Saturday, January 21, 2012

A thought on American political discourse

I just finished the book, Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America. It was an easy and entertaining read. With an empire worth 32 million dollars a year, one can't argue with the fact that Glenn Beck is an amazing entertainer. The problem, however is when people take what he says as reality. But according to the author, it's been a regular occurance of American politics. Here's a great quote from the book.

"This is what Richard Hofstadter described in his classic 1960's study, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."
American political life, he wrote, 'has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds... Behind such movements there is a style of mind, not always right wing in its affiliations, that has a long and varied history. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.'
Hofstadter saw this style in the anti-Masonic movement of the 1820's, the Populist Party of the 1890's, and the McCarthy era of the 1950's. 'In the 1930's, the chief vehicle of right-wing discontent was Father Coughlin's Social Justice movement, a depression phenomenon drawing the bulk of its support from those who suffered most from bad times - the working class and the unemployed, farmers and some of the lower middle class,' he wrote. 'It played on Old Populist themes, attacked international bankers, demanded free silver and other changes in the money and credit system, and restored to an anti-Semitic rhetoric far more virulent than anything the Populists would have dreamed of.'
Times change, but the demagogue's tools are forever."

And I'll admit that I've often fallen prey to that paranoid rhetoric.

And here's another thought I had when reading that book:

A major problem, but also major genius, of Beck’s approach is that he claims his vision for American is the same vision held by the Founding Fathers. What he fails to communicate, or understand, is that the Founding Fathers disagreed on their vision for America. The Fathers were split between the Federalists, which Washington leading the way, and the Republicans, lead by Jefferson.
In “The 5,000 Year Leap,” Skouson uses the same sort of half-quoting, out-of-context references to the Founding Fathers as does Beck. Skouson quotes Jefferson as if Jefferson is stating something that could happen to the country in the future but must be avoided, when in reality that quote was directed at one of the Federalists, who had a completely different view of the country than did Jefferson. That difference in opinion lead to the Burr-Hamilton dual. But Beck acts as the Founding Fathers were in complete unity and that he’s the personification of the Founding Fathers.
Skouson also quotes Ben Franklin’s admonition to a friend to not take a young mistress as proof that Franklin was not a womanizer and that he valued the family. Of course, Skouson leaves out the rest of Franklin’s quote, which was telling his friend to instead take an older mistress, because an older mistress was less likely to get emotionally attached and that in the dark, women are pretty much the same.
But hey, why let the truth interfere with strongly held opinions?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Old Testament Roots of Nonviolence Part II

Here are some more quotes from Philip Friesen's book.

[At the arrest of Jesus] The commander of heaven’s armies had forbid his disciples the use of the sword at the very moment when it was needed to protect him from capture. Victory would be achieved by dying rather than by killing.

In the Kingdom of Christ, the rules of engagement for spiritual warfare demand that we confront the enemy and be willing to die – to accept violence, but not to commit violence. When we seek to use civil authorities to enforce morality and justice for which the world is not ready, we deny the power of the gospel to bring needed change, and the strongholds of the human mind remain under enemy control.
In the New Testament, social change came first inside the church. In modern times, this is how apartheid was defeated in South Africa without civil war, to the amazement of the world around. It is true that apartheid was strong inside the institutional church, but strong voices of opposition within the church were also raised, and the impetus for social change come initially from the seeds of the gospel inside the church, nonetheless. In South Africa there were martyrs, but the martyrs won. That should not surprise us who claim to follow Jesus! It is the New Testament pattern.
Over the past 2,000 years we have seen that the systems of monarchy, patriarchy, and slavery have proved incapable of justice and unworthy of trust. If the Gospel is what has brought this about, which is the burden of this book, then it should be expected that one day the Gospel will also succeed in destabilizing the institutions of warfare, proving them nonviable, and unworthy of the faith we have placed in them.
The Jesus who made no compromise with evil is the Jesus we offer to the nations, and to offer a lesser Jesus is to sell Jesus short.

If we trust the institutional violence of a national defense system, a system that first Moses and then Jesus rejected, then we deny the incarnation its power on earth, making Jesus Lord of heaven but not of earth, and reveal whom we actually trust.

Christendom had reproduced a version of the Old Testament religion whereby the ritual sacrifice was repeated again and again in the mass, and the king enforced God’s laws, punishing idolaters with the sword. The reformation abolished the sacrifice of the mass, but failed to address the underlying violence of the system.

[Anabaptist Reformers] sought to make the cross of Christ their way of life on earth rather than merely an icon of future life in heaven.

Whenever the world divides into armed camps the church on both sides of conflict must come together, not split apart. If followers of Jesus allow themselves to be divided over the things that divide the world, then the unity of the one God will not be seen. To hide behind the deception of ‘just war’ obscures the reality of who we are in Christ.
Following Jesus inevitably leads to conflict with the rulers of this world, and may lead to charges of treason. No war was ever more just than the Jewish war against Rome; but instead of going to war, Jesus found a way to bring Jew and Roman together for those who practiced forgiveness. Even though conflict is painful, such is our calling in Christ, and Paul is the greatest apostolic example. He accepted the abuse and rejection of his own people in order to bring the good news to the Greeks and the Romans, the Jew’s enemies, both culturally and militarily. For Paul, his precious Jewish culture and religious values were given up as rubbish in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:8). Nothing could have been more unpatriotic.

