The God We Follow: An Unplanned Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to Matthew Distefano’s original article published on Sojourners. That article can be found here. To summarize, that article suggested that God is revealed completely in Jesus as nonviolent and non-retributive. In order to understand those parts of the Bible that attribute vengeance to God, Matthew Distefano suggests we apply the hermeneutic — interpretive lens — of Jesus to scripture.

I did not plan on writing a second part, but one of my friends posed such a great question on Facebook that I had to offer a detailed response. Jim Rogers asked:

I really like this. How might you address it with those who reject the obvious extremes but still get muddled in the literal translations? I am working through this too. I try not to use extreme examples because many will reject such but can’t see their way out of the thorn patch.

To begin answering this question, I would have to take my examples from the global stage to the local one. Sure, we all recognize obvious religious extremes such as the Westboro Baptist Church, Pastor Steven Anderson, and entities like ISIS. However, what are not as obvious are the more restrained examples—the type of subtle violence that one might find in many churches across America.

It can come in the form of voting, campaign donations . . . you name it! Let us take a look.

Since I mentioned Leviticus 20:13 in Part 1, I will use the anti-homosexual “clobber” passage for the first portion of this piece as well.

For the Christian Right—especially here in the United States—this proof-texting favorite (as well as a few others) has dictated their politics vis-à-vis marriage laws. Because of this, the cultural move toward equality for the LGBT community has been painfully slow. Churches large and small continue to attempt to make the moral case for “biblical marriage.” In doing so, they seem to be violating a teaching from the Bible itself, namely Matthew 20. In a July 24, 2015 article, I commented on this:

Jesus also tells his disciples to not declare themselves above the other, but in order to be ‘great,’ they must be servants. (Matt. 20:25 – 28) Jesus himself did not come to be served, but to serve. How is using the political process to enact marriage law based on ‘biblical values’ not ‘lording over another’? In this passage, Jesus invites his disciples to imitate him in serving—putting others ahead of themselves. How can Christians be called to serve all, while at the same time using the political process to interfere with thousands of loving couples (even if they think it is ‘icky’)? How can a follower of Jesus place him or herself over and above anyone, for any reason?

To vote away the right of another in the name of “biblical truth” does not seem compatible with being a leader who serves, as Luke 22:26 states. It is also a form of structural violence, one that does not allow the LGBT person the same civil rights as the heterosexual person.

It is more subtle but still oppressive.

It is as “simple” as a common vote, but its harm is far-reaching.

Just as far-reaching—or even greater—is when one’s hermeneutic directly impacts the foreign policy of a country with a military budget that trumps all others. The Christian Right—at one time spearheaded by President George W. Bush—was all too eager to go to war with Iraq after September 11, 2001. Bush was their guy—a conservative Evangelical who communed directly with God. The President even went so far as to say that God told him to “go and end the tyranny in Iraq.”

While I am confident that the Father of Jesus did not tell the President to go to war with Iraq, I am not so confident that most American Christians would agree with me.

I mean, the Bible clearly says…

  • “Now go and attack the Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”—1 Samuel 15:3
  • “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.”—Numbers 31:17
  • “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘the man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.’”—Numbers 15:35

Jesus’ Abba said it, you believe it, and that settles it!?

Again, not so fast!

As I discussed in Part 1, the hermeneutics of Jesus are through the lens of mercy and grace. To exegete passages like the ones above—which is not the goal of this piece, so I will not be doing so—we would have to keep that in mind.

What my last goal is, however, is to display how Jesus’ hermeneutics then match his actions. Let us take a look at Matthew 26:53, where Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, rhetorically asks:

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

The implied answer is “yes,” and yet, they stay at bay.

Then, there is what Jesus says in the midst of his own murder on a Roman cross. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus, in doing only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49), offers mercy and grace.

And finally, even upon his return, Jesus comes with the word of peace—shalom. John 20:19 – 21 reads:

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

So, all that being said—what could following Jesus in hermeneutics and in action do to change things on both a local scale as well as a global scale? What would foreign policy look like if supposed “Christian” nations like the United States followed the model displayed by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his death? What if those trying to get in the way of non-violence were rebuked a la Peter in Matthew 16:23? What if retribution was removed from the Divine both exegetically and anthropologically by Jesus? What if the church modeled that?

I believe that a literalist reading of Scripture—as well as a nuanced treatment of Jesus’ ethical teachings—without a doubt, leads to extremists. However, it also has led to a version of Christianity that justifies the use of national violence to get a certain result in the Middle East. It has led to structural violence that oppresses entire groups of people. It has led to many more unforeseen consequences, such as the improper treatment of women as well as the justification of slavery. What we believe about God and Scripture will dictate how we view ethics.

So, Jim (and others), I hope this begins to answer the excellent question you posed above. I hope I began to offer some examples of how a literalist reading of Scripture affects the very world around us. This hermeneutic should be traded in for the Jesus-centered one—biblical ethics interpreted through Jesus’ ethics.

Grace and peace be with you all.

Image: Free Vector From Pixabay

be the change

Be The Change For Peace

Let’s stop a war.

I mean it. You. Me. Our families, friends, communities. Let us come together now and say no more violence. We must have peace.

The photograph of Aylan Kurdi’s body pierces our hearts. The anguished expressions of families piled into boats as the land behind them is devoured by violence haunt our consciences. We turn to our leaders demanding immediate help for those in need, as only the government can help the refugees arrive safely and legally, allowing us to do our part to welcome and care for them. But there is more to do, and we the peacemakers must take the lead. Before we return to our daily routines, while images of war all-too-often forgotten still burn within our souls, let us sow seeds of peace vocally, actively, and resolutely.

As millions struggle to survive losing possessions, homes and loved ones, seeking sanctuary and shelter in foreign lands, President Obama has asked Congress to authorize a resolution that can only produce more destruction, desperation and death. In an article for Counterpunch, Shamus Cooke reports:

Few U.S. media outlets are reporting about the critical  war resolution that the Obama Administration is trying to push through Congress…. The resolution would allow “a 90 day window” for U.S. military attacks in Syria, where both ISIS and the Syrian government would be targeted; with regime change in Syria being the ultimate objective.

