Category: Nonviolence

Warriors’ Path

The more I learn about American history, the more I realize that I dont know very much. Our next-to-last camping destination on this trip was the Warriors’ Path State Park near Kingsport, Tennessee. It’s named for a warrior and trading path that was in use for centuries by Native Americans in the Virginia and Tennessee region. It was a path used by wildlife and by Cherokee in the south and Shawnee in the north who were hunting wildlife for food.

The full scope of the The Great Warriors’ Path extended from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The path’s history reminds me of early European settlers and their descendants (such as Daniel Boone) who led the great European migration westward from Virginia, North Carolina and other eastern colonies. The history of interaction between Europeans and Native Americans includes periods of strife and periods of peaceful coexistence.

As we ponder the natural beauty of this region, I acknowledge the injustices visited upon the original inhabitants of his land by our European ancestors. On this day, I choose to focus on stories of gentleness and neighborliness. Our checkered history motivates me to work for justice and reconciliation. The need is pervasive. Every culture has its stories of virtue and less than virtue.

I’ve done a little reading about justice initiative related to the native people of Australia. I want to put my weight behind “the arc of the moral universe,” which is long, but “bends toward justice.”

From “Native American History on the Appalachian Trail: 9 Iconic Places,” by Kelly Floro, The Trek, October 12, 2020

Saratoga

One of the towns we enjoyed on this trip was Saratoga Springs, New York. We passed through the town on a Sunday morning and were greeted by multiple church bells ringing simultaneously. It wasn’t like “dueling banjos,” but more of a collegial announcement that an hour dedicated to prayer had arrived. It was inspiring to see people walking to various downtown churches.

Saratoga is another place familiar to students of the American Revolution. The troops of British General John Burgoyne were attempting to wrest control of the Hudson River valley from the Americans. They had been roughed up in the Battle of Bennington (Vermont) and at Saratoga (New York) Burgoyne’s shrunken army was defeated by American General Horatio Gates’ troops.

Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga in October, 1777 completed the turning point that was begun at Bennington and persuaded France to sign a treaty with the Americans against Britain. French financial and military support eventually led to a decisive American victory four years later at Yorktown (Virginia) that effectively won American independence.

As we drove through Saratoga Springs, we saw references to upcoming annual commemorations of the Battle of Saratoga. I thought of Benjamin Franklin and others who negotiated the Treaty of Alliance with France in February, 1778. Some day, Ukrainian history students will reflect on today’s events and the support Ukraine is receiving from the US and other nations. The quest for liberty continues.

Ironically, today is the Feast of St. Francis, a man impacted by war as a solider who became synonymous with peace. May the nonviolent spirit of the gentle man from Assisi be with you–and all the world–today.

From The American Battlefield Trust

A sign of hope

A recent trip through southern Pennsylvania on the Lincoln Highway to Gettysburg was followed by some miles in Virginia on the Lee Highway to Appomattox. It was a peaceful, direct, one-day journey that took the survivors of Lee’s retreating army 20 months of more bloody battles. About 75 yards from Appomattox Court House, a modest room in a family’s residence was the site where Grant and Lee, each seated behind separate small tables, signed papers acknowledging the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The restored little village is part of a National Historic Park. A lone American flag is prominent on a pole at the entrance to the village. It’s a quiet, appropriate reminder that we are—at least officially–one nation. The little village reminds us that it was, and is, a costly oneness. Each day news events remind us that our oneness is still a work in progress, a unity yet to be fully realized 157 years after the surrender documents were inked. The park at Appomattox is a simple, somber witness to hope rising from the ashes of war.

A sign greets travelers that Appomattox County is “where our nation was reunited.” A more accurate statement would be, “Where our nation’s reunification began.” Big ideals, by their nature, are always works in progress, as in “liberty and justice for all.” But I wouldn’t change the sign that welcomes travelers. Leave it as it is, a reminder that though we’re an incomplete, unfinished project, something really important happened there. Our nation was reunited, even as we continue to discover the potential of a truly united nation.

