Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Nonviolent serenity prayer

Global warming is the threat. You cannot protect Frosty, but Alexa is worth every sacrifice.

Please give me the strength to protect the vulnerable and the innocent, the perspicacity to see where I cannot possibly help no matter how much I am willing to sacrifice, and the wisdom to know the difference.

One of the most persistent and wonderful nonviolent resisters in the world, Max Obuszewski of Baltimore, said some years ago that he would never again engage in a "hairshirt action." By that he meant of course that he saw no promise in getting arrested just to save his own spiritual butt. He wanted to be convinced that there was a chance he'd be effective. This makes a great deal of sense under most circumstances.

Interesting, though, the fluid dynamics of nonviolence. Push some of it into this situation and it may come burbling up over there, possibly much later.

Franz Jägerstätter was a young Austrian father who refused Nazi conscription and was beheaded for his conscience. Too bad he never got that nonviolent serenity prayer, eh? Pointless. Fruitless.

But his story was published after the war and read many years later by Daniel Ellsberg, one of the ancillary architects of the Vietnam War who was so disillusioned he was wondering if he could make a difference by sacrificing himself and telling the truth about Vietnam. Ellsberg said he had a couple of significant influences on his decision to go public--which in fact immediately put him at risk of life in prison--and that the total and unconditional sacrifice of Franz Jägerstätter was one that helped him make his decision.

So Franz Jägerstätter's pointless sacrifice had zero effect on the Nazis or WWII and had a profound effect on a later generation's war on the other side of the Earth. If someone had said in 1943 that would be the case in 1971 he would have been diagnosed as loony.

In his wonderful Civil Rights memoir, John Lewis tells many stories of experiencing a crisis of faith in nonviolence and Just Doing It. But his opening and titular metaphor, of little children joining hands and collectively achieving the mobile gravitas necessary to hold together a home explains it as well as anything. Putting our hands in one another's and holding on tight to what we believe is a lesson we can learn young and it may work suddenly when we are 30 or 40 or 60. The longer I live, the more faith I have in nonviolence for its own sake. Frosty still didn't make it, but his image is his immortality and the inspiration for his snowy scion in the future.

Lewis, John (1998). Walking with the wind: A memoir of the movement. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company.

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