Over the past couple of months, first learning to live with the reality of a pandemic that had me resorting my personal goals and priorities and now listening to the voice of nationwide protests rising up in support of change to the problem of systemic racism that persists in our country, I have been reflecting on what to do with Fullbeard Lit. While I continue to write, it is both a compulsion and my passion, I have come to terms with the fact that the world does not need to listen to the spiritual journey of recovery of another entitled, white male who has the luxury to sort things out he should have sorted out decades ago.
No, the protests have awakened in me the long dormant passion for the work of Martin Luther King, Jr and other non-violent leaders throughout history from Gandhi to Mandela, Havel to Walesa. This is the passion that led me to a Concentration in International Peace Studies through the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame in spite of being also enrolled in the Navy ROTC program. This is the passion that led to me to develop and host a conference bringing together those two disparate groups to discuss the Just War Theory and Pacifism with my mentor and Theology Professor, Todd Whitmore, and co-founder of Pax Christi and pacifist, Gordon Zahn. This is the passion that had me sit down with the Navy ROTC chaplain to explain why I could not serve in the submarine service due to my opposition to nuclear weapons. This is the passion that led me to seek legal and spiritual counsel as a young officer considering conscientious objection. I did not pull the trigger, so to speak. My incessant self-criticism causes me to question and doubt my courage.
I chose to serve so I could lead young men and women of all races and religions and creeds to do their best and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them through service to their country. I succeeded in some cases and failed in others; like all humans, I experienced moments I will remain immensely proud of as well as moments where I remain paralyzed with self-loathing and shame when I get stuck in their recollection. Nonetheless, this aspect of my work served as the palliative for the passion that retreated… until today.
We can and must do better as a nation. I am on the side of those who protest, I am on the side of those who have the courage to speak up from a place of expected silence and those who stand beside them and support their words. We can and must do better as a nation.
As I move Fullbeard Lit forward, my focus will shift from searching for personal reconciliation, redemption and recovery to learning, reflection, and education. If we can be better, than how? Like my teenage self confused by the KKK marching in the streets of Boston, weeping at stock video of firehoses trained on peaceful protestors in the South, enraged by the story of Emmet Till, I turn to the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr for guidance and today offer his five points concerning the “alternative to violence… nonviolent resistance” as outlined in his 1957 essay in the magazine Christian Century and collected in Testament of Hope (p 7-9):
- “It is not a method for cowards; it does resist… his (sic) mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken. This method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually; it is nonaggressive physically but dynamically aggressive spiritually.”
- “Non violent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding… The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of non-violence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”
- “The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who are caught in those forces… If there is victory it will be a victory not merely for fifty thousand Negroes (sic), but a victory for justice and the forces of light.”
- “It avoids external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit… To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world.”
- “The method of nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice… This belief that God is on the side of truth and justice comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith. There is something at the very center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may reign for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the Easter drums.”
I conclude with another quote from the same essay: “True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force — tension, confusion or war; it is the presence of some positive force — justice, good will and brotherhood.” Where I hope to take Fullbeard Lit is in the direction of the positive force. I hope you will join me, contribute to a positive dialog, and help us make “We can” a reality.
Reference: Washington, James Melvin (ed). A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Harper and Row, Publishers, San Francisco, 1986; pp 6-9.
Follow this link to The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame as well as here where I pulled the image about Strategic Peacebuilding at the head of the article.