Monthly Archives: March 2012

Learning from Gandhi and Martin Luther King in Response to Kony 2012

Sometimes I keep them close by so I feel less alone in my journey.

This is a follow-up post to my previous thoughts on Kony 2012

It took me a really long time to read through Martin Luther King’s autobiography. I think, all told, it took me two and a half years from start to finish.

The benefit is that I took the long journey of his life into myself, really contemplated and absorbed it, allowing myself the privilege of learning under him as a master teacher of sorts.

I had a similar experience when reading Gandhi’s autobiography. I think it took me about two years to finish his 500-page tome. The effect was a sense of real companionship, of getting to know this strong and honorable man by walking slowly alongside him, observing his choices and his leadership and deeply listening to his philosophy and how he made decisions.

Three things always stand out to me about these two great men and the work of their lives. And over the last few days, as I’ve continued to educate myself and contemplate the events of the Kony 2012 effort, I’m noticing that these three elements can be instructive to us in developing our perspective on the issue the Kony 2012 effort represents and its proposed resolution.

1. The work of both men grew out of their experience and context. 

Pretty early in my nonviolence journey, I heard a story about Mother Teresa. It was shared in the context of how often people sought her permission to come care for the poor in Calcutta alongside her. While she was glad to receive visitors and often told them to “come and see,” she also often told them, “There are Calcuttas everywhere.” The implication I took from that story was to ask myself and God in prayer, “Where is my Calcutta?”

I think about this regarding Gandhi and MLK, too. They were so clearly called to the contexts they served. They knew the people they served and were, in fact, one of them. They had personal knowledge of the plights they served and sought to change. They were fully immersed in and lived among the struggle.

I think resolution to the violence perpetuated by the Lord’s Resistance Army is going to need similar leadership — that it is going to need to come from those just as closely acquainted with it and living among it.

This, in fact, seems to be one of the great messages those living in Uganda, the Congo, Sudan, and the CAR keep sending in response to the Kony 2012 video — and have, in fact, been sending for quite some time. See, as one example, this 6-minute video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire recorded in response to the Kony 2012 video.

While it may surprise Americans to hear it, the people of Africa — in whatever country or context where suffering may exist or emerge among them — do not want to be rescued as though they have not the strength to help themselves. The care, compassion, and solidarity of the wider world is valuable to them, yes. But they are not helpless people. They are strong. Vibrant. Creative. Resourceful. And they want to be part of their own solution.

Furthermore, they are the ones who best know the situation and its history and its people. They know what solutions will work or not work in response to their struggles. And their personal knowledge of their own context is perhaps their greatest strength.

All this to say that while I am still so glad the wider world has been educated about the existence of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, I’m not so sure that agitating the international community and policymakers to do something to make it stop is the real solution this situation requires. We ought, instead, to be students of those affected by the violence — those who know the situation and its dynamics better than any of us and who can teach us what solutions they believe their situation requires.

2. The efforts of Gandhi and MLK were coordinated and strategic.

When I read Martin Luther King’s autobiography, I was struck over and over again by how organized and carefully planned the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement really were. They had to be.

For instance, when the bus boycott in Montgomery began — which was the first initiative led by MLK in the Civil Rights Movement — they started with 150 volunteers who donated their cars to the effort. Within a few days, the volunteer drivers had swelled to 300 and the group had distributed leaflets to the community that listed 48 dispatch and 42 pickup stations.

That’s pretty impressive and massive coordination in just a few days. Even the white community was impressed by it, Dr. King tells us in his autobiography.

But the oppositional response of the white community to the bus boycott necessitated further strategy and coordinated response on the part of the Negro community. When reading this section of MLK’s autobiography, I noted no less than 10 oppositional efforts the white community undertook to derail the boycott:

  • Opposition #1: Use laws against them.
  • Opposition #2: Negotiate an unsuitable compromise.
  • Opposition #3: Divide the black community against itself.
  • Opposition #4: Spread lies.
  • Opposition #5: Institute a “get tough” policy.
  • Opposition #6: Make threats.
  • Opposition #7: Resort to violence.
  • Opposition #8: Initiate mass arrests.
  • Opposition #9: Refuse car insurance.
  • Opposition #10: Take legal action.
  • Opposition #11: Send in the Ku Klux Klan.

And with each oppositional effort, a savvy and thoughtful response was required and offered in return by the Negro community. Indeed, the full length of MLK’s life and work reflects such coordination and strategy every step of the way. And in learning about Gandhi’s work, we see the same careful planning and execution applied to the particulars of his own time and place.

