17 February 2011

Nonviolent shorts

Winter schooldays
(above) view from my class-
room yesterday; outside -15 C
(above) Instead of giving
full attention to my priceless
lessons, students find new
uses for chalk
(above) The teacher
(by Larisa Mishkina)
(above) Helen Malashenko's
preposition cube for Judy's
Russian lessons
In my life here, certain themes seem to come up in clusters. Recently, the theme of nonviolence has been popping up with urgent regularity.

For example, yesterday the New York Times Web site carried an article about the theoretician of nonviolence, Gene Sharp. He seems to be rediscovered by the mainstream press every time "people power" becomes a significant factor somewhere--whether in Belgrade, Tehran, or Cairo. My first encounter with his writings was back in the early 1970's, when I was trying to decide for myself whether nonviolence had any relationship to the real world. At that time I was also devouring the works of historian Peter Brock, for the same reasons. In the context of the war in Viet Nam and the Cold War, I was particularly intrigued by Sharp's theories of nonviolent civilian defense.

As I've said before, when I turned from being pro-war to nonviolence, a transformation that I recorded day-by-day in my diaries for 1968 and 1969, I didn't realize that the transformation I was experiencing was a path that many others had taken over the centuries. I thought at first that our generation had figured out something new! When I learned that peace actually had an ancient heritage, thanks to Gene Sharp, Peter Brock, and others, it was a huge encouragement--because I was getting no reinforcement at all from my family. ("Don't forget, we are officer class!" said my mother. But later I heard from my uncle Axel Heyerdahl about the nonviolent resistance of the Norwegian teachers under Nazi occupation--he had witnessed it himself as a pupil.) Given my family's anti-church stance, it was startling to realize how deeply Christian much of the historic peace movement had been--Brock's books are very clear on this point. In God's timing, this surely contributed to my own decision for Christ in 1974.

(Friday PS: Joel Sax via Facebook mentioned that February 20 will be the anniversary of the Norwegian teachers' coordinated rejection of the Nazi requirements. Joel provided this link.)

Last week I mentioned the Rachel Maddow show and its segment on apparent U.S. intelligence failures--especially in light of the upheaval in Egypt. She explicitly related the recent protests in Egypt, and those of 2009 in Iran, with the tactics of nonviolence demonstrated during the sit-ins of the U.S. civil rights movement. This seemed to suggest some promising material for one of my classes at our language institute, so we began preparing material based on that history. Thankfully, we were able to locate a copy of the Public Broadcasting series Eyes on the Prize, which is a treasure trove of film footage from that era, and--what's important for my language class--plenty of good audio for listening comprehension exercises! In one powerful segment from episode 3 ("Ain't Scared of Your Jails"), Frederick Leonard describes what awaited Freedom Riders in Jackson, Mississippi: "nonviolently" disembarking from the buses, straight into paddy wagons, a kangaroo court, and prison.
In the penitentiary, Parchman, we were only allowed one book, that was the Bible. So we did a lot of singing, praying too, but a lot of singing. And those folks just couldn't understood how we could be happy, singing. So they would say, "Shut up! Shut up!" And the women, we could hear the women on the other side, they'd sing to us and we'd sing to them. So they came to us, "If you don't shut up, we're taking mattresses." That didn't bother us, we kept singing. So they came through and took our mattresses. I let my mattress go, everybody let their mattress go. The next night, they gave us our mattress back, mattresses back. So we start singing again.

They threaten us again. "We will take your mattresses and you will have to sleep on that steel without a mattress." And that steel was cold, and you only had a pair of shorts and a little t-shirt on. We kept singing freedom songs. "Freedom's coming and it won't be long." And they came through our cell block, Stokely Carmichael was my cell mate. I told Stokely, "I'm not letting my mattress go." Everybody peacefully let their mattress go. But that was in the middle of the night before when I had to sleep on that steel. So they came in to take my mattress, I was holding my mattress. They drug me out into the cell block and I still had my mattress, I wouldn't turn it loose. And one of the inmates, they were using black inmates to come and get our mattresses. I mean the inmates, you know? And there was this guy, Peewee they called him. Short, muscular. And they said, "Peewee, get him." Peewee came down on my head, man, whonk, whonk. He was crying. Peewee was crying. I still had my mattress. And that's when I -- You remember when your parents used to whip you and say, "It's going to hurt me more than it hurt you?" Hurt Peewee more than it hurt me. [Transcript.]

