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What Will We Learn?

Editor’s Note: This article is used with permission from Frances Fuller. It first appeared on Frances’s blog. 

I happened to be in Burlington, N.C., when a man asked me, “Are those people (the Arabs) just wired differently than we are, so that they like to fight?”

Of course, you can guess what I said. They are not. Violence is not an Arab trait. It is a human trait.

The history of the world illustrates this, the Middle East conflict being a mere example. We humans have always tried to solve our problems by killing others. Another horror in our own country reminds us of this. It happened several days ago in Charleston, South Carolina. In a church.

(In some other countries people may be asking, “Are those Americans just wired differently than we are, so that they kill people for the color of their skin? And in a holy place?”)  We don’t understand it ourselves and are wondering: What kind of monster could do this?

According to the news: a 21-year-old, white male, a “quiet” boy.  One who had expressed ridiculous fears: “black people are taking over the world.” One who knew enough history to regret that the Confederacy lost the Civil War and so intended to re-ignite the conflict. A racist who used his birthday money to buy a gun and carried it into a church. That’s not all, of course, but enough to make my point.

We would like to believe that everything about this event was surprising, an anomaly that no one could have predicted, that the young man had mental problems and just snapped. But let’s not fool ourselves.

Once one of my grown sons astutely observed that he and his siblings could do nothing without their parents knowing the antecedents. It is true. Their adult behavior started in childhood. Not only could we see everything coming, but we contributed, intentionally and not. Dylann Roof, too, dropped clues along the way, and he did not get where he is all alone. None of us ever has. Whether we are high achievers or drop outs, good neighbors or criminals, we had help to become who we are.

Because of this certainty, I often have troubling thoughts about young people who have committed crimes. Not long ago, for instance, a few miles from where I live, a teenager from an affluent family, broke into the home of an elderly couple and murdered them in their beds. He was deemed a monster and incarcerated for life, with no opportunity for parole. I kept looking at his picture in the paper and thinking. He is a kid. For all of his life he has been someone’s responsibility. How did a family, a California community, a school, a culture manage to shape him into a murderer? I know he did not get there alone, but only he went to prison.

I think a lot, too, about some of the people we call terrorists, because I have met some of them, in Jordan and Syria and Lebanon. Charming and kind young men, when they feel that charm and kindness are appropriate. Men with a sense of history, looking for a cause. Men who feel oppressed, bear grudges and harbor fears that easily become hatred. Often educated and jobless, they need a reason to hope. They did not get where they are alone but are products of a situation, society, peer pressure, the values of their culture. When they get guns in their hands, they feel better—powerful and in control. In their shoes, a lot of us would join their militia. But we are not in their shoes, so we support other young men, dear to our hearts, to go far from home and fight them. To know somehow the participants of war on both sides is to expose the heart to an unspeakable grief, similar in a way to being a shamed white Christian, watching black brothers and sisters weep in South Carolina.

So where has this thread of painful monologue taken me?

Only to the obvious, that Dylann Roof has antecedents also. He is a human being, a young human being, a product of the world he grew up in. A short time ago he was a child, listening, absorbing, imitating his elders. He did not become what he is without help, deliberate or accidental. It took history, family, friends, culture, country, all of us.

Now, the society that nurtured him and permitted him a tool of destruction will condemn him and incarcerate him for life, if not kill him.

But what will we learn?   Can we face the truth that we are racist? Can we master in ourselves the evil human impulse to kill? Do we have the courage to teach our children Jesus’ way, that it is better to absorb violence than to commit it? Are we willing to work together, all of us in our diversity, to create peace in our own country? Are we smart enough to prevent terrorism all over the world instead of preparing for perpetual war? Are we grieved enough to take drastic actions and get our world off this dangerous road?

 

 

FrancesFrances Fuller spent thirty years in the violent Middle East and for twenty-four of those years was the director of a Christian publishing program with offices in Lebanon. While leading the development of spiritual books in the Arabic language, she survived long years of civil war and invasions.

Frances holds degrees in Journalism, Creative Writing and Religious Education, and she studied Arabic at Georgetown University. She and her husband, James Wayne Fuller, live now in the foothills of the Sierras in California. They have five children, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Her book, In Borrowed Houses, has won multiple awards and is available from Westbow Press, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

Raven-YourVoice-9

We Do Not Hit!

Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest author Matthew Distefano.

Children are like sponges, always soaking up the world around them. Every little detail is noticed, especially when you least expect it. I have noticed this, for better or worse, with my daughter. From little mannerisms, to phrases of speech, my daughter imitates “mommy” and “daddy” more than anyone else in her life. This forces me to be on top of my game at all times—always vigilant so as to not model some horrific behavior that will only bring trouble for her. The interaction I witnessed between a mother and child today tells me not everyone is this aware of the impact their behavior will have on their children’s.

The topic of my last entry was on positive mimesis—this one will cover the negative side of imitation.

This particular encounter played out as follows:

A 3-year-old girl begins to “act out” and in doing so, hits her mother across the face. Her mother grabs the little girl’s wrist and smacks her on the hand—while at the same time saying “we do not hit!”

(While the negative effects of spanking [euphemism for hitting] are not the primary topic of this article, I would like to mention how opposed I am to the practice. Please look up as much data as you can prior to deciding “to spank or not to spank.”)

In the scenario above, the mother is not in fact teaching her child not to hit. Instead, she is teaching her child two things—both unintentional consequences of her actions. First, she is modeling for the child “how” to hit others. In this instance, she showed how to grab someone’s wrist, control it, and smack the back of the hand. Second, she is displaying her brute, physical force; now modeling “when” to hit someone. When her child gets bigger and is strong enough to control someone who is smaller and probably younger, she will more than likely use her own physical force to control and hit that smaller and younger person. More than likely, this will be a younger sibling and/or peer at school. The little girl may have heard, “We do not hit”; but she will more than likely copy her mother and do so anyway.

Rene Girard, in The One Whom Scandal Comes, writes:

To escape responsibility for violence we imagine it is enough to pledge never to be the first to do violence. But no one ever sees himself as casting the first stone. Even the most violent persons believe that they are always reacting to a violence committed in the first instance by someone else.”