I believe dismantling the Lord’s Resistance Army will take more than finding, capturing, and bringing to justice Joseph Kony, which is the solution offered by the Kony 2012 video. As I read over and over on blogs by people long acquainted with the situation in the last few days, the issue is greater than just one man. It requires us to consider questions like, “How has a small but vicious group been allowed to thrive for over 25 years?”

In other words, there are bigger issues at play here than the efforts of one single man leading a brutal war — issues like governance in the countries affected by the violence, for one — and smart and careful planning and strategy needs to be applied to the larger issues that get at the root of things here.

Again, as happy as I am that the video has raised awareness in the wider world about this issue, I have come to believe the solution it offers is just altogether too simplistic.

3. Both men were convinced of the efficacy of nonviolent resolution. 

Of all the insights I’ve gained in the last few days as I’ve read and continued to learn about the history and scope of the issue presented by the Kony 2012 campaign, I am most thankful for the perspective that “brought me back to myself,” so to speak.

My nonviolence journey began with a single question: Is it really true that the only truly transformative force in the world to overcome violence is love?

It was a question I asked with no little amount of dubiousness. Though I had observed the transformative power of love in my own life experience, I didn’t see how this could possibly translate on a broader social scale. But the possibility of it gripped me, and that’s why I eventually began my long journey into the study and practice of nonviolence.

Throughout this journey, I’ve continued to learn that the great nonviolent leaders of history insist on the premise that love is the only way to disrupt, uproot, and transform violence. It sows something new, rather than repeating a cycle with switched-up players as victims and perpetrators.

I have this article by Mark Kersten to thank for bringing me back to the perspective that peaceful solutions are the ones that I support. But beyond just “bringing me back to myself,” Mark’s article helped me view the particular conflict raised by the Kony 2012 campaign in a different light.

Invisible Children, the creators of the Kony 2012 video, uphold a military solution to the conflict. They want the US to maintain its existing 100 troops on the ground to provide tactical support and to help the Ugandan army capture Joseph Kony so that he can be brought to trial at the International Criminal Court. As much as this effort is devoted to capturing, rather than killing, Joseph Kony in order to bring him to justice, the reality is that this is a military solution. It involves armies, and gunfire and loss of life will be involved in the process.

Invisible Children proposes this is the only feasible solution since peace talks have failed in the past.

But Mark Kersten says this:

There is much to be learned from the previous talks between the Government of Uganda and the LRA in Juba, from 2006-08. . . . In taking the lessons of past experience , energy can be harnessed to get back to the negotiating table.

I love that Mark asks us not to be so quick to discount the possibility of renewed peace talks. And I’ve decided that, by virtue of the nonviolent path that I have committed to walk, peace talks must be the solution I support in this situation as well.

Lastly, I’ll share that in the process of learning more about the proposed peace talks solution, I have been wholeheartedly heartened by the discovery of a woman living today who has been an integral actor in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA. Her name is Betty Bigombe, and you can read about her selfless, savvy, and incredibly brave work here, here, and here. She helps demonstrate to me what nonviolent peacemaking really looks like and has become one of my new modern-day heroes.

UPDATED TO ADD: This morning I found this article by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA who now rehabilitates orphans in Uganda affected by the war. It is a beautiful and honest article that also speaks to how Ugandans would like to see this issue resolved and the value of resuming peace talks toward that end. I also forgot to mention in the original post that Betty Bigombe, one of the key actors in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA, is a native Ugandan.

A Response to the Criticism of Kony 2012

Most likely, you have heard about Kony 2012 by now. Yesterday this video link made the rounds on Twitter, and today I’ve seen it posted all day long on Facebook. News organizations and blogs have lit up with it, too, by now drawing attention to not only the video and the issue it presents, but also to a critical response the video and its organization, Invisible Children, have garnered.

Here is the place I’d recommend you start for an orientation to the critical response, which includes a lot of helpful links that you can follow for further orientation. Also, here is a point-by-point response to that critical response, written by a staff member of Invisible Children.

UPDATE: Invisible Children has released an official response to the criticism.

I am not affiliated with Invisible Children, nor do I support them financially. But those familiar with this space and my personal journey into nonviolence know that I have been concerned about the conflict in the Congo for some time, and I am personally thankful for the attention this issue has gained in the last 24-48 hours.

And really, I think that is the point.

I think about activism a lot because I maintain this space. I suppose when people learn that I care about, think about, pray about, and write about nonviolence, they think that means I’m an activist.