As refugees of other US-imposed regime changes struggle to rebuild livelihoods and dignity, we can hardly be surprised when some turn to violence themselves and multiply the violence that our imperialism has generated. We build up or tear down regimes for economic profit with feigned concern for humanitarian interests, as a recent article by Glenn Greenwald, quoting a Washington Post article, explains:

“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass,” acknowledged a senior U.S. official who specializes in Africa but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”

The millions of lives destroyed in the process of making a nation more amenable to the interests of the very rich imperial puppeteers is not a chief concern of policy makers. And so even when cases made for war center around human rights violations, we inevitably make nations less stable, hurt more people, and leave not just a power vacuum, but displacement, dismemberment and death, weeping and rage, and a model of imposing one’s will through violence, in our wake. So while our government perpetually creates new enemies, it also creates new public reasons for war and thus new avenues for profiting from control of resources and sale of weapons.

And we are told that the only way to help those suffering and keep ourselves secure is through more war.

For those of us who believe in peacemaking, it can seem hopeless. But we have more power than we realize.

As election season drags on month after month, we are given the impression that the most important issue facing the nation and the world today is whomever will take the reigns of the US executive branch. A good portion of our energy rightly goes toward informing ourselves so we can best exercise our vote. But the fact is, while a new leader will not take office for another 16 months, the world, and especially those suffering, cannot wait for us to sound the cry for peace right now, no matter who holds office.

When even the most progressive of candidates support at least some of the wars and the voices of the hawks drown out the doves, there is a temptation for aspiring peacemakers to resign ourselves to the inevitability of perpetual war. Yet we have the power and the duty to show our will for peace to our current and potential representatives and set the tone for peace for the policy makers to follow.

Warmongering rhetoric and policies of distrust and hostility, both foreign and domestic, have fomented a climate of fear that spreads like a contagion. Absorbing the us-versus-them mentality nurtured by policy makers and echoed by media, we mimetically and unconsciously reinforce this climate of fear. And just as a culture of fear manifests itself in millions of insidious ways, like nurturing a suspicion of even children of a particular race or religion, a culture of empathy must be cultivated by moment to moment decisions to see the human face of the person standing before us. If fear spreads like a contagion, compassion is a cure released into the network of our humanity, also spreading mimetically. We must choose to see the good in someone before critiquing the bad and constantly be wary of the log in our own eyes. Small acts of courage and kindness and humility performed over and over can break down the barriers of fear that have been constructed around our minds and hearts. The day-to-day work of grace will gradually repair the damage done by the daily assault of fear.

But this gradual work, though necessary, is not enough when people are dying right now. When the status quo is perpetual war, when leaders strive to channel even compassion into acts of aggression through the mythology of “humanitarian intervention,” peacemakers must speak up. Peace in our time requires large-scale mobilization as well as day-to-day, moment-to-moment choices for kindness. When the macro and the micro work in tandem, both will gather mimetic momentum. 

So what can we do today, on this International Day of Peace, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, to end war — in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, and all over the world?

First we must stop the war of propaganda against hearts and minds by exposing the lie of “humanitarian” violence. Even if motives were honorable, even if there were not conclusive evidence that the United States’ government exploits humanitarian concerns for profit and control, we must counter the myth that there can be such a thing as “noble” violence. Beyond exposing documented evidence that “humanitarian” wars have a track record of leaving nations worse off than they were before and unmasking the true interests behind such interventions, we must counter “conventional wisdom” with common sense. Nations can never be “stabilized” with guns and bombs. Attacks lead to counter-attacks, and if the goal is protection of the people, how many lives must be sacrificed for such “protection?” There is no such thing as a “moderate” fighting force. Good people can believe in violence and take up arms, but the act of killing is always extreme. And there is no one more dangerous than someone who believes wholeheartedly in the righteousness of his (or her) violence.

We must dispel the belief that war is a last resort, because far too often efforts for peace are possible but ignored. The case for peace would be much stronger if the façade of humanitarian motives for war were dropped, so one way to advocate for peace is to unveil the true motives for war in order to dissolve their public support.

And we must channel compassion away from war and toward peace. The truth is, there is so much we can do if we think outside the suffocating box of violence. For immediate help in Syria, we must stop making, supplying and funding weapons. Rick Sterling, cofounder of the Syria Solidarity Movement, says,

A solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is possible. It would involve outside powers giving up their demand for ‘regime change’ and stopping their support, training and funding of violent opposition groups. There could be an internationally enforced agreement with guarantees for the right to peacefully protest and elections. What is needed is to stop the violence and allow for the start of reconciliation and rebuilding without preconditions.

If we can channel our sorrow and empathy for those fleeing their countries into demands for peaceful negotiations, we can potentially influence leaders toward policies that could save rather than destroy lives.

Beyond demands for immediate peaceful negotiations, much must be done to repair environments ravaged by war. Much must be done to restore the health, livelihoods, confidence, and futures of the people whose lives have been uprooted. It starts with an acknowledgement of our damage and a sincere apology. And from there we go on to the work of making reparations. We should channel our good intentions into good actions by repairing homes, schools, and businesses, providing healthcare, and working on ways to repair land damaged by bombs and poisoned by blood. We should steer our ingenuity away from developing weapons toward working on desalination technology to provide fresh water to a dangerously dehydrated region. And we should offer these services without charge to the people whose lives our government has stolen. To go into a war-damaged land unarmed with a completely peaceful mission is a risk, but the risk is much less than our leaders, seduced by the power of violence, would have us believe. As peacemaker Kathy Kelly has pointed out in numerous articles writing from war-torn countries, when you give people the services they need, chances are they will not harm you. Quoting Luca Radaelli, the medical coordinator of the Kabul hospital in an Italy-based network of free hospitals called “Emergency,” Kelly writes:

 If you provide something good, something skilled, and it is free of charge… there is no need to protect yourself. People won’t get angry. … What’s so complicated?

Such reparations are not only uncomplicated, they are essential for the healing of our souls as well as the healing of those whom we have harmed. And they are essential to our national and global security, because the converse is also true: If you take away a country’s livelihood and leave the people without family, friends, and futures, those people will often turn to violence. We have the means to reverse this horribly predictable cycle. Every current policy maker and political hopeful should hear the message loud and clear: No discussion of national security is complete without discussing concrete ways of turning people we have made our enemies into our friends by being a friend.