In this particular case, the mother probably viewed her 3 year-old’s violence as “bad” because it was the “original” act of aggression. The mother’s violence—her “eye for an eye”—was good because it would “teach her daughter a lesson”. The reality, however, is that the 3 year-old girl learned the act of hitting from somewhere…and, more often than not, it is from one or both parents. So, who is responsible for the first stone, the child or the parent? Who will be responsible when the child copies her mother while at school, the child or the parent? Who is responsible when two siblings hit each other, the children or the parents who “spank” them for it?

There may not always be a direct correlation, but if I may use one piece of anecdotal evidence—my daughter, who is not spanked, never uses violence when dealing with adults, peers, or those younger than her. As much as I notice her imitation of me, I cannot help but think if I hit her in order to “teach her a lesson”; she would also imitate that at some point. I have no evidence to believe otherwise.

Where I used to see the most extreme examples this type of negative mimesis is when I worked in youth group homes. Part of my job was to monitor visits between parents and residents of the home. Inevitably, I would learn back-stories, histories, and, all too often, tragedies. There were stories of abuse and neglect—violence and madness—all manners of evil. Not to minimize spanking, but we are talking much more than spanking here! The kids I worked with for 8 years were the most abused of victims. And yet, they often became victimizers themselves. It was on one hand tragic, but on the other, all too predictable. In their situation, who is responsible? Given the dire circumstances many were in, and given that we are not autonomous beings but interdividuals (Girard’s term), I cannot conclude the youth were 100% responsible for all their actions all the time. As Paul said, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15 NRSV). I am certain the abused children I worked with for so many years felt like that many times in their lives.

My point in this entry is not to point out people’s behavior so I can then judge them—far from it. I am, however, dead set on pointing out behaviors that model “how to commit violence against others”. In doing so, my hope is that more and more people will acknowledge that all of us have this potential violence in us; all of us imitate each other and enter into mimetic conflicts. And all of us imitate self-destructive behavior from time to time. If we can acknowledge this, I believe we can then focus our energy onto positive imitation. When energy is focused on positive imitation of others, namely forgiveness, mercy, grace, peace, and love, real change can occur.

So, my goal is for those who engage in any form of violence—intentional or unintentional—to recognize the slavery it causes and progress toward a more peaceful “self”. In modeling peace, we free ourselves to experience true relationship with others. We discover our true humanness when we serve others wholeheartedly. Let’s start modeling that type of behavior. The sky is the limit as to how far humanity can go if we all begin to model peace.

MattMatthew Distefano is writing his first book on universal reconciliation and advocate for non-violence. He lives in Northern California and is married with one daughter.

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.”

"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Image from pixabay.com

“Piss Christ” And Drawing Muhammad: On Not Being Offended

I recoiled a little just typing the title to this article.

The title of the infamous photograph by Andres Serrano, “Piss Christ,” makes me bristle as much as the content of a crucifix submerged in blood and urine. I can’t get used to the language on a gut level, even as I have come to appreciate it on an intellectual and even spiritual level. My visceral repulsion to this juxtaposition of the filthy and the sacred is probably similar to the feeling Muslims get when they see the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) degraded in crass and crude caricatures. It can feel like a blow to the stomach, with anger and disgust rising up in response, to see or hear that which we hold most sacred defiled.

Muslim Americans have had to deal with an exceptional amount of bigotry lately, even for an oft-misunderstood minority in a post-9/11 nation. In the past month, two large-scale events have been organized specifically to demean and provoke them. First came the “Draw Muhammad” contest hosted in early May by Pamela Gellar in Garland, TX. When this event ended in the shooting death by police of two vengeance-seeking gunmen, it prompted Marine veteran Jon Ritzheimer to organize a similar rally held on the last Friday in May in Phoenix, AZ. The rally began with another “Draw Muhammad” contest at a nearby Denny’s before protestors (mainly described as “armed bikers”) gathered outside a mosque at the time of the Friday prayer. While both rallies were promoted by their organizers as defense of the freedom of speech, they also deliberately vilified Islam, relishing in their defiance of the prohibition against depicting the Prophet and seeking to portray Muslims as violent, backward savages. The irony of such events, aggressively wielding hatred in order to provoke violence so as to call the dreaded “other” violent, cannot be lost on students of mimetic theory.

Imagine arriving at your place of worship, preparing to surrender your troubles to the all-compassionate, all-merciful God, only to be surrounded by a jeering, gun-brandishing mob claiming that you are violent. It is not only insulting, it is threatening. And while it is true that the Christian faith has also been ridiculed, the Christian community has not been targeted and labeled an enemy by popular culture, nor treated as such by authorities, in the same way Muslims have been in this nation that prides itself on diversity and “freedom of speech.”

Thus even the depiction of Jesus on the cross submerged in urine does not evoke the same range of negative emotions in believers as do the vulgar drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, for while the former can certainly offend, the latter not only offend, but also intimidate. They tell an already persecuted minority that they are unwelcome in a way that “Piss Christ” cannot, because “Piss Christ” does not reflect a larger animus against Christianity pervasive throughout our culture the way the cartoons do of Islam.

Nevertheless, I have seen the comparison made between “Piss Christ” and the drawings of the Prophet made several times recently, and they are worth comparing for more reasons than first meet the eye. In both cases, subversive works of art provoke anger and disgust. Yet believers have an opportunity in both cases to transcend their disgust and anger and explore and reveal the truth of their faiths – the God who needs no defense and responds to provocation with mercy, compassion, and love.

In an interview for the Huffington Post, artist Andres Serrano revealed that his infamous photograph was designed to evoke feelings of disgust, but not out of hostility to the Christian faith. Serrano says:

The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to dead, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if “Piss Christ” upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning.

A Christian himself, Serrano reminds us that though it has been sanitized and neutralized, disgust and horror are appropriate responses to the cross. They are appropriate responses to the condemnation Jesus received from those who thought they were doing the will of God. They are appropriate responses the human violence that continues to crucify Christ when wielded against anyone else.

Abilene Christian University psychology professor Richard Beck extends the imagery from the crucifixion to the incarnation in a powerful advent meditation. First exploring the psychology behind disgust, Beck explains the attribution of negativity dominance – the understanding that the filthy contaminates the pure. He then meditates on “Piss Christ” as a metaphor for the Incarnation, the descent of God into the shame and wretchedness of our own lives.

[I]n the contact between urine and Jesus in Piss Christ we instinctively judge the negative to be stronger than the positive. Thus the shock. Thus the blasphemy.

But the real blasphemy just might be this: That we think urine is stronger than Christ. That we instinctively–and blasphemously–believe that the defilement of our lives is the strongest force in the universe. Stronger even than God.

