A “Shalom Activist” Spirituality

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Living non-violently is a deeply spiritual thing, a profoundly religious commitment.  For Anabaptist spirituality, non-violence is not a technique; it is a habitual expression of the imitation of Christ.  It is not a tactic or a tool; it is the primary evidence of attachment to Jesus. 

When early Christians dared to call Jesus Lord, saying Kyrios Christos, Lord Jesus instead of Lord Caesar, it was a political statement first and a religious confession second.  In a world where only Caesar could be called Lord – the official words were Kyrios Kaesar – Christians pledged allegiance to the non-violent suffering prophet Jesus as their exclusive master, final authority, and political head of the state beyond and above all earthly states.  No wonder they were seen as subverting the established political order.

David Augsburger, “Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor” page 143

It’s frightening really, as heading to the movies is about as regular activity as heading out for dinner.  To think that during such a regular activity, something so horrific could happen most certainly strikes fear, or at the very least the uncomfortable association that something so horrific could happen at a place many people frequent on a regular basis.  It breaks down our insulation from the violence of this world and becomes a reminder that if it can happen there, violence seemingly has no limitations or restrictions on place.

The call for shalom activists is as pressing as ever.  Deeply engrained within the spirituality of Anabaptism is non-violence and pursuit of shalom which finds it’s grounding in the heart of Jesus.  Even in the regular activities such as going to the store for food, or to a movie, may we be reminded that those moments are not forgotten or cast aside as too regular or mundane for peace.  May we, in our spirituality be reminded that as acts of violence make devastating impacts on our world in seemingly regular places, that our acts of peace, in the regular places become acts of redemption to our world that is screaming with brokenness.  Let us not insulate shalom from our particular time and place.  Anabaptist spirituality seeks to embody shalom.  In this way, Anabaptist spirituality is a gift.

How about you?  Where do you see the need for shalom in the regularity of your day-to-day life?

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11 comments

  1. Gareth B · July 31, 2012

    We do need to go for coffee. We like all the same books! Let me be sceptical for a moment though. How would a shalom spirituality have made a difference in that theatre? Was it displayed in those who took the bullets instead of their loved one? The gun-carrying spirituality of America obviously did not save anyone in that scene. No one jumped up with the first shot, pulled out their hand-gun to shoot the assailant. Would that have solved things? Maybe the response must come even before we get to the theatre.

    • chris lenshyn · July 31, 2012

      Yes. Coffee. Very much looking forward to it. I think sometimes we believe that violence happens only to those who also participate in violence or to the poor or to those who are not going to be me. When something so drastic as this happens in a regular place like a theater violence stares us in the face with the reminder that it can happen anywhere. The hope is that our Anabaptist spirituality which pursues shalom will not insulate itself, rather be active through the embodiment that an active Anabaptist spirituality offers. The practical implications of such are up for wonder and debate, like the movie theater…

      I saw a news story on this about a father who put his body in front of his son’s girlfriend. Like that maybe?

    • Robert Martin · July 31, 2012

      Gareth, I believe I have your book, “Under Construction” from Pittsburg last year. In any case, I agree to a point. It is possible that, had someone had a gun in the theatre and shot James Holmes before he could do as much damage as he did, more lives would have been saved. So, in a sense, a violent response MAY have done some good.

      But shalom is interested not in the immediate, but the long view. As you pointed out, if the church had been seeking shalom in the days, weeks, and months preceding, would the theatre shooting even happened? So many “what ifs” to contemplate. And what about shalom afterwards? Where can peace be spoken to James to prevent future tragedies? Is there still room for shalom?

      Lots of questions, but I believe the only answer is to be found in seeking after Jesus and his way and seeking that shalom, however imperfectly we might be in doing so.

  2. David Warkentin · July 31, 2012

    I like this line: “Even in the regular activities such as going to the store for food, or to a movie, may we be reminded that those moments are not forgotten or cast aside as too regular or mundane for peace.”

    And I agree with your suggestion, Gareth, that peacemaking needs to happen before the crisis. This occurs in big (gun regulation!) and small (friendship) ways. Effective violence is often responsive (or pre-emptive) while effective nonviolence is preparatory.

  3. David Warkentin · July 31, 2012

    Relevant post from Richard Beck and what he describes as “little pacifism” – http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.ca/2012/07/little-pacifism.html

    • chris lenshyn · July 31, 2012

      Thanks for this link Dave. Very good stuff. I agree, peacemaking and shalom activism happens before crisis… yet, as you affirm Dave, it brings us to Gareth’s question of what shalom activism looks like in the midst of a violent crisis such as the tragedy in Aurora. It’s a worrisome wonder, as my imagination keeps taking me to an answer which requires ultimate sacrifice in that particular situation forcing me to ask myself… would I dare be obedient to the call of shalom/peace in this moment?

      • David Warkentin · July 31, 2012

        Yes, a sobering thought to place oneself in that situation. Thank God for the empowering and fruit of the Spirit in our lives as peace self-sacrifice really is beyond ourselves.

  4. Steve Plenert · July 31, 2012

    ” For Anabaptist spirituality, non-violence is not a technique; it is a habitual expression of the imitation of Christ. It is not a tactic or a tool…”

    If we are “practicing” non-violence in our regular relationships, is it not being used as tactic or tool? We imitate Christ to a degree, but ultimately we are not the Saviour. Just because we are striving to love our enemies and imitate Christ doesn’t mean that we can’t be effective in our practice of peace.

    Chris – you also wrote recently about “gelassenheit” or “yieldedness”. That discussion plays into this issue also because we ultimately yield control of the world to God. By saying that the God of love ultimately bears the consequences of sin, we are less tempted to the idolatry of control and also free to help mop up after all manner of disasters – be they of war, nature or psychological. Evil is present and our commitment to non-violence does not end or even stop evil necessarily. But sometimes it does.

    • chris lenshyn · July 31, 2012

      Thanks for your words and speaking to importance of yieldness… particularly identifying control as idolatry. Your words speak to a calling for the body of Christ to actively participate with God in acts of redemption in places ravaged by war, violated by nature or even within the deep dark recesses of the mind. Humbling.

  5. Eddie Gonzalez · July 31, 2012

    We have a small home farm going and there is a great need for shalom in the daily tilling of the soil, caring for the plants, and caring for the animals. Unless there is shalom there, a peace and a right relationship with us and the property and animals to produce properly and wisely and sustainably, we will not be able to bring that out into our community.

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