If I kill my enemy

Peaceableness toward enemies is an idea that will, of course, continue to be denounced as impractical. It has been too little tried by individuals, much less by nations. It will not readily or easily serve those who are greedy for power. It cannot be effectively used for bad ends. It could not be used as the basis of an empire. It does not afford opportunities for profit. It involves danger to practitioners. It requires sacrifice. And yet it seems to me that it is practical, for it offers the only escape from the logic of retribution.

… The logic of retribution implies no end and no hope. If I kill my enemy, and his brother kills me, and my brother kills his brother, and so on and on, we may all have strong motives and even good reasons; the world may be better off without all of us. And yet this is a form of behavior that we have wisely outlawed. We have outlawed it, that is, in private life. In our national life, it remains the established and honored procedure.

… Peaceableness is not … passive. It is the ability to act to resolve conflict without violence. If it is not a practical and a practicable method, it is nothing. … In the face of conflict, the peaceable person may find several solutions, the violent person only one.

Wendell Berry, ‘Peaceableness toward Enemies’, in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

The challenge

If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

This is one of the statements that I most associate with Richard Rohr; and it is one that he must have said dozens of times. And so it also appears in Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, where he adds:

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter. Indeed, there are bitter people everywhere, inside and outside of the church. As they go through life, the hurts, disappointments, betrayals, abandonments, the burden of their own sinfulness and brokenness all pile up, and they do not know where to put it.

If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somehow in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down. The natural movement of the ego is to protect itself so as not to be hurt again.

Biblical revelation is about transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing the pain onto the next generation. … Exporting our unresolved hurt is almost the underlying story line of human history, so you see why people still need healthy spirituality and healthy religion.

I think Rohr is right. How we deal with our hurts, disappointments, betrayals etc. makes all the difference, not only in how we experience and treat others, but also in how we experience life itself. Bitterness, cynicism and distrust are so dangerous because they are so destructive. They can seriously hurt and even destroy others, but that’s not all: in the end, they can destroy us, too.

The challenge, then, is not to close down but to accept and integrate our hurts, disappointments and betrayals, which of course hurt the more the less expected they are. The challenge is to transform our pain and not transmit it, to let ourselves be hurt without hitting back. A true challenge indeed, but the realisation that this is the only healthy way forward is perhaps the first step. Compassion for those who hurt us and a commitment to non-violence in all walks of life make all the difference, for ourselves in the first place but also, in the long run, for those we encounter.

We liberate a man

I have found Walter Wink’s brief little book on non-violence a thought-provoking read. He makes it quite clear that non-violence does not imply passive acceptance of an inhumane situation. Here’s an example of what non-violence does not mean:

How many a battered wife has been counseled, on the strength of a legalistic reading of [Matthew 5:38-41], to ‘turn the other cheek,’ when what she needs, according to the spirit of Jesus’ words, is to find a way to restore her own dignity and end the vicious circle of humiliation, guilt, and bruising. She needs to assert some sort of control in the situation and force her husband to regard her as an equal, or get out of the relationship altogether. The victim needs to recover her self-worth and seize the initiative from her oppressor. And he needs to be helped to overcome his violence.

(From Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way)

The last point ties in with Margaret Mead’s comment that ‘every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man’ (quoted in Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach [eds], Fifty Shades of Feminism). How true!

Nonviolent action

Even if nonviolent action does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor, it does affect those committed to it. As Martin Luther King Jr. attested, it gives them new self-respect and calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.

Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way

The spiritual superiority of the vanquished

‘The spiritual superiority of the vanquished’ – I came across that phrase in the Metzler Lexikon Weltliteratur entry on Stefan Zweig by Helmut Scheuer (in German: ‘die seelische Superiorität des Besiegten’) and think it’s brilliant.

The phrase is used in the context of Zweig’s rejection of violence, and it captures so well that often the vanquished are the true, that is to say, the moral and spiritual victors. Often it really is better to let the other ‘win’. That’s not always easy to do (now here’s an understatement for you), but it is well worth practising.