The Common Good

Lent: A Time for Peace

Lent is a season of transition. It is a season of fasting, reflection, penance, and preparation. Wisdom teaches us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven: "a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Time is a trickster. We think it is steady, immutable. The long and short of it though depends upon us, our perspective, desires, and expectations. Time is an instant, a glance from this to that. And time can be long, measured in decades, centuries, and millennia.

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Lent is a time that takes us from one moment in time to another. It takes us from one season to another. It is a season of transition from fast to feast, from death to resurrection. I say: Let Lent be a season of transition from war to peace.

Humankind has lived with war for so long that we too often think it is necessary. We think that there is such a thing as human nature that will necessarily create conflict that can only be resolved by war. We read Ecclesiastical wisdom and think that war must come and in some cases ought to come. I say: The time for war has past.

Human history is soaked in blood, the 20th century especially so. The history of this past century tells a story of successive wars and genocides. Yet, at the same time, the 20th century gives us examples of human creativity and courage that used nonviolence to face down injustice. Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall have written a history of nonviolent conflict. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict, a companion book to a PBS series, tells the story of people and movements who used nonviolence to confront violent regimes. These stories give us a drama no less compelling than war.

Ackerman and Duvall take us from a 1905 people's strike in Russia to the protests for democracy in China, Eastern Europe, and Mongolia at the end of the century. They analyze the various nonviolent movements and say where they succeeded and where they fell short. There are moments when events since the book's publication cause us to question their analysis. Still, they help us to see what lessons may be learned from nonviolent movements as we seek to glean principles of nonviolent resistance that may be replicated. One central idea is that what ordinary people think and what they do determines whether regimes stand or fall.

In their chapter, "The Mythology of Violence," they conclude by reminding us that violence can destroy an old order: "but you cannot free your people until they give you their consent." For Christians, Lent is the time that prepares us and leads us to the cross. Jesus ought to have been the last blood sacrifice. Bloodshed does not redeem the world. Love redeems. This Lenten season let us read peace and study war no more.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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