Week of ‘teshuva’ wraps up at Manna House
Two nationally known advocates of peace and justice wrap up a week of lectures and group discussions this morning as the 2009 Theological Institute at Manna House of Prayer comes to a close.
Jim and Shelley Douglass of Birmingham, Ala., have focused on both spiritual and political leaders during “Teshuva: Turning to Nonviolence.”
Using the Hebrew word “teshuva” — meaning “turning” or “a return to God” — as their theme, the couple shared duties to look at the lives of John F. and Robert Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Jesus.
The annual weeklong seminar, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, began Monday and continued through this morning (Saturday). About 30 members of the congregation and laypeople attended.
Shelley Douglass, in a lecture Wednesday, called Gandhi “a prime example of teshuva.” Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1869, he was from a wealthy Hindu family in India who was educated as a lawyer in England. By the time he was assassinated in 1948, he had become the preeminent political and spiritual leader of India, and is today called the “Father of the Nation.” His birthday, Oct. 2, is commemorated in India as a national holiday and worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence.
In reviewing the major events of Gandhi’s life, Shelley Douglass called them “turnings” that moved him gradually from his birth and upbringing to the nonviolent resistance that to his role in India’s independence.
Later in the week, Jim Douglass drew the same kind of connections as he reviewed the life of Robert Kennedy.
Life Gandhi’s family, the Kennedys were wealthy — but they were Irish and Catholic, and patriarch Joe Kennedy raised his sons to be successful as a means of becoming acceptable in America.
After the death of the eldest son, Joe, death in World War II and the assassination of the President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the mantle of the family’s success fell to the third son, Robert or Bobby.
But there were many “turnings” in his life before he assumed that mantle, Jim Douglass explained. Through the early and mid 1960s, Bobby Kennedy was dramatically affected by broadening experiences with the poverty he saw in America, the Civil Rights movement, growing military losses in the Vietnam War, the crushing conditions of American Indians and California farm workers and all types of injustice around the world.
Robert F. Kennedy — who was given the middle name Francis after St. Francis of Assasi — had become, by 1968, “a man of peace,” Douglass said. He had also turned away from his background of wealth and privilege to embrace a true compassion for the most downtrodden peoples of the United States and the world.
He was assassinated in June 1968, just as his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president was assured.
The individuals profiled during the week shared a deep understanding of a basic principle of nonviolence, Shelley Douglass explained.
When there are oppressive factors in a culture or political system — such as racism, poverty or injustice — the people being oppressed will react. But that generally brings on active repression from those in power. And when the people react to that strengthened repression, those in power repress even harder — often violently.
“How do you stop that process of escalation?” she asked. “You stop it by absorbing the violence yourself. … Nonviolence exposes the system when it’s a system built on using power to oppress people.”
But, the price — as illustrated by the stories told during the week — paid by those embracing nonviolence is often high: All of the men profiled as examples of “teshuva” were killed in their pursuit of a different response to oppression.
The Douglasses are nationally recognized activists, Christian theologians and authors of more than a half dozen books.
Jim Douglass’ most recent book is “JFK and the Unspeakable,” which discusses the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as a conspiracy ordered by unknown parties and carried out by the CIA with help from the Mafia and elements in the FBI.
In 1975 the Douglasses founded Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action to protest the planned Trident missile nuclear submarine base on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington state.
They later moved to Birmingham, Ala., to establish Mary’s House, for homeless or indigent people in need of long-term health care.
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One thought on “Week of ‘teshuva’ wraps up at Manna House”
This was truly an excellent week, hearing of the lives of those given to nonviolence! The Prayer Vigil on Aug. 6th was one of the actions that remind us of our need to pray for the end of war, end to nuclear build-up, and a call to all countries to put this means of destrucition to an end.