February 28, 2011,"A Spirituality of Resistance"
A Spirituality of Resistance
By John Dear
(On February 28, 2011, John Dear gave this talk at the Eight Sabeel Conference in Bethlehem,
Dear friends, thank you for all you do for peace and justice, for the God of peace and justice. I
have been asked to speak about "a spirituality of resistance." I define "spirituality" broadly as "a
way of life," your "sabeel," which means there are many spiritualities. We are talking here about
finding God as we resist empire, walking with Jesus as we resist empire, living in the Holy Spirit
of faith, hope and love as we resist empire.
I thought I would share a little of my own journey of resistance, and then offer ten starting points
for a spirituality of nonviolence and resistance to empire. These are just modest reflections which
I hope will encourage you to unpack the spiritual dimension and roots of your own nonviolent
resistance. In other words, what is your spirituality of nonviolence and resistance? How do
you challenge empire, resist empire and remain faithful to the God of peace? Where is God in
your journey out of empire, in your journey of resistance to empire? Who is the God you meet
as you resist empire? What spiritual practices and resources do you use in your life journey of
nonviolence and resistance?
My Journey of Nonviolent Resistance to Empire
Thirty years ago, when I was 21, I decided to try to follow Jesus, so I came here on a walking
pilgrimage for several months. But the week I left in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and during
that three month war, killed 60,000 people. It was all orchestrated by the Pentagon and from
there, it was called "Operation Peace for Galilee."
Toward the end of my stay, I spent time camping out illegally at the Sea of Galilee, visiting the
Chapel of the Beatitudes, and pondering the Sermon on the Mount for the first time. I took those
great commandments to heart: "hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, love
your enemies." While I was pondering the Sermon on the Mount, I saw Israeli warplanes swoop
down over the Sea of Galilee on their way to bomb people in Lebanon. That experience of war at
the Sean of Galilee changed my life. I've been trying to live out the Sermon on the Mount ever
since as a call to faithfulness to the God of peace, resistance to empire and war, and an invitation
to welcome God's reign of peace and nonviolence here and now.
Another turning point: In 1985, I went to El Salvador to work in a refugee camp at the height
of the U.S.-backed war. I worked with the Jesuits at the University in San Salvador. There, the
Jesuit theologian and university president, Ignacio Ellacuria said to us: "The purpose of the
Jesuit University in El Salvador is promote the reign of God. But you can no longer be for the
reign of God unless you are also publicly, actively against the anti-reign. You cannot claim to be
for peace and justice unless you are publicly actively against war and injustice." Their fearless,
steadfast, outspoken nonviolent resistance to war challenged and inspired me.
Ellacuria and five other Jesuits were assassinated on November 16, 1989 by 28 soldiers, 19 of
them trained in the U.S. at Fort Benning's "School of Americas" in Georgia. Their martyrdom
continues to inspire me to resist war and empire.
By now, I was organizing demonstrations against U.S. warmaking, speaking out, crossing the
line, getting arrested at military bases all over the country. Then on December 7th, 1993, four of
us walked onto the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, right through the middle
of wargames, and hammered twice on an F-15 nuclear-capable fighter bomber in a "Plowshares
disarmament action." We were surrounded by soldiers and I said on behalf of the group, "We are
unarmed, peaceful people; we mean you no harm; we're just here to dismantle this weapon of
death!" We hoped that everyone would come to their senses, that the soldiers would say, "What
were we thinking? Of course, go right ahead. Thank you!" As I told the judge, we were trying to
fulfill Isaiah's commandment to beat swords into plowshares, and Jesus' commandment--"Love
your enemies, don't nuke them." That's the actual translation from the Greek!
For that action I faced 20 years in prison and was found guilty of two felony counts, and spent
eight months in jail. So I'm an ex con, can't vote and am regularly monitored and feel like I've
been excommunicated by the empire.
