"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Peaceful Snow and Peaceful Protest

We’re in the midst of what is for the low elevations of Washington State a significant snow storm. Both my wife and I are at home, as our respective schools are closed. Given the amount of people she saw at Safeway yesterday stocking up for “the big one" (one person bought five gallons of milk...really? really???), I’d say most people are staying inside today. We plan to venture out soon for some snowman building.

I’m sure others share my love of the peaceful, calming nature of the snow. The forced break that comes with school closures and nasty roads brings peace. The sound (or silence) during snowfall brings peace. Putting my book and laptop down and sitting in a chair, staring out the window, mesmerized…brings peace. There is a stillness in nature and in my soul brought on by the falling snow.

One of my scheduled elective classes today was going to involve discussion and activities focused on MLK. I think my number one association with MLK is “civil rights activist.” Probably the second is “non-violent activist.” This is, I tend to think first of his affect upon our attitudes about race and equality, and second about his methods. But a third consideration is also of interest to me: his interfaith vision for peace and protest.

Jesus, Thoreau, and Ghandi all played a significant role in the shaping of King’s vision of peaceful, non-violent protest. And while Christianity, Transcendentalism, and Hinduism all may conflict in some ways, such as how we discover the true nature of reality, they share a common interest in how we should live life well and work for the good of all.

I sense some who identify with a particular tradition might feel that the resources of their own tradition are sufficient for understanding the world and navigating through the challenges of life. I don't really share this sentiment. I think this problem is part of the reason Christians have been historically so anti-science at times; we have the Bible to help us, so why do we need to listen to biology, astronomy, sociology, etc?

I love the way such a “high view” of the Bible acknowledges its timeless applicability to our own life situations. But I don’t think we should forget the particularity of the Bible. We have four spectacular theological documents that seem to capture the essence of what Jesus said and did; but they are not neutral, agenda-free documents; each was written for particular reasons to particular audiences from a particular authorial voice. But even where they get close to the actual words of Jesus (or perhaps capture his statements verbatim), did Jesus say more of importance? And, would he have said things in the same way had he lived in 21st century USA?

I guess my point is something like this: Jesus may be my Lord, my goal, my inspiration, my hope; but he’s not my only teacher. MLK knew this, and I have joined him on a similar quest in recent years to discover the riches of insight from these various traditions as to how to be, think, speak, move, and live.

Why isn’t Jesus enough? Because the spirit of Jesus is ubiquitous, present in many more places than simply 1st century Palestine. Because others have said things in a way that Jesus didn’t, in a way that adds to, complements, or supplements what Jesus said and did. That’s my take. I guess as a Christian I start with Jesus; I just don't end there.


From Jesus:

Matthew 5: 38-45- “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, do not resist him who is evil but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven, for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”

Matthew 5:9- "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

From Thoreau:

“If a thousand [citizens] were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible”(from “Civil Disobedience”)

“Be not simply good; be good for something.” (Source)

Explanation of “Satyagraha” (Hinduism), which influenced Mahatma Gandhi (taken verbatim from here: source)

I. "Sat" --- which implies openness, honesty, and fairness: Truth

Explanation: Each person's opinions and beliefs represent part of the truth; in order to see more of the truth we must share our truths cooperatively; this implies a desire to communicate and a determination to do so, which in turn requires developing and refining relevant skills of communication; commitment to seeing as much of the truth as possible means that we can not afford to categorize ourselves or others.

II. "Ahimsa" --- refusal to inflict injury on others.

Explanation: Ahimsa is dictated by our commitment to communication and to sharing of our pieces of the truth; violence shuts off channels of communication; the concept of ahimsa appears in most major religions, which suggests that while it may not be practiced by most people, it is respected as an ideal; ahimsa is an expression of our concern that our own and other's humanity be manifested and respected; we must learn to genuinely love our opponents in order to practice ahimsa.

III. "Tapasya" --- willingness for self-sacrifice.

Explanation: A satyagrahi (one who practices satyagraha) must be willing to shoulder any sacrifice which is occasioned by the struggle which they have initiated, rather than pushing such sacrifice or suffering onto their opponent, lest the opponent become alienated and access to their portion of the truth become lost; the satyagrahi must always provide a face-saving "way out" for the opponents; the goal is to discover a wider vista of truth and justice, not to achieve victory over the opponent.


May we—all people, from every tribe—be peacemakers, people interested in achieving great ends without the use of harm…people who subvert the violent with non-violence…people who avoid not just physical violence and societal, large-scale violence but the violence and harm we do to those we love with our words (or silences)…people who practice ahimsa and tapaysa, out of love for others and for the sake of truth and justice, not personal gain or victory.

I hope it doesn’t contradict anything I’ve said that when Joann and I go outside in a few minutes, I will likely attack her with snowballs. We’ll see if she non-violently resists. J

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