This ought to be a good, easy way to start. I’m waiting on an episode of Big Bang Theory to buffer (thanks, Vureel), and since I’ve been vowing to blog more, why not? I want to start out here by giving you the story of how I came to be nonviolent. It may help you understand a bit where I’m coming from, where I’m at, and where I’m headed.
So…back in high school, I never really understood the concepts of pacifism or nonviolence at all. Up until maybe senior year, the most that I knew about nonviolence was that some bald guy named Gandhi had used it at some point, and so did Martin Luther King. I was raised in a very conservative, pro-war environment. One of the elders at my church often said of America’s enemies, “Nuke ’em ’till they glow and then shoot ’em in the dark.” I can remember counting down to the beginning of the “Shock and Awe” Campaign that would mark the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom (this was my freshman year), and in my Civics class, my litmus test showed me to be ultra-conservative. I was definitely of the “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” variety, as were many of my friends.
This changed in me over the next couple years, due to a newfound interest in bands like Anti-Flag, NOFX, Dropkick Murphys, and others on the Rock Against Bush compilations that Fat Wreck Chords produced. Punk rock actually drew me to the other extreme in politics, going completely liberal, even going so far as to print out fliers with statements against President Bush during the 2004 election and hanging them around my school. As a result, I came to oppose OIF, but nonviolence was still a foreign notion to me.
In senior year, I discovered Leo Tolstoy, a Russian author of severely ascetic ways, as well as an advocate of nonviolence and state opposition. I found him through Wikipedia (first period study hall can leave you kinda bored sometimes) and found out about his book The Kingdom of God Is Within You. While I only read a little bit of that book, it sparked in me an interest in a new movement I didn’t fully understand.
At college, I was exposed t0 the writings of Shane Claiborne by a friend. I had already been claiming my nonviolent nature for awhile at that point, but Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution cemented that as well as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. I began to look over the Sermon on the Mount more, wondering exactly what Jesus meant when he said “Do not resist an evil person,” or “Turn the other cheek,” or “Love your enemies.” I didn’t know I even had the capacity to do that (sometimes, I still wonder if I do. Loving your enemies is a feat impossible without the grace of God). These books took nonresistance and loving one’s enemies beyond just “not hitting back,” though. They took it to the extent of active love of one’s enemies, going out of one’s way to do so, just as Christ did.
From there, I became a full-blown nonviolent activist. I preached a chapel on it, wrote papers for classes, including my senior research project. That was the greatest part to date of making this decision: seeing the rich history of nonviolence in the church, from the time of Christ’s Ascension to the church fathers to the desert monks to the present day with new monastic groups and activist organizations like Christian Peacemaker Teams. They (and I) affirm that when Christ said “Love your enemies,” he meant it on a level where you never sought to harm them or bring harm against them, and actively love them on a level where hate is impossible, and the vicious cycle of violence is broken.
I’ve chosen the nonviolent lifestyle because I want to see hatred end. I want to stop seeing young men shipped off to fight wars that only end to give way to more wars. I want to stop seeing women and children destroyed by bombings and labeled as “civilian casualties.” I want to see people love one another, regardless of religion, creed or color. When you look at your enemy as a human being created by a loving God, it’s a lot harder to hate them.
Now, I’m not perfect. To date, I’ve been a very arrogant person about many things, and though it’s been a long time where I’ve struck someone out of anger, I know I’ve insulted and intended to harm with words, especially people I’ve been close to, or who have insulted me in some way. You see, nonviolence goes beyond physical altercation. It includes watching what you say, what you think, and what you bring to those who may have insulted you, or thought ill of you. The idea is winning over evil with good. It’s easy to not hit back, but if you sit there thinking you’re better than everyone who’s not a pacifist, you’re in just as much bondage to your pride and anger as anyone else in the world. Thankfully, God has been gradually changing me one held back insult at a time, changing the way I speak and the way I think. I’m still far from perfect, and still get into word battles with people, but I let grace make up for where I fail, and learn from my mistakes.
Are you nonviolent? What brought you to that choice? If you aren’t, have you ever thought about it? If you have, what reasons do you have for opposing it?