Since then, I've been trying to walk in solidarity with the disenfranchised, to protest our wars
and nuclear weapons. I've been arrested some 75 times for civil disobedience and been in many
jails. For the past nine years, I've lived and worked as a pastor in New Mexico, one of the
poorest states, but birthplace of the nuclear bomb. We have a nonviolent campaign aimed at Los
Alamos National Laboratories, where every U.S. nuclear weapons begins, and continue to call
for total nuclear disarmament.
Not long ago, I spent a year under strict Federal government probation after a protest against the
Iraq war. I had to meet with a Federal government official every week, and ask permission to
travel and leave the state. Last year, I tried to get into Gaza and joined 1400 others in the "Gaza
Freedom March" from Cairo to Gaza. Mubarak stopped it, so we broke curfew and demonstrated
every day in Tahrir square for ten days. In the process, I joined an eight day fast for the end of
the siege of Gaza, led by Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old Jewish holocaust survivor.
A year and a half ago, fourteen of us walked onto the Creech Air Force base in Nevada, the
headquarters of the U.S. drone weaponry, the unmanned fighter bombers used to bomb civilians
in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I fear they will soon be over the skies of Bethlehem. We were
arrested, jailed in Las Vegas for the night, and stood trial last fall. The judge surprised us by
saying he needed four months to think about his decision. Two weeks ago we were back in Las
Vegas court, and of course, he found us guilty. I was expecting six months in prison, but gave us
time served. So I'm very happy to be here with you this morning!
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if today you had known the things that make for peace!"
We've been talking about empire, the American empire, the Israeli empire, the occupation, the
wall, the settlements, the siege of Gaza, the apartheid, the abominable Obama veto recently
in the U.N.---all of this in a world with 1 billion people starving to death, 30 wars, 730 U.S.
military bases around the planet, 20,000 nuclear weapons, violence, torture, executions,
economic collapse and destructive policies that have brought catastrophic climate change. We
are up to our ears in empire! It's the air we breathe. It's normal. We've internalized it. And
we've put our churches, our theology and our spirituality at the service of empire. So if we are
going to talk about a spirituality of nonviolent resistance, we have to recognize first that most of
us are caught up in a spirituality of war, a spirituality of occupation, a spirituality of empire.
This is an old story. In this false spirituality of empire and war, we believe violence saves us.
War brings peace. Might makes right. Nuclear weapons are our only security. God blesses wars.
We seek not forgiveness and reconciliation but victory and domination. The good news is not the
love of enemies but the elimination of enemies so we can steal their land and natural resources
for ourselves. Some of us think the empire is on our side, it gives us life, it is our god. In reality,
empires bring good things to death.
In our spirituality of violence and empire, we reject Jesus' call out of empire and the Sermon on
the Mount as impractical. We take up the empire's just war theory, launch crusades, bless the
nuclear weapons at Los Alamos and enjoy the comforts of empire. The empire always tries to
teach us about God and life, to instruct the churches on how to be church, to give us its theology
and spirituality, to answer questions of sin or morality, telling us what is sinful or immoral, what
issues to discuss, while saying nothing about the murder of a million Iraqis, or the occupation, as
if these were not mortally sinful and immoral.
The empire wants the churches to be indifferent, passive and silent, or to be divided and fighting,
if not to bless its wars, occupations and injustice. We're told to have a private relationship with
our imperial god, fulfill our Sunday obligations and go along silently with the mass murder of
our sisters and brothers around the world. We are possessed by an imperial occupation of our
hearts, our spirits, and our souls.
In the old days, they called this: "heresy," "blasphemy," and "idolatry." We need to start using
those big words again!
Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King and others are teaching us a new lesson: the great truth that
violence doesn't work. War doesn't work.
Violence in response to violence always leads to further violence! As Gandhi said, "An eye
for an eye only makes the whole world blind." "Those who live by the sword, will die by the
sword," Jesus said. You reap what you sow. The means are the ends. What goes around comes
around. War cannot stop terrorism because war is terrorism. War only sows the seeds for future
wars. War can never lead to lasting peace or true security or a better world or help us overcome
evil or teach us how to be human---much less deepen the spiritual life.
