Tag Archives: nonviolence

John Dear uses the first words of this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay in his book “Lazarus Come Forth!”. For me, the whole poem is a powerful reminder of what it would mean to reject death and to exist affirming life, and no more so than this year as we think about the start of the first world war, and how the powers lined up to participate in an almighty blood bath.  It is important to remember that in the UK alone, over 20,000 men of military age refused to go to war, and many spent time in prison, and though nowadays our means of resisting war are different (unless you find yourself in the military), the discourse of violence and death is still very powerful.

Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
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Last summer, I visited Taize, in France.  I spent two weeks there, living and working alongside the other hundreds of people from all over the world, who had visited this isolated monastic community to work, pray and spend time together.  I spent my second week in silence, and one of the books I took with me was Thomas Merton’s “Contemplative Prayer” – flicking through one morning I found a set of prayers by the Zen Buddhist Tich Nhat Hanh, who had written the forward for this beautiful, challenging, inspiring book.  I spent an afternoon gently working through these prayers.  I found considering myself, those I love and those I find less easy to reconcile myself with equally, patiently and with eyes of love at first a challenging, difficult experience, but ultimately liberating – for a short while, I was that bit freer from the weight of prejudice.

For each prayer, first consider the words in relation to yourself, then the person you like, then the person you love, then the person you are neutral to, and finally the person who makes you suffer when you think of.  

Then you can practice “May they be . . .” beginning with the group, the people, the nation, or the species you like, then the one you love, then the one that is neutral to you, and finally the one you suffer the most when you think of.

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May they be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.

May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
May he/she be free…
May they be free…

May I be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May he/she be free…
May they be free…

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May he/she learn…
May they learn…

May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May he/she be able…
May they be able…

May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
May he/she learn…
May they learn…

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May he/she know…
May they know…

May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May he/she be able…
May they be able…

May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May he/she be free…
May they be free…

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Reflections from Ireland

From Waterfallswimmer:

I’m enjoying reading and discussing John Dear’s book ‘Lazarus, Come Forth’ as part of our continuing shared journey of nonviolence. Something I read last week resonated with me and I’ve been able to think more deeply about it so thought I’d share that here. Firstly I’ll quote the passage from page 15 in the section entitled ‘The Kingdom of Death, the culture of Violence’

“Life is hard, life is a struggle. For many, life means only death. People all over the world are stooped under the burden of hunger and war, ignorance and neglect. They flee and die under the military adventures of the superpowers and elsewhere under the terrors of tribal warlords. Many labor for little; many come to early and unjust deaths. And over us all hovers the spectre of nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, both a result of a few thousand rich people spawning an epidemic of corporate greed. To protect their global control, their “national interests,” their “way of life,” sleek armies march and drill all over the globe……… Alas, this seems to be the way of the world – a kingdom altogether different from the Kingdom of God. Call it the kingdom of death, and how hard for our transfixed minds to concede its reign. There is in the nature of deathly powers something elusive. Hectic and threatening and adroit at covering their tracks, they ensnare and overwhelm us; they exhaust out mental capacities, feeble as they often are. In biblical parlance, they possess us.”

Lately I’ve been feeling very much ensnared and overwhelmed by injustices in the city I live in, the country I live in and the world I live in. This feeling takes over mentally and then physically. It’s beyond words and description but I become unsure of what I can do to change things, to bring life, and am left with a sense that maybe there isn’t anything I can do that could make a difference.

However, last weekend I found myself on the West Coast of Ireland for a swimming event in Killary Fjord which leads to the sea between mountains – a breathtaking place to be. I was walking by the water and mountains as the sun was setting and the sky turned from bright blue to deep orange and then purple, reflected in the water as the mountains slowly became silhouettes. It was so beautiful, again beyond words and I was overwhelmed by it and if I had to use words I might use love, peace and hope.

I realised that this came from the same place in my being as the feelings I might call pain, despair and hopelessness when I’m aware of and ensnared by injustices. It was the same energy but manifesting in different, almost opposite ways.

This is helping and encouraging me because I now know that if I’m feeling hopeless I can find hope in the same place, if I’m feeling pain or despair I can find love and peace in the same place.

I may find myself in the midst of a human-created culture of death, but no matter what is happening in the world around me there is life within me, I’d call it God, and even if its hard to reach I know it’s there and will keep me searching for and walking on the path of nonviolence.

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We act and pray for a world without war, the absence of violence in all of its manifestations.  We put down the sword, we blockade the nuclear bases and arms fairs, we go over the fences, we withdraw our taxes, we picket the embassies.  We live in community, we refuse to use violence even if faced with violence ourselves, we refuse military service.  We resist the ‘Pax Romana’, and through our actions, we show how our governments and economies are addicts of violence and war.