But I’ve realized over the last year or so that I’m not. At least, not at this point in time. I’m not going to be joining an international aid or humanitarian organization any time soon. I’m not going to move to a third-world or war-torn country. I’m not actively engaged in peacemaking activism in my hometown. And I very rarely write about global or current events in this space here.

Someday that all may change. But for the time being, that is the way it is.

And that’s because I’ve learned — slowly, slowly — over the last few years who I am and what I’m created to do. I am a spiritual director with a pastor’s heart and a priestly calling. I am still learning some of the practical realities of what that means, but in the bigger scope of things, it means I am concerned with the heart and with formation. That is my background. That is my training. That is my own story of healing and redemption. That is what I do with my life’s work.

So when it comes to nonviolence, at least for the time being, I’m asking questions about the heart. I’m engaging people in the interiorities of their own hearts. I’m learning about the violence within and how it is overcome.

That is my contribution.

I accord Invisible Children the same respect. I say this because the main criticism I’ve heard about Invisible Children today is that they primarily make videos and raise awareness and advocacy, rather than help solve the actual problem. I’ve heard they don’t know what it really will take to tackle this issue in Uganda, the Congo, and Sudan.

But I wouldn’t want them to solve the actual problem. That’s not what they’re equipped to do. That’s not who they are. They are communicators to a society of people who watch movies and care about global justice and who will use their voices to speak on behalf of it primarily through social media.

If Invisible Children succeeds in raising awareness about Joseph Kony (which it has) and provokes a democratic nation to speak up about their concern for this issue (which it has) so that those who do know the realities and complexities of this situation will hear that the issue has support and take appropriate steps in response (which only time will tell if it will), then I think they have done what they exist to do.

They are raising awareness to provoke a response that will impact policy. I’m reminded how necessary that awareness was in the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras — when Americans saw the realities of Birmingham and Vietnam, they agitated.

Let us agitate now.

A Conversation with Jesus About Creation (Part 2)

Suffused with grace.

Part 1

On Friday morning, I opened my Bible to the psalms as part of my usual morning routine of prayer and reflection and read the above passage.

God is all mercy and grace –
   not quick in anger, is rich in love.

God is good to one and all;
   everything he does is suffused with grace.

I read those lines — especially the last line — over and over.

Everything he does is suffused with grace.

Everything?

“It doesn’t feel that way,” I told him. I thought about the Old Testament and all its violence. I thought about the nations that didn’t get to know the God of Israel. I thought about my ongoing struggle with the contents of history.

It sure doesn’t seem like everything God does is suffused with grace.

I sat at my desk, staring at those words, and eventually told God my resistance to their testimony. Then, after a while, I went to sit on the couch in our living room. This has become a place for me to curl up and listen to God when I’m crippled by the noise inside my head. I curl on the couch under a blanket and rest my head against the chest of Jesus.

So there I was on Friday morning, curled up on the couch, that line in the psalm ruminating in my mind. Suffused with grace. 

And Jesus began to talk to me about it.

He didn’t come at it directly. Lately, in my prayer times, we have been walking back and forth along a beach shoreline. We walk and we talk. A lot of the time lately, I do most of the talking. I tell him the ways my heart hurts at all this pain and suffering that I see and know exists and has existed. I sputter and accuse and sometimes cry.

I want him to give me answers for these things, but truthfully, I haven’t slowed down enough to let him speak. I’m too aware of my pain and the magnitude of the questions to let any other voice in.

He has waited for me to be ready, and on that Friday morning, I finally was. I stopped my talking and opened myself to listen to him. And he took his time responding. He looked up at the sky, contemplating where to start responding. He looked over at me and smiled but still walked along the shore with me in silence.

I walked and waited for him to speak. I knew eventually he would.

And he did.

Eventually, he looked back up at the sky and began to speak to me of the time before the beginning of time — the time before creation, when the Godhead of the Trinity existed in pure communion with itself, unadulterated love in cosmic joy.

He led me to contemplate what that pure communion of love and joy among the Trinity was like. True perfection and the fullness of all goodness — a being than which, as Anselm of Canterbury called it, nothing greater can be conceived. Perfect love, perfect truth, perfect justice, perfect kindness, perfect goodness, perfect action: all that is the best, most perfect existence.

Suffused with grace. It occurred to me to ask, “Would grace have existed at this time in God?” There would be no need for grace if nothing but perfection of being — nothing but God — existed at that time. Nothing fell short of perfection or lacked any good thing to render grace necessary. The perfect Godhead acted justly — in perfect correctness and rightness in all things.