If we want peace, we have to denounce the lie of war and empire and the false spirituality of
war and empire and say: War and empire are not the will of God. War and empire are never
blessed by God. War and empire are never justified. War and empire are the very definition of
mortal sin, idolatry, the demonic, for they are anti-life, anti-democracy, anti-human, anti-God,
anti-Christ. For Christians, peaceful means are the only way to a peaceful future and the God of
So I want to offer ten starting points for a spirituality of resistance, for our life work challenging
empire and remaining faithful to the God of love and peace. These are just modest points for
your reflection, to help you ponder your own spirituality of resistance and the spiritual resources
that sustain you for the lifelong struggle to make justice and peace.
First, a spirituality of resistance is a spirituality of nonviolence.
The night before he was killed, the mighty prophet of peace and justice, Martin Luther King,
Jr. said, "The choice is no longer violence or nonviolence. It's nonviolence or nonexistence." I
think that's where we stand today--on the brink of global imperial destruction, called to become
people of Gospel nonviolence.
But we do not challenge empire and the false spirituality of empire by the means of empire.
We do it, King says, through active, creative, loving nonviolence. This comes from the Sermon
on the Mount, Matthew 5:39: "Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil." I urge us all
to experiment with this teaching as our Palestinians brothers and sisters have done so well, to
practice active nonviolence as the foundation for our spirituality of resistance to empire.
Gandhi and King said we can never reflect enough on this clumsy word "nonviolence." It begins
with the vision of a reconciled humanity, what Dr. King called "the beloved community," the
truth that all life is sacred, that we are all equal sisters and brothers, already reconciled, already
united, already one. From this starting point of our common unity, we could never hurt or kill
another human being, much less remain silent in the face of empire, war, occupation, starvation,
nuclear weapons, injustice and violence.
So nonviolence is not a tactic or a strategy, and it's certainly not passive. It's a new way of life.
We renounce violence and vow never to hurt anyone again. Then, we practice active, courageous
love in pursuit of the truth of our common humanity for justice and peace. We resist empire,
war and systemic injustice, while persistently reconciling with everyone and allowing God to
disarm our hearts of the roots of empire within us. And no matter what, we uphold the bottom
line of nonviolence: There is no cause, however noble, no matter what anyone says, for which
we support the killing of a single human being.
From now on, we reach out to every human being near and far with unconditional, all-inclusive,
all-encompassing, non-retaliatory, sacrificial, universal love. I'm talking about a spirituality of
love as the motivation for our resistance to empire.
The world says there are only two options in the face of violence: you fight back or run away.
Active nonviolence gives us a third option: creative, steadfast, peaceful resistance to injustice.
It is not passive but infinitely creative as Dr. King, Gandhi and our Palestinian brothers and
sisters demonstrate. We stand up and resist violence with creative love, trusting in God, willing
to suffer, insisting on the truth of our common humanity until the scales fall from the eyes
of our opponents and we are reconciled. Gandhi says it's a life force, more powerful than all
the weapons of the world combined, because it's the way of God, and when we organize it, it
becomes contagious and can disarm the world.
So nonviolence begins in our hearts and from there, we are nonviolent to our families and
neighbors, and to opponents here and everywhere. We practice it personally, but organize it
in grassroots movements for social change to transform the world, as Gandhi demonstrated in
India's revolution, as Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement showed, as the People Power
movement showed in the Philippines, as Archbishop Tutu and the churches of South Africa
showed against apartheid, as Egypt just showed us! Walter Wink says two thirds of the human
race has been engaged in grassroots movements of nonviolent resistance in the last thirty years.
Dr. King said this is the most exciting time to be alive in all of history because we are going to
be the people who finally become nonviolent.
