MICHAEL BOOVER, Member of Annunciation House of Worcester and Sacred Heart/Saint Catherine of Sweden Parish. He is also a part-time chaplain at the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, an urban farmer, and a long-time Catholic Worker.
Brayton Shanley has written a magnificent book about love in all it manifestations. It is about what it means to be fulfilled as a human being. It reads for me like a sacred text published in a secular age. All people should examine it because in fact love is at the root of all religions. It is the driving force of evolution.
For Brayton it is our mission to understand the meaning of love, feel its power, and realize it in practice through its highest dimension. Its highest dimension is found in the word Agape, something from the ancient Greeks. Agape is one form of love. It is not just philia (affection) eros (friendship and desire) but unconditional love. For Brayton, it is nonviolent absolute love and a gift from our creator.
As a couple, Brayton and Suzanne Shanley have chosen to live in a simple life indeed, under taxable income. They will not cooperate with a government that gives over fifty percent of its federal budget to the military and toward the devastation of life on earth. They are modeling a way of life that leads us away from war and environmental devastation.
They have established a community in Western Massachusetts that is designed to teach people a lifestyle that reaches across the spectrum of religions. They seek to live a life of truth and nonviolence in everyday life. It is in the manner of seekers like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Lanza del Vasto, and others who have followed the deep leadings of the human heart. They show a way to redesign our lives in order to take away the necessity for war and doing harm to others.
Brayton reminds us that all World Religions testify that killing innocent people is never morally acceptable. He reminds us that “Ahimsa, Agape, unarmed truth, compassion and mercy are all holy words that can be found in all foundation documents of the World Religions. They speak directly to the sacred and what is experienced as Divine…World politics rests on the adversarial belief in one country’s moral superiority and economic advantage over another.” This kind of politics will not work in today’s world with such destructive technology.
By continuing to live as we do, the consequences are deadly and shocking. From 1991 to 1999, 170,000 children under the age of five died as a result of the 1991 Gulf war due to the poisoned drinking water and the U.S. embargo of medicine to treat dying children with dysentery. Millions of Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans have been killed, wounded, and traumatized since 2001. Over 2,000 innocents have been killed in Afghanistan. The list goes on. People read about this, feel helpless, sigh, and go back to their routine life.
The capitalist markets can also be destructive. The author describes how the 335 billionaires own $1.1 trillion, which is equivalent to the poorest 45% of the world’s population. It is time to live simply, so that others might live, he says.
He cites Dom Helder Camara, a pacifist and Archbishop of Recife who worked with the poor in the barrios of Brazil. “I pass no judgment on those poor people of good conscience who believe violence is more effective. But I say, go as far as you can with nonviolence. There is no victory over oppression and the structures of injustice without sacrifices, (but) sacrifices accepted in nonviolence are better preparation for the future and for reconciliation than the sacrifices of violence.”
The alternative to war is to “cooperate with the good.” The “yes” is to construct a life plan that addresses economic injustice and the wreckage of war. This means demonstrating solidarity with the underclass, serving the needs of others and conscientious objection to going into war.
The author refers to writers in different religions who speak of ways to redesign the economy. He quotes E.F. Schumacher on Buddhist economics in which economy and work relies on
“…using the smallest amounts of materials with the fewest inputs of toil. The less toil, the more time and strength are left for artistic creativity. The lower the rate of our consumption, the higher the human satisfaction. The more modest the use of resources, the less likely to be at each other throats than people depending upon a high rate of consumption.”
Brayton and Suzanne are sympathetic to Gandhi’s dream of developing self-contained villages based on cottage industries, agriculture and simple hand operated machines. Gandhi objected to the modern “craze” for machinery while thousands die of starvation.
Here is one caveat. Brayton participates in protests against war but is cautious about expecting a positive outcome. People march by the thousands to protest war, he says, and then come home after a weekend and go to work expecting to have achieved something. He thinks the protests will require more dedication for longer periods of time, overflowing the jails and risking jobs to invoke a massive refusal to cooperate.
Otherwise the political machine will just keep moving along automatically. It may require a shutdown of the economy to awaken elite politicians of the self-destructive ends of war.
This is not just a dream. It has happened in other countries. For example, Gene Sharp describes the case of Ubico in the 1940s, a dictator in Guatemala who admired Hitler. His oppressive rule became so unacceptable that the whole country responded with a silent paralysis. The opposition parties broke off talks with the government. The teachers marched collectively in protest. Workers struck. Businessmen closed stores and offices. It was a total economic shutdown. Everything closed. The streets were deserted. Ubico, shocked and powerless, agreed to resign and move out of the country.
In sum, the author is talking about developing a new paradigm for our evolution. It means finding a life with loving respect for all on the earth and its environment, indeed, the universe. He is suggesting a redesign of our political life. He writes about a loving urgency to find what is sacred in our lives.
The book is written from the heart. It can be read easily by anyone. I wish it could be a textbook in public schools and universities.