I Was a Teenage Pacifist, Kumbaya!

[Rude Pundit is still on vacation. @presbyhippy Andrew William Smith still filling in.]

I was a teenage pacifist. Weaned on Martin Luther King and John Lennon, I don’t remember not knowing the words to “We Shall Overcome” or “Give Peace A Chance.” If we’re holding hands, I cannot use my hands to hit you. If we’re singing together, I am not shouting at you.

I was a teenage pacifist. There might have been a brief time around 12-years-old when I thought perhaps I could give violence a try. A friend and I disagreed about the interpretation of a book (sick literary nerd that I am), so I suggested we settle the disagreement with a duel. Dumb idea. He was much bigger than me. One hit, I was down. That’s just to say my pacifism always had a practical side, not wanting to get my butt kicked, but this did not stop me from thoroughly developing my inner hippy, all about love and peace.

Pacifists in North America have some privilege, insofar as the police and the military like to suggest they are protecting your right to be pacifist. That changes when you engage in a direct-action campaign against atrocities being planned or carried out by your government. In the process of nonviolent civil disobedience as taught to us by the likes of Thoreau, Gandhi, and King, pacifists can lose their privileges. We go to jail, which is a rite of passage for pacifists. We need to be willing to do hard time or die to defend our right not to kill, otherwise we might not really be pacifists. As a teen and 20-something, I tried just that and managed to do a little jail time and leave that period of my direct action career without a criminal record.

As a middle-aged activist with a career and responsibilities I did not have when I was trespassing on military sites, I tend to prefer prayer as a form of direct action, and this modifies my pacifism. I would allow the police to defend me in a crisis, but I also know the police may arrest me or kill me. Idealism tends to get renegotiated as your hair turns gray.

Today, I feel powerless to stop the horrible atrocities in several hot spots of the middle East, so I pray for peace. This approach gets bad press from more militant activists, yet to out-of-hand bash the whole singing and holding hands bit has become a cliché all its own! I know this blog has a dark humorous streak on most days, but it’s sometimes okay to just balk on the bitter part and say enough with the snark and irony and cynicism already. Maybe we really need to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya"?

Even in the passionately optimistic book Love Wins (to which I referred yesterday), the Christian author Rob Bell makes a snide aside about salvation not really being “a universal hugfest where everybody eventually ends up around the heavenly campfire singing ‘Kumbaya,’ with Jesus playing guitar.” 

I’ve always thought that thees cynical remarks about a spiritual-woowoo-hippie-peacenik utopia where we-all-hold-hands-and-sing-“Kumbaya” should not be used so dismissively when others sincerely set out to achieve a cosmic vision of unlimited grace, pure peace, and perfect love.

As cheesy, easy, or breezy as some might say it sounds, this wonderful and scandalous and radical message of love locates at the core of the canon. Standing in a circle, holding hands, and singing “Kumbaya” may not instantly usher in world peace or even the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, but I maintain that it would be a good place to start.

I am not a middle-aged pacifist with the convictions of a teenage pacifist. I am a middle-aged peacenik who accepts moral compromise daily. I can think of some situations where self-defense makes sense or where I would allow those so professionally-trained to use force on my behalf. But I am also aware that the guns could be turned against me. I still don’t own a gun, still see flight as better than fight. Love and light are still the most radically disarming forces I can imagine as operative in the universe, and their practical application has yet to be fully tried.

You may not want to sing “Give Peace A Chance,” “We Shall Overcome,” or “Kumbaya.” Such actions may not stop the bombs and brutality in Gaza or dismantle the prison industrial complex or stop institutional racism or end mountaintop removal or guarantee civil rights for LGBTQ friends or provide access to birth control and abortion services for women. You may have had enough of praying for “peace” in a world that preaches it often and practices it rarely. I get that.

Yet somewhere, someone has ended a conflict with forgiveness or made friends with an enemy and somewhere, someone is better for it.

I cannot believe the Rude Pundit asked me to pen these blogs for the last three days, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Peaceout!