Nonviolence

Five Things Your Pacifist Friends are Tired of Answering

protest sign
My title is the title of a good article by a fellow named Jonathan Fitzgerald at the Burnside Writer’s Collective (BWC). The BWC is a solid site started by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz) and a few of his friends that deals with social justice, sports, general rants or thoughts, and other things. The reason I like the site is because they identify themselves as “an online magazine presenting an alternative to franchise faith.” In other words, they’re not afraid of disagreeing with some “Christian” perspectives on issues that are in fact twisted and not reflective of what Jesus cared deeply about.

And so, knowing this reality, Fitzgerald explores an area (pacifism) that is often marginalized in the church (some call it the ultimate and vilest form of immorality), with five subpoints of questions he’s often asked as a pacifist:

1) What if your (insert loved one here) was attacked?
2) What about the Old Testament?
3) Didn’t Jesus mean to live non-violently in our personal lives, but not corporately
4) What about Romans 13?
5) So, you’re suggesting Christians sit back and do nothing? (more…)

a day late

I was just reminded of the significance of the fact that yesterday was April 4. If you go back in history a few decades – you’ll remember that April 4, 1968 was the day MLK Jr. was assassinated. But right now, I’m more interested in what happened one year before that on April 4, 1967 (40th anniversary was yesterday). King gave one of his more famous speeches at Riverside Church, titled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.

I’ll spare you a reflection or commentary of that here but I just want to make note of this anniversary and suggest that you all take a little time to read it (pdf)* or listen to it (quicktime).* It’s pretty long so you might have to take more than a “little” time. I must have been out of the loop yesterday because I didn’t hear or read anything about it in the media. I usually catch things like this.

I must say though, that it’s not a very big mental jump to replace a few words and King could be speaking to us today. Forty years later, the message is as relevant as when he made it.

*if you don’t want to download the pdf, it’s also here and audio can also be heard here (realmedia) and here (mp3).

A reflection on the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

For the last week I’ve been meaning to share my thoughts on the service in the National Cathedral that began last weekend’s Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. After some delay, here they are.

Personally, I found the service in the National Cathedral much more powerful and moving then I expected. This may have partly been do to a conversation with a peace activist friend the week before who said he felt the National Cathedral was unredeemable because of its central in the civil religious ceremonies of our country in which God’s will is so often equated with America’s will. (more…)

Peace not allowed in St. Patrick Day parade

Frank Cordaro in chokeholdThis morning I got an email from Frank Cordaro, a friend of mine and member of the Catholic Worker movement. That’s him in the green t-shirt in the photo on the right after he attempted to participate in a St. Patrick’s day parade in Colorado Springs, Coloardo. Here’s an excerpt from his email:

We were part of the Bookman parade entry, a local book store that paid
its entry fee and was an accepted parade participant. The Bookman
people are peace folks and they have been part of the parade the last
couple of years. This year, as they did last year, folks marching with
the Bookman mobile wore green T-shirts with the peace sign on the back
and front. We also held peace banners.

All went well until we fell in line with the other parade entries, one
block into the parade. We were greeted by a man who identified himself
as a parade organizer who told us we were not a legitimate parade
entry. The police were immediately called into the fray.

(more…)

Christian Peace Witness raises more questions than I had before

Yes, I call myself a pacifist. And yes, I went with a group from my area as a reporter on the Christian Peace Witness. If alarm bells are ringing in your head about my capacity to be objective, you’re not the only one.

Here’s why I thought I could do it: While overall I oppose war and violence, I have a lot of questions and issues with the war in Iraq. The CPW was a response to that war specifically, not a call to disband the U.S. military or whatever. The more I learn about Iraq, the more I realize it’s an intensely complex situation that has no easy answers. I don’t pretend to know what should be done there. Not to mention I didn’t seek out the CPW—it came to me when the local trip coordinator contacted my editor to see if we’d do a story. I looked at the info and realized it would be a much better story if I went with them. My editors know our readers eat it up when local people do interesting things, so I ended up doing a front-page package deal of three stories and lots of photos for Sunday’s paper. (more…)

Prayer Requests at a Mennonite Church

This is the poem from today’s Writer’s Almanac. I don’t know if [I’m] allowed to post this poem, but Garrison Keillor apparently got permission to post it on the Writer’s Almanac Archive.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: “Prayer Requests at a Mennonite Church” by Todd Davis from Some Heaven (buy it here). © Michigan State University Press.

