Tag Archives: love

Fear and other motivations…

Since our most recent blockade at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield last week, I’ve been thinking a lot again about fear, stress, and what it is that guides and motivates us. On our way to the base, I was feeling particularly nervous – the combination of the practical things that needed to happen to make our action work well, combined with the potential legal penalties made for a rich cocktail that fed fear and nerves, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling that way! Fear can be pernicious and I’ve found one of it’s little tactics is found in the desire to ‘find a way out’ can be powerful; the little voice saying “you don’t have to do this, you don’t have to be here, it’s OK to bail out…” can sometimes be making a lot of sense, but it can also be a voice driven by fear.

On that journey, driving through the Berkshire countryside at half past six in the morning, I found myself looking for a source of motivation, of something to be guided by that wasn’t stress, fear, or even determination and desire to be effective (whose counterpoint is the fear of being ineffective) – I was looking for something that put the action we were about to take into a wholly different context, beyond the pressure of being right or wrong, beyond effectiveness and failure. I wanted my actions that day to be born out of love, and while that feels easy to type, and easy to say in comfortable, warm, safe spaces, it didn’t feel immediately easy while sat in that van!

Looking out of the windows though, we were met with a deer running across the road, beautiful rays of dawn light through big, leafy trees, gentle mists, and – as we approached the boundary fence of one of the most abhorent places in the country- a bird (a Jay, I think) flew briefly fly alongside the van. Breathing gently and purposefully – finding those little seeds of joy and love, as Thich Nhat Hanh might say – and thinking about the beauty of the creation we’re so blessed to live among, every day, became a wonderfully rich source of guidance and strength, taking me a long way from the logic of fear. As we approached the gate of the base, opened the doors and got the lock-ons out of the van, jumped into the road, and blocked the gate, I felt glad to be where I was and doing what I was doing – once we were in the road, I felt happy and content (a long way from where I’d felt a few minutes previously!) Managing to see the world with eyes of love felt like a deep moment of prayer; I felt like was able to carry my fear much more gently afterwards.

Reading back, it can seem almost trite to recall those minutes in the approach in such a way, but the experience was once again a lesson in not letting fear be the sole, overwhelming force that it can become. There are other, brighter, lighter, more gentle emotions and experiences to be guided by, and we’re surrounded by them every day. While we were locked on, we witnessed a Red Kite treat the SOCPA law – which consider anyone who dares enter designated areas as a terrorist – with a beautiful disregard for the ridiculous contractions humans have set around particular areas of land, as it flew over the base! Even when legitimate and logical, fear is paralysing and disabling; it can stop us acting with the love we hope to. Seeing the world with eyes of love, even just very briefly, is empowering and nurturing. I felt lucky to be able to take the action we did, and glad to briefly find those little seeds of joy and love that fed my spirit while lying in that road.

In peace

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To my eyes, resistance relies on the passion and conviction of the individual – you can’t legislate resistance, you can’t force it, you can’t conjure it out of thin air, and you can rely on larger systems of power for reassurance or support for it. There is a real temptation to turn to existing, powerful institutions to act alongside us, or on our behalf – perhaps because we’ve been brought up to believe in the power and morality of the state, the church, the media, the corporation, we abdicate power and responsibility, or seek tacit or active approval, from the structures we hope represent us. However, to my eyes, it so often turns out that the real acts of resistance – those rooted deeply in love and peace – come from individuals and small groups, often acting independently, and often in direct conflict with the institutions they are a part of.

A stunning recent example of this is found in the words and actions of Revered Christopher Senyonjo. Senyonjo is in Uganda, and continues to affirm and support the LGBT community there, despite the recent laws banning homosexuality in the country. By being openly supportive of the LGBT community in Uganda, Senyonjo has made himself exceptionally vulnerable, and it is the most vulnerable that he has aligned himself with. Senyonjo could be sent to prison for many years because of his open resistance to institutionalised hate and fear. While such powerful institutions, like the Ugandan state and church, support the ‘kill the gays’ bill – the original legislation pushed for the death penalty for open homosexuals – we can look to defiant individuals like Senyonjo for courage, for a story of hope. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that the Kingdom of God is ‘now or never’; for me, there is little that resonates more than that than the brave actions of people like Christopher Senyonjo.

