We deserve nonviolence

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“The Christmas season,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1967 sermon, “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” “finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.”

This good will is meaningless, and peace is impossible, I believe, if we are not committed to the idea that we all, every one of us, deserve nonviolence. That is to say, we deserve radical care and regard, deserve one another’s active, purposeful, personal commitment to practices through which we communicate – in no uncertain terms – that we must, and are absolutely called upon to matter to each other. Our collective bewilderment, the absence of “peace within” and “without,” our paralyzing fears, our wars – large and small – are the stuff of our disregard, enacted daily, for example, in small slights and discourtesies, enacted by proxy through systems of subordination, through drone-launched missiles that tear the limbs off, and hearts out of five year-old little girls and boys. It is destroying us, this disregard. It is destroying other sentient beings, the planet itself.

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Even out of unimaginable suffering, we can reach out in order to touch the lives of others near and far, to say “you matter to me,” to say that, even though I suffer, I see your suffering and so I suffer with you. Radical care knows no boundaries of nation or tribe, knows the absolute necessity of love to peace.

When we claim the truth that we all, every one of us, deserve nonviolence, we embrace the responsibility that it places on us, namely, that we must not only practice nonviolence ourselves, but we must also actively and unflinchingly require it of each other. Indeed, we are bound both to call forth and to stand ready to witness each other’s capacity to give and to love beyond measure. And when some of us fall short by choosing to be our smaller selves, we stand ready anyway, because we must also stand witness to – so that we can deepen – our own capacity for faith, generosity and loving kindness.

“Utopias,” writes Leela Fernandes in Transforming Feminist Practice, “are inconvenient because they necessitate deep-seated changes in ourselves and in the ways in which we live our lives.” Indeed, utopias “require labor.” And it is through this labor that we come to realize this important truth: “utopia exists at the moment when suffering is transformed into love. Utopia is the labor itself which enables such transformation, not, as is mistakenly assumed, the outcome that results from this labor.”

“Peace and good will toward all,” if it is to be more than simply a thing hoped for, depends on the work each and every one of us is willing to do, from the everyday and often mundane “labor” of compassion, kindness and radical care, to the labor of die-ins staged to demand that killers of children and torturers be brought to justice. It is that work, and because this is so, peace and good will toward all is available to us not only during the Christmas season, but always.

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