For those interested in peacemaking, these two relatively small books by long-time practitioners of peace can serve as informative, easy-to-read and highly motivational works. McCarthy, long-time Washington Post columnist, is now Director of the Center for Teaching Peace. According to his accounts, he has taught the philosophy and methods of conflict resolution and non-violent peacemaking to some 5,000 students since 1982.The current book—a paperback edition of an earlier hardback version—chronicles his experience in six institutions with a variety of students, from third-year law students at Georgetown to high school students in the DC area, to teenage offenders at a junvenile detention center.
McCarthy's unwavering conviction is that "Non-violent force is always stronger, more enduring, and assuredly more moral than violent force (p. xiii) and that unless children are taught peace, they inevitably will learn violence from the culture surrounding them. He finds hope and encouragement for his endeavors in the fact that everywhere he lectures and teaches about non-violent peacemaking, he encounters receptive audiences of all ages.
Evident in the narratives about his peacemaking classes is his creativity in designing memorable learning experiences and his deep respect for his students. This includes a refusal to impose his views with a demand that students carefully consider the evidence and come to their own conclusions. All this is presented with a liberal sprinkling of humorous anecdotes throughout the book. In class, McCarthy uses a textbook of primary source readings—compiled and published by his Center—which includes writings by noted pacifists from Gandhi and Tolstoy to Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Daniel Berrignan and others. But even more important in his pedagogy is giving students first-hand experience through field trips—to prisons, homeless shelters, and poor urban neighborhoods and schools—to jolt them into awareness of the reality of lives shaped by violent environments.
Despite his heroic efforts at teaching peace (often without pay), McCarthy is modest about his results. He confesses that he wonders at the end of each class what students have absorbed. Yet he is richly compensated by letters from former students, e.g. the seeminly "clueless high school student" who writes five years later from her Peace Corps assignment in Africa and the "spoiled young rich but independent-minded student" who attends law school in order to become an effective advocate for the homeless.
The second volume, Put Down Your Sword, is written by John Dear, Jesuit priest, author, retreat director, former director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and committed pacifist. In five chapters, Dear presents: 1) a series of theological/spiritual reflections on gospel passages interpreted through Jesus' "hermeneutic of non-violence"; 2) personal accounts of his involvement in protests at the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Laboratory and the School of the Americas; 3) journal entries from his extended study trips to Gandhi's India and to war-torn Colombia; 4) reflections on peacemakers who have inspired Dear, including Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hahn and Cesar Chavez; and 5) essays on living ecologically in the New Mexico high desert and on Merton's contemplation and non-violence. All of this offered, he states in the book's introduction, "as a word of hope to encourage [the reader] to take another step in the journey of Gospel nonviolence."
Dear's book abounds in insightful interpretations of the Christian tradition and of contemporary life, as experienced and understood through the eyes and heart of a tested pacifist. Like McCarthy, he is humle about results achieved but totally committed to the journey. In chapter one, he states that "Jesus' nonviolence is the key to understanding Christian discipleship today" and that "The greatest challenge before us at this terrible moment in history is finally to take Jesus at his word—to put down the sword and become a church of nonviolence, a people of nonviolence" (pp. 4-5). And he concludes the book with his vision of "A world without War", in which he writes, "If we dare to believe, if we dare to take Jesus at his word, if we put down the sword, if we act like we are true disciples, apostles, and prophets of the nonviolent Jesus...then one day there will be no more war, no more nuclear weapons, no more hunger, no more poverty...no more killing, no more violence..." (p. 189). This is the vision to which Dear has given his life, believing that each person and each generation is called to make its own contribution and to keep alive the hope, despite the seeming futility of their efforts.
Recommended uses: I highly recommend McCarthy's book to teachers at all levels and in all disciplines, especially to those who are attracted to peacemaking. Perhaps this might be the catalyst they need to finally take some small concrete steps toward teaching a unit or a course in non-violent peacemaking. Dear's book also can have wide appeal, especially to those who are serious about the meaning of Christian discipleship in today's world. It would also serve as a valuable text in college-level courses in spirituality, peacemaking, ecclesiology, contemporary catholicism and global christianity.