“Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed. …
The first thing that must strike a non-Christian about the Christian’s faith is that it obviously presumes far too much. It is too good to be true.”
– Hans Urs von Balthasar
“Love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet it is the humblest imaginable. “
– Mahatma Gandhi
For better or worse, I spend quite a bit of time thinking, talking, and writing about the big issues in life, like God, love, connection, joy, peace, and living an incredible life. As I sit in front of the computer struggling to figure out how to write “this”, I can’t think of anything “better” than by starting with a few statements reflecting my views on things.
– I’m a hopeful Christian universalist, meaning I think over eternity it’s more probable than not the God, revealed by the Christ, who is good beyond our wildest imaginations, and whose very nature is Love will win the hearts of ALL people.
– Relatedly, I affirm hell does exist, but it’s no creation of God’s and it’s not Divine punishment. Instead, it’s a human made reality we live in when we go against the grain of Love, which means it is possible some people may continue to go against the grain forever #freewill, yet why would they?
– Jesus has rearranged my life and way of being in the most incredible of ways, which I expect will continue. A HUGE part of this has been nonviolence. Jesus has convinced me practicing nonviolence is an essential aspect of following the Christ.
– I think more people would follow Christ and love God if more Christians actually took Jesus seriously.
– I think serious yogis think, live, and act MORE like Christ than MOST Christians.
– Violence can be physical, emotional, relational, and/or spiritual, which means nonviolence is a FULL-BODIED lifestyle. It includes ALL aspects of our being and acting.
Okay, now that I’ve got the ball rolling, lets talk about the recent massacre in Vegas and what you and I can do to make our lives and the world a better place. Speaking of Vegas, I’d say that situation was a prime example of hell, and God had NOTHING to do with it. I believe hell is nothing more or less than where we live or put others when we move against the grain of life and reality, which is Love. The flow of the universe is Love and when we move against that flow we experience hell.
To put an even finer point on it, I’d say hell is quite literally violence, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological, as violence is counter to the ways of and nature of the Divine. Violence is both anti-human and anti-Christ; it is literally hellish. Meanwhile, nonviolence is pro-life, with-Christ, loving, and is literally heavenly. Which leads me to yoga.
I’m a yoga teacher and LOVE what I do. It is a wonderful gift to get to guide people to greater full-bodied health, wholeness, and joy, while cultivating more love in their lives. The practice of yoga includes a series of “right living” or ethical rules named the Yamas and Niyamas. Pretty much every time I read them or talk about them I have the following thought: These are so, So, SO Jesus! And when I’m struggling with being judgy I add: And I SO wish Christians actually did what yogis do!
(It seems I was practicing peace/nonviolence in this moment at yoga teacher training 🙂
One of the specific practices I’m talking about here is Ahiṃsā, which is nonviolence or non-harming of other living beings. To make a long story short, this means part of the yogic journey is to practice ever-greater love for others by doing ever less violence or harm to others. This, IMHO is and has always been also a central way of living for Christians … only we’ve largely ignored it … probably because it’s hard … and because we like violence.
At this point I’ll add another thought/axiom I have. This may be an overstatement … and perhaps it’s not: Violence does NOT solve problems, it kills or harms … period. It’s antithetical to and has NO part in love, which is the meaning of life and the nature of God (Please note, love is NOT safe! It got Jesus and many others killed, after all.). I say this because more and more my experiences, beliefs, and understanding tells me this is the Way and teaching of Christ. Why do I say that? It’s ALL OVER the Gospels and New Testament, but to make it simple let’s focus on Jesus’ largest, most poignant, and most central teaching, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us the Golden Rule is the narrow gate to the good life (see Matthew 7.12-14, 21, which both stand alone and are harkening back to the previous two chapters). The Golden Rule says to do unto others what we’d like done to us, so let me ask: Do you want to be hurt, harmed, or killed? Of course not! So, let’s NOT do that to others. The problem is our world and culture is addicted to violence, which is why Jesus names that the broad path to destruction, while the way of peace and love that leads to life is narrow.
Loving everyone (ESPECIALLY your “enemies”), which precludes violence, is the path to an AMAZING life for you. Truthfully, nonviolence, or cosuffering love is the ONLY way forward for humanity and the world to survive and thrive. As Richard Rohr writes: “Our future is either nonviolent or there is no future at all.” For instance, at the Sermon on the Mount’s outset when Jesus describes who has God’s favor and is blissful, He says: 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5.9, NRSV
Later, in the same chapter the Christ details what true love looks like by telling us to hate no one and instead love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, SO that we may be children of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5.43-45). And just in case we think we can still love them while fighting or killing them, Jesus says this:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5.38-42, NRSV)
This may raise all sorts of questions in your mind, and I totally get that. A big one for me can be summed up as “pacifism”. You may have noted I’ve used “nonviolence” and “cosuffering love” in this blog, yet not “pacifism” and there’s a reason for that; pacifism is passive, while nonviolence is active, in much the same way that indifference is passive and love is active. Along those lines, there are multiple passages in the New Testament that say something to the effect of: Love your enemies, those who harm you, those who badmouth you, and so on. Feed them, encourage them, and care for them, because you can only WIN your enemies over with the power of LOVE.
