Jesus came into the world to homeless refugees, into abject poverty, on the outskirts of a brutal empire, and the story goes that on that night, a chorus of angels appeared to impoverished shepherds, singing "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!" The child grew up to become, in Gandhi's words, "the greatest nonviolent resister in the history of the world."
On the Road to Peace
The news out of Iraq is grim, and I believe it will get grimmer, despite what the Bush Administration says, as long as our troops are there. I want the troops to come home. I want the United Nations to step in, actively and nonviolently, with a considered plan to rebuild political and social trust. And I want Congress to start a massive Marshall plan to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.
Dec. 2 was the 26th anniversary of the death of four North American churchwomen, killed in El Salvador in 1980 by U.S.-trained death squads. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was in my frat house at Duke University, bright and early. I stepped out of my room and reached down for the Durham Morning Herald and blanched at the headline: "Four churchwomen killed in El Salvador." Their bodies had been found in a shallow grave in a barren region some 15 miles from the San Salvador airport.
Advent renews my spirit every year because it invites new hope for a world in despair, light for a world in darkness, and peace for a world at war. Advent calls us to prepare anew for the coming of the God of peace and God's reign of peace on earth. We do that by working to end war and the causes of war, and making peace with everyone.
Open your Bible to Matthew 5 and you will never be the same. Gandhi and King called those passages the grandest manifesto of non-violence ever written -- beginning with the storied Beatitudes. Grand for a number of reasons -- for their poignancy and conciseness, for their sheer poetics, for their morality and practicality. But grand, too, for a subtle reason -- for the furtive critique that lay behind them. Namely, every culture of war, such as the one Jesus lived and died in, fuels itself by an antithetical set of maxims. One might name them the "anti-beatitudes."
They are easily reconstructed, because, alas, they're all too familiar We've been tutored in them all our lives; they hang in the air, live in our very bones. This false spirituality of violence, injustice and war is what Jesus spoke out against:
Last Christmas in an interview broadcast on PBS, President Bush was asked about the future of Iraq. "The future of Iraq is Colombia," he answered with a wily grin. Much of the world recoils as the United States occupies and destroys Iraq. But not so Colombia. There the United States shoves aside the indigenous people, seizes their land, grants it to multinational corporations, and maintains a façade of democracy. And the world is none the wiser. Most think a noble cause lies behind the war -- a fight for freedom. Thus the president finds his war on Columbia much more to his preference.
Each year around Nov. 16, nearly 20,000 people gather at Fort Benning, Ga., outside the gates of the notorious "School of Americas." The school has trained some 64,000 Central and South Americans, many of whom have gone on to commit murder and torture as members of Latin American death squads -- a sinister distinction that has earned the place the more infamous title, the "School of Assassins." The yearly protests are by now as rooted as the Georgia pines and have the Pentagon on the defensive. The Pentagon's first official response was a PR move. A name change came down. They now call the place "The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation."
"Come back, Woodie Guthrie, Come back, Mahatma Gandhi," sang Joan Baez in her beatific soprano. "Come back to us Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. We're marching into Selma as the bells of freedom ring."
For years now I've been crisscrossing the country like a new-fangled, post-modern, itinerant preacher, speaking to tens of thousands annually about the gospel of peace.
Sept. 21 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Henri Nouwen, one of our most popular writers on the spiritual life. A man of prodigious output, he produced a sweeping catalog of books, including such titles as Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World; and The Return of the Prodigal Son. One might surmise that here was a strict ponderer of the inner life. Or a guide to navigating one's private relationship with God. But Henri's thinking surged beyond such narrow channels. Few realize the full spectrum of his spirituality.