I suggest that an appropriate metaphor for the true church of our Lord would be that of a ping-pong game being played in the middle of a football field while the football game is going on. Again and again the ping-pong table is demolished and the players carried off the field with serious injuries, but again and again the ping-pong table reappears and the ping-pong game continues, to the consternation of the football teams and crowd. The followers of Jesus are playing a different game with different rules on the world’s field. Heaven’s citizens act as though the game has already changed and play by new rules. Their persistence and endurance will triumph. Jesus said, ‘The one who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 24:13 and Mark 13:13).

The reason for being a pacifist is that the practice of warfare defiles the soul. It violates the new nature Christ has given us.

If my readers will agree that both slavery and war fall short of the righteousness God requires (i.e. they are sinful), then we should also agree that military systems and preparations for warfare are equally as abhorrent as slavery. We noted earlier that once Charles Finney had recognized slavery to be sin, he opposed it. Once we recognize warfare to be sin, we must oppose it also.
When should one be a pacifist and refuse military service? The answer is that we must oppose military service as soon as we recognize it to fall short of God’s glory. One must be a pacifist when the conviction of the Holy Spirit within the soul allows no other option; and as the Spirit of God continues to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), we should expect that a growing mass of believers in the world will be called to bear witness against this evil system in which the nations have placed their trust, and because of that witness, accept the possibility of martyrdom. This way the deception of the snake will be exposed and his power destroyed.
Revelation 20:3 describes the future. ‘And [they] cast him [the dragon, the old serpent] into the bottomless pit and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled.’ To believe in the necessity of armaments and war preparations is to believe the dragon’s deception. In war Revelation 20:7, as soon as the dragon is released from confinement, he gathers the nations once again for war. Here the writer of Revelation draws a strong connection between warfare and Satan’s deception of the nations. This is in stark contrast to the triumph of the Lamb who conducts warfare by the sword of his mouth and the word of his servants’ testimony.

The Just War Theory of Christians theologians offers nothing substantive that Islam (and also Judaism) does not offer. If the birth announcement in Luke is true – that Jesus’ arrival signaled peace on earth – then this issue belongs to the gospel, it is imperative upon the followers of Jesus to demonstrate the truth of it visibly in a way that Islam and Judaism do not. After all, Muhammad showed commendable graciousness to his defeated enemies in Mecca; and his ethics of warfare compare favorably with the ethics of Augustine or any other Christian theologian. The reality is that when our Christian faith is not centrally informed by the power of the cross in praxis, we deny Jesus just as surely as do the non-Christian religions.
All accommodating structures exist in the world as a demonstration of unbelief, and all rely upon violence. When we understand the historic process by which God has been weaning his people from faith in the violence of the accommodating structures of patriarchy, monarchy, and slavery, then we should be able also to see by faith where God is leading us in terms of our relationship to all institutions of violence, including the military. We must demonstrate within the social order the truth of Jesus as Messiah who brings peace on earth. This peace, incarnate in the fabric of fellowship of our faith around the world, bridging the boundaries of ethnic, racial, and nationalistic violence, is what will convince the world of who Jesus is. This is why we need to take pacifism seriously today.

Whenever Christians make either family, national identity, or even a religious institution their primary point of orientation, they deny their Lord and confuse the world about who they are. When this is understood, military service for the sake of preserving national boundaries and maintaining national identity becomes difficult to defend. Peace must be a missiological concern.

The battles between Christians and Muslims have really been battles over the control of earthly resources. When Christians put on the military uniform to fight for the power of an earthly government, the gospel message is sadly obfuscated in the eyes of the world. When the church becomes a cheerleader for some military effort, it denies its Lord. When Jesus called his disciples to put up the sword and follow him unarmed to death, he established Moses’ vision for a nation of priests rather than warriors. This is the legacy we must be prepared to follow to make our message believable.

I suggest that when Christians no longer kill each other on the basis of national identity, that then the invisible Kingdom of our Lord will become visible to those outside, because they will see another government in control of our loyalties.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Old Testament Roots of Nonviolence Part I

While sipping hot tea during sick day from work and trying to regain my voice (by not using it), I finished another great book, The Old Testament Roots of Nonviolence. It was a fascinating book and worth reading just for the explanation of Hagar and Sarah. As I'm prone to do, I took a collection of quotes from the book so as to be able to share some insights I gained from the book.


Just as scientists must have the proper tools to study genetics, so the Biblical student needs the proper tools of hermeneutical analysis. I follow a praxis-oriented Anabaptist hermeneutic that begins with Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament and seeks to interpret the Old Testament according to what Jesus and his apostles saw there.

The [Genesis 14] story also sets a pattern for Moses and Joshua who sent the Hebrews into battle with nothing but their farm tools, shepherd staffs, and their faith in Yahweh. This proved that, at least, so far as Israel was concerned the snake (Genesis 3) had been wrong about Yahweh’s trustworthiness, and the superior military organization provided under monarchy was not essential for national defense.

