heard a story of a young Israeli soldier who was stationed in
the Gaza Strip. Each day he passed an area where Arab children
would sit. When the children saw the soldier, they threw rocks
at him, at least the first few times they did. Then one day
the soldier bent down and picked up a few of the rocks and started
to juggle them. After that, instead of throwing stones, every
day the children gathered to watch him juggle.
The actions of the Israeli soldier
transform acts of violence into connection, and human relation.
From destructive, the pendulum has swung all the way back towards
creative. Pacifism is creative. A Muslim theologian, named Maulana
Wahiduddan Khan writes, "Violent activities breed hatred
in society, while non-violent activities elicit love. Violence
is the way of destruction while non-violence is the way of construction.
In an atmosphere of violence, it is enmity which flourishes,
while in an atmosphere of non-violence, it is friendship which
flourishes…In short, violence is death, non-violence is life."
Pacifism says yes to life. Pacifism
is creative and life-affirming. Khan continues, "Non-violence
should never be confused with inaction or passivity. Non-violence
is action in the full sense of the word."
So too is pacifism. Pacifism is a choice to which you
must continually recommit yourself. In a situation of conflict
how do you manage to stay true to yourself? It may seem easiest
to resort to violence as a form of punishment, but what will
There is a place that is broken
and hurting inside each of us. We must see that violence is
not an isolated occurrence, but a reflection of our own human
brokenness. To choose non-violence and pacifism is to choose
the difficult and perilous path of walking with our own brokenness
and ugliness. I believe the potential for acts of violence lies
within each of us. By choosing to sit with my own pain and sadness,
I am trying to realize that I am broken. In my brokenness is
a possible source of violence and a potential source of healing.
Can you sit with your own pain in order to begin the process
of healing? Do you walk your days with a consciousness of your
brokenness? Are you willing to reveal it to the world in order
to become whole? For after all a wound only heals with the aid
of fresh air and light.
We are all broken and seeking
a life of healing, a life of wholeness. But only in realizing
our own brokenness can we begin to move away from destructive,
life killing ways of being, towards healing life-affirming ways
of being. Violence is destructive of life. Pacifism is life
The Members of Toronto First
share a set of principles, posted here in Sunderland Hall. The
second of these principles that we "affirm and promote"
is, "justice, equity and compassion in human relations."
Our sixth principle reads, "The goal of world community
with peace, liberty and justice for all".
For any one of us in this room
to affirm and promote these principles, I think we need to take
a serious look at what justice is. The Oxford dictionary sitting
at my house holds that to "do justice" is to act fairly.
But doing justice, it seems to me more commonly takes the appearance
of a punishment. Alan Senauke a Zen Buddhist monk writes, "Conventionally,
peace is understood as the cessation of armed violence. Conventionally,
justice is identified with punishment. Such an understanding
of peace and justice pulls in two directions. The peace and
justice we speak of here is one thing, one direction…it is simply
not living at the expense of another."
If you are a member of this
congregation, you have committed to a relationship of work that
you will undertake during your lifetime in order to carry those
principles into your life, and into the world. How are you living
your life according to the values and principles you hold most
dearly? Be honest with yourself, what are the values you hold
As Unitarians we also believe
in tolerance, and that each one of us is on a path seeking greater
truth. And along that path each of us must make decisions. The
Unitarian church has no official viewpoint on war. Perhaps there
are those among us for whom violence is the solution to the
problems in the Middle East. No one need be a pacifist to be
here. We try to create a space that is safe for all people to
come together to create community and to work towards justice.
Is this war against Iraq a viable
way to bring peace to the Middle East? In the best possible
situation, will such a war destroy the potential for terrorist
For me the truth is peace, and
non-violence. For me war is not the answer. But how can I leave
room for other points of view? I encourage discussion here,
with the other thoughtful and compassionate people you meet
today. Discern for yourself. You have to judge for yourself.
You have to seek your own truth in this media mess, as even
in the most peaceful of times we are bombarded with headlines
I can only encourage you to
stay on the path, to keep seeking the truth, and when you find
it to speak it. Speaking your mind is a courageous act. So too,
is questioning. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, "The peace
principle [is not] to be carried into effect by fear. It can
never be defended, it can never be executed by cowards."
We are a denomination of courageous heretics. Let
us proudly carry that mantle and that tradition by continuing
to each seek the truth, to each question ourselves, and those
I want you to think about the
war, this perpetual war, war in Iraq, war in Israel/ Palestine,
and all the wars that manifest themselves in each of our lives
in a variety of ways. What ways of living do you have that are
destructive? What is standing in the way of your own happiness,
your own wholeness?
Pacifism is a moment-to-moment
commitment to life. Pacifism is not passive; pacifism is radically
life affirming. I am not here to encourage you to become pacifists.
I am here to encourage you to live each and every moment of
your lives. Every one of us here today, will die. The only thing
that distinguishes one from the other really is how we choose
to live our life.
When even for a moment, we lose
gratitude for the magic of life, we become complacent. And here
in Canada it is easy to lose sight of gratitude because our
lives are saturated with violence from the TV, radio and newspapers.
In order to keep from being overwhelmed, we become desensitized.
And so we become complacent and passive.
Realizing that complacency and
apathy is not our natural- in-tune response to violence is the
beginning of an awakening. Bearing the suffering of the world
on your shoulders will kill you. But bearing witness to suffering
will heal you. So how today can we be healed from the violence
in our lives?...with radical, courageous love, love that defies
Only human beings are capable
of creating weapons of mass destructions. And only human beings
are capable of feeling love.
Only human beings are capable
of compassion. And ultimately only human beings are capable
of making (compassionate) decisions based on a balance of mind
and heart. Only human beings are capable of radical courageous
love, that witnesses our individual suffering and pain, and
responds not with violence, but with life affirming pacifism.
Pacifism is a decision at every
moment, at every twist and turn in the road, away from violence.
Pacifism is a refusal to be a cog in the war machine generated
by the governments which rule in our name. Susan Griffin, a
popular feminist writer claims,
"To sit quietly when
faced with aggression may seem unnatural. But it is no more
so than to advance into a rain of bullets. A soldier must
be drilled over and over to habituate him to advance when
his natural bodily desire is to flee…Frederick the Great…was
inspired to invent the Prussian drill by the newly emerging
scientific view of the universe as a great machine. The
peasants in his army were to be like cogs in the mechanism
of official will."
Not only is the idea of being
a cog in the mechanism of official will scary to me, but the
thought of surrendering my free will to my politicians seems
completely irrational. If I were a soldier I would have to surrender
my life, be willing to die, for the official will.
Instead I choose compassionate
non-violent action. Instead I choose courageous love. Instead
I choose life-giving, life-affirming pacifism.
As with the Israeli soldier,
pacifism is a continual commitment to use non-violence rather
than violent action, to stay engaged rather than tune out. It
is far easier to just take in what you see and accept that violence
is the only solution. It is much harder to stay in relationship,
to keep searching for truth in any situation, searching for
the just, and questioning. Be a heretic and know that you will
be supported if you are truly acting in conscience.
If you are acting in accordance
with our common desire to create a just and compassionate world,
you will be supported here. Let us support and question each
other. Let part of our spiritual journey be discernment of truth.
Let this congregation be life-affirming, healing and creative.
Today I have offered you insight
from the pacifist teachings in several traditions, Islam, Zen
Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and feminism. Let me now offer
a final thought from Christianity. Jesus said turn the other
cheek. Who among us willing to be a heretic to popular culture
and follow that simple, wise advice?