Earlier this week, I was privileged to hear Father John Dear speak at a local church. He is on a national book tour, speaking about the concepts in his most recent book, “The Nonviolent Life.” Although it was wonderful to hear him speak about his travels, including his recent trip to South Africa to visit important social justice sites there and to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it was most moving to hear him speak about the nonviolence of Jesus, as we began Holy Week, and how we can live that nonviolence in our own lives.
He emphasized that nonviolence has three components that we need to carry out simultaneously. The first is nonviolence toward oneself. It seems that that would be easy, but so many of us struggle to love and accept ourselves, judging our own worth in harsh ways that we would not inflict on another person. This being the first principle in the nonviolent life was a powerful reminder that peace within ourselves – and peace in our spiritual practice and relationship with God, if that is our tradition – is essential to bringing that peace to others.
The second component is to be nonviolent to all people and to all of creation. For those of us who are Christian, we are taught these Bible quotes from childhood. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It is much more difficult to live them, though, especially when our world is embroiled in multiple armed conflicts and many are intent on retribution against an enemy. It takes a lot of strength to respond nonviolently to violence, but we have the example of Jesus to follow, as well as more modern examples, such as Ghandi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day.
The third component is to be part of the global grassroots nonviolence movement for the rest of one’s life. That does sound daunting, except that it doesn’t mean that one has to travel to other countries or take on every justice and peace issue. It can mean supporting local efforts to combat hunger or advocating for legislation to stop capital punishment or war or joining the fight for fair wages or equal access to education. Personally, I view my work fighting against unconventional fossil fuels and global warming as social justice work, which, in John Dear’s language, is also the work of non-violence. Likewise, this would encompass the advocacy work for or against legislation on the national level that I participate in as a member of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby.
It can be discouraging when one is working on such a big issue as ending violence. It was hopeful to hear Father Dear speak, because there are so many instances that he spoke about where nonviolent methods lead to important change. If it happened in those times and places, it can happen again here and now, especially with so many of us joining together at the grassroots level to work toward nonviolence, justice, and peace.