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John Dear: One Man's Journey To Create A Nonviolent World

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Sit with the word for just a moment and ask yourself what does it mean to you? Have you ever taken a moment to stop and think what nonviolence would look like in your own life, in the life of your local community or as a citizen of the world?

John Dear, S.J.
John Dear, S.J.
(Image by John Dear)
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For John Dear, S.J., the word nonviolence is at the heart of his work and his life. Dear, nominated in 2008 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the Nobel Peace Prize, is an internationally known voice for nonviolence and peace. A Jesuit priest, pastor, peacemaker, organizer, lecturer, and retreat leader, he is the author/editor of 28 books, including his autobiography, A Persistent Peace and his most recent Lazarus Come Forth.  

For Dear, nonviolence is not a mere thought but a way of life that has washed over him for more than 30 years. The best way to appreciate the breadth and depth of his writings and his lifelong journey on the path of nonviolence is via a trip to his web site .

"I've seriously studied Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi for 30 years," Dear said in a recent interview with Wisdom Voices. "Both of them talked about nonviolence morning, noon and night. They didn't talk as much about "love,' "truth' or "peace' because they said that our language has failed. Many people speak of peace, for example, as if it means you can still be for war and nuclear weapons. So they used a whole new word "ahimsa' (a Hindu word that means nonviolence).

"They saw nonviolence as a whole new way of life. And it begins with the boundary line that there is no violence. You don't kill people. You don't support the killing of people and you don't harm people and prepare to nuke people. It's about the force of love that seeks the truth of our common humanity that allows God to disarm our hearts and that reconciles with everyone. It actively resists all destruction and violence with this one bottom line: There is no cause, no matter how noble, no matter what anyone says, for which we will support the taking of a single human life.

" My thinking of nonviolence after 30 years is that it's a spirituality not just a methodology. It comes from a vision that sees every human being as your sister and brother. That's the key to the whole thing.

"Nonviolence is an active way of life. You're giving your whole life in universal love for the whole human family. And it's very, very tough.   And nonviolence is a better word than love or peace because it means you have to be nonviolent to yourself, nonviolent in all of your relationships and you have to be part of the global movement of nonviolence to disarm the world. Along the way we learn that nonviolence is more powerful than violence. It works because it's the work of god, as Gandhi said."

Dear's daily dedication to the mission of nonviolence is beyond question. His work has taken him literally around the world as he has demonstrated for and spoken about nonviolence and peace to more than a million people.  

Dear has taken his mission to El Salvador, where he lived and worked in a refugee camp in 1985; to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Middle East, Colombia, and the Philippines; to Northern Ireland where he lived and worked at a human rights center for a year; and to Iraq, where he led a delegation of Nobel Peace Prize winners to witness the effects of the deadly sanctions on Iraqi children. He has run a shelter for the homeless in Washington, DC; taught theology at Fordham University; and served as Executive Director of the Sacred Heart Center, a community center for disenfranchised women and children in Richmond, Virginia.

The more than 30 years of preaching, writing, and activism for nonviolence has led to more than 75 arrests and more than a year in jail. He has been mocked by the New Mexico National Guard, who harassed him outside his parish home and he has withstood the wrath of audiences and parish members who have disagreed with his anti-Iraq war stance.  

"You can't live and practice nonviolence and at the same time seek success or results or try to be effective. On the one hand, you give your entire life to it and on the other, you have to let go of it.   There is a very old Hindu/Buddhist/Christian teaching that talks about the detachment of results. It says you do the good because it is good; you seek what is right because it is right. It is very difficult work because ultimately we're talking about the abolition of war. Yet, there have been a lot of amazing victories in the last 30 years."

His Christmas Eve message citing the end of the war in Iraq highlights a list of other recent world-wide activities aimed at peace. Not to be forgotten, he also notes are: the end of the Vietnam war; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the end of apartheid in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela; the people power movement in The Philippines; and the three Liberian women whose never-ending activism to end the war in their country earned them the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize .

"Those women showed post-doctorate Ghandism," Dear said. In his book Lazarus Come Forth, he writes about the three:

in doing the unimaginable, they have so much to teach us.   About faith and nonviolence, prayer and struggle.   About giving our lives for justice and disarmament.   About vision and imagination.   About changing the world.   In sum, about raising the dead and leading them into their new lives of freedom and peace."

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Joanne Boyer is founder and editor of Wisdom Voices Press and Her first book is "Wisdom of Progressive Voices." Joanne has worked in professional communications for more than 30 years. Her career includes being the first (more...)
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