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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

(Non) Violence

This week, my students read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. This is the second time I've read it, and I was profoundly moved by it again. The patience with which King addresses his critics, astounds me.

As a believer, I understand that the nonviolent action King took was the higher road. It was a road that began in the New Testament with the life of Jesus. But as a human, I find myself moved to anger over King's account of the many injustices he and his nonviolent protestors suffered.

They were told by the white church to "Wait, now is not the time for protest." They were held at bay by the white moderate, who paid them lip service, but refused to champion their cause. As a believer, I know that it was only by the grace of God that King was able to so completely embody the fruit of long-suffering. As a human, I'm increadulous. How did he do it? I find myself sympathizing with Malcom X and the Black Nationalists, who allowed their action to be fueled by anger.

Since I teach at a community college, I had to be careful how I directed the conversation. The students invariably mentioned King's appeal to God's law, the epistles of Paul, and to the church. Jesus came up. A comparison was drawn between the way both men met their critics with nonviolence, and yet both were killed.

How was I supposed to handle this tenuous topic? I struggle with leading discussions on a daily basis. I hardly know how to direct my students. I'm not sure if this was the right approach, but in the end, I asked them this question:

What is it in human nature that compels us to respond to nonviolence with violence?


Blogger ap said...

Christin, I am not sure if you have read him, but Rene Girard might be an interesting follow up to this discussion. He is literary theorist who traced triangular (two people desiring the same object) relationships in novelists which led to violence. He believed that we learn to desire by imitating the desires of the other, which leads to rivalry and violence. (He eventually did work in anthropology and biblical studies, as well.) Might be interesting follow up to this discussion and is definitely related in a literary way.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Christin said...

Thanks for the recommendation AP. I will look him up. Do you have a particular work of his to recommend? How did you come across him?


5:16 PM  
Blogger ap said...

I came across him, most fully, in a book that appropriates his work for the atonement by Mark Heim. I believe that First Things magazine has an article on him entitled, "Girard Among the Girardians." You can start getting a feel for his works there.

12:51 PM  

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