How to Protest in a Violent World

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Occupy movements, protests in the Middle East, and the ongoing fight to steward our environment, advocate for the poor, and stand against systemic human abuse all have made up some part of the global news cycle in recent months. The world seems to be both unsettling at times, but particularly unsettled in its own collective disposition in the 21st century. Unsettlement breeds all sorts of temperamental flare-ups and while it’s good and proper to protest against injustice or advocate for those whose voice is muffled, many of the current protests lack something.

When a person protests Wall Street greed by throwing a brick through a store window, no one really hears anything but the glass being shattered. When a Christian says something hateful about a Muslim, something is lost. When one political party demonizes another, both parties suffer.

Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Why We Can’t Wait outlines some rules for the demonstrators in the civil rights movement. They are summarized as follows:[1]

“Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.

Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.

Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free.

Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.

Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.

Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

Follow the directions of the movement and captains of a demonstration.” 

I am not sure I understand how to defend war from an individual perspective, it’s easier to discuss in political and statist terms. And I am not sure what protests will work and what movements will truly push us to a deeper level of human dignity, I think hindsight is helpful in this regard. I do believe, though, that the ‘how’ is important and that if injustice and the oppression of human beings is going to cease around the world, then demonstrators will have to choose their weapons with great wisdom and insight. The weapons of war are certainly different than the weapons of peace.

A Brief History of Christians Loving the Poor

I have been rather surprised at times by the push back of some people when phrases like ‘social justice’ and ‘social change’ are used in reference to Christians. Commentators on Fox News have warned against social justice rhetoric, while some noted evangelical leaders warn against deed ministry that seems separate from a ministry of preaching and proclamation. These may be good warnings per se, but let’s not swing from one extreme to another so readily without at least appreciating the Biblical and historical context that has been truly impactful. There is something to be said for outloving your neighbor.

In this vein, scholar and author John Dickson summarizes well the impact Christians can have culturally and historically through loving the poor and those in need well: John Dickson - Early Christian Charity
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Our Great Needs and the Ideal

Carved in to the façade of the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, is a quote credited to Victor Hugo. The first part of the quote is this: “the human soul has still greater need of the ideal than the real.” These words face the rather famous Country Club Plaza and I noticed them all over again as my children and I milled around the sculpture park that decorates the green space in front of the museum recently.

Approaching Easter, my thoughts naturally (and supernaturally for that matter) turn to resurrection and then to the pressing global needs that cram airwaves, news tweets, and editorial blogs. Will Iran spiral in to a war with Israel? Has the rise of the Western economy stopped and it’s now the rise of the rest that will dominate the future? Is there a ‘new world’ being developed somewhere on earth with immigrants looking for a home for their family and faith? Does anyone notice that the tomb of Jesus is still empty?

Back at the sculpture park, my children are racing from one piece to the next and we’re playing a game that I unapologetically started.

Can a Christian vote for Barack Obama?

I voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election instead of voting for the ticket of McCain and Palin. 

At the time, I did not understand the division and caustic nature of the upcoming 2012 election. My guess is that neither did you. The economic disaster that was 2007-2008 had not yet been thoroughly investigated and the nation had not seen the gridlock of partisan politics to the degree that the early 2010 deficit talks and subsequent supercommittee debacle produced. I was also particularly unprepared for the rather pointed, sometimes hateful, rhetoric that would flow from the more conservative ranks about the President of the United States. Let’s, though, move closer to home.

I have had relatives, Christian co-workers, and social conservatives question my faith, question whether I believe the Bible to be relevant, and question my intellect for the past few years.

Under the Mistletoe

Ever caught yourself saying these words: “this holiday is going to be different,” OR “this year, we’ll really celebrate?” Then, after putting your best foot forward, you simply fell into what you always do. You respond partly out of nostalgia, partly out of tradition, but also partly out of fear.

It’s like every holiday is in some way, lived under the mistletoe. Instead of kissing someone with passion and with the energy that says, ‘I love this and I love you,’ you find yourself looking up to see if you’re really standing there and then you look over and see that someone else is also there and now what? Awkward….

Mary Oliver writes in her poem entitled “The Place I Want to Get Back To” these words:

“I go out to the dunes and look

Why the Journey is still important

Now, I must preface this with a notation. I sometimes cry at movies. This isn’t a confession, rather it’s a fact, kind of like saying that I have greenish eyes and am right handed. When the writing, acting, cinematography, story, and score all come together in the right way, at the right time, I cry. But, I can’t remember being emotionally moved at the beginning, middle, and end of a film, until recently.

Recently, I sat in a giant, stadium seat theatre and watched The Way. There was only me and one other couple at the screening on a Wednesday night, so right away you’ll note that it’s not a summer blockbuster type or Disney flick. The Way, though, struck me on several different emotional levels all at once and for that reason, it’s one of the more emotionally moving and satisfying films I have seen in a long time.

An Examined Life over Morning Coffee

I am sitting alone, in the morning with my Starbucks instant coffee (Via) brewed and properly laced with skim milk, no sugar. I am wearing a sweater and jeans, both from second hand shops (which is where most all my clothing comes from nowadays). No radio is on, no stereo, and no television. It’s quiet. The violent noise of the modern world is just not there. I can hear myself sip my drink and I can hear the chair creak when I shift to turn the page in my book.

I can’t decide if I want to read Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot or Henri Nouwen’s Can You Drink the Cup? Both books are on my ‘to read’ list. Yet, I may finish an escape novel (lately it’s Bruce DeSilva’s Rogue Island) and give my brain a bit of a rest. But, the rest doesn’t come.

