Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jesus for Revolutionaries: Did Jesus really expect us to love our enemies

On Sunday, October 11, at  10 am, Jill and I will be give a presentation for a group called "Jesus for Revolutionaries" led by Robert Chao Romero, a UCLA professor who has written a remarkable book showing just how radical Jesus is.
We will be discussing Jesus and nonviolence. Our presentation will take place at Agape Court, an affordable housing complex in Pasadena, located at 445 N Garfield Ave. We will focus on the following Bible passage:            
 Matthew 5:44…"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so 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 the unrighteous.…" These are our notes....

Did Jesus really expect us to love our enemies?

Objective: to help us explore how this commandment can be applied not only in our personal interactions, but also in bringing about systemic change in a violent, unjust society.
1) Jesus’ commandment to “love our enemies” is hard but doable. Gandhi and King called this commandment “nonviolence.”
2)  It works to transform us in our personal relationships.
3)  It works to transform society locally and internationally
4)   It requires much practice and a community that helps us to hone our skills and give us hope and encouragement. King called this the “beloved community.”

Opening (10 minutes): Jill and Anthony share how we have tried to apply this commandment in our personal lives and as activists.

Thank you for asking Jill and me to share with you our reflection on nonviolence.  I believe that nonviolence is the most powerful force in the world, a revolutionary force, and that the teachings of Jesus are grounded in nonviolence. Nonviolence is the way of the cross, the way of self-sacrificial love, that turns people and societies upside down. During this brief time I’d like to share with you how I became an advocate of nonviolence,  and how I have applied nonviolence in my work as a Quaker peace activist. Thirty years ago, when I was teaching English at Carleton College in Minnesota, I was summoned home to take care of my mother, who had terminal emphysema and was given a year to live by her doctor.  My mother and I had a tumultuous relationship, and sometimes we’d get in such bitter fights we wouldn’t speak to each other for days or even months. But we loved each other and I wanted to help her so I decided to move in with my mother and sister to help them out. Being with my mother was so difficult I nearly went crazy. Finally, I asked for God’s help. God led me to the Quakers and it changed my life. The silent worship helped me to get in touch with my deep feelings and yearnings. It helped me to hear the voice of God in myself and others. Little by little I went from being a compulsive talker to a compassionate listener. As I learned how to listen to my mother’s heart—her fears, her desires, her hopes—our relationship improved. I was finally able to love and help her to pull her life together. She lived not one but seven years, and we never had a bitter quarrel during that whole time period. This experience convinced me that compassionate listening is a powerful tool for peacemaking. If my mother and I could become peaceful, so could Russians and Americans, or Israelis and Palestinians. Quakers also taught me about what they call the Peace Testimony. In 1660, the Quakers renounced violence and became a Peace Church.  For Quakers, the Peace Testimony is not simply passively refusing to engage in war and violence, it also means reaching out to one’s “enemies”  in love and trying to connect with “that of God” in them. During the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and the threat of nuclear Armageddon loomed large, I became involved in Soviet-American reconciliation work (sometimes called “citizen diplomacy”). I became editor and publicist for a book project that was jointly edited and published in the Soviet Union and the US. It was first such collaboration and it brought together leading writers in both countries. This project was not just a literary one, its purpose was to createdtrust and understanding. It also gave me the opportunity to witness to my faith. Many Russian writers wanted to know about Christ and God and I gladly shared with them. I believe that citizen diplomacy like ours played a major role in helping to end the Cold War.

After 9/11, I felt terrible fear and anxiety about where the world and my country were heading. The words of scripture came to me over and over again: “Perfect love casts out fear.” What did that really mean? How could I practice perfect love in the face of terrorism? To purify my heart, I fasted during Ramadan and read the Quran to learn more about Islam. Then I went to mosques to meet my Muslim neighbors. They were so amazed they invited me into their homes. As I got to know my Muslim neighbors, I realized that Muslims are not terrorists and they are “the enemy.” They are our brothers and sisters, made in the image in the God just like us. I became involved in the interfaith peace movement and took to heart the words of the Catholic theologian Hans Kung who said: “There can be no peace without peace among the religions. And there can be no peace among the religions without dialogue. And there can be no dialogue without a common ethic.” The “common ethic” that all religions share is the Golden Rule: treat others they way you want to be treated.

