Santa Cruz Radio Interviews John Dear
BY JOHN DEAR
A Persistent Peace
Interview with John Dear
By John Malkin
I submit that the only thing you can say for sure about Jesus is that he was nonviolent. That was his whole message and he practiced it perfectly. Gandhi said that Jesus was the most active practitioner of nonviolence in the history of the world. And then Gandhi goes on to lament that the only people on the whole earth who donít know that Jesus was nonviolent are Christians.
John Dear SJ
JM: Iíve enjoyed reading A Persistent Peace. I appreciate you documenting what youíve been experiencing in your ďexperiments with truth,Ē as you say, taking the title of Gandhiís autobiography. You have been practicing civil disobedience, taking the teachings of Jesus and living them directly and dealing with the consequences of other peopleís responses to those actions. Some of those responses have been very supportive. Itís wonderful to read about your connections with Dan and Philip Berrigan, Cesar Chavez and Mother Theresa.
Iíd like to hear about your willingness to be arrested and go to jail, to engage in civil disobedience. You write that, ďThe arrival of dawn comes at a high price. It requires good people to break bad laws.Ē You mention Thoreau, who of course made now-famous statements about being in jail and the importance of that. A friend of years, Ed DeBerri, said to you, ďJail is a requirement for membership in the Christian tradition.Ē And in your autobiography you remind us that Jesus himself was arrested for his actions. Some social change activists argue about the benefit of breaking laws and going to jail, that maybe our energy is better spent out of jail. Tell me about your experiments with breaking bad laws.
John Dear: Thatís why I wrote my autobiography, A Persistent Peace. Iím still learning and reflecting on all of these experiences Iíve had. As I say, I never intended any of this. But Iím coming to the conclusion that peacemaking, like the spiritual life, or like life itself, is simply a journey. And living here in the United States has to mean resistance to the culture of war and injustice, greed and nuclear weapons and so forth.
In the book, in a nutshell, I tell how I was a wild college kid at Duke. I left the Church, I didnít believe in God and one day I came to my senses. I thought, ďIíll give my whole life to God and Iíll be a pious Jesuit.Ē My parents were appalled and begged me not to and I waited for awhile. I was going to hitchhike through Israel, to make a little pilgrimage to see where Jesus lived and Israel invaded Lebanon in the summer of 1982. I was there during that war. I saw all of these jets swoop down over the Sea of Galilee and go on and bomb and kill people, in the place where Jesus said love your enemies and where he taught the Sermon on the Mount.
So, I entered the Jesuits immediately and thought, ďThatís what it means to be a Christian.Ē That was my great revelation. To be a Christian is to practice the Sermon on the Mount, to be a people of nonviolence, to love our enemies. To be peacemakers and receive the blessing of God. There I was - a young Jesuit kid - and I write off to Daniel Berrigan, a great hero with his brother Philip, these icons of the peace movement. Eventually I met Dan and he said, ďThis is just part of the job description, John. If youíre going to follow Jesus Ė he got killed. Thatís the job description; making trouble for peace.Ē Thatís what he told me the first night I met him. He was very encouraging.
As I tell the story in the book, and I never told the story before, I immediately went and got arrested at The Pentagon. I tried to get a few friends to join me and they wouldnít. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I was twenty-two years old and the novice master told me that he was kicking me out of the order, but it was a very strange series of circumstances and another higher-up let me stay. And that began a journey of scores and scores of arrests, all over the country, up through my Plowshares action with Philip Berrigan where we hammered on a nuclear weapon in North Carolina in 1993 and faced twenty-three years in prison and did eight months in a jail cell.
Iím just now coming off of six months under a very strict federal probation here in New Mexico. The lines that you quoted, I took from Dan. He said that, ďReally if you study the movementsĒ - and Iíve gone back and studied them Ė ďin the end the change happens when good people broke bad laws and accepted the consequences, whether you look at the abolitionists, the suffragists, labor movements, civil rights movements or the anti-war movement.Ē I would unpack that in Christian theological language and say, ďWhen you take up the cross as resistance to injustice, to empire, and risk resurrection.Ē Thatís a great mystery.
Iíve been experimenting with civil disobedience for years and now Iím way beyond the question of what difference does it make or does it have results or are you successful? Iíve tried so many different ways to work for peace; writing letters, prayer services, Iíve written 25 books, spoken to millions of people, press conferences, met with every politician I could. Gandhi says, ďAfter youíve tried everything you can nonviolently, you have to cross the line and break the laws which legalize mass murder in your name. And accept the consequences.Ē Itís through the dynamic of, as King said, ďunearned suffering love,Ē that the redemptive disarmament process begins. This is the strange dynamic of the cross as nonviolent resistance.
Iíll never forget being in prison in a tiny cell with Philip Berrigan and the walls were closing in on me. It was horrible. There was nothing romantic about it. Yet more happened when I was in that tiny cell with Phil Berrigan for eight months than all of the other millions of things Iíve done for peace combined. That is a very strange spiritual mystical, political dynamic. There is a sort of inverse proportionality; the more you try to do for peace and justice, the less happens. It is very American to think weíre in control, weíre going to end the war. The more you let go and walk in faith, hope and trust and take a leap, a risk of nonviolence for the truth of our common humanity, the more can happen because then the God of peace can work through you. Thatís something Iím still trying to investigate with friends in the peace movement.
JM: You mentioned that youíre just coming out of six months of probation. Whatís that about?
John Dear: The bookís been years in the making and I only mentioned in the last sentence that about two years ago friends and I helped organize the Declaration of Peace, which was a campaign in Sept. 2006. Itís hard to remember that time when there was no hope that there was going to be any change. There were over 350 local civil disobedience actions at local congressional reps offices. It got no national publicity, but it got local media coverage everywhere in the country and we think it helped the movement toward a democratic congress.
Nine of us went in to the federal building in Santa Fe New Mexico and we were going to go up to the third floor into the office of Senator Pete Dominici, one of the great war-makers of history, who funds Los Alamos and nuclear weapons and is a great friend of George Bush and so forthÖ We wanted to give him our petition, the Declaration of Peace, saying, ďWe want you to work to end this evil war on the people of Iraq right now. We stepped into the elevator and the police charged us and wouldnít let us go up. But they werenít going to arrest us. We said, ďWeíre here to see our Senator! And weíre not leaving.Ē That was ten in the morning. We were standing in the lobby of this big building of the whole government for New Mexico and I had brought with us the names of ten thousand Iraqi civilians killed and every U.S. soldier killed. We started to read them out loud really slowly and really loudly, in the lobby of the federal building. The doors were open in the elevator. We did this for seven hours. They literally brought in every police officer for Santa Fe County, the entire SWAT team, the FBI, the head of Homeland Security for the whole State. They arrested us all with federal charges. They were, I think, deliberately going after me because of our work here to close Los Alamos. We were in court for a whole year and found guilty of a federal misdemeanor in the end and everybody was sentenced. I was sentenced last, in January, and expected to get six months in prison but I had a very strict federal probation and Iím just ending it. It was a small gesture to speak against the war in Iraq.
