Gandhi

Choosing Freedom

A United Nation. Image courtesy VectorShots/shutterstock.com.
A United Nation. Image courtesy VectorShots/shutterstock.com.

Listening to several Fourth of July discussions last week, I was struck by how many people think of freedom as the ability to do whatever they want. They think there should be few, if any, restrictions on what they choose to do or what they want to own.    

Prophets, Questions, and a Dream

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Prophets are always asking questions. Tough questions. Unsettling questions. Questions that they pose to themselves, then try to answer by how they live.

Questions such as:

What’s in our hearts? Are we concerned too much about ourselves and too little about others? Do we believe in love? Why do we give in so readily to bitterness and hatred?

Why do so few have so much, while so many have so little? Aren’t we all diminished by the poverty, discrimination, violence, and the various injustices in our world? Why do we glamorize violence and weapons as solutions to our problems?

Fasting for Families and Immigration Reform

A Fast 4 Families cross, ribbon and button hang around the neck of each faster for immigration Photo courtesy Fast for Families.

To join Jim Wallis in prayer and fasting, click here.

I was grateful to be at the beginning of the Fast for Families on November 12. Courageous leaders from many communities were making an incredible sacrifice to remind our leaders what is really at stake in the fight for immigration reform. It was an honor to commission the core fasters, such as my Sojourners’ colleague Lisa Sharon Harper and Eliseo Medina, a veteran organizer and a disciple of Cesar Chavez, by placing crosses around their necks as they began abstaining from food. 

After 22 days, the core fasters had grown weak, nearing the point of medical danger. When they decided to pass the fast to a new group, I was humbled to join the effort this way. On Tuesday, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, I received the cross from Eliseo that I had given to him three weeks before.  

At Tuesday’s ceremony, each of us shared why we were committing to this discipline and willing to subsist only on water for various lengths of time. 

Mapping Gandhi's Faith Journey

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. once said that the greatest Christian of the 20th century was not a member of the church. He was referring to Mohandas Gandhi. A remarkable number of King’s fundamental beliefs—the use of active nonviolence as a tool of social reform, the commitment to loving one’s enemies—can be traced back to the influence of Gandhi, which means that one of the defining figures of 20th century American Christianity was profoundly shaped by the example of an Indian Hindu. As King said in 1958 of the civil rights movement, “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.”

But what of Gandhi’s influences? How did a skinny, middle-class, mid-caste Indian, so scared of public speaking as a student that a classmate had to read his speeches aloud for him, come to lead one of the great liberation struggles of the past century? A new book by Arvind Sharma, professor of comparative religions at McGill University, makes the case that the source of Gandhi’s strength was his spirituality. And while the heart of Gandhi’s faith was Hindu, as King’s was Baptist, the influences were remarkably diverse.

Pointing out that most of the biographies of Gandhi really tell the story of Mohandas Karamchand (the name he was given by his family), not Mahatma (a title that means “great soul” and is given to saints in India), Sharma’s book Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography sets out to give an account of the Mahatma. Sharma quotes Gandhi directly on the importance of highlighting the dimension of spirituality in any attempt to understand him: “What I want to achieve—what I have been striving and pining to achieve these 30 years—is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain moksha [the Hindu term for liberation]. I live and move and have my being in pursuit of this goal.”

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Say 'No' to Nukes

The Cold War is over. However, the U.S. government continues to spend billions each year to produce, test, and deploy—and upgrade—our nuclear weapons arsenal. As Jim Rice explains in “A World Without Nuclear Weapons,” these weapons of mass destruction are not making our nation or world more secure.  

Since the development of the first atom bomb, religious leaders and activists have spoken out against the dangers of nuclear weapons. Be a witness against the bomb—share these graphics today.
 

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Nonviolence and the Drug War

ON A BLAZING August day last summer, Rosa Pérez Triana faced a crowd of several hundred people in downtown Tucson and held up a color photo of a pretty young woman.

“This is my daughter, Coral,” Pérez said in Spanish, her voice breaking. “A year ago she went missing. There are thousands of people in Mexico like me who don’t know what happened to their loved ones.”

A middle-aged woman from the violent state of Nuevo León in northern Mexico, Pérez had come to the United States with the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity to tell her North American neighbors what had happened to her daughter—and to an estimated 80,000 other Mexicans who have been killed or disappeared during the country’s six-year-old war on drugs.

Her daughter’s story is typical. Guadalupe Coral Pérez Triana vanished on July 24, 2011, somewhere on the road between Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and Monterrey, Nuevo León. Five other young women were traveling with her. All are missing and presumed dead.

“The main purpose of the caravan is to show a human face,” explained Laura Carlsen, director of the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program in Mexico, who joined the caravan on its last leg through the East Coast. “These are people whose family members were victims.” Such are the human costs of the war on drugs that the U.S. government supports with arms and money.

According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. government has contributed $1.9 billion through the Mérida Initiative to help Mexico wage the drug war. Not only do Americans provide the market for the drugs sold by the drug cartels, they also supply the weapons that have taken the lives of thousands.

