From Selma to Mumbai, and Death in a Concentration Camp

Private, reflexive, ventilated rage is often justified today as a proper attack on “oppression”. The problem with that is that, once it has drawn attention to a grievance, it does not do much to change anything. Change, over the long haul, requires organization, patience, good humor, and the ability to negotiate and compromise; all of which may be energized by anger or killed by it. – Carol Tavris; Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion


I used to be a very angry person. I went through a period in my life when everything seemed to go wrong. In the course of just a few years, I lost everything, my business, my house, the respect of my peers, my social circle, my pride and to large extent my sense of self. And it ticked me off to no end.

I realized I was headed for disaster one evening, after a particularly hard day when I opened my pantry and reached for the vodka bottle, not because I was thirsty, and not because I was particularly interested in enjoying the taste of an expertly mixed martini but because I wanted to relax and forget the failures of the day and the looming pressures of the coming week. I’m happy to say that I stopped myself from pouring that drink and have never attempted to use alcohol to self-medicate my depression since.

It was around that time, about 10 years ago now, that I started to research all the things that make up this blog and my personal journey from financial basket case to coach, author and trainer in personal finance and behavioral economics.

In looking at the world of macro-economics, against a backdrop of geopolitics one of the first thesis statements I coined was that “Peace without Justice is Oppression”. (Read the post I wrote about it way back in 2009 here) Lately, as I’ve been working through the implications of Anger and Self-Control (see my last two posts here – and here), I also had the opportunity to watch Selma, last year’s Academy Award Winning portrayal of the civil rights march from Selma Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery which took place in the summer of 1965.

If peace without justice is oppression, as I originally theorized in 2006, then oppression can and should be met with resistance but as Carol Tavris so aptly points out in her excellent exploration of the emotion of Anger, quoted above, it does little to create lasting change.  Change requires organization, and patience. Martin Luther King led a non-violent movement that demanded the attention of the political leaders of his day through organization, and patience. In the film portrayal of the events at Selma it is interesting to note that then President Lyndon Johnson was willing to work with King, meeting with him on several occasions both publicly and privately to negotiate a settlement. Johnson was willing to work with King as opposed to his contemporary Malcolm X because of his stance on non-violent protest. When the march in Selma turned violent, caught on film by the news media, it was clear that the police had initiated an attack on unarmed civilians. In that moment the Civil Rights movement became a movement of peaceful citizens, versus oppressive and violent government and although it still took some time, the  battle was won (or lost depending on how you look at it) the day police charged the marchers on horseback with tear gas and billy clubs.

The same thing happened in Mumbai and the surrounding Indian country side when Ghandi stood up to British rule during the 1930s and 40s. It happened again in Finkenwalde Germany when Dietrich Bonheoffer stood up to the Nazi control of the Lutheran Church.

All of these men have at least three things in common. First off, they were angry. They saw the injustice and the oppression and said, “This is not peace” and they couldn’t stand by while innocent people were oppressed. Second, they organized a non-violent movement to unsettle and unseat their oppressors. And thirdly, although they were all ultimately successful in their bids to rid the world of the oppressive practices that they were against they were all assassinated by those who sought to maintain the status quo.

Oppressive regimes are ultimately not interested in justice and they will seek to vilify and discredit anyone who points that out to them. In the end, they will fail, justice always wins in the end, but when your hold on power is built on violent oppression, the last gasp of the oppressor is always violent, it’s all you know. As the pacifist, non-violent movement gains power the oppressor becomes like a cornered animal and in a last ditch effort to regain control he will lash out with the only tool he knows how to use.   But by then it’s too late, the tide has turned and by killing the leader of the movement to unseat them they only confirm what everyone has already come to know.

Peace without Justice is Oppression and justice leads to equality, mercy, non-violence and grace. That is true peace, and that is what King, Ghandi and Bonheoffer all sought through their work.

Is anyone oppressing you in their quest for peace? How can you organize to non-violently oppose it? More uncomfortably, are you oppressing anyone in your own quest for peace?

Gut check time! Are you ready to march on your own private Selma?

Stranger in the Pew

 It was then I felt the stranger kick me right between the eyes – Billy Joel, The Stranger

Every once in a while I am confronted with a thought or concept that forces me to stop and re-examine my own behavior.  This past week was one of those weeks.

 I just finished reading David Kinnaman’s astonishing work on societal perceptions of Christianity in the post modern age.  The book is aptly titled “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters”. 

This is a water shed work and one that I believe, if taken seriously will have a profound impact on how we “do” Christianity for decades to come.  Based on the fact that I had to wait over a month for my local library to order in a copy and that I was unable to renew it because there is still a long line of people waiting, I hope that there are already a number of Christians who are taking this research seriously.  Put quite simply if we don’t the church as we know it will be gone in a generation.

As I read Kinnaman’s research the church he described seemed foreign to me at first.   But the more I thought about it and looked back on some my own experiences as a life-long Christ Follower I began to see myself through the eyes of the young generation of outsiders that he polled.  And I didn’t like it. 

It’s easy for Christians when they are first confronted with the opinions of outsiders to simply say that they just don’t get it, but for me the most damning revelation that the research shows is how well informed many outsiders actually are.  We live in the information age with a social media mind set.  The amount of information that an outsider can gain about our churches with just the click of mouse is nothing short of incredible.  It’s not a lack information or understanding that is holding the young generation back from Church.   The core message of Jesus and our basic dogma is well known, well understood and for the most part well respected.   Ghandi could easily have been speaking for the current generation of outsiders when he said, “Your Christ I respect it’s you Christians I have issue with.”   

