Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Role of Utopia in Vision

Yvonne Delk spoke passionately this morning at our SCUPE staff meeting about Haiti through the eyes of the three orphanages (1, 2, 3) she has been working with in recent years.  Through her visits (pre-earthquake) and education Rev. Delk has gained considerable insight into the history and struggle of the people of Haiti from colonialism to their over- throwing of French rule to the economic ostracism and divestment that has characterized the European response to the first free black nation in the Western Hemisphere and early herald of the post-colonial world.

Yvonne Delk at '06 Congress

Delk voiced the cry she directed towards God in the hours and days following the earthquake but then shifted her focus to the ways in which this was a disaster whose destructive magnitude was predicated largely by humankind.  The response of humankind now must be swift and immediate (and not rooted in the militarism that seems to have dominated the U.S. response so far) but also it must work to create instances of restorative justice that will repair and make amends for the history of abuses leveled at the people of Haiti.  The blood of the death toll rests not merely with the act of nature that was the earthquake but with every economic act that weakened the structure of Haiti buildings for the earthquake, weakened the infrastructure that would have cared for those injured by the earthquake, and the shrouded the nation in a deathly poverty before the earthquake.

What then should be the world’s response?  We know it needs to be more/different than what has been done so far (consult Bill Quigley’s “Too Little Too Late for Haiti? Six Sobering Points”).

What if the world’s response to Haiti spurred a worldwide response of restorative justice that began to make amends for the centuries of colonialism, racism, and slavery that has stolen and debilitated entire nations of people?  What if this response did not wait for disasters of such horrible magnitude as the Haiti earthquake and did more than create merely momentary compassion?

My own utopian dreamer alarm bells are going off here but it’s important to remember the original purpose of utopian visions like that of Thomas More, Plato, and the bible’s Isaiah.  Konrad Raiser (former general secretary of the World Council of Churches) has pointed out that a true utopian vision has the power to reveal and break down false constructs of reality and then mobilizes us towards potential change.

What would a utopian response to the Haiti disaster look like?

It is only after engaging the vision that we can begin the work of tempering this vision with pragmatic concerns and blowing it open with creativity and prophetic imagination.  Only then we are truly free to ask (in the full sense of the word free):

How can the global citizenship work towards a global response that prevents this disaster from becoming what it is starting to become (which is a debacle)?  How can people collaborate towards creating this response and engaging the individual, community, organizational, faith- based, corporate, and governmental resources?


Another world is possible.  Another world is necessary.

The Role of Non-violence in Peacemaking

Tuesday night I attended a forum on non-violence held at Columbia College here in Chicago’s loop sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.  Notable individuals present on the panel included Kathy Kelly of Voices of Creative Nonviolence and Rabbi Brant Rosen of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston.  The the forum’s credit there was also a “below 45 voice” in the form of Madelyn George, a Columbia College student who has been increasingly involved in acting for peace.

While the forum was lively and thoughtful it quite predictably degraded, in the question and answers portion of the evening, into theoretical and situational questioning… as if we were attempting to achieve the Platonic ideal of nonviolence.  You know, the questions like:

“Is it still non-violent action if there is property damage or if the demonstrators are wearing socks made in a sweat shop?”


“How would you advocate nonviolence if Hitler were to invade Rwanda using genocidal alien technologies?”

I may exaggerate a bit here but you get the idea.  While occasionally intellectually reveling these ‘intentional quandaries’ ignore the values of context and discernment.  As a primarily un-lived, academic idea, discussions around the concept of non-violence often fall prey to this pitfall.  We let the seemingly unreachable pinnacles of an ideal stop us from using the ideal in its most relevant and human form – gritty, impure, messy, and effective.

Where non-violence really came to life was in the stories of Kathy Kelly’s adventures planting corn on top of nuclear missile silos and being sentenced to a year in prison for crossing over into controlled space at Fort Benning’s military training school.  It took on flesh in the communal fasting of Rabbi Brant Rosen as a part of Ta’anit Tzadek – the Jewish Fast for Gaza and in the creative driven activism of Madelyn George and the students of Columbia.  These stories were wrapped in the fabric of real life – dripping with defiance and sacrifice.  These stories stretched beyond the conceptual boundaries and pitfalls common when talking about non-violent direct action and into dipped into the rarefied air of doing of doing non-violent direct action.

May it be so with us as well.  That we may always move our discernment into action – our faith into compassion and love embodied in our person.

If we let compassion guide us to action we might be surprised how often this action is actively non-violent…