Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: The Nonviolent Life by John Dear

Dear provides a useful handbook for living a life committed to peace and justice.

By Christine Sheller
“The Nonviolent Life,” by John Dear, is a wonderful resource for any who are looking to grow in their spiritual life and commitment to nonviolence. It is a three-dimensional reflection and challenge to live peacefully in one’s personal life, in interpersonal interactions/community, and in the world. Author John Dear is an internationally known voice for nonviolence, popular speaker, retreat leader, author and editor of 30 books, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

In this book, Dear weaves together his own insights, the wisdom of other nonviolence greats, and reflection on spiritual and Gospel teaching. He includes helpful information on historical and contemporary contributions to the world of nonviolence, such as Gandhi’s definition of nonviolence and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Way of Nonviolence and his Birmingham Pledge of Nonviolence. I found all of these things fascinating, and very helpful. There are also useful questions at the end of each section of the book, helping readers reflect on the preceding chapters.

Dear highlights Gandhi’s definition of nonviolence: “the active, unconditional love towards others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation.”

Dear’s plea for nonviolence is rooted in Jesus and in the Gospels. He suggests a person read a few verses from the Gospels every day to learn more about Jesus — the person Gandhi lifted up as the most active person of nonviolence in history.

Jesus taught, Dear reminds us that, Anger is the root of violence: Matthew 5:21-22. Dear recommends channeling anger into positive, constructive action such as compassion for others, remembering the hurt we have caused and seeking reconciliation, forgiving others, and expressing sorrow for the suffering and killing of so many people every day.

Dear’s appeal for the nonviolent life seems to rest on his declaration that “cultivating peace within ourselves is not an accomplishment, it’s a journey.” He also writes, “if we’re a part of a local peace and justice group, or join a public protest ... we need to be especially, meticulously nonviolent.” He also gives his readers helpful ideas on how to nonviolently resolve confrontations.

In all, the need for Dear to write this book can be summed up in two quotations. First, from the concluding chapter, Dear writes, “Our lack of vision, our global blindness, has led us to this catastrophic moment with nuclear weapons, unparalleled corporate greed, widespread apathy in the face of starvation, and environmental destruction.” The hope comes in the statements Dear makes after gleaning some hope from another peace great, Howard Zinn, the American social activist and historian. After hearing Zinn’s perspective on the importance of not giving up, Dear wrote, “If we keep at the struggle, we will discover new meaning and purpose in our lives. Even more, we will actively join the ongoing holy work of the God of peace to bring peace on earth.”

Christine Sheller is a former coordinator of Iowa Peace Network (2009-2011). She currently represents the Church of the Brethren on the IPN Joint Oversight Committee.

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