Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nonviolence, Transformation, and the Church

There's a great article over at The Nation about the transformative power of nonviolence. Jonathan Schell and Taylor Branch focus most of their attention on the 20th century. Mainstream media often forgets to mention how successful these movements were, and it's important that we remind ourselves periodically.

Schell and Branch also remind us that many of these nonviolent movements were rooted in a spiritual tradition. When my friends go on and on about how destructive the church has been, I say, "But think also about the amount of good they've done." When my friends demand specific examples, and I mention the founding of hospitals and schools, those facts don't always impress them. But it's hard to refute the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King.

I know that violence can solve issues. I'm glad that we went to war and defeated Hitler, although I'll always wonder if there wasn't another way, if it really required such a devastating war. If someone broke into my house, I'd probably shoot first and ask questions later.

One of the reasons nonviolence is so attractive to me is that it doesn't come naturally.

One of the reasons that a spiritual practice is so important is that I can use it to retrain myself. I'm a much more peaceful person than I used to be. I've been practicing forgiveness for many years, so it's easier.

I've often thought that using violence to solving problems (be they personal or geopolitical) is akin to using a poisonous snake as a weapon of self-defense. It might work, and it might be effective. But it's likely to harm me.

This article is a great one to read as we prepare to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. It's important to remember how much nonviolence can accomplish--if we would but commit to it.

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