Pray for the Smucker family. Their son Nathaniel’s coat and shirt were
caught in the gears while grinding grain. Nothing would give, so now
he is gone. We made his clothes too well. Perhaps this is our sin. (more…)

Anabaptist Radical Needed as Military Counselor in Germany

I’ve spent the last two years doing a job I love, working with American servicemembers who have been changed by their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the same way that the Pentagon technically has the right to extend a soldier’s active-duty service indefinitely during a time of war, so too do these soldiers have a right to get out early in certain situations. And war has the power to transform people. That’s where a military counselor comes in.

In a time when peace churches are having a hard time finding ways to be proactive in response to our country’s wars, this work gives us just that opportunity. More than protest, more than letter-writing, more than being “against stuff.” We can do better by providing alternatives.

In this position, you’ll learn to understand military law, military culture, and what’s really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. There will also be opportunities to travel in the US and Europe to speak about issues of war and peace, explain what servicemembers who have been in the war actually say about it, and bring the Christian peace witness into the international debate. In the years I’ve worked in this capacity, I’ve had the opportunity to speak in dozens of venues in the US, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, and Israel/Palestine.

For more information, read the attached documents or e-mail me at mcn@dmfk.de. I’m sorry to be leaving the job, but it’s a great opportunity for someone to bring in fresh ideas and perspective. Feel free to pass this info on to other people who might be interested. For more information about the organization, check out www.mc-network.de.

Joy that has a Serious History

(I originally emailed this in some form to some YARites, and TimN, kind soul that he is, suggested that I post here. So here we are, I apologize for the length.)

Part 1: The Introduction

Despite being a member of the Original cast, I have remained in the shadows, a lurker, secretly, greedily taking your thoughts and keeping them, without so much as an insightful comment, an empathetic pat, or a hearty guffaw. But today I join the ranks of YAR, and walk anew into the light!

So, I’m Paco, a friend of TimN. There were some legit reasons for not posting before. For instance, I was living in Afghanistan for more than half of the last two years. But now I am in Korea which is like the internet capital of the world, so there aren’t as many excuses left available to me.

But enough of that, the reason I am posting, aside from merely getting one in, is to introduce this virtual community to my physical one, and introduce myself here, in hopes to meet some of you in person, when I return to tour the US in about a month. (more…)

A Different Approach to Apologetics

With apologies to popular apologetics today, I have never found them as helpful as they claim to be. From what I have seen, they attempt through proofs and logic to prove that Christianity is the best and most reasonable religion, and that the Bible is the only and most perfect holy book. There is a place for all of this, of course; having logical reason to see the Bible as true is essential to helping the Christian witness. But insofar as the discipline of apologetics have presented Christianity as a religion, I have not found it satisfying.

Recently, though, I have been reading an interpretation of René Girard’s theories by Gil Bailie, and suddenly it made so much more sense. Bailie gives a Christian apologetic by presenting the gospel of Christ as the thing that came from Heaven to destroy religion, not simply another religion. Here is a rough summary of some of Bailie’s argument: (more…)

Who is our enemy?

This morning a friend sent me a link to an insightful article by Glenn Kessler in today’s Washington post. Kessler focuses on the underlying doublespeak behind the way Bush uses the terms “free”, “moderate” and “terrorist”. While we’re all used to Bush’s buzz words, this article sharply tears away the veil to reveal just how untrue the president’s words are.

Yet Kessler doesn’t resort to to black and white truisms that mirror those of Bush. Instead, he lets the gray areas speak for themselves. First he points out that, despite Bush’s claim that “free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies — and most will choose a better way when they are given a chance”:

In the two of the most liberal and diverse societies in the Middle East — Lebanon and the Palestinian territories — events have undercut Bush’s argument in the past year. Hezbollah has gained power and strength in Lebanon, partly at the ballot box. Meanwhile, Palestinians ousted the Fatah party — which wants to pursue peace with Israel — from the legislature in favor of Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction and is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.

He also points out that the countries Bush describes as “moderate” such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia rank about the same as Cuba and Burma on the Freedom House rating scale (see links above for their respective ratings).

As Christians, this question of who is our enemy has a special importance because these are the people Jesus calls us to love. (more…)

Mimesis in Violence

One thing I have been studying recently is the nature of violence to be mimetic, which refers to the human propensity to immitate others, espeically if we’re in a society permeated by certain types of actions or beliefs.

With regards to violence in our society, mimesis works most commonly by making violence contagious. The belief in violence and force is immitated from the halls of Congress to the street corner, from the abortion clinic to the execution chamber. It spreads like a disease up and down, infecting every echelon of society. The result is that people in our culture grow up socialized to believe in the effectiveness of violence, as well as having faith in individualism, greed, and upward mobility– even if it means stepping on others in the process.