Peace cannot wait. The worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II will only get worse if wars continue to be waged for any reason. We have no excuse to wage war when the humanitarian cover for our government’s actions is ripped away and it becomes clear that destroyed human lives are used as stepping stones to power and control of resources.  And even if we could shut our hearts to the people immediately harmed by imperial greed, we cannot escape the fact that the extraction of resources, and the destruction of land and people that comes with attaining them, is destroying our ecosystem. At a time when our planet is in peril from climate change, we cannot afford to wage wars anywhere. We are living on a sinking ship and we’re all in the same boat.

I have no illusions that the struggle for peace will be easy. But the words of Dr. King have never been more true: “It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.” And I believe in the power of compassion to stem and reverse the tide of violence. Violence is a powerful contagion, feeding off of our insecurities and mimetically infecting the whole human race. But love is more powerful still. Love pulls us together, drawing on our innermost desires implanted in us by the One in whose image we are made. That desire is that none of us should perish, that we all may have life and have it more abundantly. That can only happen if we put our weapons down. Now.

So on this International Day of Peace, let’s stop a war. Let’s stop all war forever.

Image: Stock Vector by Mihai Maxim via Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.


A Question From Afghanistan: “Can We Abolish War?”

Editor’s Note: This article, written by Dr. Hakim, was submitted by contributing author Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
Hadisa, a bright 18 year old Afghan girl, ranks as the top student in her 12th grade class. “The question is,” she wondered, “are human beings capable of abolishing war?”

Like Hadisa, I had my doubts about whether human nature could have the capacity to abolish war. For years, I had presumed that war is sometimes necessary to control ‘terrorists’, and based on that presumption, it didn’t make sense to abolish it. Yet my heart went out to Hadisa when I imagined her in a future riddled with intractable violence.

Hadisa tilted her head slightly in deep thought. She listened attentively to different opinions voiced by fellow Afghan Peace Volunteers. She struggles to find answers.

But when Hadisa turns up at the Borderfree Afghan Street Kids School every Friday to teach the child breadwinners, now numbering 100 in morning and afternoon classes, she lays aside her doubts.

I can see her apply her inner compassion which rises way above the war that is still raging in Afghanistan.

Hadisa, like 99% of human beings, and the more than 60 million refugees fleeing from military and economic wars, usually chooses peaceful, constructive action rather than violence.

“Dear students,“ Hadisa says, “In this school, we wish to build a world without war for you.”

Her street kid students enjoy Hadisa’s teaching. What’s more, away from the rough and unpredictable streets of Kabul, they find the space at the school affirming, safe and different.

Fatima, one of Hadisa’s students, participated in the very first street kids’ demonstration in Kabul demanding a school for 100 street kids. In subsequent actions, she helped plant trees and bury toy weapons. In another two days, on the 21st of September, the International day of Peace, she will be one of 100 street kids who will serve a lunch meal to 100 Afghan labourers.

This action will launch #Enough!, a long-term campaign and movement initiated by the Afghan Peace Volunteers to abolish war.

Wow! What practical learning!

If the street kids were taught erroneous ways, and became ‘terrorists’, would the solution be to eventually ‘target and kill’ them?

I couldn’t bear to think of it, and am more and more convinced, like Hadisa and the Afghan Peace Volunteers, that killing those labelled ‘terrorists’ by waging war against them doesn’t work.

If our brother or sister was violent, we wouldn’t think of killing them to reform them.


Habib, with pen and paper, making an invitation list of 100 Afghan labourers with whom he and other Afghan street kids will share a meal.

I was in the class when the question was first posed to the street kids: “To whom would you wish to serve a meal?” Hands went up like love and hope blooming for the new Afghan generation, and Habib, an older street kid who was Hadisa’s student last year, echoed along with many others, “The labourers!”

I felt immensely moved, having seen a definite glimmer of our human capacity to care for others, rather than exercise hate, discrimination, indifference or apathy.

Yesterday, Habib helped his volunteer teacher, Ali, to invite labourers to the meal on the 21st. As I filmed and photographed Habib taking down the names of Afghan men much older than him, I felt renewed faith in our human ability to do good, and a warm, tender feeling overwhelmed me.

With people like Hadisa, Fatima, Habib and the many wonderful young Afghans I’ve met, I know that we can abolish war.

For their sake and the sake of human kind, we should work together with much patience, and all of our love.

Habib says #Enough!

Habib says #Enough!

In 1955, after two world wars and the loss of at least 96 million people, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein wrote a Manifesto, saying, “Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?”

After finishing the invitations, as we were walking along the very streets where Habib used to take the weight of pedestrians to earn some income for his family, I asked him, “Why do you want to end war?’

He replied, “Ten persons killed here, ten persons killed there. What’s the point? Soon, there’s a massacre, and gradually a world war.”

Top Image: Hadisa, now convinced of the possibility of abolishing war, says #Enough!” All images were submitted with the article.

Dr Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.


Dear Mr. President: About The Refugee Crisis

Editor’s Note: This is a guest article by Frances Fuller. 

On a day when I could not watch television without weeping, a day when Pope Francis had issued a challenge and Angela Merkel had opened the doors of Germany, I addressed this letter to the President of the United and States:

What’s the plan, Mr. President?  What is the USA going to do about that tidal wave of people looking for a place to be?

We owe the refugees a home, because we did a lot to create the chaos from which they are fleeing.  We know it. And now that our hearts are broken by images of dead children and weeping fathers and women lying down on railroad tracks in hopes of stopping a train, we have to do something kind and constructive or we will die of guilt and shame. 

We have empty bedrooms and full pantries, but we can’t offer them to refugees unless they can get here and unless our immigration department will give them visas.  So send airplanes to get them.  Open the doors. Step up and speak up, like Pope Francis and Angela Merkel.

We are sick of war, Mr. President.  Give us a plan for building the world.  Then get in front and see us follow.


I wrote for them, the people of the Middle East who have lost everything.

Having lived in the Middle East for thirty years and in the process enduring several wars, I identify with the people. Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians and Palestinians, Yemenis and Moroccans are real human beings to me: friends, co-workers, neighbors.  I have eaten with them and prayed with them and argued with them.  They have rescued me when I was in trouble. They are real people. And I know something about what they have endured and why Syrians and Iraqis are running away. I know what it means to flee. My husband and children and I were once refugees in the strange city of Tehran, wondering if we would see our possessions again. I have left my home in Lebanon hurriedly with a small suitcase and slept in the basement of the building where we worked.  I know what it is to accept that one may not survive the night. Exiled to Cyprus, I prepared breakfast for anybody who showed up, while my husband met the boat from Lebanon and brought home friends and strangers. We took reluctant but grateful emigrants with visas to the airport where they wept over the finality of leaving home. I know these refugees. They are real people, hurting people with names and stories.

