Non-violence runs deep...

This week I have had a series of very clarifying conversations on FaceBook with a few friends who hold vastly different perspectives about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One man who vigorously opposes both wars expresses himself in harsh, angry and often cruel words. Another, a retiring career military man, is much more circumspect about the tragedies and horror of war. And still another is a dear friend I once played with in a few bands. (My dear wife even weighed in on some of this, too!) All of their comments - whether I have resonated or rejected them - have helped me continue to clarify my own understanding of what it means to be a peace-maker in 21st century America.

+ First, without reservation, I think hateful or fearful rhetoric is destructive, ugly and polarizing. Period. No qualifications. I know that in years past I, too, have shouted in rage and frustration - saying cruel and slanderous things in pursuit of peace - and I have come to see that this is not peace-making. It may be therapy. It may be adolescent rage. But as St. Paul wrote: when I was a child, I spoke like a child; but now that I have grown older I must put childish things away. So, one thing I have clarified is how important words and intentions are to me: being Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly is just as destructive and dishonest from a leftist perspective as from the right. What's more, words wound and alienate. My namesake in scripture put it like this in James 3:

A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue—it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can't go on. A spring doesn't gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don't bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don't bear apples, do they? You're not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?

To live in the Spirit of truth and authentic non-violence requires taming and disciplining our hearts as well as our tongues and actions. So, while I was frustrated and hurt at some of my friend's cruel words, they were helpful in a paradoxical way.

+ Second, anger is no excuse for cruelty in the name of political or spiritual truth. Anger is natural, of course, but only the anger of moral outrage has a place in the public realm of peace-making and then only if disciplined. Some anger is born of frustration - human life is limited - deal with it. Other anger is born of impotence: what does the wisdom tradition teach in Psalm 37? Open up before God, keep nothing back;
he'll do whatever needs to be done:
He'll validate your life in the clear light of day
and stamp you with approval at high noon.

Quiet down before God,
be prayerful before him.
Don't bother with those who climb the ladder,
who elbow their way to the top. Bridle your anger, trash your wrath,
cool your pipes—it only makes things worse.
Before long the crooks will be bankrupt;
God-investors will soon own the store.

Wait passionately for God,
don't leave the path.
He'll give you your place in the sun
while you watch the wicked lose it.

The old words are equally good: Do not fret because of the wicked... wait on the Lord... be still and know that I am God... do not fret but learn to wait. In a culture addicted to both the bottom line and immediate gratification, frustration is axiomatic. But it doesn't make for peace. Same, too, with emotional, political and spiritual impotence; it is exasperating but breeds more anxiety and stupidity than right relations between people. I've gained some clarity and insight about how to talk about how I see peace-making from the harsh words and anger, too.

+ Third, I have also come to see how deeply I long to trust God - even when the evidence is not there -because I believe that Jesus was right when he said: With human beings, right relations are impossible, but with God (and God's grace) all things are possible.

Niebuhr was prophetic when he wrote the Serenity Prayer - and he wrote it in the face of the growing Nazi horror - and his words are instructive: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. (In real life, that is often a great deal. As Meister Eckhardt has said: reality is the will of God - it can always be better - but we must start with what is real.) The courage to change what I can (and here is the call to action because there ARE things we can do to advance peace. In the case of these two wars, in addition to relentless prayer and advocacy with our legislators, there is also supporting the work of people like Greg Moretenson or CARE or Church World Service who are making a huge difference in the lives of people throughout the Middle East.) And finally the wisdom to know the difference. (I trust this needs no commentary.)

+ And fourth there is the whole work of healing the wounds - making amends - reparations. Tikun Olam. Doing justice, living compassion and walking in humility with God and God's creation. Some call this restorative justice for the sins of our nation - and they are bold and ugly and vicious -to date approximately 21,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan while the civilian death toll in Iraq is close to 105,000.

Because these wars have largely been "invisible" - both in terms of the costs to our soldiers and economy but also to those who live and die in the war zones - most of us don't have a sense of this tragedy. There isn't much moral outrage because there is precious little awareness. What's more, much of the home turf propaganda machines - like Fox News - paints those who raise these facts to be either lunatics or traitors or both. There is a great deal to atone for as Americans... and being a part of an honest counting the cost is part of the healing. But so is supporting and strengthening genuine acts of healing rather than ranting.

Once, long ago, an African American minister said to me, "You know, son, even Jesus needed and wanted to have a Judas close by in his company." And he wasn't speaking about the betrayal of Judas but rather the importance of someone who can see what we can't. Someone who can name our shadow. Call our attention to our blind spots and help us become more humble. I give thanks that despite some serious disagreements, I've found a little more clarity when it comes to how deep non-violence runs in my veins.


Black Pete said…
A fine posting, RJ, and profoundly true in all respects. I am reminded of the '60s saw that goes something like "Fighting to end war is like screwing on behalf of virginity."
RJ said…
How does that other one go? when will we ever learn... when will we ever learn? Thanks my man.
Rev Nancy Fitz said…
Great message and one that resonates with me and offers understanding. Thanks. I hope you are well.
Such a thoughtful post, and I agree with Black Pete, that quote came to my mind when I read this too!

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