Gandhi

Another piece in my icon series is complete. Gandhi's life, words, and wisdom are truly a valuable and needed gift to humanity. Ironically, a stigma is placed on Gandhi in some Christian circles, which deeply grieves me. Gandhi was deeply influenced by Jesus and devoted to embodying His way of being in the world...so much so that he adopted a daily practice of reading the Sermon on the Mount and has written that, "Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. This was non-violence par excellence" (Gandhi on Nonviolence, p. 55). Though Gandhi claimed no one particular religion solely as his, I wonder if in many ways––especially in terms of nonviolent resistance, peacemaking, care for the poor, communal unity and equality, renouncing of empire and worldly power, and the study/embodying of Jesus' words and practice––if Gandhi looked more like a Jesus-follower in the world than many of us modern-day Christians do. At the very least, I see value rather than danger in learning his story and hope that more folks might come to share that perspective as well.

What you see in the illustrated icon:

  • Gandhi pictured in the white, homespun cloth that eventually became the only clothing that he wore (and made for himself) as part of a protest to British rule in India in which he encouraged the Indian people to wear no foreign textiles.
  • His hands in the namaste position with which he consistently greeted others. Namaste literally translates as "I bow to you." It is also rumored that when Albert Einstein asked Gandhi what exactly his greeting meant, he explained it as follows: “I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honor the place in you of light, love, truth, peace and wisdom. I honor the place in you where, when you are in that place, and I am in that place, there is only one of us.”
  • Waves of salt water in the background that symbolize the water of the Arabian Sea where Gandhi led people in the Salt March of 1930. This was an active, nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly in colonial India and an essential part of the revolution that led to independence for India being granted in 1947.

If you're unfamiliar with Ghandi or just curious to learn more, here are a few good places to do that:

GANDHI   was released as a major motion picture in 1982 and won 8 Academy Awards. This may be the best way to get a vivid, holistic picture of Gandhi's life and to get an introduction to his wisdom and practices. There are many options for online viewing of this movie. Don't be intimidated by its length...there's an intermission, and it's well-worth your time.

GANDHI was released as a major motion picture in 1982 and won 8 Academy Awards. This may be the best way to get a vivid, holistic picture of Gandhi's life and to get an introduction to his wisdom and practices. There are many options for online viewing of this movie. Don't be intimidated by its length...there's an intermission, and it's well-worth your time.

Gandhi on Nonviolence   (Edited by Thomas Merton) is full of quotes from Gandhi's writings and speeches as well as commentary by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

Gandhi on Nonviolence (Edited by Thomas Merton) is full of quotes from Gandhi's writings and speeches as well as commentary by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

I haven't read this one yet, but it's on the "read ASAP" list.  Gandhi's autobiography  is widely renowned reading...sure to inspire, instruct, and encourage.

I haven't read this one yet, but it's on the "read ASAP" list. Gandhi's autobiography is widely renowned reading...sure to inspire, instruct, and encourage.


MLK, Jr. Icon

In honor of Dr. King's courageous and invaluable contributions to our society and as a personal commitment to continuing the work of realizing his dreams for our lives, I made this new graphic icon to share with you today.

Also, below is a far-too-small collection of Dr. King's words in hopes that we might reflect on them honestly today. And that in our reflection, we might be moved to act in some way. Maybe this year more than many in our recent history, I think it is clear that we have a long way to go in making Dr. King's dreams a reality. So may we be challenged and emboldened by his example, and may we be the "creative, dedicated" ones who help this hurting world to get better, little by little...

I hereby pledge myself – my person and my body – to nonviolence, peace, and justice for all people everywhere.

Therefore I will keep the following commandments:

I will meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
I will remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
I will walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
I will pray daily to be used by God in order that all people might be free.
I will sacrifice personal wishes in order that all people might be free.
I will observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
I will seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
I will refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
I will strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
I will listen with respect to those who love and teach me.
— MLK, Jr. (Pledge of Non-Violence, 1963)
As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond...either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force.
— MLK, Jr.
Almost always the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better.
— MLK, Jr.
God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
— MLK, Jr.
We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
— MLK, Jr.
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
— MLK, Jr.
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.
— MLK, Jr.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
— MLK, Jr. (Letter From Birmingham Jail)
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
— MLK, Jr.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. . . I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
— MLK, Jr.

