Journey Toward Nonviolence 3: Facing the Reality of Danger

I remember the moment I realized this journey could lead me to jail. 

I was sitting in a session led by Tony Campolo during the January residency of my graduate program earlier this year in Philadelphia. He was talking about having been arrested several times and how frequently he encounters people who reject him for this. They often point to the Bible and say we are to be subject to the ruling authorities. 

This is true, he said. But we can be subject to the ruling authorities in one of two ways. 

First, we can obey them.

Second, we can resist but surrender to the consequences imposed as a result. 

He reminded us that Martin Luther King was arrested several times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, too, was arrested for vocalizing opposition to Hitler and eventually executed because of it. Even Paul wrote most of his letters to the churches from the confines of a jail cell.

I was startled by this notion. Was there anything I would deem worthy of arrest? Was I willing to count any person or cause more important than my own criminal record?

I tried to imagine a future forever dotted with ticking the “yes” box on any application that asks if I have ever been arrested. It was, I confess, hard to imagine.

That was the first but not the last time I faced the reality of danger along this nonviolent and peacemaking path. A couple months later, I wrote this:

For the past month and a half, I have been (slowly) making my way through John Dear’s A Persistent Peace …

Now I am in the middle of his book, and it feels exactly like being in the thick of things. He has identified his core solidarities: the Salvadorans and the nuclear arms race.

And here, in the thick of these causes, my heart becomes heavy. So many protests, so many arrests, so much danger, so much hostility, hatred, and violence. Sometimes he and his comrades take actions that seem a bit extreme to me. Sometimes it feels like it is all too big and beyond hope. There are so many deaths and martyrdoms.

— 6 March 2009, My Year with Gandhi Journal

Those whose lives I chose to study this year carved paths of love on behalf of causes for which they’d been willing to sacrifice everything. For John Dear, it became the nuclear arms race. For Martin Luther King, it was the civil rights movement. For Gandhi, it was the freedom and dignity of his Indian brothers and sisters. For Dorothy Day, it was pacifism and the homeless persons of Brooklyn. For Mother Teresa, it was the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. For Jesus, it was all of us.

These suffered arrest. Rejection. Violence. Poverty. Starvation. Death. For what cause would I be willing to do the same?

What about you: Is there any person, cause, or conviction for which you would be willing to suffer violence, arrest, or even death?