Category: Nonviolence

A disarming chart

A January 23 article in The New York Times “The Morning” newsletter by German Lopez, “Mass Shooting in California,” was a brief, “just the facts, ma’am,” story about a 72-year-old male shooter who shot others, then took his own life. We search for a motive, but a more important issue is the weapon, a semi-automatic assault pistol:

This kind of mass shooting has become tragically common in the U.S.; what would be a rare horror in any other developed country is typical here. Yet the cause is no mystery. America has an enormous amount of guns, making it easier for someone to carry out a deadly shooting.

It is a point this newsletter has made before: All over the world, there are people who argue, fight over relationships, suffer from mental health issues or hold racist views. But in the U.S., those people can more easily obtain a gun and shoot someone.

Last night, word came of another shooting with multiple deaths, this time with a 67-year-old male in custody. To better cope with our gun insanity, I’m trying to set my newsfeed to give me a weekly summary of these events, rather than hearing about them immediately. It’s too much.

Chart by Ashley Wu, The New York Times (the US is almost “off the chart”)

One more thought about King

The Roman Catholic Church takes sainthood seriously, even if a prospective saint didn’t. Dorothy Day (1897-1980), responded to the idea of her potential sainthood by saying, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

In spite of her resistance, the canonization process is underway. That she would vote “no” is the best evidence that her practice of faith should be recognized. A redemptive aspect of faith is that outcasts/non-conformists improve the neighborhood.

A federal holiday is somewhat akin to sainthood. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would respond to MLK Day with something like, “That’s nice, but let’s pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

The New York Times‘ opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie said one of King’s most powerful sermons was “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1967. Bouie sees MLK as a “democratic theorist.” From the sermon:

Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.

(See also “8 powerful speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr. that aren’t ‘I Have a Dream.”)

Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King and Dorothy Day, St. John the Divine, New York City, February 20, 1973, Timeline photos, from the Dorothy Day Guild Facebook page

The beloved community

One of ML King, Jr.’s gifts was making widely known–and expanding–Josiah Royce‘s idea of the beloved community. When I was young, I accepted the widely held US idea that America was the beloved community, i.e., uniquely blessed by God. Ronald Reagan inspired many people with his idea that we are a nation “set on a hill.”

America is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, (until recently) moderate climate, and our Founders’ (unfinished) vision of liberty and justice for all. It’s easy for an awareness of blessing to merge a national self-understanding with the biblical concept of ancient Israel as “God’s chosen people.”

I once heard a rabbi say of the Israelites: “Chosen yes, but for mission, not privilege.” The nature of the Royce/King vision is completely inclusive. It embraces all the earth–all the Universe. We are beloved because the Universe is beloved. The beloved community practices the art of receiving and giving unconditional love.

From “The King Philosophy” (including the Beloved Community), The King Center. (L-to-R, Ralph David Abernathy, James Forman, MLK, Jr., Jesse Douglas, John Lewis,

The big picture

Regular readers of this blog know that I often draw from “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation,”produced by the Center for Action and Contemplation. When I typed “Richard Rohr” into this blog’s excellent search engine, I discovered that I’ve referenced Rohr in 96 of 1,206 posts.This one is number 97.

Rohr is one reason that in recent years I’ve been increasingly drawn to the “big picture” theme. CAC’s 1/16/23 meditation, a Rohr reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr., entitled “Big Picture Thinkers,” was personally very helpful. As he often does, Rohr put King’s life and message within a larger context (what he calls a “larger frame”).

As MLK applied the idea of the beloved community to a “wider frame” beyond race to economics and war, he lost a sizable part of his following. Then, writes Rohr:

We don’t want the big frame. No one wants the big picture. … Jesus’ metaphor and image for what we would simply call the big picture is the reign of God, or the kingdom of God. … To consider things in light of eternity is a great clarifier. Maybe it comes to us on our death bed, when we think to ourselves, “Is this going to mean anything? Does this really matter? Is this little thing we’re upset about now and taking offense at going to mean anything in light of eternity?” The prophet or prophetess speaks truthfully and in the largest context.

From “Six big picture thinking strategies that you’ll actually use,” by Madeline Miles, BetterUp, July 29, 2022

Loving Your Enemies

Many years ago I bought a small pamphlet for $1 with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1957 “Loving Your Enemies” sermon, his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and his 1967 Riverside Church address, “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam.” Here are excerpts from his “Loving Your Enemies” sermon:

…we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. … Forgiveness … means … the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. …the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. … Forgiveness means reconciliation ….

… there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. … we love our enemies by realizing that they … are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.

…we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding. …

… Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies–or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ..

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. … We shall meet your physical force with soul force. … be… assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall win you in the process….

As a footnote, in Alabama and Mississippi, today honor both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee. An Alabama bank is taking heat for noting the dual aspect of today as a bank holiday. Mississippi Public Broadcasting gives the strange history of joining the Confederate general alongside the winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

My Jewish sister

Radio, TV and other media create an immediacy that augments face-to-face human interaction. Many who sat by the radio for FDR’S fireside chats felt like he was speaking directly to them. Some never knew he was in a wheelchair.