During this time, I edited a book by my friend and mentor Gene Hoffman who pioneered in Compassionate Listening. Gene had studied pastoral psychology and applied it to the peace movement. She realized that many peace people had unresolved inner conflicts. (Raise your hand if you have inner conflicts.) She also realized that terrorists are not monsters, they are people with grievances they feel will never be heard. Terrorists also have unhealed wounds from past traumas. To help them move beyond fear and terrorism, we need to listen to them compassionately. Gene developed techniques called Compassionate Listening that have been successfully used in Israel/Palestine and other conflict zones. In 2006 I went to Israel/Palestine as part of the Compassionate Listening Project and listened to Israelis and Palestinians. We went to a settlement, a kibbutz, a refugee camp. We talked, and most importantly, we listened to all sides. Such listening is an important form of peacemaking. It creates trust and understanding.  Listening from the heart, especially to those we disagree with, is a form of peacemaking rooted in the commandment: “Love your enemies.” Learning to be a compassionate listener is hard work and requires training, but it’s worth it. It has not only helped me in my work as a peace activist, it has helped me be a better husband!

Jill: College: Nuclear Freeze (a group support, today Golden Rule); Campus minister: Central American Study group; Seminary: Dr. Vernon Grounds; Pasadena First Baptist: Dr. Glen Stassen (the support of a group) and peacemaking. Marriage: practicing peacemaking—Anthony married someone a lot like his mom—a nuclear personality.

Possible Songs (5): “Lay Down my Sword and Shield Down by the Riverside,”

(10 min) In practicing “nonviolence” in one’s personal life.

Show picture: What is this animal known for? What are the negative and positive aspects of its character?

We have a hard time with certain personalities. Which animal do you most identify with in your own way of relating? Which one is hardest for you to deal with?  Describe a time in which you had a conflict or painful disagreement with someone and instead of reacting with anger or judgment, you tried to have understand the positive aspects of that person’s negative traits and then you able to have a conversation with that person and understand their point of view. What happened?

Lectio divina/meditation on the prayer of St Francis (15 minutes).

(10 min?) Discussion of how nonviolence is applied locally and internationally through faith-based lobbying and organizing, AVP, Nonviolent Peace Force, etc. (10 minutes)

In my five minutes, I’d like to talk about David Hartsough and nonviolent resistance. The principles of nonviolence are grounded in having “the courage to love” (MLK’s term) when confronted by injustice. Speaking truth to power in love. Nonviolent campaigns work better than violent campaigns because they have a broad base of support and morally disarm their opponents. How can you kill crowds holding flowers or candles? This is based on Jesus’ principle of “walking the extra mile,” disarming your opponent by doing what is not expected.

Song (5 minutes): “Christ in Me.”
 Discussion of how nonviolence is applied locally and internationally through faith-based lobbying and organizing, AVP, Nonviolent Peace Force, etc. (10 minutes)

During my first talk, I discussed Compassionate Listening as a peacemaking tool. Now I’d like to talk about nonviolent resistance. Recently Jill and were visited by a dear friend named David Hartsoug. David is a Quaker, a preacher’s kid, and an amazing practitioner of nonviolent resistance. I highly recommend his book “Waging Peace”: it’s a real page turner. David met MLK when he was 15 years old and decided to join the Civil Rights movement as a teenager. He went to Howard University, one of the few whites to do so, and became involved with the lunch counter sit ins in Maryland and Virginia. He learned how to respond to hatred with love. At one point during a sit in in Virginia an angry white man threatened to kill David with a switchblade knife. With the man holding a knife poised over his heart, David prayed and the following words came to his lips, “Do whatever your conscience tells you to do and I will try to love you.” The man’s jaw dropped and he walked out, a changed man. From this moment on David became convinced that nonviolent resistance is more powerful than any knife or other weapon. For the next fifty years David took part in every nonviolent movement. He and traveled all over the world, to Germany, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Ten years ago he started the Nonviolent Peace Force and recently started a new initiative called “World Beyond War.” David believes that war can be abolished, just like slavery was made illegal, and he has brought together some of leading peace activists, scholars and experts to find ways to transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace. I am working with this group and others to end war. I believe that nonviolent resistance is what Jesus meant when he told us to “turn the other check.” He didn’t tell us to run away or to be doormats. He told us to stand up to violent people with courageous love and faith, like David Hartsough did, and trust that love will prevail.

