Friday, July 31, 2009

"No One Is Born Hating"

"No One Is Born Hating" from Phyllis Cole-Dai on Vimeo.

In this inspiring multi-media work by blog contributor Phyllis Cole-Dai, stunning photographs and gentle guitar accompany a few selected verses from The Book of the World, an unusual spiritual text created by an unknown author. This book of contemporary scripture, which represents no particular religion, speaks from a human rather than divine perspective, and advocates for nonviolence in personal, social and international relations, was first published on the Internet in 2007. It soon disappeared, however, having apparently been censored. To resist its suppression, Phyllis joined with a colleague to edit and publish a bound version of the anonymous work. The Book of the World is now available on her website,, and on, with net proceeds being donated to charity.

The music in this video is "Old Hatreds Will Someday Pass," which Phyllis composed and digitally recorded. The title was a phrase in President Barack Obama's inaugural address. Credits for the photographs appear at the end of the video.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Consensus Decisions

A recent article by Teka Childress in the "Round Table," a journal of Catholic Worker life and thought in St. Louis, reminded me of the significance of consensus decision making to living nonviolence. In her article, Teka reflects on consensus in a theological and psychological context. There is a recognition of the dangers of power and dominance in the hands of a few and the benefits of shared responsibility and discernment. For Catholic Workers, the primary values are personalism and decentralization, and consensus decision making best integrates those values.

In consensus decision making, a group discusses an issue till agreement is reached. Every individual must approve. If there are serious differences, the conversation continues till all are supportive. There are no votes. There are no "winners" and "losers." There is ample give and take in a search for a truthful resolution, trying to avoid the usual power struggles between competing interests. One individual can block a decision by the group, if it is against a fundamental value one holds.

One of my early objections to consensus process was that it took too much time. Sometimes, that's true. On the other hand, when you finally make a decision, everyone is on board. There are no holdouts who won't abide by the decision; no one undercutting the decision whenever they are able. You have a concerted effort and commitment by the whole group to do what they decided. This can save enormous amounts of time and energy in the longer term.

Another objection one often hears is that the process only works for small groups. I once held this view. But then I attended an international gathering of Peace Brigades International. PBI is committed to consensus decision making. As an international organization, it then had three official languages with groups in more than a dozen countries. There were divisive issues on the agenda that promised very different future paths for the organization. I wondered how sixty delegates from such diverse backgrounds could possibly come to agreement. It happened! With smaller gatherings of the most polarized members, together with mediating individuals, the resolutions gradually emerged. It was hard work, but in the end, decisions were adopted by acclimation of the entire group. PBI was much stronger for it.

When we think about nonviolent leadership in the past, we tend to think of charismatic figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But one of the drawbacks with such leaders is they are so easily assassinated. And then, what kind of leadership structure remains? It's easy to kill a movement by killing the leadership! But if leadership is decentralized, and everyone is part of the decision making structure, the vision and energy for struggle can remain.

Shared leadership is a mark of living nonviolence. Everyone has a voice and a contribution!

Carl Kline

Friday, July 24, 2009


In a secular society, the word "vow" seems rather quaint and old fashioned. It dredges up a picture of Lords and Ladies and Knights and swearing fealty to Royalty. Perhaps the only time one hears it these days is in the context of a religious marriage ceremony. Those who construct pre-nuptial agreements and wedding contracts are not likely to see themselves making a commitment in the presence of God. And without an invitation to the proceedings for divinity, to choose the word "vow" would be an empty gesture.

It's instructive that Gandhi chose the word "vow" to describe the commitments people were to make as part of his ashram community. These were solemn pledges made in a religious context.

"This is the maxim of life which I have accepted, namely, that no work done by any man, no matter how great he is, will really prosper unless he has religious backing. But what is religion?…. I for one would answer; not the religion which you will get after reading all the scriptures of the world; it is not really a grasp by the brain, but it is a heart grasp. It is a thing which is not alien to us but it is a thing which has to be evolved out of us. It is always within us; with some consciously so; with the other quite unconsciously. But it is [always] there; and whether we wake up this religious instinct in us through outside assistance or by inward growth, no matter how it is done, it has got to be done if we want to do any thing in the right manner and anything that is going to persist."