JM: You were talking about this paradox of letting go of trying to change things and thatís when change happens. That brings to mind an interesting story in your book, an experience in court. During the Plowshares trial the judge was asking, ďWho drove the car to the Air Force base?Ē
John Dear: We were facing twenty years in prison for two federal charges; destruction of government property and conspiracy to commit a felony crime. Each carries ten years. We disrupted our first trial. There were four of us, including Philip Berrigan, and we were in rural county jails in North Carolina, where Iím from originally. All of our friends were there, the place was packed and there was enormous publicity about it. They gave us four separate trials. This was Philip Berriganís trial in April, 1994 in North Carolina.
Phil called me as a witness and I was brought into the courtroom in chains, in an orange jumpsuit and hereís the jury and a very mean judge. All the jury works at the Air Force base where we were and the prosecutor works with the Air Force, too. They were trying to get our key support person who was sitting in the front row. They wanted to arrest him, too. Theyíre always trying to round up people who are involved in extreme nonviolent resistance or maybe leaders. He started shouting at me after I testified about Phil, ďWho drove you that day to the Seymour Johnson Air force base?Ē I refused to name anybody saying, ďI take responsibility for my own actions.Ē The judge started yelling and he ordered the jury out and he said, ďIf you donít answer this, you will get two more years in prison because of contempt of court.Ē He said, ďIím ordering that in a minute unless you answer.Ē I said, ďOkay. Iíll answer.Ē They were all shocked. They bring back the jury and the prosecutor yells at me, ďTell us under oath who drove the car.Ē I said, ďWell, thank you for pushing me to the truth of our action. The truth is that we were driven to the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base by the Holy Spirit.Ē The judge started yelling and hammering his gavel and the prosecutor was yelling. He orders me out and strikes the testimony from the record and dismisses the court for the day. It was a great moment. It was like the Acts of the Apostles.
I have never recovered since. My life is filled with stories like that.
Iím sure you know that when you work for peace and justice you do civil disobedience actions, as King and Gandhi said, so that you can go into the courtroom and engage the law and try to change unjust laws, or laws which legalize unfathomable evil. Itís a chance to speak the truth, witness to peace and practice nonviolence. Iíve found that it is very hard and very painful, as I wrote in the book, but in my language it was full of blessings.
JM: Iím sensing that along with changing laws, you would like to see the Church changed as well. You write that, ďThe key to a transformed church will be its renunciation of the just war theory.Ē Itís interesting that the U.S. generally calls itself ďChristianĒ and the President of the U.S. calls himself ďChristianĒ and ďcompassionateĒ and a lot of Christians take what is popularly called a ďconservativeĒ political point of view which means supporting on-going wars of the U.S. government, while at the same time opposing abortion. This dichotomy is confusing.
John Dear: These are very deep questions and why I wrote my book, to offer another example of what it means to be a Christian. For the record, I donít believe you can be a Christian, a follower of the nonviolent Jesus, and support war in any form. Or, for that matter, greed that leads to global poverty, nuclear weapons or any form of injustice, racism, sexism or global warming. The Church, or the churches, are the communities of gospel nonviolence. Theyíre supposed to be the people who follow the nonviolent Jesus. Therefore, people who love their enemies, who are peacemakers, who follow Christ going into empire and resisting it unto death and responding nonviolently. The question is really, ďWho is this Jesus? Was he violent or nonviolent?Ē
I submit that the only thing you can say for sure about Jesus is that he was nonviolent. That was his whole message and he practiced it perfectly. Gandhi said that Jesus was the most active practitioner of nonviolence in the history of the world. And then Gandhi goes on to lament that the only people on the whole earth who donít know that Jesus was nonviolent are Christians. Itís incredible!
Youíre asking, ďWhy is it so bad today Ė these Christians are so stupid!Ē There is a reason for it and itís our history, our complete rejection of the gospel of Jesus. You could use big words like betrayal and denial. Those are gospel story words. But in a nutshell, my take is that for the first three centuries under the Roman Empire, they were faithful. Anyone who was a follower of Jesus, when you got baptized, you could no longer be a part of the Roman Army, you couldnít say Caesar was God. Therefore you were martyred. Thatís why people were so scared to be baptized and they usually waited until the day they died. Most of the early Christians were martyred. Then, the Emperor becomes Christian and he says, ďOkay, you can all kill.Ē Everybodyís relieved. They throw out the Sermon on the Mount, turn to the Pagan Cicero, who supports killing.
That leads to Augustine who starts coming up with conditions that you can follow where you donít have to do what Jesus said anymore and you can kill and youíre justified. Then we eventually come up to the Just War Theory. Then, Christians are having holy wars Ė crusades Ė to kill millions of people for Jesus. And today at Los Alamos, the Catholic priest blesses all of the Catholics who are building the nuclear bombs and supports them. Thereís not much difference there. Itís a seventeen hundred years of totally rejecting the nonviolence of Jesus.
What Martin Luther King said, and I have studied his every word and befriended his friends, ďThis is actually the most exciting moment to be alive because, with the help of Gandhi, weíre going to be the first people Ė weíre forced to because weíre at the brink of destruction Ė weíre going to lead humanity back to the nonviolence of Jesus.Ē People are waking up now and the churches are waking up as they collapse in so many ways. Many church leaders, if you really want to know, have been bought out by the right wing Republicans to support the culture of war under the name of being pro-life. Itís all very well documented in places like the National Catholic Reporter.
Iím with Cardinal Bernardin and Dr. King and others in supporting the consistent ethic of nonviolence. If youíre for life, you canít support the killing of a single child in Baghdad or Afghanistan or a single person on death row. Or killing anywhere. And you canít support racism, sexism or patriarchy or greed or poverty. Everything has to change. Weíre talking about a whole new visionary attitude of nonviolence toward life. Weíre going to be nonviolent toward everyone and it has to be consistent. We canít pick or choose issues. Once you get into that realm, youíre really moving into complete resistance to the culture, which is bringing death to so many people at all different stages of life. A real question is how far can you be a participant in this culture? My passion is to learn from Dr. King, Gandhi and Dorothy Day and so many great people; how do we become people of nonviolence? How do we help many more convert to gospel nonviolence? How can it continue to grow and spread in the grassroots movements of peace and justice? To practice creative nonviolence to transform this culture. And welcome a new culture of nonviolence. Thatís our hope and our work.