Among the resources I'm preparing for these classes is a songsheet of Civil Rights songs. I've entitled the sheet "How and why spirituals became civil rights songs." It's coordinated with tracks from Ruthie Foster ("Woke Up This Morning"), Odetta
("Oh Freedom" and two other songs) and Pete Seeger ("We Shall Overcome").

It will be a challenge to present these songs and texts with clarity and dignity, without tendentiousness, and also without a fountain of tears. "Cross-cultural communication," the stated purpose of our institute, is complicated and risky even for relatively simple themes; it seems like an awesome responsibility to do this material justice in these days, in this place.

Much of Gene Sharp's work can be sampled at the Web site of the Albert Einstein Institution.

Another piece of the cluster: Jim Forest writes about Alexander Schmorell and the White Rose anti-Nazi movement: "A Witness in Dark Times."

At George Fox University next Tuesday: "New Science Wrestles An Old Problem: The Roots of Human Disease."

In Christianity Today: "How to teach sex." A good contribution to a needed conversation, but note the false dichotomies and oversimplification of the 'worldly' view. Missing from the article: a serious accounting for the powerful mix of pleasure and longing to be known that must be acknowledged; sexual sin is not just mechanical or opportunistic but, among many other things, addictive and incomplete.

Friends peace testimony--1660 version--images and complete text.

"...We need leaders who have compassion" ... not just in Cairo, Teheran, Belgrade, but also in Gresham, Oregon.

On the Taize site, a commentary on Romans 12:14-21, "Overcoming evil with good."

For sheer delight, try topping this video clip: Odetta and Johnny Cash performing together.

In honor of my 200-level classes: "Stormy Monday."

albert collins and b.b. king-stormy monday
Загружено pascalico. - Смотри больше видео клипов в HD качестве!


Nancy said...

I would love to be in your class, Johan. And I don't need help with my English. These are important topics for this, and any, context.

Johan Maurer said...

No, you don't need help with your English!! We had a wonderful time when Becky Ankeny made guest appearances in some of the classes here--and she was very well received. I love imagining you doing the same thing.

Jeremy Mott said...

Jeremy Mott said ...
It's exhilarating to be living in these times of unarmed revolution in the Muslim world. I say "unarmed,"
because these revolutions certainly are not "nonviolent" in the classical
sense of the word, as it was used
during the civil rights movement (or
Gandhi's movement for independence
in India).
We must remember that only the first
steps toward success have been taken anywhere, including Egypt.
We can only pray for eventual
success, for civilian democracies, as the protestors desire. And
what partial success has come so
far had come at a very high cost
----over 400 civilians killed in
The success of the protestors
in Egypt is not due to anything
that the U.S. government did or
didn't do. The Egyptian people,
on their own, have created a great
defeat for Osama bin-Laden, and
given this to the U.S. as well as
Johan, it's wonderful to read about
your teaching the civil rights movment (and maybe the anti-war
movement?). This was a wonderful
time, as I can remember quite well, because there was so much
hope. Now there seems to be almost
no hope to be found in the U.S.A.
Obama has gotten us entirely bogged down in Afghanistan, just like Johnson in Vietnam----but in
Johnson's case a tremendous, hopeful rebellion ensued. I too
can sometimes make a "fountain
of tears" when I think about my
dear country. Your younger readers may need this to be explained.
Jeremy Mott

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I had a similar situation, but I changed after visiting Hiroshima. The song lyrics "War...huh....what is it good for....absolutely nothing." could not have said it better.

I heard BB King was going to be playing at some international blues festivals this year. He is awesome. I learned some of his songs on guitar...amazing.

Outdoor Fire Pit Guy said...

Your class sounds really interesting and deep. I always valued that type of education over just the standard check the box boring curriculum.