“You can lead the way!”
Forming a nonviolent community
In the past two months, our journey with cartoon character Dora the Explorer gave some unusual perspective on what it means to be followers of the Prince of Peace. In this final installment, we explore the overarching Dora narrative and reflect on our vocation as Christians of nonviolent character.
Although Dora the Explorer succeeds within each episode of her children’s show, the more profound triumph arises from the accumulation of all her adventures. In fact, there is an “in-order-to-ness” about the entire cartoon series.
The makers of Dora acknowledge they want the cartoon to infuse children with cooperative problem-solving skills. They want Dora to teach children to be respectful and to live as confident protagonists rather than as passive observers of the world around them. As indicated by the show’s theme song, children are encouraged to cultivate Dora’s adventurous mindset so they can “lead the way.” In other words, watching Dora should not only make for good fun, it should also make good kids.
In the same way, the story of the Prince of Peace moves forward precisely because it contains more than an accumulation of singular episodes of peacemaking. Those remarkable events are part of a larger story of hope: God becoming incarnate in the world, Jesus teaching people about the many faces of love, the empty cross proving there is a force more powerful than violence.
Discipleship involves following Jesus’ specific teachings as well as fostering the very “mindset of Christ” (Philippians 2:5). With increasing exercise of this mind, Christians find a refreshing blend of faithfulness and effectiveness as they bear witness to Christ’s love – the kind of love that reigns over fear, injustice, and all manner of brutality. As we live in accordance with Jesus’ teachings, we see ourselves as members of a larger-than-life household and as a collective dwelling place for God’s nonviolent love (Ephesians 2).
This is the final lesson: The story forms a community of nonviolent character. As followers of the Prince of Peace in the 21st century, we walk in uncharted territory with many complex dilemmas of how to respond to violence. Nevertheless, Jesus exhibits a unique, nonviolent disposition – one that reveals the character of God. We equip ourselves well by actively fostering this “mind of Christ” in preparation for the regular occasions when we have to respond to conflict as individuals, communities, and even nations.
Especially because our society coaches us to justify or even glorify violence, we need to train ourselves in habits of nonviolence. Our churches could offer workshops in the spirituality and practical skills of nonviolence. We could nurture a community of nonviolent character by building up our capacity to prevent violence, to respond to terrorism and bullying with nonviolent action, and to cultivate the spiritual discipline of conflict transformation.
Although Jesus will always be the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) – Leader capital “L” – a key part of our Christian calling is to cultivate the capacity to lead the way in our own particular contexts. Jesus is the lead trainer for the soul, but we also have work to do. Given the perils of climate change, global political conflict, and economic crisis, we have opportunities to develop our Christian character in tandem with the broader search for faithful and effective alternatives to violence.
Taking a more divergent approach from the trailblazing Dora, are there times when we need to refrain from leading the way because others experience our Christianity as domineering or disempowering? Do we sometimes suffer from one of the greatest ironies of Christian peacemaking – namely, a deficiency of nonviolent attitudes within our peace committees and events?
In spite of the pitfalls, the story keeps going. In the cartoon world, Baby Jaguar calls for help and Dora sounds the call for us to move into action: “To the rescue!” Sometimes, even before we succeed, we hear Dora’s song of celebration.
In our lives as followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the drama runs far deeper. We plug away, we make choices for peace (sometimes unpopular ones), and we try to remain true to our calling. From time to time, we begin to hear the distant anthem of the new heaven and earth, where the Prince of Peace will be fully at home among us (Revelation 21:1–5).
(link to BibleGateway.com)He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.