A lot of research has been to done to show us that nonviolent resistance works, and  we can move from a war system to a peace system. I’ll share some of these books with you later. For now I’d like to share two stories of how nonviolence works. First, I’d like to lift up the women of Liberia who helped to end the Civil War there.

If you have any doubts about the power of nonviolence, or of women, I urge you to watch the documentary called  “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  It’s about the nonviolent campaign in Liberia that earned two Liberian women a Nobel Peace Prize. Ten years ago Liberia was dominated by a vicious dictator named Charles Taylor. He went to church and professed to be a Christian. He was opposed by war lords who were mainly Muslim. Taylor and the war lords recruited child soldiers, gave them drugs and told them to go out and rape and pillage the country. The people of Liberia lived in terror. Finally, the Christian women of Liberia had enough of this war madness and decided to launch a nonviolent campaign for peace. They prayed, wore white clothing and demonstrated in public places chanting a simple chant: “We want peace, not war.” The Christian women were joined by Muslim women and this created a broad base of support. The women were amazingly courageous and creative in practicing nonviolent techniques. They even took a page from the Greek playwright’s playbook “Lysistrata” and withheld sex from their husbands unless their husbands opposed war. In the end, the Liberian women prevailed and drove out Charles Taylor and the male war lords. They elected a women president, a United Methodist educated at Harvard. This is the only woman elected democratically in Africa, and she is still in office. This is a huge success story. The women of Liberia deserved a Nobel Prize.

This week we learned that a group of  Tunisian peacemakers won the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2010 things were so bad in Tunisia that an unemployed vegetable vendor immolated himself, burned himself alive, as a protest. This sparked an uprising in Tunisia that led to the rise of an extremist Islamist government. The country seemed poised for a civil war when groups of Tunisians began to organize themselves to promote democracy. Labor leaders, human rights activists, lawyers and a business organization got together and were instrumental in achieving a peaceful transfer of power by advocating dialogue across the political spectrum. They helped to draw opposing parties together. Today Tunisia is only success democratic story in the Middle East.

 All of the violent campaigns, all of the violent interventions by foreign powers, have failed miserably, in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria. Not all nonviolent campaigns have succeeded, of course. Egypt didn’t turn out well, but at least there wasn’t a lot of bloodshed and refugees fleeing the country. So I’d call Egypt a partial success and Tunisia a success.

Our country teaches us that we often need violence to bring about freedom or security, but this is a lie. Erica Chenoweth, a social scientist, did rigorous study comparing over 200 violent and nonviolent movements in the 20th century. Her careful research shows that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent ones. And the results of nonviolent campaigns are usually more democratic and lasting than violent ones.

So the good news is that Jesus’ nonviolent methodology works better than violence.  Nonviolent campaigns work better than violent campaigns because they have a broad base of support and morally disarm their opponents. It is difficult for armed supporters of an unjust regime to fire on crowds of people holding flowers or candles. If they do, public opinion turns against the unjust regime and sooner or later they tend to fall.  Jesus advocated this principle as a way to oppose the Roman empire. He called it “turning the other cheek” or “walking the extra mile,” disarming your opponent by doing what is not expected—responding not with fear or violence, but with courage and love.

We Americans need to learn this lesson and apply it in our foreign policy as well as domestically. Guns don’t make us safer. In fact, Jesus tell us, “Those who live by violence die by violence.” What makes us safe is having good relations with our neighbors, and with other countries in the world. This is true Christian realism.

In your five minutes, maybe you can talk about your work (democracy is a form of non-violent direct action that empowers a broad base that in turn changes the fabric of society)
Example from my experience—Inclusionary Housing Ordinance
Example in my book—the Nehemiah Housing Strategy in New York.
Also Walter Wink’s “Engaging the Powers.” Examples of nonviolence that work in the Bible and in history. (Moses--let my people go, Esther--saved her people from destruction, the prophets—all spoke to kings and those in authority, Jesus confronted the authorities 27 times).  Shepherd and sheep leading the way—a little child will lead them—Natalie Brown

Sharing of resources on nonviolence (5 minutes).

(5 min) Song:  “Lift Every Voice in Song.”

Jill: Close with prayer for ourselves, our communities, our nation and our world. (10 minutes).

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