Me, You and the Revolutions

Gene Sharp, speaking. Glad there are plenty of...I was watching this show on Gene Sharp,  a thinker who wrote a book called “From Dictatorship to Democracy.”  The show indicated that this Sharp has written this blue print for overthrowing tyrants nonviolently.  Apparently, several recent major revolutions have either read this gentleman’s works or consulted with him directly.

I guess this got me to thinking about some of the similarities we Christians have with these groups.  I’m not suggesting that we ought to overthrow the government.  Rather, I’m suggesting that we live in a world that is not what it should be, a world where many are enslaved and opressed, a world that we’re called to resist in favor of a whole new way of being.

Ironically, we’re actually working for a monarchy.  But this won’t be an Earthly monarchy anymore than Jesus acts like on an earthly king.

I don’t have any knowledge about the spirituality of the guy behind this whole book and movement.  But I do know that he’s engaged in a process that at least in broad strokes, Jesus would agree with.  Ghandi himself pointed to Jesus as an examplar of what civil disobedience looks like.

So often civil disobedience just looks like a bunch of hippies annoying those in power in the hopes that they’ll just give up and go home.  I love the idea that civil disobedience could be just as tactical as violent conflict.   The idea that we can be loving and strategic reminds me of Jesus telling his followers to be wise and innocent at the same time.

But the thing that most strikes me about this comparison is how lacking we are when compared to some of these revolutionary groups.   Occasionally we go about working for the kingdom in a way that looks like we’re aping traditional, violent conflict.  Though we don’t often use our fists, the over-arching idea is “How can I hurt them the most with the least damage to myself?”

"Nonviolence means not only avoiding exte...
Image by takomabibelot via Flickr

There all sorts of ways to hurt people.  It’s easy to recognize some forms of violent conflict because the combatants are going at each other physically.  Jesus recognized, though, that attacking the body is less vital than attacking the spirit.  And I don’t think he’d approve of us attacking the spirit.

Sometimes, it’s a mighty fine line between violent and nonviolent conflict.  Sometimes, it will look very similiar.

In America, we Christians often engage the culture in violent conflict.  And yet it is rarely physical.  At first blush, it might even appear non-violent.  Recently, there was this campaign against the show, “American Muslims.”  I believe that this was waged violently… and yet it was nonphysical.

I want to emphasize that I can’t say, in this, case, that I’m positive that this was violent.  Because I don’t know the heart-condition of those waging it.  From the outside, though, it appeared that the question was at the forefront of the combatants minds: “How can I hurt them the most while minimizing the potential for damage to myself?”

It’s not that they attacked them economically, by going after the commercial sponsors.   Economics is a valid arena for both types of conflict.  The things that make me suspect that this was waged violently is that there seemed no interest in creating a win-win situations, where both groups walk away from the conflict.   If this had been a nonviolent conflict, the focus would not have been “These moderate Muslims don’t deserve a forum.”  The focus would have been “We deserve a forum, too.”  (Just for the record, I think we Christians have had plenty of forums to espouse our views for centuries.  We have blown most of them.)

Furthermore, much of the criticism focused on the fact that the potrayal of the families was so moderate.  And yet these are exactly the same groups that would have complained so loudly if the potrayal had been more extremist at the dangers posed by them.  There is no room for the Muslims to exist in any form.  The ultimate goal isn’t co-existence but destruction.

There is lots of evidence in the way that Jesus engaged the authorities at his time; he provides numerous specific examples of the idea that we ought to be in nonviolent conflict.   It’s awfully hard to give equal weight and importance to those 2 words.  It’s easy to be nonviolent by not being in conflict with the world.  Similarly, it’s easy to find ourselves in conflict if we allow ourselves the option of violence.

In addition to the question of the condition of our hearts, the question of whether we are seeking to destroy our opponent, I think that there is another principle in operation.  In my own brain, I go back to the idea that we are fighting powers and principalities that are not of this world.

All the ethical questions aside, the practice of trying to anhilate the earthly pawns of these principalities is a fool’s errand.  It’s like Hercules going after that creature that kept popping up more and more heads.  (What was the name of that thing?!?)

I suspect I’ve barely scratched the surface of the topic.  I fear I’ve radically oversimplified some of the issues.  But I think there’s lots to be explored, about the idea of how we Christians are meant to engage and combat the world.  What do you think?

(Note: I meant to save this as a draft yesterday.  I accidentally published it in a quite incomplete form.  Sorry if you’re recieving this a second time in your email box.  I think this version is a good deal better than the original rough draft from yesterday.)


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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