New 606 contributor Ben Wideman is the campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State.
This summer my sabbatical time is including a family road trip through New England and Eastern Canada. Today we spent some time in Boston, visiting the downtown science center and walking a little bit of the “Freedom Trail.” I was struck with the reminder that violence is a part of the birth of the American experience. Boston’s harbor is next to Christopher Columbus Park, key in sparking violence against indigenous peoples. The Freedom Trail highlights the Boston Massacre, another seminal story with violence at its center. Bunker Hill, Boston Harbor, and the Paul Revere House are just a handful of other key stories in the birth of a nation narrative that have violent attributes here in Boston. We all know the narratives maintain their violence in other corners of this land (albeit with a few sprinkles of peace sprinkled in here and there), but the fact remains that for many Americans, violence is justifiable if it leads to the formation of a better life.
This redemptive violence provides this country with a rationale to continue its violence in more and less overt ways up to our present moment. Violence continues to be perpetrated against the poor, racially/religiously/sexual/gender underrepresented, both here and abroad, often in the name of freedom or to maintain the status quo.
Today’s reminder makes me wonder how I found myself working against this narrative. I found myself thinking of relatives from generations ago who were conscientious objectors, refusing to bear arms because of their religious identity. It reminded me of my grandfather, choosing alternative service instead of fighting in World War 2. I thought about those who have died because of their insistence of working for peace through non-violent means… people like Tom Fox, a Quaker serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams who lost his life in Iraq, my high school friend Adam who lost his life to school gun violence while serving as a teacher in an impoverished community in northern Canada, or my college friend MJ who died while on a peacemaking endeavor to the Congo with his work with the UN. I thought about Foxdale Retirement Community folks who have shared around dinners this past year about the ways they served in peaceful ways around the world, in the midst of military action and service.
I realized I have the privilege of a history in which I have been presented with a “third way” in a context that often says there are only two choices – righteous violence, or submissive passivity.
I realized that my formation has been rooted deeply in a tradition of peace built on storytelling and creative tradition. I also realized that for this kind of tradition to overtake the American myth of redemptive violence it must be cultured and nurtured, and encouraged to spread. It must be shown to the generations that will follow, lifted up with global examples to demonstrate that peace can be spread without the need for aggressive violence. It is certainly far from easy, nor is it something that can be forced by people of privilege on those who do not have power. But if we are to continue to dream of a more peaceful future we must intentionally be cultivating a culture of peace wherever we go.