Lately, I’ve been coming back to lots of questions of peace and pacifism, questions I have not explored deeply since I left the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project. While researching Dr. King’s life, I came upon questions of pacifism all the time because that was one of the central tenets of his way in life – to confront evil with good. As I read his words, I found my path steadied in the way of peace.
But since then, I haven’t thought much about it. I call myself a pacifist; occasionally I consider what is the nonviolent way of responding to a situation. But mostly, I go about my business in the usual way, often seeing conflict avoidance as some misshapen way of peace. I’m glad I’m returning to these questions.
For many years, I read the work of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who is still, by far, the greatest spiritual influence on my life beyond the Bible. His book Passion for Peace really probes questions of violence – both personal and national – and takes on, especially, nuclear proliferation. Here, I have no problem – we should not have any nuclear weapons on the earth – that is my belief. (And yes, I understand the political challenges and international complications of this position. As I said, this I have thought through.)
In the smaller questions – how not to do violence of any kind to a person who is intent on doing violence to you; how to not support violence with my work or with my money; how to actively live out a way of peace every day – I find my dilemmas. And sometimes these questions get bigger – how do I show love to my students and friends who are in the military when I do not and will not support their work? How do I justify paying my taxes when such a large portion of them goes to the military-industrial complex?
Yesterday, in the June issue of The Sun Magazine, I read an interview with Father John Dear, a Jesuit priest who actively seeks to live out his pacifism because he believes it is the central tenet of Jesus’ way on earth. He has been arrested, lost his job, and suffered other consequences for his activism. I have suffered nothing for my pacifism beyond the sometimes scornful looks or words from people in conversation.
I still am at a loss on most of these questions, but if there is one thing I have learned in the past few months it’s that there is time and space for these questions to be worked out in me. He who began a good work will finish it. I must live the questions, to quote Rilke, and trust that the answers will become clear.
Meanwhile, what are your questions about pacifism or nonviolence? What struggles do you have with peace? How do we bring it more to earth? Where are you on this path? I’d honestly like to hear your thoughts, no matter your beliefs. One of the ways to live the questions is to be open to the answers, wherever they may come from, so please do share. Thansk.