that’s true, then how . . . did he embody creative nonviolence so well? The answer can be found at the beginning of his story, at his baptism. . . . Jesus hears a voice say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Unlike most of us, Jesus accepts this announcement of God’s love for him. He claims his true identity as the beloved son of the God of peace. From then on, he knows who he is. He’s faithful to this identity until the moment he dies. From the desert to the cross, he is faithful to who he is. He becomes who he is, and lives up to who he is, and so he acts publicly like God’s beloved.

References:
[1] Learn more about Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions at paceebene.org.

John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013), 15-16, 17, 19, 20.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative

Creating Peaceful Change

Nonviolence

Creating Peaceful Change
Sunday, August 18, 2019

The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself. When we don’t know how to consciously live out of union (which is called love), we resort to violence, fighting anything that is not like us and that we cannot control. Contemplative practice teaches us to honor differences and also realize that we are all much more than our nationality, skin color, gender, or other labels which are all aspects of the passing and thus false self. Contemplation brings us back to our True Self, who we are in God.

When we can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then we will, ironically, find that we are more than enough. This is the wisdom of the Gospel that is especially emphasized in Franciscan spirituality. At this place of both poverty and freedom we have nothing to prove or protect. Here we can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs. This cuts violence at its very roots before there is any basis for fear, anger, vengeance, or self-promotion—the things that often cause violence.

One of the reasons I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation thirty-two years ago was to give activists some grounding in spirituality (their True Self) so they could continue working for social change, but from a stance much different than anger, ideology, or oppositional willpower. Many activists I knew in the 1960s loved the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968). But it became clear to me that theirs was often a mere intellectual appreciation rather than a participation in the much deeper mystery.

To create peaceful change, we first have to get the “Who” right. Who are you? Most of us, particularly pragmatic Americans, lead with strategic questions—what, how, when. These are secondary questions. Before we act or react, we need to wait—wait for communion, wait until we’re reconnected to the Ground of Being and even in our “enemies,” wait until we’re conscious, wait until a “yes” appears within us.

When we begin by connecting with our inner experience of communion, our actions can be pure, clear, and firm. This kind of action, rooted in one’s True Self, comes from a deeper knowing of what is real, good, true, and beautiful—beyond labels and dualistic judgments of right or wrong. From this place, our energy is positive and has the most potential to create change for the good. This stance is precisely what we mean by “being in prayer” and why we must pray always to maintain this state of constant prayer.

I’m not telling you not to act. The Gospel offers a way to make our action sustainable and lasting over the long haul. People on the Right tend to be perpetually angry, fearful, and overly defensive, and people on the Left tend to be perpetually cynical, morally righteous, and outraged. The Gospel calls forth a refined instrument beyond these two falsehoods that can really make a difference because it is a new level of consciousness altogether. Such activists are themselves “a new creation” (Galatians 6:15) and the lightning rods of God’s transformative energy into the world.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence Through the Journey of Centering Prayer, discs 1 and 2 (Franciscan Media: 2002)CD.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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