Monday, January 19, 2009
Every year Shelley and I attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast with some friends. As you might have expected, there was an excitement in the room this year that was unlike anything we’ve witnessed in the past. Tomorrow we will witness what is undoubtedly the most remarkable achievement of King’s dream as America inaugurates its first non-white president. Colin Powell was the keynote speaker of the event and he delivered a moving (and surprisingly humorous) tribute to King while celebrating Obama’s election as a manifestation of King’s dream coming to fruition. When he finished he received a well deserved standing ovation.
I respect Collin Powell a great deal and appreciated most of what he had to say. But as one who has studied King’s speeches and writings a good bit, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring irony that characterized his entire speech. The very fact that this tribute to King, at this turning point in history, was delivered by a four-star military general was ironic. The fact that Powell illustrated King’s call to “service” by praising America’s soldiers was even more ironic. And the fact that Powell claimed America was a great nation on the basis of the greatness of our soldiers throughout our history was, in my opinion, stunningly ironic. For you see, at the heart of everything King stood for was an unqualified conviction that violence can never achieve a good end that endures.
Taking his cue from Jesus and Ghandi, King insisted, over and over again, that lasting justice and peace can only come about when we resolve to love our enemies rather than retaliate against them. In fact, in some of the speeches King gave before demonstrations, he told this audience he didn’t want anyone participating who harbored hatred in their heart toward their oppressors and who were not willing to commit to non-violence, regardless of what may be done to them. In his speeches and writings (e.g. Stride Toward Freedom) he proclaimed that true freedom can only come when the oppressed care as much about freeing their oppressor as they care about freeing themselves from oppression. The only way forward, King rightly saw, was through self-sacrificial love, even toward – especially toward – our enemies.
The heart of King’s dream wasn’t about racial equality. It was about racial equality only because it was first and foremost about a society in which love prevails and that recognizes the insanity of hatred, oppression and violence. And while America has certainly made important strides toward racial equality – as evidenced by Obama’s presidency – it seems to me that we have not progressed one iota toward the ideal of non-violence. If anything, it seems we’ve gone backwards in recent years on this ideal.
What is most concerning, however, is that it seems that even many of King’s most ardent supporters have forgotten the heart of his dream — which perhaps explains how they could invite a four-star military general to deliver King’s tribute and fail to notice the irony of his praising America’s fighters to illustrate King’s teachings about service.
All politics aside, I think everyone should be elated for what Obama’s election means for non-whites and for race relations in America. And we definitely have King to thank for this. But as significant as this is, I don’t think we can claim we’re any closer to realizing the heart of King’s dream than we were when he marched the streets of Birmingham Alabama a half century ago. Indeed, most seem to have forgotten and discarded the heart of King’s dream as an impractical and superfluous aspect of his vision.
Be that as it may, I encourage followers of Jesus not to forget about the heart of King’s dream. For, before the call to loving non-violence was givin by King, it was given and modeled by the King of all Kings. The heart of King’s dream is the heart of the King’s dream and thus must be the heart of our commitment to live in the way of the King.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
The dynamics of “violence begets violence” are simple and probably understood by everyone who has ever been in a fight. Unfortunately, the dynamics of “nonviolence begets nonviolence” are not as simple and are not widely understood. Jesus told us to love our enemies and, when struck, to turn the other cheek. Most people and all nations consider these admonitions to apply only to saints or God. Even the institutional church, with its “just war” doctrine and its cheerleading for particular wars, does not take Jesus’ words seriously in this respect. If we understood the dynamics of “nonviolence begets nonviolence,” we might see what Jesus meant by turning the other cheek.
The USSR sent 300,000 troops into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to stop a process of democratization. A protracted struggle of nonviolent resistance ensued with the labor unions eventually spearheading the opposition to the invasion. Large numbers of the initial invasion troops had to be replaced within four days because they became so sympathetic to the Czech nonviolent resisters. Such a rapid loss of previously reliable troops is a very high price for an invader.
In 1940 Germany was vastly stronger than Denmark and occupied Denmark with hardly a shot fired. The Danes resisted in subtle ways but mostly gritted their teeth and tolerated the Germans. This largely passive acceptance of Germany ended in 1943 when the Germans tried to arrest the Danish Jews, and the Danes rose up as one and actively, but nonviolently, resisted. More than 95 percent of the Danish Jews were spirited away overnight. In the next six months, almost all of the Jews were smuggled across the bay into neutral Sweden. The Danes reacted heroically, but the German army’s role in all this was most curious.
The German Schutzstaffel (SS), originally formed as Hitler’s bodyguards, was a fanatical and ruthless elite. They were tireless and effective in pursuing the Jews and persecuting the Danes. On the other hand, the Wehrmacht were the ordinary soldiers, the draftees, and these soldiers were a far different story. A number of high-ranking Wehrmacht officers actively helped the Jews escape, and many more looked the other way. Similarly when the Nazis tried to starve Copenhagen into submission, the Wehrmacht basically ignored the large-scale smuggling of food occurring right under their noses. Since there were only a few of the SS in Denmark and the Wehrmacht had become sympathetic to the Danes, the Nazis were severely constrained in what they could do to punish the Danes. The Danish nonviolence begat nonviolence by subverting the Wehrmacht to the point that it would not use violence against the Danes.
