Today Rev. Thurman’s meditation brings my mind to the racial tension in our country, especially brought to a hard rolling boil with the separate shootings in Ferguson, a strangling death in New York, the remembrance of the gross misjudgement of a community watch volunteer in Florida in 2012. It also brings to mind, as I’ve recently watched on news talk shows, police training and judicial disciplinary actions (or non action).
As Thurman says, a person has a few options on how to respond to any problem: (p. 77-78)
1) withdrawal, which is to say that the world’s “stuff” is too much to handle and; “the contradictions of experience are in themselves final and binding.” The response would be to retreat and ignore the world’s “stuff”.
2) to reduce ALL evil (I’d describe that in terms of contributing factors, perspectives and, responses to problems) to a single entity. Such as to say that the tension we are experiencing in our country is a racial problem. “A radical oversimplification.”
3) to recognize that all the world is made up of raw materials immediately available “for the realization of the kingdom, the rule of God.” In other words, all things can be used for “the achievement of the high and holy end.” This, Thurman suggests, is the position of a religious person who “is never afraid of life, nor shrinks from vicissitudes.”
I recently wrote for a seminary paper that I hoped we would not be revisiting the violence that characterized the civil rights demonstrations that peaked in Selma in 1963. “I sit at my kitchen table holding my breath and praying to God that a miracle will happen and protests will not turn violent and ugly as they did in 1963 at the height of the civil rights era. ” To which my professor commented: “Yes…therefore, violence is a natural response of the people. Seeking peace without justice only delays addressing the real issues”. I was sobered by an overarching comment that while I prayed violence did not break out; my professor prayed that injustice did not break out.
It demonstrates how complex our world is, that while I wanted a simple (and naive) resolution, I hadn’t considered the value of violence. If you look up the word ‘violence’ you see there is a spectrum of definitions for violence that, speaking for myself at least, I hadn’t considered. The first definition I read was: Violence can be a swift and intense force. I discovered that I need to learn the depth and breadth of expressions of violence and use them appropriately, but; I will not go to the extreme of injurious physical force. It will be a necessary challenge (for us all) to explore something I have characterized as harmful (allow this to be an interpretation of Thurman’s word “evil”) and, as Thurman says, “alter its character thoroughly” to be an expression that serves.