Volumes have been spewed on the Washington Memorial - Covington School - Black Israelites - Indigenous drummer incident a week or so ago. As I watched, I became more distraught. Through the cauldron of emotion I sensed a nudge to suspend judgement. An invitation to pause and to “see”.
What I saw in myself was a person who was broken-hearted at yet another manifestation of deep division and pain in our society. I struggled with intense anger, fear and sorrow, and had to seriously resist the urge to lash out by joining the cacophony of condemnations and commentary hemorrhaging on social media.
I was angry.
It was from deep within this ache that this question bubbled to the top of my conscious mind:
Is there a risk of becoming what we resist in an eye for an eye, ends justifies the means, sacred (self-righteous) violence kind of paradigm?
I think the answer is yes.
Without lending some backdoor affirmation to injustice in its many forms (sexism, racism, fascism, toxic masculinity, discrimination or injustice of any kind) I think we need a fundamental heart-shift in much of the activism that is struggling towards a more just and inclusive society.
Eye for an Eye makes us all blind
A tit-for-tat, ‘ends justifies the means’ response even for the sake of justice means that we often end up mirroring the tactics of our adversary. To mirror the violent tactics of that which we resist we sell out the very soul of our sincere desire for justice itself. For when we go down that path, when we commit to that game, to violence; any progress that is made with violence must be maintained with violence, and often with greater abuses of power.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love
Violence isn’t just a sword, a gun, a fist, but it does include these. It also includes slander, ad hominem, physical violence, swarming, threatening, intimidation, weaponizing of religion, education, (mis)information, and half truths.
Let me clear, I am not saying don’t be angry - what I’m saying is that in our anger we must resist the urge to respond in kind. Jesus didn’t say don’t get angry. Scripture has many example of God and Jesus being pretty pissed off. The encouragement is to not sin in our anger - to not lash out in kind. Jesus tells us that its not an eye for an eye anymore, rather to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and pray for those who do shitty things to hurt us and others. Jesus’ example of turn the other cheek and go the extra mile was no milk toast response. They in themselves were powerful subversive responses to those who oppress without becoming like them in their violence.
“Peacemaking doesn't mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.” - Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
When we resist violence with violence, slander with slander, lies with lies we are no different than that which we resist. When we resist-in-kind, say religious fundamentalism, we risk becoming fundamentalist ourselves - just on the other side of the coin. But in love, we can recognize these tendencies and temptations in ourselves.
Rugged, Thoughtful Love will heal the World
Through a radically different paradigm, one of love, we confront injustice in a completely different way - with a different goal. The goal is one of change, healing, reconciliation in such a way that the perpetrators see the errors of their ways and are provided a genuine path to repentance, forgiveness and embrace of the community. To resist in such a way that our adversary can, in time, with change, become our friend. This is justice. Those who act unjustly to have a change of heart and act justly.
Our first step towards truly just activism is to recognize, admit and own our violence. We can unmask our violence that masquerades as self-righteousness and a whole host of destructive and soul-shrinking manifestations of the mythic sacred violence. To acknowledge it, accept it, address it and see its energy recycled, and transformed into tenacious, courageous love.
This third way is a beautiful way - rooted in the ancient wisdom of love, the sustaining energy of the universe itself. The way of non-violence inspired by the deep wisdom of love moves us towards genuine charity, understanding, healing, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of ashes and devastation we will see genuine transformative justice, beauty and abundant life for all.
Do we (I) have the courage of conviction?