JM: Youíve traveled to Central America many times, including to El Salvador during the height of the U.S.-backed war there. I hear regularly among activists here the idea that itís a privileged-white-male point of view to advocate nonviolence as the best strategy for everyone, including people who are living in conditions like in El Salvador, suffering under military violence. I know that protective use of force may be used in certain situations, as Gandhi taught.
But is nonviolence always the best strategy for people who are suffering under U.S. imperialism, colonialism, warfare?
John Dear: Youíre presuming that Iím preaching nonviolence around the world. I am preaching nonviolence in the United States and first and foremost to Christians, because weíre the problem. As you say, often itís white, male, Christians and Catholics who are the ones who need to be converted. But Iíve traveled the world to learn and listen. When I was real young, twenty-three and twenty-four, I went and lived in El Salvador with the Jesuits who were later assassinated and worked in a refugee camp. My hope at the time was to move there and just to leave the United States because it is so evil. I wasnít saying anything to them, although Iím totally and completely convinced that nonviolence is our only hope. But the shocking thing was that the Jesuits there were telling me Ė the ones who were later killed Ė ďHey, you know, you have to go back and work in the United States and spread the peace movement and stop them from killing us and killing the poor around the world. Thatís your work and itís much harder than ours. Down here theyíre just going to kill us. Up there theyíre going to ignore you. But youíre the only ones who can do this!Ē If you see what I mean?
I was there living in a refugee camp and the U.S. was bombing us and the U.S.-backed death squads would come into the camp and I would go out and talk to them. My presence, because I was a white North American, meant that they wouldnít open fire and kill people. Thatís what happened. It was very scary and I learned a lot about myself in Salvador.
My experience was that those people are incredibly nonviolent. Theyíre so poor, they donít have anything. Thatís been my experience around the world. I led a delegation of Nobel Prize winners to Iraq and to see the nonviolence, hospitality and kindness of the people of Baghdad was just amazing. I lived for a year in Northern Ireland as part of the Jesuit course. It happened to be the time that led up to the Good Friday peace agreement. Just as my life has unfolded with all of these miracles, within days I was meeting with Gerry Adams and others of the IRA. They had heard about me through friends and all and I wasnít going in with any big message. I was encouraging them. I was there to do my Jesuit course of studies, but one thing led to another and they said, ďYouíre an ex-con?Ē This is the IRA. ďYouíre a priest and you were facing 20 years in prison and you hammered on a nuclear weapon?Ē Iíll never forget having lunch with Bobby Sandsí cellmate, who was on the blanket for five years. He watched Bobby Sands die. He looked me in the eye and said, ďI could never do what you did.Ē (laughter) I was shocked! Because I could never do what he did!
What happened was because I have resisted in the States and still espouse nonviolence. A space opened for many people in Northern Ireland to hear me out on nonviolence. Gerry Adams started reading my books, including my systematic theology of nonviolence during the Good Friday peace agreement. But it was because Iíve spent time in prison, this is very confusing to him. Iím saying Iím willing to lay down my life too. Iím just not going to use the means youíre going to use. I donít believe in killing anybody. Thereís no cause however noble for which I will ever support the taking of a single human life. Thatís the bottom line of nonviolence. Iím just sick and tired of violence. It doesnít work. I donít believe in a Just War of the right or the left, of the Sandinistas or Ronald Reagan. Look at the power of nonviolence when it was tried by Gandhi and Dr. King and so many other movements.
I wasnít going to preach this anywhere. I was always going to learn and listen. A year and a half ago I spent a month in Columbia investigating the massacre of peasants there funded by the United States, the terrible things going on there. Again, I was there to learn more about what our country is doing. Itís here in the United States where my personal work is and I think all of us. We have to convert one another to this wisdom of nonviolence. Everythingís got to change. We have to disarm and close these institutions of violence, like Livermore Labs and Los Alamos and The Pentagon. Just transform everything and spend that money on feeding the poor and relieving diseases around the world. Thatís our work.
JM: Tell me about the day when seventy-five soldiers were at your door in New Mexico.
John Dear: Thatís the conclusion of my autobiography. I had been the head of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and stepped down and September 11 happened. I went down to volunteer and the Red Cross asked me to coordinate the Chaplains working at the family assistance center. I did that and I was organizing against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan with the peace movement in New York. It was an incredible time, very difficult. Very hard all around, especially to be at ground zero. There was a lot of publicity about me in the New York Times because I was speaking out. The Jesuits called me in and kicked me out of New York. I wrote about that in the book. They did a lot of things that I didnít write about, but that one I wrote about. They said, ďYou have to leave and you have three months. You can go anywhere you want. Or we will stop you completely from doing this work.Ē So I moved to New Mexico, where I am now. This was 2002.
New Mexico is the poorest state in the country, according to the 2000 census. Number one in military spending, number one in nuclear weapons and on and on. The worst education system, number one in drunk driving, number one in domestic violence and suicide. Itís an incredible place. Beautiful. And Los Alamos has poisoned the land. And there are more millionaires at Los Alamos per capita than any other place on the planet. And Bush has poured infinite new amounts of billions of dollars to build a whole new generation of nuclear weapons.
My hope was to take a small parish among very disenfranchised people just to serve them and recover from all Iíd been through in New York. Ended up the Church gave me five parishes and four missions, over a hundred and fifty miles and I was working non-stop. The war started and I had to speak out. I was speaking out all over the place against Bush before it started and the injustice of it all, the lies of the war. Iíd been to Iraq and met many people. We almost spent an evening with Saddam Hussein and I did spend three hours with Tariq Aziz. I knew it was all a lie and that innocent, good people would die.
But this didnít go over in New Mexico. Itís a very militarized place. Of course The Pentagon recruits from the poorest people in the country and if you really want to know where they are, itís Hispanics in the desert parts of the country, because they have nothing. My parishioners went to Albuquerque once in their lives. There was no healthcare, no jobs, no opportunities for anything. These kids were being recruited. The high school students who were in my parish were getting five letters a week. One of my parishes, a richer one, kicked me out.
