Review of Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living
by Kay Shively, Church of God Peace Fellowship
A Study and Action Program by Pace e Bene
I would venture to say that most of the people who might be invited to participate in a study on nonviolence do not themselves lead violent lifestyles. Why, then, ask them to devote 30 hours of their valuable time to such a study? What difference would it make in their lives? Here is my answer: Many people, even Christians, don’t really believe that nonviolence “works.” Although they don’t advocate violence as a way of life, they still believe it is the only effective means to resolve serious problems. They are afraid to trust their lives completely to nonviolence. They especially resist seeing it as a practical way for the world to operate. They see nonviolence as a nice ideal, but an absolutely unrealistic response to the critical issues of the world. That’s where this study comes in.
The folks who prepared Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living are not dreamers. They know that the eradication of violence is a difficult, long-range goal. But they firmly believe that creative nonviolence provides an amazing source of power that will transform not only society but our own lives if we truly learn how to live it. Indeed, it is the only thing that will.
Intended for use in a wide variety of settings, the study provides for 12 small group sessions of 2 ½ hours each. It is so constructed as to be easily accessible to any leader with a minimum of experience in group facilitation. Activities are timed and lead logically from beginning to end. It is probably adaptable to shorter time frames, although the sessions are so well planned that benefit would undoubtedly be lost by shortening the time.
Each session is based on provocative readings by both internationally known and unpublished authors; these alone are worth far more than the price of the book. They are complemented by practical suggestions for active nonviolence based on justice and love. Pace e Bene understands that the journey to nonviolence is a spiritual journey. While the organization itself is grounded in the Christian tradition, the study provides an “inclusive general audience spirituality” that will enlarge participants’ spiritual understandings, no matter what their specific tradition might be. Interspersed throughout the book are short, inspiring quotations from the world’s most articulate advocates of peace and justice.
The word nonviolence resists easy definition since it is difficult to define something by what it is not. This study defines it as “a creative power for justice and the well-being of all that uses neither passivity nor violence.” Although this definition might skirt the same trap, the writers have fleshed out the definition in a variety of ways, and there is no chance that a participant will finish the study unsure of the meaning of nonviolence. “Justice” and “well-being” are vital aspects of the path we are asked to follow. And the focus on creative action at the end of each session offers opportunities for each person to find his or her own ways to express the meaning.
I recommend this study without reservation and am eager to test it with a study group of my own.
In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness … the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire” (page 238 of the study). For its participants, Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living could well provide the match.