6.28.2011

books | Living Without Enemies by Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owen

IVP sent me a copy of Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owen's new book, Living Without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence. It is a lovely little book (144 pg) and an easy read. I say that as a compliment, not to dismiss it. Outside of maybe the pulpit, saying something that is worth saying, in a manner that is compelling and understandable, in a short amount of space is simply a skill that many with theological training do not possess. The book pairs Sam Wells' theological skill with the work and story of activist Marcia Owen, who directs the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham.

The book opens with a reflection on four modes of engagement - working for, working with, being for, and being with - which provides the structure for narrating Ms. Owen's story of her developing involvement in fighting gun violence in Durham.

From IVP:
With senseless violence occurring throughout society, people are suffering and communities are groaning. Fear and not knowing where to begin hold many back from doing anything at all. But is "doing something" really what is most needed?

Marcia Owen and Samuel Wells come together to tell the story of a community's journey through four different dimensions of social engagement. After attempts to seek legislative solutions led nowhere, a religious coalition began holding prayer vigils for local victims of gun violence. It was then that Owen discovered the beauty of simply being present. Through her friendships with both victims and offenders, Owen learned that being with was precisely the opposite of violence--it was love. And to truly love others as God loves us meant living without enemies and taking small steps toward reconciliation.

Owen and Wells offer deep insights into what it takes to overcome powerlessness, transcend fear and engage in radical acceptance in our dangerous world. Your view of ministry will be altered by this poignant tale of coming face-to-face with our God who loves boundlessly and has no enemies.
Having lived in Durham, NC for much of the last decade, I appreciated the local connection, but what I enjoyed most was the authors naming something which I think most will have encountered if one has spent a significant amount of time working on a local issue. When one gets involved, it's generally with the conviction that something could be better and with at least some idea of how to help. Yet, the task of listening, learning (if this is undertaken) and involvement can radically change the form of that initial vision of helping and often the involvement can take one from "working for" through "working with," "being for" and "being with" those affected. It's a richer kind of involvement and often one finds oneself changing and being affected in ways that were unanticipated. You could say the book is about gun violence, but the gift of the book, I think, is providing a compelling picture of what it looks like to move beyond the stage of lack of engagement or opening a wallet for a cause to opening your heart and life to the world.

I feel a book like this is about the ties that bind us to one another. It's more intimate in tone and ends than, say, Jeff Stout's Blessed are the Organized. Still, Wells and Owen's book needs to be read alongside a book like Blessed are the Organized. Love is a powerful force, but there are other powerful forces like greed and corruption which the involvement pictured in this book should lead one to opposing. I guess that's my way of saying that a fifth mode of engagement might be named "joining together," something that is probably not going to occur without the deep interconnectedness Living Without Enemies seeks to foster.

From Living Without Enemies, Ten Gleanings from Marcia Owens:
  • The only judgment I will make of others is that we are equally blessed by God.
  • I discover the joy of my particularity in the context of God’s infinite abundance.
  • I am living in eternity. I measure success by the expression of God’s presence, not by prescribed outcomes.
  • The most important question to ask myself before addressing difficulty or conflict is, “Do I accept and love this person as I am accepted and loved by God?”
  • My fears subside when I remember my soul – my existence in the heart of God.
  • My soul is for all, because my soul is with all. We are all one in God.
  • The joy of love lives amongst suffering, including my own.
  • Receiving God’s love is like breathing in. Responding to the suffering of others is like breathing out. If I do the first without doing the second, I will pass out.
  • Healing is God’s greatest mystery. I can’t explain it. I can’t avoid it.
  • The heart of justice is mercy. Justice begins when I stop judging.

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