One day in November, 2004, after the war was well underway and there was so much hostility against me, I woke up at six in the morning at the rectory, in the middle of the little village where I was living, in the middle of the dessert. And itís not the beautiful New Mexico part, this is the bleak middle-of-nowhere Northeastern corner. I heard all of these soldiers marching down the street and they were leaving for Iraq the following week. It was the National Guard for Northeastern New Mexico, the 515 Battalion. They were chanting things like swing your gun from left to right / you can kill those guys all night. Stuff like that. It was horrible. The whole town woke up because they were yelling it. I was appalled. I got up and I was having coffee and I was praying about it, feeling very sad. This went on for an hour. They were marching down my street, around the corner by the church, the alley behind the church than up next to the post office then back right up by my front door. Then all of a sudden at 7 oíclock it got really loud.I didnít know what was going on. I looked out the little rectory window and there they were, seventy-five soldiers right at my front door, shouting at the top of their lungs kill, kill, kill. They were looking up at me, under orders from their Guard leadership. They were chanting the battalion slogan which is one bullet / one kill. But they hadnít been trained so it came out kill, kill, kill. These were just poor kids.
I was living in Guatemala at one time and was hiding Ė I canít go into it Ė I saw soldiers go down the street and terrorize people like that. It all came back to me like that. I just thought, ďThis is like Chile under Pinochet!Ē This hasnít happened in a 150 years. This is the wild west. Not just marching on a priest, but a U.S. military unit marching on a private American citizen. That goes against everything in the constitution.
Iím looking out there and Iím thinking, ďIf you really want to know, whatís it really like to be a priest among the very poor in New Mexico? You do funerals. Everyday.Ē I knew a priest who did four funerals a day. For a month. Think about that. Because the poor die. The poor just die. They have nothing. You get sick and youíre dead. So, weíre there just grieving all the time. Iím looking out the window and going, ďI donít want to do their funerals.Ē
My job as a pastor, as a good shepherd, is to protect them from the forces of death, which means I have to do something. So, I put on my coat and walked out in the middle of the street and said, ďExcuse me.Ē I put my hand up. They all got quiet. They were all shocked and I launched into this big speech. I said, ďIn the name of the God of peace, I order you to quit the military. I order you, in the name of the nonviolent Jesus not to kill anyone and not to be killed because God does not bless war. No war is justified. God thinks all war is evil and weíre called to love our enemies, not to kill anybody. So, stop all of this nonsense and go home and God bless you.Ē There was this dead silence at 7 am in this small town for about five seconds as they looked at me. I didnít know if they were going to beat me up or kill me. They all burst out laughing and then they were dismissed.
Later I met Governor Richardson and he said - the news went around the world about what happened Ė he said that he had threatened to fire the top twelve people, the heads of the National Guard, if they ever did anything remotely like that again. I was pleased about that, but I didnít follow up in any way.
All those kids, sure enough, were off in Iraq for four years. But none of them were killed. I was reflecting on that. Itís the climax of my story, my autobiography. We all have to speak out and love one another so that we try to stop one another from going of to kill or be killed. We have to speak out and denounce war, nuclear weapons and injustice. And announce the hope of nonviolence and the coming of the new world without war or poverty or nuclear weapons or global warming. A whole new world of nonviolence. Thatís our work.
John Malkin: You described to me previously some of your experiences being in jail with Phil Berrigan, saying that you had something like a claustrophobic feeling, which is understandable. But you also said that you had profound spiritual experiences there and Iím wondering what kind of spiritual growth or clarity you experienced in jail and did you sense that those experiences came as a result of being in jail?
John Dear: Thatís a profound question. Iím still trying to figure it all out. On December 7, 1993 - fifteen years ago - Phil Berrigan and two friends and I went onto the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and hammered on an F-15 nuclear capable fighter bomber, which has nuclear weapons and was on alert to bomb Bosnia. Ours was about the 50th of the Plowshares disarmament actions. We were convicted of two felony charges; destruction of government property and conspiracy to commit a felony crime. I faced twenty years in prison for that.
As I wrote in my autobiography, A Persistent Peace, and in other books, I didnít know what was going to happen. I fully expected to get five years in prison. In the end I did about eight and a half months in a tiny North Carolina jail cell and then the judge at my sentencing put me under house arrest in Washington D.C. for nearly a year. And then I was on probation. Now, Iím still very monitored.
My experience in the peace movement is that everybody whoís been to jail has had a different experience. I actually never made it to a prison where you can get into a lawn, go outside and walk around a courtyard or something like that. Some of the minimum security prisons have no walls and itís like a small community college.
We were in tiny North Carolina jails and I was put in a cell with Phil and I never left the cell for eight months. Itís like being locked into a bathroom and the guards coming and saying, ďSo, weíll let you out next August.Ē Itís just incredible. We didnít know that we were even going to get out in August. We didnít know how long we were going to be in that cell. It was the tiny, rural, boondocks of North Carolina and there was a lot of publicity about us in all the papers. The New York Times and 20/20 came down to interview Phil and the warden, who took an interest in us, was afraid of putting us in the general population, so he kept us locked up. Thatís what I meant about claustrophobic. I was in a little tiny cell, about eight feet by eight feet and thereís a bottom bunk and a top bunk and thereís just cold concrete and then it got hot, you know. It was summer. There was an open toilet and food came through the slot in the door.
Sometimes we were brought into a little hallway and Bruce, the other guy in our group, would join us. So, not knowing what was going to happen and not even being able to walk. I donít know how even to describe it. But it very quickly had itís affects on us. It was a kind of a low-grade torture, I think. It was horrible. I donít like to romanticize going to jail or prison for peace and justice. Itís very, very hard. Gandhiís experience was very different.
On the other hand, I went in there trying to be as fully aware of what was going to happen as possible, having done a lot of training and years of preparation and a lot of prayer to sustain it. And it was very hard to pray in jail because Phil and I were right there together. Iím a Jesuit priest and I get a lot of solitude, privacy and silence and I didnít have any of that. That was the hardest thing.
But, what happened was, we were up at 6 AM and weíd spend two or three hours reading the Gospel of Mark. Weíd read about five or ten verses and talk about it for two or three hours. I learned more in that eight months than in four years of graduate theological studies at Berkeley, where I have two Masterís Degrees and have written a systematic theology. That was very powerful Ė the scriptures just took on a whole different meaning.
