The nonviolent imagination of Jesus

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn the other to him as well.
Matthew 5: 39

 For many years I have thought that violence is a symptom of our lack of imagination.

 And so it was reaffirming to read John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, where he writes:

Transcending violence is forged by the capacity to generate, mobilize, and build the moral imagination.… Stated simply, the moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships that includes our enemies; the ability to sustain a paradoxical curiosity that embraces complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity; the fundamental belief in and pursuit of the creative act; and the acceptance of the inherent risk of stepping into the mystery of the unknown that lies beyond the far too familiar landscape of violence.

We followers of Christ have been so taken in by the redemptive myth of violence that we fail to see the imaginative power of today’s lectionary reading from Matthew 5: 38 – 42. We take it as a mere private morality, with no political or social intent.

But it was blacks facing fire hoses and more in the south who mobilized the nation against segregation. It was Christians in Chile who also faced fire hoses as they stood before places of torture who prepared the war for the fall of a dictator. It is the young people of Turkey who faced tear gas and fire hoses who may, I pray open up the way to justice and democracy there.

Walter Wink wrote of the power of Jesus’ examples in the Gospels. See especially his small book Jesus and Nonviolence: a Third Way.  There he offers these aspects of that third way that we might practice – in our personal lives as well as in our struggles for justice, truly imaginative responses and initiatives:

  • Seize the moral initiative.
  • Find a creative alternative to violence.
  • Asset your own humanity and dignity as a person.
  • Meet force with ridicule or humor.
  • Break the cycle of humiliation.
  • Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position.
  • Expose the injustice of the system.
  • Take control of the power dynamic.
  • Shame the oppressor into repentance.
  • Stand your ground.
  • Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared.
  • Recognize your own power.
  • Be wiling to suffer rather than to retaliate.
  • Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light.
  • Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective.
  • Be willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws.
  • Die to fear of the old order and its rules.

I think theologian Diana L. Hayes sums it up well in her reflection for today in Give Us This Day:

Turning one’s cheek does not mean surrendering to bullies. It means learning how to stand, strong in faith, and overcome anger and hatred with love and compassion.

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