Author Archive: John Dear

JOHN DEAR has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, most notably in 2008 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; but that does not tell a fraction of his story. One of the most prominent peace activists in the world, he has been arrested more than 75 times for peace and nonviolent protests. He was Executive Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation (1998-2001) and founder of the Bay Area Pax Christie. He has received several peace awards, including the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award 2010. He is a prolific writer. Among his works are: Disarming the Heart: Toward a Vow of Nonviolence; Our God Is Nonviolent: Witnesses in the Struggle for Peace and Justice; Seeds of Nonviolence; etc. Visit his website for a more extensive bibliography, and to read other of his articles, speeches, and sermons.

Protecting the Earth with Vandana Shiva

by John Dear 

Photo of Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya organic farm courtesy avery.wellesley.edu

As I follow the regular, dire reports on global warming, I recall my visit two years ago (2007) into the foothills of the Himalayas near the border of China and Nepal, north of Dehradun in India. There I met Dr. Vandana Shiva, a leading anti-globalization and environmental activist, a brilliant, engaging scientist and Gandhian activist.

She has taken up a formidable challenge, a nonviolent civil resistance campaign to resist globalization and protect farmers, not to mention the earth itself. Her strategy is to harvest every endangered seed and indigenous plant, restore the soil to its original richness, and save the seeds from corporate patent theft by creating “seed banks.” She is a modern-day Noah, gathering for the future the plants of the world.

I toured Navdanya Farm, her farming commune and laboratory for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights, then moved on to see Bija Vidyapeeth (Earth University), a college she founded to teach sustainable living and global alternatives. There one learns new ways to cook, garden, compost, farm, organize politically, and practice yoga.

The fields of Navdanya Farm teem with every imaginable crop and spice. Over 600 species of plants grow there, along with 250 types of rice. White egrets pace gracefully among the fields. Here agricultural scientists have also embraced Gandhian nonviolent resistance methods to protect the earth.

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The Life and Death of Daniel Berrigan

by John Dear

Daniel Berrigan marches for peace and against nuclear arms; New York City, 1982; photo courtesy AP

Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the renowned anti-war activist, award-winning poet, author and Jesuit priest, who inspired religious opposition to the Vietnam War and later the U.S. nuclear weapons industry, died on 30 April at age 94, just a week shy of his 95th birthday. He died of natural causes at the Jesuit infirmary at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx. I had visited him just last week. He has long been in declining health.

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Guest Editorial: “Do Unto Others”; Pope Francis’ Call to Action

by John Dear

Poster art courtesy azquotes.com

Editor’s Preface: Pope Francis is the first Pope to address the U. S. Congress, and his speech is already being heralded for its stand against poverty, the death penalty and other humanitarian and spiritual concerns central to his papacy. The full speech can be read at this link. Francis also singled out four persons for praise, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day, most notably the last three, major figures in the nonviolence movement. Please also see the editor’s note at the end. JG

“Hope and healing, peace and justice!” That’s what Pope Francis called us to this morning as he addressed Congress [24 September 2015]. “Summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises,” he said. “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

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Dr. King’s Gauntlet: Nonviolence or Nonexistence

by John Dear

I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. the great, holy prophet to the nation. He was a prophet of nonviolence sent by the God of peace and justice to call our country to repent of the sin of violence and war and to call us to the new life of nonviolence and peace. As we recall Dr. King, I hope we can remember his central, crucial, critical message.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; painting by Betsy G. Reyneau; public domain image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

On April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated (by our government), Dr. King told thousands of people at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee: “For years now, we have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can we just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”

It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence;
it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.

“Nonviolence or nonexistence.” That is the choice. These are the last words of Dr. King, the gauntlet he threw down before us, and before the whole world. Nobody talks about it, but this is the heart of Martin Luther King, Jr. It remains the critical choice before us all.

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Steps to Nonviolent Action

by John Dear

Dr. King with President Lyndon Johnson; photographer unknown; public domain image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

I’ve been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence, which Dr. Martin Luther King learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. After Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, broke the segregation law, and was arrested on December 1, 1955, the African-American leadership in Montgomery famously chose young Rev. Dr. King to lead their campaign. He was an unknown quantity. Certainly no one expected him to emerge as a Moses-like tower of strength. No one imagined that he would invoke Gandhi’s method of nonviolent resistance in Christian language as the basis for the boycott. But from day one, he was a force to be reckoned with.

With the help of Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Dr. King articulated a methodology of nonviolence that still rings true. It’s an ethic of nonviolent resistance that’s also a strategy of hope, which can help us today in the thousands of Montgomery-like movements around the world, including environmentalism and the ongoing Arab Spring.

Dr. King outlined his way of nonviolence in his 1958 account of the Montgomery movement, Stride Toward Freedom (New York: Harper and Row, pp. 83-88). There he tells the story of the movement and his own personal journey, from which we can extrapolate his six nonviolence principles. Dr. King lived and taught these essential ingredients of active nonviolence until the day he died. (For an excellent commentary on them, I recommend Roots of Resistance: The Nonviolent Ethic of Martin Luther King, Jr., by William D. Watley, Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1985.)

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Thomas Merton and the Wisdom of Nonviolence

by John Dear

Like all of you, Thomas Merton has been one of my teachers, and it’s a blessing to reflect on his exemplary life and astonishing witness.

I’m 45, have been in the Jesuits almost 25 years now, went to college at Duke University, decided one day that I really did believe in God and that I wanted to give my whole life to God, and the next thing you know, I was entering the Jesuits. I’m still trying to figure out how that happened! Before I entered the Jesuits, I decided I better go see where Jesus lived, so I decided to make a walking pilgrimage through Israel, to see the physical lay of the land, only the day I left for Israel in June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and I found myself walking through a war zone.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi