Nonviolence as a Weapon

“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.” – Mahatma Ghandi

After years cloistered in church life, talking and reading and preaching about nonviolence, I find myself pushed to the limits (and beyond) of my pacifist ideals.

By day I work with troubled children, many of whom seek exterior physical boundaries to feel safe. By night I am with protest family facing off with police who are the face of white supremacy’s defense in America.

Whereas during the first half of my life I clung to a belief in nonviolence in fear and loathing of violence, I find myself at strange peace with the violence that is now in my face.

frontline faceoff SLMPDIn recent months, at school and on the streets, I’ve been verbally assaulted and physically accosted by both children and grown men. (Curiously only boys and men, always white; which is itself a worthy place to reflect.) I’ve also been threatened by militarized police in riot gear, tear gassed and pepper sprayed, and handcuffed and hauled off to jail. In a strange twist of fate, violence has become part of my daily life.

And I will admit that I have considered the option. I’ve toyed with the potential of violence to quell the children’s drama and the seed the revolution. To my horror, I have found myself contemplating an eye for an eye.

The protests have been remarkably nonviolent. In the six months since Michael Brown was murdered, I’ve been on the streets for five and I’ve witnessed remarkable militant nonviolent action. Yes, there is this one white guy (or is it two?) that occasionally appears in our midst and throws water bottles at the police; it’s happened on at least three occasions and *every* time he is stopped and challenged by someone in the protest family. And while there was certainly much destruction following the non indictment announcement, I’ve heard nothing that even remotely connects that night’s fires with protestor activity. In fact it was the militarized squashing of protestors on S. Florrisant that preceded the fires on West Florrisant. Considering the sheer number of hours and volume of feet, the movement has been an awe inspiring feat of nonviolent resistance.

After an LEO (law enforcement) rally where I had been verbally accosted by white supremacists, I was feeling particularly over the nonviolent approach. A wise woman pulled me aside and said, “Don’t let them take your peace.” She is a grandmother, she has lost a son to police violence, and she took the time to school and comfort me. She is wise and I am grateful.End Mass Incarceration March

Nonviolent militant action is rooted not in fear of violence or naiveté but rather in a position of strength. Rev. Osagyefo Seku names it the place of “deep abiding love” and I believe him. When a child is threatening me, my response can come not from fear but from a grounded (not candy coated) place of steely (and abiding) love. When a police officer is shaking his baton at me, I own the fear that is real but simultaneously note the ground that holds me and find my strength therein. When an angry white man pulls back his arm to punch, I feel my vulnerability but look full into his face as his arm falls slack.

B93U8ZECMAEazj0.jpg-largeOf course happy endings are not ours, not yet, maybe not ever. The truth is that many in the movement have been physically and emotionally wounded, deeply, already.  Just this week we’ve witnessed arrests for using sidewalk chalk at the Ferguson PD and during a #TransLivesMatter march in the CWE (moving *immediately* to the sidewalk when asked). Nonviolence is no panacea, no protection from the storm.  For this I grieve, and deeply. All the more I am filled with gratitude for the witness that has been offered by the hundreds, thousands, of protest family (across the country) who have practiced direct and militant nonviolent action in pursuit of justice.

Watching the incredible strength of the movement, I see Ghandi’s truth. Nonviolence is a weapon, our weapon. And it is a weapon of the strong.

Another Straight White Man

By week’s end, I was queasy in stomach as well as heart, cold and clammy. The parallel dramas in my life (struggling teens by day, facing off with the police state at night) had reached a crescendo this week.

Monday night’s chalking, my contribution…

I laid on the couch and missed the *fabulous* activist action at the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball. I love the creativity of the movement!

This morning I awake slowly and take stock of the world. I let the cats out into the cold February morning, I read the NYT headlines, I scan the FB world. I realize that I am feeling out of step, particularly as I process the news of the UCC’s new president.

My present life, empty nesting with a precious wife and a job teaching math with troubled teens, is a dramatic shift from the ‘married-to-a-man with kids while pastoring a suburban church life’ that I had for literally decades. Much of the transition unfolded with grace and dignity, but the parts that didn’t still haunt me. I am reminded of the snake shedding an entire body of skin, and the burn that happens when skin that is not lose is torn off prematurely, by accident or intent. There are wounds, some that simply are still very deep. So I sit in awareness of the pain, doing my best to drop the story line and allow the pain to move through.

What I am aware of this precious Saturday morning is the shift of my FB feed. Once my FB world was local church members and friends and potential members, with a few clergy and a family members to round it out. FB was a place where I groomed an image, a tool used for crafting a story of community, for building church. All of that is different now. Many of my friends and acquaintances from the movement are the voices that wake me in the morning, reminding me that ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ isn’t just a weekend poster but a daily plea for life. No longer a hypothetical, I see a little boy (14 years old) who was chalking with me in the Ferguson PD on Monday night now charged with felony assault as he ran in terror from police that were clearly out of control.

A firefighter and a CO from Ferguson assist officers to arrest a 14 year old … for using sidewalk chalk!

This nightmare, the one where children are snatched and lives are destroyed with impunity, is not one from which a mother of black sons ever wakes. This is terror, home grown in America.

Meanwhile the remanent FB world from my old life is dancing with glee about the new UCC president. I know him, I have deep respect for him, I would love to talk with him again. But while all I read all of the congratulatory posts and listen to the prideful back slapping, I can’t let go of the fact that ONCE AGAIN we’ve chosen a straight white man to lead a denomination that wants to be known as progressive. There is NOTHING progressive about the demographic. To be sure, this particular man has been a consistent ally for the LGBTQ community and I suspect the same can and will be said for his alliance across lines of race. But the implication that the most “qualified” candidate is (once again) straight and white and male reinforces the very white supremacist structure that the denomination claims to abhor. Perhaps I should have been less surprised when the conference minster, serving our area when I sought counsel 2 1/2 years ago, suggested that I leave the denomination. Maybe he was right.

A church worthy of our support is not silent as the ‪#‎newjimcrow‬devastates the lives of black men and women and children. The prison industrial complex, that includes the insane municipal court system so endemic to our St. Louis area communities, is a dragon that isn’t even hidden; it is fed with our tax dollars and protected as many ‘good white folk’ work in and around the system. Quite frankly, as I work in a ‘therapeutic day treatment’ school, I’m aware that I too am a cog in the system. So a church worthy of our support is one that helps us name this evil and stand in opposition, not another institution that attempts to put lipstick on the pig, asks us to be nice, and woos us with promises of justice in a mythic neverland. A church worthy of our support embodies intersectionality, reflects the justice that we would seek, and holds the bar for justice and compassion higher than simply what is culturally acceptable.B9c90VYCAAATqw8.jpg-large

It is the dissonance between the promise of the church and the harsh reality of the institution that hold my heart and mind captive as I struggle to make sense of the world that has come into view.

Could it be that in this very dissonance the sacred dances?