It never occurs to us that Christ is stronger than the “piss” of our lives.

… This is the scandal of the Incarnation. This is the scandal of Christmas. That God descended into the piss, shit and darkness of your life. And the piss, shit and darkness did not overcome it.

While Serrano’s art is designed to evoke the horror of the crucifixion, Dr. Beck’s meditation reminds us of the hope of the Incarnation and the resurrection. I want to reflect first on the horror. While there is violence in “Piss Christ,” most people see it as violence by the artist directed toward the faithful. It rarely occurs to believers to use the art to meditate on the actual event of the cross, in which humiliation, brutality and murder are exposed for all to see. We project our disgust outward, onto the artist, rather inward, onto our own violence that “Piss Christ” truly depicts. Our offense at others we whom perceive to be violent or blasphemous blinds us to our own violence. Disgust and horror projected at Serrano perpetuate the judgment that crucified Christ. Disgust and horror at our own violence that actually crucified Christ facilitate repentance.

The protestors in Garland and Phoenix could not recognize their own violence because they could only see the violence of a few extremists who have committed acts of terror in a misguided attempt to defend Islam. The Garland event was (in part) a response to the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. The Phoenix event was partly a response to the attempted attack on the Garland event. Ridicule and dehumanization, reinforced by open-carry weapons at the Phoenix event, were seen by those who carried them out as defensive tactics. Muslims, harassed and dehumanized and increasingly vulnerable to physical violence as events like these further polarize, are seen as the enemy. As Rene Girard has taught, people never see themselves as the cause of violence. Even the most aggressive fail to recognize themselves as the aggressors while looking to the aggression of someone else.

But there is hope! Violence does not have the last word!

Dr. Beck’s reflection on the Incarnation reveals a new dimension to “Piss Christ,” showing how God comes even in the filth and shame of our violence. Our violence cannot overcome the love of God, who absorbs it, forgives it, and redeems us from it.

That same love and redemptive forgiveness was on display in Phoenix. Immersed in the muck of hatred and vitriol, many people either lash out in vengeance or internalize the anger. Violence could have contaminated the peaceful atmosphere of the mosque, spreading the contagion of hate and fear and division.

Instead, compassion prevailed.

Instead of acting on offense, Muslims of the Phoenix mosque followed the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who endured ridicule with patience and gentility. No stranger to being immersed in filth himself, the Prophet Muhammad, according to tradition, once endured the hatred of one particular woman (among many) who would empty her garbage out the window when he passed by. When one day he passed her window unscathed, he knocked on the door to her home to make sure that she was okay! Moved by this same spirit, the Muslim community in Phoenix invited the protestors into the mosque, offering hospitality, space for dialogue, and, for those moved to listen, the opportunity for a healing of the heart.

In particular, the eyes of Jason Leger and his uncle, Paul Griffith, were opened by their experience. Walking into the mosque wearing profanity-laced anti-Islam t-shirts, they left with a newfound empathy for their Muslim brothers and sisters. Though they insist on the right to even offensive free speech, they have made the choice not to express such hatred. Leger says:

When I took a second to actually sit down and listen to them, and actually enter their mosque, and go in and watch some of their prayers, it is a beautiful thing, and they answered some of the questions that I had.

I feel that me and a few people like my uncle Paul, and the Muslim people, taking the time to talk to each other,  feel that we changed the thoughts of some people, and they changed the thoughts of me. Paul specifically said he would not wear that shirt again.

Love can break down the walls of fear and hatred. Love is stronger than anger and fear, stronger than violence and filth. I stand with my Muslim sisters and brothers in this love in spirit, and should the need arise, I hope to stand with them in body as well.

It is natural to be offended when we see that which we hold sacred mocked and abused and violated. But God’s own children – those whom God holds sacred — are abused and violated and humiliated every day in a cycle of violence perpetuated by those who lash out in anger… to defend God! The filth that surrounds “Piss Christ” is that of our own making. The violence that is projected onto Muslims resides in the hearts of those who project it (although some Muslims do lash out in violence, believing themselves to be defending God and morality, and thus the pattern continues). When we choose to be offended, we keep the cycle of violence turning, churning the muck of hatred and fear that keeps blood flowing.

But the negative need not dominate the positive.

We can follow in the footsteps of those nearest to the heart of God. In the Christian tradition, God came in flesh among the filth of our lives and endured rejection, humiliation, and torture to redeem us. In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad endured rejection, humiliation, and expulsion to bring words of compassion and a model of redemption.

Christ need not be protected from the piss. He has been there, and remains there until the least among us are treated with dignity and respect. Muhammad need not be violently defended when caricatures are drawn. Instead, he is honored when such ridicule is met with the same gentle forgiveness he himself modeled, forgiveness that subtly but certainly corrects the offense by modeling respect.

Some things in life are worthy of our offense: brutality, hatred, cruelty. These are the blasphemies that offend God. But harsh judgment, condemnation and violence only perpetuate these offenses. Instead, we are called to respond in the same way that God responds to our offenses, with active mercy and love.

 

 

 

 

Image from 123rf.com

The Role of Martial Arts In Raising A Peacemaker

“Kee-yah!” she yells, propelling her arm upward with strength and precision. The soft blue “noodle” (one of those foam pool toys) strikes her arm but fails to reach her head, thanks to her successful block. She is happy and confident, and my heart swells with pride.

My daughter has the friendliest disposition I think I have ever seen in another human being. She is soft-hearted like her mother and charming like her daddy, and somehow she missed either of our genes for introversion. With open arms she greets the world, and it’s beautiful. It is also frightening to send her out, so wide-eyed and innocent and vulnerable, and know that others could easily take advantage of her. My husband and I do all we can to protect her and teach her how to protect herself, and within the last month, that has included enrolling her in martial arts. Thus far, the class has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, for her and her parents. But as a pacifist, I recognize an irony to the situation. I want to teach my children the art of peacemaking, and yet here I am, happily enrolling my firstborn in martial arts?

Do martial arts have a place in raising a peaceful child? I believe they can, but only if the family approaches it intentionally. As I muse on this issue, I have to take a hard look at multiple aspects of my parenting, as well as how my husband and I parent together, and ask some challenging questions.

Her Benefit, Our Benefit

Since enrolling her in martial arts, my husband and I have seen improvement in our daughter’s confidence, focus, discipline, and resilience, and that has pleased both of us immensely. The particular facility we attend puts as much stress on character development as it does on physical training, and I especially appreciate the “village” approach to raising children embedded in their philosophy.

