“Love your enemies.” I’m reflecting on this, the hardest of Jesus’ commandments, as I grieve my own nation’s policies of war, exclusion, vengeance, and cruelty — policies envisioned through the lens of enmity. The lens of enmity warps our vision, inverting it so that the outside world is obscured by our inward fears. It contorts the human faces in front of us into monsters. It magnifies our own pain and obstructs that of others. It blinds us with lies.
Gun violence has become so ubiquitous in the U.S. that it is changing the very way we talk about our country. The names of our cities and towns have become shorthand terms for gun death: Orlando, Newtown, Dallas, Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Columbine, Aurora.
The German pastor was executed by the Nazi regime at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the United States liberated the camp. When he died he famously remarked to another prisoner, "This is the end — but for me, the beginning."
WATCHING THE much-awarded film The Revenant is an ordeal, but its director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s films have such energy and compassion that I hoped the payoff would be worth the stretch. Iñárritu’s early films Amores Perros and 21 Grams rehumanize characters who make bad choices, with an attention to scale that might be described as Napoleonic.
The Revenant is the loosely historical tale of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an early 19th century fur trapper left by his companions for dead after a bear attack, agonizing his way to track his betrayer (Tom Hardy) through some of the most frozen wilderness in cinema. The commitment of DiCaprio and Hardy has been rightly applauded—this is a cold and exhausting way to make a film. And the craft is monumental—arrows seem to land on the audience, the bear attack is terrifying, the camera hardly ever stops moving. But the exploration of the futility of revenge at the heart of this story is confused.
This week marks 25 years since the horrific U.S. bombing of the Amiriyah shelter in Iraq. At least 408 women and children died.
As we consider what has helped fuel the rage and hostility of extremists like ISIS, we can point to concrete events like the bombing of Amiriyah. It clearly does not justify the evil done by ISIS, but it does help us explain it.
No guns, no gun deaths. That was the mantra ingrained in me from a young age. It is the line that runs through my head when I read reports stating that around 3,000 of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year are of children. In 2015, 265 minors were responsible for accidental gun shootings and 83 of these children killed someone, often because they found a loaded gun in the house and were curious.
For his final State of the Union address, President Obama delivered a characteristically eloquent and passionate speech. He issued a heartfelt call for unity and cooperation in a country whose political climate is just a few notches short of civil war. He asked us to consider how we might move forward as one nation, affirming our highest ideals rather than the hateful rhetoric of would-be despots.
Obama’s final State of the Union was in many ways a masterpiece of American political theater. He reminded us of the best of our tradition, calling us to live up to our history of welcoming the outsider and being a land of opportunity for all people. Despite the fact that this canonical history is to a great degree aspirational rather than actual, I was at many points uplifted to hear the president invite us to live into the more beautiful aspects of the American Dream.
Semaj Clark is a determined young man. The Los Angeles teenager’s steadfastness helped him emerge from a childhood punctuated by a string of foster homes and arrests to become an ambassador to troubled youth. Now he’s determined to learn how to get around in his new wheelchair. And he’s resolute that his anti-violence campaign can take root anew in Savannah, Ga., where he’d taken that message of hope and transformation in October — only to find himself with a bullet in his spine.
There is a definite pattern of revenge to this story, but it has nothing to do with God. As René Girard has taught us, revenge is human, not divine. Girard claimed that humans are mimetic — and we are particularly mimetic when it comes to violence. Humans imitate violent words and actions, passing them back and forth. But violence escalates because each side in a conflict wants to deliver the final blow. In this sense, the Saudis and the Iranians are just like the majority of human beings.
Muhammad Ali aimed a powerful and impassioned message at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Dec. 9, saying that the recent global terrorism crisis has “perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”
Ali became a Muslim and changed his name from Cassius Clay during the height of his career as one of the greatest boxers in history. His message came in a statement following a week in which Trump cast doubt on President Barack Obama’s assertion that several American “sporting heroes” practiced Islam.
“I am a Muslim, and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said.
Perhaps here is where we need John the Baptist most. He might turn to us and call us to ordinary acts of grace. He might call us to give what we have. He might call us to stay at our jobs and do them well. He might call us to the radical idea that seemingly ordinary lives can be imbued with the extraordinary spirit of God to transform the world.
During this Christmas season, we expect to enjoy times of family and conviviality and joy. Such expectations have been shattered this year. We could throw our hands up in despair. We could lament over a shattered world. We could grieve those we have lost, the dreams that have been shattered. We could pray fervently for courage and hope. We could worship together and so resist the encroachments of death upon our lives. We could protest and march and demand change. We could call our representatives and demand action.
We should do all these things.
And as we do all these things, we should also live ordinary lives infused by the extraordinary call to love God and love neighbor.
John the Baptist is an irritant in the midst of Advent.
In the Gospel reading for this week in Luke 3:7-18, he is in the wilderness excoriating the crowds who came seeking baptism and repentance and deliverance.
“Who warned you…?,” John wants to know. Who told you to come out here? What did you think you would find? Who the crowds find is a fiery prophet of God, preaching judgment upon the injustice that permeates this world.
The British Parliament voted Dec. 2 to begin a bombing campaign in Syria in order to disrupt ISIS.
