The other day a student dropped by to see me about his graduation requirements. He is an intelligent young man, personable, full of vigor. Of all my current advisees, he is one of the most delightful, and not only because he has such a wry sense of humor. His life story is fascinating, mirroring so many of the issues our world faces.
I will never forget the first time I heard part of his story, in September 1999. Four newly arrived students from Kosovo, including my student, stood in front of a standing-room only crowd on the George Fox University campus. Just months earlier, they and their families fled their homes in Kosovo, escaping Serbian terrorists trying to cleanse that province of the majority of its population. A string of improbabilities brought these four to George Fox University, and we asked them to tell their stories.
They did so, in harrowing detail, made all the more powerful by their matter-of-fact tone: relatives killed, houses burned, hiding from bands of Serbian killers, escaping across a border with streams of other refugees. We sat, stunned and shaken, listening to what these four had suffered.
Toward the end of the long meeting, my colleague Ralph Beebe asked a simple question. "Can you ever forgive these people, your neighbors? Can you ever live with them in peace?"
My student, speaking on behalf of the group, gave an even simpler answer.
Not after all that pain, violence, malice, injusticethese young people who had lost so much could see no way to live with their former neighbors. I couldnt blame them, but it was still an infinitely sad moment. I asked myself, What can I say to these students to help them find a path to reconciliation in their country?
As the director of the Center for Peace Learning at George Fox University, this was not just an idle question. Essentially, my job description was to help people find ways to change "Never" to "Someday, and we are on the way." But I didnt know how to do that part of my job for our Kosovar students. I began to wonder if I was in the right line of work.
For two years my restlessness grew. So it was that September 11 reverberated with me as loudly as any terrorist could hope. Like millions of others around the world, I was transfixed by the television and Internet images of falling buildings and the mostly off-camera sufferings of thousands. I spent every spare minute for days trying to absorb the shock to the world and my view of it.
Almost immediately I was called on to help others do what I had not yet done for myself: digest what had happened and decide what we should do about it. Some of these requests came from the public and the media, but my notoriety has always been mercifully small, so I was not overwhelmed on that front. This was good, because I needed to give my attention elsewhere, especially to students.
The kernel out of which this book grew was my e-mail correspondence with students (and colleagues) at George Fox. For the next few days after September 11, I partook in a running electronic and face-to-face conversation on campus about the meaning of the attacks and how we might respond as Americans and Christians. That campus-wide conversation was the crucible in which this book was born.
When I urged students to resist appeals to vengeful retaliation, some challenged me. The attack demanded a response, they said. We cant allow people to get away with terrorism. Terrorists deserve punishment, and those who would attack us again need to be stopped. How, they asked, would my pacific response prevent another, even worse attack from happening?
These questions needed answers, especially since among the George Fox student body were several who were likely to be called to active military duty in a war on terror. They were not academic questions. Lives could turn on the answers. How was it possible to love our enemies without giving in to their evil?
So I wrote, including some all-night sessions in which sleep was an impossible alternative. I wrote e-mails to campus discussion groups, and to individuals, and pondered their replies. Those e-mails became the first draft of about one-third of this volume, including extensive sections of chapter 1 defining terrorism, and chapters 6 through 9 describing how we can respond to terrors spiritual and political causes.
The pace of writing cooled, but by Christmas 2001 it was clear I had on my hands a book. Over the next eighteen months, I wrote to fill out the pieces I had sent to students, connecting them into chapters, making them coherent as a whole. Chapter 2 emerged early in 2002 as I dug deeper into the essential nature of terrorism. Chapters 4 and 5 came into shape during the spring, as I stepped back to reflect on what we might learn from the main Christian schools of thought about war and from the latest thinking among peace scholars. Those chapters in turn dictated the organization of Chapters 6-9 and suggested much of their contents. By fall 2002, I thought I had just about finished a helpful book on terrorism. I began searching in earnest for a publisher.
Apart from the time it can take to locate the right publisher, the book was still hung up at three points. First, I had no chapter 10, no way of tying together the thematic threads. There were almost a hundred practical ideas in it for responding to terrorism, but they didnt yet amount to a coherent picture of loving without giving in.
Second, I spent summer 2002 (and much of my time since then) working with thirteen other Quakers from around the world on an International Quaker Working Party on Israel and Palestine, trying to sketch a vision for justice and reconciliation in that intractable conflict. With suicide bombing, targeted assassination, and wall-building so prominently disfiguring the Holy Land, including while our group was making its fact-finding trip to the area, some aspects of terror that I had only imagined became much more concreteeven literally. I saw world-class corrosive grievance at work, on both sides of the 1967 borders, and learned much anew about dehumanizing hatred and the myth of effective violence.
As I worked to revise this book during the 2002-2003 academic year, world attention moved on to the buildup toward the war in Iraq, and I realized that terrorism wasnt the only scourge to which Christians needed to respond. So in summer 2003, I rewrote major portions of the book, adding a section (chapter 3) on political misery, especially tyranny, and revising other chapters.
I had promised Cascadia Publishing House the manuscript at the end of summer 2003. I guess we had an unusually long summer here in Oregon. Chapter 10 did not fight its way into final form until Thanksgiving 2003.
The picture of world events reflected in this book ends at about early 2004, not long after the capture of Saddam Hussein However, since neither terror nor tyranny is about to depart the world stage, we still need to discover how we can love our enemies without giving in. So one might expect that this volume will not be soon out of date.
My hopes lie in another direction. This book is a thought experiment. Other than my visit to the Middle East in 2002, the book was written almost entirely from northwest Oregon, in the region of the planet perhaps the most remote from direct experience of either terror or tyranny. There is, I hope, something to be gained by delegating to someone as sheltered as I am some of the task of envisioning practical responses.
But mine has been the easy part of the job. There are people right now doing the hard part of the work that lies before all of us. I think of people I know working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad, Hebron, and Colombia. I think of the non-violent Peace Force at work in Sri Lanka. I think of democracy activists in Zimbabwe, Myanmar, and Hong Kong. I think of development and aid workers in Iraq, Jerusalem, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. I think of pastors and teachers I know trying to bring reconciliation in Burundi and Rwanda.
Some of these people are native to their lands, others are foreigners. They are all working on the scenes, implementing (and inspiring) some of the ideas in this book, and no doubt others that should be here. They are the ones right now writing the definitive work on loving without giving in, writing it in the lives and hearts of those they serve.
Hopefully someday soon someone will write these stories on paper for all of us to read, and begin the inevitable process of relegating this book to the dusty dim corners of the library. To that day let us hasten.
We need haste, brothers and sisters. In 1999, when I heard my student flatly reject the possibility of reconciliation in his homeland, I wondered how it would be possible to live with such a bitter grievance. What if the whole world were that way? I asked myself that evening.
Since then, the whole world has moved much closer to being that waystuck in its pain, unable to move beyond to a place of reconciliation and justice. The young man who said "Never" is about to leave our sheltered campus and go on to make his way in the world. He will not be alone in his causes for bitterness. We all need a reason for hope and a practical vocation for healing our world.
Such as it is, here is my small vision for transforming the tide of outrageous violence. May you find in it reasons for hope, and hear through it a Voice calling you to act.
Loving Without Giving In orders:
|Click here to explore joining InnerCircle readers club and receiving occasional updates and special discounts.|
© 2004 by Cascadia Publishing House