Instead, I feel a sense of loss that surprises me and frankly it hurts a bit. The loss begins with the retiring of the band, REM. They have been my favorite rock band for more than two decades. I have listened to all sorts of music, but I have lived with REM. I don’t know exactly why, but their retirement hurts a bit. It reveals not simply my love for certain music, but also my own identification with what REM stands for and has artistically produced. And I am driving quite a bit lately for work splitting my time between two cities, so I decide to spend some time creating a post-REM playlist that will both accompany me on the road, but will also describe where I am at in life. An hour later, my playlist is done and ready to be unleashed on the open road. For the record, here’s the playlist, in order:

    1. Lake Michigan—Rogue Wave
    2. Losing You—Boxer Rebellion
    3. Semi -Automatic—Boxer Rebellion
    4. Cities of Night—Blaqk Audio
    5. Blinding—Florence and the Machine
    6. Hurricane Drunk---Florence and the Machine
    7. Princess of China--Coldplay
    8. Amor Fati—Washed Out
    9. Where Once I Feared to Walk—Jason Clark
    10. Run in the Night—Jars of Clay
    11. If You Run—Boxer Rebellion
    12. Broken Glass—Boxer Rebellion 
    13. Open Your Arms—The Editors

I think to myself that thirteen is a good number and strangely, I am now looking forward to sitting in the car alone. This is a bit weird because I am already alone and suddenly my thoughts are back to feeling loss. I decide to check email, partly out of habit, partly because I really want connection. I like solitude, don’t get me wrong, but I also want to share things and explore ideas, maybe pour someone else a coffee, and sit, listening not to his or her voice, but heart. So, I open up my inbox and see several updates from the Washington Post and New York Times. I sometimes forget what I have subscribed to in my inbox, so I am surprised at the headlines about Iran and the threat of nuclear war.

I also see a note about a kidnapping in Latin America, a suicide blast in the Middle East, and borderline panic about the global economy. When did the international landscape become part of my morning coffee? Who dumped all of this news in to my inbox? Then, it hits me.

I am more connected than I often think and I don’t mean the plugged in version. I am part of an international community, a global economy, and a worldwide humanity. Not to mention the fact that this is just the visible world. I am also part of an invisible, spiritual world, a supernatural world, and an emotional world. The loss I feel turns in to all sorts of things as I think about friends in Africa searching for food, friends in Asia searching for dignity, and friends in Latin America searching for their parents.

Forget email. So, I shut down and go back to my cup of coffee and my books. I refill my mug, relocate my page, but I can’t recapture solitude. A new day has already run me over and I didn’t see it coming.

Tonight, I’ll vow to be better prepared for tomorrow. I’ll go to bed on time and fight the urge to watch any of the late night monologues or news updates or that one last, quick, ‘it’ll only take a second,’ glance at email or goodreads or linked in or any of those sites. I will simply try to rest, then get up, have my morning coffee and seek to make a difference in the world, unless, of course, I get distracted.

Then, what happens? What if I do get distracted again? What if I feel this aching loss about wanting to see her or talk to him? What if I don’t sleep well and my pillow doesn’t hug me back? What if I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and hurt the world before I even have my coffee?

“Relax,” I finally say to myself, “Quit over thinking things.” I agree with my inner voice of reason, but want to qualify it. So, I begin to argue with myself, finally ending it with these words: ‘we’ll deal with this tomorrow.’ Finally, I am back to silence. I can hear the chair creak again as I turn another page.


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A Good Reminder from Emergency Sex

So much of the media centers around gloom and doom and economic woes, corruption, war, and scores of problems that plague our world. I fear that our 24/7 news outlets resemble more the voyeurism we find on the freeway, where traffic gets backed up due to people not being in a car wreck, rather lines of cars queue up to simply get a look at someone else’s misfortune.

We’re in danger of becoming a cynical culture that peddles more pessimism than hope and now with the latest and greatest technology, this fascination that pockets of humanity has with the fall of other people, can now go viral. My hope is that with all of the current protests going on, whether it’s Wall Street or Greece, whether it’s in the West or the Majority World, people don’t forget to hope, to point to something better, to say at least a few things that remind us of something beautiful.

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

At times, I fear the evangelical world acts like the U.S. Congress where party lines are drawn up and there’s much preaching to already-convinced choirs. And rarely do people seem to be able to cross the proverbial aisle with any credibility or at least enough to be heard on their own merit. Are you in the restless/reformed camp or the emergent one? Are you traditional or postmodern or some of both? Are you for or against denominations? If we can take a break with the labels a moment, there are some people whose works are getting a hearing (or should) across denominational lines. Tim Keller’s A Reason for God, N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, and Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy come to mind in the past decade, as books that have been able to gain some appreciation inside and outside their ‘normal’ audiences.
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Why are we at the Center of the World?

Two weeks ago, my son and I watched the reports on CNN concerning Somalia together. Afterwards, we had dinner and my eight year old prayed for the children who don’t have food and gave thanks for his own food. This is pretty normal in our house, so that isn’t the part I remember many days later. What I remember is his question during dinner moreso than the prayer before we ate.


“Dad, why is all the news about America, when there are so many other people and so many other countries in the world?”

He’s got a point. Why are we at the center of the world? And if we’re not, then why do we act like we are? Now, don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t a rant that smacks of being unpatriotic or hyper critical of the U.

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.