On television we see them running. Time is not on their side. Someone will catch them. Trains will leave. Borders will close. Quotas will be filled. They will run out of money, shoes, diapers, and food, run out of strength, health, options, hope. With nothing left in their hands, they will be captured behind a fence or a wall or a heartless policy. People with education and skills and dreams will accept a tent and live off charity in a place where their children have no citizenship and can’t go to school. There they will harbor anger and fear and resentment; some of them will inevitably become new enemies of those who bombed and robbed them and also those who refused them. Knowing all this, they are in a hurry, and I am in a hurry.

I wrote to the president for these desperate people.  And also for some Middle Easterners who still have their home and country, especially the good people of Jordan and Lebanon who did not shut their doors or their hearts against refugees, even against their enemies, and have given until they have nothing left. I was living in Lebanon when 30,000 Syrian troops occupied the streets, controlling our every movement, stealing, imposing taxes and looting the economy of Lebanon.  Driven away finally by a massive revolt of the Lebanese people in 2005, they came back eight years later, frightened, hungry and homeless, and the Lebanese took them in. Both of these countries have enemies on their borders as well as the stress of refugees within.  And both have reasons to be wary of alien populations. Their example has left us with no excuses.

Finally I wrote to the president for us Americans, another people who are in grave peril.  We are in danger of keeping our blessings and losing our souls. As individuals, of all faiths and none, we have bought into the world Eisenhower warned us of: the military-industrial establishment.  We have put our faith in armies and bombs, imitated our enemies and become like them. Equating war with patriotism, we have let our country become the bully of the world. We have believed the lie that we are special, exceptional, chosen by God. And, in spite of it all, we are afraid.  Afraid of losing our wealth and privilege. Afraid of sharing the good life.

We are guilty and in need of forgiveness.  We use “shock and awe” to scare people and don’t even notice that this is the terrorism we think we hate. Ignoring the lessons of history, we depose rulers we don’t like without thinking about the consequences for innocent citizens of the despot’s country.  One hundred years ago England, reputed to be a Christian nation, attacked the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli, and on that day the expulsion of the Christian Armenians began.  Forgetting to learn from that, we invaded Iraq and let the Christians and other minorities pay the price.   When we see the refugees running, we know that we are part of the reason they are frightened and seeking a home.

I wrote to the president because time is running out for us too. We are on the verge of becoming what we do not want to be.  The American people are good and generous and spiritual people.  We want to build the world, not destroy or even dominate it. We don’t want to wake up and discover that the face of the Statue of Liberty is red with shame and the God we say we trust does not want to claim us, because we have not loved our neighbor.

Right now people all over this country are working together, opening their purses and finding ways to do something.  They saw a little child washed up on a beach and suddenly they understood what I understand, that these are real and beautiful people.

But we need our government.  We are here, the children of Irish potato farmers fleeing poverty, of Lebanese fleeing war, of Jews fleeing death camps, Chinese fleeing Communism, Iranians fleeing extremism, whoever and whatever, we are here because of a government policy that let us come.  The country had a plan not long ago.

I am asking Obama for a plan, a policy, a humane program to save the Middle East refugees and the soul of America.

Image: Photo: Flickr, Mobilis In Mobili, Liberty, Creative Commons License, some changes made

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. She is the author of In Borrowed Houses: A True Story of Love and Faith Amidst War In Lebanon, the 2014 winner of “The Author’s Show: 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” contest. She blogs


The Age Of Peace Will Be The Age Of The Child

If the era in the history of human evolution that is characterized by the constant outbreak of war can be called the ‘adult period’, then the period in which we will begin to build peace will be the ‘age of the child’. – Dr. Maria Montessori, Education and Peace, 1937

The Great War that engulfed Europe from 1914-1918 was a bitter disappointment for the peace movement. As the 19th century came to a close, the promise of progress that accompanied Darwin’s discovery of the evolution of life on earth seemed to put peace within our grasp. Progress was the popular byword and always meant a movement toward something better. It was the age of invention and industrialization. Human beings were overflowing with strategies to improve the lives of the poor, the uneducated, the working class and the least and the last among us. The women’s rights movement was flourishing as well, and Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree (1896) was an outspoken and popular representative of the cause.

But 1914 dashed all that hope. Many are the disappointments in the world today, as well, if your goal is peace. We are witnessing the greatest number of people displaced by violence and war since the second Great War in Europe. Even so, much progress has also been made by movements advocating for the rights of groups excluded from privilege and power. Women, labor, the disabled, LGBTQ, the poor and the sick have all witnessed their rights expand. And yet war continues. We are living in the best of times and the worst of times, it seems, a paradox that causes many of us to careen between hope and despair, unsure of how to move beyond the motion sickness.

But the answer is right in front of us, as close as the tiny hand reaching up to hold ours. Dr. Montessori discovered that “If we were to change the center of civilization from the adult to the child, a more noble form of civilization would arise.” Her perspective seems naïve, does it not? And yet she explains that if we did reimagine our “national interest” as child-centered or aligned our policies with what was best for children,

Then civilization would not develop exclusively from the point of view of what is convenient and useful for adult life. Today progress is sought for, too much and too exclusively, through adult qualities. Thus civilization is based on the triumph of force, on violent conquest, on adaptation, on the struggle for existence and the survival of conquerors… in the construction of society something – some essential element – has been missing… The child has almost disappeared from the thoughts of the adult world, and the adults live too much as though there were no children who have the right to influence them. (Montessori, The Child in the Church. First published in 1936.)

It’s strange to our way of thinking, that children should influence us and not the other way around. But it’s what Jesus advocated. He taught us that the kingdom of God belongs to the little ones and that if we want to enter, we need to become like them. Becoming like them begins with privileging the rights of children over our own, whether we are women or men or laborers or sick or poor, powerful or powerless.