Then, as a Catholic priest, we took a little Wonder Bread from breakfast and broke bread. On Mondays we had a little plastic cup of grape juice, which we hid in the toilet and it ferments over time. We broke the bread and passed the cup and we had Christian Eucharist. It felt like God was right there in the cell with us, in our suffering, in our pain, loneliness and claustrophobia. Through all of that, there were moments of profound, mystical peace. And deep consolation and joy, which makes sense; if this work is the will of God - to work for an end to war and nuclear weapons and greed and empire and to do it through radical, active, creative nonviolence that sacrifices oneís freedom, maybe even oneís life, nonviolently - then God will touch you. It seems to me. Thatís what the lives of saints and mystics tell us. That was my experience. But I donít know how to name it! And Iíve been talking about it since 1993 in books and lectures.
Thatís why I say it was very, very painful and it was a profound mystical experience. And I think it was very human, as well. The human experience includes suffering and we were sharing a very small taste of the suffering of the people in prison and of the poor.
Thereís a lot of talk in the Jesuits about how to be in solidarity with the poor of the world, especially the white male. Iím a rich priest and all of that Ė just coming from this culture - compared to people around the world. Well, going to prison or jail is one to know this suffering because I had nothing and it was pretty scary. We had lost our freedom. Thatís probably the closest you can do in this society. It was a spiritual journey of downward mobility and trying to be aware of living a kind of 24/7 prayer for the disarmament of the world. And it was very consoling.
JM: I think that you have also broken Wonder Bread with Nelson Mandela while incarcerated. Tell me about your experience with Nelson Mandela.
Dear: No, I think you must have mistaken for somebody else. I donít know Nelson Mandela.
JM: Iím always interested in the balance between surrender and taking action. In some ways, spiritual practice can have a lot to do with letting go and surrender. We may practice letting go of ego by relaxing clinging to concepts and beliefs and self-interest and cultivate an embracing of suffering, as you have been describing. And in some ways political action has to do with actively creating change in the world. Iím wondering how you differentiate between what you have the power to change and what is beyond your control to change, when to push forward and when to relax and let go?
Dear: What a great question! I think in the end, for me, itís a journey. I wouldíve known all the answers when I was twenty-one. Iím almost fifty now and Iím beginning to realize that I donít know much. Writing my autobiography, I had a real revelation; to include that it wasnít any particular action that was so important in my life. Itís the journey and remaining faithful to it.
So along any journey, there are different rhythms or different turns where there are more pro-active experiences and some times or periods where it would be more of a letting go, to use your word.
If I may, just speaking as a Christian and as a Catholic priest Ė thatís just where I come from - my work for peace and justice is an explicit attempt, in a very modest, humble way, to follow the nonviolent Jesus. The whole journey for me is about God and being human and living a life of peace and walking toward a new world of peace and the God of peace. The journey is about being at peace with everyone.
Well, then, if thatís the focus of the journey, which I want it to be, well then, whether itís action or letting go - my jumping into the fray or surrendering to the spirit, God is still the focus. In the end, in either case - I got this from Gandhi and my own Jesuit community and especially Daniel Berrigan - God is at the beginning and the middle and the end of every action or non-action, if you will, for peace. And I donít even really know what I mean; thatís why I talk about it as a journey. Itís a matter of prayer and discernment; community, meditation, faith, risk and timing and whatís happening in the world. And having my eyes open to the signs of the times.
It may be some particular action, like a particular assignment that I accept, like right now Iím working on a project. I literally spent the weekend working for next yearís public action at Los Alamos. Weíre bringing in some Nobel Peace Prize winners calling for the disarmament of Los Alamos. That just seems to be what I should be doing right now. Iím going to stand up publicly in New Mexico and make a big stink about it, saying, we have to get rid of nuclear weapons. And thatís going to get me in trouble and not go over well, but it seems to be what I should be doing. Itís Godís work. Itís God who is disarming all of us and speaking through the community of peace.
Likewise, there are times of more reflection, prayer and retreat, not just every day, but seasons where I reflect after acting. For example, it was quite convenient to be under house arrest under my Plowshares action. I was under house arrest for ten months in Washington D.C., 1994 to 1995. I spent most of that time writing a book, going through my journals about my time in jail. I used the time to reflect, let go of control, to pray over what I had been through.
I donít know exactly what you mean by surrender. I guess for me in some way, the word surrender is everything. Life is letting go and surrendering every aspect of my life. I want to, like you and everyone, just go completely to the God of peace and Godís reign of peace. Thatís why I became a Jesuit. I still have that desire. Iíve made a lot of mistakes. The only way to stay faithful to it is through prayer, friends, community and periodic public action. It just comes down to discernment and staying nonviolent and doing what I feel Iím being led to as the next step, following the light for the next step. I find that in the end, itís enough to go on. Thatís why my book, A Persistent Peace, reads like a kind of great adventure story. I never would have predicted any of this when I was a kid. Iíve been through so much and thereíve been so many different experiences and I take that all as a blessing. Thatís why I want to stay faithful to it as a journey. Thatís about as far as Iíve got, John!
JM: Thank you for your thoughtful answers. Speaking of letting go, in reading A Persistent Peace, I think that you were really into music as a young person and sort of let that go. Going down the path dedicated to peace and justice was quite unexpected.
Dear: Well, yeah. I was in college and I was going to be a lawyer like my friends or a newspaper publisher like my Dad, but I really wanted to be a rock star. I was a very serious musician. I minored in music at Duke University in the late 70ís and was in a wild fraternity. I started a prominent singing group at Duke which continues today and was in recording studios with musicians, writing and recording my own songs. It was all very exciting and crazy, very teenage actually now when I look back on it. But I love music.
When I entered the Jesuits, I thought I had to renounce everything. Actually, this is ridiculous but I was a dopey kid. I didnít think you could be a Christian, a peacemaker, a person for peace and justice, and be a musician. It was just one of my thoughts. It was all or nothing and I had to leave all of that behind. And I did. And then I entered the Jesuits. I was black and white, if you will, about a lot of things in life. I was young and arrogant and self-righteous and threw myself into the peace and justice movement. I was very passionate about peace and nonviolence and made a lot of mistakes, the worst being this self-righteousness. It was very odd, as I write in my book, that one of my heroes was Jackson Browne. There I was sitting in jail in 1989 in Los Angeles for a day with this huge crowd after the Jesuits, my friends, were assassinated in El Salvador. Martin Sheen had called me and invited me to come and be part of that protest. We were going around the room in jail and there was Jackson Browne and he said - I never forgot this and I reminded him of it recently - he said, ďThis is my church.Ē In other words, he was saying, ďSpiritual life for me is risking, standing up publicly for peace and justice.Ē I was saying the same thing, too. So, I was wrong.