Perhaps it was only the introduction of creatures other than God’s own perfect self that rendered the active attribute of grace in God necessary.

So we turned to the act of creation next . . .

A Conversation with Jesus About Creation (Part 1)

Sun bloom.

A little over a month ago, I read a section of Martin Luther King’s autobiography that caused me to write him a letter and ask, “How did you not despair?”

Ever since that time, I’ve been sinking in a sad state. My heart — at least a solid quarter-quadrant of it — is grieving. It’s a grief that sneaks up on me every now and again in this journey I’ve been walking the last three and a half years. Sometimes the grief over the years comes and goes in an afternoon, sometimes a weekend, or maybe even a week.

This is the longest it has stayed.

And in this place, I’ve deeply wrestled with God. I feels as though my insides have split wide open and that I’m unable to stop feeling or asking him hard questions. Most of those questions circle back to the same central question:

God, where are you in the darkness?

I ask him this question concerning people in my life whom I love dearly who can’t see the light at all. They want badly to find God, yet he seems absent. The God of love and tender care that I have come to know and adore has not shown himself to them.

Where are you, God? 

I beg and plead with him on a regular basis concerning this.

I ask him this question about history, too. (I posted a little bit about those questions already here, here, and here.) And most specifically, the reality of World War II keeps breaking my heart into a million little pieces right now.

My concern about this period of history is not new. I grew up reading books like Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place and watched movies like Shining Through and Charlotte Grey, amazed and awe-struck at the courage of those who faced persecution and death and those who fought in their own subversive ways against the evils of Hitler’s world.

So it makes sense, given this history of mine, that World War II would already hold my heart. It has always held my heart. But I also see that it’s close to my mind and heart because of its close proximity, historically, to us today. So many atrocities have happened throughout history — the darkness of 1939-1945 was not new in the whole scope of our world — and yet when my mind travels backward in time, World War II is one of the major dark spots in history that I hit upon most immediately. It is still so close to us.

There are many walls of darkness between then and now. The femicide happening right this moment in the Congo is one of them, and its horrifying reality is almost impossible for me to face. The tiny soldier boys being used as human barricades there in the Congo every single day, too, is another. And there have been plenty of other wars between then and now.

But perhaps World War II has its vise grip upon my heart more than any other atrocity right now because I have more knowledge of the facts of what happened there than I do these other sufferings. I’ve studied it much longer. I’ve read many more books and first-person accounts. I’ve thought about it and cared about it longer than any other large-scale human suffering I’ve encountered.

Or perhaps it is ever-present in my mind simply because of the frequency with which Hitler’s name is invoked as the reason nonviolence makes no sense. “If we didn’t go to war,” I hear again and again, “then Hitler would have won.” World War II is an ever-present companion in conversation among those studying and seeking to live a nonviolent way.

But whatever the reason it’s plaguing my heart right now, here are the facts: six million Jews rounded up and callously slaughtered as though they weren’t human and didn’t matter.

God, where were you there? 

At times, light begins to break through this darkness of mine, short fits and starts at attempted answers to my plaguing questions. Like, for instance, the encouragement of Dr. King’s response to the darkness when he said, “It is well that it’s within thine heart.” Or remembering Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie — how God was in the darkness of their Ravensbruck barracks in so many tangible ways. Or reading through a difficult section in Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts that wrestled through similarly painstaking questions as mine to land at the revelation that perhaps all is grace.

I stumble across these words and thoughts and memories and seek to hold them tight within my hands. But these hands of mine, they are so weak from wringing and soon lose grip on these encouragements.

And so I keep wrestling with Jesus.

Where are you here?

Where were you there? 

And finally, perhaps most pointed of all:

How could you let that happen?

I sob and sob when asking him this question. How could you let that happen? How could you, Jesus?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and God forbid I desecrate the name and memory of those who did suffer and die — and continue to suffer and die in the darkness of the world — in my attempt to make sense of these things.

I may never make sense of them. And I am slowly, slowly coming to terms with that. Moments like the one I wrote about elsewhere, where Jesus holds and sings over me, begin to make that not-knowing possibility more bearable.

But I will say this.

This morning, the struggle I’ve been sharing with Jesus concerning all this took a new turn. As I also wrote elsewhere, I reached a readiness to listen. And where Jesus began his response surprised me. He took me back to creation.

We aren’t done with the conversation that started this morning, and so I don’t yet know where it will lead or where it will end, but the pieces he’s shared with me so far have brought enough encouragement for me to begin holding the tension of darkness and light with a bit more ease. This series will be my attempt to share pieces of it with you.