Second, our spirituality of resistance is based in the nonviolent resistance of Jesus and in
discipleship to Jesus, the nonviolent resister of empire.
Mahatma Gandhi said that Jesus was the most active nonviolent resister in history, and the only
people who don't know Jesus was nonviolent are Christians.
Jesus lived and taught active, public, creative nonviolent resistance to empire. He called
everyone out of empire, out of occupation, and commanded us to love our neighbors and our
enemies, to show compassion to everyone, to seek justice, to forgive everyone, to be reconciled,
and to lay down your lives in love for humanity. He organizes the poor, heals them of empire
and walks from Galilee to Jerusalem on a campaign of active nonviolence into the Temple, the
symbol of imperial and religious oppression of the poor, the center of systemic injustice, and in
an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, turns over the tables of the money-changers. "This is a
house of prayer," he says. He doesn't hurt anyone, kill anyone, or bomb anyone. But he does
engage in peaceful, nonviolent action; he is not passive. He is a nonviolent revolutionary, a force
to be reckoned with, a one man crime wave in the Roman empire. Of course, he is arrested and
Back home, when I talk like this, people say, "That is so nice John, but sometimes you've
just got to kill someone. War is justified!" If you think so, go to the Garden of Gethsemani.
Here come the Roman soldiers, and what does St. Peter do? What's Peter's "spirituality of
resistance"? He says to himself, "My job is to protect the holy One," so he gets his sword to kill
the soldiers, thinking that in all of salvation history, if violence is ever justified, if there ever
was a just war, this is it." But then the commandment comes down: "Put down the sword," Jesus
says. We are not allowed to kill. Friends, these are the last words of Jesus to the church, and it's
the first time they understand him and his nonviolence. What do they do? They run away.
Before Pilate, Jesus explains it all: "If my kingdom were of this world, my attendants would use
violence, would be fighting to protect me from the Judeans; but it is not of this world, so they
do not use violence." Jesus dies on the cross, Gandhi says, in perfect nonviolence, saying, "The
violence stops here in my body. You are all forgiven, but from now on, you are not allowed to
And just as the crucifixion of Jesus was completely legal, so was his resurrection totally illegal.
The soldiers were sent to guard the tomb, and put the imperial seal on the tomb as if to say
to Jesus, "We killed you and you're dead, so we order you to stay dead." Once again, Jesus
engages in civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance! He breaks the law and the imperial
seal and is out and about. And he says to us, "Peace be with you! Join my campaign, my
sabeel, of nonviolent resistance to empire!" As people of resurrection, we know our survival is
already guaranteed. We know life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, peace and
compassion are stronger than empire and war, nonviolence is stronger than violence.
So our spirituality is an active discipleship to Jesus the nonviolent resister of empire.
Third, a spirituality of nonviolent resistance reclaims the nonviolence of God and claims our
core identity as God's beloved sons and daughters.
The empire creates fear, but Gandhi said in effect that a spirituality of resistance is based in
fearlessness. He took a vow of fearlessness. How do we not live in fear, but live in nonviolent
love? I propose we center our lives in the unconditional love that the God of love and peace has
for each one of us.
When Jesus calls us out of empire and into justice and peace, he speaks of a God who is wildly
in love with each one of us; a God who does not create empire, does not want empire, does not
bless empire; a God who wants us as God's children to live in the fullness of life.
Remember when Jesus was baptized. There he heard the voice say "You are my beloved Son."
He went into the desert, and was tempted by the empire, by violence, to reject his core identity.