An integral part of the program is weekly character development charts listing jobs for children to perform at home and school. Children are acknowledged for consistently completing their work, but not reprimanded when they fall short. I know this is good for the children, but it is a tremendous benefit to parents as well, providing support and reinforcement for the character traits we strive to teach. In our own house, we have tried chore calendars and charts, but they have inevitably gone unfilled after a short period of time. I know that the martial arts charts, which come partially filled with lists of activities every child should be doing (putting items away, clearing one’s place at the table, taking pride in lessons, treating others with respect) help me develop as a parent by giving me a way to consistently monitor and support my daughter in these essential life skills.

Beyond duties, the weekly job charts and the gently-expressed high standards of the instructors are fostering a sense of responsibility and helping to develop a positive attitude not only for my daughter, but for myself as well. For her, I see positive character development and increasing maturity in her decisions. As conscientious habits become ingrained within her, she is increasingly able to take care of herself without being told. And as her focus improves, she is also more in tune to the needs of others, jumping to help anyone she sees in need. My stress has naturally waned in the wake of her waxing maturity; my frustration level is generally lower and I am somewhat more relaxed. But just as I know that my daughter has made a conscious effort to take on more responsibility, I must make a conscious effort to keep my mind calm and my tone even. My efforts to discipline consistently are an exercise for me in focus, patience, and compassion. And as these traits within me grow stronger, my relationships improve, not only with my daughter, but with everyone I know. As I immerse my daughter into a more disciplined environment that her martial arts class is helping to foster, I am internalizing that gentle discipline in the best of ways, building a mental strength that helps me take control of my ever-increasing responsibilities. Martial arts has helped reinforce the values of respect for self and others that my husband and I have always strived to teach, and even as I strive to be a model for our daughter, her enthusiasm for taking on adult responsibilities and her positive attitude have served as a model for me.

Risks

Yet, when it comes down to it, martial arts teach her how to fight, and I cannot completely reconcile this fact with pacifism. When it comes to the physical, martial aspect of martial arts, I am aware of the risk that she may learn that violence can solve problems. I must be intentional about countering that message, about steering her martial arts education in a direction that will allow her to use the confidence, focus, and perseverance without becoming aggressive or adopting a mentality of being “against an enemy.” I also want to nurture a sense of respect within her without helping to foster an unquestioning acceptance of authority. It is a matter of balance, a balance I must be careful to model and maintain.

The truth is, I do want my daughters to be able to protect themselves. I am happy to give them the opportunity to learn how to block attacks and escape from holds. And although I can’t imagine a situation in which they would need to do more than block and escape, I would want them to be able to do whatever is necessary to stop an aggressor humanely to alleviate danger for themselves and others. I don’t want to limit their toolboxes. But I also do not want to blind them to the other tools in the box.

I tell myself that, should my daughter experience violence, unless she has confidence in herself to escape or stop it, she will internalize and perpetuate it – against herself and possibly against others. That is the nature of violence, to trigger a self-perpetuating cycle. The terrifying truth is that girls are particularly (but by no means exclusively) vulnerable to violence within relationships, which can lead to violent patterns, hurting others, including children later born to them. I tell myself that by enrolling our daughter in martial arts, my husband and I are helping her develop confidence in her own body, mental focus, and the self-esteem necessary to walk away from unhealthy relationships, as well as the strength to escape from physical violence should the need ever arise. And this is true. At the same time, we must be careful that as we prepare our daughters to deal with potential violence, we do not teach them to expect violence and develop an attitude of self-protection against a world onto which they project a motive of hostility.

I am hoping that the self-confidence that my daughter learns from martial arts will give her the strength and courage to use her imagination to diffuse hostility with tools of compassion, humor, logic, or surprise. My hope is that a knowledge of her physical strength will reinforce the mental strength I know she has and keep her from reacting in fear that diminishes self-control. But I am also aware that, should she meet aggression with counter-aggression, even as I want her to be able to use physical force as a last resort if she is ever in real trouble, violence has the potential to escalate. I do not want her to be hurt, and I do not want her to hurt others. Defensive violence feeds into a cycle of violence in which offense and defense cannot be distinguished. I have studied mimetic theory long enough to know this. I know there is a risk to providing her with tools I never want her to have to use, in that simply having them at her disposal could hinder her creativity in finding nonviolent ways to deal with hostility.

Solutions

So how do my husband and I minimize the risks of providing our daughters with tools that could be used for violence, and more importantly, how do we teach them to value nonviolence and peacemaking while immersing them in an environment that may in some ways contradict such a message? In searching my heart and mind, I have come up with a few ideas.

  1. The most important thing we can do to raise peacemakers is show our daughters that they are loved and provide them with a healthy environment. Martial arts help us foster this environment by reinforcing values of respect and providing support as we discipline. My growing confidence in my parenting skills is reflected in a deepening ability to show the compassion I have always felt but have sometimes fallen short of expressing. As my daughter matures, takes on responsibility and develops self-control, I am also maturing, learning the limits of my patience and controlling my actions and reactions so that I can allow those limits to be gently stretched but never broken. I am yelling less, listening more, and managing time better. Comfortable with consistently enforcing limits, I can relax and allow my daughters freedom within boundaries. I can let them set the pace, (as my colleague Suzanne advocates) allow them to be loud or silly or giggly and play along with them, knowing that I can reign them in when necessary. Giving our daughters this kind of security, freedom, and love will reinforce their sense of self-worth and model for them the peaceful and peace-building values that we want them to embody as they make their ways in the world.
  1. We can teach them that there is no such thing as a “bad guy.” One of the most important things we can do to ensure our daughters never develop an overreliance on violence is reinforce, time and again, there are no bad people, only bad actions. When my firstborn was younger, she once claimed to be a superhero with the power to “make bad guys die!” I quickly told her that it would be better to make bad guys nice instead, and ever since, she has used “the power of love” to turn imaginary villains into imaginary friends. As she grows and begins to see the world in deepening shades of gray rather than black and white, I want continually to help her to understand that all people are capable of extraordinary good and terrible harm. Even as she guards herself from the harm of which people are capable, she must remember that even someone who attacks is a person first, also capable of good. Further, I want her to recognize her own mistakes and bad choices, secure in the knowledge that she is loved and that she is much more than her mistakes. Knowing this, she can have sympathy for someone who might lash out in violence even as she does what may be necessary to protect herself. I want to teach her that violence is a destructive way of dealing with a problem, but people who express problems through violence need love and help.
  1. Finally, I want us to teach creative problem-solving skills so that our daughters recognize the tools in their toolboxes beyond fight or flight. Here I am open to any suggestions, resources or ideas readers may have. I know there are stories of conflict resolutions that have come about through friendliness, humor, logic, or the element of surprise. I would like to find these stories at age-appropriate levels and read them to my daughters. Beyond reading about nonviolent conflict resolution, I also want to model it to my daughters. It is easy enough to help them think up creative solutions to made-up problems as I play with them. But I also want to model respectful arguing to show that caring for someone is more important than proving one’s self right. That takes the kind of self-control that is ever-developing, in adults as well as children! I also know that a potentially hostile situation can be instantly diffused if provocation is met with understanding and empathy rather than offense. I am hoping that the focus and self-control my daughter is learning can be put to use to deflect insults not with physical force, but with a self-esteem and confidence that render such force unnecessary. Ultimately, I want our children never to feel the need to fight by giving them the ability to diffuse a conflict before it escalates. Should they ever be in need of physical self-defense, I am hoping they will limit the force they use to just what it takes to get away safely.