Another example – in recent months, John Dear has written powerfully on his reasons for leaving the Jesuit order; because of his regular and ongoing actions in pursuit of peace and justice, those in positions of authority and power have first sought to silence him and his peace work, before he finally took the decision to leave. Rather than being supportive of his work, it seems Dear experienced active opposition from the very institution that he joined, presumably for nourishment and leadership. Instead, he tells a story of an institution that succumbed to pressure from those who opposed his work, who he believes were ’embarrassed’ by it. And yet, there is real hope to be found in Dears’ refusal to be silenced, to act in a way that upholds his own convictions to love and peace.

In these – and so many other – stories, I see a common theme about acting with integrity, and passionate commitment to an order of peace and justice, despite the personal risk, and very understandable fear that so often blinds and neuters us. We are all on a similar journey, of finding ways that allow us to act, not without fear, because fear is something that is natural and normal, and exists for very good reason, but to act in a way that acknowledges, even loves our fear, and then finds a way to remember that there are other motivations to root our actions in, too. Our other sources lead us to acts of love for the persecuted and marginalised, to put our bodies in the way of the machines of war and death despite the risk of arrest and prosecution when we do that, to remember that we speak and act for something other – beyond – the dominant narratives of greed, power and violence that sometimes feel like they dominate our world.

In peace.

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On reflecting on ‘loving the enemy’ in relation to violence and active nonviolence, the following quote from Walter Wink’s ‘Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination’ articulated so well something I had been grappling with for a long time, so I wanted to share it here:

“Nonviolence is the spiritualisation of violence, the overcoming of violent desire. It is not the mere absence of violence, but an effort to transcend, rather than commit violence….It may prove beneficial to be forced to face, daily, the humiliating fact that some of us are no less violent than those whose policies we oppose. Maybe then we can love them, since we are no better, and avoid the self-righteousness that ends all dialogue….

Nonviolence is clearly the way of Jesus. But we need to offer our violence to God as well….so that the new synthesis, the third way, manifests not only our love but also our shadow. We are not paragons of peaceableness, but wounded, violent, frightened people trying to become human. We are not wan saints incapable of evil, but plain people clad in both light and dark, under the banner of love, seeking to be spiritual warriors.

Jesus’ third way shows us the path forward: neither repressing our violence nor acting it out, but letting it be the fuel by which God empowers us to struggle for the nonviolent future.”

I think he puts it so well (!) that I have nothing to add to it.

Wink, W. (1992). Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Fortress Press: Minneapolis: 293-294

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Faith, love and nonviolence

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”

“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

Maybe I am simply looking for reasons – or excuses – to defend a lack of faith, or maybe I am finally being honest with myself.   I have recently become more comfortable in expressing the fact that I do not believe in a “God” that is able to act independently in the world, or as a “being” that exists “somewhere”, from whom a particular set of instructions and rules emanates that I can choose either to believe or not to believe.  I have struggled with what this meant for my identity as a Christian, but I am growing in the sense that there is a more radical, intimate, worldly relationship that is to be had with God, that also demands of us absolute responsibility for our actions and the world in which we live, that is very relevant to the Christian community.

A lot of this thinking crystallised during an encounter I had this week, when I had a conversation with a member of the Jehovah’s Witness church about our responsibilities to take action against violence and injustice (the particular example was the Trident nuclear weapons system).  He claimed that he could not bring himself to believe that God doesn’t have a ‘grand plan’, and was absolutely committed to the idea that if nuclear weapons have to exist, then that’s because God has chosen to have them.  He truly believed that he could devolve responsibility to his God, that he had neither ability nor right to change the wrongs of the world, that this was God’s business alone.  This was an idea I found deeply troubling.