Before we make any domestic policy decision on health care, defense budgets, economics, education, criminal justice, policing, gun policy – whatever the issue we must ask how it will effect the children, and let the answer become the policy. And in international relations if we considered the impact on children before we negotiate agreements on weapons, trade or immigration, before we launch an invasion, orchestrate a coup, drop a bomb or authorize murder by drone, how different our actions would be. We would be less violent and more peaceful actors in the world. Not only would the world be safer for children, it would be safer for us all. The age of peace will be the age of the child.

My two-year-old granddaughter likes to ask her mom, “Where are we going next?” Perhaps that’s a bigger question than she knows, one that deserves our best answer.


Image: Copyright Paylessimages via


Imagining On 9/11

Fourteen years after 9/11, what has really changed?

I know this day will forever be remembered as a turning point in American history. I consider it a turning point in my own life and in my faith journey. For many it is a landmark. But what has really changed?

I look back on this day as the beginning of our permanent state of war, but did 9/11 inaugurate war, or merely bring it out of the shadows? According to a popular meme, the United States has been at war for 93% of its existence, or 222 out of 239 years of existence. And while the link details the major conflicts on a year-by-year basis, it overlooks economic warfare, covert operations, and other methods of empire-building through manipulation and violence throughout the world. If anything, the years following 9/11 have changed the way I and others understand the world, but largely by exposing the foundation of violence on which our world is built.

As a nation, the United States responded to 9/11 initially with a show of unity that may have seemed refreshing (after the bitter partisan division of the most contentious election in our history), but which was really as old as the beginning of human culture itself — a unity over and against the evil enemy who harmed us. Even that “unity” excluded some as Muslims and anyone who “looked” like a Muslim received distrust and hostility. By and large, we placed faith in vengeance, veiling our violence under shrouds of nationalism and patriotism and even a well-meaning but ill-executed desire to protect. We rushed to war and have been at war ever since. And as noted, we weren’t really at peace before.

Our nation wishes to maintain its identity as the superpower of a world structured on violence by being at the forefront of the violent world order. Our military dwarfs that of every other nation. We are the world’s leading arms exporter. We have bases in over 70 countries around the world. 9/11 did not fundamentally change the way the United States operates; it did not change us from a nation usually at peace (as I had naively imagined before the towers fell) into a nation called to be the protectors of the world through righteous military might. 9/11 rather accelerated our rush toward global dominance, which will be the destruction of the world and ourselves as well if we continue this trajectory. It undeniably changed lives. But it did not change the world order.

A real change, a true inauguration of a new world order, came about 2000 years ago. A new humanity was born in Christ as he hung dying on the cross when he took the world’s violence into himself and refused to return vengeance. In his cry for forgiveness for a world blind to it’s own path of self-destruction, love triumphed over hate, and love was vindicated in the resurrection. Jesus fulfilled the purpose of humanity by radiating, in his life and non retaliatory death, the fullness of God, in whose image we are all created. When we let the truth of his death reveal the depths of our own violence, the light from the cross shines onto all victims of human warfare, scapegoating, and sacrifice across all times and places.  When we let his forgiveness into our hearts, we are blessed with a reorientation from self-preservation to outpouring love which heals us as well. A world structured on ever-expanding, out-reaching love, a security built on giving love, was inaugurated in the reconciliation  — through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ — of humanity to the Love in which we were created. The kingdom is coming. But it is not yet fully realized.

And while the slow leavening of God’s mercy works upon our hearts, the old world of violence spirals ever out of control toward destruction. This divided house we call our earth cannot stand as long as wars destroy people and land. The forces of 9/11, both the attacks and our retaliation, were controlled by the powers of fear and greed and hate, the powers of a fallen world order that has yet to be healed by the grace that will usher in the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Imagine if the tragedy of 9/11 had awakened us to suffering felt all over the world. Imagine if we had responded with not only forgiveness, but with a love for our enemies, a refusal to let any of the suffering we experienced be waged in our name. Imagine if the outpouring of compassion we showed to the victims of violence on our soil had been extended to those who held grievances against us. Imagine if we had responded to questions of “Why do they hate us?” with introspection and honesty, and striven to return hate with compassion. Imagine if we had let ourselves be moved by the Spirit of Love rather than revenge.

I have to imagine that it is not too late. I have to imagine what this world would look like and keep this vision in my mind as I strive to do my part when I pray “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” With all my heart, I know that God’s will for all people is abundant life, a world order built on Love. What does that world look like?

Jesus promises such a world. And as I try to imagine this kingdom of Love, I also remember the vision of one who imagined it 44 years ago. John Lennon’s vision of peace during another time when the world was in the throes of war is not what many would consider a “Christian” vision. I know he himself would not consider it such. Yet it is a vision of a world ordered around the principal of Love, guided, I believe, by the Spirit who opens all of our hearts to the Love whose depths are only just beginning to realize. I invite you to imagine with John and me.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there are no permanent divisions between “us” and “them.” If we can imagine an eternity in which all are together, none destined to eternal bliss apart from others destined to eternal damnation, can we not live into that world now?

I admit, I do not want to live in a world where above us there is only sky. My vision includes God. I don’t think John Lennon would say the same. But the word “God” in any language comes from a human culture built in violence. “God” throughout the ages has been seen as all-powerful in a world where power has long been synonymous with violence. A world built on Love has no room for this god, who is an idol. I believe in a God above us who is Love. This God is also below us, within us and beyond us. “Around us only Love” is a vision I think John would share, a vision Jesus is fulfilling.

Imagine all the people, living for today. Imagine the fulfillment of Love here and now, no dreams of future rewards for us or vengeful fantasies of punishment for our enemies. Imagine never again hearing of the need to sacrifice today for tomorrow. Imagine finally realizing that violence can only make tomorrow more dangerous than today. Imagine reaching out in compassion to the needs of the world now, because now is all we have. Imagine the urgency and permanence of “Now” that is the fulfillment of Love everlasting, and begin to realize it now.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

Imagine the artificial boundaries between humans falling away. Imagine labels vanishing. Imagine freedom to move, freedom to love, freedom to come to know and relate to everyone beyond the fears that keep us insulated and isolated. Imagine coming to understand violence that we have exercised against each other in the name of God for the evil that it is, renouncing it, embracing others, and in their embrace finding dimensions of God’s love that we never knew existed. Imagine.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Imagine holding no material possessions over and above the people who need them. Imagine the desire to meet these needs for others surpassing our desire to hoard things for ourselves. Imagine letting gratitude for our abundance pour out of us in sharing with others. It is hard to imagine no possessions, but those who are fleeing violence and destroyed lands need no longer imagine leaving their possessions behind. Imagine responding to them by sharing our space, our wealth, our friendship — knowing that everything we have is a gift to be shared. Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

I pray it may be so. In the name of Love, Amen.