Before moving on, I’d like to point out Jesus’ admonitions in Matt. 5.38-42 are ACTIVE acts of nonviolent love, we just easily miss it without a bit of history. There were rules in Jesus’ day and culture about slapping and hitting, including which hand and the side of it one slapped with. In short, a superior slapped an inferior and equals punched each other, so turning your cheek made it so your “superior” couldn’t slap you but had to punch you and thus name you “equal”. Likewise, in the guilt-shame culture of that day, when a person was naked it shamed the viewers, not the naked person. In that day people essentially only had a coat and a shirt/cloak, so Jesus is saying: Stand up for yourself against greedy people by giving them ALL your clothes, which will leave you naked and shame THEM into realizing the horror of their actions! Finally, Roman law said soldiers could order a non-Roman to carry his pack for a mile, but no more. So, by saying to go the extra mile, Jesus is both telling us to be generous and to point out the absurdity of essentially enslaving people by getting the solider in trouble.
When it comes to understanding and responding to the Vegas massacre, interpersonal conflict, our own inner demons or inner-critic, wars, genocide, and so on, I’m convinced nonviolent, cosuffering love is the path forward. Violence is a big problem, perhaps the biggest. Our culture is addicted to violence. One need look no further than the news, movies, video games, the U.S. military budget, the number of military bases the U.S. has in foreign countries, sports, politics, religion, commercials, and so on to know this is true. Violence is so pervasive in our society it might as well be in the air we breathe. The problem is it is counter to Love, which is the flow of life and reality. There is NO violence in either God or Love. Grasping this, I believe, is how we understand the Vegas massacre, other shootings, wars, interpersonal conflicts, the critical voices in our heads, and so on. It’s how we both empathize with how we, “them”, and “others” MINDLESSLY fall into the vicious cycle of violence that’s part and parcel to our world, and move forward by MINDFULLY choosing to pick nonviolent, cosuffering love to heal ourselves, “others”, and bring us all to greater heights in life.
This begs the question: Now what? What do I do? How can I help? How can I change? I’ll start by saying healthy and long-lasting change and transformation comes one step at a time. Simply ask yourself: What’s the next right thing? People don’t change from couch potato to marathon runner overnight; it takes weeks, months, and/or years of doing a little more this week than last. Healthy change comes slowly, but surely.
I mentioned above Jesus is the one who led me on this path of nonviolence. Hand-in-hand with that journey came this realization: I am loved. Period. Wildly and immensely loved. Period. NOTHING I do or don’t do could ever change the Truth that I’m worthy, I belong, and I’m loved. They will always and forever be true, NO actions required, and they are of you too! Along those lines, Richard Rohr writes:
“Because it is crucial to our understanding of nonviolence, let me repeat: The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from Being itself, from being somehow one with everyone and everything. Most of our conflicts arise from a very fragile sense of the self. When we’re full of fear, the enemy is everywhere. We endlessly look for the problem outside of ourselves so we can expel or exterminate it. If a prophetic peacemaker attempts to take our chosen object of hatred away from us, we turn our hatred on them. Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others were persecuted or killed because they challenged the myth of scapegoating. If we don’t own our own evil, we will always project it elsewhere and attack it there.”
Essential in our journey to health, wholeness, peace, and love is the realization that the “evil” in the Vegas shooter is also in you and I. It is NOT us, but is in us. He was NOT evil, but had evil in him. To put it positively and to help us love ourelves, others, and especially our enemies, I’d announce: EVERYONE is made in the image of God. EVERYONE is a child of the Divine. EVERYONE’s True Self is good, because it’s a Divine gift. EVERYONE is worthy, belongs, and deserves love.
Fully and freely loving others and our enemies first requires we own our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Creator. We must realize we are loved perfectly as we are, and love ourselves as we are. When we’re at peace with who we are, then we can be at peace with others, because we’re moving from a grounded, secure, and stable space.
Let me put it like this: Love is what transforms people, as paradoxically, radical acceptance is what gives us the fertile soil to change and grow from. Nonviolence is brave and recognizes I am also the enemy, meaning I cannot kill him/her without destroying myself. Just as in our own personal growth we must welcome, not destroy, our shadows and dark bits in order to make real and lasting change, we must welcome our enemies just as they are.
I’d like to conclude with a story from Thomas Merton that blows my mind and echoes an experience of my own, followed by a couple closing thoughts:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God . . . became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now [that] I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . . Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.
. . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”
Wow! Right? What do you think of nonviolence as the path forward? What does that mean for you? While I’m committed to nonviolence and do well in some areas, I struggle in others. For instance, I get umm “frustrated” with people who think violence is the solution or don’t see how central nonviolence is to the Way of Christ … YET, that’s just me being violent in a relational manner. Likewise, I have HIGH expectations of myself and think I should be loving and giving and caring and nonviolent ALL the time … YET I’m human and that’s NOT possible. So, my encouragement to you and I is twofold: (1) Remember it’s a process. It’s one step at a time. (2) Celebrate every step on the path of nonviolence/love, AND give youreslf understanding and grace for “mistakes” and understanding and grace to others for where they’re at in their journey.
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Grace and peace,