The vote took place after a contentious ten-hour debate in the House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments that those opposed to the bombing campaign are “terrorist sympathisers” hung in the background of the debate.
One of the most common criticisms of faith I have heard is this: if there is an all-powerful and loving God somewhere out there, why does this God allow horrible things to happen? In a world where there has always been war, sexual violence, starvation and murder, where is this omnipotent God? Why does he allow these things to happen? Where is she when people suffer injustice?
The Bible gives us plenty of examples of the abuses of the faithful, sometimes even at God's own hand (like in the book of Job). We read of the systemic oppression of the Jewish people and the early Christian church. Through this, God's people were always able to remain steadfast in their faith. Forming a defense of faith in God in the face of realized evil is known as theodicy.
So: In a nation where Blacks have been enslaved, lynched, and raped because of their race, and in time where people must declare that “black lives matter,” how do black Americans form their own theodicy to justify this violence, abuse, and systemic oppression?
And is it necessary to do so?
Given the terrorist attacks of the last few weeks, one might be forgiven for feeling a bit bleak about the human species, its frequent use of violence and its failure to negotiate solutions. We must be hard-wired for violence. Or perhaps “war is a force that gives us meaning,” as Chris Hedges put it in his 2002 book of the same title.
It turns out, however, that we’re evolutionarily wired not for violence but for cooperation.
"The vast majority of the people on the planet awake on a typical morning and live through a violence-free day — and this experience generally continues day after day after day," writes Douglas Fry.
"The real story should be the 13,748 gazillion times human beings default to cooperation and kindness!"
I’ve heard it said that you don’t know true love until you hold your baby for the first time. I hate that, for so many reasons. And I hate whoever has said it to me or anyone else. Hate it.
This may come as a shock, but I’ve got the slightest anger issue. It’s more accurate to say I didn’t know true anger until I became a mother.
There’s the daily anger, like slaving away in the kitchen for hours only to have people gag and demand crunchy toast and cookies to eat, while they scream and scratch their sister and slip on spilled water and cry for hours. There’s the hourly anger, like the struggle between wanting to check out and check e-mail in the face of little people wanting to play or needing to be disciplined.
On the morning of Oct. 26, a student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina was flipped out of her desk and tossed across the room by school resource officer Ben Fields.
Fields is already facing an outstanding lawsuit filed against him for "recklessly targeting African-American students with allegations of gang membership." But in 2014, Fields received a "Culture of Excellence" award for being "an exceptional role model to the students he serves and protects."
The story of Job is one of the literary classics in the Bible. It is a story that tries to sort out why bad things happen to good people. It is a story that tries to make sense out of suffering. It is a story that concludes with an epic confrontation between Job and God. And it is a story that captures the isolation, the misunderstanding, and the feelings of abandonment.
Job’s friends and his wife are convinced that it is Job’s sin that has led to his misfortunes. That has a familiar ring to people trapped in violent and abusive relationships. “Why did you make him mad?” friends ask. “Why don’t you just leave?”
And inside the relationship, the abuser often threatens even greater harm if the victim tells anyone about what is happening. And if the victim decides to leave, the risk of violence increases, often with lethal consequences.
As Job said of God, “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him…If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face!” (Job 23:8-9, 17)
Victims of domestic violence – both women and men as well as children – often feel isolated, abandoned by family and friends who are uncomfortable or afraid of the topic, trapped by religious traditions that stress male dominance and the indissolubility of marriage and feel forgotten by God. Job knew that feeling.
Displayed over a blurred image of Osama bin Laden, the headline on the cover of The New York Times Magazine for October 18 reads, “Do we really know the truth about his death? The mysteries of Attobad.”
Weirdly, the article is not an investigation of the truth about bin Laden’s death — it’s an investigation of other investigations. Jonathan Mahler decided to report on two competing narratives about the raid in Abbottabad. His article is a soul-searching reflection on how we can know which version of events is true, or if the truth about our government’s actions can ever be known at all.
After reading his article, it’s fair to wonder if we ever will. If our concern is to learn the facts of the raid, we may easily get lost in a tangle of facts and lies. But that is a truth in itself — a truth of how violence works to destroy the truth.
We need to state the obvious here: the subject of all this reporting is a death by violence. The subject of this story is not the truth. The subject is violence itself.
Three years ago, I was a U.S. State Department officer deployed to Turkey to work with the Syrian opposition. It was an amazing opportunity to support Syrian activists and civic leaders waging an improbable — yet remarkable — popular struggle, against a criminal regime that responded to peaceful protests with bullets and torture. For [the previous] eight months since the start of the revolution in March 2011, Syrian activists — Sunni, Christian, Kurdish, Druze, and Alawite — had used demonstrations, sit-ins, resistance music, colorful graffiti, online satire, and dozens of other nonviolent tactics to challenge the Assad regime. My task, along with that of my U.S. government and international colleagues, was to aid their efforts.
A year earlier, I co-wrote and published a book with Erica Chenoweth, called Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. In it, we tested the conventional wisdom that only violence works against formidable foes like dictatorships and foreign military occupations. In studying 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900-2006, Erica and I found that nonviolent civil resistance was twice as successful as armed struggle — even against militarily superior opponents willing to use violence. We also found that nonviolent struggle helps consolidate democracy and civil peace.