One wonders whether the rest of the Pentateuch, beginning with Exodus 21 would ever have been written had the people agreed to be God’s priests and deal directly with him without an intermediary. Later Paul said that the law was added because of transgression. Mt. Sinai is the place where it was added.
There is a somewhat universal understanding that holy men do not fight. Except in the case where the priest assumes the role of monarch, normally the priestly class is exempt from military service. As we look at the Mosaic vision further, we will discover that Moses envisioned a nation without any kind of military defense system, one that came under the protection of Yahweh, and whose God other nations would learn to respect. Even if Moses was not a pacifist as the word is used today, he did oppose living in an armed, military state.

First one needs to recognize that during this early period, Israel typically fought as a band of shepherds and farmers using the tools of their trade against armies better equipped than they were, and room needs to be allowed for some rhetoric of encouragement by those in leadership who sent the peasants into battle. Secondly, these murderous commands were given always after a period of disobedience and unbelief. When hearts are hard in unbelief, then violent structures of coercion come into play, but God still may take an active role in determining the outcomes. Thirdly, there were no documents of human rights, rules of war, and or just war theories at that time. All these should be seen as effects of the gospel yeast at work in the loaf of humanity since Jesus came. What was normative then cannot be used as a model for our behavior now, even if a Divine command was given.
The kernel of a pacifistic idea that we find in the Mosaic tradition appears to be an ethic that says something like this: It’s okay to go to war, but it’s not okay to maintain an army, to stockpile weapons, or to take any kind of threatening posture towards people around you. If you really have to fight, cry out to God and he will send a savior, but you must trust him rather than depend upon the usual, accepted means of self-defense. A nation cannot be an armed camp and at the same time represent God to the other nations.
The effect of Moses’ kingship regulations was to outlaw the regular standing army so that when the need arose, God’s power could be displayed instead.

In Moses’ vision the ultimate realpolitik is the politic that takes God’s promise as a sure thing, and risks everything on the assumption that God is trustworthy, while the accommodating structures are for those without faith in Moses’ God. Both Ahaz and Hezekiah were judged by Isaiah, on the basis of whether they relied on Yahweh, even when obedience defied normal, good, human political judgment.

In the kingdom of heaven, it would be the winners, not the losers, who die in order to bring about the real change of government.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

More quotes from Ellul's "Violence"

[Christians] declare their readiness to participate in violence in order to attain socially just objectives. The ‘socially just objectives’ of course, were those determined by the Hitler party; and we must not forget that, for the conscientious German of 1933, they were in fact quite as clearly just as the objectives set up by the Communist party are for the communist (and even for a Christian of the extreme left), or as the objectives fixed by the American way of life are for the average American (and for the average Christian American). The acquiescence in violence of the ‘deutsche Christen’ was one of Hitler’s victories, the fruits of which we are still reaping. There can be no doubt that it was the Hitler movement that loosed the reign of violence in the world. Concentration camps, racism (and black racism is no more excusable than white racism), torture of enemies, extermination of whole populations – these are used by all regimes today, whether of the right or the left, whether capitalist or socialist. And this is the result of the upheaval that befell the world through Hitler. That violence is so generally condoned today shows that Hitler won his war after all: his enemies imitate him.

But let us keep in mind that if these heresies are rife – as they are – the fault lies with those who call themselves Christians but keep for their own the treasure the Lord has entrusted them.

Christians who participate in violence are generally of a distressingly simplistic cast of mind. Invariably, they judge socio-political problems on the basis of stereotyped formulas which take no account of reality.
The simplicism of these people reminds me of a Nazi’s statement: ‘When I come up against intellectuals who pose a problem, I kill the intellectuals; then there is no more problem.’

The Bible does frequently condemn violence, but it defends violence just as frequently – even in the New Testament.

(referring to the riots of the 1960s)
After two centuries of optimistic idealism, violence arose in the USA. That is to say, during those two centuries the nationrefused to face reality and piously threw a veil over the facts. I shall not point to Negro slavery, as most critics of America do. I refer rather to the slow, sanctimonious extermination of the Indians, the system of occupying the land (Faustrecht), the competitive methods of the leading capitalist groups, the annexation of California along with the retrieval of Texas – all this and much besides show that the United States has always been ridden by violence, though the truth was covered over by a legalistic ideology and a moralistic Christianity. Americans have it that the Civil War was an accidental interruption of what was practically an idyllic state of affairs; actually, that way simply tore the veil off reality for a moment. Tocqueville saw the facts clearly. He indicated all the factors showing that the United States was in a situation of violence which, he predicted, would worsen. As a matter of fact, a tradition of violence is discernible throughout the United States history – perhaps because it is a young nation, perhaps because it plunged into the industrial age without preparation. (This tradition, incidentally, explains the popularity of violence in the movies.) And it seems that the harsher and more violent the reality was, the more forcefully were moralism and idealism affirmed. Today, Americans are stunned when the world rewards their good will and their sense of responsibility with revilement. But that is because they have never looked reality in the face and have based their international policies on a superficial idealism. They are stunned at Negro violence, etc. The truth is that the United States is an explosive situation – a complex situation whose elements are racialism, poverty (as the Americans understand it), and urban growth involving the disintegration of communities(the phenomenon of the metropolis). But for decades, Americans have had the idea that every problem could be solved by law and good will. So in this case, too, idealism, refusing to recoginize the latent violence, paved the way for the violence that has now broken out.
In writing this I certainly do not mean to indict the United States. I merely want to point out that even so moralized and Christianized a society, a society that holds to an admirable ideology of law and justice, and conducts psychological research on adaptation, etc. – even such a society is basically violent, like very other.