The voice says, "Oh yeah, if you are God's beloved son, prove it! Do something!" But he refused
to reject who he is, claimed his true identity as God's beloved son, went forward on the mission
to resist empire and was faithful until the moment of his death, still centered in his relationship
with the God of peace. They said, "If you are the son of God, come down from there. . ." Because
he remained true to that fundamental identity, he practiced perfect nonviolent resistance and love
There are two key texts which are crucial to this foundational identity for a spirituality of
resistance. First, "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the sons and daughters of
God." (Mt. 5:9)
The empire is always trying to tell us who we are. "You are nobody!" or "You are somebody
if you buy this product." In the U.S., the marines have a slogan which says, "If you want to be
all you can be, join the marines," and we should add, "and kill for the empire." But Jesus tells
us who we truly are. He says: "You are the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace,
not the sons and daughters of the empire or the culture of war and violence." In a spirituality of
resistance, we claim this core identity and remain faithful to it, so we go forth and make peace
and resist empire and live in God's love and welcome God's reign of peace.
The other key text: "Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. . ." (Mt. 5:43-48)
Why should we do this? Jesus does not say, "love your enemies because it's the right thing to
do," or "because it's the moral thing to do," or "because it's the only practical political solution
left." He says "love our enemies because God lets the sun shine on the good and the bad and the
rain fall on the just and the unjust." God is a God of universal nonviolent love, and you are the
sons and daughters of the God of universal nonviolent love, so you offer universal nonviolent
love, which means you resist empire and love everyone.
Here in the boldest political statement in the entire Bible, he describes the nature of God, and
announces that contrary to what the empire teaches about God, God is nonviolent and loving, a
God of universal love. As God's beloved sons and daughters, he says, you do the same.
That is why I define nonviolence as remembering who we are. Violence comes from forgetting
who we are. And the social, economic and political implications of this teaching are astounding:
if we are sons and daughters, then every human being is our sister and brother.
So I urge us to claim your core fundamental identities as the beloved sons and daughters of a
God who makes peace and practices universal love, and to be faithful to who we are. If we do,
then like Jesus, we will be able to go all the way in nonviolent resistance to empire.
We could also speak of St. Paul's great image of being citizens of God's reign of peace. We are
no longer citizens of the American empire, or whatever empire but first and foremost citizens of
Fourth, a spirituality of nonviolent resistance means we are contemplatives of peace and
nonviolence, people who spend time every day with the God of peace, who live in intimate
relationship with the God of peace, to dwell in that fundamental identity as God's beloved sons and daughters.
We resist empire, yes, but on the positive side, we live in relationship with the God of peace,
and so we spend time every day with the God of peace in silent prayer, contemplation, and
meditation. The Jesuits recommend thirty minutes of silent meditation a day. But the reason we
don't do this is because the violence within us come up. But that's the point: in prayer, we allow
the God of peace to disarm our hearts of the roots of empire and war within us.
There are many ways of prayer, meditation and spirituality, and many resources at our disposal
from bible study to the sacraments, but I urge us to just be with God, to let God love you, to let
God heal you, and to enjoy the peace of God.
And in that safe place with God, I invite you to let go of your inner imperial tendencies, your
inner violence, anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness and desire for vengeance; all the roots of
empire, war, and occupation within you, to give it to the God of peace; to grant clemency and
amnesty and forgiveness to everyone who ever hurt you; to move from anger and violence to
nonviolence and compassion for everyone; to welcome God's gift of peace within you so that we
can radiate personally the peace we seek politically, so that our very presence is disarming.
We're talking about a new kind of dangerous holiness, a dangerous mysticism that threatens
empire. This is what Gandhi and King achieved, and what our Palestinian brothers and sisters are
The amazing thing is that as we spend time in intimate relationship with our beloved God,
we discover that, contrary to what the empire tells us, God is not a god of empire and war,
but the God of peace; not a god of injustice, but the God of justice; not a god of vengeance
and retaliation, but the God of compassion and mercy; not a god of violence, but the God of
Gandhi said the more we can imagine the peace and nonviolence of God, the more we will
worship the God of peace and nonviolence; then finally, we will become people of peace and
When we dwell in the peace of God, we listen to what God wants to say to us, and God always
just wants to encourage us as any loving parent would. We see this in Dr. King's "spirituality of
resistance." Martin Luther King had one dramatic experience of God in his whole life, in January
1956. It was late at night. He received a death threat on the phone, walked into his kitchen, put
his head down on the table, and started to pray. In that moment, he gave up. But just then, he
heard a voice say: "Speak for justice, speak for equality, speak for peace, and I promise, I will
never leave you alone." He spoke about that experience for the rest of his life, until the week he
died. He was encouraged by God to continue the struggle. That message is for all of us. That is
what God wants to say to each one of us, if we will take time to listen.
