By Lawrence W. Rodgers,
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is an interesting piece. There is one melody taking place which one can get lost in, and one can drift way into its comforts almost to the point where one ignores the striking chords, a percussive hardness, which is trying to break into the comfort of the main melody. Depending on one’s place in society they can hear Moonlight Sonata and let it carry them away, but someone else can hear it and think about the struggle for peace and freedom. What is peace? For those who have it at the expense of the poor and dispossessed it is the ability to listen to only the peaceful melody of Moonlight Sonata without any disturbance from those who are deprived of basic subsistence. Any disruption of the melody is a disruption of peace, even if the disruption is a cry of agony, a cry for help, demand for justice, or a disruption of the orchestra. This kind of peace which is at the expense of others is a pseudo-peace, it is not real. Truthfully, this kind of peace is violence.
Semantically speaking much is misunderstood regarding peace and violence. For starters, violence is not only physical, but it is also spiritual, emotional, psychological, and financial.
The word violence comes from the same Latin root word as the word violation. Violence is essentially a violation of someone’s, some people’s, or some community’s personal or collective space. To defend one’s self from aggression or violations of collective or personal space is not violence but defense.
Imagine there is a senior woman walking home from the grocery store in the city. Suddenly, a purse snatcher grabs her purse and begins to run away. Standing nearby is an undercover police officer who just happened to see it. He runs after the purse snatcher tackles him, and retrieves the woman’s purse. When the evening news reports on this story and when the morning paper writes about it, no one will say the undercover officer behaved violently. No, he is touted as a hero, rightfully so, because he defended the violated woman.
Oppressed people groups are discouraged from defending themselves. Any self-defense is deemed violence because it disturbs the playing of Moonlight Sonata’s melody. Why are oppressed people discouraged from disturbing the song because the song helps oppressors to forget that they are oppressors? Oppressors want to escape guilt, personal responsibility, and any anxiety which comes from the damage they’ve done to others. So, when the oppressed gather outside the theater chatting “Give us liberty or give us death,” when they bust in the theater and begin to disturb the show, or when they convince the orchestra to boycott, or someone grabs the conductors microphone and gives an impromptu speech, the oppressors say, “They have disturbed our peace.” When in actuality the oppressed are only trying to make peace.
Peacemaking requires self-defense. One cannot make peace if they do not defend themselves and their communities. There is an erroneous notion which believes one can make peace by simply not responding to violence or oppression, but this is a lie. In fact, to refuse to resist violence towards one’s persons or community is only to do violence to one’s self. It is to internalize the blows and this internalization results in hatred of self, and those of one’s one oppressed community. Resistance is required for one’s health, and it is required to make peace.
It is time for oppressed people all over the world to interrupt Moonlight Sonata’s melody. To break the delusion of peace, to expose the falsehood of pseudo-peace, to bust in the theaters of the oppressors and say I am here to defend myself and my community. I am here to declare the violence you do to my community to maintain your lifestyle and enjoy this song’s melody must stop. Peacemaking ultimately requires peace for everyone, not just for the top tier of society but everyone. It’s time to disturb the melody.
Lawrence W. Rodgers is the pastor of Westside Church of Christ in Baltimore, MD. He is a Masters of Divinity candidate at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C. Lawrence blogs at LawrenceRodgers.com. Follow @lwrdgrs.