Either we accept the order of necessity, acquiesce in and obey it – and this has nothing at all to do with the work of God or obedience to God, however serious and compelling the reasons that move us – or else we accept the order of Christ, but then we must reject violence root and branch. If we are free in Jesus Christ, we shall reject violence precisely because violence is necessary!

The only thing he can do is to admit that he is acting so out of his own fears and emotions (not to defend oneself in battle is difficult, more difficult than to accept a death sentence calmly); or else he can say that he is fighting for others, not to save his own life. To say that, however, is to recognize that violence is a necessity. In a revolution or a resistance movement, for instance, there are things that cannot be evaded, that have to be done; violence must be used – it is a necessity. But in such a situation the Christian must realize that he has fallen back into the realm of necessity; that is, he is no longer the free man God wills and redeemed at great cost. He is no longer a man conformed to God, no longer a witness to truth. To fight even the worst of men is still to fight a man, a potential image of God.

Thus violence can never be justified or acceptable before God. The Christian can only admit humbly that he could not do otherwise, that he took the easy way and yielded to necessity and the pressures of the world. That is why the Christian, even when he permits himself to use violence in what he considers the best of causes, cannot either feel or say that the is justified; he can only confess that he is a sinner, submit to God’s judgment, and hope for God’s grace and forgiveness.

So, if a Christian feels that he must participate in a violent movement (or in a war!) let him do so discerningly. He ought to be the one who, even as he acts with the others, proclaims the injustice and the unacceptability of what he and they are doing. He ought to be the mirror of truth in which his comrades perceive the horror of their action. He ought to be the conscience of ht emovement; the one who, in behalf of his unbelieving comrades, repents, bears humiliation, and prays to the Lord; the one who restrains from glorifying himself for the evil he does… Almost always, it is the conviction that ‘I am right’ or ‘my cause is the cause of justice’ that triggers violence…. For when a man is not quite sure of the reality of the virtue of his cause, he hesitates to kill.

‘Thou shalt not kill’ expresses the true being of man. All the demands implied in these words – faith in Jesus Christ, love of enemy, the overcoming of evil by love – must be affirmed, taught and lived with the most absolute intransigence. There can be no accommodation. The Christiantiy that accommodates itself ot the culture in the beliefe that it will thus make itself more acceptable and better understood, and more authentically in touch with humanity – this is not a half-Christianity; it is a total denial of Christianity. Once Christianity gives way to accommodation or humanistic interpretation, the revelation is gone. Christian faith is radical, decisive like the very word of God, or else it is nothing.

The Christian is necessarily on the side of the poor – not to incite them to revolution, hatred and violence, but to plead their cause before the powerful and the authorities.

So, instead of listening to the fomenters of violence, Christians ought to repent for having been too late. For if the time comes when despair sees violence as the only possible way, it is because Christians were not what they should have been. If violence is unleashed anywhere at all, the Christians are always to blame. This is the criterion, as it were, of our confession of sin. Always, it is because Christians have not been concerned for the poor, have not defended the cause of the poor before the powerful, have not unswervingly fought the fight for justice that violence breaks out. Once violence is there, it is too late. And then Christians cannot try to redeem themselves and soothe their conscience by participating in violence.

The Christian’s first act of nonviolence is that he refrain from asking others to live as if they were Christians. When violence is in question, it is not our business to lecture them and urge them to be nonviolent. Of course – as I have said again and again – we cannot participate in violence, an more than we can participate in oppression and injustice.

If the Christian cannot demand, cannot even suggest, that non-Christians should act as though they were inspired by the Christian faith, he must take the same attitude toward the revolutionaries and toward the state. To demand that a non-Christian state should refrain fromusing violence is hypocrisy of the worst sort; for the Christian’s position derives from the faith, and moreover he exercises no responsible political function. To ask a government not to use the police when revolutionary trouble is afoot, or not to use ht earmy when the international situation is dangerous, is to ask the state to commit harakari. A state responsible for maintaining order and defending the nation cannot accede to such a request.

On the other hand, if a statesman, the president of the republic, openly declares himself a Christian, then – on the basis of his own faith – the total demands of the Christian faith can be set before him… The important thing is to make him see that he has to draw the consequences of his faith; and perhaps he will verify the fact that it is impossible to be a Christian and at the same time to conduct a successful politics, which necessarily requires the use of some kind of violence.

But what would be the use of the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, if Christians were meant to be and to act just like the others?

This is the spiritual battle that is to be fought alongside the human battle against material phenomena. We cannot evade it. We are in fact those men’s comrades in the struggle, though they do not know it. And Christian humility, patience, and nonviolence require us to bear with their derision and their accusations.