"Our scriptures have laid down certain rules as maxims of life and as axioms which we have to take for granted as self-demonstrated truths… believing in these implicitly for all these long years and having actually endeavoured to reduce to practice these injunctions…, I have deemed it necessary to seek the association of those who think with me in founding this institution… the rules that have been drawn up and that have to be observed by every one who seeks to be a member of that Ashram [are as follows]:

The Vow Of Truth
The Doctrine Of Ahimsa (Nonviolence)
The Vow Of Self Discipline
The Vow Of The Control Of The Palate
The Vow Of Non-Thieving
The Vow Of Non-Possession
The Vow Of Swadeshi (Local Commerce)
The Vow Of Fearlessness
The Vow Regarding The ‘Untouchables’
The Vow Of Khaddar (Manual Labor)"

Peace communities in our time have tried to reclaim the use of vows. Like in Gandhi's ashram, they are often drawn from an understanding of the moral requirements of religious traditions. So, Pax Christi invites members and friends to sign the following pledge and endeavor to live according to the vows for one year, and then, perhaps take a longer commitment.


"RECOGNIZING THE VIOLENCE IN MY OWN HEART, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God...You have learned how it was said, "You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy"; but I say to you, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven."

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus
by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.
God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it."

Vows! Were we to challenge ourselves with vows, alone or in community, our hopes and desires for a nonviolent future might truly bloom and prosper.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nonviolent Methods

Last week I was watching the McNeil/Lehrer report on television. I usually expect there to be a bit more depth and insight into the news of the day on public television. But one piece of the evening's reporting really disappointed and disturbed me.

Jim Lehrer was interviewing Karim Sadjadpour and Trita Parsi on the return to the streets of protesters in Tehran. Both men had inside sources assuring them that the dust had not settled; that it was important to keep the eyes of the world focused on Iran; that the repression of the government and bravery of the resisters was far greater than was widely known; that because of the governmental violence, tactics other than street demonstrations might be developed

To this latter notion, Jim Lehrer replied, "What other tactics are there?" Maybe the incredulous way he asked the question was to represent many in his audience. Nevertheless, I was dumbfounded! It was one of those occasions when I wanted to shout at the television. I wanted to place a copy of "The Methods of Nonviolent Action" by Gene Sharp in front of Lehrer, pointing to the two hundred different tactics one might use for nonviolent social change. Still, in 2009, a respected journalist on perhaps the most respected news show in the U.S., seems unaware of the theory and practice of nonviolent social change.

We are perhaps NOT witnessing the most profound experiment in nonviolence of our time, because major media are primarily oriented toward stories of violence and ignorant of the stories of nonviolence.

I'm drawn to the calls at night from the rooftops in Iran of Allahu Akbar, God Is Great. How can any reasonable person, especially in a religious society, deny someone the right to proclaim God's greatness from the rooftops of their own homes. And yet, the proclamation has been given a symbolic political content that cannot be ignored. This is nonviolent strategy at its best. One of the interviewees on the Lehrer report mentioned that these calls were happening in a neighborhood where Revolutionary Guard members lived, the most feared members of the Iranian military. There was some suggestion that they might even be participating. In nonviolent change, one shouldn't take loyalties for granted. Repression and violence can puncture even the hardest hearts.

I'm recalling that when Chileans were protesting the Pinochet dictatorship, they called for a National Protest Day. Few people went out. Buses vanished. Office workers went home early. Everything slowed down, until evening, when the whole city came to life with the beating of pots and pans, honking of horns, and a general explosion of joy and excitement. It was a turning point after ten years of military dictatorship. A massive popular movement was born that was the first step back to historic Chilean democracy. We can anticipate a similar future story for Iran.

Doing nothing, doing little, doing something slowly, are all wonderful tactics in a campaign for nonviolent social change. There are lots more. They are only limited by human imagination and creativity.