I would like to speak on the power of intercessory prayer, the importance of praying daily for
political transformation, the end of the occupation, the end of war, and the end of empire. I
would like to speak too of the teaching to pray for our persecutors, which means, we must pray
for the settlers, who make war and manage the empire. That is part of our work as well.
Fifth, a spirituality of nonviolent resistance begins with a practice of personal, mindful
nonviolence toward ourselves and others.
We cannot live our personal lives as if we are little emperors running our own personal empires.
We have to non-cooperate with the empire's occupation of our lives and souls, which means
first, to non-cooperate with violence toward ourselves. We have to be sure to be nonviolent
to ourselves. I think the work of nonviolent resistance is difficult because we are all raised in
violence and it can trigger the lingering violence within us and reopen our own past wounds,
and we need to be aware of that. We need to look deeply within and try to look at the causes of
our violence and be gentle with ourselves and not beat ourselves up but try to cultivate interior
Remember, too, that Jesus advises us not to base our nonviolent resistance in anger, he says
in the Sermon on the Mount. It doesn't work or sustain us for the long haul; it just stirs up the
embers of violence. Notice how he advocates two other emotions: grief and joy. More of us
within the empire need to start practicing grief in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. We
must also cultivate joy. "Blessed are those persecuted for justice; rejoice and be glad." In Luke,
we read, "Leap for joy! Start dancing." Look at Archbishop Tutu. He's dancing through life,
even though he's been under death threat throughout his life. Dear friends, start dancing!
Also, as activists and resisters, we have to be especially nonviolent toward everyone we meet
every day from now on for the rest of our lives. Contrary to the spirituality of empire and
occupation, we love everyone as a sister and brother. We need to be attentive to our personal
nonviolence, to be as loving and compassionate as we can. To the extent that we can do this, the
days of occupation and empire are not only numbered, but a new world is being born.
From this spirit, we can create communities of love and nonviolent resistance, care for each other
and sustain each other, help create new churches of nonviolent resistance to empire, and widen
our circle of friends into that global beloved community.
Sixth, our Palestinian sisters and brothers are showing us that a spirituality of resistance is a
way of life. For you, it's daily life. Just living and breathing is an act of nonviolent resistance.
I saw that in At Twani, where they struggle to get the children to school, face the poisoning
of their sheep and the shooting of their dogs, and fear the settlers who terrorize them with
machetes. You practice nonviolent resistance 24/7.
I like what the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay said, "I shall die, but that is all I shall do for death."
That's what you're doing. You also know that if you are going to spend your lives resisting
death, you have to live life to the full, really live, be fully alive in the present moment. That's
what you are doing.
We in the West have to relearn this, to make nonviolent resistance our daily practice for the rest
of our lives. That means, our spirituality of resistance has to be engaged; it is not passive, but
praxis-oriented. It is about action.
Each of us needs to engage in concrete activity to resist war and injustice. We too need to live
and breathe a spirituality of resistance and give our lives in resistance to empire.
When I was with the labor organizer Cesar Chavez talking about spirituality, he said, "Tell
everyone they have to engage in public action for peace and justice." As Archbishop Romero
said the day he was killed, "Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something."