It is not by sequestering ourselves in our churches to say little prayers that we fight, but by changing human lives. And it is truly a FIGHT – not only against our own passions and interests and desires, but against a power that can be changed only by means which are the opposite of its own. Jesus overcame the powers – of the state, the authorities, the rulers, the law, etc. – not by being more powerful than they but by surrendering himself even unto death.

Choosing different means, seeking another kind of victory, renouncing the marks of victory – this is the only possible way of breaking the chain of violence, of rupturing the circle of fear nad hate. I would have all Christians take to heard this word of Gandhi’s: Do not fear. He who fears, hates; he who hates, kills. Break your sword and throw it away, and fear will not touch you. I have been delivered from desire and from fear so that I know the power of God. These words show that the way Christ appointed is open to all, that the victory of good over evil benefits not only Christians but non-Christians also. In other words, that if the Christian knows that the fight of faith promises this victory, it is not only his victory but others’ too.

Violence and revolution – let them continue! But without the presence and justification of Christians. This does not mean, however, that Christians are permitted to execrate or judge those who do take part in violence and revolution.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Law of Violence

I just finished the classic ethical book by French theologian Jacques Ellul, Violence. It was a powerful read, to say the least. I really appreciated his honest approach of acknowledging that the world will use violence, Christians will succumb to the temptation but in order to stay faithful to the message of Jesus, Christians must refuse to use violence.

Here is Ellul's realistic approach to the violence that exists in our world.

The Law of Violence
I am not saying that violence is an expression of human nature. I am saying, for one thing, that violence is the general rule for the existence of societies – including the societies that call themselves civilized but have only camouflaged violence by explaining and justifying it and putting a good face on it.
All of this amounts to an acknowledgment of violence as necessity. And indeed violence is not only the means the poor use to claim their rights; it is also the sole means available to those in places of power. Jesus Christ told us what the order of this world is like: ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them’ (Matthew 20:25). And Jesus did not protest against this situation. Let us be clear about this: the text from Matthew refers not only to the chiefs of a legally established government or the controllers of wealth but to all who come into positions of leadership. And there is no way for them to keep their power except by violence. All of them are subject to the same necessity: to tyrannize over and use others; that is, they are subject to the order of violence, which is a necessity. But ‘necessity’ means ‘law.’ There is a law of violence.

1) The first law of violence is continuity. Once you start using violence, you cannot get away from it. Violence expresses the habit of simplification of situations; political, social, or human. And a habit cannot quickly be broken. Once a man has begun to use violence he will never stop using it, for it is so much easier and more practical than any other method. It simplifies relations with the other completely by denying that the other exists.

2) The second law of violence is reciprocity. It is stated in Jesus’ famous word, ‘ALL who take the sword will perish by the sword’ (Matthew 26:52). Let me stress two points in connection with this passage. There is the insistence on ‘all.’ There is no distinction between a good and a bad use of the sword. The sheer fact of using the sword entails this result. The law of the sword is a total law. Then, Jesus is in no sense making a moral valuation or announcing a divine intervention or a coming judgment; he simply describes the reality of what is happening. He states one of the laws of violence. Violence creates violence, begets and procreates violence.
The man who in whatever way uses violence should realize that he is entering in to a reciprocal kind of relation capable of being renewed indefinitely.

3) The third law of violence is sameness. Here I shall only say that it is impossible to distinguish between justified and unjustified violence, between violence that liberates and violence that enslaves. The psychological violence all countries employ is absolutely the worst of violence, because it lays hold of the whole man, and, without his knowing it, gelds him.
When a nation – as all European nations do – trains its young men in the most extreme kinds of violence in order to prepare them for battle (parachutists, etc.), the result is bound to be that the whole nation imitates this violence.

4) Violence begets violence – nothing else. This is the fourth law of violence. Violence is par excellence the method of falsehood. ‘We have in view admirable ends and objectives. Unfortunately, to attain them we have to use a bit of violence. But once we are the government, you will see how society develops, how the living standard rises and cultural values improve. If we revolutionaries are only allowed to use a little violence (you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs), you’ll see the reign of justice, liberty, and equality.’ That kind of thing is repeated again and again, and it sounds logical enough. But it is a lie. I am not making a moral judgment here, but a factual experimental judgment based on experience. Whenever a violent movement has seized power, it has made violence the law of power. The only thing that has changed is the person who exercises violence. No government established by violence has given the people either liberty or justice – only a show of liberty (for those who supported the government) and a show of justice (which consists in plundering the erstwhile ‘haves’).

Violence can never realize a nobale aim, can never create liberty or justice. I repeat once more that the end does not justify the means, that, on the contrary, evil means corrupt good ends. But I repeat also: ‘Let the man who wants to use violence, do so; let the man who thinks there is no other way, use it; but let him know what he is doing.’ That is all the Christian can ask of this man – that he be aware that violence will never establish a just society…. ‘Violence never attains the objectives it sets up.’

