Optional Reading before the Retreat

Nonviolence and the Powers that Be” is the seventh chapter in Alastair McIntosh’s book Spiritual Activism.  I decided to savor it over coffee on a Sunday morning, during our fellowship’s summer break from UU services. The timing was perfect; the chapter, co-written with Matt Carmichael, reads like an extended UU Sunday service. It is grounded in Liberation Theology, with a bonus “case study” about the life of Mohammed.

The chapter is available for free from his website at the link.  Alastair directs us to this book and specifically this chapter as a step in preparing our hearts and minds for our first in-person retreat since the start of the pandemic.

The authors open the chapter with the story of the Russian rock band Pussy Riot and their uninvited performance of “Punk Prayer” at a Moscow Cathedral as a way to unmask the powers that be. The public performance became international news and resulted in the incarceration of the performers. Based on their message and what emerged later from their trial, the authors see this event as an expression of liberation theology.

They make the case that to break the never ending cycle of violence, we must relinquish “The Myth of Redemptive Violence.” Like the biblical story of the Hydra, when we cut off violence’s head, others spring up to take its place. Instead, we must take account of the unconscious, which gives rise to our sense of meaning, purpose and lived-out story, the building blocks of our outer reality.

The interfaith approach of Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara is applauded as “coming to appreciate one another’s faiths from the inside, as they see and treasure things, rather than just through the perceptual planes of our own cultural projections.” And the authors promote this as a way to break the spiral of violence and replace it with a spiral of virtue. And the approach of Martin Luther King who says, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community, so that when the battle’s over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.”

We are encouraged to consider letting go of the “power over” paradigm in favor of “power with,” with examples of recent proponents, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Gandhi, as well as Jesus and Mohammed. But the journey toward embracing this paradigm is not the easy route. “Central to nonviolence” they write, “Is the delegitimization of illegitimate power, through choosing suffering in preference to the perpetuation of violence.” The message is delivered with a personal story of Alastair’s that brings brings a practical everyday life dimension to a big topic.

The prose is not complicated, but there is so much meaning to unpack in the 22 pages of this chapter that I had to ask myself if I should just read it every Sunday until we meet Alastair in October.  I would like to propose to you, dear reader, mark your calendar to download it when you can give it your full attention. After you have read the chapter, join us in committing to read the full book together, as a common read in preparation for the retreat. Kindle Edition €8 Hardcover €52 Paperback€17 and don’t forget to check your favorite bookseller.