Right now, martial arts are helping me to become a more peaceful parent. I believe they can also play a role in helping my daughter to become a more peaceful child and grow into a peacemaking adult, but only if my husband and I commit to balancing her defensive skills with the environment, values, and tools that nurture her in peacemaking. We are making that commitment, but I am asking for your help, gentle readers. If you have ideas for peaceful parenting, please comment! It takes a village, afterall!

 

 

Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo

A Natural Peace: Evidence for the Abnormality of Violence

Is war an inevitable part of human existence? Is violence woven into the strands of our DNA? Or is it possible that human nature is loving, compassionate, and altruistic? Much ink has been spilled on the question and you can read social science and psychology studies that support the view that civilization is only a thin veneer over a violent natures or that altruism has an evolutionary advantage and is coded into our DNA. Unfortunately, nothing definitive on the question yet, not from the experimental sciences anyway. But I don’t think a definitive answer is all that elusive: If you want to know if humans are violent by nature, look at the face of a child who has been impacted by violence.

I know that mimetic theory (MT), my life’s work, has taken a beating on the subject of human violence. It has been accused of forging an indissoluble link between humanity and violence, though nothing could be further from the truth. Mimetic theory explains how violence became embedded in human culture, indeed how human culture as it is currently constructed relies on a foundation of violence. But MT also clearly illuminates the contingency of our current predicament. In other words, though violence is the beating heart of human culture today, it doesn’t have to be.

The faces of children show us just how foreign to human nature violence actually is. Children shrink from violence. They withdraw inside of themselves and the face they turn outward to the world is one stripped of their personalities. They lose their affect, are unable to smile or respond to overtures from others. I suppose if you think that joyless, lifeless, blank stares are “normal”, then violence can be thought of as essential to normal human functioning. But if you think that children like this are abnormal, in other words, if you think that violence has prevented them from developing normally, then it’s fair to conclude that violence is anathema to human life and therefore cannot be part of our DNA. Violent behavior must be contingent, just one possibility among others in the vast repertoire of human behaviors. One we can opt for or opt out of as we choose. A choice that a careful study of mimetic theory forces us to face.

In her observational studies of young children, Dr. Maria Montessori concluded that normal childhood development was surprisingly peaceful. What she called “normalized” children – children freed from the oppression of adult ideas of what children should be and do – were calm, capable of intense and prolonged periods of concentration, filled with wonder and joy, and overflowed with creativity. They were not violent, angry, anxious or mean. On the contrary, Dr. Montessori explained that “We might say that if love appears, we are within the range of the normal, and if it does not, within the range of the abnormal.”

In fact, I can allow her to interpret the images of children afflicted by violence for us. She called for a “revolution [in childhood education], one in which everything we know today will be transformed. I think of this as the final revolution,” she explained. “Not a revolution of violence, still less of bloodshed, but one from which violence is wholly excluded – for the little child’s psychic productivity is stricken to death by the barest shadow of violence.” Faces stricken to death in the presence of violence are not evidence of the normal human condition.

If war is inevitable, as some believe, then human development will forever be abnormal. We will never truly flourish and discover our way into new cultural forms that do not rely on constant infusions of violence to sustain them. We have been too long slogging through what Dr. Montessori called the “adult period” of human evolution, one that is “characterized by constant outbreak of war.” With her revolution in education, she hoped to usher in “the age of the child… the period in which we will begin to build peace.” If adults dedicate themselves to supporting the normal development of children we may be taking the first step to “organizing humanity for peace”. Social peace and harmony have too long relied on winner takes all wars of domination and defeat. True peace must be grounded in its only true foundation: the natural peace of a normalized humanity.

Memorial Day

Raven-YourVoice-9Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest author Andrew Robinson and reprinted by permission from his blog, Musings of a Peaceful Warrior.

The greatest man I’ve ever known was a war hero. It was a part of who he was, but it could not come close to defining him. He was also a lawyer, (one of the best), a storyteller, an amazing husband and father as well as my grandfather. My granddad, in many ways, was sort of the stereotypical patriarch. He loved to sit around and tell stories. He passed a love for storytelling on to the rest of my family. When we get together there is rarely the need for games or television. We tell stories. It is what Robinson’s do. It is our heritage. My granddad loved his country but he also just loved cultures. I know I inherited a love for experiencing different cultures from him. There is no man I have ever looked up to as much as my grandfather.

My grandfather also walked with a limp. He took a bullet in the knee from a sniper while getting his men to safety in one of the Pacific battles of World War Two. I have heard the story many times of him getting shot in the knee, as well as his subsequent time in the hospital and when he awoke to the beautiful sight of his big toe, letting him know his leg was not amputated. I have heard this story so many times that if I close my eyes I can picture the setting. I can picture the sniper in the trees, I can picture my granddad being the last man to safety so as to ensure that his men were safe.