Carl Kline

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tootsie Rolls and Assault Weapons

The true beginning of summer is finally here. Following weeks of gray rainy weather, the 4th of July dawned crisp and clear. Piercing blue sky, gentle breezes, sunny with comfortable temperatures. A great day for a parade!

We parked at the “Park and Ride” at the edge of town and met our kids and grandkids at the Dairy Queen for small chocolate cones with chocolate sprinkles before heading into the center of town to find the ideal spot from which to view the parade. It wasn’t long before we heard the drums and brass that signaled the approach of the first band, followed by a dozen or so classic cars occupied by town officials and selectmen from the various island communities.

Kids in colorful costumes, a float urging viewers to “Know Your Farms –Know Your Food”, another urging us to “Save The Whales.” A fife and drum group, the local Cub Scouts – the prize-winning Camp Jabberwocky float created by campers with disabilities. All followed by a cook-out on the lawn next to the Methodist Church. Small town America at its best.

I was surprised by the rather low-key glorification of the military – so unlike that which usually accompanies the local parade. My sense of pleasant surprise was short lived, however, as two representatives of the local police force marched by sporting a pair of automatic assault weapons the likes of which we have never seen in our small island communities. I listened as the tone of the crowd down-shifted momentarily from noisy, red, white, and blue holiday effervescence to a somewhat more subdued chatter as these two weapons passed in front of us.

I found myself wondering about what or whose purpose these weapons serve. Are they intended to make me feel more secure? Do they send a message about the strength of our law enforcement personnel? Are they telling me that the crime rate on our island is a lot worse than I thought? I try to keep darker thoughts out of my mind –thoughts about how the violence of our fascination with ever more powerful weapons seeps into even the most innocent of celebrations.

I am left with questions on this beautiful post-parade day in July, feeling as though in some way our lovely island, attractive to so many as a vacation respite from the challenges of life on the mainland, has fallen prey to the violent paranoia that stalks the land in such insidious ways. I am thankful that my grandchildren are still far more engaged with chasing after the handfuls of Tootsie Rolls and Peppermint Patties that are thrown from the colorful floats than they are with the ugliness of the weapons that pass by within a few feet of them. I feel a letter to the editor coming on!

Vicki Hanjian

Friday, July 3, 2009

Shabbat and the Mosque - Letting Go of Conflict

On Friday, the week of the Torah portion called Korach, the new mosque and cultural center at Roxbury Crossing in Boston was dedicated. I attended the interfaith breakfast that celebrated the event. It was a deeply moving gathering, with speakers representing a wide spectrum of the interfaith community of Boston, as well as videotaped words of welcome from Governor Patrick. A thread of hope ran through all of the talks, including those of two Jewish speakers. Expressed repeatedly, it was a hope that this grand and breath-taking edifice would be a place of interfaith gathering, a place for communities to come to know each other and to acquire new understanding. There was a palpable sense of pride and achievement among those of the Muslim community, graciously welcoming and expressing appreciation to those who were clearly not Muslim. During informal mingling, a man of regal bearing in turban and robes approached me, acknowledging my yarmulke, extending his hand in friendship. A person of great humility, he was the chief architect of the mosque. He spoke of the building’s many arches, meant to embrace all who entered, to be inscribed with words from great voices of the spirit, including from among the Prophets of Israel.

Amidst this celebration of hope, with official greetings coming from many corners, extending words of welcome to the religious landscape of Boston, there was a glaring absence. There was not a single representative, nor a greeting conveyed, from the official leadership of Jewish Boston, not from any of the organizations that presume to represent us. It was an absence that filled me with sadness amidst the quiet joy of that place and time. There has been hurt and there have been legitimate concerns. The work to be done has been acknowledged, and a hand extended toward its doing. As a community officially constituted, it is time to extend our own hand and to receive that of the other. Beyond the absence of those who should have been there, a gathering of demonstrators formed outside, making its views known through placards and leaflets. Condemning the mosque as extremist, the demonstrators are of those who cannot let go of the controversy that many of them fomented in recent years, straining relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities.