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The Place of the Green Wand

A GiveBox in Berlin / Sally McGrane

Something called a GiveBox appeared
this fall on Falckensteinstrasse, and my first gift

was a memory: Dorothy Day, decades ago,
gently quoting St. Basil to me: If you have two coats,

you've stolen one from the poor.
Like a walk-in cupboard on the sidewalk, brightly

painted, decked out with flowers, this GiveBox
is for the anonymous exchange of gifts.

I brought books here and found a biography of Tolstoy,
who once made my teen-aged self dream of giving away

everything, and now, over a whiskey,
the idea returns: what if I stripped myself

of all but the necessary, left things off, day by day,
at the GiveBox? Of course, whatever his genius,

Tolstoy's life ended in confusion,
in quarrels, in flight—did he really think,

at 82, he could dispossess
himself and set off wandering? When his body

was brought home, it was buried
in the place of the green wand,

the glade where his twelve-year-old brother
once told a story about a stick hidden in the earth

that, if found, would bring lasting happiness to us all.
As though, having all but rejected his own novels,

he could dispense with everything
but story—Tolstoy wanted no tombstone,

no service, no clergy, and after all he had written
it was the legend his brother made up that he turned to.

A parable Dorothy Day, who lived to 83,
took seriously until the end.

I met her in my teens when she was in her 70s,
just out of jail after picketing for the rights

of migrants. Visiting a nephew who was dating my sister,
she joined us for dinner—someday, someone may ask me

the old question,If you could have a meal
with anyone, living or dead
… Going to a French restaurant

with Dorothy Day would be a good answer,
and I was lucky enough to actually do it,

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Five Examples of Civil Disobedience to Remember

Ever since the global financial cabal drove the world's economies into a ditch, popular movements have been rising up to fight "austerity measures" that exact punishment on the poor and leave the rich untouched. This is a familiar biblical meme for the definition of injustice. The words of the prophet Jeremiah come to mind: "Your clothes are stained with the blood of the poor and innocent" (Jeremiah 2:34).

The Guardian's Richard Seymour writes:

"When Spanish mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo recently led farmers on a supermarket sweep, raiding the local shops for food as part of a campaign against austerity, his political immunity as an elected assembly member protected him from arrest. He now asks other local mayors to ignore central government demands for budget cuts and refuse to implement evictions and lay-offs. In this era of austerity, such flagrant disrespect for the law ought to be encouraged. Sometimes, the greatest strength of popular movements is their capacity to disrupt. So here, for the benefit of imaginative indignados, are five examples of civil disobedience:
 
1. Salt March led by Gandhi
 
2. Extremadura Campaign, a peasan't land reform movement in Spain
 
3. Flying Pickets and Sit-Ins, labor movements in the United States
 
4. Dismantling unwanted enterprises, Jose Bove's anti-globalization movement in France
 
5. Poll Tax Non-Payment, anti poll tax mobilization in London in 1990s"
 
Read the whole article and see great photos here.

Soul Force vs. The Assassin

WHILE TIME magazine’s Person of the Year for 2011 was the nonviolent protester who awakened hope from the Arab Spring to America’s Autumn, it is no accident that a close second was Adm. William McRaven, who oversaw the Special Forces operation that assassinated Osama bin Laden. As symbols, the protester and the assassin represent two very different hopes for change. But their roles on the world stage are more than symbolic. In a time when change is so desperately needed, the choice between violence and nonviolence may be the fundamental moral issue of the 21st century.

If that choice is real—if the way of the nonviolent protester is a viable option in the 21st century—it is because of the witness of Gandhi and his satyagraha movement in the 20th century. While Gandhi maintained that his tactics of nonviolent struggle against the British Empire were distilled from the best Hindu scriptures and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, his employment of those ancient truths in a popular resistance movement vis-a-vis a world power was both original and electrifying. The modern world had never seen such a demonstration of “soul force.” Gandhi’s witness sparked the imagination of America’s civil rights movement, of resistance to apartheid in South Africa, of the nonviolent overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe.

But, as James Douglass chronicles so well in his new book Gandhi and the Unspeakable, Gandhi’s way of nonviolence always had its detractors. Gandhi’s enemies were not only racist Europeans but also Indians who insisted that his peculiar philosophy of nonviolence would never work.

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Let's Hold Glenn Beck to His Pledge of Nonviolence

On his radio show last week, Glenn Beck read a vow of nonviolence, which he said he'd been working on for about a year, and pleaded his followers to take it as well. The pledge itself is actually quite good, and even Gandhian, at parts. Here is an excerpt:

Today, quarters of the Earth are endangered by tyranny, discrimination, barbarism, and subjugation by fellow man. With an understanding of basic rights and equal justice, we must remain loyal to God and deliver the rights which [God's] benevolence has bestowed upon us to those who have been denied the blessings of liberty, justice, and equality. More importantly, we must protect them from being robbed in the future, so that forever the world may be safe, and her people free from malevolence. Together, we must be prepared to do our duty no matter the cost and we must do so inexorably. We must march forth steadfast and unconquerable and defeat the forces of evil not by sword, but through our love for mankind and his creator.

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