STUDY GROUP QUESTIONS
Starting a study group using John Dear’s latest book The Nonviolent Life is a great way to begin the nonviolent journey or simply continue deeper along that path.
The book is divided into three parts: 1) Nonviolence Toward Ourselves, 2) Nonviolence Toward All Others, 3) Joining the Global Grassroots Movement of Nonviolence. After each section you will find a few pages of reflection questions for a study group. Listed below are selected questions from each section of The Nonviolent Life to help you get a better feel for the study group reflection process.
Part One: Nonviolence Toward Ourselves
How do you define nonviolence? What challenges you about nonviolence
How are you violent toward yourself? How do you put yourself down, hurt yourself, cultivate inner violence and perpetuate violence, resentment and hatred?
Do you want to cultivate interior nonviolence and inner peace? How can you become more nonviolent toward yourself? What makes you feel violent toward yourself, and how can you move from inner violence toward inner nonviolence? Reflect on your entire life journey within the framework of violence and nonviolence. What do you learn about yourself?
Where is God in your life? What has been your experience of the God of peace? What is your image of God? How is God a God of peace and nonviolence? How can you make peace with the God of peace? What happens when you dwell with the God of peace? How have we experienced the peace and nonviolence of God? When did you hear God call you, “My beloved daughter” or “My beloved son”? How much quality time do you take with the God of peace every day? How can you spend more time with God every day? What does it mean for you to be a peacemaker, to be the beloved daughter or son of the God of peace, and to see every human being alive as a beloved sister or brother? How is God disarming your heart and giving you peace? Do you want God’s gift of peace?
Part Two: Nonviolence Toward All Others
How can we become more nonviolent to those we know and meet? Where do we need to improve our nonviolence—among our families, friends, workplace, church, peace groups? How can we practice a meticulous interpersonal nonviolence?
Who challenges our nonviolence most? How do we practice nonviolence to those who are violent toward us? Where do we find the God of peace as we practice interpersonal nonviolence?
How can small, ordinary, day-to-day encounters help us strengthen our nonviolence so that we will be better able to practice nonviolence in our public work, demonstrations, and movements? In what areas of life, such as our driving, can we become more nonviolent?
How can we create more inclusive circles of peace and nonviolence in our lives? How can we help our local communities become communities of nonviolence? How can we start a new community of peace and nonviolence around us?
Part Three: Joining the Global Grassroots Movement of Nonviolence
When have you seen the power of active nonviolence work, in your own life and in the public movements for justice and peace? What conclusions do you draw from the new book, Why Civil Resistance Works, which argues that nonviolent movements achieve far better ends than violent movements? What does that mean for us as we face the global crises of today?
Do you agree with Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence and steps for action in a nonviolent movement? How are you already living according to these principles and putting these steps into action? Which ones challenge you the most? How can you live more and more according to his principles and put those steps into action to help build up the global grassroots movement of nonviolence?
What touches you, inspires you, and challenges you about the 1963 Birmingham and the Birmingham Pledge of nonviolence? What other campaigns and movements inspire you to carry on the work of movement building, protest organizing, truth-telling and risk-taking for justice and peace?
What nonviolent movements and nonviolent actions have you participated in? Where do we see the hope and power of active nonviolence working in the world today? What new nonviolent public action can you undertake for justice and peace? What global grassroots movement of nonviolence are you part of or do you wish to join?
Purchase The Nonviolent Life today and begin the journey! Purchase 5 or more copies and receive 10% off.
This book review for John Dear’s publication of The Nonviolent Life was written by Beth Franzosa who teaches religion at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, IL.
The first time I heard John Dear speak, at Loyola University in Chicago in October 2007, I came foolishly unprepared to take notes. I leaned forward in my seat when he began speaking about whether nonviolence is “practical.” And when he pointed out that Jesus had insisted on a nonviolent response from his disciples, even when he was in danger of death, there I was, finding a pen and scribbling in the margins of my program, not wanting to lose a word of what he said.
So it is with this book. In the introduction, Dear recommends reading The Nonviolent Life slowly and prayerfully. He has a gift, in his speaking and in his writing, for making us think again about nonviolence. Dear asks us, in a clear and direct way: What’s taking us so long? Why are we still living in fear? Why are violence, anger, and military action still our first answers to conflict?
He begins this book with Jesus, reminding us that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to “offer no violent resistance to one who is evil” and “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, that you may be sons and daughters of the God who makes the sun rise on the good and the bad and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Look at Matthew 5 again to see what he means about the centrality of these teachings.) Because Jesus always knew who he was, as the son of a non-violent God, he was able to be unfailingly nonviolent in his life.
For Dear, this is the fact of our existence that we so often forget: We are beloved sons and daughters of God, and we are called to more than the way we are living now. Dear invites us to look into the ways we have been raised among violence and lack of love (which may at first offend or confuse those raised in troubled families) but ultimately invites into realizing that the violence of our world has affected us in ways we don’t always realize. Through all this, God calls us to the consistent work of meditation and letting go of anger.
This invitation to nonviolence begins at home, with the practice of “meticulous” nonviolence with our families, friends, coworkers, and all people. Especially, Dear gently asks us, to recognize and let go of our need to “win” or “get even” in our relationships. In this section about personal nonviolence I was also surprised to see a short chapter on driving, but peaceful driving is much needed, and the chapter on living at peace with creation gives both a beautiful reflection on nature’s grandeur and some useful and practical steps to preserve the environment.
Dear ends with a section on worldwide nonviolent action and the ways that bottom-up action, again and again, has created social change. In explaining why we don’t know more about the success of these movements, Dear uses some “the media is against us” rhetoric that I sometimes find reductive, but he strengthens his point with reason and facts, perhaps anticipating that a call for global nonviolence without exception would be the point where a few readers would begin to doubt. And, of course, Dear ends with practical suggestions for how to get involved in nonviolent action in our own lives.
Near the beginning of the book, Dear laments that few theologians, with the exception of his friend Henri Nouwen, write enough about what it means to be the beloved of God. I thought of Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved often when I was reading The Nonviolent Life; both books have the same simplicity and depth. Nouwen wrote Life of the Beloved for a non-religious friend, but found it well-received by Christians looking to strengthen their faith. In the same way, I imagine that The Nonviolent Life is as good an introduction to nonviolence as it is a meditation for those already committed to a nonviolent life.
Anyone who knows Dear’s reputation knows that he’s an unapologetic and unequivocal opponent of violence. His tone, though, is always gentle and welcoming as he invites and encourages us to give the way of the God of Peace a chance in our lives and in our world. This short book is a strong resource for meditation, contemplation and discussion, with reflection questions included after each section, and I recommend it to anyone interested in deepening their understanding of nonviolence.