Peacemakers can be troublemakers, Jesuit priests can be ex-cons and activists actually do have fun. John Dear knows these things intimately.
A Jesuit priest for 25 years, Dear's warmth, humor and passionate cries for nonviolence go far beyond any particular parish. Dear has traveled the world as a peace activist, organizer, lecturer, retreat leader and author/editor of more than 20 books on peace and nonviolence. Boise has finally made it onto his busy schedule a year and a half after Liz Paul of the Idaho Peace Coalition initially contacted him about paying us a visit. Dear and Paul decided that October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, was a fitting date given Dear's recent completion of an anthology of Gandhi's writings, Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings.
Dear strives to heed Gandhi's call for a peaceful, nonviolent world because he believes that "either we become people of nonviolence or we're doomed." During his evening talk, Dear will relay some of his memorable "adventures in peacemaking," which will likely include tales from the war zones of Iraq or El Salvador, stories from his post 9/11 work with victims' families or accounts of his tenure as director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest, interfaith peace organization in the United States. Dear will also tackle the question, "How can we take up Gandhi's challenge?" reminding us that Gandhi brought down the entire British Empire nonviolently.
Dear laments the fact that nobody really talks about nonviolence anymore despite its practice being the greatest moral challenge facing the world. The ways Gandhi and Martin Luther King opened up a whole new way of thinking about nonviolence have been forgotten. Many people dismiss the fact that Jesus preached nonviolence ("put down thy sword") and unconditional love ("love thy enemies"), and that all religions share the common philosophy of nonviolence.
"The word Islam means peace. Judaism is all about shalom. Buddhism teaches compassion toward everything including rocks and birds," Dear asserted, adding that he believes Gandhi was correct in saying that Jesus was the most active advocate for nonviolence in the world.
Dear is openly critical of the way modern Christians espouse the just war theory and throw out the gospel, giving way to a societal addiction to violence. "The world is so sick with some 30,000 nuclear weapons. We are using nuclear weapons to fight terrorism, as if the weapons themselves aren't the ultimate form of terrorism." Dear is not shy about his position on the Iraq war: "This war is all about the United States trying to get oil. If the United States really cared about bringing democracy, they would ask the people of Iraq what they want. If we cared about weapons of mass destruction, we would destroy our own. It is total hypocrisy. We have been so deliberately destructive and so lied to about the real purpose of this war."
Dear knows the growing peace movement across the world does not get much press, that the media has a vested interest in reporting violent news. So he stays away from mass media, preferring to read news on grassroots peace Web sites, listen to NPR's Democracy Now or even to receive his "news" directly from God, the gospel and the great peacemakers of the world. "I don't want to be overwhelmed by the bad news. It can be so awful and numbing and can send you into total despair that nothing can be done, which is exactly what they want you to think. I want to be part of a strategy for hope, to bring about some change."
Dear's hopes for a nonviolent world and his belief in a God of peace run so deep that he feels duty-bound to act, often in risky ways. "I am always in trouble. But that is where it's at--causing trouble. The guy that I follow, Jesus, was killed for his beliefs. If I'm not in trouble than I'm not following Jesus. Jesus spoke out so much they executed him," Dear said. He has received death threats and stacks of hate mail, especially in his home state of New Mexico where he is involved in a campaign to close down Los Alamos. He has been arrested more than 75 times and served eight months in jail for hammering on an F15 nuclear fighter-bomber on a North Carolina naval base in the name of prophet Isaiah, who called for disarmament. With a trace of sarcasm and a chuckle Dear says, "I am an ex-con. I was as high up a terrorist as there are in the United States. I still can't travel to certain places. I can't vote. I am well monitored."
The paradox of Dear's life, he explains, is that his family, the media and the Church don't take him seriously. His government, however, does. Dear knows he makes waves by spreading the contagious philosophy of nonviolence and is confident that there is nothing greater he can do with his life.
"Nonviolence means confronting your fears, letting go of them and doing the work anyway," he said. Dear believes we must first practice nonviolence personally, with our families and communities, then with the whole world. For many, it seems too difficult to face our inner demons and to sit daily in silence, contemplative prayer or meditation. Yet this, Dear believes, is the only way to cure our addiction to violence. He is convinced that, "If you really go deep, you will get some answers. God is kind of desperate. He will take anyone. I am a goofball and he took me."
For Dear the peace movement is the new abolitionist movement--everyone must speak out and take to the streets to abolish war, nuclear weapons and all kinds of violence. "I say what the abolitionists said: Just because it has never happened doesn't mean it can't." Along with working to cultivate inner peace and spirituality, Dear urges people to form peace groups and to study the wisdom of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day. "Everyone must become a peace activist. None of us can do everything but all of us can do something."
For more about John Dear's life, work and books visit www.johndear.org.
Father Dear Events
• October 2: "Living Peace" workshop, 9 a.m.--2:30 p.m., register at 853-4435.
• October 2: "The Road to Peace: Exploring Nonviolence," 7:30 p.m., suggested donation $5; childcare provided, First Congregational Church, 23rd and Woodlawn. Pre-lecture Indian dinner at 6 p.m., $6-7 adults and $2 children.