This Peace Month, as we approach the birthday of one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., I wanted to share this quote I recently came across from Parker Palmer:
The insight at the heart of nonviolence is that we live in a tragic gap—a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be. It is a gap that never has been and never will be closed. If we want to live nonviolent lives, we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility.
Parker Palmer so clearly articulates both the audacity and heartbreak of being a peacemaker in this world. Maybe you—having caught a glimpse of eternity in God’s kingdom—feel a nudge to stand in this foolish and uncomfortable place. If you chose to take this audacious stand, you will likely be accused of being either a hardened cynic or a foolish idealist. To stand in “the tragic gap” is to be both of these things.
As a peacemaker, you will meet plenty of critics of nonviolence who will analyze your strategy, finding its limitations and holes, and holding in your awareness the great distance between what you see in God’s kingdom, what exists now, and your own pitiful attempts to bring them closer to one another.
But maybe God will nudge you onwards.
In the later years of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. began to lose support among the powerful when he began to organize against the war in Vietnam, and against poverty. He understood these problems as being in destructive symbiotic relationship with each other, and with racism.
In 1999, a jury found that Martin Luther King’s assassination was executed by a conspiracy of powerful players. The motive was his stand against war and poverty.
It is clear from looking at Dr. King’s life that he knew of the gravity of this danger, but was compelled by God to press on. It seems to me that as a brilliant strategist, Dr. King likely also knew that he would not be successful in his lifetime in bringing about these changes. And yet, as a man of God, he chose to stand in that tragic gap, and was faithful in holding that tension for the duration of his life.
He spoke of his position on Vietnam this way:
On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man.
I am thankful for the life of Martin Luther King Jr., and all the other blessed peacemakers who stand with me in this tragic gap.
Contributed by Jade Souza, Reedwood Friends