Image: La plaque Imagine sur Strawberry Fields, à New York, en hommage à John Lennon. Photographie par Ramy Majouji. Available at Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Generic license.

sakina breaks a toy gun

Burying Guns; Planting Peace In Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: This article, written by Dr. Hakim, was submitted by contributing author Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

10 year old Sakina, an Afghan street kid, had this to say, “I don’t like to be in a world of war. I like to be in a world of peace.”

On 27th August 2015, Sakina and Inam, with fellow Afghan street kids and the Afghan Peace Volunteers, held a mock funeral for weapons and celebrated the establishment of a green space in Kabul.

Dressed in long black coats, they broke and buried toy guns in a small spot where, over the past two years, they have been planting trees.

Inam, a bright-eyed ten year old, caught the group’s energetic desire to build a world without war. “I kept toy guns till about three years ago,” he acknowledged with a smile.

On the same day, Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez, ex-President of Costa Rica, was in Mexico for the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference of States Parties.

In his statement at the Conference, he told the story of an indigenous Guatemalan woman who thanked him for negotiating a peace accord 28 years ago. The mother had said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for my child who is in the mountains fighting, and for the child I carry in my womb.”

No mother, Guatemalan or Afghan, wants her children to be killed in war.

Oscar Arias Sanchez wrote: “I never met them, but those children of conflict are never far from my thoughts. They were its (the peace treaty’s) true authors, its reason for being.”

I’m confident that the children of Afghanistan were also in his thoughts, especially since he had a brief personal connection with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in 2014, having been part of a Peace Jam video message of solidarity to the Volunteers, wearing their Borderfree Blue Scarves which symbolize that ‘all human beings live under the same blue sky’.

I thank Mr Oscar Arias Sanchez for his important work on the Arms Trade Treaty, though I sense that an arms trade treaty isn’t going to be enough.

Afghan children are dying from the use of weapons.

To survive, they need a ban against weapons. Regulations about buying and selling weapons perpetuate a trade that is killing them.

I saw Inam and other child laborers who work in Kabul’s streets decisively swing hammers down on the plastic toy guns, breaking off triggers, scattering nozzles into useless pieces and symbolically breaking our adult addiction to weapons.

Children shouldn’t have to pay the price for our usual business, especially business from the U.S., the largest arms seller in the world. U.S. children suffer too, with more U.S. people having died as a result of gun violence since 1968 than have died in all U.S. wars combined. U.S. weapon sellers are killing their own people; by exporting their state-of-the-art weapons, they facilitate the killing of many others around the world.

After burying the toy guns, surrounded by the evergreen and poplar trees which they had planted, the youth shed their black coats and donned sky-blue scarves.

Another world was appearing as Sakina and Inam watched young friends plant one more evergreen sapling.

Inam watches an evergreen tree being planted.

Inam watches an evergreen tree being planted.

Inam knew that it hasn’t been easy to create this green space in heavily fortified Kabul.

The City Municipality said they couldn’t water the trees (though it is just 200 metres away from their office). The Greenery Department weren’t helpful. Finally, the security guards of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission just across from the garden, offered to help, after the Volunteers had provided them with a 100-metre water hose.

Rohullah, who coordinates the environment team at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre, expressed his frustration. “Once, we had to hire a private water delivery service to water the tree saplings so they wouldn’t shrivel up. None of the government departments could assist.”

Sighing, he added ironically, “We can’t use the Kabul River tributary running just next to the Garden, as the trash-laden trickle of black, bracken water is smelly and filthy.”

Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, according to figures from the National Priorities Project, a non-profit, non-partisan U.S. federal budget research group, the ongoing Afghan War is costing American taxpayers US $4 million an hour.

It is the youth and children who are making sense today, like when Nobel Laureate Malalai Yousafzai said recently that if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could provide 12 years of free, quality education for every child on the planet.

“I don’t like to work in the streets, but my family needs bread. Usually, I feel sad,” Inam said, looking away, “because I feel a sort of helplessness.”

Oscar Arias Sanchez said at the Arms Trade Treaty’s First Conference, “And we must speak, today – in favour of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame. We will be able to tell them, at long last, that we are standing watch for them. We are on guard. Someone is finally ready to take action.”

Sakina tells the world

Sakina tells the world.

That morning, I heard the voices of Sakina, Inam and the Afghan youth ring through the street, “#Enough of war!”

It wasn’t a protest. It was the hands-on building of a green spot without weapons, and an encouraging call for others to do so everywhere.

Through their dramatic colours and clear action, they were inviting all of us, “Bury your weapons. Build your gardens.”

“We will stand watch for you!”


Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

Top Image:  “Sakina breaks a toy gun.” All images submitted with original article.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 6.11.14 PM

Hold On Until Love Wins

I was working on another article, but I can’t concentrate on it now. It’s hard to concentrate in a world with so much hatred, so much distrust, so much fear, and so much senseless murder.

I wonder how many people worldwide are shocked out of their daily routine by a tragedy. I wonder how many people must plow through their daily routines that tragedy is a part of.

The news is still coming in about a shooting in my home state of Virginia. A reporter and cameraman were shot on air not far from where I went to college. The families of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward are in mourning. And now perhaps the family of Vester Flanagan, the shooter who shot himself as police caught up to him and died after being taken to the hospital, is in mourning as well. My anxieties about a shooter loose in my home state have been quelled, but the overwhelming sorrow is just beginning to overflow.

I am in mourning for our broken world, ready to despair of hope that it can be repaired. And I recognize that even that despair, and the temporary paralysis that comes with it, is a luxury, because all over the world there are those who live in constant states of degradation, oppression and terror, who must somehow go about their lives anyway. Those living in the midst of war must somehow try to make a living despite the destruction and loss that has become a normal part of life, whatever the hell normal might mean. Babies and grandparents are struck with drones. Limbs are blown apart. People are slowly rotting away from malnutrition or dying from exposure because we can’t find the money to feed them or repair their destroyed homes, even as we spend more money to kill them. Throughout the world, weapons made right here are killing people on all sides of all conflicts, and in some parts of the world we are taking a more direct role in the destruction. The Global War on Terror rages on. And all over the world, the pain and horror and grief that has struck my heart so deeply today strikes so many hearts that must beat on in the midst of this churning machine of violence that we have turned the world into.

