Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Non-violence (Page 1 of 2)

What the Manus Island refugees have taught me about following Jesus

The human tragedy that is the situation on Manus Island has horrified thousands of Australians. Personally, I have never felt so angry and disbelieving that our Government could be so cruel and unjust. What the ongoing tragedy has also confirmed to me though is that the life of following Jesus, the life we experience in following Jesus, is gained by going out of our comfort zones. Let me explain.

Last week I called the offices of some MPs about the abandoned men on Manus. I don’t like making phone calls like that. I get nervous about how I’m going to come across, and I procrastinate. After the first call, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt doing this. I feel much more comfortable behind my keyboard on my laptop writing to an MP rather than calling their office to express my disgust. It’s part of my dislike of conflict. So, when I decided to call, I just wanted to get it over with.

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Love in the face of terror

”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…Bomb our places of gathering and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Drive into our crowds at busy markets and stab anyone in the way, shoot up people in our cinemas with your automatic weapons, and we will still love you. Send your messages of fear and hatred around the world, and we will still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

 – Paraphrasing Martin Luther King

No one should have to bury their own child. As I think of what happened in Manchester recently, and in London this week, and in Kabul last week (which you probably didn’t hear about because it wasn’t all over social media and mainstream media), I feel for the mothers of children who have died and who have to organise another funeral for a loved one. What the parents of those sweet young children have to go through when they identify bodies and grieve over innocence just cannot be comprehended.

As we wake up to more news of terror attacks, I am more convinced than ever that love is the only force that can truly make a difference. I am inspired by the words of Martin Luther King and his unshakable conviction about the power and influence of love in the face of tragedy.

The shock we feel when we hear of cowardly attacks like those in Manchester, Kabul and London can be overwhelming. Anger runs high, along with the disbelief. It all rings too close to home for most of us. We know it could have been us. So a natural and understandable response is to lash out and want to hit back and wipe out the bastards who took away our loved ones. What I am convinced of though is that there is no solution in that way of responding. As Dr King said, hate begets hate and violence begets violence. As long as political leaders keep calling for Muslim bans, make billion dollar deals with governments with shady links to terrorists (as the US did last week), and we keep bombing the crap out of Muslim countries, of course the problem is not going to end.

This boils down to what sort of society we want. If we destroy the terrorists, we don’t destroy terror, because more will come up and take their place. And by destroying the terrorists we stoop to their level. As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye just leaves everybody blind. 

So I am more convinced than ever that love is the only way. Many say that love is weakness and hopelessly idealistic, especially in the area of international terrorism. For a world in which violent thinking is so ingrained, love is indeed weakness. But it is the only option we have if we want an enlightened society.

As the great powers of the world advocate bombing the terrorists into submission, love quietly goes about its work, converting enemies into friends and thereby defeating its enemies. Abraham Lincoln, a President who really did make America great, said that.

Love absorbs suffering and thereby defeats it. That is what Jesus did on the cross. An innocent man, violently put to death, did not strike out violently in revenge against his oppressors . He took the suffering upon himself and exposed it for what it was. And thousands of Christians in the first century did the same, following in the footsteps of their Master.

As people live out the virtue of love, many suffer and even die. That is what Jesus meant in the first century context when he talked about taking up your cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when Jesus tells someone to take up their cross, he bids them come and die. Bonhoeffer would know. He did exactly that. He did it because his hope was in a better day, a far country that was coming, a day when love will have finally won the victory. Death now had no sting for people like Bonhoeffer. It was impotent in the face of love.

N.T. Wright talks about this hope using the analogy of the D-Day landings in Normandy. The success of that invasion meant that the Second World War was effectively over. It was just a matter of time. But it would still take another year and the loss of thousands more lives for the war to be officially over. But it didn’t mean that the war hadn’t been effectively won on D-Day. It’s the same now. The fact that people die today for standing up for love in the face of terror doesn’t mean that love doesn’t work; it means that their hope is in something more powerful, something bigger, something inevitable.