Just as a little footnote, when I got out of jail for the Plowshares action, I decided I wanted to mellow out. I didnít want to be self-righteous anymore. I donít want to be arrogant and self-righteous. Itís a Jesuit curse or joke to be arrogant. I want to become humble and powerless and more loving, compassionate and nonviolent. Iím trying, in these last ten years, to open up to celebrate life with the same intensity that I resist the culture of death. I want to be about life. So, I brought music back into my life. I go to concerts and I listen to music and Iíve befriended musicians because thatís one of the things that has fed me the most. Now I have all of these musician friends, some quite well known, who are very prominent people of peace and justice, who are teaching me many things. And maybe Iím helping them, too. So itís kind of all come full circle, that thing about the journeyÖ since you asked about music.
JM: Is it possible that weíll be hearing musicÖ
Dear: No! (laughter)
JM: (laughter) No CD release coming up from John Dear?
Dear: No! No! No! (laughter) I might have had something when I was a kid but I havenít played the piano or the guitar in so long. Thereís so much great music out there now, too. Locally and around the country, there are such fantastic musicians for peace and justice, so many great groups. Particularly inspiring is what Bono and U2 have done to use music for social change. And so many others like Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen.
I was reading recently how Gandhi said that art, music, literature and poetry are critical if we are going to create a culture of nonviolence. And they need to be in every movement. Certainly music was at the heart of the civil rights movement. We need to take all of that to help give us soul again and deepen our spiritual lives.
JM: Yes. Thatís wonderful to hear about you bringing music back into your life. You are so dedicated to living in a peaceful way, in a nonviolent way, in the way that Jesus lived by confronting militarism and warfare. It seems to me that among people who call themselves Christians, there are quite a few different ideas of who Jesus was and what his life and teachings mean today. One idea is that to be Christian is to live that life of compassion and nonviolence and that it can be practiced by us as human beings and maybe even must be practiced. Then there are other Christians who might say that Jesus was something other than human and that his actions were something like miracles that are really not possible to live up to or even move towards as humans. It seems to me an important thing about this second view is that it limits possibilities for action and social change. Iím wondering what you think about these different ways of viewing Jesus?
Dear: Well, thank you. This is such a deep and significant question for me. What does it mean to be a Christian? I deal with it everyday because Iíve dedicated my life to peace and justice, but to do it as a Christian. Basically, Iíve just come home from traveling the nation for two and a half months. I spoke to ten thousand people and said, ďIf youíre going to follow this guy, you have to be a person of peace, nonviolence and love.Ē Everywhere Iíve gone people have confronted me, as you said, with, ďNo, thatís not necessarily it.Ē
Everyday I get emails from all kinds of people saying, ďYouíre wrong!Ē For example, tonight, I got an email from a Deacon, somewhere in the United States. Iíll leave it at that. Heís been in the military all his life. He asked me twenty questions in this infinitely long essay about why we need to kill and the church needs to be leading the charge for Jesus.
Then I got an email from a guy working in the Pentagon; ďOh, thank you Father John for all that youíre doing. We love you and youíre really following Jesus. And Iím following Jesus, too, as I work at the Pentagon.Ē And I wrote them back and said, ďNo! You both have to quit!Ē Oh, I got excited and dropped the phoneÖ
Thereís a million ways to look at what it means to be a Christian. Weíre all caught up in the culture of war. This has been going on for 2000 years from the Roman Empire to Nazi Germany to Pinochet, Somoza and Marcos. All of these great Christians and all their Generals, killing and oppressing for Jesus.
Hereís my bottom line; it all comes down to the four Gospels. I donít say the New Testament. I was thinking recently that Saint Paul wrote all those letters, or at least the ones that are authentic, before the Gospels were written. He never had the Gospels and he doesnít ever quote, for example, from the Sermon on the Mount. He may never have known those teachings. So, I keep harping on the four Gospels of Jesus and theyíre very particular. Theyíre a story and theyíre not a story of a really holy person who went and sat under a tree for forty years and everybody gathered around him and felt better and went off and loved. Yes, there were times when he clearly sat down and everybody was healed in his presence, but this guy was trouble everywhere he went. He connected with all the wrong people and said all the wrong things. He denounced injustice and hung out with the marginalized, the poor. He touched lepers. He supported women. And then he turned and marched into Jerusalem and he went right to the source of the matter, where the religious authorities are working with the empire to steal all the money from the people in the name of God at Passover. He turned over the tables of these money changers. I think he did dozens of acts of civil disobedience.
If you march into Jerusalem, the outskirts of a brutal empire, and you do that dramatic act of nonviolent civil disobedience - he doesnít hit anybody, hurt anybody or kill anybody Ė if you do that, youíre going to be arrested, tortured and executed within twenty-four hours. Thatís clearly what happened to him according to the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Well, I just donít see how anyone can claim anywhere, at anytime in history, to be a follower of this guy and to be supporting empire, oppression, war, or violence; injustice of any kind. I think Jesus is actively, radically, nonviolent and heís confrontational, daring and even revolutionary.
The Christian challenge is to enter the story, to continue the story. Thatís what the resurrection is about, I think. We carry on the story and itís so hard that we donít want to do it and weíve come up with all these different theologies. The actual technical term for what you were talking about is high Christology; that Jesus was God and therefore we donít have to do what he did. Or that he was the only one and he did it once. Well, that idea was a heresy in the early Church. Jesus is also fully human and he wants us to follow him and he says this is the way it is. This is the program, this is the job description. I want to try to do it and itís darn hard to follow the nonviolent Jesus and that path of peace and justice and to resist empire.
Even if everybody else Ė all the other Christians of the world Ė start to completely support war, Iím going to say that Jesus called us to peace. That is what the story is about and thatís what we have to get back to and reclaim. Does that make sense?
JM: Yes, it does make sense. Itís interesting because Christianity is like everything else, where there are so many different interpretations. Nonviolence is another idea that means vastly different things to different people. An interesting problem is that in the political Left in this country, there is a lot of anti-religious sentiment. From my point of view, on one level, this allows for a separation of morality from social action and politics. And I donít know where positive social action comes from except for radical compassion; the desire to address suffering in the world, to lessen suffering, stop oppression, to make peace and justice. I appreciate your willingness to talk about these realms and more than that, to stand firm when, as you were describing, a lot of people are saying that youíre doing something wrong or not-Christian.