So everyone needs to engage in some public action for justice and peace. One thing we all can
do is stand in solidarity with our Palestinian sisters and brothers and all oppressed peoples. In
particular, I hope we can all join Sabeel, support Sabeel, widen the Circle of friends of Sabeel,
and even raise funds for Sabeel. Certainly in the U.S., we need to build a movement to protest
the annual AIPAC meetings in Washington, D.C., work to cut all U.S. military aid to Israel and
join the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Seventh, a spirituality of resistance is prophetic. Like Dr. King and Gandhi, we need to be
people of prophetic nonviolent resistance. That means, we listen attentively to the voice of the
God of peace, and then, say what the God of peace wants said. We speak the truth with love,
we call one another out of empire, and we call one another back to the God of peace and the
life of peace.
So a spirituality of resistance breaks the silence, complicity and acceptance of empire and war.
It denounces empire and the false spirituality of violence and announces justice and peace, which
means saying publicly things like this:
"In the name of the God of peace, come out of empire. Do not support empire. Do not work for
empire. Resist empire. Help dismantle empire. And so, end the occupation, end the blockade on
Gaza, tear down the wall, abolish apartheid, welcome the Jewish vision of shalom. End the U.S.
war and occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. End all current wars. Close all 730 U.S.
military bases around the world. Close Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs and Dimona, as well
as the Pentagon. Dismantle every nuclear weapon on the planet, and stop the weapons trade and
the corporate greed which robs and kills the poor and poisons the earth. Feed every starving child
and person on the planet today. House, heal and educate every person on the planet. And build
new cultures of justice, inclusivity, nonviolence and peace, here and everywhere." That's what
we need to say!
We hear such prophetic language in the Kairos Palestine statement, which I hope we will all
read, study and act on.
Eighth, a spirituality of resistance means being visionaries of a new world of nonviolence.
As we resist empire and occupation, we also envision a new world of love and peace.
One of the casualties of empire, war and occupation is the loss of the imagination. Some
people cannot even imagine an end to the occupation, or living peacefully as neighbors with
Palestinians, much less a world without war, poverty or nuclear weapons.
But that is part of our life and our work--to help everyone reclaim the imagination for peace, for
the coming of a new world of nonviolence. Everyone is blind; we have no vision. We have to
help one another see God's reign of peace at hand in our midst.
Think of the Abolitionists. They came along and announced an astonishing, breathtaking new
vision. They said, "We are announcing the abolition of slavery!" And they were told, "You're
crazy! There's always been slavery." "No," they said, "A new world is coming, a new world
without slavery, a new world of equality." They lifted up a new vision of equality and gave their
lives for it and helped others to see it.
Friends, we are their heirs! We are new Abolitionists. We're saying, "We are announcing a new
world without walls, occupation, apartheid, rubber bullets, and tear gas. We are announcing the
abolition of war, poverty, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, and environmental destruction!" Lift
up that vision of peace with justice and point people to a new world of nonviolence!
Ninth, a spirituality of resistance is a spirituality of the cross, of taking up the cross as
nonviolent resistance to empire, of carrying the cross of nonviolent resistance to empire.
John Howard Yoder, a great scripture scholar, once wrote that the cross is not having a flat tire
or a difficult in-law. The cross is nonviolent resistance to empire and the culture of war. Jesus
says, "Take up the cross of nonviolent resistance to empire and follow me." That is what you are
Now this is hard, and we don't often speak of it. Martin Luther King, Jr. said we have to learn
how to use suffering creatively. Instead of killing others, we are willing to undergo being killed
in the struggle for justice and peace. Instead of inflicting violence on others, we accept suffering
without even the desire to retaliate as we pursue justice with love for all people. King said, "We
will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to accept suffering, and we will
wear you down because unearned suffering love is always redemptive." It always works. Gandhi
defined nonviolent resistance as "conscious suffering in pursuit of truth." You are doing this, and
we are all beginning to learn to do this.
The Gospel says the way to resist empire is by walking the way of the cross. I propose we try to
see ourselves accompanying Jesus as he carries the cross. We try to unite our suffering for justice
and peace with his. If we can be one with Jesus as he carries the cross in nonviolent resistance,
and with the crucified peoples of the world, then our suffering is transformed and we participate
in God's disarming, redemptive work, and the fall of empire is assured because the paschal
mystery is the path to peace and justice.