Love is the only thing that will eventually defeat terrorism. Just even writing that feels hopelessly naive and idealistic. But that is a reflection of how deeply our culture of violence has ingrained that belief in us. To believe in love is to swim against the tide. Jesus was seen by many as just another failed messiah when he was lifted onto a Roman cross. But if we believe, like those first Christians did, that that was not the end of the story, then we will have the courage to show love in the face of terror.

Why the Resurrection still matters in the 21st century

Behold-the-Man-Antonio_Ciseri-e1330966503449Another Easter has come and gone. As we reflect on what it means 2,000 years after the event, I am reminded that the circumstances in which the world finds itself in today, early in the 21st century, are similar to that in which the first Christians found themselves 2,000 years ago.

On that first Easter day, a handful of Jesus’ disciples became convinced that a new King had been enthroned, a new Lord. They became convinced that the teacher from Nazareth who they had been following around for three years was alive again, was the saviour of the world, and was the world’s rightful Lord. He actually was who he said he was, and now they finally understood.

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Are the commands of Jesus only for Christians?

Where_is_the_loveThe recent speech by our former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in honour of the late Margaret Thatcher in London, has certainly stirred the pot in terms of what it means to love our neigbour.

In the speech, Abbott spoke about asylum seekers making their way into Europe, and compared the situation to his former Government’s attempt to stop asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat. In invoking the command of Jesus to love your neighbour, Abbott made the point that, while it is a wholesome ethic, it is currently leading Europe into “catastrophic error”.

The speech predictably gave rise to much heated debate about the treatment of asylum seekers and, in particular, whether or not Abbott was actually trying to say that Jesus was misguided in saying that loving your neighbour is the best way to live life. It has also raised the question once again of whether or not Jesus’ command is meant only for Christians.

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Non-violence in the face of ISIS?

Once again, Sojourners are one of the very few Christian movements to put forward a credible, intelligent alternative to the violence of Empire in the face of the brutality of ISIS. This article by Micah Bales should be compulsory reading for every Christian wanting to articulate a Christian response to ISIS.

The way of the cross is indeed foolishness to many. As a believer, it is even foolishness to me at times. That just shows how entrenched in the way of the world I am.

Check out some of these quotes from the article above:

  • “When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s a death sentence. To become a disciple is to take up the cross, just as Jesus did. Followers of Jesus don’t get to kill our enemies. Followers of Jesus don’t get to conquer terrorists like ISIS with violent force. As followers of the slain lamb, we are conquerors through the blood of Jesus, through our commitment to show love even to those who want to behead us.”
  • “The world needs to know that the people of the cross are the ones who will die saying, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
  • “We are called to be the seed that dies – by beheading, if need be – in order to give birth to a world of beauty and justice that is unthinkable for those who are seen as reasonable and realistic in this blinded age.”
  • “This won’t protect us from the violence of evildoers…But it is the way that leads to life. This is the faith that overcomes the world. It’s a life of trust and joy that rings out like a bell in these times of fear and oppression.”

When we are willing to die for the way of Christ, to be martyrs for the kingdom of non-violence, we show that we would rather die than cooperate with the way of death that Empire tells us is right. That is the foolishness of the cross. We would rather follow a Messiah who gets himself killed than one who overthrows Empire and conquers all.

Yet the irony is that in following the Messiah who gets himself killed, we become those very conquerors. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That is the way of Christ that overcomes the world. In the end it is this way, and not the violent way of Empire, that wins. To quote Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Anzac Day and the enduring hope of Christianity

As Jarrod McKenna says, we don’t honour the diggers if we forget the horrors of war. I have generally had mixed feelings about Anzac Day. As I think about it though, I think it’s important to honour the diggers for their incredible bravery. It is an example for us to live lives of courage in a non-violent way, in a way that promotes relationship and love. Simon Smart from the Centre for Public Christianity does this well in this brief comparison of what Anzac Day shares with the Christian message.

