REFLECTION: Being Bartimaeus in the midst of endless war; nonviolence as the gift of sight

By Suzanne Belote Shanley

(When asked for his response to the Paris bombings, Pope Francis replied:  “World War III. …piecemeal.”)

This morning at Agape during our 7:30 morning prayer, we were confronted by our despair and grief over the coordinated carnage in Paris.

Since the lethal attacks, I have been thinking about the nonviolent response, which, given the nature of the crime, (as with the aftermath of the Marathon Bombing in Boston) calls those of us who follow the nonviolent Jesus into a more pronounced and precarious place, one that is prophetic. How do we relate to our nonviolent discipleship in this real-life situation, not in hypotheticals? What are we to do as peacemakers?

Our reply, it would seem, would be axiomatic. Nevertheless, as we discovered in our work at the Dzhokar Tsarnaev trial and against his execution, this is not always the case, even for self-identified anti-death penalty constituents in MA when the issue of terrorism is involved.

So what now for nonviolent activists in a time of a declaration of war on ISIS from France? What kind of outrage, or rejection will we receive if we embrace restorative justice, dialogue, reconciliation, compassion—yes, even for the killers? Perhaps even to suggest that we examine the motivation of the murderers is to stand outside the bonds of community in a time of danger.

We get a little glimpse  of our dilemma in today’s NY Times from Paul Krugman, an astute and liberal economist, who would call some of us “appeasers.”

It would certainly be a very bad thing if France or other democracies responded to terrorism with appeasement — if, for example, the French were to withdraw from the international effort against ISIS in the vain hope that jihadists would leave them alone. And I won’t say that there are no would-be appeasers out there; there are indeed some people determined to believe that Western imperialism is the root of all evil, and all would be well if we stopped meddling.

bartimaeusLet us turn to Scripture and not the NY Times for some insight, focusing on today’s gospel. Like the blind beggar (Luke 18:36-43), we are aware that Jesus of Nazareth is “passing by” all the time in our lives–in Paris, Belgium, in Lebanon, in Boston, Afghanistan and Iraq. We, as a collective body of Christians worldwide, can sometimes forget that Jesus is always there, and become paralyzed by fear within the dominative narrative of Empire.

We forget that we can call out, in perilous, name-calling, demonizing times:  “Jesus, Son of David, have Mercy on us!” We may be “rebuked” (or even worse) as the blind beggar, Bartimaeus was rebuked. We might hear: Don’t call for mercy for the perpetrators, these evil jihadists. NOT NOW. NOT NOW. Wait. All of these people have died. Now is not the time. France is at war. President Hollande calls for “merciless retaliation.” NOT NOW.

The crowd tried to silence Bartimaeus, and we may find ourselves in the same position in our churches, within our families—silenced. “Be Quiet”. We need to honor the victims; be compassionate towards their families; sensitive to the losses, the death, and the carnage. “Be silent”

Yet, Jesus would not let this silencing stand, nor should we. We learn from both Mark (10) and Luke (18), that Bartimaeus “shouted all the louder.” Jesus is asking us now, in our blindness, in our desperation, our descent into ever more barbaric violence: “What do you want me to do for you?”

We want and need for Jesus to be with us, to give us courage to break the silence, speak to the “rebukers” with love and compassion: We do not want retaliation. We who are blind; we who are afraid; we want to “see. What we want to see is the circle of complicity in creating ISIS.

We want to see our own war crimes, our own terrorism, unleashed in Baghdad in 2003, called “Shock and Awe.” We who are blind need to see that wars based on lies are the reach of imperial, (Krugman notwithstanding) privileged nations in power plays that are now horrifically ricocheting.

We want to see as Martin Luther King Jr. tells us: “The vocation to speak is often one of agony, but we must speak.” We also know from King, that not speaking, remaining silent in the case of the dark descent into the downward spiral of violence is “betrayal.” Perhaps, along with King and all of our nonviolent forebearers, this is the time, more than ever, to speak, to practice our “vocation of agony.”

We hear reports of the “signs of resistance” in France as defiant young people, return to a bombed out streets “to have drinks and have fun.” (NPR Nov. 16).  What will our “sign of resistance” as followers of the nonviolent Jesus be as we walk with Jesus, passing by the scenes of death?

“Have Mercy on us Jesus.” We who are members of the “warfare state”; we who pay taxes for endless war, for creating the bloody circumstances of our own fear;  Have mercy on us. What we need is for you to open our eyes as we lament with the poet: “Heavy; heavy; heavy; / hand and heart / we are at war / bitterly, bitterly at war.” (Denise Levertov)

Help us Jesus, to speak up, cry out, feel the heaviness and not run from the darkness of our own blindness. We have our lineage; we claim Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker “who stepped into uncharted waters in U. S. Catholicism with a public commitment to Gospel pacifism” taking “unpopular stands in a prophetic witness which took a severe toll on the Catholic Worker movement, where opposition to war within the movement caused the closing of the majority of the houses.” (Dorothy Day, Prophet of Pacifism for the Catholic Church, 1997 by Mark and Louise Zwick)

We know what we need from you, Jesus, is a restoration of sight, the finding of our voice, calling on our clear lineage of advocates of nonviolence.

We need from you Jesus, a luminous moment, to guide and hearten us, such moments being a part of nonviolent response through the centuries, by men and women pacifists, who renounced war, even the so-called Just or Righteous wars.

We need to adhere to the sight, the vision of your teachings on non-retaliation, non-killing.

Ben Salmon, Lucretia Mott, Franz Jaggerstatter, Philip Berrigan, enlighten us.  Help us to see. Help us to speak.

We join our voices with those of our great Cloud of Witnesses. We need to find our voice, our vision. Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on us sinners.

Suzanne Belote Shanley is a co-founder of the Agape Community and a member of Pax Christi Massachusetts.

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