5) Finally, the fifth law of violence is this: the man who uses violence always tries to justify both it and himself. Violence is so unappealing that every user of it has produced lengthy apologies to demonstrate to the people that it is just and morally warranted. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Nasser, the guerillas, the French ‘paras’ of the Algerian war – all tried to vindicate themselves. The plain fact is that violence is never ‘pure.’ Always violence and hatred go together. I spoke above of the rather useless piece of advice once given Christians: that they should make war without hatred. Today it is utterly clear that violence is an expression of hatred, has its source in hatred and signifies hatred. It is absolutely essential for us to realize that there is an unbreakable link between violence and hatred.
The head of the government can keep on declaring his good will, his objectivity, his freedom from hate, for he is not directly engaged in the military action. He can keep on pretending to pray and professing to love humanity. He can praise nonviolence, as President Johnson did when Martin Luther King was assassinated. But all that is faƧade. A ruler has to save face and show that he is a well-disposed man; he has to justify himself! But this means becoming part of the system characteristic of violence, which tries to justify itself.

These are the laws of violence, unchanging and inescapable. We must understand them clearly if we are to know what we are doing when we damn violence.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another Confirmation

I just finished James Dobson's book Bringing Up Boys. About half the book was comprised of political rants in which Dr. Dobson is trying to scare the reader regarding the "liberal elite" or the "radical gay agenda." During those times in which he deviated from the political rants, there was, as one would expect from someone with Dr. Dobson's background in family counseling, wonderful advice for a guy trying to raise a son to love Jesus.

Although clearly over the top and despite the fact that they were the only two people in my life (including other TFA directors) who believed I was wrong for putting my family first, some of the guilt laid upon me during that last desperate attempt from two directors of Kansas City Teach For America still follows me around. Maybe someday I'll publicly share all the things of which they accused me and the creative ways they tried to leverage guilt to coerce me to stay in my teaching role, but for now I'll just share one of their tactics. That tactic was to explain to me how my son would never respect me were I to walk away from TFA's mission in KCMSD. That one was saved for the end of our meeting. I guess it was a final Hail Mary of sorts.

I knew however, that the act of neglecting my own son while trying to save a group of other father-less boys was not worth it. I can't save the world at the cost of my own family. I can still remember my former Pastor, Dan Arnold, talking about that in his sermons. About that same time in my life, I was at a Promise Keepers event with my dad and made a life-long commitment to never sacrifice my family for "ministry." I had been thinking however, that two years of my son's life wasn't that much; he'd only be 2.5 - 4.5 during this teaching gig, surely we could reconnect afterwards. That rationalization, thankfully, was countered by a good friend Noel Forester, who informed me that those years are some of the most important for father-son bonding. This timely piece of wisdom was backed up in Dobson's book.

"A father holds awesome power in the lives of his children, for good or ill. Families have understood that fact for centuries.... When asked who their heroes are, the majority of boys who are fortunate enough to have a father will say, 'It's my dad.' On the other hand, when a father is uninvolved - when he doesn't love or care for his kids - it creates an ache, a longing, that will linger for decades... boys are constructed emotionally to be dependent on dad in ways that were not understood until recently.
We now know that there are two critical periods during childhood when boys are particularly vulnerable. The most obvious occurs at the onset of puberty, when members of both sexes experience an emotional and hormonal upheaval. Boys and girls at that time desperately need their father's supervision, guidance and love. Divorce at that time, more than at others, is typically devastating to boys. But according to Dr Carol Gilligan, professor at Harvard University, there is another critical period earlier in life - one not shared by girls. Very young boys bask in their mother's femininity and womanliness during infancy and toddlerhood. Fathers are important then, but mothers are primary. At about three t0 five years of age, however a lad gradually pulls away from him mom and sisters in an effort to formulate a masculine identity. It is a process known as a 'disconnection and differentiation,' when, as Don Elium writes, 'the inner urge of the male plan of development nudges him out of the nest of the mother over a precarious bridge to the world of the father.' It is typical for boys during those years, and even earlier, to crave the attention and involvement of their dad and try to emulate his behavior and mannerisms."

"While you're climbing the ladder of success, don't forget your own family. Those years with your children at home will be gone in a heartbeat. Do whatever is necessary to grab those precious moments, whether it requires changing jobs, getting a smaller house, or turning down lucrative and exciting opportunities. Nothing is worth losing your kids. Nothing!"

Of course, ministry and family are in no way mutually exclusive. Here's a great article that explores that tension, Before Saving the World, Go See Your Family.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bittersweet reunion

E. was one of my angriest students and that's saying something. According to other teachers, his brother was even angrier. E. fought me on everything while also fighting other students. Somewhere along the line however, E. started to trust me a little bit. He came to do what I asked about 50% of the time, which was simply amazing.

My last week of teaching, E. was serving a 5 day suspension for violently punching another student. The day before my last day, I used a sick day but came in after school to clear out some of my stuff. I saw E. walking home and he told me that on his first day back from suspension, he'd been suspended for another 5 days for again viciously punching another student. Since I knew that E would be gone on my last day, I told him that I couldn't be the teacher I needed to be while also being the dad I needed to be, so I was leaving the classroom. To my complete surprise, this angry kid who hated me at least half the time, gave me a hug while trying to hold back a tear. It made me a bit sick to my stomach, I'll admit.

Fast forward to last Friday night, Erin and I are at Crown Center, eating in the food court after we'd taken Dawson to the Holiday Lights Train. A few minutes earlier, in the Crayola playroom, we noticed the black kids in school uniforms being followed by some tired looking parents. I probably wouldn't have noticed that tired look before my days in inner-city KC, MO. While we were eating, E. came walking among a group of about 5 siblings being herded by his tired looking (most likely single) mother.