The first step to a non-violent society is...

...wait for it...self-awareness.

That's right. Now, if you really stop and think about it, it makes so much sense. However upon first hearing it, this did give me pause. Partially because you don't often hear deeply personal things like "self-knowledge" and "change of heart" mentioned in discussions on world peace and whatnot. And that's exactly where I first heard these claims. I remember it vividly, though it must have been 4 years ago now: I was sitting on the 2nd floor porch of the Yellow House working on a painting project with my iPad open next to me streaming a series of TED Talks when Scilla Elworthy's "Fighting with non-violence" started to play. The second reason this gave me pause was less about shock and more about excitement because, even back then, my friends and I were beginning to learn the immense importance of self-awareness work, the study of our personalities, counseling, etc. in keeping our friendships alive and the community thriving.

It just made sense. The more aware we were of ourselves, the less violent we were with each other. 

Don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that we're the kind of people that went around throwing literal punches, drop-kicks, shooting things, or putting one another in choke-holds. No, not that kind of violence. Though on some days, I could see how things could escalate to that. (I'm kidding...sort of). But in all seriousness, we can do just as much violence with our words, our silences, our body language, and in our comings-and-goings as we can do with your fists and feet and weapons.

When we're aware of how we innately react to certain things and why we do, we're a little freer to choose whether we will or won't react that way the next time a similar situation arises. When we know that not everyone is going to react the same way we are, we're freed from the pressure of putting unfair, unrealistic expectations on each other...and from the hurt feelings and frustration that follow in our disappointment when those expectations aren't met. We can take fewer things personally, understanding that rarely is an interaction with a person only what it appears to be on the surface–there's always more going on. We can be aware of when we're nearing our breaking points, when we're tired and need to recharge. And we know that different people need to recharge in different ways–one becomes a hermit with a book for the weekend, the other fills the weekend with friends & shopping–and we can willingly make space for each other to do those things. When we're at fuller capacity, we can be most present and love each other more selflessly–avoiding the harsh words, brooding, over-sensitivity and/or outbursts that can come from tired persons. When we're aware of the different gifts and abilities that we each bring to the table, we can make space for each other to contribute in those ways–functioning as body less plagued by power dynamics, where everyone plays their particular part that is just as essential to the whole thing working as is the next person and his/her particular part.

That's a brief look at the interpersonal level of the connection between awareness and non-violence. I'll let you watch the TED video below if your curious about the bigger picture. But I'm grateful to be reminded that the bigger picture only changes if each of us individually is changed. I'm convinced that maybe we can't really change the world (yes, a millennial just said that), but we can change ourselves which will change our friendships which will change our communities. And a whole world of changed communities becomes a changed global community–a changed world.

So, if society is simply a system of relationships–and I believe it is–I think we're on to something here that is radical. Not radical as in extraordinary and hardly attainable by a normal person. No, but rather radical as in what that word actually means...getting to the root of something. 

It doesn't feel extraordinary to have a conversation about why the dishes didn't get done (again)...or to confess an insecurity...or to take a neighbor-kid with a stinky cast on his arm to the ER for a few hours...or to ask the hard questions...or to bury a dead chicken...or to listen to confession of sexual struggles...or to watch "daddy issues" rear their heads again...or to feed your kid and change the diapers...or to sit with a friend through another day of grief over loneliness and waiting for a partner to do life with.

But these are all part of life together. And if we can do these things more peacefully and lovingly with the help of cultivating self-awareness, that we might be better aware of those around us, then by all means let's do it. And let's acknowledge that it's radical. It's healing and nourishing the roots of a giant tree that won't change for the better until it's roots are strong again...