To see through every regime

To be a follower of Jesus … means … to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus … means forming communion that seeks peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others.

Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope

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

Love recklessly

Some quotes on love and forgiveness from Francis Spufford’s recent book Unapologetic:

If someone asks for your help, give them more than they’ve asked for. If someone hits out at you, let them. Don’t retaliate. Be the place the violence ends. Because you’ve got it wrong about virtue. It isn’t something built up from a thousand careful, carefully measured acts. It comes, when it comes, in a rush; it comes from behaving, so far as you can, like God himself, who makes and makes and loves and loves and is never the less for it. God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.

God … wants us to love wildly and without calculation. God wants us to love people we don’t even like; people we hate; people who hate us.

We’re supposed as Christians to go out and love recklessly, as God does. We’re supposed to try and imitate Jesus in this, and to be prepared to follow love wherever it goes, knowing that there are no guarantees it’ll be safe, or that the world will treat such vulnerability kindly. ‘Take up you cross and follow me,’ says Jesus … risk everything, even death. Take love’s consequences.

We’re supposed to see God’s willingness to mend, to forgive, to absorb and remove guilt, as oceanic; a sea of love without limit, beating ceaselessly on the shores of our tiny island of caution and justice, always inviting us to look beyond, to begin again, to dare a larger and wilder and freer life. But it is possible to shrink it instead into something like a Get Out of Jail Free card, to be played by God only very occasionally in a game otherwise dominated by the same old rewards and punishments, human justice writ large all over the cosmos.

The marks of oppression

As the oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized. … Once a situation of violence and oppression has been established, it engenders an entire way of life and behavior for those caught up in it – oppressor and oppressed alike. Both are submerged in the situation, and both bear the marks of oppression.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Taking up the cross

‘Taking up the cross’ in costly discipleship means a willingness to struggle against evil, for the sake of fullness of life, for the ‘bringing back of beauty’. It does not mean the passive acceptance of imposed suffering. Rather it means resistance to any pain or violence unjustly inflicted and an affirmation of abundant life for all. It means prioritizing love and justice inseparably intertwined.

Mary Grey, To Rwanda and Back: Liberation, Spirituality and Reconciliation

I have no enemies

Some thoughts on love, fear and violence from Living without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence, a book that I am enjoying more and more:

Living beyond fear … means hearing God say, ‘Love, just love. Find your way to love that person, find your way to love that forest, find your way to love all things, especially the things you find so unlovable and so frightening.’

The book is about a community’s journey to overcome powerlessness and fear in the face of gun violence. It is co-authored by Samuel Wells, at the time of writing Research Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School, and Marcia A. Owen, Executive Director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. It also tells the story of Owen’s own transformation, which came about as a result of being involved in this struggle to end gun violence.

Marcia felt a gift being given to her – the awareness that we are a profound unity; we are of equal value and worth. […] It allowed her to love. She could feel her soul grow. It didn’t change her personality – it didn’t erase all the hurts and the fears and the anxieties she had. But it let her love. And it gave her peace.

The authors quote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s apt contention that ‘if we could see the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility’. And they ask:

What makes a person lash out and make someone an enemy? It comes from a feeling of profound powerlessness and fear that says, ‘I’m not big enough for this.’ Living without enemies is radical acceptance. … You lead with your soul by taking a moment to say, ‘I accept all that is, all the suffering I’ve caused, all the suffering I’ve endured. I just accept it. There are no enemies.’ Then you can begin to see the glorious nature of each one of us.

They talk about ‘the most empowering gift in ministry’, which is ‘hearing God whispering, “I have no enemies.”‘ And they note that ‘fear is at the heart of violence’, and so ‘the final response to violence is learning to live without fear’.

When we begin to honestly feel that we are all part of the same community … then we will begin to find the grief and pain and loss caused by violence to be truly unacceptable, and we will join together to finally say, Enough is enough.

An alternative people, among whom inequality and violence disappear

Without an alternative people, among whom inequality and violence disappear, Jesus would not be able to be the Christ, the Messiah. The existence of this people is the convincing proof that Christian faith is not mere illusion, but is rather a valid affirmation about the true Messiah, dead but risen, and reigning today … The truth of our statements about Jesus as the Christ or the Redeemer must be based on the very existence of a redeemed people, as even Nietzsche insisted. … Does there exist now in history a people in whom the blessings of the messianic era are already being realized? … Is the Christian project of social change really possible in our time?

Thus Antonio González Fernández in his thought-provoking book God’s Reign and the End of Empires.