The number one issue outsiders have with Christianity, according to Kinnaman’s research is that it no longer represents the word and deed of Christ.  As much as I want this to be untrue and simply write it off as outsiders who just don’t get it, I can’t.  The fact is they’re right and if we really stop and examine both our history and our current behavior there is no escaping it; we are strangers to the core teachings of Jesus and I must be honest, I am just as bad as anyone.

In the book of Acts, when the disciples were first given the name, “Christian” is was because they so emulated Jesus that it was as if they were mini versions of him.  Literally translated the word means “Little Christ”.  But outsiders today are smart enough to see that the church, through political power, infighting and just plain laziness has become something else entirely.  We have become strangers to our own dogma, we are unChristian.

When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label.  Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it. – David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

In order for the current generation of outsiders to come the church, it’s our job to become what we were always meant to be.  “Little Christ” is not just a label you can put on and wear to church on Sunday morning, it’s a lifestyle.  Just as in Acts, to be called Christian, in order for it to be true, must be something that others say about you and not something that you can claim for yourself.  Not until that happens will we be able to shed the unChristian label those same outsiders have given us. 

I could go on about the specifics of how we are viewed and how to go about changing perceptions but I really think everyone should just read Kinnaman’s book.  You’ll be glad you did.



This is Not About Cannibalism

Have you ever played the parlour game, “What three people would you like to have for dinner?”

It can be a good way to get to know people.  If you could invite any three people, living or dead, to your home for a meal, who would they be and why? In my experience some of the more popular choices, in no particular order are Ghandi, Nelson Mandella,  Mother Theresa, a president or some other head of state, Bono and Jesus.  Every once in a while some smart-ass will throw in the name of a tyrant like Hilter or Attila the Hun but you can usually tell that they’re doing it just to be different and the game usually ends at that point.

I’m most fascinated by the people who name Jesus.  When questioned on it they will usually say that they want to hear first hand if he really did say the things that the bible records that he said.  They have just enough bible knowledge to know that systematic theology and the narrative itself don’t always line up and the only what to clear up the confusion is to go right to the source.

Makes sense right?

Unfortunately all we have is the bible to tell us what Jesus said and did.  If it doesn’t line up with the way you’ve been taught to interpret it, which do you think is wrong?  Over they years many church leaders have attempted to add some traditions on to the teaching but at the end of the day traditions are not scripture.  They may add a level of clarity or comfort and even reverence but if you take the traditions away you haven’t really lost anything.

I think if you had Jesus over for dinner, that’s what he’d tell you.  In fact, he already did;

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

   “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

   “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

   Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:25-37]

Meekonomics and Non-Violence

Non-Violence is possibly the least understood pillar of my theory of Meekonomics so let me take a minute to expand upon what I  mean here.

Often times when I speak of non-violence or more accurately, pacifism, it gets confused with passivism and I am accused of not caring about the plight of the weak and down trodden.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The push back from just war or just violence theorists almost always begins the same way, “but what if _______”, fill in the blank with whatever outrageous scenario you can think of.

What if I had a gun to your head?

What if I had a gun to your child’s head?

My honest answer is always the same; I don’t know, I’ve never been faced with any of these situations and I likely never will be.  It is for that reason that I do not condemn the choices people make when faced with an impossible dilemma.  But the bottom line here is that pacifism and non-violence are not the same as sitting on the sidelines and letting people get away with evil and disgusting acts.

Pacifism has been called the weapon of the weak.  Perhaps the most famous pacifist of the last century was Mohandas K. Ghandi.  At the risk of oversimplifying history, Ghandi over threw perhaps one of the most powerful empires in the world and led India to independence without firing a single shot.  Passive resistance and civil-disobedience, when deployed carefully and committed to fully are powerful weapons against which there is no defence.

When a stronger party enters into conflict with a pacifist the result is often and long and drawn out war of wills in which the weaker pacifist simply wears the aggressor out by refusing to play their game.

For example:  My high-school basketball team was regarded as one of the best in the province.  When we got the championships we were the heavy favourite and we would have won handily had it not been for a quirk in the rules set out by the Ontario Federation of Secondary School Athletics (OFSSA).  You see, since teenagers aren’t expected to be as accurate at shooting as college or NBA players, there is no shot clock at the high-school level.  Knowing this, when ever our opponent got control of the ball, they simply passed it around for as long as they could and ran out the clock.  As a result my school ended up losing one of the lowest scoring games in OFSSA history because our opponents were pacifists and simply refused to play the game the way everyone, referees and OFSSA brass included expected them too.

Pacifism in war, as in basketball games, renders offensive weapons meant to force submission, useless.  While at first it may look like the stronger party has won a decisive victory with minimal casualties, over time they end up looking like bullies.  That’s when the  power shifts and pacifist slowly but surely begin to gain the upper hand through the court of public opinion.  I dare say that no aggressor in history has ever won a long war against a large group of pacifist.  They may be driven underground for a time but by taking a posture of passive resistance they never have to surrender.

It took years, but Ghandi defeated Great Britten.  After renouncing violence and spending decades in prison, Nelson Mandela defeated white rule in South Africa.   The student protests in Tiananmen Square began a program of economic reform in China that we are only now beginning to see and understand.  And the Arab spring, now summer, with the exception of civil war in Libya, looks a lot more like a pacifist uprising than it does a violent transfer of power.

A commitment to the principles of Meekonomics is a commitment to support the way of non-violence and pacifism as it reflects the will of the people and influences world affairs.  “No blood for Oil”, indeed no blood for any commodity is the rally cry of the meekonomist.