The Energy Continues

A little while ago, I wrote about The ‘Energy’ of Violence, in which I suggested that violence can never be fully and truly defeated by violence; it takes something much more powerful.

In response to this, my friend labalienne reminded us that the sort of argument I advanced in my original post must take into consideration the violence against women that, scandalously, so often gets brushed aside.

In response to labalienne’s excellent response, I’d like to offer three points:

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge that I was wrong.

My first instinct, when confronted with this point, was a kind of self-defence, arguing that this wasn’t what I was talking about and that I would never advocate a kind of ‘passive-ism’ that accepts but does not confront and expose such violence.

Such for my ‘mansplaining’.

My first response *should* have been unconditional listening.

The point that labalienne makes is all too real, and all too often ignored. Us men so often respond with #notallmen (or #notmyblogpost, it seems), without necessarily allowing the gravity of the point to sink in. This is real, and it’s disgusting, and we—I—need to listen to the voices of women far more attentively.

Secondly, I feel it’s necessary to post the links to the series of articles written by Julia Baird in the Sydney Morning Herald, on the topic of the theology of ‘submission’ and ‘headship’ in Christian marriage and domestic violence (labalienne linked to the first of these in her post, but the second two were not yet written):

  1. “Submission is a fraught mixed message for the church”
  2. “Doctrine of headship a distortion of the gospel message of mutual love and respect”
  3. “Church cannot afford to walk past domestic abuse”

Thirdly, and finally, I want to make a point that I should have in the original post.

I’m white. I’m very, very white.

Violence in our world disproportionately affects people of colour (and especially women of colour), and is all too often inflicted by white men—by people like me.

What we don’t need is for people like me to stand up and talk like we’ve figured out all the ‘solutions’. In my post, the examples I was thinking of as I wrote included a poor Jewish rabbi (Jesus of Nazareth), masses of Indians standing up to the might of the British Empire (Gandhi and his followers), the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., and the nonviolence outlined by (post-prison) Nelson Mandela.*

My job is not to suggest (or appear to suggest) that I have the answers to these things, but to point to those who have experienced such violence and who have overcome not through responding with violence of their own, but with something more powerful. I also need to acknowledge the very real bodily pain and suffering that they experienced, and those who lost their lives in the process (and I thank labalienne, again, for reminding me of this point).

I’d like to keep this conversation going, and I hope the points above are helpful.

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* Yes, I am aware (and somewhat disappointed) that all the main examples that were in my mind (Jesus, Gandhi, MLK, Mandela) were male.

The ‘Energy’ of Violence

These days, it’s relatively common for me to get myself in conversations about the ‘effectiveness’ of nonviolence. The discussion usually goes something like this:

Someone: “Look, I like the idea of nonviolence, but in the same kind of way that university students like the idea of Communism: it’s nice on paper, I guess, but it just doesn’t work in the real world.”

Me: “Right. So we’re talking about whether or not nonviolence can be an effective strategy, yeah?”

Someone: “Correct. It might be fine in certain situations, but it’s just not going to work in the face of full-blown evil.”

Me: “Leaving off for a moment a couple of points that could be challenged from what you’ve just said, you might be surprised to learn that nonviolent movements have, historically, proven to be more ‘successful’ than violent ones.”

Someone: “Right. So what you’re saying is that you’re going to fly over to Iraq to have a cup of tea and biscuits and ‘discuss’ options with I.S.? Good luck with that! With the reality of I.S., or Boko Haram—or Hitler and the Nazis—we’re dealing with pure evil. That kind of evil cannot be reasoned with, and it won’t be stopped by everyone sitting around singing Kumbaya! There’s only one language that these monsters understand, and it’s one that’s communicated through the barrel of a gun.”

…and so on and so forth.

Now, there are a number of intertwined issues in this discussion. There’s the dehumanisation of the enemy (using terms like ‘monsters’, ‘savages’, ‘pure evil’, and the like), which, of course, is a very helpful way of assuaging guilt. The thought of ‘exterminating brutes’ is much easier to accept than killing fellow human beings, and it’s why the official vocabulary of war is so full of euphemism. There is also, of course, the core issue of effectiveness (in terms of clear ‘results’), which has been shown a number of times to, quite clearly, favour nonviolent movements (despite common belief, and in all sorts of contexts—including overthrowing violent dictators.

But I think there’s actually a more foundational issue which needs to be clarified:

There seems to be a common belief that violence can be defeated by violence—violence of a different kind, perhaps (if you want to make that argument), but violence nonetheless (…the ongoing popularity of the myth of redemptive violence is here ‘Exhibit A’). Once it has reached the point where there is ‘no other option’, so the argument goes, violence is required in order to overcome the evil that is being (perhaps reluctantly) opposed, and to restore equilibrium.