John Dear: That was beautiful what you talked about there, the reasons why we do what we do. Well, itís only natural that everyone in every segment of society Ė you call it the Left, whatever that is, in the United States Ė that would reject religion by in large because these organized religions have gone along, by and large, with the culture of war and greed and injustice and not fulfilled their prophetic roles as the voice for the voiceless, the peacemaking community and the community that calls us back to what it means to be human, to be nonviolent. None of that surprises me. I just keep thinking that for anyone who claims to be Christian, you have to go back to the story and look at the life of Jesus and try to do what he did.
Iíve been giving retreats around the country on the Sermon on the Mount because after I wrote this book on Gandhi I realized that Gandhi read from the Sermon on the Mount everyday for forty-five years, which is astonishing to me. He said it was the greatest teachings on nonviolence in the history of the world and ďI want to be a person of nonviolence, so I have to read that everyday.Ē Thatís the catechism. Thatís the How to Be a Person of Nonviolence in a World of Violence Handbook. And it ends, Matthew 7, with Jesus saying this lament, which Gandhi quoted in his private letters for over forty years; Why do you Christians say to Jesus in your prayers, ďLord, Lord,Ē but do not do what he wants? Heís not looking for any of that! He wants us to love our enemies, bring justice for the poor and peace and compassion. He wants us to forgive everyone and not judge anyone and welcome a new world without war and poverty or nuclear weapons. He was very clear about that Ė thatís the spiritual life. Thatís what it means to be human, thatís what the peace and justice movement should be.
My critique would be, not just about the Left rejecting religion, or going into the spiritual roots of whatever spiritual tradition people come from Ė I think everyone should do that because that will deepen our political work Ė but, my critique is that weíre very poor on nonviolence. Weíre not nonviolent people. Why should we deserve a country that abolishes nuclear weapons or ends all the wars when we ourselves are not making nonviolence the standard of our lives? I think that the peace and justice movements and all of the groups have got to take Gandhi and Dr. King much more seriously and really go deep into personal and interpersonal nonviolence and the spiritual roots of nonviolence. This is necessary if we want a world without war.
JM: Youíre mentioning Gandhi. Among other things, he was very firm about being vegetarian. I recall in his autobiography there was a time when one of his children was ill and doctors recommended a meat broth and he was against that. He said that, ďThe life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.Ē You have written a very concise, lovely booklet about Christianity and vegetarianism. In it you write that, ďIf Jesus lived in our culture of violence, he would do everything he could to confront the structures of death and call for a new culture of peace and lifeÖĒ And that, ďAs Christians, we must side with the poor and oppressed peoples of the world and with the animals.Ē I think that youíve been vegetarian since the early eighties and Iím wondering if you would say a little about this connection between Christianity and vegetarianism. What is it about Jesusí life and actions that supports vegetarianism?
Dear: First of all, Iím very interested in connecting everything. I think that everything is connected. Every aspect of life and nonviolence and how you live and what you do and how you spend these precious eighty years on earth, or whatever weíve got. All the issues are connected; poverty and war and racism and sexism. Name anything else; torture, children, the death penalty, nuclear weapons, creation and creatures. Itís all one. Weíre supposed to be at peace with everyone, with ourselves, with all creatures, all of creation, all of the universe and the God of peace Ė isnít that wonderful?
Well, as a kid at the age of twenty-one, when I entered the Jesuits, I started studying everything, reading the Gospels and learning that Jesus is, in his words, hungering and thirsting for justice. He says at the end of Matthew, ďWhatever you do, the least of these you do to me.Ē If you did not feed the hungry, if you didnít shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, you didnít do that to me. If you did, you did it to me. So, he identifies with the poorest of the poor. Itís an incredible statement!
Life for the Christian, and to be human, I think, is to be siding with the poor of the earth and stopping all of this suffering. And then you realize that war and nuclear weapons not only makes people hungry, sick and imprisoned, it kills us all and vaporizes us! So, youíve got to work to end war and nuclear weapons.
I read Francis Moore Lappeís Diet for a Small Planet and she argued in 1982 that if people became vegetarian, we could help end world hunger. The grain that is being grown in Brazil is being shipped to the United States to feed the cattle who are slaughtered for your McDonaldís hamburgers. So, she said, ďDonít eat the McDonaldís hamburgers.Ē Not just because itís healthier, obviously. Not just because you donít want to be killing these beautiful creatures, all of this wide variety of life. But, you want to stop starvation and let the people in Brazil have their own grain. Well, weíve learned a lot more since 1982 of course.
I was with Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist teacher, last year on retreat and he was saying, ďI do not believe that anyone is an environmentalist in the United States. I donít think that you care for the earth, if you eat meat.Ē Because of the carbon and so forth and so on, eating meat is part of the destruction of the environment. The U.N. is saying that as well. So, all of these issues are connected.
I became a vegetarian because I was thinking that what I eat is directly affecting starvation on the planet. So thatís that. Iíve been on this journey and learning so much more about how that is part of the life of nonviolence. How you eat, how you treat your body, what you listen to and look at and so forth. And how we relate to creatures, as well as being nonviolent to people. Now weíre learning so much about the earth itself, about global warming. Of course, things are much worse now then they were twenty-five years ago. The U.N. says that 900 million people are starving to death today. Thatís just absolutely unbelievable. 40,000 people die of starvation everyday.
Iím just saying that Jesus would say thatÖ well, he hardly ever ate at all anyway. He was probably starving like Saint Francis and you can get signs of that in the Gospel. He was homeless and he was in and out of trouble and in hiding. He had an underground movement under this vicious empire and he knew his days were numbered. Clearly, today, he would be doing the same thing.
We could argue about Passover and lamb. Okay, we could talk about that and thatís totally fine. But what would he be doing today? He would be going even farther and deeper, if thatís possible. Things have just exploded so much about eating meat and what thatís doing to the earth and how that affects the poor and what itís doing to our own health. That little booklet is quite good. Itís put out by PETA, called Christianity and Vegetarianism.
But I think that being a vegetarian is just the beginning of the life of nonviolence. Having nonviolence in your relationships is vital. Nonviolence is also about being involved in public active work for peace and justice and going deep into inner contemplative nonviolence. Itís all of these things. And of course it is how we actually relate to the land and sky and earth; our personal relationships with creation. The journey is continuing for me, too. Iím still making more and more connections.
