Reflections of Non-violence, Gandhi and the Power of Soul Force John Stasio
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SOULFORCE UNIVERSITY AT GC2000 "End the Debate! Stop the Suffering! Welcome Us Home!" Mel White takes the principles of Soulforce to Cleveland May 6-12, 2000, Cleveland, Ohio, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
When I first learned of the Soulforce discussions involving gay people across the nation, I was very excited. I signed up and have been receiving the e-mails from Mel White ever since. I welcomed the chance to reflect on the teachings of Gandhi, the implications of Soul Force for gays, and how we might contribute to creating a more soul fused world. These themes have been important to me for many years. I remember being deeply moved as a student by the movie Gandhi. It made a cultural icon out of a man who's life and message were contrary to prevailing American values. By the standards of; "might makes right" and "who ever dies with the most things wins" this guy was a bit "queer." He quickly became a hero for me. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Harvey Milk too all made it onto my list of heroes. My interest in non-violence dovetailed my coming out and the realization of my own outcast status in this culture. This gave me the acute realization that my struggle for personal liberation and gay liberation were just subsets of the larger struggle for human liberation which included all other oppressed souls. I became convinced that non-violence (Soul Force) was the only means of activism which leads to the conversion of the heart, so necessary to bring about the kind of world in which all souls can be free.
I had the privilege to spend most of 1987 in India. The first period of my time there I was enrolled in a study program at the Gandhi Peace Foundation called "methods in non-violent social change." At the time the study of "satyagraha" or soul force seemed very remote from my experience as an urban queer man. It would take years for me to see how intimately they were in fact connected. And Mel White has again made clear this connection with his soul force initiative.
During that summer of 1987, I met a distinguished looking man with thick white hair, chocolate colored skin and deep green eyes his name was Duraswami. He had come to speak to a group of students of which I was a part, about his experience of marching with Mahatma Gandhi during the struggle for Indian independence. As a young man he was full of idealistic zeal. He left his studies behind as well as his privileged life as the eldest son of a wealthy Brahmin family, to join the non-violent revolution which was sweeping the subcontinent in the early to mid 1940's. He had been a freedom fighter, a label of which he was proud. He had marched and had taken the blows of the enemy and had not fought back. He had bravely wielded the sword of non-violence. Imagine his shock, when he along with several of his peers were sent to a backward Indian village to learn to spin and serve the under privileged. Both unthinkable tasks for the sons of Brahmin families, yet of this most humbling experience he said, "the real training in non-violence began."
Gandhi's program for political and spiritual change is a call to transformation. His teaching invites a radical conversion of the heart through which we become new, and through which we can transform the larger society in which we live. His "experiments with truth" must if they are to have any effect on our world, ignite our own experiments with truth. This is the challenge for us. You and I, like Duraswami can only open to the deeper lessons of non-violence when we let go of our limited identifications. His was that of being a Brahmin, what are ours? We must surrender who we think we are, and here in lies the real challenge for anyone who is interested in the flow of the souls force. Non-violence is not easy. It forces us to grow and weed out the roots of violence in our own hearts. Martin Luther King reminds us how hard it is when he says, "We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with Soul Force. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. But we will soon wear you down with our capacity to suffer. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win yours in the process." To win hearts, our own and those of others, we must be willing to suffer. And while some of us will suffer the pains of violence inflicted from out side, most of us are called to suffer the constant letting go of an ever expanding consciousness.
The movie opened with a scene from Gandhi's funeral. An American news broadcaster, Edward R Murrow, describes the procession. He quotes the American Secretary of State, who said "Mahatma Gandhi had become the spokesman for the conscience of mankind..." He went on saying "He was a man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires..." He read comments from world leaders, including the words of Albert Einstein; "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth". These powerful words described a man who began an experiment with truth one step at a time. He responded to the injustice of his own circumstances. Our circumstances though different, no less call out for action.
It's no news to anyone that we live in a very violent world. Each day includes story after story about the violent conditions in our world. Yet at times a situation or an incident of violence or injustice will strike close enough to home that it will shake us up. It will call to us in a loud voice; WAKE UP! For Gandhi it occurred in South Africa. For some of us the beating and death of Matthew Shepherd was such an incident. We wonder what can we do? We want to create solutions. We want to make the world safe for ourselves and those we love. Initially the response is a very personal one, perhaps a self centered one. That is how it was with Gandhi. He was appalled that he, a lawyer, a privileged citizen of the British Commonwealth could not ride in a first class train in South Africa because his skin was brown. This injustice shook him. He tasted his outcast status. He took action, and the seeds of soul force began to sprout in him. It would take many years and deep commitment for the Mahatma (great soul) to emerge. What action shall we take? To make the seeds of soulforce sprout in us.
The story of Matthew Shepherd's beating and death is being retold in the news as the trial of one of his alleged killers proceeds in Wyoming, and the meeting between Mel White and Jerry Falwell and their respective followers is also being reported. As Mel White put it, "What we have here... it's a small start, but it's a start." It is indeed a small start. Personally I have wondered what good talking to a someone like Falwell would do? It seemed to me to be about White's attempt to reconcile his own right-wing past with the truth of his being gay. Perhaps it is. Yet it takes action, even small or self centered action. The power of soul force is awesome. Gandhi's first move was quite self centered, and see where it led. Soulforce is ignited when we take action. It starts with very personal action and it grows.
John Stasio is Director of Brothers Together in Boston.
Announcing "A Place for Us" Brothers Together Is Pleased To Announce The Opening Of A Retreat and Conference Center For Men Who Love Men In New York State Summer 2000
After several years of dreaming and praying for a site to create an intentional spiritual community, retreat, and healing center, my prayers have been answered. I recently acquired 175 acres in New York State with a lodge and a twenty room motel. A group of us plan to begin work this winter on what we hope will become a place of comfort, healing and inspiration to all who seek to grow spiritually. We have many plans and we are psyched to take on the project. We do, however, need your help! Please come share the dream and co-creation of a very special "Place for Us."
I will be posting details on the web at:
Please check it out. I hope you will all come and visit.
In Loving Brotherhood,
Print out form below and Mail to: Brothers Together, 115 Newbury St #204,
Boston MA 02116 (617) 247-3964, firstname.lastname@example.org
I Would Like to Help:
___I am willing to visit and volunteer my energy.
I have skills in: _______________________
___I would like to learn more about investment
possibilities, please send me more information.