The problem with this is that violence never defeats violence. Ever.

It can pause it, I guess, or suppress it (for a time), or deflect it or squish and squash or bend it, but violence can never fully ‘defeat’ violence.

Violence, rather, begets further violence—often in new and innovative forms, to be sure, but reliably nonetheless.

Violence, it seems to me, has a kind of energy to it, which ricochets its way through the pages of history. Energy, as the saying goes, never really dies, it simply changes its form. In the same way, the energy of violence is not defeated by further violence, but is simply changed and channeled into new forms.

The violence of I.S. doesn’t spring forth out of nowhere, but from the fertile ground of previous violence. Such is the case for Boko Haram, and Joseph Kony, and Hitler, and on and on it goes. (Perhaps it’s a touch too controversial, but I think this also explains the incredible violence that is alive and well in the U.S., but I’ll leave that for another discussion.)

The cacophony of violence in our world bounces off the blades of swords and the barrels of guns, echoing into perpetuity.

This, of course, is rather depressing.

There is, to my mind, only one antidote, and it’s best illustrated in the torturous death of a poor Jewish rabbi on a Roman cross.

Jesus of Nazareth, hanging on the cross, absorbed the energy of violence into himself. Rather than responding in kind—rather than calling his disciples to violent revolt—he drew the violence of Empire into his own body, and transformed it by the only force in the universe powerful enough to do so: grace. Instead of words of wrath, forgiveness flowed from his lips, and thus violence was robbed of its power. (Of course, the Christian story also insists that, through the resurrection of Jesus, death itself—that thing which gives violence its very power—was overcome in full.)

And this, then, is the reason why nonviolence is not just more ‘successful’ than violence, but in fact is the only truly successful response.

Meeting violence with violence can only ever deflect the energy of violence. Transforming violence through grace and love allows for the vibrations of violence to be wholly absorbed.

I am not for a moment saying that this is easy. In fact, it remains a truly extraordinary act (and one that I’m not sure I can fully appreciate, given that my life has been relatively free from violence).

It is also fact, however, that it remains the only way to truly defeat violence.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to conclude with the words of Dr King:

Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to love our enemies. Some people have sincerely felt that its actual practice is not possible. It is easy, they say, to love those who love you, but how can one love those who openly and insidiously seek to defeat you…?

Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love for even our enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist; the is the practical realist…

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.

Minimalism

I’m a fan of minimalist design.

I was introduced to the concept by a friend who, noting the design of the iPhone (which was, at that point, relatively new), described the possibility of stripping back that which is unnecessary in order to find ‘perfection’ (rather than seeking the same result by ‘adding things on’). In the context of the dominance of Blackberry phones and the ‘fact’ that a business device required a full, physical qwerty keyboard, the iPhone boasted a bold, minimalist design. And it won. It became that which we never knew we always needed.

I’ve thought about the point often since then.

When I read Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, I was struck by the chapter on the ‘discipline of simplicity’. I remain gripped by this vision where my speech and actions and entire way of life is far more…simple—far less cluttered and noisy and complex.

I’ve been thinking about what it means, for example, for writing blog posts like this (and how it challenges my usual verbosity).

I’ve been thinking about what it means for the public speaking I do on a regular basis.

I’ve been thinking about what it means for what I buy, the furniture in my house, and the clothes I wear.

More than this, I’ve been thinking about what it means for church. What is necessary for a local church to be doing to facilitate discipleship and mission. What is the ‘clutter’ that can—and should—be stripped away?

I’ve been thinking about what it means for politics. What is necessary for a government to be doing to facilitate the flourishing of a nation? It should be noted here that my understanding of ‘flourishing’ is somewhat more nuanced than ‘unending economic growth’.

As someone who works for an aid and development organisation, I’ve been thinking about what it means for community development (both here and abroad). As someone who is not a development expert, I need to recognise the clear limitations of my contribution to this discussion, though I think the idea of ‘minimalist development’ (where there is laser focus on that which is necessary to see empowerment and self-sufficiency) is an inherently attractive one. This is not ‘lazy’ or ‘cheap’ development, and nor is it the result of an obsession with simplistic notions of ‘effectiveness’ and ‘efficiency’. It’s the result of a desire to live with humility, leaving a small footprint, while seeking the genuine flourishing of human communities and the world in which we live.

These are my thoughts; I’d love to hear yours.

Same-Sex marriage: A topic too hot to touch? Or an argument too out of touch?