Movie Review – The Lady

Aung San Suu Kyi has made headlines again recently for her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party in Burma winning seats in Parliament for the first time since they officially won the national elections in 1988 but were unjustly prevented from taking office.

This movie is therefore timely, as well as being timeless, in its beautiful portrayal of this most elegant and courageous of women. Marketed as somewhat of a love story, my initial thoughts were that that would inevitably stain what is the story of a life of true inspiration. My fears were unfounded however, for this was not some mushy romantic interruption of the like that Hollywood would tend to produce. Instead, the unswerving commitment to each other of the one they call ‘Suu’ and her English husband, Michael Aris, is pretty much foundational to this story. It in fact gives Suu Kyi much of the courage to continue her struggle.

Based on facts, the story opens with a young Suu Kyi being doted on by her loving father, a general in the Burmese army in the late 1940s, but one who is committed to democracy for his beloved homeland. Known as the father of the nation, General Aung San’s commitment is so total that it in fact costs him his life, gunned down in a brutal slaying by the enemies of freedom.

As she returns to her native Burma as an adult to care for her dying mother, Suu Kyi is distressed to find herself in the midst of a struggle between the generals and the people that is now seeing protesters shot openly in the streets. Upon realising that she is back in the country, democracy activists plead with her to lead their struggle, convinced she would be an inspiration to thousands as her father’s daughter.

Following discussions with her husband and children, Suu Kyi decides to stay in Burma. The rest, as they say, is history. Her first speech as Opposition Leader cements her as the one the people have been waiting for. As she climbs the steps to the podium, the camera pans out to a million people waving flags and cheering for their new leader. She doesn’t disappoint, giving a stirring speech imploring her people to fight for what is right. As the struggle continues, Suu Kyi puts in place strategies and methods inspired by her earlier reading of Gandhi and his use of non-violence.

What follows is a portrayal of the brutality and fear of those who will not cede power easily. But the world slowly comes to realise the greater power of the diminutive Suu Kyi, as well as her amazing courage as, in one unforgettable scene, she stares down soldiers with guns pointing in her face and calmly and heroically walks through them, exposing their impotency despite their deadly weapons.

As with all dictatorships, no measures are out of bounds for the generals in their determination to stop Suu Kyi from achieving her ends. They only demand that she be kept alive to stop her from becoming a martyr like her father. And so it was that in 1988 when her party overwhelmingly won the national elections, that the generals refused to cede power and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.

What this movie portrays is the courage, passion and dedication of one lady to fight for her country’s freedom. But this story is not just about the fight itself; it is more about the way the fight is conducted, and the fact that her manner is the same with her country as it is with her beloved family. And so, when her dear husband is diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and has days to live, Suu Kyi is faced with the agonizing decision of leaving Burma to be with him in his dying days, knowing she will never be allowed to return to Burma, or stay and continue the fight while thousands of miles away from her life partner as he passes silently away.

The struggle is highlighted by her many tears as the pain of what she goes through hits home. But, again, as is the case with dictatorships the world over, and as we have seen in the Arab spring in recent times, the power of non-violence is not to be trifled with. Bowing to years of international pressure (during which she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991), Suu Kyi is eventually released from house arrest and is allowed to resume her fight from outside the confines of her home again.

In what seems at first to be a surprise, the film abruptly ends during the 2007 protests by Buddhist monks that made world headlines. But we find out during the credits that much of the producing of this movie involved great risk-taking and it is possible that the risks were too great to continue following the documenting of the 2007 protests. Nevertheless, the story ends on a high note, with Suu Kyi greeting her ecstatic supporters at the gate of her home.

Since then, it is of great relief to know that dramatic change is taking place for the good in Burma, with Suu Kyi herself winning a seat in Parliament and her NLD winning 43 of the 45 vacant seats in the lower house. But as she herself said when asked recently about the progress of democracy in Burma on a scale of 1-10, it is approaching one.