We do all of this in the name of national security, of course.

But we are a frightened, insecure nation.

We have nurtured an enemy mentality that pits us against the world (even as we justify our violence by claiming to be a force for protection in the world.) And the violence we export abroad is taking its toll on us. It’s been taking its toll on us for a long, long time, eroding our souls with every weapon made, let alone used, to destroy another child of God, either half a world away or right next door. How could a nation that spends more money than any other in the world, more than most of the world combined, on the military, not be infected by a culture of violence? How can we spend billions on bombs and guns and drones and missiles while neglecting the necessary funds for education and housing and healthcare, and claim to respect life? How can our leaders instruct us to kill abroad and be surprised when we find no other way to handle our problems here at home? How can we demand respect for human dignity while we continually glorify violence that tears human beings apart? How can we respect life while waging death?

As long as we live in fear and glorify violence, we can’t be surprised that efforts for gun control go nowhere. Of course we need gun control, but we also need to control our addiction to the myth that peace can be waged through violence. I can’t think of any myth that has so thoroughly duped humanity as the satanic lie that peace can be bought from sacrifice – from murder and war. The notion of a war to end all wars, a permanent peace arising from the rubble of destruction and death, is so demonstrably false. The house divided against itself is our own world, and we cannot stand like this. Will we keep hurtling ourselves headfirst toward our own destruction, putting our faith in instruments of death?

We live in a deadly world and we keep making it deadlier. So we are afraid, and we cling to our guns, and when someone poisoned by the idolatry of violence fires one of those guns, fearful people cling ever more tightly to their guns. When our own government clings to its nuclear arsenal in the name of “deterrence,” how can we expect anything less of citizens?

So I am weighed down by sorrow as today’s shooting mercilessly steals lives and accelerates the whirlwind forces of this cycle of violence spinning out of control. But I can’t wallow. Because my toddler is awake, and I have picked up my first-grader from school. How truly, truly blessed I am to be able to hold my children close, to know my husband will be returning from work, to still have the peace of mind to be reasonably sure that my loved ones will make it through another day safe and sound.

Too many people around the world live without the luxury of knowing their loved ones will return safely to them at the end of the day. Too many people in our own nation live without that luxury, as African Americans find it necessary to complete the sentence “If I die in police custody…” And increasingly, we are living in a nation where all of our security is disintegrating into a hollow illusion. We cannot be secure when we put our trust in violence.

But if today you have the blessed opportunity to hold your loved ones in your arms, do not let them go. In a hopeless world, find hope in the faces of those who love you, and radiate it back to them. The only way we are going to bring peace to this battered, shattered world is to make those human connections, and nurture the ones that we already have. If you believe in God, that’s where you find God, and if you don’t, well, that’s OK, as long as you believe in Love, because it’s the same thing. Hold on to your loved ones, dear friends. Hold them and see in their eyes the joy of a future filled with the love they bring to the world. Hold them until you can’t imagine a world in which anyone has to go without holding their own loved ones. Then go out and shout, strive, struggle to create that world, and when despair inevitably rears its ugly head, go back to their arms to revive your hope. Be those arms for someone who has lost a loved one to violence. Be love, and hold on in love to those who need love. Hold on until love wins.

Featured Image: Screenshot of “Reporter and Cameraman Gunned Down During Live TV In Virginia Shooting” AJ+ via Youtube.


The Imitation Game: US-Iran Relations

We now have an agreement with Iran to restrain their pursuit of nuclear weapons, but just how good a deal is it? President Obama, congress, presidential contenders, and political commentators are debating that right now. Sojourners offers clear-eyed support for the deal as “better than the alternatives” and clearly better than military strikes which “would be, at best, premature, as well as highly unpredictable and morally irresponsible in creating yet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.”

Even so, Sojourner’s President Jim Wallis has written that he has no doubt that Iran is “an enemy of America, an enemy of Israel, and an enemy of peace.” But as a Christian, he also believes that “you need to find ways to make peace with your enemies.” This deal, for Jim Wallis anyway, seems to be a way to do that. But how do you make peace with a nation that is not just our enemy, but an enemy of peace itself?

Just what is an enemy? We don’t often ask that question because we think the answer is obvious: enemies are bad guys who hate us for no good reason. An enemy is so unlike us that we compare ourselves to them in terms of opposites: rational/ irrational, nonviolent/ violent, law abiding/ criminal, and just/ unjust. We believe that we and our enemy have absolutely nothing in common except perhaps a shared desire to defeat the other.

The Terrible Twos: A Parable

But I think that way of thinking about enemies is just plain wrong. The cause of the mistake is a basic misunderstanding of human psychology, specifically the psychology of desire. Our enemies are not our opposites; they are the mirror image of our desires. In this way, “an enemy” is not someone separate and distinct from us, rather they are a product of our relationship with them. The best way I know of illustrating this is with a story about desire in my 2-year-old granddaughter, Grace.

Grace is at that “terrible” age when her desires often seem at odds with the adults around her. But mostly she’s not as terrible as just annoying. Like when she won’t eat her own food but devours what’s on her mom’s plate or when she wants to “help” fold the clothes. Like all terrible twos, Grace is an imitator on steroids. Whatever we do, that’s what she wants to do, too. Which is how she learns to do things, of course. Grace is learning how to be a grown-up by imitating grown-ups. Which is natural and good, not terrible at all.

The terrible kicks in when Grace seems to be determined to do the opposite of what we want. For example, when we try to do something we think she needs help with, like pour her milk, she screams, which is her wordless version of, “You’re not the boss of me!” If we insist on pouring the milk for her, it leads to the dreaded power struggle. Hey, what parent hasn’t gotten into a tug of war over pouring milk or bedtime or what to wear to school, and lost?! Our kids seem determined to defy us just for the sport of it and it’s hard not to feel that our sweet two-year-old has turned into a demon child.

