Bishop Hying

The Gospel call us to a ‘profoundly different’ response to violence

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on January 24, 2016         


        On January 10, we celebrated the 9th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King commemoration at our cathedral, as was reported in last week’s paper.  With music, oratory and prayer, the afternoon moved everyone to recommit to the vision of justice and peace that Dr. King so powerfully espoused.  Honored to speak at the event, I reflected on the connection between Japanese aikido wrestling, Jesus Christ and Dr. King.

       Aikido is a form of martial arts whose goal is to leave one’s opponent disarmed, unhurt and lying on the ground laughing!  By absorbing and deflecting the aggressive negative energy of the attacker, the aikido wrestler disarms the other by turning violence into a gentle yet firm force that hurts no one yet stops the aggression. 

       Is this not what Jesus did in his Passion and death?  He absorbed all the violence, evil, hatred and sin of the world into himself, letting it kill him and seemingly destroy his vital force of love, healing and peace.  But by taking in all of the darkness, Jesus conquered its power in one supreme offering of self to the Father on the altar of the cross.

       Using the prism of aikido arts, we could view the resurrection of Christ as the gentle yet powerful absorption and deflection of all the violence and evil of the world, transforming violence into love, sin into grace and death into life.

       By advocating for racial, economic and political justice through the proclamation of the Gospel, King confronted the evil prejudices, irrational fears and selfish barriers that excluded minorities and the poor, keeping them from realizing their own human and spiritual dignity. He deeply understood that he was confronting powerful forces of segregation, privilege and exploitation which would react with deadly violence. 

       And so they did. But in response, King spoke and acted from an intentional position of non-violence, rightly grasping that only the force of a love that embraced the attacker without striking back with hatred could heal the world.

       The martyrs, many of the saints, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, conscientious objectors to the Third Reich and countless others, all lived and died for a just and merciful social order. Each in their own way, some more explicitly than others, imitated the fundamental example of Jesus Christ who gave his life in order to break the evil cycle of scapegoating, violence, hatred, sin and death.  This heroic and radical gift of self even unto death moves us to honor such witnesses to the power of non-violent love and to imitate their brave generosity.

       We live in a world deeply divided and wounded by violence, injustice, racism and imbalance. We often feel out of control, longing for security, peace, normalcy and freedom, yet not often feeling fully at ease in a society where at any time or place, we could suffer random violence on a street, a pink slip at work or a bully on the Internet. This fear tempts us to build walls, buy guns, scapegoat some social or racial group or simply hunker down and attend only to our own interests.

       The Gospel, though, calls us to something profoundly different! 

       To love the world enough to heal its divisions.  To exit our comfort zones and befriend somebody completely different than us.  To speak truth to power when we must.  To overcome our fears, prejudices, anger, indifference and even hatred.  To replace revenge with forgiveness and our cynicism with idealism.  To use political, economic and cultural structures and systems to serve the dignity, freedom and flourishing of every person, instead of using people to create systems that often oppress.

       I must confess, there are times I would like to run and hide, to escape into a privatized faith without social implications, to give up on building bridges between people who don’t really trust each other, to forget about the violence in the Middle East and Gary, to stay in a comfortable cocoon with like-minded people who will never challenge or hurt me. But this running away is not of Christ or the Good News.  Our faith demands a loving engagement with this world that sometimes feels so old, worn-out and broken that it can never be fixed or made better.

       But like the saints, Martin Luther King and Jesus himself, we can never give up in despair or stop trying to live the subversive but joyful power of the Gospel.  Like a good aikido wrestler, we absorb some of the pain, suffering and evil of the world and strive to gently and peacefully refract it into the love that heals, disarms and leaves our opponent laughing on the ground.

       One of my favorite quotes relative to this theme comes from the British poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson: “Come, my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.

       Push off, and sitting well in order smite

       The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset and the baths

       Of all the western stars, until I die…

       We are not now that strength which in old days

       Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are

       One equal temper of heroic hearts,

       Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

       To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.


      + Donald J. Hying 

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