“The first clue, lesson number one from human history on the subject of nonviolence, is that there is no word for it.”
This is how Mark Kurlansky begins his book Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. He goes on to note that every language has a word for violence, but none have an independent word for nonviolence. All we have is a negation of that concept (violence) which we understand much better. In Sanskrit, for example, himsa is the word for violence or harm. Ahimsa is its negation, not doing harm. The same is of course true for English. So we know what nonviolence isn’t, but what is it?
Nonviolence and peacemaking have been a peculiar dimension of Anabaptist/Mennonite understanding of Christian faith. Peculiar because so few other streams of the faith emphasize it. Which is itself peculiar since Christianity was a pacifist/nonviolent tradition for its first three centuries. Jesus was a teacher and practitioner of nonviolence.
The language we use for all this matters. Pacifism sounds a whole lot like passive-ism, and often has been practiced that way. In the 20th century North American Mennonites moved from the language of non-resistance to the language of nonviolent resistance. Each might have their place, but these are very different concepts and practices.
Sarah Thompson, the former Executive Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, who will be one of our Winter Seminar leaders this Saturday and will preach during Sunday worship, speaks about confrontational nonviolence. She’ll teach us skills and sets of practices for exercising the kinds of muscles that do the heavy lifting of peacemaking.
If there is a single word that captures nonviolence as a positive reality rather than just the negation of a bad one, it might be shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word, used throughout the Hebrew Bible, that refers to peace, holistic wellbeing, salvation, and relational harmony. But it still provokes the question of what this looks like, for us, right now.
+ Sunday’s sermon “Jonah and the plant. The Lord and the great city.” is posted HERE.
A couple other items of interest:
+ The Mennonite magazine ran an article this week about the current project of historian Rachel Waltner Goossen who is studying the loss of LGBTQ leaders in the Mennonite Church.
+ You can view a two minute trailer for the anti-death penalty film “The Penalty” HERE. It is showing, for free, this Sunday at 1pm at Studio 35, less than a mile from the church.