My ten months in Mississippi in 1964-65 with the Mississippi Freedom Summer provided a personal perspective on nonviolence begetting nonviolence. Prior to that summer the Klan, often supported by the sheriffs and other parts of the local governments, terrorized and killed local blacks who refused to accept the rigid system of segregation. Mississippi Freedom Summer brought almost a thousand upper class Northern students into the struggle. Before all of us were even in Mississippi, three of our number (Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman) were killed. Between these deaths and a thousand upper class families lobbying the media and the government, a veritable firestorm of publicity engulfed Mississippi and lasted all summer.
The Klansmen, the hard-core haters, were not converted. They were enraged and attempted more violence. Several things happened. First, the moderate citizens of Mississippi, especially the business owners, were alarmed. All this negative publicity was very bad for business. Others simply took a hard look at the evils of segregation. For the first time in their lives they could not pretend that everything was okay with their communities. The moderate citizens, the ones who were basically decent folks, had to act. And they acted to try to restrain the haters.
Second, the federal government sent a small army of FBI agents to try and find the killers who murdered Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman. The Klan realized that they could no longer kill with total impunity; they would actually have to be careful about it. And since their modus operandi was to kill in large mobs, the Klan members could never be sure that there wasn’t a weak link who might squeal.
Finally, the publicity generated by the Mississippi Freedom Summer and King’s march from Selma to Montgomery pushed the federal government into passing the 1965 voting rights act. This act, which finally allowed large numbers of blacks to vote, resulted in many blacks being elected to office all across the Old South, thus irrevocably changing the entire system of segregation.
Barry Clemson spent 10 months working with SNCC in Mississippi Freedom Summer, June 1964 to April 1965. He is currently a writer (mostly fiction) whose work explores themes of nonviolence, and has had careers in software development, university teaching and research, community development, and construction.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
The statement, posted on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Web site, said Olmert decided to accept a proposal from security advisers to open the corridor.
The statement also said Olmert spoke Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "update her on political and military developments," including the humanitarian situation.
Thanks to those of you who wrote to voice your concern for the civilians in Gaza. Our voice has been heard in Israel, and she has chosen to do the right thing. This is the way we are to support those we love, by giving them godly counsel. Paul says that by confronting in love we can turn our brother away from sin and the judgment of God.
Let us put down our weapons and pick up our pens. Public opinion can change the course of nations. If we don't speak, we won't be heard. If we aren't heard, we won't be heeded.
Check out this recent news story on Truthdig.com: "Israeli Voices for Peace"
Saturday, January 03, 2009
It is also the closest economic model i've found to the New Testament teaching on resources to date: Here's a handout of verses i recently passed out at a recent congregational meeting when considering sponsoring a family for a non-interest loan to start a private business.
A Christian Perspective on the Use of Our Resources
Acts 2:42-47 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 4:32-37 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
1 Cor 8:12-15 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15 as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” b
James 2:14-18 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
b Exodus 16:18
Now, i cannot say that i am a supporter of socialism. i don't know exactly all that it entails (neither do you), yet i am sure that it can be modified. i am also pretty sure that Capitalism is the devil's economic strategy, which thrives on greed and consumption. And in a fallen world, it works rather well.
i am also thinking that socialism is another system that will not work well in a fallen world. Wherever humans reign, so does greed and deception. Therefore, what looks good on paper is tainted by lies and self serving politics.
Still, socialism is the closest thing we see to the New Testament model. Yet in the New Testament it is always done freely, and never imposed by a government.
Anyhow, the point remains. i believe we will see a resurgence of the idea of socialism, though modified, in the near future. There were strong waves of it even in America during the years of the great labor struggles, but it was crushed by political and corporate forces (see "A People's History of the United States", specifically the section entitled "The Other Civil War"). i was also very interested to see this recent article, which is one of the first sparks of the coming fire:
"Why I Am a Socialist"
Why I Am a Socialist
Posted on Dec 29, 2008
By Chris Hedges
Friday, January 02, 2009
Dear Secretary Rice,
i am writing as a concerned citizen due to the conflict in Gaza. The retaliation by Israel has been overwhelming. If Arabs had responded in such a way, the West would be outraged. These overcompensated acts by Israel are causing many to abandon good will toward her. i believe Israel has a right to exist and to expect a certain level of peace. Yet how Israel is responding is nothing less than an act of terror. Can those who are fighting a war against terror side with those who terrorize?
By continuing to supply Israel with weapons and military financing, we are stamping our approval on these vicious acts against men, women, and children. We must treat even our enemy's children as if they were our own.
Please, pressure Israel to cease this massive attack which is killing civilians, and open the door to humanitarian aid for the people in Gaza. We are suppose to be fighting a war against terror. What is this going to do for the already deteriorating support of the war? How can we fight a war against terror when we can no longer differentiate whether we are for or against it ourselves?
Thank you for your consideration of the above concerns and recommendations.