Wednesday, May 16, 2012–One of the wave of loved ones who have been carried to that Distant Shore recently is Walter Wink– Biblical scholar, activist, teacher, author–who died this past weekend. Walter would have no idea that he was one of my “loved ones,” but a 10-day course I took with him in 1997 was life-changing for me, and there is no doubt in my mind that it was Love that gave Walter his insight, wisdom, and courage.
It was Walter who made real for me (and many others) Jesus’ “Third Way,” i.e. Jesus’ response to violence and evil which was neither with more violence nor with passive acquiescence. By literally acting out the passage in Matthew where Jesus’ talks about retaliation–“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. “– Walter taught that Jesus was actually talking about a “third way” of responding to violence–with surprise, with creativity, with engagement. Turning the left cheek to an aggressor who had struck in order to demean or intimidate would force him or her to treat you as an equal. Giving your cloak when you had already given your coat to pay an unpayable debt put the one demanding payment in the position of looking upon another’s nakedness–a shameful position for the viewer rather than the viewee. A Roman soldier forcing a civilian to carry his pack more than one mile would be censured.
This insight put meat on the bones of my skeletal notion of non-violence, along with Walter’s documenting and telling stories of how non-violence had been used in places of real violence and danger to change situations. Two stories in particular stay with me–one, from Walter’s time in apartheid South Africa, tells of a line of bulldozers approaching a settlement to destroy all the homes and the women of the settlement lining up to block their way. Knowing the Afrikaaners strict “moral” code, the women stripped naked before the rumbling machines, and the flustered Afrikaaner soldiers and workers turned and fled. The other is of a woman who had long practiced non-violence–been through training, had been part of affinity groups engaged in non-violent protest, had lived life long enough to have gained a deep understanding of people. When she woke to find a young man entering her bedroom in the middle of the night, she sat up and asked him what time it was. Startled, the young man said he didn’t know and she commiserated that her watch hadn’t been working right and didn’t he find it difficult sometimes to get things to work out. So on and so forth the conversation continued, she, admittedly, shaking and frightened, but he, disoriented and moved by her treatment of him. Eventually she invited him to sleep in the guest bedroom with the promise of a full breakfast of bacon and eggs in the morning, and though she stayed awake the rest of the night, the young man left the next morning, without harming her, with a full stomach.
Walter introduced me to the idea of the “angel” of a church or institution, and had us draw the angel of our church. This gave me great insight into our church here at Second Congregational and how to creatively deal with our “angel.” Walter’s trilogy of books on the “powers and principalities” was brilliant and helpful in “Engaging the Powers” in the real world. One of his later books, The Human Being–Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man, provided a framework for me to talk and think about Jesus as the quintessential human being and what his “ascension” meant. Ascension Day happens to be tomorrow!
So thank you, Walter, and, as Pepper would say (see a couple weeks’ ago blog)–Walk on.