Finally, a spirituality of resistance is a spirituality of hope and resurrection. Be hopeful; don't
lose heart. Stay hopeful. Cultivate hope, which means simply, keep doing hopeful things.
Get ready for resurrection, practice resurrection!
How do we do this? Thomas Merton, the great Trappist monk, gave some great advice to a
young peace activist in the 1960s. He said: "Do not place your hope in results. Do the good
because it's good," Merton said. Place your hope not in results or success but in the God of
peace. The outcome is in better hands than ours; it's in God's hands. That's an ancient teaching.
Instead of worrying about results, we give our lives for justice and peace. We love everyone,
resist empire, and place our lives and our work in God's hands, which means we acknowledge
that this is God's work.
So beware the push for immediate results, for success. That is the language of empire, of the
Pentagon; that is not our way. We are servants of the God of peace, doing God's will, letting
God achieve the results, even as we give our lives in love for suffering humanity, for God's reign
of justice and peace. Our hope is in God. Jesus said let your lives bear good fruit, which is a very
There's an inverse proportionality: the more we are in charge and do it all, the less happens. The
more we let go and risk and walk forward in faith and resist empire, the more happens. So take
risks, trust God, and place your hope in God.
My friend the great historian Howard Zinn said that every major movement for social change
in the U.S.-from the abolitionists, suffragists, labor and civil rights to the anti-war movement-
-felt hopeless. From the beginning, through the middle, and right up to the very end, they were
all hopeless, hopeless, hopeless. I found this very consoling. Then, all of a sudden, there was a
breakthrough. How? The key, he said, was that people did not give up, even though there was no
chance that change would come. Ordinary people continued to do small acts for peace and justice
every day, and over time, those little things added up into something big. They never gave up-
and that made all the difference.
He said that historically, the one thing those in power fear the most is a movement that won't go
away. So our job is not to give up, not to go away, not to give in, not to lose heart, but to keep on
pursuing a new world of peace, justice and nonviolence.
In his last months, Dr. King was falling into despair, as Gandhi did. King struggled for hope and
started talking about it. A few weeks before he was killed, he defined it for the first time: "Hope
is the final refusal to give up." I think that's very important; it's at the heart of the spiritual life.
And that's us. We refuse to give up.
Remember: the Vietnam war ended, Nixon resigned, Somoza fled, People Power forced Marcos
out of the Philippines, the Berlin wall fell, Communism fell, the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the war in El
Salvador ended, apartheid ended, and Mandela was released from prison and became president.
Eight five nonviolent revolutions have taken place in the last 25 years. Recently, Mubarak fled
from Cairo! The occupation can end, nuclear weapons can be abolished, world hunger can end.
The empire will fall. Indeed, the real question is whether it will fall violently or nonviolently; we
are doing what we can to help it fall nonviolently so fewer people will be hurt.
So I urge you to keep your eyes on the risen Jesus, to cultivate what gives you hope, to do
hopeful things, to lift up the vision of a new world of nonviolence, and to go forward in hope.
In that way, on this Sabeel of life, we will learn the things that make for peace, live out a
spirituality of nonviolent resistance, challenge empire, be faithful to the God of peace, herald the
coming of God's reign of peace with justice, and become who we already are--the beloved sons
and daughters of the God of peace, God's blessed peacemakers. Amen.
John Dear is a priest, peace activist and author of 25 books on peace and nonviolence, including
A Persistent Peace (an autobiography), Put Down Your Sword, Living Peace, Jesus the Rebel,
Peace Behind Bars, The Questions of Jesus, Transfiguration, You Will Be My Witnesses, and The
God of Peace: Toward a Theology of Nonviolence. He writes a weekly column for the National
Catholic Reporter at www.ncronline.org. He was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. For further information, visit: www.johndear.org.
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