But like an addict, we have to show too that the mere absence of violence doesn’t mean we have overcome the temptation to violence, to death – I cannot believe that this is all that the peace of Christ is.  Even when we are not ourselves at war, or behaving with physical violence we repeatedly, everyday, in thought and word and deed, demonstrate the power that violence and death have over us.  We swear at drivers as they narrowly miss us on our bicycles, we legitimise our ongoing participation in systems of injustice, we fail to consider the impacts of our actions on others.  The peace of Christ, to be born again, is to live a way of life, where the culture of death has no power – it cannot simply mean the absence of something (overt, active violence).  It is a way which negates not only the violence of war and global economic injustice, but also means we encounter – and renounce – our own addiction to the culture of death that feeds so much suffering in ourselves, our relationships and in our communities.

When we put ourselves in the way of the war machine, I believe we are creating a schism between the world of violence and death, and the ways of peace, love and life that we sometimes see glimpses of appear that bit more possible.  The world of violence, which normally fits around us – like a glove – so easily that we don’t even recognise it, suddenly doesn’t quite work any more.  Like a rocket choosing a new trajectory, we begin to move away, onto a different path.  As we continue on this journey, violence will continue lack the operable power over us that it once had, and we will continue to be led on our search for something more life affirming, a way of love.

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There is another way

Last week the biggest arms fair in the world came to London and we felt obligated to be there to say that the way of weapons is a dead end. There is another way, a way of peace, that Jesus teaches.  The arms fair has a history of breaking what minimal rules there are and it turns out this year was no different. Illegal torture  equipment was found in the exhibition. Some us took part in a non violent blockade of one of the entrances, to say that we cannot stand by while this illegal and immoral trade continues. There are some photos here and over the coming weeks we ill keep posting reflections as the trial for “aggravated trespass” gets under way.

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A Recurring Dream

“I have a dream…”

I was rather excited to wake up this morning to the fifty year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech;  a true prophet of the 20th century. Half a century on and there is still a way to go for racial equal rights, not to mention equal rights for a whole host of other groups such as women and those who identify with the LGBTQ community. However, today there is an African-American President; amazing!

Though, I am reminded this week, also, in the preceding shadow of the DSEi (Defense and Security Event) arms fair that surely we could never hope to be prophets like King?

The hero Mark steel writes (summarised).

A few activists could never hope to start a mass movement which might change the course of the big corporate machines of this world.
Boycotting certain goods surely only serves to ease the personal conscience of the activist as the profits of Nike, Esso etc. could never be hit hard enough to force change.
Buying shares in Tesco in order to attend shareholders meetings and ask board members embarrassing questions is certainly fun and worth a giggle, but that’s all it will ever be.
Certainly those who chain themselves to the Docklands Light Railway, in order to stop arms dealers from getting from their hotels to the arms fair, have to be admired for their audacity. However, the arms fair will happen regardless.
Then there are the members of the international Solidarity Movement (ISM) who went to Palestine to sit in hospitals and schools, the idea being that the Israelis were less likely to fire if these places were occupied by a handful of crusties from Surrey listening to Orbital on an iPod.
Helen Steel and Dave Morris distributed a pamphlet pointing out how McDonald’s were responsible for pollution, cruelty to animals and serving food that was full of chemicals; such an insignificant gesture.
Except.
Except, McDonald’s weren’t so blasé. Instead they took the pair to court and embroiled them in a now celebrated legal battle that caused an apparently invincible corporate symbol immense international embarrassment, marking the company as a particularly repugnant example of globalisation and, in turn, forcing them on the defensive.
The same can also be said of the far more ruthless arms industry. As a result of similar campaigning they have been put on the back foot. In Britain they have to maintain that they’re honorable arms dealers and would never knowingly sell laser-guided missiles that incinerate their target on impact to anyone who might use them to do harm. When, for example, Britain sold tanks to the Indonesian army, anyone concerned were assured that they were to be used for peaceful purposes. Maybe the army there spends most of its time making giant pies for the hungry villagers and the tanks are the only things that can roll that amount of pastry.
The company EDO MBM make guidance systems for the F16 bombers used by the Israeli airforce to drop bombs on the occupied Palestinian territories. But in 2006 a campaign of weekly protests outside the factory in Brighton caused the company sufficient embarrassment that they took out an injunction against the protesters. However, the protests intensified, the court case brought by the company collapsed, and the plant recorded a loss of £2million which it blamed on ‘legal costs’, resulting in the managing director getting the sack.
Reed-Elsevier, the company that staged the annual London Arms Fair (it sounds so innocent), announced in June 2007 they were abandoning this line of business because ‘it is becoming increasingly clear that a growing number of important customers have very real concerns about our involvement in the defense exhibitions business.’
What caused them to back down? Maybe it was the protests or the countless letters and complaints. It might have been the student at Loughborough University who won a £2,000 literary prize, but discovered the award was sponsored by BAE Systems, so denounced them in his acceptance speech and sent the money the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
In Palestine, the Israeli army did refrain from firing indiscriminately in areas where the (ISM) were based.
In all these cases the activists had been able to impose themselves only because there was a wider movement and an international groundswell of opinion in their favour. The mass of the confused, with their distaste for the values of our times, applauds the activists, the leafleteers, the splendidly eccentric peace protester covered in badges. Local communities write letters backing them, they’re voted heroes on local radio and TV polls and juries refuse to convict them. But without their wonderfully eccentric and imaginative actions, the humiliations inflicted and the retreats forced on these powerful bodies wouldn’t have happened.
There are limitations to these victories. The arms dealers won’t be decisively put out of business by a direct action stunt. But in a small way they’ve been forced, by people some would dismiss, to check back from the unbridled drive for profit to take account of the requirements of human beings. (Mark Steel: ‘What’s Going On? P110-114)
Continue reading