JM: I would love to hear more specific details about your view of Jesusí life as a nonviolent social change figure and someone who lived nonviolently. Clearly, that is a model for you and you believe that Jesus espoused nonviolence. Yet, as we talked about earlier, there are a lot of people who think Jesus stands for something different. Iím wondering if there are parts of Jesusí life or particular actions that illustrate his commitment to nonviolence and going against the status quo?
Dear: Thatís such a rich question for me and at the heart of my life. Thank you for asking that. I always quote what Gandhi said; ďJesus is the most active person of nonviolence in the history of the world.Ē And later he said, ďThe only people that donít know that heís nonviolent are Christians.Ē
Whatís astonishing to me, and why I canít even get too depressed over the Church and all of the horrible problems in all of the Churches, is that his nonviolence is spectacular. He seems to be able to do everything! Even if you put aside questions of faith and mystery and divinity, as a human being I think heís the greatest person who ever lived, hands down. And the way the Gospels are framed, portraying him as a radical nonviolent resister, they make him out like he can do anything. But heís not super-human. Heís deeply, profoundly human. Thatís precisely the point; heís the most perfect human in an inhuman world. In fact, contrary to the Church people and to the rest of us, he doesnít want to play God. He wants to be human. We instead want to be God and play God instead of being human.
What I mean when I say all of that is that I canít get a handle on him! Every time I read the Gospels Iím blown away because I discover another angle on it. For example, you could reflect profoundly about his contemplative nonviolence, his struggle in the desert, with temptations. These are the basic human temptations to violence. Turning stones into bread, thatís like when an activist wants some results; ďYou say youíre really a peacemaker, then do something! Or throw yourself off the temple and weíll see if Godís going to protect you!Ē These are all temptations to violence and he goes to the end in perfect nonviolence. In the mythic story of the transfiguration he becomes perfect light. And then the people who are so sick, they come up and they just touch him and they feel better. Now, thatís a very mysterious thing to me about nonviolence, right there. Itís like the rest of us have the Pentagon inside us; weíre addicted to violence in America and itís in all of us. Weíre brainwashed and trained to consume violence and war. The spiritual journey is to let God disarm us and get all of that demonic violence outside of us and just move more and more toward inner nonviolence.
Well, Jesus never gave in to any violence. So that if you see my image of him, you just touch him and you feel better because heís perfectly nonviolent. Thereís not a trace of nonviolence in him. That makes sense to me Ė thatís what healing is about. Healing is about being freed of our violence and the metaphors of violence.
Then, we could talk about Jesus as a teacher. Thatís what I mean when Gandhi said that these are the most spectacular teachings of nonviolence ever. No one in recorded history had ever said love you enemies before. I think itís the most astonishing, political, revolutionary teaching ever. But then he goes on to say Ė and this is the description of the nature of God - you love your enemies because God loves Godís enemies. These are spectacular teachings. To study his actual teachings about human life, nature, God, the mystery of reality, in this framework and hermeneutic of nonviolence, is very profound. And then we can become teachers ourselves.
We could look at him as a prophet. By prophet I mean someone who listens to the voice of the God of peace and just says to the culture of war what the God of peace wants; Put down the sword. Love your enemies. Thatís the tradition from Isaiah and Jeremiah. And then it was fulfilled in our own time with Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero. Our call is to be prophetic people as peacemakers in the United States. We must push Obama to end all the wars and all nuclear weapons and end torture in Guantanamo, to go all the way to abolish poverty.
And then, as an activist, I just find Jesus challenging every injustice, every law which legalizes injustice and institutions. I actually wrote a whole book on his actions of civil disobedience, but it definitely culminates in his action in the temple on Passover. He is clearly executed within days from that. Thatís because you canít have this spiritual leader turning over the tables of the moneychangers. The empire canít tolerate that.
Thatís a kind of Gandhian, radical, nonviolent action where your life is at stake. Jesus was killed and eventually Gandhi was killed, too. That is infinitely mysterious to me. I could go on and on. How we transformed the Passover and the myth of the Eucharist Ė I donít know how to describe it, thatís why I say ďmythĒ Ė if you would look at it with the framework of nonviolence; it goes completely against the culture of nonviolence. ďThis is my body, broken for you.Ē He gives bread and wine as a way to remember. ďThis is my blood, shed for you.Ē
He could have said. ďGive me your bodies, broken for me.Ē Thatís what George Bush would say. Or Hitler. Or they might say, ďGo and shed their blood for me.Ē But he said, ďMy body for you, my blood for you. Iím laying down my life nonviolently.Ē Thatís the teaching. Or, ďI want to be your food and drink. What more can I do to give myself to you?Ē Itís just perfect unconditional nonviolent love.
As he dies on the cross, he forgives the people who execute him. Thatís the ultimate nonviolence. We donít forgive somebody in the fifth grade who was mean to us, or a relative. We nurse resentments and grudges in the United States. Weíre experts, all of us. Our country hasnít dealt with anything from our history we are so full of resentment. But Jesus forgives even his murderers. First and foremost at the core of nonviolence is willingness to forgive.
There are so many ways to look at his nonviolence and for me itís the only way to look at Jesus. Everyday I read the Gospels and Iím astonished again. And Iím inspired to go forward because of his astonishing example and his teachings. I figure, thereís nobody like that. I want to be like that and thatís what weíre all called to be. And it makes life much more exciting and interesting and then we begin to realize that this is what the spiritual life is about, too.
Those are some general categories and Iíve written about this in my books Jesus the Rebel, The Questions of Jesus, Transfiguration and The God of Peace, which is kind of my theology of nonviolence. And Iím going to be talking about this for the rest of my life. I wish more and more people would write and reflect upon and talk about not only what Jesus would have us to do, but what nonviolence means and how we can become nonviolent like him. The only way to do that is to go back and read the story through the lens of nonviolence. Then when you read it, it becomes like a Robert Ludlum thriller and you canít put it down! It takes on so much more meaning, given what weíre up against today, and gives us the courage to go forward and try to say, ďLetís do what we can. Why not be as bold and daring as Jesus and Gandhi were? We not only want the Iraq war to end. We want all wars to end! We want all poverty and starvation, nuclear weapons, executions, global warming. We want all of it to end. And we want to begin to create a new culture of nonviolence.Ē Thatís what Jesus does for me in all of his stories and I hope many more people will join the journey of nonviolence.
JM: John Dear, thank you for your thoughtfulness in this discussion. I appreciate being able to speak with you again. I am grateful for your boldness, which has served as a pathway for many of us to follow in cultivating nonviolence and obstructing injustice.
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