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Nonviolence – A Reflection

July 11, 2021
The statue on the New York monument at Andersonville National Cemetery

As I sat and looked at this soldier, my heart was moved as I wondered what was going through his mind. A soldier with downcast eyes and a slight slouch. Are his hands tight with anger or is he simply trying to hold it together as he contemplates the lives of his fallen brothers from his home state of New York?

One-hundred-fifty-six years after the Civil War ended and the survivors of Andersonville were liberated, I could still feel the presence of those who died and those who survived. The spirit of suffering and death was still strong a century and a half later. Yes, the bogs and the ugliness of the “compound” were covered in grass and beautiful wildflowers. A redwing blackbird was visiting with us as we stood at the spring that saved so many when it “providentially” began flowing after a big thunder and lightning storm.

The brutality of war, especially when families were divided and serving in both Union and Confederate forces, has been on my mind a lot. Whether it was families split over politics and beliefs, or strangers on opposing sides of the battle line, death was very real.

As I continue to reflect on the horrors of war and the way in which the “enemy” is dehumanized or made into some evil caricature that is “easier” to kill, my heart breaks. As I was reading Thomas Merton: Essential Writings this evening, I came across this passage that spoke to me about the challenge of nonviolence and the crucial need for it today.

Christian nonviolence is not built on a presupposed division, but on the basic unity of man. It is not out for the conversion of the wicked to the ideas of the good, but for the healing and reconciliation of man with himself, man the person and man the human family. The nonviolent resister is not fighting simply for “his” truth or for “his” pure conscience, or for the right that is on “his side.” On the contrary, both his strength and his weakness come from the fact that he is fighting for the truth, common to him and to the adversary, the right which is objective and universal. He is fighting for everybody. (p. 124)

For me the lessons of Andersonville, New Echota (the Capital of the Cherokee Nation before the land was stolen from them), and the Trail of Tears have revealed the depths of fear and hatred. They have also taught me the urgency and the importance of being a peacemaker in a time of increased hatred and violence. After all, shouldn’t that be our following as Christ followers? In the words of Jesus, blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

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