From National Park Service

Healthy self-criticism

John Cobb, in his 2010 book Spiritual Bankruptcy, notes that sometimes those who practice a particular religion may tempted think that their way is “the only way.” The great church historian Roland Bainton noted that “the worst wars are religious wars.” Extreme competition can be deadly.

Against this backdrop, Cobb offers a refreshingly different view, speaking for those of varying faiths who are engaging in the process of secularizing:

We are secularizers who believe that the deepest element in our traditional Ways focuses on actual betterment of conditions in this world. We believe that we are most faithful to our own Ways when we are most open to the wisdom of others as well. We believe that we are liberated by our tradition to evaluate critically every aspect of it. We believe that through secularizing our traditions, we can contribute to the urgently needed responses to the threat of disaster that becomes ever more imminent.

How would you describe “the deepest element in our traditional Ways?”

From “The Worlds Major Religiousities,” by The Best Schools, August 30, 2022

“These are my people”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin offers insights into our relationship with all people. This is important in our present era, marked by division, polarization and tribalism. A deeper grasp of our relatedness is both counter-cultural and essential for a healthier planet, perhaps for our very survival.

This week, a young man from our local community was charged with illegal acts during the 1/6/21 insurrection at the US Capitol. So far, a “dozen or so” Alabamians have been charged. He reportedly served in the US Marine Corps for five years after graduating from Briarwood Christian High School.

His arrest reminded me of a comment I made as I watched the violence at the Capitol unfold. As the insurrectionists broke into the Capitol and video footage showed them ransacking Senators’ desks and chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” I was horrified and angered. But I was struck by their familiarity.

When I saw a man carrying a large Confederate flag in the Rotunda, I said, “These are my people.” They were (in my opinion) clearly misguided, but they looked like folks in the communities I served during my adult life. I’m still trying to absorb the reality that these insurrectionists came from among us. Literally.

From “Alabama man charged with throwing Capitol police officer to the ground in Jan. 6 riots,” by Carol Robinson, AL.com, August 23, 2022

Artistic resistance

Tyrants tend to underestimate the opposition. Early war reports emerging from Ukraine quickly made it clear that the Ukrainians would not be easily overrun. An August 14 article by Javier C. Hernández in The New York Times describes an inspirational “artistic resistance” to the Russian war by Ukrainian musicians. In “An Orchestra Supports Ukraine, and Reunites a Couple Parted by War,” Hernández quotes Yevgen Dovbysh, “I don’t have a gun, but I have my cello.”

Dovbysh and his violinist wife, Anna Vikhrova, were members of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, they are among the 74 musicians in the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra.that gathered in Warsaw, Poland to begin a world tour. The Canadian Ukrainian conductor is Keri-Lynn Wilson. The tour itinerary includes London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin, New York and Washington. They will play at the Lincoln Center in NYC on August 18 and 19, and at the Kennedy Center in DC on August 20.

In the 1990s, a choir of Cuban Methodists visited the US. They were mostly professionals–attorneys, teachers, and various others. The Cuban economy was reeling from the US boycott and the collapse of Cuba’s Soviet benefactors. Everyone in Cuba was poor. The choir arrived in Birmingham with paper sacks for luggage. A host congregation took them shopping for shoes. The unforgettable moment for me was their closing song, in English, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

From “Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra review – tears and roars of delight for new national ensemble,” by Flora Willson, The Guardian, July 31, 2022

Faith–the “Yes” that says “No”

Tough love establishes and consistently affirms vital boundaries. In the realm of faith, tough love’s Greatest Affirmation is in the face of “evil, sin and death.” Those words came to mind yesterday. An Internet search pointed me to Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. You can consult them later.

When we put our trust into something really big–when we say “Yes” to the Universe and our place within it–we encounter “lesser things.” A big “Yes” (a “cosmic “Yes”) says “No” to realities, opinions, people, ideologies, parties, etc., that are unhelpful, obstructive, antagonistic or destructive.

Diana Butler Bass said “No” in her brief, clear-headed, articulate 8/11/22 response to a fresh wave of anger on the American right, “Bad Blood: Christian theology and civil war.” Here’s the gist:

Civil wars are the most uncivil of wars, bloodletting between siblings the most violent conflicts. … And now (after the Mar-a-Lago search warrant) all this glib chatter of civil war. But people aren’t kidding: they desire blood; they’ve been longing for it; they crave revenge. … A legally executed search warrant results in all this over-the-top, verbal frenzy of violence, fixated on bloody vengeance, purifying the nation. Blood. It is always about blood.

From “Now They’re Calling for Violence,” by Peter Wehner, The Atlantic, August 11, 2022

Forward

Mergers and acquisitions are common in business. The latest M&A activity is in the political arena. The Forward Party is joining with the Renew America Movement and the Serve America Movement. Initial co-chairs are former democrat Andrew Yang and former republican Christine Todd Whitman.

Skeptics point to limited third party success. A new party hasn’t grown to lasting national prominence since Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party grew out of the old Whig Party. Maybe a multi-party era would inspire more positive creativity among the electorate. I like the name “Forward.”

The new party could help shift the nation’s focus from Backward to Forward, from Negative to Positive, from Violence to Civility. If we can move in those directions, we’ll be stronger and healthier. We could rediscover the art of peaceful, respectful debate. This could be a turning point–forward.

From “Yang announces new Forward party with other centrist groups,” by Shawna Chen, Axios, July 27, 2022

Profanity

In a long ago conversation, a dear elderly woman expressed her disappointment with President Nixon. I thought she was referring to his misuse of presidential power or his dishonesty. No, what shook her to the core was his vulgar language so pervasive in the secret White House tapes.

When our son was in 5th grade, I noticed a change in his vocabulary, driven by his pre-pubescent fascination with bodily functions. Avoiding a moralistic approach, I expressed disappointment that he wasn’t using his rich vocabulary, and vulgarity would make him appear uneducated.

Books about the Trump presidency, and witness testimony about alleged abuses or criminality have revealed that vulgar, pre-pubescent language continues to seem a pre-requisite for high-level White House service. What were once expletives now seem integral to our thinking and being.

Vulgarity is not always profane, but profanity is always vulgar. Full disclosure: I’ve been guilty of both. In my clergy years, the offense I feared most was the essence of profanity: meaningless talk about God. So, whenever I spoke of divine reality, I tried to say something meaningful.

On July 6, Adam Kinzinger released a tape of vulgar, threatening calls to his office. One call sank below pre-pubescent vulgarity to toxic profanity: “(The) wrath of the Lord God Almighty come upon you, your health, your family, your home, your livelihood, and I’ll pray that if it be God’s will that you suffer.”

From Twitter

Common sense

Should individuals own nuclear weapons? How about artillery? Tanks? Javelin missiles? Where do we draw the line between today’s weapons of mass destruction and the musket firearms known to the Founders (projecting single shot musket balls that required loading each “round” with gunpowder)?

After the Uvalde, Texas tragedy, our Sunday School class wrote personal, handwritten letters to Alabama’s senators to limit the easy availability of military assault rifles. I reminded Richard Shelby that he supported a ban on assault rifles in the 1990s. He sent me a polite reply that ignored the issue.

Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, was interviewed Friday about the labor market on CNBC’s Squawk Box. As the host was closing the segment, Gimbel asked for another minute. Then he said something really important:

I’m from, and … I live currently in Highland Park Illinois, that was affected on Monday, on July 4th, and I raised my kids there and I grew up there. And, I just want everybody to know that Highland Park is going to survive and do well. We’re doing great. We need some serious gun reform in this country. I know I’m not a political pundit, but what happened in our community could happen anywhere and it did—in Parkland and other places. It gets a little cliche to say your town followed by “strong.” But we are. We’re a small community outside of Chicago of mixed ethnicities and people different in gender and ages, but it’s a good community and we’ve been hit badly and hard, but we’re going to bounce back. And to everyone out there, just keep us in your thoughts, but more importantly let’s effect legislation to ban assault rifles.

From “A Revolution in Arms: Weapons in the War for Independence,” an exhibition at The American Revolution Institute, October 11, 2018-March 24, 2019