** This is part 1 of a 4-part series, Who Would Jesus Shoot? Read part 2 here. **
Jeriah Bowser is a wilderness guide who teaches primitive living skills to people. He writes provocative and progressive articles for The Hampton Institute, and has a propensity for challenging not the status quo, but the avant garde. Anarchist, Satyagrahi, healer, writer, primitivist.
My brother, the illustrious Jordan Bowser, esq., asked me to write an article for his blog. I’m not much of a writer, nor do I think I have any profound insights into this incredibly polarizing and emotionally loaded topic that have not already been addressed by many great thinkers and doers throughout history (Yeshua, Rumi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas K. Gandhi, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, Chief Ouray, etc).
I will be the first to admit that the idea of putting my beliefs and experiences on an online, public forum, scares the crap out of me. I rarely engage in discussions or controversial conversations online, as I believe there is little actual exchange of ideas and relationship over forums of this nature, and people tend to become very hurt, angry, and hurtful online. I have two major goals for this series of posts, and I would love for you to participate in them with me.
One, I aim to be completely humble and non-violent/aggressive in my communication. I find that I often tend to be very arrogant, polarizing, and controversial in my communication, but I very deeply want to work on changing this part of me.
Two, I intend to be open, vulnerable, and real in my communication. I find that an individual can become anyone online, and there is very little context for communication. When I discuss things with friends, I know their story. I have heard them tell me their wounds, their dreams, and I know their perspective. There is context for our dialogue. I hope to create context by sharing my own story, and inviting you into it.
I can only speak from my journey, share my own hurt, confusion, and eventual hope around this contentious issue and hopefully you can make some sense out of my mess! I will attempt to summarize my journey towards non-violence to give you the context of my worldview and to allow you into my experience. Thank you for participating in my journey with Truth
My early exposure to the combination of religion and war is probably very typical for someone growing up in a white, conservative, Christian home. I learned that Jesus was a white guy with blue eyes and brown hair, voted republican, was one of the founding fathers of this country, and anyone who disagreed with America therefore disagreed with God and should be invaded and taught to obey “Gods law”; which included Democracy, legislated morality, and a free market. When the tragic event of September 11th took place, I believed that it was the result of Islamic terrorists who hated America and Christianity and wanted to hurt us because they were evil and we were good. I therefore believed that it was “just” and right for our country to invade theirs and to defend against the impending doom of “Islamic Terrorism.”
As I became a young man and started making decisions about my life, I quickly became a true-blue conservative, patriotic, machismo-filled young man who was everything George Bush could hope for in a young voter. Due to several unfortunate events in my adolescence, I ended up spending 18 months in a program where my safety was often seriously threatened and I developed a huge complex around being tough, strong, and capable of defending myself and others. When I was 17, I seriously contemplated joining the Marines as a force recon specialist. I trained in many forms of martial arts for years and was planning on becoming a UFC competitor. When I turned 21, I bought myself a gun and a concealed carry permit. I engaged in many heated discussions with individuals of varied faiths and spiritual traditions, convinced that it was my duty as a crusader of Jesus to crush all infidels with the double-edged sword of debate and arrogance (more commonly known as “apologetics“). I voted for Bush, made fun of liberals, went to a big church full of rich white people, kept a gun under my bed and a bible in my pocket, and shopped at Wal-Mart. My worldview was impenetrable, as I had surrounded myself with like-minded friends and teachers.
About two years ago, a good friend and mentor gave me the books “Jesus for President” and “An Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. They were at first offensive, then confusing, and finally fascinating and convicting. Shane clearly laid out all of Yeshua’s teachings on non-violence, forgiveness, and love, and contrasted them with the rampant militarism, widespread capitalist exploitation, and police-state occupation that make up the system we know as “The United States of America”. Shane told stories of incredible forgiveness and love in the face of tyranny. He shared personal experiences with living in the heart of a marginalized, violent, and impoverished neighborhood in Camden, PA. He opened my eyes to the power of simple acts of love, through the life of Mother Teresa, whom he lived with for a period of time. He spoke of the power of “the third way”, of dealing with violence and terror. And I felt a response deep in my soul to the teachings of this young activist.
I wanted more. I read the biographies of Mother Teresa, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and Martin Luther King Jr., and approached the Hebrew scriptures from a new perspective. I listened to pod casts, read various blogs, subscribed to “Ad-busters“, and absorbed every opinion that I could on this powerful form of resistance known as “active non-violence”. It contrasted so greatly to the image of a crusading white Jesus that I eventually had to completely abandon everything I had ever known about the world, my spirituality, and my role in this crazy thing called humanity. My search for truth deepened as I joined Anarchist clubs and showed up to Communist bookstores to discuss politics and oppression. I tapped into the marginalized social groups in my community, and became friends with drag queens and prostitutes. I hung out with dirty hippies, homeless junkies, and drug dealers, and started seeing my Rabbi in strange places: hidden underneath cardboard boxes, waiting at an abandoned bus stop, in a lonely corner of a street alley, and often times badly needing a shower. I started conversations with Mormon missionaries, Sufi mystics, and regular people with the intent not to “convert”, but to learn from them and to love. I realized the power of non-violent communication in my daily interactions with people, as I moved from an arrogant defensive posture to an open and loving offensive. And I sold my gun ;)
I share my experience with this not to make any claims about truth or to influence your journey or your decisions in any way. I simply believe in the power of vulnerability and relationship, and I would love to engage you, the reader, in the spirit of openness and honesty. Many of my experiences are extremely embarrassing and painful for me to look back on and realize, and this is the first time I have ever really talked about them to anyone but my wife and brother As we move forward in this discussion, I want to encourage you, the reader, to also engage and share your experiences and speak your truth. And I want to thank you for listening and validating my experience. Writing this article is very healing for me.
Also, I highly encourage you to find and read Shane’s books. They can be found here:
If you cannot afford a copy, please let me know and I will gladly buy and send you his book, “Irresistible Revolution“. Whether you name your first child after him or burn his books in a pile behind your church, I don’t really care. I believe they are relevant to this discussion, whether or not you agree with Shane’s perspective.
I leave you with a peace mantra by Satish Kumar, that was popularized by Mother Teresa:
Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth;
Lead me from despair to hope,
From fear to trust;
Lead me from hate to love,
From war to peace;
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe
--- Jeriah Bowser ---
*** Read part 2 here.***