For instance, we have politicians who advocate war against adversaries in so many circumstances. Force, for them, is a primary way of getting things done. But then those same politicians grope for answers when dealing with the murder rate or the prevalence of school shootings. The usual suspects are mentioned: Marilyn Manson, violent video games, the like. It seems to rarely, if ever, occur to these national leaders that maybe their own actions have something to do with it all.

That is a central reason why, I believe, our society has such a problem with violence on so many levels. We immitate it without even trying to. We believe in it wholeheartedly. So if we ever want to lower our murder or abortion rate, we must take a holistic look at our violence problem in this society; we cannot tackle one problem as if it were isolated.

Luckily for those of us who are Christians, there is something else that purports to be contagious: the Kingdom of God and its ethics. Jesus spoke of His Kingdom as yeast or as a mustard seed, which both start small but subtly permeate everything. So we need not fear the violence in our society, and realize that Jesus has something that is much more powerful. All we need is faith to believe it will work.

living tribute

I learned of Martin Luther King, the hero of the Civil Rights Movement, in school.
I learned of Martin Luther King, the peacemaker, at church.

In both cases I learned about King as an icon. He was like an angel-man, superhuman. King became a real person when I moved to Atlanta.

It was a fall from a pedestal of sorts, when I learned about all of the trials, the fractures, the tribulations, the anguish, and the arguments that went on behind the scenes of the marches and the committee meetings. To listen to lectures by the veterans of the movement, (Former Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Joseph Lowery, R. D. Abernathy, Rev. James Orange) all still involved, but some bitter, some who have appropriated the movement…whew! I learned about the hundreds of sidelined and under-recognized women who laid the groundwork for so many of the church meetings, boycotts, and potlucks (Septima Clark, Montgomery Women’s Council, Ella Baker, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson). Most of all, when I saw the struggle of his immediate family to know how to live out the legacy of the father they lost when they were young children, it all became so tangible. (more…)

Pax Mennonita via Flexible Pacifism

It was with much excitement that I read the most recent MCC Peace Office Newsletter (Vol. 36, No. 4), entitled “How do we Protect, Responsibly.” The World Council of Churches had met and released a statement on the “Responsibility to Protect,” hereafter to be referred to by its catch acronym: R2P.

Such Mennonite notables as Mennonite World Conference president Nancy Heisey, German Association of Mennonite Congregations vice-president Fernando Enns, and MCC International Peace Office co-directors Robert Herr and Judy Zimmerman Herr seem to be in favor of said statement, which offers amazing ideas for the current Decade to Overcome Violence. One of these ideas happens to be violence, but we’re going to call it something else: “flexible pacifism.”

(more…)

Join the conversation! how do Conservative and Progressive Mennonites present a compelling vision of Anabaptism together?

Anabaptism is cool. There’s no denying it. In this ultra-exciting age of the emerging movement, post-modern transition, and a change of scenery in the American church, buzzwords such as “reformation”, “contemporary”, and “social justice” have crept into the church’s vocabulary. Is Anabaptism just another one of these words that sounds cool but is hard to define or flesh out in every day living?

I wondered these things since early childhood—and I was a child raised in an “Anabaptist” environment. I soon found out that Anabaptism means different things to different people—and not only that, but their view of Anabaptism often influences their view on church and Christianity.

To the “old-orders”, who proudly trace their roots to the first Anabaptist reformers, Anabaptism is a way of life, a frozen set of traditions and doctrines. They sincerely hold on to certain traditions simply “that’s how the early Anabaptists did it”. Only they don’t say it in quite that way. It usually comes across as “that’s how we’ve always done it” to people who may be disgruntled with the traditionalism and culture of the still relatively strict and conservative groups of Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and Hutterites. (more…)

Enculturation?

In some recent research that I’ve done over the past semester of school, I’ve come across some things that have really interested me regarding the early church versus our political situation today.

This all stems out of a paper by Ted Grimsrud entitled “From pacifism to the just war: the development of early Christian thought on war and peace.” The title is really pretty self-explanatory. Grimsrud claims (and I’m inclined to believe him, since he’s way smarter than I am) that the early church writers advocated a completely pacifist lifestyle. This held until the century leading up to Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as Rome’s state religion. The gradual enculturation of the church forced the development of theologies that treat violence, specifically state-endorsed warfare, as acceptable. Since the church was Rome’s religion, it had to be able to excuse Rome’s actions. (more…)