Watching this movie from the comfort of the Dendy Cinema in well-to-do Brighton, I could not help but be inspired by the courage of a lady who faced down her oppressors with the power of non-violence and the unstoppable determination of one who truly loves her country, unlike the fear and hatred of those who would only cling to power for power’s sake.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero of the 20th and 21st centuries, and The Lady portrays the story in a way that makes one so glad to be standing on the side of justice and freedom. She, more than most, deserves the recognition she is now receiving.

Postscript: The BBC revealed this week that Aung San Suu Kyi has been given a passport for the first time in 24 years and that she plans to go to Norway in June to accept the Nobel Peace Prize which she won in 1991. What a celebration that will be. I’m sure Michael Aris will be there in spirit standing alongside his lady.

Edward Kelly

Ned Kelly has been in the news again here, with news that his skeleton (minus the skull) has finally been found. Australia has tended to glorify great losses and disasters, and the underdog, whether they were successful or not. Consider Gallipoli – nothing less than a military disaster – but enormously significant for its stories of heroic sacrifice and mateship. Simpson and his donkey is another one. And of course Ned Kelly is another. A bushranger who lived a tough life, doing his best to make ends meet.

Opinions are strong and rife about the legacy of Ned Kelly. As Steve Grace sings, ‘some say he was a good man, some say he was a bad man, some say he was just fighting to be free.’ Whatever our thoughts about the man, some things need to be called for what they are. Ned Kelly’s crimes can never be excused. They can be understood but never excused. However nor can the circumstances of his time. His was an incredibly hard life. From reliable reports of the time, he was not given a fair trial and should never have been allowed to hang.

Another thing we need to get straight is our tendency, even amongst some Christians, to glorify Ned Kelly as an Aussie hero because of his rebellion against injustice. And in so doing so we tend to overlook his crimes. There is indeed a Christlikeness about his standing up for what he believed in, for taking a stand. But the path of violence is always the path of death. That’s another reason why I love Jesus. In contrast to Ned Kelly, Jesus took the path of least resistance and in the process exposed the weakness of violence.

Whatever we think of Ned Kelly, I reckon the following lyrics ask some pretty good questions when considering his place in Australian folklore.


‘Edward Kelly’ by Steve Grace 

There was a man born in this land on 1855

Edward Kelly was his name

Raised by a poor man, and hated by the law man

‘Til they laid him in his grave


Brought up in the hard times on a farm in Victoria

He learned to fight for all that he believed

And with his brother Daniel, Steven Hart and Joseph Burns

They lived and died with rebel dignity.


Some say he was a good man, some say he was a bad man. Some say he was just fighting to be free

Were those who judged him of his crime

As guilty when you draw the line between the chains of hell and liberty.

And sometimes I wonder why, Edward Kelly

Sometimes I see you riding with the boys

And sometimes I wonder why, Edward Kelly had to die


Is the justice done when the jury makes its choice

Some say he was a good man, some say he was a bad man. Some say he was just fighting to be free

Were those who judged him of his crime

As guilty when you draw the line between the chains of hell and liberty.


And sometimes I wonder why, Edward Kelly

Sometimes I see you riding with the boys

And sometimes I wonder why, Edward Kelly had to die

Is the justice done when the jury makes its choice

Is the justice done when the jury makes its choice

Is the justice done when the jury makes its choice

Is the justice done, is the justice done

Bin Laden, justice, and the victims of 9/11

As opinions over the death of Osama Bin Laden go viral over the world-wide web, I have been both impressed and saddened by the responses I have seen. Like most people of civilised mind, I am glad that Bin Laden can no longer terrorise the innocent victims of his murderous, monstrous and unjust actions. The man was a monster and deserved to be brought to justice in the most powerful way possible. It’s a pity that he was not.

This is where President Obama is wrong. Justice has not been done in the killing of this terrorist. The words of America’s greatest prophet, Martin Luther King, echo through the ages: “peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the presence of justice.” Because justice has not been done in the killing of Bin Laden, peace will not be the result. As surely as night follows day, the forces of al-Qaeda will be planning revenge attacks, and the cycle will continue. And where will it end? In this day when we have the capacity to destroy the only planet we have, King’s words cry out to us again: “it is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence in this world; it’s non-violence or non-existence.” Rejoicing in the death of Bin Laden reduces us to the level of his brutal actions.