But here’s the catch: Grace’s defiance is also an act of imitation except that she’s imitating something we want to keep sole possession of: the power to decide things for ourselves. Get it? When mom displays her own ability to make decisions and impose her will on Grace, Grace will have none of it. She wants to be just like mommy in everything, including being the boss of herself! In fact, the more we refuse to share the privilege of being her boss, the more desirable it becomes to her. We would never call Grace our enemy, but boy oh boy, it sure does feel like it sometimes!

The Psychology of Desire

This is just basic desire psychology. The thing we won’t share is the thing we most value and that will provoke desire in others. So what does this have to do with Iran, the so-called enemy of the U.S.? Iran may be our enemy, but her desire for nuclear weapons is, in fact, a perfect imitation of our own. I am not discounting the dangers to U.S. security if nuclear weapons get into the wrong hands. No hands could be more wrong than those of an enemy, especially one that is also an “enemy of peace”. But the U.S. may risk becoming an enemy of peace as well when it blames others for desires they learned from us.

Let me be clear: Iran is no more a child than we are. We are equals, mirror images of each other’s desires for nuclear weapons and global respect. I’m no expert in diplomacy or nuclear policy, but I do know that conflict begins with shared desires. Ironically, so does friendship. The difference between enemies and friends is that friends enjoying sharing desires and enemies deny it’s happening. Remember, if Iran refuses to relinquish their desire for nuclear weapons, it’s not defiance; it’s imitation. And yet it may be easier than we think to follow Jim Wallis’ advice to find a way to make peace with this particular enemy. The path is obvious and available to us: we can renounce our desire for a nuclear arsenal. That’s a desire worth sharing and enjoying with friends.


Image: Copyright: David Carillet via

The Girl and Emperor Palpatine.

My Daughter, the Star Wars Myth, and Jesus – How to Defeat Evil

I recently dropped my daughter off at her elementary school’s summer kindergarten program. When I opened the side door of our mini-van, the Girl* had a huge smile on her face as she held up a Darth Sidious Pez Dispenser.

I was a little shocked by the juxtaposition of my daughter and Darth Sidious – who is arguably the greatest fictional depiction of pure evil during the last 35 years. I was shocked partly because I have no idea where that Pez Dispenser came from. I didn’t buy it, but somehow it appeared in our van that day.

But I was also shocked because the Girl was all smiles and feeling a sense of joy as she held up this ugly sign of evil. Wookipedia states that Darth Sidious “was evil incarnate” and “the living incarnation of the dark side of the Force.”

I’m biased, but I think the Girl is adorable and all things good. And there she is, smiling and holding this symbol of “evil incarnate.”

In that moment, I think my daughter taught me something about defeating evil.

The Star Wars Myth

I grew up watching the original trilogy. Sometimes I would pretend to be sick on Sunday mornings so I wouldn’t have to go to church. When I heard my parents start their car, I’d run to our living room and play a Star Wars movie on our VCR. (I know. I’m old.) Star Wars had a mythical, even religious, element for me.

I still love the Star Wars saga, but as I discovered mimetic theory, I began to see it with different eyes. Star Wars is based on a myth, a lie that tries to conceal the truth about violence. Now, there is moral nuance within Star Wars when it comes to violence. For example, after Luke defeats Darth Vader in Episode VI, he refuses to kill him. This act of nonviolence puts Luke in jeopardy as Darth Sidious nearly kills him with lightning bolts, but Luke’s act of nonviolent mercy converts Darth Vader to the “good guys.” Darth Vader then saves Luke by killing Darth Sidious.

That dramatic scene sums up the myth behind Star Wars. Walter Wink calls it the “myth of redemptive violence.” In his book, The Powers that Be, Wink describes the myth of redemptive violence as, “the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.”

When we are under the spell of the myth of redemptive violence, we think that our “good violence” will save us from our enemies “bad violence.” Thus, Darth Vader saves Luke with “good violence” by killing Darth Sidious. But if there is a truth that emerges from the Star Wars myth, it’s that “good violence” never actually solves the problem of evil; rather, it gives evil the oxygen it needs to spread. And so, even though the evil Darth Sidious was killed and Darth Vader converted, the truth is that Jedi violence never solves the problem of evil. Thus, we have three more movies coming out. (And I cannot wait!)

René Girard, the founder of mimetic theory, points to the utter futility of violence in his book Battling to the End. Violence is futile because it functions to perpetuate itself. He claims that “it is impossible to eliminate violence through violence.” He goes on to give an apocalyptic warning, “Sooner or later, either humanity will renounce violence without sacrifice or it will destroy the planet.”

How to Defeat Evil

But if violence doesn’t work to defeat evil, what does? In holding the Darth Sidious Pez Dispenser, my daughter gives us a clue. The more we fight evil on its own violent terms, the more we become the very evil we attempt to defeat. But there are alternatives to defeating evil. What if we had posture towards evil that didn’t combat it with our own violence, or run away from it in fear, but gently held it in our hands?

Christians believe that Jesus definitively defeated the forces of evil. For Christians, faith is trusting that the way to defeat evil is the same way that Jesus defeated evil on the cross and in the resurrection. Jesus was no Jedi. He didn’t use “good violence” to protect himself or others from the evil forces that converged against him. Nor did he run from evil. Rather, he defeated evil by entering into it, forgiving it on the cross, and offering peace to it in the resurrection.

Of course, many – even those who profess to follow him – think Jesus is absolutely crazy. As the apostle Paul wrote, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” It’s true that following Jesus by responding to evil with nonviolent love is risky. After all, Christ was killed, as were his disciples. But fighting violence with violence is also risky and only perpetuates a mimetic cycle of violence.

The myth of redemptive violence still permeates our culture. We see it everywhere: In cartoons, movies, and politics. But the myth is losing its force as more people are seeing through its lies and realizing that violence can no longer defeat violence.

Although the forces of evil were defeated on the cross and in the resurrection, evil is obviously still present with us today. Unfortunately, many Christians have more faith in violence to defeat that evil than they do in Jesus Christ. But true Christian faith trusts that Jesus had it right.

The way to defeat evil is to nonviolently love our enemies as we love ourselves.

The way to defeat evil is to forgive it.

The way to defeat evil is to trust that God doesn’t defeat evil through violently taking life, but by restoring life.

*I don’t use the real names of my children on the blog, so I call them “The Girl,” “Boy 1,” and “Boy 2.”

Stay in the loop! Like the Raven Foundation on Facebook!