When he saw me, E.'s face lit up and he ran over to give me a hug. His mom had a "who is this guy" look on her face until E. told her that I had been his teacher. At this news, E.'s mom smiled. I didn't notice the smile however, because I couldn't look her in the eye. I was filled with so much shame for walking out on her son. Erin told me about the smile and said that I seemed to shrink with guilt before E.'s mom. I will say, however, that in the midst of all the guilt and awkwardness of seeing a former student, it sure felt good to see the smile on his face. E told me that the kids are totally disrespecting the teacher who replaced me, which is no different than how they treat all the teachers at that school.

Adding even more strange thoughts and feelings to that situation was the fact that a few minutes later, Erin was approached by one of her students and family. This family was your typical wealthy suburban family; two kids, two parents and one grandma along for the ride. The contrast was jarring. It's almost incomprehensible that two different worlds exist within the KC metro area and that the inhabitants of these two worlds are almost completely ignorant of the realities of each other's worlds. It's also amazing that, when you consider the individual school's performance records and the records of their districts, Erin and I were simultaneously teaching in one of the nation's worst schools and one of the nation's worst schools. If I had made it a whole year, I think we could've written a book.

I'm not the only one still sorting through the emotions of walking away from Teach For America's dream that "one day, every child in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education." In fact, as of early December, 28 of the 152 KC Corps Members had quit. When you consider the qualifications TFA Corps Members have to demonstrate to get chosen, including the demonstration of persevering through difficult circumstances, that's an incredible rate of attrition. When you also consider the success TFA has had in many other districts across the nation, those 28 people are making a huge statement about how dysfunctional the KCMSD really is. I wonder whether the loss of their accreditation and federal funding could result in the shutting down of the entire screwed up system.

A good friend who quit a few weeks after me was called by one of her parents after her resignation and the parent expressed thanks for what this teacher had done and frustration at having to send her child to such a terrible school.

While it sure seems to me that there is no way I could have made any impact in just 7 weeks, E.'s smile and that bittersweet reunion makes me think otherwise.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Car Wreck

I'm now working as an auto insurance adjuster. I do all of my work from the office,so if there are any injuries resulting from the accident, the claim automatically gets reassigned to an adjuster in the field. There are some serious injuries, obviously, but even if there is the possibility of a minor injury, the claim still gets sent to a field adjuster. If a person has just a small pain in their neck, there still needs to be an investigation because while that pain could end up going away in a day it could also turn into a chronic neck injury. So no matter the extent of the injury, an investigation is always required. We also keep a record of where each person is sitting in the vehicle. A curious reality of car accidents is that one person may walk away from an accident relatively unscathed while another person sitting in different part of the vehicle could suffer a serious injury. As long as the injuries and passengers are put in the file at the time the claim is filed, future treatments may be covered by the insurance company. Another curious thing about injuries is that they may not present themselves until months after the accident.

A few days ago, I had the privilege of having breakfast with one of my college mentors, Dr. Sondra Cave. In addition to being a mentor, she was also my "mom" while I was in college; letting me cry in her office after Erin dumped me (thankfully she eventually wised up) and later serving as Erin's wedding coordinator. Despite all she had done for our university and even despite being named alumnus of the year, a year ago Sondra was laid off from our alma matter. To put it mildly, it was a painful experience for her and she's still working through some of the effects of that betrayal. On the positive side, however her consulting business has taken off now that she's been forced to market her incredible gifts.

That morning, Sondra and I swapped stories about the hellish despair we've both gone through lately. I told Sondra some of the emotional breakdowns my short stint in the Kansas City Missouri School District had caused me, some of which I'm still not comfortable sharing on this blog. We also talked about how we've both come a long way in our recovery Physically, I'm back to normal but I'm pretty sure I'm not yet fully recovered emotionally.

While I've been given some great opportunities to use some of my teaching and leadership gifts withing Indian Creek Gardner, I'm intentionally holding back somewhat; being hesitant to commit to some things that I know I could do and working to protect my time with my family and my time to myself. I've also had some discussions about potential full-time ministry opportunities but I'm very hesitant about those, too. Right now, it's wonderful to work my 40 hours, leaving the job at the office and to come home to a night of playing with Dawson, jogging on the treadmill, reading a book or working on a sermon for Indian Creek.

I know this place I'm in isn't long term but it's a really nice place to be; a fact that actually scares me. I'm scared of being complacent and missing something great God may have for me because I'm too busy enjoying my comfort to sense his nudge. Which makes that conversation with Sondra so timely.

Sondra expressed my 15 weeks of Teach for America/ KCMSD as a car crash; a short but intense experience that launched with huge hopes and dreams before violently crashing into a reality of guilt and shattered dreams. The grief and guilt of which is compounded by the grief of Trinity Family Gardner ending the day before I was accepted into TFA. The thing about a car crash, Sondra reminded me, is that it may take months for all the injuries to appear and even years for those injuries to recover.

So just take it slow, she advised, allow yourself time to recover and trust that God won't let you fall asleep in complacency.