The thing about the word of the prophet is that it is timeless. King spoke those words more than a generation ago but they ring true today more than ever. Violence begets violence and hate begets hate. It is a never-ending cycle.

The fact is that we simply must get over the myth that non-violence is somehow weak and that might is powerful. Myriad examples through the centuries simply disprove this idea. Sojourners has an excellent collection of resources which expose the myth of redemptive violence and illustrate the power of non-violence through actual examples of it over many years. I have also blogged about this myself, particularly about the misunderstandings over what Jesus was really referring to when he said to turn the other cheek.

It is love and non-violence that will triumph in the end, not the weakness and impotence of violence. Miroslav Volf touches on this in his reflection on the Christian Century website, where he has included a quote from a young Christian leader from the Middle East – a view forged in a majority-Muslim country:

A huge opportunity now–after the death of bin Laden–is for Americans to intentionally free themselves fully from the domain of fear and those who manipulate it for their own agendas. Politicians will be looking for the next “enemy” to continue to distract you from being truly the “land of the free.” You are not free until you eliminate all your fear. Love drives out fear.

As Daniel Sturgeon points out, “Osama bin Laden’s mistake was to believe that violence could bring righteousness. He acted in line with this misbelief and the consequences for the whole world have been catastrophic.” And those who believe justice has been done by taking him out fall into the same trap. This is where the response of some of the tabloid media in Australia has been shockingly predictable. Headlines like the Herald-Sun’s ‘Unarmed – just like his victims’ promote the same hatred that Bin Laden did. It was Gandhi who said long ago that this old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.

Another of the better articles (in my opinion) I read during the week was from Gideon Boas and Pascale Chifflet in The Age, in which they pointed out the pertinent fact that saying that killing Bin Laden was a good thing because he is scum that deserves nothing less belies the very notion of ‘us’ being the good guys (“who believe in the value of life, the rule of law and fundamental human rights”) and ‘them’ (“murderous hateful souls “) being the bad guys. What is the difference between us and them when we engage in the very same actions that they do? This is not justice; it is revenge, and the two are as far apart as east is from west.

One of the points that I have not heard from those on the Christian Left (I hate that term but I can’t think of anything better to describe such a group at the moment) is that of sparing our thoughts and prayers for the victims of 9/11 and for our brothers and sisters in the US in general. The events of this week will bring all the nightmares of that terrible day flooding back for them. I can’t imagine the feelings they must be going through. Many would be feeling huge relief, many others would be convinced that justice has in fact been done and nothing anyone says would convince them otherwise, whilst others – and I suspect the majority – will be thankful but ever mindful that even the death of the mastermind of those terrible attacks cannot bring back their dear ones. We must spare our thoughts and prayers for them this week as well. While I cannot agree with those who rejoice at Bin Laden’s death, I have to ask myself how I would respond if I were in their shoes.

So, opinions abound, as they will for a long time to come. But perhaps the best sociological reflection of this event comes from Mark Sayers, who explores the responses of both the Christian Left and the Christian Right, among many other groups (Here I will add that the reason I hate the terms ‘Christian Left’ and ‘Christian Right’ is that they label people. At different times I could find myself in either camp. The only label I want to be stuck with is ‘follower of Jesus’. Having said that, I see where Mark is coming from to make his point). In the end Mark says that he does not celebrate Bin Laden’s death, nor does he mourn his passing. Most of all he waits for the return of him who is both perfect love and justice. Wonderful words. In the end that is our hope. We have the promise of a day when there will be no more need to justify killings in the name of God or anyone else, when death and violence will have passed away forever. Until then we mourn and as we do we are blessed by the Man of Sorrows who mourns with the victims of injustice everywhere.

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