I loved that story as a child. Sometimes I would pretend I had not heard it, just to hear Granddad tell it again. We all need heroes in our lives, my granddad was mine. However, recently I began thinking about the stories my granddad would not tell. As a child wrapped in the cultural ideal of good guys killing bad guys, there were several times I asked my granddad questions like, “how many bad guys did you kill?” or “tell me about when you shot the bad guys!” I remember vividly the look on his face when I would ask him about those things. Now, you need to know that my granddad would always maintain eye contact with me while he was telling stories. He knew that his facial expressions would pull you into his stories. But when I would ask him about killing “bad guys” he would break eye contact, stare off into the distance, and say something to the effect of, “I don’t talk about that.”

You see, there was something in my grandfather that knew that the worst thing he ever experienced was not being shot. The worst thing my grandfather had experienced was ending someone’s life at the end of his own gun. He never told me this obviously. But it can be inferred by the fact that a man who loved to tell stories, held back the stories that he knew would have been most interesting to his grandson.

My granddad knew I was wrong in how I felt about the glory of war. He was proud of the fact that he had saved lives. He was not proud of the fact that he had taken life.

War destroys lives. The evil hand of war reaches far beyond the battlefield, affecting soldiers who have gone home, as well as families of those who have lived and died. When war happens, even the victors lose.

Today is Memorial Day. Today is the day that we remember our soldiers who were lost on the battlefield. I have heard some Christians with a nonviolent stance like my own saying that they will not take part in Memorial Day festivities. I disagree with that sentiment. We should for sure remember every soldier lost in battle.

But our Memorial Day is too shortsighted. We must begin to move beyond remembering only our own people lost to the evils of war. We must think about the Iraqi child who became a victim of “collateral damage,” The Vietnamese child who was coerced into strapping a bomb to their chest, the fatherless Afghani teenager whose dad died fighting for the Taliban, the German soldier who was brainwashed into believing Hitler had the best interest of his country at heart and anyone else we may view as “enemy casualties.”

In Christ, there is no enemy other. Our culture divides everything along the lines of good guys and bad guys. But as followers of Jesus we must learn to look upon the enemy other and pray, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus beckons us to forgive, our culture beckons us to remember “our boys” who died. There is nothing wrong with remembering our guys, families of the fallen deserve that. The problem comes when we give more importance to our tragedies than we do the tragedies of families in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Japan etc.

This Memorial Day, remember the fallen soldiers you know, remember the goodness in them, but also my friends, remember that had they been born in a different place, they may have been the enemy soldier, and their death would have been no less tragic.

Never forget. Never forget the pain war causes. Always remember those we have lost to our violent ways. Always remember that every human on this planet is intrinsically tied together. When an Iraqi family loses a child, we lose a child.

Hold your children close on this Memorial Day, and remember the children affected by war all over the planet. Let this Memorial Day be one of sober remembrance instead of yet another celebration of our empire’s military might. Pray for peace my friends. Forgive, as we have been forgiven.

Happy Memorial Day.

Andrew Robinson is an advocate for nonviolence, love and peace currently living in Foley, Alabama. By trade he is a pastor, author, substitute teacher and bartender. His favorite roles, however, are being a father to an energetic little boy named Joshua and a newborn named Zayne as well as husband to a beautiful red headed Irish woman named Karen.

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.”

The Theology of a Biker Gang

 

Five rival biker gangs descended upon a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday. Hundreds of gang members began stabbing, beating, and shooting each other. Weapons included chains, knives, clubs, and guns. When the fight ended, 9 people were dead, 18 were sent to the hospital, and more than 170 people were arrested.

Waco police Sargent W. Patrick Swanton stated, “In my nearly 35 years of law enforcement experience, this is the most violent and gruesome scene that I have dealt with.”

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the US.

And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:

God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

We can easily dismiss that slogan as a biker gangs attempt to intimidate, but do not dismiss it. That pithy statement tells a profound truth about both God and humanity.

Anthropology of a Biker Gang: Bandidos Don’t Forgive

Let’s start with the anthropology. When it comes to forgiveness, we are all much more like a biker gang than we’d like to admit. Take what happened in Waco, for example. A group of rival gangs come together to fight because they have a relationship based on hostility. They refuse to forgive because biker gangs respond to violence with violence. That’s the pattern that they have developed.

It’s not just biker gangs who have that violent pattern. We all do. Violence is a human problem. For example, our political and judicial systems are based on that pattern. The same principle of retaliation that consumes biker gangs also consumes our culture.

Biker gangs such as the Bandidos are a violent and evil menace to society precisely because they refuse to forgive. And whenever we refuse to forgive, we become just like a violent and evil biker gang that is a menace to society.

Bandidos don’t forgive because we don’t forgive. Whenever someone insults us, we tend to insult back. When someone hits us, we tend to hit back. When someone attacks our country, we attack back. That’s the reciprocal pattern we tend to fall into when it comes to violence. For example, will our society respond to Sunday’s biker gang violence with forgiveness? No, we will respond with violent punishment of our own – maybe even the death penalty. Which leads me to ask some question:

How would the biker gang situation be different if one of the gangs decided to respond with forgiveness?

How would my life be different if I responded to insults with forgiveness?

How would the world situation be different if on 9/11 the United States decided to respond with forgiveness?

We will never know the answer to that last question. But what we do know is that our violent response didn’t solve the problem of violence that we face; in fact, it may only have perpetuated it.

Theology of a Biker Gang: God Forgives

And here’s the good news: God forgives. The theological truth of the Bandidos slogan is that God isn’t like us. God doesn’t hold on to grudges. God forgives.

But please understand that God’s forgiveness doesn’t make violence okay. Rather, it stops the cycle of violence by refusing to play the game. The best example of God’s radical forgiveness is on the cross. Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

God forgives.

That’s true. But the truth that the Bandidos biker gang doesn’t understand, and what we so often fail to understand as well, is that God calls us to participate in a culture of divine forgiveness, as opposed to a culture of human violence. The first step is to realize that we all have a tendency toward violence in thought, word, and deed; and so we are all in need of receiving God’s forgiveness. Then, as we receive from God’s well of abundant forgiveness, we are able to share that forgiveness with others.

There is an urgency in our current situation. What happened between 5 biker gangs in Waco is a microcosm of our world situation. Our hope in the face of violence is in following the God of radical forgiveness. As René Girard prophetically says in his book The Scapegoat, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be enough time.”

