catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 11 :: 2010.05.28 — 2010.06.10


Hope is not optional

Yesterday, as the day in the bookstore was winding down, a good conversation unfolded, catching me by surprise.  It was with a young, out-of-town friend I don’t know too well, a guy who shares our affinity with traditional Calvinist doctrine and somewhat counter-cultural social theory.  He has learned the arts and crafts of sustainable agriculture, working at an organic vineyard, and is an artisan baker. Who else reads John Piper and Wendell Berry?  I admire this young man, and am glad he has some thoughtful friends who talk with him about worldview and culture-making, vocation and social action, prayer and politics.  

And then he asked if I had ever heard of the infamous Berrigan brothers, Phil and Dan (who burned draft files in the 60s and have for decades done civil disobedience against the arms race) and their friendship with the Catholic Worker founder, Dorothy Day.  This evangelical friend is learning from some new friends of his about direct, symbolic action in resistance to the deathly power of the nuclear arms race, and he is learning about direct, not-so-symbolic action in service to the poor.  He’s no Catholic anarchist, but he even asked if I’ve read William Stringfellow — renegade Episcopalian lawyer and theologian who so inspired said Berrigans.  Stringfellow?  My, my, I sure have!

I shared my own history of being drawn into those very circles: having done civil disobedience more than a few times, losing a job, becoming in some ways mistrusted by some fellow evangelicals because of my convictions that the Bible both demanded a robust anti-war perspective and sanctioned non-violent direct action to dramatize the call to repent of large, cultural idols.  My new friend oddly didn’t seem too surprised that I knew Phil Berrigan a bit, that throwing ashes on August 6th — the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima — was something I’d be involved with, that I understood exactly the strengths (and some of the weaknesses) of the prophetic icons of Dorothy Day or Peter Maurin, or the deeply spiritual foundations of the Catholic left.  I suspect he has no idea how incongruous this stuff sounds to most folks in his conservative denomination.  

For me, it is rare to find a friend who reads Bavinck and Berrigan, or one who shares with the Anabaptists a commitment to Biblical peacemaking and who yet longs for the piety of, say, J. I. Packer.  I think this is nearly singular, and I’m sometimes ashamed of my broad wingspan, sometimes afraid that it just indicates a wishy-washy approach that isn’t fully committed to Ghandian direct action, nor old-fashioned gospel unction.   Do I just dabble on the edges of such serious things, afraid to be truly committed to one way or the other?  Yet, on my best days, I think we can learn from a variety of traditions, and the vision and passions of the radical activists, protesters and prophets of the “resistance movement” to nuclear weapons and power may have a helpful place even within the circles of the broader evangelical movement.  And certainly, it has a place within the gentle neo-Calvinism of the likes of my friends at *cino.  I thanked my friend for asking about this important stuff, and for caring that a few brave souls still stand up and pay up, personally.  I hadn’t talked of my involvement in such stunts in quite a while, and it felt good to share a bit.  And it reminded me that the witness against such awful uses of the good gift of technology is not over.  Some are still going to jail, in nonviolent protest.

I told him about *cino and catapult and the Practicing Resurrection camping conference — yes, he is reading Colossians Remixed, and I had already told him about the strong Biblical studies of Catholic agitator Ched Meyers who will be speaking at the conference.  And then today, I saw that catapult had a special feature on the horrors of nuclear war, the on-going tragedy of nuclear proliferation, and, even a long interview with somebody documenting some of these very Catholic Workers who are doing symbolic direct action, civil disobedience to dramatize their “no” to the principalities and powers.  THANK YOU, catapult, for daring to cover this topic, for your good writing, Kirstin and others, and for highlighting not only the urgency of this issue (still), but for telling us about those who do this odd, odd ministry of civil disobedience.  I hope your readers understand how brave this is of you to write about such things.

My new friend was drawn to these folk who do civil disobedience against our weapons of mass destruction because they — the people, not the weapons — seemed so full of life, so joyful, even as they face such grim realities.  That reminded me of good stories Berrigan used to tell of his friend Tom Merton, who apparently had a crazy sense of humor.  Funny, those who most carry the sorrow and weight of the threat of this manufactured apocalypse are not as grim as their “blood pourings” and prophetic denunciations might lead you to believe.  There is life among the resistance, a quality of lifestyle that many ordinary evangelicals simply cannot imagine.  I am humbled to have known a few such folk, and am so grateful for your bringing their stories to your online community of readers.

And — I wouldn’t be faithful to the reforming instincts of my neo-Calvinist tradition if I didn’t say this — even if some in the radical resistance movement think that our worship of “gods of metal” is too far-gone for mere legislative reform, I believe there is also great, great hope among those who are faithful to the call to be agents of reconciliation, even and also in the halls of Congress and Parliament.  It is no small thing to put on a tie or skirt each day and head to Capitol Hill to advocate for measured, wise, and hopefully effective legislative initiatives.  One of the great young heroes in this serious work is Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, director of the Two Futures Project which gives me great, great joy to promote.  He is politically savvy, is doing remarkable bipartisan work in Washington (so much so that a Sojourners article on his efforts was headlined “Hawks for Peace,” illustrating his ability to nurture a wide and workable coalition for disarmament). Wigg-Stevenson relates to the likes of former Secretary of State George Shultze and the late Senator Alan Cranston.  He used to work with John Stott.  I don’t suspect he will have time for prophetic gestures of civil disobedience any time soon, and, in many ways, I am thankful for his less dramatic work because, finally (please God) it might truly bear the fruit of concrete reform of the military industrial complex in ways that vigils and protests do not.  If such a day comes — when we see even glimmers of nuclear swords beaten into plowshares — it may be because of the protests of the nonviolent nuns and the policy formation work of the likes of Wigg-Stevenson and the Two Future Projects and his affiliates.  And because of the prayers of ordinary folks, who cry out to God in simple, humble hope.

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