ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – July 31, 2016) — Father John Dear was recently in Albuquerque, New Mexico speaking at two different occasions on two separate topics, but with the common theme of peace.
For those not familiar with John Dear, he’s a Nobel Peace nominee, a priest, and former director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. As a prolific author (over 30 books), Father John has spoken and written extensively on the topic of peace, justice, and the spiritual life.
At Bookworks, an independent bookstore in Albuquerque, John Dear spoke about his newest book, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes. After stating that the Christian market seldom releases books on the Beatitudes, he paced through the eight truths of Jesus’ famous teaching. I was impressed by Dear’s passion for the text and Jesus’ teaching on the Christian life. I walked away with two major points: One, a challenge to read the Beatitudes daily (as John said Gandhi did). And, two, the word normally translated as “blessed” or “happy” is richer and more nuanced in the Aramaic (the probable language Jesus spoke), meaning something akin to a renewal of the mind intermixed with action, of moving forward with resolve.
The second engagement John Dear spoke at was a community discussion on gun violence. Subtitled, A Forum to Promote Policies that Lead to Safer Communities, the meeting in included members from religious and political communities, including Cisco McSorley — state senator, Pamelya Herndon, vice chair of the Albuquerque chapter of the NAACP, and five other community leaders. Pat Davis, council member of the 6th district in New Mexico and a former police officer, moderated the event.
Father John Dear addressed the packed house at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church, touching on several key issues, providing the sounding board for discussion on gun violence, an important issue that makes daily news around the world.
After stating the statistics for New Mexico (8th worst in the country for gun violence), Father John said the religious community — and Christians in particular — must act. He recommended that communities “organize, mobilize, speak out, and train people,” showing the community what nonviolence looks like, casting a vision of peace and justice. As a reminder to the church, John Dear said, “Christians are called to pursue Jesus’ example of justice and nonviolence,” stating, “Jesus taught and lived a non-violent life.” To live a non-violent life, Dear recommended three things: One, a non-violent life towards the self; two, a non-violent life towards others; and, three, non-violent action, promoting peace and justice.
Quoting another Christian activist, Dear stated, “Nonviolence is power, an act pursuing unconditional love.” Dear said one of the casualties of violence to a community is the loss of imagination and vision, stating, “violence has blinded us.” As a way to remedy a community’s persistent use of violence, Dear recommends that a community “provide a new vision,” a new way of living.
As examples of people casting a new vision for a community — or country — Dear pointed to the Abolitionist movement in the 18th and 19th century, the Civil Rights movement in the 20th century, and groups like the Nonviolent Cities Project in the 21st century . The bottom line for Dear is that a community must act, a grassroots movement to change and influence society, casting a new vision for belief and action by addressing the roots of violence (racism, gang, domestic, etc.). In the end, a new vision for a community will show what a city, or people, can become — a place of peace, love, and hope.
To help provide a means for a new vision, John Dear and Pace e Bene (3) are encouraging a week of community activism (September 18th-25th), yearning for people to take six steps: 1. Take nonviolent action, 2. Foster a nonviolent culture, 3. Expand nonviolence training, 4. Nurture a movement of movements, 5. Spread resources for peaceful change, and 6. Build a Campaign Nonviolence.