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A Vision of a Persecuted Church

After reading this article – http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/15/rowan-williams-persecuted-christians-grow-up – and chatting with a friend over the a pint, we started to imagine what Christians in the UK could to do to be considered persecuted, and wrote this little story.  Continue reading

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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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Approaching the tomb…

Early on Tuesday morning, thirteen people were sat in a van, heading towards AWE Burghfield, Berkshire.  Between us we had lots of tubes of superglue, some plastic tubing, bucketfuls of determination and the words of Noam Chomsky ringing in our ears;

“Fifteen years ago the World Court determined that it is a legal responsibility of the nuclear powers to meet their commitment to devote themselves to removing these awful devices from the earth.  Further development of these systems is not only a violation of law; it also increases threats to survival that are constant and serious. Those who are acting courageously to uphold our obligations deserve our sincere respect and full support.”

We stopped next to the ‘Construction Gate’.  Eight of us jumped out of the van, followed quickly by the support group, and quickly got into position lying across the gate with our hands glued fast to the people either side of us.  The traffic quickly mounted up, and it soon became clear that we’d achieved what we’d set out to do – we had impeded the ongoing redevelopment of the site, which will allow the United Kingdom to continue to build weapons of mass destruction for decades to come.  We planned to stay there as long as we could and were expecting to be arrested.  After five hours in the road and severe disruption to the day’s work we gently pulled our hands apart, prayed together, and left.

The action was organised non-hierarchically by a small group of Christians and Quakers from various denominations and peace groups from across the UK.  It felt empowering to be locked alongside other people who had decided to take this daring step into non-violent direct action, and for some of our group this was their first experience of protest in this form.  We smiled and laughed a lot, sang songs, prayed, shared communion and told stories.  In an individualised, atomised world where we spend an immense amounts of time doing what we’re told, staring at screens, and wishing ‘someone would do something about that’, it felt empowering to be part of a small group of people who had acted on their convictions and had had a positive impact.

Throughout the preparation for the action, and on the road itself, a whole host of different images and words raced through my mind, but after recently reading John Dear’s book ‘Lazarus, Come Forth!’, the one that I kept coming back to were Jesus’ last words to Peter as he was being arrest – “Put down the sword.”  John Dear describes this as the first moment when the disciples really understood what it was Jesus was about, and it terrified them.  Jesus challenges us to imagine a way of being where we do not rely on the tools of violence or oppression in order to achieve our aims, and this goes for everything, from nuclear weapons to our personal relationships.  Put down the sword.

At various points in the preparation and organisation I found myself trying to step back, to find an excuse to not go to the base or to get in the road (I’ve got things I need to do, maybe I should take pictures instead, maybe we won’t find a van we can use, maybe, maybe, maybe…) but Jesus’ words to Peter acted as a little reminder as to why we were doing what we were doing.  It was right to acknowledge the fear I had – I recently spoke with a far more experienced activist than myself, who very humble acknowledged that before every action he feels ready to ‘back out’, and hearing this made me feel more comfortable with acknowledging my own nerves.  Taking part on this action taught me a lot about not letting fear move me in a direction other than the one I want to go in.  I found real strength in the group – being one member of a group of beautiful, radical and committed people, doing something together that terrified me to think of doing on my own allowed me to overcome the fear in my belly!

The action felt like a success, but also revealed how much work we still need to do if we are to fully reveal the UK’s nuclear hypocrisy and make sure that our MP’s vote against the replacement of Trident in 2016.  Every morning vehicles, workers, materials, and nuclear convoy trucks pass through the gates of AWE Burghfield, Aldermaston and Faslane, unhindered and unquestioned, allowing our state to continue to build weapons and pose an existential threat to humanity.  We need to pile on the pressure and continue to expose the violence and hypocrisy that is our nuclear weapons system, and to confine all weapons of mass destruction to the history books.

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