The inability to let go of conflict, to be willing to approach and to be approached by the other, is one of the sad dynamics in the reading of Korach (Numbers 16-18), the Torah portion that framed the week of the mosque’s dedication. Korach, a leader in his own right, mounts a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. From the first words of the portion, va’yikach Korach/and Korach took, the rebellion is seen as an attempt by Korach to wrest more power for himself, not as a revolt on behalf of the people or for a higher cause. Seeking to defuse the tension, Moses calls on Korach and his compatriots to come and talk. Of their refusal, the Rabbis teach: from here we learn that people should not hold fast to conflict/ayn machzikin bamachloket. The great commentator Rashi expands on this, saying of that moment: Moses was going around after them to conciliate them with words of peace.

Of Korach’s revolt, the Zohar, mystical interpretation of the Torah, describes its nature as plugta d’shalom/a contention against peace. Rabbi Yitzchok Meir of Gur comments further, p’lig al Shabbos d’Shabbos hu shalom/it is a contention against Shabbos, for Shabbos is peace. Whether among individuals and families, communities, peoples and nations, it is difficult to let go of conflict and controversy that has simmered. It is difficult to recognize new realities and transcend old fears and perceptions. In the spirit of Shabbos, on whose eve the dedication of the mosque took place, itself the Muslim Sabbath, it is time for the Jewish community to let go of the conflict and to embrace a new beginning.

In an effort to maintain dignity and to convey the hope of reconciliation, a young Muslim leader called on people not to engage in shouting or debate with the demonstrators as they left the breakfast for the dedication ceremony. In a profoundly moving gesture, he then asked people to come and take one long-stemmed white rose, about fifty of which seemed to have been at the ready, in anticipation of the demonstration. All of those who took a rose were asked to offer it to one of the demonstrators or to quietly place it on the ground in front of them. Holding a rose in my hands, almost tearful, I approached one of the organizers of the demonstration. Though his words to me did not suggest any readiness to relinquish conflict, his arms were enfolded around an ever-burgeoning bouquet of white roses. I placed my rose upon the others and wished him Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Force More Powerful

There's a series of films one can order called "A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict." The series includes material from nonviolent struggles in India, the U.S., Poland, Chile, South Africa, and Denmark. Each segment is inspiring. Together, they give one hope that nonviolence can be both practical and possible. Coupled with the film "Bringing Down a Dictator" (available from the same source), about the nonviolent deposing of Slobodan Milosevic, the "Butcher of the Balkans," one can envision a historic shift last century in the dynamics of social change.

There are two elements revealed in these historic materials that are sometimes forgotten in contemporary nonviolence activities. The first is training. The second is faith.

The struggle depicted in the film from the U.S. is the Civil Rights struggle. It focuses on efforts to integrate lunch counters in Nashville, TN. One soon becomes aware that those who participated in this struggle went through some rigorous training. People thought about what they would do in various circumstances and practiced how they would respond through role plays. Leadership engaged in strategic thinking and long range planning. Good intentions and passion for a cause were important but not sufficient. What might a well placed blow do to good intentions?

I remember clearly the well placed blow I received from a police nightstick in Washington DC. It was during a mobilization against the war in Vietnam. I was walking on the lawn near the Washington Monument. Someone threw a bottle in the street in front of a police car. An enraged officer jumped out of the car. With one swing from his club, he hit a young woman aside her head and dropped her to the ground. I was shocked into disbelief. She was an innocent bystander. So I steeled myself, looking straight at the officer with an incredulous gaze. He felt my look and as he started toward me, I vowed to stand my ground. The nightstick caught my upper arm as I raised it to protect my head. The pain was huge, my vow withered and I ran as fast as I could.

I had good intentions but no training and little preparation.

The other element exhibited in these nonviolent struggles is faith. It doesn't have to be religious faith (although the people integrating those lunch counters sang hymns, in church, before going about their task). Religious faith can be an important foundational element in a successful nonviolent struggle. But faith, in the larger sense, means you have ultimate confidence in the rightness of your cause.

Training and faith ... two important elements for those pursuing nonviolence.

Carl Kline