What About the Canaanites?: On the Bible, Violence, and Genocide

Nicolas Poussin, The Victory of Joshua Over the Amalekites (Public Domain: Wikimedia Commons)

Nicolas Poussin, The Victory of Joshua Over the Amalekites (Public Domain: Wikimedia Commons)

Suzanne and I recently delivered a workshop on the Bible and violence at the Faith Forward conference in Chicago. We highlighted the differences between the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus and the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

You can read the description of our workshop here, but to summarize, in the Roman myth, Romulus kills his brother Remus, founds the city of Rome, and the god Mars vindicates Romulus by welcoming him to heaven and divinizing him as the god Quirinus. The biblical account is similar, but has important differences. Cain kills his brother Abel, founds a city, but God doesn’t vindicate the murderer. Rather, God actually vindicates the victim by hearing Abel’s blood crying out from the earth.

In the Roman myth, the god vindicates the persecutor’s violence and ignores the victim. In the biblical account, God hears the voice of the victim and seeks to heal and protect the repentant persecutor from a cycle of violence that might turn against him.

The differences couldn’t be more profound.

But as we talked about those difference, someone asked an important question, “You are telling us about the compassionate God of the Bible, but what about the Canaanites?”

It is the most troubling story in the Bible. As they enter the Promised Land, God commands the Israelites to kill everything that breathes – including women, children, men, and animals. As if God wasn’t clear enough, God instructs Israel to kill more than just the Canaanites. God says to “annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perrizites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God commanded, so that they may not teach you to do abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you do thus sin against the Lord your God.”

Our questioner was right. How can we talk about a biblical God of compassion in the face of genocide and Holy War? What about the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perrizites, Hivites, and Jebusites?

Great question.

Peter Enns does a remarkable job exploring some answers in his masterful book The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Peter discusses the various answers historically offered to justify God’s demand for genocide, but there are two answers in particular that interest me.

Did God Actually Command Genocide?

First, it’s important to note that while the Bible tells a horrific story of the conquest of Canaan, there is no evidence outside of the Bible that the conquest actually happened. Generations of scholars have known that there are no textual sources to corroborate the conquest. So, scholars looked to archeology to support the biblical claim. But archeology has come up empty, too. Peter states,

Biblical archeologists are about as certain as you can be about these things that the conquest of Canaan as the Bible describes it did not happen: no mass invasion from the outside by an Israelite army, and no extermination of Canaanites as God commanded.

Archeologists could be wrong, of course. Maybe archeological evidence of a conquest will emerge. Still, with such a massive conquest, you would expect archeological evidence to be easy to find. The lack of archeological evidence sheds serious doubt on the historical facts of the conquest. But if we claim that the conquest never happened, we’re still left with an important question – Why is the genocide in the Bible? Peter postulates,

It seems that, as time went on and Israel became a nation (after 1,000 BCE) stories of these earlier skirmishes grew and turned into exaggerated stories of Israel’s wars against the Canaanites in days of old…What most everyone is certain about, however, is that the Bible’s version of events is not what happened. And that puts the question, “How could God have all those Canaanites put to death?” in a different light indeed. He didn’t.

In a similar vein, James Alison talks about the “conquest” of Canaan in his book Jesus the Forgiving Victim. James also highlights the lack of archeological evidence and provides another explanation for the violent story. He states that the story as we have it was finally solidified by the ancient Jews, known as Judeans, who were returning from the Babylonian exile. As they entered into the Promised Land, they told the story to those who remained in the land during the exile. Understandably, those who remained in the land feared those who were returning from exile. James states that the story’s purpose,

[W]ould have been a way of letting the current occupiers of the land know, among other things: “You needn’t fear us returning Judeans from Babylon, for, as our text shows, so completely did Joshua extirpate the former occupiers of the land, many centuries ago, that if you are there now, you must in fact really be part of us already.” In other words…the account of the ancient conquest becomes a backdrop to a modern co-opting without conquest.

If Peter and James are right, God didn’t call for genocide. Nor was the point of the story to strike fear in Israel’s enemies. Rather, the point was to alleviate the fears of those who were left behind in Judea during the Babylonian Exile.

Jesus and the Canaanites

Which leads me to Peter’s second point – Jesus and the Canaanites. Interestingly, there were no Canaanites in the first century. They were long gone as a people. And yet, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus met a Canaanite woman. Peter claims this “Is the only time Israel’s ancient foes are mentioned in the New Testament.”

The woman wasn’t actually a Canaanite. In fact, Mark and Luke claim she was a Syro-Phoenician. But Matthew intentionally called her a Canaanite, not because he was lying, but because he had a point to make about their “ancient foes” – that the Canaanites might actually have been exemplars of faith.

The Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter, but Jesus refused by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She persisted and Jesus refused again, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Dogs?!? Ouch. Jesus, that wasn’t nice.

But the Canaanite woman softened Jesus’ heart, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Like Joshua destroyed the walls around Jericho to defeat the Canaanites, this Canaanite woman destroyed the wall around Jesus’ heart. “Woman,” Jesus replied, “great is your faith. Let it be done as you wish.”

What about the Canaanites?

In the end, I don’t know if these answers are satisfying. Whether or not it actually happened, the story of Israel’s conquest over the Canaanites is horrific. But the last word in the Bible about the Canaanites belongs to Jesus, and it’s a positive one. Peter claims that Jesus was fully immersed in his Jewish context when he healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Jesus and the Hebrew prophets lead us to a different view of, and a different ethic toward, our enemies:

Jesus, taking a page from some Old Testament prophets (like Isaiah) would complicate things. God’s people are a light that shines into dark places, or salt that makes the whole meal taste good, or a pinch of yeast that makes the entire loaf rise. Wherever God’s people are, it makes a difference—for better, and without violence.

The Case for Child Labor

My grandpa was a Pennsylvania coal miner and a union man. He overflowed with gratitude for the unions that won miners shorter workdays, higher wages, and safer conditions. None of which could save him from black lung disease, which took his life before he turned seventy. But thanks to the unions, his widow, my grandmother, collected black lung payments from the government until her death.

My grandmother told of what it was like when company owners treated the workers as expendable and exploitable. When a man died in the mines, she told me, the body was delivered home in a wagon and deposited without comment at the front door. It was up to the family to clean the soot and grime off their dead father and husband, bear the cost of burial, and face the future without their primary wage earner.

Each May 1 we celebrate International Worker’s Day. It gives us occasion to reflect on these gains for worker rights and give thanks for those who fought to achieve them. An important outcome of the labor movement was legal protection for children. This represented a revolution in society’s approach to childhood itself as it became clear that children were not miniature adults who could be exploited for their small size and agility in adult workplaces.

