Wednesday, May 18, 2016

On the Banks of the Ohio

"Pathways to Nonviolence" (May 17-21)
"National Rifle Association" (May 19-22)
Monks at Opening for Sand Mandala (Pathways)
Today's focus on "pathways to nonviolence" featured Arun Gandhi (82 years old and the grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi) and the Rev. Allan Boesak (Reformed Minister and South African leader).  Arun told a story about visiting his grandfather, when the youngster was 12 or 13.  He'd worn a pencil down to a nub, maybe 3 inches long, and tossed it outside.  'Grandfather,' he asked, 'can you get me another pencil?'  He imagined that Gandhi, so devoted to learning and writing, would be happy to do so.

Instead, the older man asked the boy what he'd done with the 3 inch pencil.  Then he insisted the boy go out, find it and fetch it.  Arun was stunned.  All that work?  For a bitty pencil?  Are you serious?  And Gandhi the elder said, 'I'm so serious I'll give you a flashlight to go searching immediately.'

When he'd finally retrieved the pencil, his grandfather sat him down for a lesson.  'The pencil,' he noted, 'is made of things, resources from forests and fields.  To toss it aside, even a bit of it, is to do violence to the earth.'  And then this: 'The fact that we have pencils and others don't is an injustice, a kind of violence.  When we toss such a resource away, we ignore this violence too, and add harm to the poor and saddened of the planet.'

In the soft cadences of Arun Gandhi's speech, it's easy to hear what might have been that loving, passionate, gentle, fierce leader: M.K. Gandhi.  Pioneer in the works of ahimsa, nonviolence and love.  And liberator of his people.  'Be the change,' he said, 'you wish to see in the world.'

The Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak
I'll have devote another day's writing to Allan Boesak's presentation; it was powerful, provocative and aching.  Later, I sat just behind Dr. Boesak and had occasion to introduce myself to him.  Like Archbishop Tutu and others, he was a hero to me in the 80s, in the years I spent with others organizing for divestment and solidarity with South Africa's freedom movement.  I was glad today for the brief opportunity to thank him for that inspiration, inspiration I've drawn on greatly over the last few months especially.  He likewise expressed gratitude for all the ways people of conscience, the world around, supported the South African movement and leveraged power and resources for that great struggle.  'The work is not over,' he said to us all, 'but do not forget what we've done in South Africa!' 

Eight years ago, while still a Reformed pastor in South Africa, Allan Boesak was stunned when his church turned its back on queer members and refused to support their liberation and equal rights.  In the aftermath of South Africa's new mandate, the church had publicly stated that all God's children would be protected, that no prejudice or bigotry would be accommodated.  Still, in 2008, South Africa's Reformed Church turned its face from the LGBTiQ community and refused to stand with them against violence and bigotry.  And this was more than Boesak could stand; indeed, it seemed a rejection of the very freedom and faith he'd lived and suffered for decades before.

So, he left the parish, the church, and made a stand.  It was no longer a freedom church, no longer a beloved community, and he could no longer serve it.  

In his presence, just briefly, I was struck by his combination of courage and generosity, unwavering passion for liberation and sweet grace.  Quite a gift.

In their presence, Arun Gandhi and Allan Boesak, I find it even more painful that Louisville is home to the NRA this week, even as such determined peacemakers meet at the Festival of Faiths around the block.  Boesak describes faith in the shadow of empire (Apartheid in South Africa, the British in India) and it's hard not making the connection.  Wayne LaPierre is something of a 'gun-whisperer', sowing fear, buying off congressional aspirants and aides, and selling anxiety and ammo to Americans overwhelmed by powerlessness and boredom.  His NRA is nothing less than the empire's therapist.  And a scary and devastatingly violent one at that.  When will we, like Gandhi's movement in India and Boesak's in South Africa, band together and demand our freedom?  Pharaoh's done nothing for us.  And it's time to go.