For me, the narrative in the gospel is of God being removed – crucified – as an idea separate to the world, as ‘out there’, as something utterly other, and being reborn within the world, among a community.  The story of the crucifixion and resurrection means that the divine is now something that we experience primarily in communion with the earth and the rest of humanity as we act in love for justice and peace.  This means that we have to take absolute responsibility for what we do and what our earth is like, because the story of the crucifixion/resurrection relegated the idea of God as an external actor to whom we can devolve responsibility, and placed God into the heart of our social fabric, into the very core of our existence.

Peter Rollins spoke of this at Greenbelt a number of years ago.  He said,

“as we participate in the resurrection, and the new life of Christ, we participate in the birth of God in our midst, among us, so that the only way in Christianity of really encountering God, of being faithful to God, is in serving one another, in caring for one another.  The weakness of God – not a God of ‘strength’ and ‘might’ out there, a meta-narrative, but a God of weakness who is among us, in carnation, around us… this does not mean that you have to stop believing that God as a creator exists out there, but if you take the Christian story seriously I want to argue that that becomes irrelevant, absolutely irrelevant.  That’s a philosophy question, “Does God exist?” is a philosophy question – you ask that in philosophy class.  For Christians, it’s the experience of the divine abandonment, of the contraction, where everything that defines who you are is stripped, and then, the rebirth of meaning and God among us in our interactions.  In other words, you cannot say any more that ‘God made me do it.’ You have to take responsibility for what you do… you act out of love, but never knowing ‘this is definitely what I have to do’.  If you get it wrong, you might have blood on your hands.  We act as human beings, fractured, broken, and beautiful.”

For me, an essential ingredient to the way this is practised is nonviolence.  Nonviolence should not rely on a meta-narrative, on a grand story of justification for our own actions, or our groups actions.  Nonviolence demands that in every interaction you are accountable for what you do, say, think, or believe, because violence itself runs much deeper than ‘direct violence’, the kind of violence we can see and objectify.  Johan Galtung identified two other types of violence, structural and cultural beyond direct violence.  ‘Cultural violence’ holds particular relevance here, and was described by Galtung like this –

“By ‘cultural violence’ we mean those aspects of culture, the symbolic sphere of our existence – exemplified by religion and ideology, language and art, empirical science and formal science (logic, mathematics) – that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence. Stars, crosses and crescents; flags, anthems and military parades; the ubiquitous portrait of the Leader; inflammatory speeches and posters – all these come to mind.”

Instead, nonviolence provides a way of looking and acting in the world with love, but without appealing to an external mediator or authority. At its best, nonviolence does not simply recreate a structure of thought or process to be followed dogmatically – by doing this it loses its potency, and begins to look like just one other node in a matrix of belief systems to appeal to.  In order to be a way of practising love, nonviolence can’t just replace our institutions, myths or grand narratives with new ones, for the same reasons that acts of love should never be prescribed by a call to an authority.  There is no reason to love – love is, in itself, the reason, and to give a reason means it is no longer love.  Nonviolence is an opportunity to look at the world with fresh eyes, to assume that (direct, structural, cultural) violence is not the only option.  Nonviolence provides a vantage point to act without simply regurgitating the problems we hope to act on, and responding to violence, injustice and oppression with full acknowledgement that we take responsibility for what it is we do.

So to go full circle, back to that little quote I started this piece with –

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”

“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

I am starting to wonder if a call on God to resolve the poverty, suffering and injustice in the world is not a particularly important part of the Christian journey – whether or not there is a being to appeal to is simply not relevant to the Christian journey of love.  Instead, love leads us to encounter God in our midst, in both the beauty and strength visible on our planet, and in the violence of injustice, oppression and persecution in our own lives and communities.  Nonviolence becomes an essential tool to look at the world through fresh eyes, to understand the world in which we live beyond the pervasive narratives of violence, and to act with absolute responsibility and commitment to the realities of injustice and oppression we encounter.

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