In this month’s edition of the Eternity Christian newspaper, Karl Faase contributes a short piece about same-sex marriage in Australia, entitled ‘A topic too hot to touch’.

Karl’s argument goes something like this: ‘many’ evangelicals in Australia have ‘gone silent’ (or, God forbid, support same-sex marriage legislation) due to a broader focus on love, justice, and the desire to present a relevant message to society—all of which are, Karl suggests, ok in-and-of themselves, but which seem to have conspired here to confuse church leaders or to rob them of their courage on this issue. This has left them unable or unwilling to defend the ‘clear biblical values’ that should, it seem, inspire staunch opposition to any such legislative changes.

Now, Karl is a smart guy, a successful pastor, a gifted communicator, and someone who is no stranger to issues of faith in the public square.

I would suggest, however, that, in the process of calling out what he sees as the error of passivity in his opponents, he has here fallen squarely into the equal but opposite error of coercion. Passivity and coercion, as Miroslav Volf reminds us, are the two common malfunctions of public faith. One of the results of his call to action is to align (and thus to radically reduce) his version of Christianity with conservative politics and to align those who disagree with him to progressive politics. This is as unhelpful as it is misguided.

I’ve written before about my thoughts on a Christian approach to legislation concerning same-sex marriage, so I won’t repeat myself here.

What I will say is that I think it’s now time for what I proposed there to come into effect.

I believe that the best possible thing that churches in Australia could do at this point in time is to jointly and voluntarily renounce our authority to perform (legally recognised) wedding ceremonies on behalf of the State. Churches have no place acting on behalf of the State in performing this service, and the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be caught up in the whole matter means that we end up in futile arguments like the one Mr Faase invites us back into.

Everything to do with legally recognised unions in Australia should rest with the State alone. Churches should leave that responsibility with them, and seek instead to offer ‘covenant ceremonies’ which recognise the status of the union before God, which a State obviously cannot do. A couple might, for example, have their union legally recognised by a representative of the State (for taxation and superannuation purposes, and the like), and then choose to have one these covenant ceremonies which celebrates the union in the sight of friends and family and, of course, God. Everyone wins—even the wedding industry, which could continue to extract preposterous amounts from couples wishing to throw a huge party and to pay an exorbitant premium on it because someone might be wearing an over-priced white dress!

It’s my suggestion that a voluntary and coordinated ‘handing back’ of the power to perform marriage ceremonies would act as a circuit-breaker in the current debate, and also might build goodwill among the general population as churches suggest that these covenant ceremonies—as ceremonies that have no legal standing—should be offered entirely at the discretion of the churches. Many would only offer these for the union of one man and one woman, but others might also offer them to same-sex couples. Either way, as something that holds no legal standing, the churches should be free to offer them to whomever they like. Of course, the State could offer the legally recognised civil unions to whosoever they like too, including same-sex couples.

This, I suggest, removes discrimination against same-sex couples, as well as allowing us to retain our authentic voice in matters of public faith while falling neither into coercion nor passivity. If we truly believe that there are ‘clear biblical values’ related to marriage, then as we demonstrate the way that a certain model offers a ‘better’ way of flourishing, then surely it will be attractive to others who might like to be part of it. In this way, people would be invited to participate rather than being forced to comply (or have no choice but to be excluded). I, for one, think that this is a more excellent strategy.

So, who’s with me?

Let’s start a campaign to get churches all around Australia to hand back to the State what belongs to the State and, in the process, I think we might just win a few hearts.

Suburban Permaculture as Missional Living

A few months ago I mentioned that I was seeking to focus my attention for 2014 on three streams of thought (and practice), and the interaction and overlap between them. Those streams were missional thinking and practice, the spirituality and practice on nonviolence, and the principles of permaculture. You can find the original post here.

In this post, I’d like to tease out some of the connections—especially in the overlap between missional thinking and practice and the principles of permaculture—by way of an idea that I’ve been thinking about for a number of years now. The idea has not come to fruition for at least a couple of reasons (that I won’t go into here), but I wanted to put the idea out there both as (what I think is) a good illustration of what I’m talking about, and for anyone who might be interested in trying to implement something similar.

I attend a church in the north-west of Sydney—a typically suburban area that is now seeing a rapid increase in medium-density dwellings (townhouses, apartment complexes, etc.). It’s what you might call an upper-middle class kind of place, with people typically having reasonably well-paying jobs, large mortgages (on large houses with tiny yards), and many demands on their time. It’s the kind of area where it’s easy to get wrapped-up in your own little world and not really know your neighbours, and where you can scratch all your consumeristic itches at the mega-malls and ‘homemaker centres’ to your heart’s content.