War Crimes and the American Conscience Part III

During downtimes for my training with Farmers, I was able to read an interesting book from 1970 entitled “War Crimes and the American Conscience.” The book was an analysis of US war crimes committed in Vietnam in the light of the principles of the Nuremburg conference; the recorded notes of the 1970 Congressional Conference on War and National Responsibility. Below are some excerpts.

“Yet [most Americans] should recognize that vigorous objections to policies which the individual regards as unwise is the very stuff of which democracy is made. The true patriot follows the whole of Carl Schurz’s admonition, ‘My country right o wrong; if right to be kept right, if wrong to be put right.’ – Senator George C. McGoveren Pg. 167

“There is a strong emotional argument for supporting our soldiers on the line with everything they need. But they are best supported by actions designed to bring them home and to limit the power of the Executive to demand their sacrifice in an ignoble venture. I have stopped voting for Vietnam war appropriations, and I shall not do so again. – Senator George C. McGoveren Pg. 168

“But a new idea for the United States – a central one for empire – developed after WWII: The matter of winning any particular war, or of losing it, became secondary to the quest for constant military engagement and the display of American power. War became a continuous way of life. War is no longer attached to interests, purposes, or objectives. It became an end in itself, prepared and conducted at the pleasure of national security institutions.
“Since WWII, indeed, the primary activity of national security institutions has been to police the world. Law is subservient to the club, to napalm, to the bribe, to the rolling thunder of the B-52. The United States has executed scores of agreements, assigned hundreds of thousands of troops around the world, placed tactical and strategic nuclear weapons hither and yon, bought and sold governments. National security activity has become a criminal enterprise without political accountability or human motive.
– Senator George C. McGoveren Pg. 172

“As the administration pursues its doctrine of ‘low profile’ involvement around the world, using the CIA or foreign troops rather than American soldiers for intervention, the need for close and continuing public scrutiny becomes more urgent. There is a need, for example, for development of a new standard of bureaucratic responsibility. Would it change the decisional process and the causal view of war if Government officials were personally responsible in a LEGAL sense for their policy actions?
If such questions are to be answered in a positive manner, the Congress and the people must redefine legitimacy, put another way, rather than the internal and national security institutions spying on the people, it is now time for the process to be reversed. – Marcus Raskin Pg. 170

“This is to say that the imminent danger to a democratic society is not the specter of overt military control of national policy, but the more subtle one of a military isolated from the general citizenry, allowing for greater international irresponsibility by its civilian leaders. It is only when the consequences of such irresponsibility are uniformly felt throughout the body politic that we can begin to hope constraints will develop on the use of violence to implement national policy. – Charles C. Markos, JR.
Pg. 181

Monday, January 2, 2012

War Crimes and the American Conscience Part II

During downtimes for my training with Farmers, I was able to read an interesting book from 1970 entitled “War Crimes and the American Conscience.” The book was an analysis of US war crimes committed in Vietnam in the light of the principles of the Nuremburg conference; the recorded notes of the 1970 Congressional Conference on War and National Responsibility. Below are some excerpts.

“The American tradition is to locate the source of evil deeds in evil men. We have yet to learn that the greatest evils occur when social systems give average men the task of routinizing evil. - Edward M. Opton Jr. Pg. 113

“As the satirist Art Hoppe put it, ‘The best way [to kill civilians], it’s generally agreed, is to kill them with bombs, rockets, artillery shells, and napalm. Those who kill women and children in these ways are called heroes...’ How is it, the foot soldier must wonder, that ‘to kill women and children at less than 500 paces is an atrocity; at more than 500 paces, it’s an act of heroism.’ – Edward M. Opton Jr. Pg. 115

“We should pay tribute to that small but courageous number of the American armed forces who have refused over the years to follow orders when it came to the indiscriminate killing of civilians… These are heroes whom we ought to remember and honor – not only for their own sake, but because they provide us with an example of what individual conscience can do against the immortality of an act of Government.” Pg 148, Hans Morgenthau

“The free and responsible man will support and refine man-made laws wherever possible, but he will not permit his conscience to be limited by statute or its application. If he is a religious man, he will appeal to transcendent authority and join St. Peter in saying, ‘We must obey God rather than man.’ He will ‘seek first’ God’s kingdom, insisting that every other loyalty is a lesser loyalty. Or, lacking the authority of revelation, he may join Thoreau in refusing to pay taxes, in denouncing legalized racism and an unjust war, appealing to the ‘general right and obligation of men to disobey commands of a government’ which they consider morally wrong.
Flag-waving chauvinism must be recognized for exactly what it is. If Auschwitz was inhumane, so was Hiroshima. – James Armstrong Pg. 152

“The ultimate crime is war itself, and trying to assign degrees of criminality to certain of its forms is like trying to disguise the stench of rotting carcass by pouring perfume on it. – Jerome Frank Pg. 162

“Public officials should, therefore, be made to answer such legitimate questions as whether we have a real interest in the outcome of a conflict and, more importantly, whether we have a RIGHT to interfere. A refusal to answer on the basis of such considerations as ‘You’d support me if you knew what I know,’ is an abuse of power that a democratic society can never tolerate. – Senator George C. McGoveren
Pg. 166