Joyce Vance is a frequent digital guest in our home via her Civil Discourse blog and as a contributor for MSNBC. I feel a kinship with her on several levels, including her Jewish faith, which I have adopted by way of Christianity.

In Vance, I hear Old Testament prophets’ unwavering commitment to justice. Yesterday, I read the transcript of her conversation with Chuck Rosenberg, which included this excerpt about her service as a US Attorney:

There was nothing like standing up in a courtroom and saying: “I represent the people of the United States.”

…the most important thing is your integrity, and what we always said in our office was there was no case that was more important than the integrity of the office.  

From “Transcript: Joyce Vance,” The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg, MSNBC, September 24, 2019

Veterans Day

To whom does it belong? That’s the grammatical question. If we called it Veteran’s Day, it would be a day that belongs to them. But, it’s a day that belongs to all of us. We observe Veterans Day because it’s a day for recognizing the veterans with us right now.

The Treaty of Versailles ended World War I in 1919. But the date that was remembered was November 11, 1918, the date when the warring nations agreed to cease fighting. They declared an “armistice,” a truce or ceasefire, that would begin at 11 am on November 11th.

So, it was remembered as Armistice Day, widely observed in Europe and North America in the years after the war. In 1926, Congress made November 11 a “recurring anniversary” known as Armistice Day to be “commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” It became a national holiday in 1938. After World War II and the Korean War, the name of this day was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

From “The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever,” by Steven Erlanger, The New York Times, June 26, 2014

Election music encore

The midterm election is, in some ways, a referendum about theocracy. Will we replace the broad American Constitutional ideal of freedom of religion with a more narrow view of America as a Christian theocracy? The original intent of the Founders was to avoid the kind of religious wars that plagued Europe. Religious wars are the worst wars, as evidenced by the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for Putin’s war.

Here’s something I wrote in 2011:

Words from Psalm 2.7 (‘you are my son; today I have begotten you”) are combined with the opening words of the first servant song in Isaiah 42.1 (“he is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights”) in Matthew 3.17 (“this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”) and in Matthew 17.5 (“this is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased”).

The words of Matthew 3.17 are “from heaven” to Jesus at the time of his baptism. The words of Matthew 17.5 are from a voice out of a cloud addressed to Peter, James and John, Jesus’ three closest disciples who witnessed his “transfiguration.”

Thus, Christians have understood Jesus as Messiah to be in some sense a “king” (Psalm 2), but as servant leader rather than a political leader (Isaiah 42). Sometimes I express this with a formula: Psalm 2.7 + Isaiah 42.1 = Matthew 3.17.

Both Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42.1 are musical passages. Jesus (and, later, the disciples) heard a theological medley. Today, it would be similar to hearing a medley of “Hail to the Chief” and “We Shall Overcome.”

From “Is Texas a Theocracy?Culture Clash Magazine, November 1, 2019

Election music

Christian nationalism is in the air. Some of those who have railed against “the deep state” fail to see the irony in hoping for (a big) government to function as a self-conscious Christian state, a theocracy.

Christian nationalism was in the air when Israel was a colony of Rome and various “messiahs were ready to lead a revolt for independence. (The word christ is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word messiah.) Many of Jesus’ first followers hoped he would lead that revolt.

The story of Jesus’ baptism includes his hearing a “voice” from heaven echoing two pieces of music from the Old Testament: from Psalm 2, a coronation song–like “Hail to the Chief”–used at the anointing of a new king (the Lord,..said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”); and from Isaiah 42, a suffering servant song–like “We Shall Overcome”–a song of hope, likely sung during the Israelites’ exile in Babylon (“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”)

With this radically new (non-violent) concept of leadership, Jesus emerged from his baptism only to be immediately tested/tempted, including the possibility of ruling a territory as far as the eye could see (the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”)

More tomorrow.

From “The Temptation to Rule the World,” by Angela Becek, Journey Through Scripture, January 6, 2022

Piranha culture

The 1978 movie Piranha stereotyped our understanding of more than 60 widely-varying species of fish known as Piranha. In 1992, I was part of a group housed for a couple of weeks at a church-related school in Panama. The school’s mascot was the Piranha and they proudly wore the name, the Piranhas.

So, at risk of furthering this stereotype, I think of our current social and political atmosphere as a piranha culture. Meanness and frenzy are not new to American culture or politics. But, we’re in a season of extremes, made worse by disrespect for institutions a willingness to flaunt truth and advocate violence.

The chants of Donald Trump’s rag-tag army at the 1/6/21 insurrection included, “Hang Mike Pence,” and “Where are you, Nancy!” The assault against Paul Pelosi during an assailant’s search for the Speaker echoed the January 6 violence. What can we do? What can I as one person do?

I have countless Republican friends and several office-holding Republican friends but I’m boycotting the Republican Party until it repudiates Donald Trump and its 2020 election deniers, of whom more than 200 are on the ballot this year. It’s painful because I identify with much of its history as the Party of Lincoln.

Now, though, it’s the Party of Trump. For its leaders, “silence is complicity.”

From “Election Deniers Already Are Disrupting the Midterm Election,” by Matt Vasilogambros, Pew Charitable Trusts, October 27, 2022