What we have yet to grasp is that children have a work of their own, something that no adult can do for them. The revolutionary educator, Dr. Maria Montessori, recognized this in her work among the poor laborers in Rome. Treating diseases of the body as Italy’s first female medical doctor, Montessori was a pioneer in the women’s labor movement of the 1890s. When trying to explain her discovery about the work of children, she referred to the popular labor movements of her day, saying that:

the laborer… is seen as a producer of wealth and well-being, an essential partner in the great work of civilized living… [the child], too, is a toiler, and the aim of his work is to make a human being.

What she wanted the world to understand is that the child has “a kind of psychic life totally different from that of adults… the child has a mind to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself.” Montessori was reduced to mystical awe in the presence of the power of the child’s mind to create a human being perfectly suited to his time and place of birth from the raw materials of his environment. Adults move through the world gathering impressions, some of which form memories, others of which pass by unnoticed. Not so with the child.

Instead, the child undergoes a transformation. Impressions do not merely enter his mind; they form it. They incarnate themselves in him.

Montessori felt that a child free to go about this work of inner formation would be joyful and calm, happy in his work – what we too glibly call “play”. This easy contentment with the work (or play) of one’s hands was, she believed, humanity’s natural state. Anger and conflict, materialism and spiritual impoverishment were unnatural conditions, the result of preventing children from doing the work they were born to do.

Montessori was also a peace activist. She was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize for her pioneering work in peacemaking through education. She believed that one thing remained for the world to achieve the global peace we all claim to want, and that was to dedicate ourselves to the service of children. If she were alive today, I believe she would tell us to stop arguing about the causes of violence, war, racism, poverty or oppression. She’d say that the solution is already known and it is for society to seek first the well-being of the child. All other problems will resolve themselves as we work toward that goal. She sought another workers’ revolution, this time on behalf of the work of the child.

“I think of this as the final revolution; not a revolution of violence, still less of bloodshed, but one from which violence is wholly excluded – for the little child’s psychic productivity is stricken to death by the barest shadow of violence.”

From Baltimore to Iraq, children around the world are cowering beneath the shadow of violence. Peace will never be possible until children the world over are free to work in the light.

Moment of Silence

Baltimore youth extended peace signs to police Tuesday night, April 28, 2015. Photo by Mark Mekala via Getty Images.  Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/28/baltimore-peaceful-protes_n_7166866.html

Baltimore youth extended peace signs to police Tuesday night, April 28, 2015. Photo by Mark Mekala via Getty Images. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/28/baltimore-peaceful-protes_n_7166866.html

This is big. A new civil rights era births itself in terrible pain.

Black men die, over and over. I can only hope that peace is the result, serious peace, bigger than new laws, bigger than better trained police — agape peace, you might say, peace that is, in the words of Martin Luther King, “an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”

“‘We’re out here, and this is peaceful,’ Bishop Walter S. Thomas, pastor of the New Psalmist Baptist Church, shouted to the crowd. After a pause, they continued, singing ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ Helicopters shined spotlights on the group, the thwack-thwack of their rotors competing with the music.”

This is a moment from a New York Times story on the ongoing Baltimore eruption over the death of Freddy Gray — a rare media moment, highlighting not “rioting” and anger and violence but the anguished seriousness of the protesters, who aren’t simply venting emotion over another black man dying in police custody, but evoking the deep music of civil rights and profound change while armed officialdom hovers overhead, ready to make arrests, ready to shoot.

“The march ended at New Shiloh Baptist Church on North Monroe Street, where people raised their hands in a moment of silence to commemorate Mr. Gray. . . .”

The moment of silence is at the center of the Baltimore eruption — the national eruption — over police violence, which is today’s most overt symptom of unquenched American racism.

As we all know, the media delight in us-vs.-them theatrics, so the aftermath of Freddy Gray’s death is mostly portrayed thus, with the police realigning in America’s collective awareness as the keepers of order, decked out in riot gear, standing in crisp formation as the nation’s first line of defense against . . . angry black teenagers! Shouting moms holding protest signs! Agents of change! People who want to know how a young man’s spine became “mostly severed” while in police custody (in a department with a long, documented history of brutal treatment of African-Americans)! How could such a threat to the social order be contained without helicopters and drones, tear gas grenades and pepper balls?

The moment of silence undoes all of the clamor, all of the reality-TV drama. In such a moment, a young man’s life matters, not just to his family and friends but to all of us, because all human life matters. And as we let the moment expand, so many names and faces begin to fill it: even names such as Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, the New York City police officers murdered in cold blood while on duty last December. All human life matters and acts of violence that cut life short are always committed in ignorance of the consequences.

And violence — brute force — is always a pathetically ineffective way to maintain social order or establish authority. Indeed, authority, as Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out in a recent piece in The Atlantic, is based on consent and built on functional, positive relationships. Without mutual consent, authority is simply coercion: the violence-backed demands of an occupying army.

“African Americans, for most of our history, have lived under the power of the criminal-justice system, not its authority,” Coates writes. “. . . When African American parents give their children ‘The Talk,’ they do not urge them to make no sudden movements in the presence of police out of a profound respect for the democratic ideal, but out of the knowledge that police can, and will, kill them.”

And this profound wrong is also part of the moment of silence, as it commingles with prayer and hope. In the silence, the outrage turns into commitment, which the thwack-thwack of the helicopter blades only intensifies. And the deepest commitment, I believe, is nonviolent.

“The nonviolent resister,” King said in 1957, “must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

Perhaps the Baltimore Police Department fears choking on tragic bitterness as it continues to ascribe Freddy Gray’s death-by-severed-spinal-cord to his not being properly seatbelted — a regrettable “mistake,” not an act of actual brutality. Yet the Baltimore police have a history of such brutality, with the city having paid out over $5.7 million to settle over 100 police brutality lawsuits since 2011. Many of the incidents were documented last fall by the Baltimore Sun.

This is shocking but not exactly surprising. Every police killing that has become national news in the past year seems to emerge from such a context. The fact that the stories keep springing up anew indicates that America’s cellphones are outing a deeply embedded national horror: a shadow Jim Crow justice system. Suddenly it’s news.

But what happens next? A serious movement for political and social change has to cohere around the endemic violence. The changes must include better trained police, an end to racial profiling, the demilitarization of the police and a national embrace of community policing. This is just a start. We need a new civil rights movement. Let it begin with a moment of silence.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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