My church would be the perfect place, I think, for a community garden. We have a large (currently-)grassed area which would be absolutely perfect for it!

To begin with, this area could house a reasonable number of traditional garden beds, as a place where people from the community could come and grow their own fresh produce. Many residents in the area have tiny little yards (that probably don’t even qualify for that name), with many having no yard at all. If set-up and promoted well enough, I believe that this sort of place could pick up a reasonable amount of interest from people in the community who would: a) love to be able to grow some of their own organic food, b) be interested in getting themselves and/or their kids outside and their hands dirty, and c) be interested in getting together with other people in their community to help form new friendships.

In terms of the set up for the area, I would see it as an opportunity to take people on a journey into the world of permaculture through an easy entry point. It would be set up with some traditional garden beds, compost heap, and a worm farm or two near the entry point (the first thing to catch the eye of people coming in for the first time), moving on to a couple of mandala gardens with, perhaps, a decent-sized herb spiral to the side, and moving again into the beginnings of a genuine food forest (as a place to demonstrate deeper permaculture thinking through plant guilds, stacking functions, ‘closing the loop’, etc.).

From here, I would suggest seeking to bring in an experienced permaculturist, perhaps once-a-month, to talk about the principles and practices of sustainable small-scale food production, and maybe also to begin talking about ideas such as the ‘slow food movement’ and the like.

The next step, though, is where, I think, it starts getting exciting.

What I would really love to see is for a place like this to become a kind of hub for training up and sending out people into their townhouse and apartment complexes equipped with skills in innovative small-space permaculture design (or whatever you would like to call it). The idea would be to see people enthused to get together with their neighbours to devise ways of taking such complexes on a journey of becoming self-sufficient and sustainable (in terms of fresh produce) and fostering community. Apartment balconies could become places where each resident grew one item, which would then be shared and traded with neighbours who were growing something else. In this way, no one household/family would need to grow everything they needed, but could form co-ops with their neighbours so that each had something to contribute and each could share in the diversity of what others were producing. This could spread to common areas in these complexes becoming places where plants were grown for their usefulness, not just for their aesthetics.

The (to my mind) natural extension of these ideas would be to see neighbours sharing meals together to celebrate what they have done together and the friendships that have grown alongside the food.

In regards to the ‘missional’ element of this idea, I see it in regards to the local church becoming a ‘sending point’ for people into the community with creative ideas for fostering community and trust and a sustainable future together. The plan is not predicated on some cynical plot for getting ‘bums on seats’ in the Sunday services, but rather in helping draw people together in the community to share food and laughter and life with one another.

It’s my belief that brokenness manifests itself in different ways in different communities, and I see it in my own community (and my own life) in terms of isolation and detachment from those around us, as well as in the consumeristic drive that results in ‘convenience’ over sustainable living. The idea outlined above, I believe, could be one way of seeking to address this sort of brokenness, with the church seeking to become a valued and trusted partner in the community that is working for wholeness and wellbeing. This, to my mind, is precisely what the  local church should be doing.

Of course, the sort of thing I describe above would be implemented over a number of years. It would take time to see these things happen, and there would need to be thought towards short-term ‘wins’ as well as planning for the longer-term goals. It’s also something that would take a fair bit of experimenting; some ideas would work, others would become lessons learned for future reference. Of course, these just happen to be permaculture principles. The same principles that undergird sustainable agriculture also happen to be good ways of thinking about human communities and social interactions, and that’s precisely why the overlap here is so exciting!

Now, I realise that some people might see what I’m describing here as some sort of ‘communist dream’, but it’s simply one way of trying to deal with the destructive individualistic and unsustainable society that I find myself in. If you’d like to run with this idea, please do! I don’t ‘own’ it, and I don’t want to restrict the possibilities in any way. If you’d like to chat more about it, please let me know. I’d be only too happy to kick around ideas with you as you think about implementing something like this in your own community (or through your own church). Finally, if you are already doing something like this, I’d love to learn more from you!

Southern Baptist Pastor Changes His View on Homosexuality

In February of this year, Pastor Danny Cortez—a Southern Baptist pastor in the U.S.—delivered a sermon to his church about how he had, over time, changed his views concerning homosexuality.

It was a very courageous act, and perhaps the most honest sermon I’ve heard in a long time.

You can see it here:

Please watch the sermon—in full—and hopefully we can get some good discussion going in the comments below.

I do hope that we can keep the discussion graceful, and I will delete any comments that seek to tear down individuals rather than discussing the topic at hand.